Find a League In Your Area
Danny Pawelek of Springville Utah seen here in the 2010 Desert Classic in Palm Springs.
By Alejandro Rodriguez, MSBL On-Line
Dominant. Unbelievable. Freaky. Ridiculous.
Those are the sort of words that MSBL teammates and foes alike reach for sometimes when they watch Springville Utah's Danny Pawelek take the mound.
Such reverence is normally reserved for, young, flame-throwing studs – and while he is a flame-throwing stud, you can't accuse him of being all that young.
After all, when Pawelek was born, Harry Truman was President, Gary Cooper was a cinema heart throb, and some truly weird stuff was going down in Roswell New Mexico – it was 1952.
At about 6-feet-4-inches, 225-pounds, the athletic 59-year-old is an imposing site and tough to hit. Just ask Dodgertown West' 55-and-over team whom Pawelek no-hit in the 55-and-over division finals at the Desert Classic on Jan. 16 at Palm Springs Stadium. Dodgertown managed to squeeze just one ball out of the infield – an error.
That dominance seems even more ridiculous when you learn that the affable Pawelek pitched the first inning of the game in his sneakers. "When we left the hotel the morning of the game, I forgot my spikes and I didn't realize it until the game started and so I had to pitch the first inning wearing a pair of tennis shoes until one my teammates (Mark Pappa) was able to go back to the hotel and get my spikes.”
the big righty do some amazing things in the past. Two years earlier in the finals of the same tournament, Pawelek threw 11 and two-thirds innings of relief to lead the Salt Lake City Dodgers to a 9-6 win over Sherwin's A's. "I've never seen anything like it,” Sherwin said at the time. "He dominated the game.”
Eleven-plus innings is remarkable, but consider this: that outing was the capstone of a tournament in which Pawelek threw over 39 of his team's 48 innings and had four wins.
Coincidentally, Pawelek had to return to the hotel on the morning of the 2010 Desert Classic to get his uniform or he would have started the game.
Pawelek reminds folks of one of those former pros who swoops into the MSBL scene and conjures up that old professional magic – but he's not an ex-pro.
The 18 year MSBL veteran was a kid with major league dreams in the distance and hurdles – lots of them – directly in his path.
And he hit most of them.
The Meadville, Pa.-born Pawelek was four when his parents split up. Mom and the kids moved to Los Angeles where by the age of seven Pawelek was bleeding Dodger Blue. "I would go to bed at night listening to the transistor radio and I would cry myself to sleep if they lost but I always slept a lot better whenever they won.” Pawelek said.
Pawelek caught on his Little League team because nobody else wanted to. "But I welcomed the chance to play it because you're always busy at that position, every pitch, calling the game, blocking balls in the dirt…you're always in the game.”
At Monrovia High School Pawelek's baseball talent was overpowered by his lack of discipline. "I wasn't really a kid that cared for school, so I never made good grades, and then I eventually got involved with drugs which resulted in me getting kicked off the baseball team my senior year,” he said.
After graduation, and a very short stint with the Dodgers' rookie league affiliate in Pasadena, Pawelek took some time off and then enrolled at Citrus Junior College in Azusa, CA where he showed promise as a punter on the football team. However, there were more hurdles and Pawelek kept slamming right into them. "In college, it was more a case a lack of personal discipline, I was a troubled kid growing up without a father, looking back I lacked the necessary guidance needed to become a dedicated top notch player.” He's very candid about that time in his life. "It was ultimately my doing. There were still a lot of kids in those days that were in my situation that still turned ok, so I accept full responsibility for the bad decisions.”
After striking out in junior college try, Pawelek turned to rugby to satisfy his competitive thirst and to, let's face it, knock a few heads.
Ironically it was a blow to his own head during a game at would change his life forever and for the better. "I hit a guy making a tackle at full speed,” he said. A month after the jarring hit, Pawelek lapsed into a coma – the delayed effect of an injury sustained in that game, doctors believed.
"I spent seven days in a coma,” said Pawelek. To that point "I had always been a pretty faithless individual.”
Pawelek's Mormon sister, Elaine Spurgeon, asked some missionaries to visit her brother in the hospital and to pray for him. "And the next day I awoke from my coma and for being a very faithless individual and not having any real beliefs it was the greatest impact of my life and through that experience, my life changed,” he said.
"I learned about the church and the missionaries, and in 1975 I became a member and haven't smoked, drank or done anything of my previous nature since which has made all the difference in the world” he said.
