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Diamonds in the Rough

Featured Player: Dan Donohue

New Jersey Baseball Magazine could not have chosen a more focused, more dedicated player to sponsor on the 2008 Diamond Jacks than Dan Donohue. Now fourteen years-old, Dan formed his love of baseball when he played Little League ball in Great Kills, Staten Island. Before he began learning the intricacies of the game at Jack Cust Baseball Academy (JCBA), Dan appreciated baseball because he knew it as a “thinking man’s game.” Pretty sophisticated for a young teen, to be sure.

When he talks about what he enjoys best about baseball, Dan says, without hesitation, “coming up big in key situations, playing in front of a crowd, the PRESSURE.” Sophisticated indeed.

Dan Donohue, taking a rip

Dan plays for the 14-and-Under Diamond Jacks team based at JCBA. Although he’s learning to play a variety of positions, his first love is playing shortstop. Having the versatility to play different positions “makes you a better player,” Dan says. For a young ball player thirsting to learn and grow, being better means thriving on competition.

It also helps if you want to win every time you take the field. Dan says unabashedly that he “loves to win, being better than the next guy.” Learning the skills of the trade at the hands of some of the best youth coaches and trainers in New Jersey could not come at a better time for this aspiring young player with lofty ambitions.

“JCBA teaches MLB skills and the way the game is played at a higher level.” Dan likes how the Academy’s coaches push him to always improve and meet his personal best. He knows that the JCBA staff all have excellent experience. “You can tell they are all baseball all the time.”

He and his parents cannot thank Coaches Bryan Wagner, Kevin Cust, Mike Cust, Bobby Zoller, Justin Jensen, and Tony Gsell enough for the valuable instruction they have provided, not only about the finer points of baseball but also for the role modeling they display about getting along in life. Clearly, the input they provide make the training experience at JCBA more special than meets the eye. They truly form a baseball family that benefits all of their young protégés.

In addition to developing his prowess on the field, Dan appreciates the growth he’s experiencing in the softer skills of the game. For example, honing his ability to succeed in pressure situations has taught him more about leadership. Learning how to execute the game’s finer points has helped him learn the value of being consistent, not just on the field, but in life generally.

Being a Diamond Jacks player means contributing to a team effort, “picking guys up (and) placing the good of the team over individual accomplishments.” In adopting this selfless attitude, Dan knows that he can reach his full potential both “as a player and as a person.” It comes as no surprise that Dan regards it as a privilege to play for the Diamond Jacks. “I’m proud to wear the uniform,” he says while sporting a grin that stretches from first to third.

As much as he appreciates the guidance and direction that he receives from his JCBA family, Dan knows that he cannot advance very far without the support of his personal family. His mother, Michelle, and his dad, Michael, form his strongest fan base, which is exactly how it should be for a young player with the aspirations that Dan has.

Michael spends countless hours with Dan on ball fields around home, working on the basic throwing and hitting skills that Dan learns at JCBA. It was not so long ago that Michelle remembers “the sound of the ball getting thrown against the house.” Now, though she hears “the sound of the Hit Away in the garage.”

“It’s actually frightening at times,” Michelle continues, “watching Dan and his father having a catch – the ball just whizzes by and I pray they don’t break a window!”

Dan’s parents emphasize that Dan have fun playing baseball while at the same time learning values that translate from the game to daily living. Credit goes to Mike and Michelle for recognizing that Dan was “ready for the next level of training” that JCBA provides and for staunchly supporting their son as he pursues his baseball dreams.

Dan takes the throw

They also require that Dan maintain Honor Roll status at school, so he can continue playing the game that he loves. “Academics are paramount, and we are very fortunate that Dan is an excellent student,” both Michelle and Michael agree.

Dan’s baseball goals include “making the Wall Township high school team as a starting player, advancing to the JCBA Super-17, eventually being drafted by a Division 1 college team, and realizing a dream to one day play in the big leagues.” He knows that getting there will not come easily. In addition to improving his physical abilities through proper exercise and diet as his body develops, he works constantly on his baseball skills and knowledge of the game. He continually strives to “make the little adjustments coaches point out,” and he is dedicated to becoming the best player he can become through “practice, practice, practice.”

Practice, by the way, includes running on the beach to increase his speed and agility. Dan even races his 70-pound Golden Retriever, Dallas, figuring that if he can beat the dog, he will become the best base runner he can become.

“I watch baseball games and think as if I were a player in those games; what would I do in each game situation that happens on the field.” True to his word and true to his dedication to “a thinking man’s game.”

New York Yankees Captain, Derek Jeter

It makes impeccable sense that Dan’s favorite MLB player to emulate is Derek Jeter. Among other things, Dan admires Jeter’s work ethic, leadership skills, competitiveness, and commitment to attaining team goals above personal achievements.

Still, Dan has high personal expectations and intends to hold himself to them. Presently he is focusing on the specific areas of his game in which he knows he can improve – namely, making the difficult plays, such as throwing accurately while on the run, and hitting for power. His knowledge of the game increases every day.

For example, he’s learning how to approach each at-bat with a plan in mind – situational hitting, as Dan explains it. He has already seen himself make progress recognizing game situations and reacting properly, given the batter’s count, existing base runners, and using proper balance at the plate. After all, trying to hit to right with a runner on 2nd base is nothing less than what Derek Jeter would do, right?

Dan will travel with his Diamond Jacks teammates to Marietta, Georgia this June to participate in the Perfect Game 2008 Tournament. In fact, this is the first year that the JCBA will take his age group to that prestigious baseball venue.

If practice makes perfect and if translating baseball values into a life script make for a successful lifetime, then NJB Magazine’s sponsored D-Jacks player for 2008 is in the right place at the right time. We wish Dan, Coaches Zoller, Jensen, Gsell, Wagner, and Kevin and Mike Cust, and all of his Diamond Jacks teammates only the best of luck throughout the 2008 season and beyond.



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