As his teammates chat, tell jokes and do anything to forget about the chilly weather, Elon University sophomore Danny Lynch stands alone.
Waiting for his turn in batting practice, Lynch takes some practice swings. He’s quiet. He smiles occasionally. More than anything, he looks focused. He speaks when spoken to — that’s just who he is.
Elon head coach Mike Kennedy knew that, but he still chose Lynch to take over one of the most important positions on the field and play a pivotal role in a rebuilding year for the Phoenix.
Last summer, after losing star catchers Alex Swim and Ryan Kinsella, Kennedy and his staff decided to switch Lynch from his primary positions of first baseman and third baseman to taking over the backstop as Elon’s catcher. The same quiet, soft-spoken person who loves to be in the weight room would now be looked to for leadership on the field.
“That’s the one area we don’t like about him,” Kennedy said. “He’s so quiet. To play that position, you really need a guy who’s a voice back there and is energetic. It’s hard to change a kid when that’s just who he is.”
During his baseball career at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, Lynch pitched a total of six innings. His primary position was in the infield, but he threw on the mound a bit during the summer.
He came into Elon as an infielder, but Kennedy also wanted him to be a pitcher. Although the pitching didn’t work out, Lynch hit .242 in 46 games, scoring 15 runs and driving in 17 his freshman year.
Elon lost 16 players to graduation or the Major League Baseball draft after winning the Southern Conference Tournament Championship in 2013, sparking Kennedy to make some changes with his players. Lynch was an ideal athlete to change positions, though it was something he had never thought about himself.
“Once they told me, I started watching some big league guys play,” Lynch said. “What makes them the best is that, defensively, they control the game. They’re great leaders. Hopefully, I can do that for us.”
Kennedy picked Lynch over other players due to his flexible talents on the field and his work ethic.
“We knew we’d be getting someone without a lot of experience,” Kennedy said. “He’s flexible and good in the weight room, so we figured he could handle it. He’s got arm strength.”
From the first pitch of fall practice, Lynch had his work cut out for him. It became a long, grueling preseason filled with bullpens and extra workouts.
There were days of rough patches and bumps in the road, but Lynch persevered.
“In the fall, he struggled a bit,” said Elon senior relief pitcher Ryan Pennell. “He’d be dropping balls, but you had to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Lynch’s work ethic set in, helping him move at a faster pace than expected.
“He’d be out here early every day just catching off the machine, doing extra blocking,” Pennell said. “Basically, anything to get him better, he was doing. A lot of people don’t see it, but he does it. He works hard.”
Pennell said Lynch’s work goes beyond the baseball diamond, as Lynch is a “freak” in the weight room. Lynch will stay long past the time the team is required to be in there, gaining any possible edge he can.
He needs it to make up for the one quality he lacks: vocal leadership. His quiet demeanor holds him back from becoming the best he can be, according to Kennedy.
“He needs to get a little more lively,” Kennedy said. “When he does, you’re going to see a guy who can really handle it back there. The team needs it. That’s your leader.”
While he seems introverted off the field, Pennell suggested he has the ability on the field when it’s necessary.
“You want your catcher to be a leader,” Pennell said. “Once the game starts, he’s pretty good. He’ll be vocal when he has to. But off the field, he doesn’t talk much.”
Behind the plate, Lynch has excelled in his newfound role. Elon beat the University of Cincinnati in extra innings to begin the season, and Lynch had the game-winning hit.
Kennedy raved about Lynch not for his plate presence, but for his defensive play in his first-ever game as catcher.
“I’m more impressed with that than that big hit,” Kennedy said. “He’ll get more of those. But for the first time he’s ever caught a game and be that good back there and stick pitches and do a good job, he was outstanding.”
That game has been used as a building block for Lynch, who has struggled at times in more than one aspect of the game.
“I always have that in the back of my mind,” Lynch said. “I always use that when I’m feeling down and just remember how good that felt. That’ll drive me.”
“Where he’s come from in the fall has been pretty amazing,” Pennell said. “Especially for a guy who’s never caught. He’s pretty athletic back there. He’s calm. He has a good head on his shoulders.”
There’s still a lot to work on, though. Lynch emphasized framing pitches and pinpointing his throws to second base as two areas of emphasis.
“It’s tough to get in the practice we had in the fall,” Lynch said. “We have two or so days each week, and I try to get as much as I can in to stay sharp back there.”
For Kennedy, it’s all about finding that outgoing source of energy. But there are some more specifics that he wants Lynch to work on, too.
“We’re happy with where he’s going,” Kennedy said. “But there’s still room to improve. His concentration lacks at times. If we iron some of those things out, he could be a really good catcher. He’s cutting his teeth right now. He’s like a little baby.”
It was something Lynch never expected to do. He said he enjoys working with the pitchers — who have performed well early, making his job easier — and his hard work of catching 4-5 bullpens per day in the fall is paying off.
“It’s been fun,” Lynch said. “It keeps you in the game every play. You’re not thinking about that bad at-bat you just had because you have to go out and catch. It was just an experiment, but I’m glad it worked out. I’m enjoying it.”