Born in Brownwood, Danny Wheat’s travels as a baseball trainer have taken him far beyond not only the borders of the state, but the nation. His latest venture overseas finds him in Germany, where he is serving as a trainer for Team USA in the IBAF Baseball World Cup.
Wheat, the son of Jerry and Billie Wheat, never imagined his career of choice would turn him into a world traveler when he graduated from the University of Texas in 1975.
The trip to Regensburg, Germany — where pool play in the 22-team tournament begins Thursday for Team USA against Venezuela — will mark Wheat’s second stint as a World Cup trainer. Wheat accompanied Team USA, which this year is comprised mostly of Class AA and AAA minor leaguers, to the event in Havana, Cuba in 2003.
“It’s more of a selection, and it certainly ranks right up there with my career highlights,” said Wheat of the process of earning his trip to Germany. “I was asked if I’d like to go, and of course I said yes. If they ask you, and if fits into your schedule and it works out, you do it.
“The players wear the uniform of the U.S. and represent our country, and basically we get to do the same. To me it’s an honor to represent our country in the small way we contribute.”
Over the course of the last 30-plus years, Wheat has worked his way through the Texas Rangers organization, serving as a trainer for the big league club for 18 seasons, including 12 as head trainer. He has also served as a trainer in winter league ball in Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, as well as traveling to Japan in 1997 as a trainer during the Major League Baseball All-Star tour. Wheat was also the trainer for the American League All-Star team at the 1995 MLB All-Star game, hosted by the Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington.
“I dreamed about the big leagues, but nothing of this magnitude, traveling all over the place,” Wheat said. “When I graduated college I went to work with the Rangers at their AA minor league affiliate (San Antonio at the time), then went on to AAA (Tulsa in 1977). Reaching the Major Leagues was always a goal, but you never know if you’re going to fulfill it. Someone has to leave in front of you before you can do it, and the turnover is not that great. I was fortunate to spend nine years in the minor leagues, then I had an opportunity to go to the big leagues.”
Wheat, who currently lives in Flower Mound, is entering his sixth season as head trainer at TCU, where his sons Jarrod and Jordan are following in their father’s footsteps in the athletic training program.
“My oldest son is going to be a junior and my primary sport is baseball, and my son is the manager for the baseball team,” said Wheat, whose 58th birthday falls on Sept. 13. “I get to spend quality time with him, which is great. My youngest son is an incoming freshman and starting in the athletic training program. He currently is working with football, but one of these years he’ll have baseball as his assignment and I look forward to that.
“I’m very fortunate to be able to work with them. I have lunch and dinner occasionally with the boys. It’s almost like they’re still living at home.”
Wheat is hoping for a happier result this time around as Team USA is looking to defend its 2007 championship (the tournament is played every other year). In 2003, the Americans came up short during Wheat’s first stint as trainer. Overall, Team USA is seeking its fourth title since the tournament began in 1938.
“We were outmanned a little bit in 2003,” Wheat said. “We took a lot of independent players and weren’t real successful, but it was still a highlight of my career. I’m looking forward to this trip because the U.S. won the World Cup for the first time in 30 or so years. There are a lot of expectations and if we were to win the gold medal, it would certainly be way up there for me.”
IBAF Baseball World Cup first-round play runs through Sept. 12, the 16-team second round follows Sept. 13-20 in the Netherlands and Italy, and the semifinals and finals are slated for Sept. 22-27 in Italy. Team USA is in Pool E along with Germany, Venezuela and China.