There might not be anyone else on the 2016 Myrtle Beach Pelicans roster who has the perspective that Daniel Lewis has.
For the 25-year-old pitcher, the grind of the minor-league baseball season doesn’t compare to the times he spent immediately after graduating high school — serving the country in the United States Air Force.
Lewis’ journey to the Chicago Cubs organization hasn’t been conventional, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Classic American pride is something he’s carried with him through his entire life.
“When I was in high-school, there was always a thought of wanting to do something like that,” Lewis said of his ultimate decision to serve. “My dad was a firefighter and my mom was a teacher… it was always in the back of my mind.
“I had a friend who was in Afghanistan in 2009 and he was killed. So, when I graduated high-school that year, I made a pretty solid decision that it was what I wanted to do. At that point I wasn’t getting any prospects from baseball, no lookers or anything like that. So I figured it was time to get a big-boy job.”
Honorably, Lewis served for four years in the Air Force, leaving behind family and friends to serve and protect the country with pride. It was a part of life he’ll never regret, especially considering it likely paved a way for his professional baseball career to take form.
Although he’s now one of Myrtle Beach’s top bullpen arms, Lewis said the thought of playing professional baseball never once crossed his mind during his service time.
“No, not at all,” Lewis said, shaking his head. “And I know that sounds bad, but I thought about my friends and enjoying the time I was in the military. I enjoyed that, but I didn’t really think about baseball. When I got out, I knew I wanted to go to school… I figured hey, even if I was the equipment manager, I figured I could be around the game.”
Admittedly, he noted that his lack of thoughts of advancing to the next level were sparked by his memories of his time in high school. He loved the game, but the ability to play at any collegiate or pro seemed far-fetched.
He wasn’t a primary pitcher, and his fastball left much to be desired, topping out in the low-80s range. All in all, Lewis was certain that life after the military wouldn’t consist of him toeing a baseball rubber.
But when he returned home, he noticed a career-altering change. His military training had significantly increased his strength and ability to toss a baseball, leading to a massive increase in velocity. Almost suddenly, after being away from the game for what could’ve felt like an eternity, Lewis’ life took an 180-degree turn.
Amazingly throwing the baseball in the mid-90s when he returned home, he went on to Pensacola State College to throw some innings and tune up his game, ultimately playing in the Cape Cod collegiate summer league to gain exposure.
It didn’t take long before the Cubs saw potential, inking a deal in July of 2014 to officially make Lewis a professional baseball star. And ever since the sliver of opportunity presented itself, the dedicated right-hander hasn’t looked back.
He’s now a staple in Myrtle Beach’s bullpen, compiling a 2.97 ERA in 23 outings for the team this season.
His success is providing an opportunity to continue rising up the ranks in a minor-league atmosphere that is far from glamorous, but it’s more than welcomed from Lewis’ point of view.
Now, he’s relying on his military background to be the best person, player and teammate he can possibly be.
“It relates to the same camaraderie with being around the guys and all of that,” he said. “Mental aspect, it’s the same thing. You have a job to do and you do it. You do it to the best of your ability and if everything works you, you win.
“It’s the same kind of thing in that you’re with the same guys for six to eight months out of the year here, you’re on buses with them for sometimes 10 to 11 hours. You’re pretty much around them everyday, sometimes all day. And then they have to trust you when you’re on the field and you have to trust them.”
For Lewis, while the physically taxing season may be difficult, it’s a far cry from the situations he faced as a teenager fresh out of high-school.
He’ll be the first to admit that the minor-league life can be unique, but you’ll never hear the tough-nosed competitor complain about the rigorous routine.
“Honestly, the hardest thing about the minor-leagues is the hotels with bad wifi,” he joked.
“You’re either going to perform or you’re not, and that’s the same thing. It goes hand-in-hand with whatever [military] training you do... There are situations that we have in games, and even sometimes you make up those situations in practice to put yourself in to [think] ‘what am I going to do when this happens?’, and sometimes you don’t know until it does happen, but you try to prepare for those situations as much as you can so when you’re in them, it’s not that stressful.”
On the mound, Lewis tends to get the “bulldog” label thrown his way, hinting at his competitive nature.
Speaking with him, one can almost see the journey that he’s traveled at such a young age. With a deep voice, full beard and chiseled physique, he looks the part of a military tough-guy.
But what lies underneath his appearance is the beauty of his story — genuine love and respect for life, the game of baseball and most notably, people.
“I don’t really come off as a people person, but I really am,” he said with a smile. “I’m very aggressive and outspoken when I’m on the field, and I’m not afraid to say something that maybe sometimes I shouldn’t or show my emotions, but that’s just adrenaline.
“All the guys, we might joke about it or whatever, but we all really enjoy the fans asking for balls and autographs. That really brings me back to when I was a kid and going to the games. We had Kinston, the Indians… I remember going to the games and being like ‘man, these guys are awesome’. Well now, I’m in that position but it doesn’t feel like it… it’s a big deal, but it’s very relative. I can relate back to that stuff, so I know what it’s like being on the other side.”
Certainly, if there’s anyone who can relate to the exterior aspects of the entirety of the game of baseball, it’s Lewis.
He proudly represents the red, white and blue, a trait respected by many in the current sports climate.
He respects his current position within professional baseball, taking time for fans who stand in the shoes he was in not too long ago.
All in all, he represents an All-American feeling that anything is possible with hard work, and the notion that good things really do happen to good people.
Now he’s trying to climb the ladder to reach his ultimate dream of pitching in Major League Baseball. And if he does, it’s safe to say he’ll be greeted in “The Show” with proud displays of patriotism towards a man who dedicated his time to serve and protect the United States of America.
“One of my friends always told me, ‘whatever level you’re at, when you’re ready to pitch in the big-leagues, you’ll be in the big-leagues’. So I’m trying to make it to the big leagues,” he said. “As far-fetched as it may be for somebody like me, or anybody else in the minor-leagues, I think if you keep the positive mindset and you have good years consistently, I think there’s no reason you shouldn’t make it.”