When Ontario Blue Jays coach Dan Bleiwas comes to Davenport Field each fall, he rarely arrives without some extra reading for his gracious host.
“He always gives us a report on who are the better players that would help us,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor.
The Blue Jays and Cavaliers annually meet in September for an exhibition game that also serves a recruiting purpose.
OBJ is considered one of Canada’s top amateur baseball programs. Its mission is to develop players as well as help place its high school graduates in the United States.
In 2012, a lanky 6-foot-5 shortstop by the name of Daniel Pinero was one of Ontario’s prized possessions — and he was on Grounds on Sept. 22 for an afternoon contest with UVa.
“Danny was certainly at the top of that list,” O’Connor said.
Pinero went 1-for-4 with an RBI double at the plate and played a flawless short as the Blue Jays fell to the Cavs, 8-3.
The performance — along with the obvious potential — was enough to pique O’Connor’s interest.
“No. 1, I thought the kid had great instincts for the game,” O’Connor said. “He looked like he could be an excellent defender in the middle of our infield. He seemed to understand the game of baseball at a very advanced level.”
Soon thereafter, Pinero was committed to Virginia, giving O’Connor an infield centerpiece to his 2013 class.
Eleven games into the 2014 season, Pinero’s been UVa’s most impactful freshman.
The Toronto native has yet to miss a start. His defense has been as advertised (one error in 39 chances) and his batting is showing signs of improvement (went 4-for-9 with three RBI in weekend sweep of Monmouth).
Pinero is fifth on the team, batting .273.
“Out of high school, we thought that Danny was a very good player,” O’Connor said. “We knew he was a very talented defensive player. That kid’s hands are as good as you’ll see. I think he’s helped us quite a bit with his defensive play. It’s allowed us to move [Branden] Cogswell to second base, which I think has made us a better middle of the infield defense. That’s proven true.
“Danny’s a competitive hitter. He gets up there and he understands what pitchers are trying to do to him. He’s been putting good swings on the ball. In no way is he overmatched in that nine-hole. I happen to think he’s a pretty good nine-hole hitter.”
The early success has come as somewhat of a surprise to Pinero. The former 20th round draft pick of the Houston Astros never expected to be an Opening Day starter as a rookie.
Not on the nation’s No. 1 club, at least.
“The team we have and the coaches we have, it’s just unreal,” Pinero said. “I just tried to work my hardest during the fall to just contribute to the team. That’s all I wanted to do, contribute to the team all the way to, hopefully, Omaha.
“I didn’t know for sure if I was going to start, so I just kept going out there and playing every day and just doing my best.”
Pinero has seemed to settle into his offensive role.
During game one of Sunday’s doubleheader, he took a 1-2 pitch from Monmouth’s T.J. Hunt up the middle for a two-out single. He then stole second base, allowing an RBI opportunity for leadoff man — and power threat — Mike Papi.
The All-American first baseman delivered with a single to right, scoring Pinero and extending UVa’s lead to 4-2.
“Honestly, I just want to get on base for Pap,” said Pinero, who had been a career three-hole hitter until coming to Virginia. “Pap, he finds his way on any way. As the nine-hole, I just want to get on base for him because he’s our leadoff hitter, but also he’s got pop and he can drive those guys in. I just want to get on for him and let the top of the order do the rest.”
The Cavaliers (9-2) have had two games postponed this week because of snow. They resume play Friday at Duke to kick off their ACC schedule.
The league will now get to meet the talent O’Connor first spotted in his own backyard two years ago.
“The more experience that Danny gets,” O’Connor said, “I think the better and better he’ll be.”