Editor’s note: Latest in a series looking at the Tigers’ first 10 draft picks.
It’s no secret that the odds of making the major leagues, and sticking in the major leagues, are excruciatingly long, even for, say, a sixth-round draft pick like Dane Myers.
Myers, though, has beaten the odds all his life.
So, really, what’s one more challenge?
“There were times when I decided if it was going to be groceries for the week or getting him to a weekend tournament,” said Rhonda Myers, Dane’s mother. “And somehow, we always made it.”
Rhonda Myers spoke Tuesday morning from Connecticut, a day after Myers officially made it — at least as a professional baseball player, having made his debut for the Tigers’ short-season A-ball team in a game in Lowell, Mass.
Myers, a two-way player from Rice, was selected as a pitcher by the Tigers in the sixth round of the Major League Baseball Draft earlier this month. The right-hander out of Rice signed for the pick’s slot value, which is $241,600.
In other words, no more deciding between groceries and getting to his ballgames.
Rhonda Myers was there at Edward A. LeLacheur Park on Monday, beaming with pride as any parent would as Dane Myers was swarmed for autographs by young baseball fans. But this was extra special. The journey has been long, and incredible.
Rhonda Myers was long divorced with a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old and pregnant with Dane when she moved from Houston to Columbus, Texas, with no job, and only one family member, a sister, in the area to call upon. Making matters significantly tougher, she was carrying a bi-racial child, in a time and town where neighbors weren’t overly welcoming of such a family dynamic.
“I said, ‘No, I can do this,’ ” Rhonda Myers said.
With that can-do attitude, a relentless work ethic that’s been instilled in Dane, and two older siblings who often were like second and third parents to Dane, Rhonda Myers was right.
She absolutely could do this.
And, boy, look at Dane now.
“She sacrificed whatever she needed to provide for me and my two other siblings,” Dane Myers, 21, said of his mom and Cory, now 32, and Megan, 30. “So that we could do what we wanted.
“It was inspiring. I thank her to this day. Without her, I’m not here.”
All in the family
Shortly after moving to Columbus, a small town in southeastern Texas, Rhonda Myers started an in-home daycare business, in part because then she could be with Dane, and she hadn’t found anybody she trusted with her youngest son, anyway.
When Dane became school-aged, Rhonda started turning to real estate — and, for a couple years, even home-schooled Dane, who became what she affectionately calls “my little business manager.” He went with her on land deals, showings, closings, you name it.
The bond was strong, and growing all the time.
All the while, Dane was learning the importance of hard work. Mom was showing him every day, usually working multiple jobs, and long hours.
By the time Dane did go off to traditional school, Rhonda took Megan to the DMV (Texas’ Secretary of State) to beg for an early driver’s license, at just age 15. Dane, more and more, needed to be driven here and there, for sports and school and more. And Mom was working more and more to raise her family of three, all by herself.
“They said there’s really no reason why she needs her license, and I begged and pleaded and cried, and they gave her her license. She’d never driven before!” Rhonda said, tearing up recalling the story. “There are things that should’ve never happened.
“They gave her her license on the spot, having not driven. And she took Dane everywhere with her. Her friends knew, when Megan went somewhere, he was with her.
“And Cory, for so much time, gave up so much of his life to be there for Dane. He spent hours upon hours at the field with him. He helped him so much with baseball and just being a man, teaching him things he needed to know as a man.”
Cory, who played baseball at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, was Dane’s first and only true instructor in baseball. He never received lessons. Who could afford them?
And Megan was the ultimate older sister-slash-chauffeur, never balking at a ride request, which she knew really wasn’t a request anyway.
Rhonda rarely missed a game, and was the traditional “team mom” for all of his teams, and many of Cory’s and Megan’s, too. Megan played volleyball. But, understandably, she couldn’t make everything, like all the practices and hustle and bustle that crops up — tough enough for a two-parent household to orchestrate, let alone one.
So, in the ultimate team sport, family, this was the ultimate team effort.
“I remember my brother and sister getting early driver’s license and picking me up from school when Mom ended up working late,” Dane said. “My brother ended up taking me to practices.
“I knew she was out there working for us.”
As Dane got older, and his athletic prowess became clear, Rhonda Myers moved the family to Katy, which had better academic and athletic opportunities.
