There is a picture of Danny Pawelek pitching that hangs in his kitchen with the caption “How will you spend your retirement?”
No golf clubs or fishing poles. No bingo games or bird watching excursions for this Springville resident.
Pawelek is now 62 and nearing retirement age, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon because there is no retiring from baseball. Not when the seams of the game are what has stitched up your soul. Not when you can still dominate in a game that is often given up after high school or college by those who grew up playing Wiffle ball in the back yard and not when you still have scars on your knee from sliding on dirt that hasn’t seen water since the great flood.
It would be one thing if Pawelek could no longer compete, his speed and agility, his arm strength and reflexes gone with the first sign of a grey hair or a wrinkle. But Pawelek has found the game of baseball is helping him grow young.
His is an unusual story. His focus as a teenager was more on football than baseball. He was a kicker for the football team in high school and college. It wasn’t until he turned 42 when the boys of summer came calling and he became addicted to America’s national pastime.
He is self-employed which explains how he can continue to perfect his craft. Last fall he was able to play in tournaments in five of six weeks during a stretch of October and November. By the time the season ended, Pawelek was a 20-game winner. He finished the year at 22-7, establishing himself as one of the nation’s elite pitchers in men’s adult baseball and he's won nine World Series to prove it.
Pawelek plays most of his games in the Men’s Senior Baseball League (MSBL) tournaments in Arizona, California, Nevada and Florida. There are several adult baseball leagues that host national tournaments in various age divisions that attract players from various baseball backgrounds, including former Major Leaguers. Pawelek has played against the likes of Jose Canseco, Brett Saberhagen, Bruce Lee, Dante Bichette and Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd. He also played with former MLB pitcher Mickey Mahler.
“I had someone ask me once why I still play baseball and I said it’s the only thing I’m good at,” Pawelek said with a laugh. “I still love the game and that’s one thing that will never change.”
In January of this year he played with the LA Athletics in the MSBL 55-and-over division and pitched a no-hitter against a team from California. He was so dominant that only one ball made it out of the infield.
Over Memorial Day at a tournament he pitched in back-to-back double headers and logged a total of 29 innings in two days.
Pitch count? Who needs a pitch count? He finished the tournament with a 4-0 record, hit .625 and was named the Most Valuable Player.
Even though much of his success has come on the mound, he’s just as dangerous at the plate. He’s hit 80 home runs over his career and keeps most of his home run balls (he has 74 of them) as a reminder that you are never too old to be successful.
“I guess that’s vain of me, but it reminds me that I can still play,” Pawelek said. “Baseball keeps me going, it keeps me active and gives me a chance to hang out with the greatest group of guys I know.”
If the Pawelek name sounds familiar it may have to do with his family. He has three sons who were standout baseball players.
His oldest son Dennis is a 1998 Springville graduate, who was an all-star baseball player but chose to play football at the next level. He was a kicker for Snow College.
Mark was the first round draft pick (20th overall) of the Chicago Cubs in 2005 and played in the World Baseball Classic with the Dutch team, finishing third. Pawelek’s wife Kathy is a Dutch citizen, making Mark eligible to play with a team outside the country. And his youngest son Rolf played at Provo High School.
All of this baseball experience has carried over to other areas. Danny was the head coach at American Leadership Academy from 2011-2013, and he has teamed up with Mark to form “Pawelek’s Baseball Prospects,” a side business where they teach and develop many of the top youth players in Utah.
Pawelek does not need a prompting to talk baseball with anyone, the conversation will eventually go there; but as he shares one experience after another, he often concludes his comments with one of his favorite sayings.
“It’s not who you were, it’s who you are.”