BRISTOL — Shaun Remillard had just got home from having surgery on his broken leg. It was early February,
While the St. Paul center fielder was home resting, his phone buzzed with a text message from his coach Victor Rinaldi.
“I know you’re a little out of it right now, but I have something to cheer you up,” the text read. “Ryan’s back.”
Ryan Daniels, the star shortstop for the St. Paul baseball team since his freshman season, had decided to transfer back from Avon Old Farms, where he started the school year and played fall baseball.
“I missed this place so much,” Daniels said. “The first week at Avon (Old Farms), it’s a sick school, I loved it, but the first week I got there I was like ‘oh man, I think I might have made a mistake here.’”
Daniels said he loved his team and the coaching staff at Avon Old Farms, but when the Founders League — the conference Avon Old Farms plays in — decided to cancel spring sports on Feb. 5 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UConn commit saw it as an opportunity to come back.
“I didn’t want to do online there anymore either,” Daniels said.
“So, I came back here. I am super happy,” he added. “It’s everything I wanted. It all worked out.”
Since he has returned the Meriden native has been hitting the cover off of the ball for the 6-1 Falcons.
Daniels is batting .588 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in the team’s first six games. He hit three home runs and had eight RBIs in a season-opening win against Ansonia and hit two three-run home runs in the same inning against Torrington Thursday.
— Ryan Daniels (@Daniels12Ryan) April 19, 2021
“I think he is the best hitter in the NVL,” Rinaldi said. “I haven’t seen every team, but with the start he is off to, there is no question he is the best hitter in the NVL.”
Hitting home runs is not new to Daniels. He hit five as a freshman, but the ones he is hitting this season feel different.
“I used to struggle to put them out in batting practice, I would have to get all of it, but I didn’t struggle to put them out in games,” he said. “I can just feel the strength difference. (The ball) just flies out.”
The surge in strength isn’t just because Daniels is older and stronger.
“No one works harder,” Remillard said. “I wouldn’t really expect anything less from someone who works that hard.”
Rinaldi said that Daniels spends so much time in the batting cages and every day before practice he is in the gym working out.
“If pitchers and coaches attack him away (in the zone), he can go the other way,” Rinaldi said. “He’s not looking to pull everything.
“He can go to the left center with power. If they’re not going to give him something to hit, he is going to lay off and take the walk.”
Daniels came on to the scene his freshman year, starting the season at second base.
“It was his athleticism, and he was by far — out of the freshman class — head and shoulders above anyone else in that class,” Rinaldi said. “He had good hands in the infield, and we needed a second baseman and he fit right in.”
By the time the team began postseason play, Daniels was moved over to his regular position of shortstop and was batting at the top of the lineup.
He helped the Falcons reach the Class S semifinals.
“It was definitely a crazy experience, getting thrown in it right away,” Daniels said.
Before last summer Daniels was committed to play baseball at Stetson University. He decommitted in August to explore other options.
Three weeks later he committed to UConn.
Daniels said he was excited about the coaching staff, especially associate head coach Jeff Hourigan, whom he heard was an exceptional hitting coach.
He said one his main reasons for choosing UConn was because of how the program recruits in state and he wanted to be a part of that group.
“I know their goal is to not miss any of the top players from Connecticut,” he said. “I always knew it was UConn.”