Making a Difference
May 8, 2008
by Jeff Smith
Jo and Murray Daniels were both proud and sad to see their daughter Joey leave home in Oakley, Calif., to attend college on a softball scholarship at Wisconsin. The talented young catcher made the 2,100-mile trip to Badger country to make a difference. Now as her collegiate career comes to an end, Daniels is set to embark on a new journey. It's one that already has her parents nervous, is far more thousands of miles away, and will unquestionably provide her a chance to once again, make a difference.
Following her softball career in Madison, Daniels will travel to Kenya to study abroad during the fall semester. She will travel to Africa in September and begin learning more about the cultures, language, and overall way of life of the African people that she has studied around during her time at Wisconsin.
It is an opportunity that Daniels has been wanting to do for some time, but has never had a chance due to the hectic softball schedule. Now she has earned her chance to make a difference.
"I love the culture and people in general," Daniels said. "I have a lot of African people in my classes and being around them is a totally different experience. You see how they appreciate life and love every minute. To make an impact on just one person over there would be amazing."
Over the past four years, Daniels has been busy befriending members of the Badger softball team. Referred to as a "two-time captain" by UW head coach Chandelle Schulte, which means her star as served in a captain's role both on and off the field, Daniels has spent her entire career leaving her mark on her coaches and teammates and in the school record book as well.
She finished her career in Madison among the school's top five in on-base percentage (1st, .429), walks (1st, 89), hit by pitches (1st, 48), doubles (4th, 32), stolen bases (4th, 20) and hits (5th, 158). However when asked about the impact Daniels on her team, Schulte says the Badgers simply followed her lead.
"She was a Godsend and the catalyst in everything we did," she said. "Joey took command this year and was the rock that supported everyone else."
That comes as no surprised after talking with Daniels. She embodies all that is genuine and leaves you wondering what you can do to help another person. Schulte is quick to add that Daniels' smile is one of the best she has ever seen.
Despite missing this week's Big Ten Tournament with a 3-17 conference record and 15-40 overall mark, the Badgers walked away this season knowing they must now replace their leader. For Daniels, she is disappointed with how the campaign ended at Wisconsin, but is proud of the relationships she made over the years, especially with her pitchers during her senior season.
"I loved being with my pitchers this year especially and having that relationship and connection with them," she said. "My main thing was to always be there for my team and I'm very thankful when they needed me, I was there day in and day out."
Daniels was one of the Badgers' constants throughout her career. Having missed just one start during her freshman year, Daniels was in Wisconsin's starting lineup a total of 205 of the 206 games played over the last four years.
Her 5-foot-3 frame behind the plate may have fooled some of the Big Ten's top base stealers over the years, but Daniels' armed proved lethal as she threw out 50 runners over her career. Not only did she lead the Badgers behind the plate, but at the plate as well. She was moved to the leadoff spot this year and expanded her offensive attack. Schulte said Daniels could bunt and hit for power and was often the team leader in both walks and hit by pitches.
"She is a tireless worker and very meticulous about her craft," Schulte said. "She ended the year calling her own pitches which was just a culmination of all of her hard work."
When looking back, Daniels has no regrets about moving cross country to attend Wisconsin. She thinks back to her recruiting process and notes that she had a couple of schools on her list, but Wisconsin was always at the top. Following her recruiting trip, in which she said she attended a Badger football game and experienced the environment that is Madison, she knew right away this was to be her new home.
But following her freshman season, Daniels and the rest of the Badgers were faced with uncertainty as the school made a coaching change prior to the 2006 season. When Schulte was brought on board, she implemented an open-door policy, of which Daniels said she made sure to take advantage.
"The first year was tough and nerve racking," Daniels said. "But everyone just adjusted to everyone else and it turned out to be a good environment to perform under."
Daniels is hoping Africa turns out to be the same way.
Currently she is double-majoring in both sociology and African languages and literature. She knew she was going to be forced to fulfill a language requirement when she stepped foot on campus and knowing she did not want to take Spanish, she opted for Swahili. Daniels admits she randomly chose the language, but says she immediately fell in love with the culture.
With softball in the rear view mirror, Daniels will now have that opportunity to travel and do something she says her parents have known she has wanted to do for a long time.
Daniels will be back in Madison next year helping out the softball team during her fifth year of school. Just having her presence on the field and in the dugout at practices is something that Schulte is looking forward to.
"We'll be hit hard (by her loss), but we have some good young players and she'll be around her fifth year to help us," Schulte said. "If somehow we can replace her immediately, our stock goes right up."
But even after saying that, it's almost as if Schulte does not even believe her own words. Sure, there might be a quality young standout that can put on the catcher's gear and try to fill that void, but replacing Daniels seems virtually impossible.
Her heart is just too big.
Needless to say, Daniels is eagerly anticipating her trip to Africa. She is hoping to learn more about the culture and offer her assistance in any way. Once she obtains her degree, she wants to return home to California and take on a good deal of volunteer work.
And even though it is bound to keep her parents nervous, Daniels refuses to rule out a potential life in Africa. She says she will see how her first trip goes and let her experience help decide whether or not she will return.
"There are just a lot of people who need help in every area of the world right now," she said. "I just want to do what I can do."
As far as Schulte is concerned, Daniels did plenty at Wisconsin, and her impact will be felt for years to come.