Free of any pomp or circumstance, far from much recognition and certainly the spotlight, Daniel Park quietly turned in a terrific junior season.
But on a Crescenta Valley High baseball team with names like Emmons, Nacapoy, Kauppila and Krise, the 5-foot-4, 150-pound Falcon in center field was easily overlooked.
Now, though, the reserved and diminutive Park is one of just three returning starters for the Pacific League champions along with Kris and Lonnie Kauppila.
Now, Park must emerge from the shadows of his teammates if Crescenta Valley is to lay claim to its seventh consecutive league title.
“They were pretty much the leaders, so I followed their steps,” says Park of last year’s senior standouts. “Now they’re gone and I think I need to step it up.”
Park will stay put in center field, where teammates and coaches alike marvel at his ability to run down anything hit his way.
“He pretty much catches anything,” Falcons teammate Andrew Pita says. “He’s so fast. ...He looks like Superman when he dives — he won’t hesitate to put himself in harm’s way to catch a ball.”
Offensively, he’ll hit second, sandwiched between the brothers Kauppila.
“He should be a really big weapon hitting behind Kris and in front of Lonnie, and he can really run,” Falcons Coach Phil Torres says. “The more he’s on the bases, the more havoc he causes, the more fastballs Lonnie gets.”
In the aforementioned areas, not much truly changes from last year to this for Park.
In 2007, he was a standout fielder in center.
“We threw him in center field and told him to run everything down,” Torres says.
At the plate, Park hit .305, scoring 18 runs and building a .432 on-base percentage. He garnered first-team All-Pacific League honors and second-team All-Area accolades.
Alas, he’s no longer under the radar. A slew of All-Area selections don’t follow him in the order or surround him in the field. Park, like the majority of his Falcons teammates, will be thrust to the forefront for the very first time.
“Our weakness is inexperience, or not so much inexperience, but these guys have never had to be the man,” Torres says.
Park isn’t exactly being asked to be the man, but his success is looked on to create team success. In that aspect, Park most assuredly fits the role.
“He would rather see the team win and himself go 0 for four,” Pita says.
Confirms Park: “Baseball’s a team sport. ... If you go four for four, it doesn’t really do any good if you lose.”
Last year, Park’s approach was a silent one, though.
Venturing to Ohio with Torres, the Falcons coaching staff and a handful of CV players as part of the San Gabriel Valley All-Stars, Park’s experience during the Babe Ruth World Series was an invaluable one.
“He really turned the corner this summer,” Torres says. “I think the whole experience really helped him. He’s a lot more vocal and a lot more take-charge right now.”
Park’s friends and teammates still agree he’s a relatively quiet individual, but he’s been more than willing to step into a leadership role.
“He does his job, he’s not a rah-rah guy, but he encourages you, he tries to help you,” Pita says. “He knows that the pressure is on him, but he knows he can’t let it affect him, cause it’s gonna affect the team.”
That’s something Park won’t let happen. That’s why he’s a tireless worker, whether it’s at practice, in the cages or in the weight room.
“He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,” teammate Nick Antista says. “He’s always working to get better.”
As the 2008 season is at hand, questions abound as to what the Falcons can accomplish. But it’s clear, Park will be one of the answers.
“He’s gotta step forward,” Torres says. “He has to be a weapon.”
One certainty is Park will do everything in his 5-foot-4 frame to make that happen.
“I think I can handle it,” he says. “It’s gonna be a big difference from last year.”