TAMPA — In the middle of a 10-acre Hawaiian pineapple field, Daniel Scott hunched over the top of a pineapple plant, a 13-year-old toiling alongside migrant workers from Central America and Micronesia and other locales foreign to a boy sheltered on the island of Maui.
The summer sun beat unbearably hot and, combined with the soaked-through long-sleeve shirts and thickly padded jeans that had to be worn to protect the skin from spiders and centipedes and sharp pineapple crowns, made for miserable conditions.
Reflecting on that time, Daniel, now a defender for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, remembers picking a pineapple when a 4-inch wide cane spider jumped out from underneath and into his mouth.
"I freaked out," he said. "I threw the pineapple up and ran. I just think now, it was hot, it was grueling. (Soccer) is easy. I think about that while I'm playing, too; life could be so much worse. I'm so blessed to be playing something that I love to do. And there's not a day that goes by that I take it for granted."
For that, Daniel has his mother Linda to thank.
Daniel, a defender who joined the Rowdies toward the end of last season from the Premier Development League, was born in Hawaii and lived there until he left to attend Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., at age 17. His parents were Southern California natives but moved to Hawaii before starting a family. Daniel's father, Lee, was a journeyman surfer who wanted to live where conditions were ideal year-round.
"My dad was a big-time surfer in the 1970s," Daniel recalled. "He was really good. He could have gone professional."
When Daniel was 7, his parents divorced, so his mom raised him and his brother Zach, who is five years older, on her own.
"The prospect of raising two teenage boys by myself was just a little daunting," said Linda, who held down three jobs at one point, delivering newspapers in the morning, cleaning houses during the day and bookkeeping for a private school in the afternoon. "So my theory was put them in sports, keep them busy, wear them out, and they won't get in trouble."
Which is how Zach — and five years later, Daniel — found themselves in Hawaii's pineapple fields for one summer, unwitting participants in Linda's personal scared-straight program.
A conveyor belt carting away the produce moved slowly, Daniel recalled, steadily up each row, forcing the pickers to work at a consistent pace or risk getting left behind.
Daniel, a couple of months from his freshman year of high school, took note of his surroundings. Hard, manual labor was not for him, and he motivated himself to stay focused, to strive for more.
"Both of them would ask 'Why do we have to do this?' " Linda said. "And I would tell them, 'That's your motivation to go to college.' "
"Summers for me weren't time off from school. Summers for me were working," said Zach, a defender with Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders. "Whether it was working in the field, I worked in a warehouse for a year after that, I even started a paper route when I was 10. Right from the get-go, we were taught the value of hard work."
Those lessons were invaluable. Both Zach and Daniel showed an early aptitude for soccer, but opportunities to grow were scarce. Hawaii had a number of players with athletic talent but not much technical ability. Being so isolated from the rest of the United States kept them from regularly facing better competition.
"It was eye-opening when we would dominate certain teams in Hawaii and then be put up against a team from California, who were just miles ahead of us, and we would just get completely outplayed," Daniel said. "It would be a very, very humbling experience to show you that you're nowhere near where you could be."
For Zach, his opportunity came from an assistant coach at Gonzaga who was from Oahu and would recruit the Hawaiian islands occasionally. Initially unimpressed, the recruiter later came to admire his determination and offered a scholarship.
"They were essentially my only option," Zach said.
Daniel, aided by his brother's path, walked on at Gonzaga and earned a scholarship.
On Sunday, Mother's Day, Zach and Daniel will thank their mom for sending them to the pineapple fields, for pushing them. They'll also do it a month later on Father's Day.
"As a single parent, when you're raising two boys like that, I think her focus was entirely on us, and she sacrificed so much that she basically took both roles," Daniel said. "She is definitely the reason why my brother and I are where we are today."