Dane attended Taylor High School, and was a three-year starter on the mound and in the infield, at second base, shortstop and third base. He also played three years of football, starting at wide receiver for half his sophomore year before moving to quarterback. His last two years of high school, he played running back.
But baseball always was the passion, and it earned him a scholarship to Rice — where, by the way, he never lost the business sense he learned as a tyke, joining Mom at real-estate dealings.
Earlier this month at NCAA Regionals in Baton Rouge, La., Rhonda Myers sent Dane to his hotel room with a box of snacks for his teammates. She told him to invite them over to his room.
“The next thing I know, a mom had texted me. They have a group text with the whole team, you know,” Rhonda Myers said. “And Dane had texted, ‘Snacks in my room ... 50 cents!’
“I said, ‘That’s my little business man.’ ”
Pitching in on the infield
Like in football, Dane Myers always was flexible in baseball. He’s been a two-way player as long back as he can remember, from the first season he had graduated from coach pitch.
That came in handy at Rice, where the right-hander was a reliever his freshman and sophomore seasons, with sporadic success at both hitting and pitching. This past season, the plan was to start, and play first base or designated hitter on days he wasn’t pitching. But due to an injury, Rice needed a third baseman.
Dane was the choice, and to compensate for that, he also moved back to the bullpen.
It was a success, as he was among the team’s leading hitters, at .358/.425/.545 with eight home runs, 43 RBIs and 88 hits in all. On the mound, he had a 3.98 ERA and a .244 opponents’ batting average for an Owls team that was 33-31, 16-14 in Conference-USA and made the NCAA Regionals.
Despite the numbers, it wasn’t the easiest transition. Then again, when has anything come easy for overly easy Dane Myers?
“It was pretty tough on my body,” Myers said of playing third base. “It was difficult at times. But I just had to put a little extra work in and prepare myself more.”
Sound familiar? Hard work? Thanks, again, Mom.
Now, Myers, 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, loves to hit, so much so that when scouts called him ahead of the draft, he said as much. And several teams were open to the idea of letting him hit, including the Kansas City Royals, Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays.
The Tigers, though, loved the arm, which features four pitches — a two-seam and four-seam fastball that sits low 90s and can touch mid-90s when he lets it fly out of the bullpen, a developed change-up and a slider.
The Tigers called ahead of time to make sure Dane was cool with being taken as a pitcher.
And, while he’ll miss hitting, he conceded he was ready to do anything to start his career.
“Man, what a really good athlete,” said Scott Pleis, the Tigers’ director of amateur scouting. “He really swung the bat well and played a good third base for them.
“But he’s a good athlete with a good delivery, good arm action. We think there’s a lot of upside left in this guy once he pitches and doesn’t hit anymore.”
The Tiger see him as a starter for now, and will ease him back into that role.
On Monday, in his debut, he went 2.2 innings, allowing two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out one. The first two innings were clean, as Connecticut built a 9-0 lead.
Then, afterward, a strange thing happened — especially for the low-exposure game that is short-season A-ball. Myers was flocked by youngsters, wanting his autograph — which he’s been practicing since he could write, for this very day, Rhonda Myers said. He signed Rice posters that Mom had brought to the ballpark.
Speaking of Mom, she’s part of a closed Facebook group called “Grown and Flown Parents,” a 28,000-member parenting community. She had posted a few days earlier, telling any moms in the area to go support her son. In a matter of hours, the Facebook group had raised money to pay for her entire trip to see her son’s debut. One of the Moms is from Norwich, Conn., and has volunteered to look after Dane.
Even today, her three children grown, it takes a village.
“All the blessings are coming back to me,” she said, her voice cracking. “It’s just crazy.”
And tremendously inspirational, especially for the baby of the family, Dane.
“She’s definitely the reason I’m doing this, particularly to pay her back,” he said. “Making my family proud is big to me.”
Get to know ...
Dane Myers, RHP
Age: 21 (March 8, 1996)
Hometown: Katy, Texas
Draft: Sixth round, 185th overall ($241,600 value)
Fun fact: Myers is the eighth player from Rice drafted by the Tigers, and hopes to be the first to make the major leagues with them since former closer Matt Anderson.