MANSFIELD – Four years after he became a national celebrity in the Little League World Series, the luster hasn’t dimmed for Hagen Danner.
If anything, the spotlight has grown more intense.
The 16-year-old Danner, whose father Scott was a 1980 Madison High School graduate, is one of the youngest players competing for a spot this summer on the USA Baseball 18U National Team and is on track to become one of the top pitching prospects in Major League Baseball’s 2017 First-Year Player Draft.
Last month, Danner helped Huntington Beach win California’s Southern Section Division I title, the equivalent of a big school state championship in Ohio. It was the first title in the school’s 107-year history.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Danner saw his fastball peak at 92 mph at the 2015 USA Baseball National High School Invitational, where the righthander also displayed a tantalizing curveball and quality changeup while striking out 13 in a three-hit shutout broadcast on MLB.com.
Even though he still has two years of high school remaining, Danner has already committed to UCLA. He verbally accepted a scholarship offer the summer before he entered ninth grade.
And he’s already working with an adviser, a former Texas Rangers scouting director.
For a very proud father, it can all be a little bit overwhelming.
“There’s a lot to watch for my wife (Lisa) and me … the recognition he gets,” said Scott Danner, a starter on the 1979-80 Madison team that won the school’s first Cardinal Conference basketball championship. “We’ve never gone through this with our other kids (two older siblings), so it’s all new to us.
“Even at the adviser level, they were knocking on the door a year ago, and just like a college, we had to commit to them.”
NCAA rules clearly state it is a violation for agents to represent players. A player may retain an adviser to offer advice, but as soon as the adviser has any contact with a pro club on the player’s behalf he becomes an agent and the player becomes ineligible.
“Hagen’s adviser is more like a father figure; we like him,” Scott Danner said. “They’ve really become friends. They stay in touch and watch his games.”
Like everybody else, that adviser is getting an eyeful.
As a high school freshman, Danner pitched in relief. This past season he became a starter and posted a 1.03 ERA in 61 innings with 65 strikeouts, throwing a shutout in a second-round playoff game.
When Danner isn’t on the mound, he’s behind the plate. He was both a hitting and pitching star in the 2011 Little League World Series where he led Huntington Beach’s Ocean Valley team to the championship.
In a game against the local favorites from Clinton County, Penn. — with 31,000 fans in the stands in Williamsport, Penn. and millions more watching on television — Danner struck out 12 batters over 5 2/3 scoreless innings, and he also homered, going 3-for-3 at the plate. He homered again in the 2-1 title game victory over Japan.
Danner had a tournament-high 11 hits in Huntington Beach’s six games, five of them victories. Hagen went 3-for-4 in the 5-1 win over Billings, Mont., that avenged his team’s only loss in the tournament.
“There was a lot of media there, and at 12 years old, it’s nerve-wracking,” he recently told the Los Angeles Times. “I’ve learned a lot from it, learned to battle the mental side and not worry about what’s going on around me.”
Huntington Beach High School coach Benji Medure said Danner learned how to handle the big stage in Williamsport.
“It taught him how to compete, stay within himself, because the situation could swallow him up,” Medure told MLB.com. “He learned at a young age to slow the game down, and he does that well. He slows the game down and he processes, and he really does go one pitch at a time.”
Scott Danner has a sister, Melissa Mack, in Mansfield, and an uncle, Newt Danner, in Wooster, who keep tabs on Danner’s progress. Scott’s late father, Bob Danner, was a prominent businessman in town.
In a News Journal interview after his son became a Little League World Series hero, Scott Danner didn’t think all the media attention, the hometown parade and the appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” would go to his son’s head.
He still doesn’t.
“It’s hard with Twitter and everything, but he does a pretty good job,” he said. “He likes coming home and hanging out with his buddies. We canceled a trip to Georgia for a tournament because it was just too much. He needs a break.”
Scott Danner, an aerospace engineer, stopped playing high school baseball at the junior varsity level to concentrate on basketball. Hagen Danner went right from middle school to the high school varsity — with his college choice already made.
“They’re aggressive out here,” he said of college recruiters. “Nearly all of the guys he’s played with the last three or four years have committed to southern California schools.”
UCLA head coach John Savage has helped mold major league pitches such as Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star Gerrit Cole and Cleveland Indians starter Trevor Bauer, who is already in his fourth MLB season at age 24.
“We have to remember that he’s 16 years old,” Medure told MLB.com. “He’s still a kid. At times he’ll show he’s 16. But we see this physically mature, unbelievable athlete that can do what you just saw (at the National High School Invitational).
“What’s going to take him to the next level is him getting stronger mentally.”