NORWALK -- For someone who has been associated with baseball in Norwalk for as long as Tim Hefferan has, there's countless memories to be had of certain players.
A longtime director of the Norwalk Board of Ed Get a Hit Camp and an assistant coach for Brien McMahon High's baseball team, Hefferan has helped develop some of the city's top talents on the diamond over the years. He's seen skilled players blossom in front of his eyes, those rare, once-in-a-decade type athletes that put a bit more might into their swing and field ground balls with a little extra precision. Suffice it to say, he knows a special player when he sees one.
Hefferan knew, early in his coaching days at the summer camp, that it wouldn't be long before Bryan Daniello fell into that category.
"He was always in my group," Hefferan recalled on Wednesday with a smile, conjuring up memories like a proud teacher. "If I had a dollar for every time he told his big brother Anthony that he was mad at me during camp, because I was hitting ground balls too hard at him or hitting fly balls too high--I knew he could do it. At the age of 5 or 6, you knew how talented he was. Usually, when they're a little more talented, you push them a little harder."
To Daniello, those moments were as much learning experiences about the sport as they were a test, or an initiation, in regards, for the more gifted players. It's times like those, spent with coaches and family that Daniello admits, "helped make me who I am today."
"They knew me because of my brother and he would always never take it easy on me. They would always hit rockets at me," he said. "I was always at my brother's games, I was always watching and paying attention, knowing what was going on and getting used to the game. I would always go out with them and they wouldn't just take it easy on me because I was the younger kid. They would be hard on me."
For Daniello, all those days he spent crafting his tools for America's Pasttime were remembered Wednesday with much rejoicing as the budding star-turned-high school standout took the next step in his baseball career.
Fulfilling a lifelong dream, Daniello, a senior at Brien McMahon, anxiously slipped on a blue-and-white-clad University of Connecticut cap before a podium in the high school gym, and signed a National Letter of Intent to play baseball for the Huskies beginning in 2012.
The signing officially capped a recruitment process that began with a phone call from UConn coach Jim Penders on July 1--the first day schools are eligible to contact recruits--and then picked up steam later that month following Daniello's first visit to the Storrs campus, where he was greeted by Penders, and two of the Huskies' assistant coaches, Jeff Hourigan and Josh MacDonald.
"After I had left that visit I knew this is where I wanted to go," said Daniello, who delivered a verbal commitment to the program a little more than a week later. "I just had to go home and make sure that everything worked out. That's where I wanted to be."
Daniello is fresh off putting together one of the finest seasons in McMahon history, in which he batted .432 with 16 RBI as a shortstop and compiled a miniscule 1.50 ERA and team-leading six wins on the mound, en route to receiving FCIAC Player of the Year and Class LL all-state honors. In turn, the Senators went 18-6 overall and reached the state quarterfinals.
"He's as close to a five-tool player as you're going to see at the high school level. I keep telling him he's got to get a step faster. I don't know if he likes that," Hefferan said jokingly, with a laugh. "He's got the defense, he's got the arm, he's got the hitting."
McMahon head coach John Cross credits Daniello, a contributor since freshman year, for developing those skills with a tireless work ethic.
"He is a good athlete but his work ethic is the best that I've seen," said Cross, who wrapped up his 10th season at the helm last spring. "He works extremely hard and he's been able to take his talent and his work ethic and his goals and really push in that direction. I think that's what people need to see, is that hard work with God-given talent can definitely equate to success one day."
Daniello also drew significant interest from other Division-I schools, Dartmouth, Northeastern, Rhode Island and St. John's, before settling on a UConn program that won the Big East regular-season title, reached the NCAA Super Regional and was ranked as high as 12th nationally in 2011 by Baseball America. He's set to become the first from McMahon to play for the Huskies since Willie Mercado, who graduated in 1994.
"It really hasn't hit me yet," said Daniello, who sat alongside his parents, Tony and Cheryl, and other family members and coaches while signing. "I feel like once I get there it's going to hit me and I'll be like, `Wow, I'm part of something that could be really special."
Recruited by the Huskies as a middle infielder, Daniello spent the summer playing for an elite travel team, Baseball-U New England. It's there where he caught the eye of college coaches and his long-term goal became a reality.
"No matter what tournament I played in, from Boston to New Jersey all over, down to Georgia, I always just went out and gave 100 percent and showed the coaches what they wanted to see," Daniello said.