On a warm spring night, Daniel Stegall tugged on the bill of his blue baseball cap before the start of a game in historic Fenway Park, awaiting the first pitch.
It took Stegall more than a decade to reach Major League Baseball's oldest stadium, and he arrived in Boston in a much different manner than he envisioned in 2006.
At A Glance
YEAR GRADUATED 2006
CURRENT RESIDENCE Boston, Mass.
NOTABLE The state’s first 2,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher as a quarterback above the 3A level. … Led Greenwood to state football and baseball titles as a senior. … Signed a letter of intent to play football at the University of Miami. … Drafted in the seventh round by the New York Mets and played three seasons in the organization. … Later was a walk-on quarterback at Mississippi State. … Graduated from the University of Tennessee School of Dentistry in May. … Moved to east Boston this spring with his wife, Paris, and is practicing dentistry.
Stegall's story is the stuff of legends. He was the first quarterback in the state to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 above Class 3A. He led Greenwood to a state championship in 2005, and in the spring of 2006, he hit a grand slam in the state championship baseball game to lead his team to a 7-5 win at Baum Stadium.
Dual state championships are rare, but most of what Stegall did as a prep star could best be described as rare. This past year another Greenwood star pulled off the same feat as Connor Noland capped his Bulldog career with a pair of titles.
"I just recently heard about Connor from coach (Rick) Jones at Greenwood," said Stegall in a phone interview. "I'm about as out of the loop as a person can be, so I'm trying to catch up on who he is. Coach said he was going to play baseball and football both at Arkansas. I hope it works out for him."
SIGNING WITH THE U
In the spring of 2006, Stegall signed a letter of intent to play football at the University of Miami. The mayor of Greenwood proclaimed that day Daniel Stegall Day in the town.
He'd previously made a verbal commitment to Arkansas State, where he intended to play both football and baseball. Late in the recruiting process, Miami came in with a scholarship offer, and Stegall jumped at the chance to play for the Hurricanes.
"I had been recruited by Todd Berry when he was the head coach at Louisiana-Monroe," Stegall recalled recently. "When he went to Miami as the offensive coordinator, he stayed in touch. I went on a visit down there, and that's where I wanted to be."
And for four months, he was a part of The U, at the time still a national powerhouse college program under Larry Coker.
Then his athletic career path took another turn that spring.
A FIVE-TOOL PLAYER
Stegall was the rare five-tool player that Major League Baseball scouts covet. He had the size (6-foot-2), speed and power that MLB teams look for.
That power was on display in the state championship game when Crossett's coach chose to intentionally walk the batter ahead of Stegall to load the bases in the seventh inning. Stegall drove a pitch over the right-field wall at Baum Stadium for a game-winning grand slam. He was named the Most Valuable Player in the state tournament.
"I never saw the ball go out," Stegall recalled. "I was running hard to first base, and I remember that I didn't see our first-base coach, which I thought was odd. I ran through first base then looked up and saw the ball had gone over the fence."
The legend grew a few weeks later when Stegall's name was called early in the MLB draft. He had attended a couple of MLB tryouts in Dallas and Fort Smith. The New York Mets called Stegall's name in the seventh round, the No. 214 overall selection.
It was a dream come true for a boy who always wanted to be a professional baseball player.
As a middle school student in Greenwood, Stegall was given an assignment to list his career goal. He wrote "professional baseball player" as his career choice. The teacher handed the assignment back to him with a cryptic "Be more realistic" written across it. Turns out he knew exactly what his career would be.
LIFE AS A MINOR LEAGUER
A few weeks after the draft, Stegall was on a plane to Port St. Lucie, Fla., and the Mets' extended spring training for the newly signed draft class. He signed a six-figure signing bonus.
Stegall said he was ready to be on his own, where he could focus his full attention to baseball.
At the Mets' extended spring training facility in 2006, he batted .214 over 40 games that summer. Making the change from high school baseball to professional baseball was a huge adjustment, he said.
He spent the next two seasons bouncing between rookie-level Kingsport and Class A Savannah.
"When I made the roster for Savannah, I was excited because it was a huge jump," Stegall said. "Looking back, it was too big of a jump mentally and physically. I wasn't ready. I started the roller-coaster and started to slump, and they sent me back down. I was just overmatched at that point in time."
In 2008, he put together the best 30-game stretch of his minor league career, batting .295 with 6 doubles and 3 home runs before suffering a broken hand with two weeks left in the season that required surgery.
"I worked hard to rehab it, and I came back the next season and felt really good," he said.
He started slow and was batting under .200 in 49 at-bats when the Mets released him in July 2009.
"It was rough hearing that," Stegall said. "But it's a business. I gave it my best shot; it just didn't work out."
OFF TO COLLEGE
As part of his professional contract, the Mets agreed to pay for Stegall's college education, and he enrolled at Mississippi State as a walk-on on the football team. He was with the team for the 2009 season but opened the spring season buried on the depth chart.
Soon Stegall realized juggling the demands of college football and his education was too much, so he walked away from athletics that summer and devoted his full attention to earning his degree in biochemistry. He finished his degree in 2013 at Mississippi State, then on the advice of several friends, applied to a number of dental schools, getting accepted into the University of Tennessee School of Dentistry in 2014.
"That process took about a year, so I did some odd jobs in the meantime waiting to get into dental school," he said.
Stegall completed dental school in May, and he and his wife, Paris, have since moved to East Boston, where he will practice dentistry in the shadow of Fenway Park. On this spring night, the young couple was taking in a Red Sox game with friends.
Although he's not smacking doubles off the Green Monster as a player, Dr. Stegall said his journey has been rewarding.
"I would not do anything any different," he said. "I really enjoyed the way it happened. I worked hard, and I have no regrets. Baseball was always my dream, and I still love it."Preps Basketball on 07/01/2018
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