(Jul. 9-15, 1986). Mesan battles back to success
East Mesa Independent.
It’s not that far from Good Samaritan Rehabilitation Center to Danny’s Dugout in East Mesa – unless you start out in a wheelchair.
For the 22-year old-owner and president of Danny’s Dugout – a recently opened batting range and sport’s center – the road from rehabilitation to recreational business operator was long, grueling and sometimes disheartening.
Mesa native Danny Lee’s dreams of becoming a paramedic in an air evacuation unit were dashed when a 1983 automobile accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. The accident also ended a life-long athletic career that included baseball, football, wrestling, gymnastics and snow skiing.
Because of the extent of damage to his spinal cord, Lee’s physician told him he would never walk – or compete – again.
The budding entrepreneur set out to prove him wrong.
It started one afternoon a few weeks after the accident while the young man was lying in his hospital bed listening to rock and roll music through headphones.
“I was sort of bouncing around to the music when I grabbed the bedrails and tried as hard as I could to move my legs,” explains Lee, son of community leader Milton V. Lee.
“I saw a couple of toes move just a little bit, and let out a yell that they heard all the way down the hall.”
Lee repeated his feat for his doctor, who still maintained the former athlete would ever walk, which “made me angry,” he says.
“When he sad that, I pointed my finger at him and said, ‘I am going to walk!'”.
Three times a day for the next seven months, Lee underwent therapy at Good Sam. Lee credits electronic stimulation with “jump starting” his left leg. When not in therapy, Lee says he perfected spinning “wheelies” in his wheelchair and listened to music, particularly “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John.
And in the three years that he kept trying, Lee progressed from a wheelchair to a full-length brace and crutches to a four-legged walker and, finally, to a knee brace he now wears on his left leg. Although hsi right leg is still paralyzed, he says it slows him down only a little.
After some “mental regrouping” and with the support of his family, Lee decided to channel his love of sports into the opening of Danny’s Dugout Batting Range and Sports Center, located at 1829 E. Main just west of Gilbert Road.
The young man’s father serves as chairman of the Danny’s Dugout corporation. (Milt Lee is director of Mesa United Way and the Tri-City Community Service Center). Clyde Gibson, formerly controller for the Los Angeles Rams and more recently vice president for the Arizona Wranglers, is corporate secretary/treasurer.
In planning the batting range, the younger Lee and Gibson traveled to California to research the latest in batting facility design and automated pitching equipment.
Eleven pitching machines have robot-like arms to simulate movements of a human arm and allow batters to anticipate each pitch. The sloped field automatically returns balls to a central sump, where they are pumped back up to the pitching machines. Some machines are baseball pitches range from 30 to 85 miles per hour. Some cages are reserved exclusively for T-ball for young ballplayers.
This season, Lee has sponsored eight Little League teams. He plans to sponsor free hitting and pitching clinics and also provides private professional lessons in the facility’s separate pitching area – a first, he says, for the Valley.
“We don’t have anything like this when I was a kid,” says Lee, who played nine years of local organized baseball.
The sports center, which is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., also features a half court basketball court for casual or competitive play. Lee says he’ll sponsor half-court tournaments for 25- to 45- year-old age groups in the fall. Sporting goods and refreshments are sold inside an air-conditioned building.
Just outside his office is a special fun for Lee’s faithful cocker spaniel, Chopper.
And while Lee knows he’ll stay busy – there are more than 10,000 Little Leagers and 5,000 adults on ball teams in the East Valley – he says he anticipates being involved in other family-oriented businesses in the future.