David Dahl makes baseball look easy, but his path to the majors was a hard road – The Denver Post
NEW YORK — David Dahl is a graceful, fluid athlete who makes the difficult game of baseball look easy. But to simply label him “The Natural” is to gloss over the passion, drive and character it took for him to reach the majors at age 22.
It bypasses the obstacles he has had to overcome to fulfill his dream.
“I’ve been playing since as long as I can remember,” said Dahl, who entered Friday hitting .333 with one home run in his first four games with the Rockies. “I love this game. Honestly, I think I’ve been thinking about playing in the majors since I was a kid. When I was a freshman in high school, I started to think it could happen.”
His close friend, Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, has witnessed Dahl’s rise to the summit.
“We lived together all winter in Scottsdale (Ariz.), and through spring training too,” said Story, who’s in the running to be National League rookie of the year. “He loves the game. I mean absolutely loves it. And he works so hard. I wanted to be with somebody who drives me, who takes nothing for granted. David was the perfect fit.”
Dahl’s talent is breathtaking.
This month at the All-Star Futures Game at Petco Park in San Diego, he made two astonishing throws from the outfield. The first was clocked at 95.6 mph, but he was just getting warmed up. On the next play, he threw a 96.7 mph strike to home plate, throwing out Miami Marlins prospect Josh Naylor.
In the Rockies’ 3-1 victory at Baltimore on Wednesday, Dahl whipped his bat around and sent the baseball soaring over the center-field wall for his first major-league homer. Dahl is 6-foot-2 but weighs only 185 pounds. So, at first glance, Dahl’s hit didn’t look like anything special, but it illustrated what manager Walt Weiss calls Dahl’s “sneaky power.” The ball kept climbing until it flew out of the deepest part of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Dahl has been wowing people since he was a toddler in Birmingham, Ala.
“As soon as he could walk, I was throwing him tennis balls and wiffle balls,” recalled his father, Mike. “He could always hit. He excelled from the beginning.”
At age 7, Dahl was asked to join a team for 10- and 11-year-old players. At 9, Dahl played on an all-star team that won the Dixie Youth Baseball World Series.
He could dunk a basketball when he was in the eighth grade. When he played youth football, he was nicknamed “The Waterboy,” after Bobby Boucher, the ferocious-tackling character portrayed by Adam Sandler in the 1998 sports comedy.
At Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham, he played shortstop and batted third for the varsity as a freshman. He committed to Auburn University as a sophomore, but he chose to forgo college when the Rockies picked him 10th overall in the 2012 draft and signed him to a $2.6 million bonus.
“The first thing David did, as soon as he signed his contract, was to pay off all the debt our family owed,” Mike Dahl said. “We got a check for $200,000 and paid off all of our debts.
“My wife (Kelli) and I were just so thankful. I think David realized what we did for him all of those years. All the travel teams, all of that. He always had to have the best bats and the best gloves. Don’t get me wrong, we loved every minute of it. We didn’t mind it one bit. But David showed us his appreciation. That meant a lot.”
At first glance, Dahl’s road to the majors looks like a freeway joy ride. It was not.
In April 2013, the Rockies demoted him from Asheville (N.C.) in the Single-A South Atlantic League to extended spring training because he missed a team flight. Dahl vowed publicly to learn from the incident.
“You have to remember that he was a young, 18-year-old kid coming out of high school,” Rockies farm director Zach Wilson said. “He had never been away from his family and had never been away from his friends. So that was a big early challenge for David.”
As was the rest of the 2013 season. He was limited to just 10 games after tearing his right hamstring. He returned in 2014, flashing his potential by hitting .299 with 14 homers, eight triples, 41 doubles and 21 stolen bases for Asheville and High-A Modesto (Calif.).
CAREER ON THE BRINK
Then came a harrowing moment that nearly cost him his life and put his baseball career in jeopardy. May 28, 2015, while playing center field for the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats in Connecticut, Dahl was involved in a horrific collision.
“It was just a little blooper into the Bermuda Triangle,” recalled Story, who was on the field that day. “Our second baseman, (Juan) Ciriaco, was busting pretty hard for the ball. They were both calling for the ball at the same time, and Dahl dove for it. Ciriaco caught him flush with the knee right in the chest.
“I just remember, after a little bit, that Dahl was losing his color. He just didn’t look right. His nose was bleeding and he was gasping for air. I thought, at first, that maybe he had just got the air knocked out of him. Obviously, it was much worse than that.”
With his father riding with him in the ambulance, Dahl was taken to Hartford Hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery to stop internal bleeding. Dahl had suffered a Grade 4 laceration of his spleen. (Grade 5 is the most severe.) Three days later, after he was stabilized, Dahl and his family decided it was best for him to undergo a splenectomy to have the damaged organ removed. Dahl was back on the field by mid-July, but will have to take medication for the rest of his life to protect his immune system.
“Honestly, what I went through might have helped me,” Dahl said. “When I tore my hamstring in Asheville in 2013 and missed the whole season, it made me realize how much I love the game and how much I missed playing. And last year, when I ruptured my spleen, it was the same thing. I thought about that when I got called up.”
“YOU HAVE TO PROVE IT”
Expectations are high for Dahl, but center fielder Charlie Blackmon, who overcame his own hurdles to establish himself, cautions that the leap to big-league stardom does not come in a single bound.
“I’ll be honest. I don’t really trust a lot of the stuff written about all the minor-league prospects,” Blackmon said. “That doesn’t mean anything to me. Futures-games selections and all of that stuff, I take no stock in that. We will just have to see how he does. You have to prove it up here.”
The term “five-tool player” has been pinned on Dahl. It’s not easy to live up to those expectations.
“I think you have to earn that up here,” Weiss said. “Does he have the potential for that? I think so. He has that combination of power and speed that’s still rare in this game. He’s got great speed. He has the potential to do everything well.”
Third baseman Nolan Arenado, an established star at age 25, was glad Dahl was called up last week.
“I like him, I like him a lot,” Arenado said. “He has a lot of character to him and he wants to be good and he works hard. He loves the game and he likes to talk about hitting — a lot. So he’s my type of guy. The bottom line is, he makes us a better team, right now.”