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Virginia’s Hultzen quietly confident
Question of the Day
The pitcher looked as if he wanted to disappear.
In the corner of the dugout, a television camera caught Danny Hultzen two weeks ago. The best left-hander in college baseball tucked his head against his shoulder, doing everything he could to hunker down and be small.
The left arm that zips fastballs at 94 mph seemed far away. So did the command of off-speed pitches, already regarded as major league average though he’s a junior at the University of Virginia. Same for his control, so uncanny he once threw only eight balls over five innings in one high school game for St. Albans School and seared the performance into his coach’s mind.
Chris Hultzen watched the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament from Bethesda and wondered if his son wanted to be invisible. Danny’s older brother, Joe, did the same thing during his playing days to eliminate distractions. The gesture was as familiar to the father as the pitching motion Danny repeats so exactly it’s like watching the rerun of a movie.
Attention makes him squirm. Been that way since his first days playing youth baseball for the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Hurricanes. Monday, the Bethesda native will be the among the top five picks of the Major League Baseball draft, perhaps as high as first overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates. A $13 million contract could follow, Baseball America reported.
But Hultzen acts like someone lucky to have a spot on the team, the first guy to lug bags of bats or pull out the tarp. The two-time ACC pitcher of the year would love to be the last player on the roster. Anonymous.
He still owns T-shirts from junior high. His toes stick out of his shoes. He doesn’t drive a flashy car. He’s on track to graduate with a degree in history. He flushes when a teammate’s mother pecks his cheek. He’s embarrassed by the swell of pre-draft attention, a friend said.
Then Hultzen steps on the field and everything changes.
“He’s the greatest combination of confidence and humility I’ve ever seen in a person,” said David Baad, who coached Hultzen for three years at St. Albans. “When it’s time for the game to start, he’s an absolute bulldog. He feels like he can beat anybody.”
Years ago, Joe Hultzen let go of his dream to be drafted. Tommy John surgery before his junior year at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, ended it. Once a starter, the surgery transformed him into a reliever beholden to a pitch count with an arm that wasn’t the same.
“After the surgery,” the 24-year-old said, “no one’s going to want to look at someone like me.”
“My dad,” Joe said, “blames the whole thing on me.”
Chris Hultzen, a neonatologist at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, never played baseball. The sport never occupied his dreams. Still doesn’t. Little Danny’s ability to throw quickly outpaced his father’s. Joe and Danny picked out his first glove. The family’s dog, Rex, promptly destroyed it.
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