Danny Nelson knew Grantsville High School would win a state championship in baseball in 2014.
Back in the seventh grade, when he and his friends were getting serious about the sport, Danny mapped it all out.
In 2005 he jotted down the names of the stars who would lead the Cowboys to the crown. The list included Wyatt Barrus, Ky Fisher, Dillon Hutchins, Jonas Johnson, Nick Arbon, Clay Matthews, Matt Garrard and of course Danny Nelson.
Danny’s prediction became a reality on Saturday, May 17 when the Cowboys defeated Desert Hills 8-7 to win the 3A championship at Brent Brown Ballpark in Orem.
The Cowboys led 8-7 headed to the bottom of the seventh.
“I was nervous in the seventh inning when they got their lead-off hitter on and had that big first baseman coming to the plate, I could see him hitting a home run to win the game,” Danny said. “Then we got a couple of outs, and even with two outs it was nerve-wracking. Then they hit a low-liner to center, and it looked like a base hit. But D-Will came in to make the catch to end the game. I still can’t believe it; it was incredible,” Danny said.
Danny’s dreams of winning a state championship came true. But not exactly as he had planned it.
He played for the junior varsity his freshmen and sophomore seasons. He played some varsity his junior year, and started out this year logging several innings at second base. “I started less and less over the course of the season. I was struggling at the plate so that was working against me,” Danny said.
A more serious situation, however, worked against the senior: Crohn’s disease.
“In the middle of the basketball season I was getting bad cramps, and was hunched over. I had inflammation in the small intestine. My intestine ruptured and it was paralyzing. I curled up and couldn’t move; I had to go to the ER for surgery; they took out 22 inches of intestine,” Danny said.
The senior was in Primary Children’s Hospital for five days back in December and was released on Christmas Eve. “A lot of my friends came to see me. Dillon (Hutchins) visited me four or five times,” he said.
Danny was able play with the baseball team when the season rolled around in the spring. He played with a bag attached to his body. “Doctors told me people with Crohn’s Disease are able to lead a normal life, they just have to go to the bathroom a little differently,” Danny said. “The coach gave me a key to the bathroom next to the softball field so I could go when I needed to.”
The plan would be to play out the baseball season, and then have surgery in June. But complications occurred, and Danny was back in the hospital on Monday, May 5. It was the week leading up to Grantsville’s first two state playoff games at home on Saturday, May 10.
Grantsville’s Senior Day was Tuesday, May 6 after a game against Carbon. Seniors received plaques and autographed baseballs. Barrus, Hutchins, Matthews and Williams took Danny’s gifts to him at the hospital.
“I had surgery the day before the home playoff games, but one of the coaches was able to let me watch the games on Facetime. My dad wore my jersey to the games,” Danny said. Danny’s father Merrill also provided play-by-play of the first two playoff games for Danny via telephone.
After the first two victories, the team scheduled a dinner for Wednesday night prior to the tourney games in Orem. Team mother Krista Hutchins wanted Danny to speak at the dinner.
“It wasn’t looking good on Monday in the hospital and I was certain I couldn’t make it,” Danny said. “But things got better early Wednesday. So I texted Krista and told her I was coming, but not to tell the team — it would be a surprise.”
To motivate the team, Danny talked about the last time a Grantsville baseball team won a state championship back in 2000. Reaching the finals through the winner’s bracket, Grantsville needed to defeat Parowan once to win the state title.
But Parowan won the first game on the 10-run rule with Parowan’s ace pitcher on the mound. The top Parowan pitcher was back on the mound for a second game and shut down the Cowboys again for six innings. Grantsville rallied to win the championship in the seventh inning with a triple, double and a walk-off home run by Clayton Christiansen.
“That Grantsville team had every right to throw in the towel, but instead they trusted in their ability and kept on swinging,” Danny told his teammates.
“Tomorrow we got Juan Diego and odds are they are going to throw their ace at us. But I’m going to tell you right now that he will not be enough because we are going to fight and claw and battle every pitch and I guarantee that he won’t be ready for that,” Danny told the team.
“Now, I’ve played with you guys for my entire life, and for the last five years exclusively. We’ve been on the field together hundreds of times. But, thanks to this surgery, I’m done. I won’t be out there tomorrow. I can’t do anything to affect the outcome of that game. So I’m asking you guys, when you step on the field tomorrow, to give me everything you have until the last out is made.
“I know that term is used a lot but I want you to take it to heart tomorrow. Sprint to your position, beat out ground balls and lay out for anything in your area. When you step on the field tomorrow, play like it’s the last time it will ever happen, because it just might be,” Danny said. “Trust each other tomorrow, and trust yourselves tomorrow. Play within yourselves and play Cowboy baseball. I’m going to tell you right now that Juan Diego is not ready for what is about to come at them.”
The Cowboys went on to defeat Juan Diego 11-7 on Thursday May 15 , and then Desert Hills 3-2 Friday, May 16. The Cowboys came through in the first game against favorite Desert Hills with some timely suicide squeeze plays and a tremendous pitching performance by Hutchins.
Desert Hills defeated Grantsville 13-8 in the first game Saturday, May 17, then the Cowboys came back to win the championship with an 8-7 victory in the second game on Saturday, May 17.
Danny was able to wear his uniform and attend the first two games in Orem. He was still weak, and his parents drove him to and from the games. Danny then traveled with his teammates on the bus to the final two games.
At a banquet celebrating the season, teammate Hutchins talked about Danny’s important role in motivating the team to win the state championship.
“After losing the first game Danny came up to us and said ‘guys, these Desert Hills kids have nothing. We can beat them —now go and do it.’” Hutchins said the words made an impact.
“Throughout the second game I found myself looking to the dugout to see my best friend Danny cheering us on in full uniform, eye-black on and spikes tied — knowing that he was not going to play in the game that we had been dreaming about since we were little Yankees. We did it for Danny on Saturday,” Hutchins said.