Jordan Danks’ first professional game came late in 2008 for the Kannapolis Intimidators, who were matched up against the Low-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants and some left-hander fresh out of high school named Madison Bumgarner.
Danks stepped into the box for his first at-bat and exited a few pitches later with his first professional strikeout.
In his second shot at Bumgarner, who was named to the National League All-Star team in 2013, Danks ripped a double off the wall in right field.
“I just remember getting in there against a guy throwing from a three-quarter arm slot at about 97 mph,” Danks said. “I think I went back to the hotel and cried that night. I was like, ‘Man, if this is Low-A, there’s no way I’m going to be able to get on.’
“I didn’t know (Bumgarner) was one of their top prospects,” said Danks, who went on to hit .325 for Kannapolis. “I remember being like, ‘if it’s like this every day, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to hang.’ ”
Although Danks had his early doubts with the aptly named Intimidators, Knights hitting coach Andy Tomberlin, who was the coach in Kannapolis at the time, saw promise.
“I remember him making such a good impression on me that I started to wonder how long he was going to be here,” Tomberlin said. “Probably not too long.”
By 2010, Danks had risen to Class AAA Charlotte.
Four years later, it’s gotten to the point where every time the 6-foot-4 center fielder comes to the plate you need to check the game notes just to make sure he’s not about to set another Knights record.
As of Thursday morning, Danks ranked second in games played (426), at-bats (1,538), hits (409), doubles (91) and runs scored (230). He’s also in the top five in home runs (47) and RBIs (203).
Danks needs five doubles, 25 RBIs and 30 hits to pass Joe Borchard in all three Knights categories.
If the team had its own Mount Rushmore, his face would already be taking shape.
Although the leader board shows that Danks, who will turn 28 on Aug. 7, has been a remarkably productive and consistent player – it also emphasizes the fact that he’s still here.
“If you’ve got to be (in Class AAA), you may as well perform and do well,” he said. “It’s nice to have these records and be able to look back and know that I have at least already accomplished something if my career ended today.
“I just try to come out here with a positive attitude every day and try to put up some good numbers and be ready when they need me.”
With a career batting average of .209 in 150 Major League games, Danks has heard the term “AAAA player” thrown in his direction, but it’s not something he lets get to him.
“All you can do is be yourself and I know who I am as a baseball player and what I can do,” Danks said. “I don’t take anything that anyone says really to heart because I know what kind of player I am.”
After failing to make the White Sox out of spring training, Danks was called up in early April and tried to prove he belonged in the big leagues with each swing. In doing so, he began to develop some poor habits at the plate.
Danks’ altered swing path came back to Charlotte with him in late April and led to some long days and a .168 average entering June.
“You don’t realize that you’re (pulling off) until you actually see yourself on video doing it,” Danks said. “It’s just about getting in the cage and setting up the tee on the outside corner and working on driving the ball that way.”
In the Knights first game in June, Danks cracked three hits and hasn’t looked back since, hitting .349 (38-for-109), with eight home runs and 24 RBIs.
Much like his first game in Kannapolis, Danks can remember the first time he got the news that he was going to be called up by the White Sox (he made his debut June 7, 2012).
“We were in Toledo and in the middle of batting practice,” Danks said. “I was out in center field because I had already hit in my group, and (Knights manager Joel) Skinner walked all the way out to center field and told me I was going up the next day.”
Skinner still penciled Danks’ name into Charlotte’s lineup card that night and in his last at-bat of the game, he homered.
“I was like, ‘One for the road,’ and the next day I peaced out,” Danks said. “It was really cool.”
What Danks has been able to accomplish with the Knights is remarkable. Maybe this time, he can snag a Knights’ record for the road.
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