By Rick Assad
Daniel Neria has shown an amazing amount of patience for a person so young.
As a freshman and sophomore, Neria spent his springtime playing on the Burbank High junior varsity baseball team.
And while it was enormously gratifying, in the back of his head, at least as a sophomore, Neria knew he was capable of toiling for the varsity.
Now his time has come and Neria is prepared to take the proverbial bull by the horn.
“I do think I am ready for the jump from junior varsity to varsity,” said the junior right-handed pitcher and utility player. “In the summer of my sophomore year, Coach [Bob] Hart allowed me to practice and scrimmage with the varsity. Playing with them gave me a feel of what it’s like at the varsity level and I feel like I’m more than ready to play at that level.”
Neria’s confidence is built on more than that.
“Also, I am on a showcase team and we played against a ton of varsity and even some college guys,” he explained. “Playing against them gave me the confidence needed to play at the next level.”
Neria played a handful of games for the junior varsity last season because of the coronavirus, but they were meaningful.
“I do believe that only playing those few games gives me a lot of experience. I had played all seven innings and had at least three at-bats in all those games,” he noted. “When school got shut down, I ended up playing for a couple of travel ball teams and we played almost every weekend.”
Neria is thankful for the opportunity to play for the junior varsity.
“Even though playing varsity would’ve been cool to play as a sophomore, I much rather would have played junior varsity,” he said. “I felt like there were too many seniors that had played varsity, so I was going to get very little playing time.”
If and when the baseball season commences, Neria wants to contribute in any way.
“The goal I have for myself this season is to have a starting spot on the field and in the batting lineup. I feel like this is a realistic goal because I put in work almost every day,” he said. “I’m always working whether I’m in the weight room or hitting with a tee. I always try to get a percentage better.”
When it comes to the Bulldogs, Neria sees an extremely bright future.
“A goal I have for the team is winning the [Pacific] League and going to Dodger Stadium. I do believe that we can make it happen,” he said. “We have a bunch of talented guys this year, but the only problem is that we haven’t had a practice together. Once we start having practices again and create a good bond between us, it’s going to be hard to stop us.”
Hart knows that Neria is going to be an impact player.
“I would describe him as a rising talent with a great work ethic and a great support group behind him,” he said. “He’s got a great family. His brother [catcher Ozzy Dominguez] played for us as well. Character and talent usually ends up well. I’m sure he’s going to have the opportunity to play at the next level and I think he’s going to leave his mark with our team.”
Hart continued: “He is an exceptional leader and he leads by example, both in the classroom and on the field” he stated. “Those are great combinations in my experience.”
Neria wants to be a player that others on the team can look up to and respect.
“My best asset on the field is that I am a leader. On the field I try to control the infield and the outfield by moving my teammates in a position to help them whenever the ball comes their way,” he said. “Whenever my teammates boot the ball or strike out, I try to be the first person there for them to tell them that it’s alright and to get the next one.”
Roles on teams sometimes change, but Neria is willing to assist on the mound, in the field and in the dugout.
“I think my role on the team would be to set the tone before every game,” he said. “I try to amp my teammates before every game and let them know that I have their back on the field whenever they make a mistake or they make a play.”
Getting better is extremely critical for Neria. “Whenever I have a bad game, I try to focus on the mistakes that I have made and work on them during practice,” he said. “I try to not let those mistakes affect my confidence because you need to be strong mentally in order to succeed in baseball. Whenever I have a good day I try to keep myself humble and to keep that same confidence for the next game and so on.”
And with each game, there is always something to garner and to be used in the future.
“I do learn new things from each game. Some things that I learned is that failure is a big part of this game,” Neria said. “You can hit the ball three out of 10 times and be an All-Star.”
Neria added: “Another thing I learned is that you need to only focus on the things that you can control in this game. In this game we can’t control a lot of things, but the things we can control, such as our effort and our attitude is something that can take us far,” he said. “If you stay upset about the things you can’t control, you’ll ruin your love for the game.”
There is a special angel in Neria’s corner and that person is his grandfather, Ray Neria. Though he isn’t here, he still helps shape him.
“I’ve been playing the game of baseball since I was three. When I was little my grandpa always took me to the park to play catch and hit with a wiffle ball and a foam bat right after school,” he explained. “This caused me to love the game of baseball. I loved catching a ball and throwing it back and also hitting a baseball. I play for my grandpa whenever I’m on that field. His passing made me love the game of baseball that much more because now I have someone to play for. He may not be with me physically anymore, but I know he is watching over me proud.”
Neria’s grandfather passed away almost three months ago and lived in Ventura, but would make the long drive into Burbank to see his grandson play and would also text to find out when the next game was being played.
So it’s a wish fulfilled for Neria being on the Bulldogs baseball team.
“Playing at Burbank High was something that I had always wanted to do. My older brother had played at Burbank for his junior and senior year,” Neria said. “When I was around 10, I also had pitching and hitting lessons with Coach Hart. I had also attended the summer baseball camps at Burbank High and Coach Hart was really nice and explained every drill thoroughly and well. Ever since then I knew that I wanted to attend Burbank High and help lead the baseball team to a league title.”
If the baseball Gods have their way and the season begins and the Bulldogs prevail and capture the title, Neria will have lived his dream and his grandfather will be looking down from heaven pleased.