By Sean Doerre
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Mexico City lies 842 miles to the south of Waco, Texas, but Baylor junior shortstop Dani Leal has had no problem fitting in with new teammates, country, culture and lifestyle away from her real family.
Leal’s journey to be a Lady Bear started when she was seven years old. She played baseball with kids in her neighborhood, before switching to softball at the age of 13.
“In Mexico City, softball is not big at all, so it was kind of boring to me,” Leal said. “I was just playing it for fun every weekend.”
However, the diehard New York Yankees fan got a break her junior year of high school when a Pratt Community College softball coach from Kansas held a tryout in Mexico City. Leal gave the coach her information and when her senior year rolled around, the coach offered Leal a chance to play in the United States.
“I just wanted to get out of there,” Leal said. “I miss Mexico. I miss my parents, family and everything, but I just didn’t see myself going to school in Mexico. I wanted to use my abilities to play the sport I love and get an education.”
After spending two years at Pratt and racking up all-conference and all-region honors, Baylor Head Coach Glenn Moore saw an opportunity and took a chance on Leal.
“She played in a summer organization that many of our girls have played in with a team called the Wichita Mustangs,” Moore said. “Because our girls were playing with her, we began to recruit her. We signed her to come play out her career and get her education from Baylor.”
Leal was Moore’s first international player and according to the 10th-year Baylor headman, the shortstop has changed the dynamic of his entire team.
“Dani has brought to our team a respect for what we have here in America,” Moore said. “Her appreciation for not just the facilities, but the budgets we have, the way we travel, the way we eat, the clothes we wear, the things she didn’t have growing up make us count our blessings a little more.”
However, Leal has given Baylor more than just a new perspective. She is currently hitting .250 with 23 RBI and a team-leading nine homeruns, all while struggling with a ligament tear in her left hand.
“There is no doubt her numbers would be much higher because we saw an immediate decline in offense once that injury occurred,” Moore said. “I think her numbers would be up around the .300 mark rather than .250 offensively had she not had the injury. I am quite certain you will see a much improved player next year.”
According to roommate and teammate, Jordan Vannatta, Leal can’t cook Mexican food and the two can’t agree on a favorite Major League Baseball team.
“I wanted some enchiladas from a real Mexican and didn’t get it,” Vannatta said. “I am a Red Sox and she is a Yankee, so every time they play it is pretty intense at the house. It is a house divided kind of thing.
However, Leal has been everything Vannatta expected on the field.
“I have never seen somebody play middle infield the way she does,” Vannatta said. “She is just all over the place, always intense when she is playing and a great bat. She is a good package that has it all.”
Leal’s journey has not been short or easy, but from baseball to softball in the neighborhoods of Mexico City to a community college in Kansas to the bright lights of Getterman Stadium on Baylor’s campus, it has been an enjoyable one for the grateful shortstop.
“I never thought I was going to play for a school in the United States, but playing for a D-1 school has been one of the most wonderful experiences for me,” Leal said. “Next year, I am going to be a senior and I need to be a leader for the team. I think my coaches have high expectations and I just want to have a really great year by helping the team with my power and glove out in the field.”