By Sam Blum
April 22, 2013.
It’s a date that comes to the front of Daniel Lewis’ mind without hesitation.
It’s the day that Lewis left the U.S. Military after serving four years. But it’s also the day that he became a ballplayer again.
“That was definitely a milestone for me – I don’t wanna say having the game taken from me for going into the military,” Lewis said, “but I don’t know anybody who’s been in the military who’s come back to baseball.”
After coming back last spring, Lewis joined the baseball team at Pensacola State in Florida. Now, after receiving an invitation to play for Cotuit by manager Mike Roberts, Lewis has become a fixture in the starting rotation.
Lewis has developed a breaking ball on Cape Cod to go along with his low-ninety’s fastball. He is second on the team with 10 strikeouts over just 10 1/3 innings. On Tuesday, the 24-year old received an offer from a Major League ball club.
“I wanna go with this guy, whether it’s baseball or life in any tough situation,” Roberts said, “because I already believe in that guy.
“He’s a man among boys.”
Lewis has a stoicism to him. His voice is deep, his beard is fully grown. He’s not the clean-cut college baseball player. He carries around a worn-down military backpack. During the national anthem of every game, he salutes the flag.
Lewis joined the military in 2009, after a friend of his was killed serving in Afghanistan.
The details of his time in the military are some that Lewis doesn’t like to talk about.
“I’ve had situations and been in situations that are a lot more stressful than starting a baseball game,” he said.
When Lewis got out of the military, he called up the coaches at Pensacola St. and West Florida. Pensacola St. told him to come out and throw a bullpen. He impressed enough to give him a spot.
Lewis said his arm was sore after throwing his first couple bullpens. He had to build up his arm strength and work on repeating his delivery.
He hadn’t pitched since high school, and even then he admitted that he wasn’t a good pitcher. He just wanted to see what he had in the tank.
“It was just something to do, honestly,” Lewis said. “It turned out to be a lot more than what I expected.”
At Pensacola, his ERA wasn’t sparkling at 5.13. But it was clear he had the tools. His manager, Keith Little found Billy Sadler, an agent, and referenced Lewis. Sadler now serves as an advisor.
Sadler called up Roberts, who agreed to take him on as a temporary player without ever seeing him pitch.
“This is a guy that needs to be around that talent, that high-caliber of talent because he’s gonna do good things around a group of guys like that,” Sadler said. “I know it’s a matter of time for him for it all to click and do amazing things.”
When Cotuit played its season opening game at Hyannis on June 11, it was Lewis that Roberts turned to to make the start. He see’s Lewis as a team leader, a way to stabilize his team’s nerves.
Lewis said it’s weird to be the 24-year old sophomore, likening himself to Kindergarten Cop or Billy Madison. But being a leader is a role he’s fit to handle.
“He’s one of those that you just get behind and go because you trust him,” Roberts said. “He’s not a vocal leader but he’s very mature.
“I haven’t been around a young man like him in a long time.”
After Tuesday’s game that Lewis started, all of his teammates lined up to give him a hug and a pat on the back. He’d been offered a professional contract earlier in the day, with plans to wait and see if another came.
Either way, Roberts said, Tuesday would likely be his last day as a Cape League pitcher.
For four years of Lewis’ life, baseball wasn’t even a thought in his mind. Now, improbably, he’s chasing a dream that up until last year he didn’t know he had.
“I don’t throw as hard as these guys might,” Lewis said. “My stuff’s not as good as these guys. I have a different approach.
“The mentality sets me apart.”