The new, improved, now-25-year-old, Pawelek joined the Mormon Church and headed off on his own two-year mission. While in Amsterdam near the end of that mission, Pawelek met his future wife Kathy.
Now he was clearing hurdles instead of toppling them. He played baseball in Amsterdam – an experience that he said solidified his love of the game. Soon, he moved Springville, Utah where he earned a Bachelor's degree in advertising at Brigham Young University in 1981. After a 10 year stint in Los Angeles working for an oil company, Pawelek moved back to Springville in 1993 and now runs a Simply Natural Products business.
MSBL CAREER BEGINS
With his life in good working order, baseball came back into the picture – this time in dramatic fashion. During a recreational league game in Provo, Utah, a confident, swaggering Pawelek tempted fate. "I came up to bat and I called my shot, pointed the bat to left field and I hit a home run,” he said.
By chance an MSBL player named Dave Smith witnessed the deal. "He asked me if I would be interested in playing for a team in the World Series in Arizona.” I said they've got those leagues? He said yes and I've been playing ever since, I've been going to Phoenix every year. I didn't even have to think twice about saying yes,” he said.
Pawelek began pitching at age 42 because, as is sometimes the case, there is a relative dearth of 42-year-old pitchers out there. "I didn't pitch a lot at first but after awhile everybody got sore except for me and so I stuck with it,” he said.
Years of catching eased Pawelek's move to the mound. "When you pitch, you look at a batter and you can pitch him accordingly, when you're behind the plate you have to memorize hitters and how to pitch them, so basically both positions require a lot of thinking, they complement each other, and from that standpoint I think it was a good for me,” he said.
What he lacked in experience he made up for with intellect and the ability to observe. He learned what good pitchers do, broke down their mechanics, and along the way he taught his sons how to throw and immersed himself in pitching mechanics.
He did something right.
His son Dennis was drafted in 2002 by the Chicago White Sox as a pitcher, but he opted to go to law school instead. In 2005 son Mark was drafted in first round in 2005 by Chicago Cubs and, though plagued by injuries, is currently in the Reds organization.
With that success under his belt, locals began asking him to teach pitching to area kids and for the past four years he's done just that for kids 9-to-18,
Pawelek's philosophy is simple – be well conditioned, and throw a lot.
"Everyone thinks that an arm only has so many throws in it and based on my approach to pitching training, if you have a well-conditioned arm and you throw all the time, you will have a long career and I'm an example of that.” He said.
"I can't deny that part of it is that it's a gift, but I've taken good care of it by keeping up on my training by throwing a lot” he said.
For conditioning, Pawelek says nothing beats good old fashioned surgical tubing.
What is the key to Pawelek's durability? What is it that keeps him from avoiding any major arm injuries? Pawelek spends four days a week exercising his arm and is heavily reliant on surgical tubing for resistance. He does a variety of exercises during a 15-minute workout.
Following five years as an assistant coach at various high schools in the Utah area, Pawelek became the head baseball coach at the American Leadership Academy in Spanish Fork, Utah in 2011. He still lives in Springville, Utah with his wife of 32 years – and he's still playing ball.
Pawelek is a starter by nature, but can easily leap into the reliever role. "I don't need a lot of pitches to get warmed up and I really don't get sore doing one or the other” he said. "But when I start a game, there's a rhythm that I'm able to get into. When you come in as a reliever you have to throw different sequences, you may come in the middle of an inning and won't be too familiar with whom you're facing, but if you start the game, you can at least do your homework and know who you're facing.”
Pawelek's approach to relieving is simple – make them beat your best stuff. "When you come in in relief, you have to throw strikes, so if I come in middle of the game, you're going to probably get a fastball from me, seeing how it's my best pitch. So if you're going to beat me I'd rather it be with my best stuff.”
The thrill of playing is surpassed only by the satisfaction of coaching. "I love baseball, God gave me a gift to be a thrower and I've always enjoyed it and I feel the need to share it with the next generation” he said. "There comes a point where you only have so many horizons left, and with me that's the case, you should keep throwing as much as possible.”
The more Pawelek throws, the better for the team he's throwing for. "In all my years, I've seen maybe two or three guys in MSBL that have thrown a lot of innings,” Sherwin said. "But never have I seen a guy like him who throws a ton of innings without getting tired.
"This guy gets stronger as the game goes along.”