It was January, one month before he would report to his first spring training camp with the Seattle Mariners, and before he could look forward, Hultzen, a Bethesda native and St. Albans product, needed to take one last look back. The way he figured it, his sudden windfall — a five-year, $8.5 million guaranteed contract with the Mariners, as the second overall pick of the June 2011 draft — would not have been possible without the efforts of O’Connor and the many others in Charlottesville who influenced his life.
“They made me who I am today,” Hultzen said. “I wouldn’t be anywhere without the University of Virginia, so I just wanted give them a token of my admiration. All of the money I’ve run into, they deserve a lot of it.”
For his part, O’Connor admits to being “shocked” at the dollar figure that Hultzen dropped on him that day, but not by the selfless act itself. As it happens, Hultzen made the donation before he bought anything of significance for himself — he still hasn’t bought anything for himself more expensive than some new clothes.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that he would do this for the [baseball] program before he did anything for himself, because that’s Danny,” said O’Connor, who expects to use Hultzen’s donation on improvements to the baseball stadium. “But the fact he made such a commitment, and did it just five months after signing his contract, really speaks to who he is, and how fond he is of his time at the University of Virginia.”
‘It’s a little surreal’
Having done right by his alma mater, Hultzen, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound left-hander, headed west to the desert, to begin the long process of trying to do right by his new employers. He walked into a spring training clubhouse populated by the likes of “King” Felix Hernandez, the 2010 American League Cy Young winner, and Ichiro Suzuki, the two-time AL batting champ, and took a moment to wrap his mind around that.
“It’s a little surreal,” Hultzen said. “You just take a second — ‘Wow, that’s Felix Hernandez.’ And then it clicks: You’re in the same locker room as them, doing the same things as those guys.”
If there is one impression Hultzen has made upon the Mariners in the short time since camp opened, it is that he looks as if he belongs. The Mariners drafted him in the first place largely because of his polish and because they believed him to be closer to major league-ready than anyone else of comparable talent in the draft.