BY STEVE KRAH
His bat helped Eric Danapilis get at baseball scholarship at the University of Notre Dame, earn All-American honors and some time in professional ball with the Detroit Tigers organization.
His ability to teach hitting helped a future World Series MVP (Steve Pearce) and an NCAA Division II championship team (Florida Southern College). He also coached at his high school alma mater (St. Joseph, Mich.).
Danapilis is now sharing his offensive knowledge a few miles from where he played college ball. He is a hitting instructor at the 1st Source Performance Center at Four Winds Field — home of the Class-A South Bend (Ind.) Cubs.
After shutting down his own facility (Twin City Baseball and Softball Club) in St. Joseph, he was brought in by former South Bend manager and current Performance Center director Mark Haley in August 2018.
“In the batting cage, that’s where my love and passion is,” says Danapilis. “I don’t teach just one method. We talk about being linear and getting through the ball.
“When you’re teaching a 15- or 16-year-old kid, the biggest thing is teaching him to get the barrel (of the bat) to the ball consistently. Stay balanced. Stay through the ball. Get the barrel to the ball.”
This can be achieved by developing hand-eye coordination.
Danapilis says the launch angle can be applied for advanced college players and for pros.
As a righty-swinging outfielder, Danapilis was recruited to Notre Dame by Pat Murphy. The Irish head coach was in St. Joseph, Mich., and saw Danapilis play in an American Legion tournament game at Riverview Park.
“I hit a home run and I was pitching at the time, (Murphy) goes ‘who’s this guy?,’” says Danapilis.
Recruited by top-notch schools all over the country, including Arizona State and UCLA, the four-time all-stater at St. Joseph (Class of 1989) was convinced by Murphy to stay in Michiana.
“Pat Murphy did a great job of recruiting me. He said you’re going to have the potential of starting all four years. You’re going to be one of these guys who builds the program. You’re going to be an All-American.
“He sold me. He didn’t lie to me. Everything he told me came true.”
Playing in the shadow of the Golden Dome for four seasons (1990-93), Danapilis hit .402 with 26 homers, 61 doubles and 89 runs batted in for 204 games.
“(Murphy) was very tough to play for, but I learned a lot,” says Danapilis, who still keeps communicates with Murphy (now the Milwaukee Brewers bench coach) and former ND teammate Craig Counsell (the Brewers manager). “I was very fortunate and go to play pro baseball after that.”
Danapilis selected in the 27th round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Detroit Tigers and played in the minors through 1996, amassing a .269 average with 46 homers, 81 doubles and 238 RBIs in 414 games.
For a few years after retiring as a player, Danapilis helped Larry Parrish put young Tigers players through winter workouts by throwing batting practice and swinging a fungo bat.
Danapilis was a teacher and assistant baseball coach at Lakeland (Fla.) Senior High School on the staff of Ron Nipper when Pearce was on the Dreadnaughts squad. Pearce was the MVP for the 2018 World Series-winning Boston Red Sox.
“It’s great to see him persevere with all the stuff he’s gone through,” says Danapilis of Pearce, who began his pro career in 2005 and has been traded, released or designated for assignment several times.
Danapilis and Pearce exchanged texts after the Series. Pearce provided this quote for Haley: “If you’re a young hitter and you want to learn, Coach D’s the best.”
“It made me feel good,” says Danapilis of the praise. “Here’s the World Series MVP and he still remembers all the time we put in together.
“It was awesome as a coach. You never had to tell him to go play hard. He was just one of those grinders.”
Danapilis, who also had future big league fireballer Chris Sale as a student at Lakeland Senior, was hired by Florida Southern College in Lakeland and served as hitting coach for long-time Moccasins head coach Chuck Anderson.
FSC has won nine D-II national titles — three for Anderson (1985, 1988 and 1995). Anderson died of cancer in 2003.
To be closer to his parents — Ed and Angeline Danapilis — Eric moved back to southwestern lower Michigan first as head baseball coach and part-time instructor at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor and then head coach at St. Joseph. He also taught at the high school. He was inducted into St. Joseph Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001.
Ed Danapilis was born in Lithuania and moved the U.S. at 10. He was a fixture around North Lincoln youth baseball and St. Joseph Rocket football and coached all five of his sons — Eric, Andrew, Christopher, Adam and Marc. He was scorekeeper for Eric when he was coach of the St. Joe Bears. “Big Ed” died in 2014.
Eric led the St. Joseph program for six years and was a teacher there for 10. He opened the Twin City Baseball and Softball Club in 2012. Brother Marc tended to work with younger kids while Eric spent much of his time with the older ones.
Eric and Caroline Danapilis have a daughter — Hannah. Caroline teaches in the St. Joseph, Mich., system. Hannah went to Washington St. Louis University and Indiana University and is now in pursuing her doctorate near Seattle.
While exploring his next career path, Eric works part-time selling insurance for Alfac while instructing hitters at the Performance Center and Slam Athletic Center in Benton Harbor.
Eric Danapilis, who was an All-American at Notre Dame and played in the Detroit Tigers system, is a hitting instructor at 1st Source Bank Performance Center at Four Winds Field — home of the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs. (1st Source Bank Performance Center Photo)