Former St. Albans star Danny Hultzen stands tall on the mound for Virginia's baseball team
Saturday, June 5, 2010
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Danny Hultzen and his family gathered at their usual postgame spot, sitting around the table in a Chili's restaurant. It was a big night out for one of nation's top college baseball players.
A star pitcher for the University of Virginia, Hultzen's scheduled start on this night last month had been postponed by a lightning-filled deluge. The group was at dinner a bit earlier than normal when a teenager and his mother approached, hoping to meet the left-handed sophomore.
"I could see the kid knew who Danny was," said Martha Martin, Hultzen's mother. "He kept looking over."
A chance to move on to pro baseball remains one year away -- four-year college players are not eligible for the Major League Baseball first-year player draft until after their junior year -- but there is no question that the 20-year-old from St. Albans is firmly in the spotlight.
In his two years at Virginia, Hultzen has been named the Atlantic Coast Conference freshman of the year and its pitcher of the year. The Cavaliers have been near the top of the college baseball rankings all season. On Friday, they opened play in the NCAA tournament by defeating Virginia Commonwealth, 15-4.
Leading the way has been Hultzen, who is 9-1 with an ACC-best 2.43 ERA. In 92 2/3 innings, he has struck out 111 batters and held opponents to a .184 batting average.
Although Hultzen is not eligible for this year's draft that begins Monday, pro scouts have been aware of him since he dominated the Interstate Athletic Conference for the Bulldogs; they know he will be a top prospect next season. So do folks in Charlottesville, where one reason for picking Chili's as a destination is its location a few miles away from campus, where the 6-foot-3 Hultzen tries to slip in quietly.
"It's great having your name out there, I guess, and makes you feel pretty good about yourself, but you can't let that stuff go to your head," Hultzen said, seemingly humble to a fault.
It is quite a change from the whirlwind that was Hultzen's senior year of high school at St. Albans. Previously unknown to professional scouts, Hultzen burst on to the scene in the spring of 2008 and became a potential first-round draft pick before telling major league clubs he intended to follow through on his scholarship to play for Virginia. The Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him in the 10th round, but the All-Met Player of the Year did not sign a contract.
"The whole experience was really cool, but I'm happy with my decision," Hultzen said. "From the get-go I knew I was going to go to college. That was really important to me.
"These are like real-life decisions I'm not used to making, being out in the real world. People out there my age are getting jobs and all that. It's just crazy that I'm still playing baseball."
In his two years at Virginia, Hultzen has matured. He has grown an inch and gotten stronger. He is more confident on the pitching mound. Instead of wondering how he will fare against older, more seasoned opponents, Hultzen knows he belongs. The command of his pitches has improved and his approach has changed.