WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — If Tyler Danish was riding high after a second-round draft selection and a head-turning rookie season in the minor leagues, it took just two pitches to bring the Durant High alumnus back down to earth.
The 6-foot right-handed pitcher admitted he was nervous when he took the mound May 18 for his first start with the Winston-Salem Dash, the high-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
It showed. Danish gave up five earned runs in five innings before being pulled.
"I gave up two home runs on two pitches I wish I could take back," he said. "They don't miss many mistakes here."
A year and a half ago, mistakes on the mound weren't things Danish spent a lot of time thinking about. The former Durant ace — who finished his senior campaign without allowing an earned run — didn't make very many of them.
But for the second-youngest player in the Carolina League, all of that has changed. Now Danish, 19, must learn how not only to accept his flaws but fix them in order to continue his quick progression through the minors.
"It's the first time in their careers where they're going to start to fail. And he's going to fail more," Dash pitching coach J.R. Perdew said. "The difference to me (are) the guys that know how to handle it and make adjustments."
Durant coach Butch Valdes pauses while trying to recall the moment he first noticed Danish's big-league potential. That's because the six-year head coach had to go back further than Danish's four varsity seasons with the Cougars to pinpoint it.
High school baseball programs once were allowed to have middle schoolers in their developmental programs. Danish was a seventh-grader at Mulrennan Middle School in Valrico, playing on Durant's junior varsity squad, when Valdes watched him blast balls to the far corners of the outfield at their home park, the second largest in Hillsborough County.
"When we saw that," Valdes said, "we knew he was going to be special."
Even then, Valdes couldn't have known that five years later Danish would post a 15-1 record and a spotless ERA while leading Durant to its first state championship game appearance. In that title game — the one and only playoff appearance the Cougars made that year without starting Danish — Durant lost 8-3.
Danish might have finished his high school career with a record-breaking season on the mound, but it didn't begin there.
He played third base during his first two years on varsity, beating out a senior for the starting spot as a sophomore while recording a team-leading .484 batting average. It was during that school year, though, that life forever changed for the boy from Valrico.
On Dec. 27, 2010, Danish's father, Mike — the man who coached all of his son's sports teams until high school — died of cancer. In the next nine months, Danish also lost three of his four grandparents. An only child living with his mother, Charlotte, Danish was suddenly the man of the house.
"I think it helped him grow up quicker," she said.
After the 20th pick of the 2013 Major League Baseball first-year player draft was made, Danish began getting anxious. He had been watching the draft unfold on television at home with his mother, his phone buzzing every now and again with news from his agent.
None of the calls, however, was the one he was waiting for. So Danish left the house and headed to the grocery store for a snack.
"I'm looking at him like, 'I can't believe you just went and got ice cream,' " Charlotte Danish recalled, laughing.
Danish wouldn't have to wait much longer to hear his name called. With the 55th pick of the draft, the White Sox selected the University of Florida commitment. Within minutes he was on the phone with a representative from the organization, and a week later he signed a contract that came with a bonus of just more than a million dollars.
Danish played 13 games in rookie league in Bristol, Va., and two with the Class A Kannapolis Intimidators that summer, finishing the season with a 1.20 ERA in 30 innings. He went back to Kannapolis to start the 2014 season and improved his ERA to 0.71, giving up just three earned runs in 38 innings.
In May, he was promoted once again.
Danish sits in the dugout on a cloudy North Carolina day, his eyes scanning the field he now calls home. It's on that very diamond that the one-time star — who has a 5.16 ERA in 29⅔ innings with Winston-Salem — has learned to take his lumps.
Three years ago, tragedy forced Danish to grow up fast. Now, the pitcher says his blessings are the source of his maturation.
Out on his own and still a teenager, Danish pays his own bills and finds his own apartments, more than 600 miles away from his hometown. In April, he purchased a home in Riverview for him and his mother.
"A year ago, I was in English class trying to get my diploma," he said. "That's what's crazy about all of it and how fast it's going. I never thought I'd be here at 19 years old."
It's Danish's maturity that makes him stand out to Perdew.
"In this business, we see 19-year-olds every day. I hate to say babysitting, but that's what you have to do a lot of," he said. "With him, he's like a veteran guy. He knows what he needs to do, and he does it."
Perdew and Dash manager Tommy Thompson agree that Danish has all the tools he needs to be a major-leaguer, something Valdes predicts will happen in two short years. It's consistency, the Dash coaches say, that Danish needs in order to one day make that big-league debut.
That's an occasion Charlotte Danish has already thought a lot about.
"It's one in a million to get drafted, then I think it's one in a million to make it," she said. "I know that if anyone can do it, it will be him."
Contact Kelly Parsons at [email protected] Follow @_kellyparsons.