Ravenwood pitcher Bryce Denton is at the top of his game but his road to success this year started with a true personal tragedy.
Run to the roar.
That phrase has been the slogan the Ravenwood Raptors baseball team has lived by throughout its 2014 season.
From undergoing a 1-7 start to earning a District 11-AAA title with a 22-13 record, the Raptors have constantly refused to back down from adversity.
“I always tell the team you can’t run away from events that scare you,” RHS head coach Teddy Craig said. “Fear is paralyzing, but the team knows you have to take the fear head-on. If you run away from what you’re afraid of, you’re not really gaining anything.”
One key player who has led the charge for Ravenwood is junior right-handed pitcher Bryce Denton.
Through last Tuesday’s district title game against Brentwood High, Bryce is batting .471 with seven home runs, seven triples, 11 doubles, 53 RBI and only nine strikeouts. He also has an on-base percentage of .546.
|Bryce Denton has a 2.90 earned run average with 59 strikeouts, 42 hits allowed and 21 walks in 50.2 innings this season.|
He’s been just as effective on the mound, going 4-4 in 10 appearances with a 2.90 earned run average, 59 strikeouts, 42 hits allowed and 21 walks in 50.2 innings. Opposing hitters have a .214 batting average against him.
“Bryce is the nucleus to this team,” Craig stated. “He’s a special athlete. But what impresses me more is that he doesn’t put himself above the team. He’s not worried about what’s going to happen down along the line with the MLB Draft or the college ranks. He lives in the moment.”
Even under the biggest spotlight, Bryce has refused to fold.
In the 11-AAA tournament, he pitched two complete games with a total of 15 strikeouts, five hits and one earned run allowed. This includes a shutout performance against the Brentwood Bruins to win the title.
“He’s got a different heartbeat than most players,” Craig stated. “When the chips are on the line, he wants to be on the mound or he wants to be in the box. He wants to be the guy that determines the outcome. He wants to be on the platform, and you can’t talk a kid into that.”
While the 16-year-old is at the top of his game right now, he knows how difficult the road that got him there was.
Before the win streak, home runs and clutch performances, Bryce had to deal with the toughest obstacle of his life — the loss of a parent.
A family pastime
Ever since he was a kid, Bryce and his brother, Chase, have shared their love and passion for baseball with their father, Walter “Denny” Denton.
From tossing “Splash Balls” for them to hit with a back scratcher in the living room, to reading them books such as “The Science of Hitting,” by Ted Williams, their dad constantly found ways to connect with them through his favorite sport.
“He loved the game just as much as us,” Bryce said. “It was always a shared passion. My mom was never really into sports, but my dad was a big baseball guy.”
|Chase (left) and Bryce (right) with their dad, Denny.|
Even though he had a busy schedule working as a commercial airline pilot, Denny always made time to be around his sons.
“He always put baseball first,” Bryce said. “If we had a big tournament or something, he was calling in sick. I guess that’s not the most humane thing to do, but he loved that so much. He wouldn’t miss that for the world.”
According to Chase, the reason he and Bryce became the players they are today is because of the amount of time their dad spent with them on the diamond.
“From when Bryce was 5 and I was 8 or 9, we’d be out at Civitan or Crockett almost daily,” said Chase, 20, a 2011 graduate of Ravenwood who’s entering his senior year as third baseman for Martin Methodist College.
“We would just snag ground balls and try to hit it over the fence. Maybe that’s why we succeeded, because we did that so much,” Chase explained.
As Bryce and Chase grew older, the amount of games and practices Denny attended increased with the arrivals of their little brothers, Zane and Myles.
In the summer of 2013, Zane played for Nashville in the Little League World Series. In an elimination game against Newark, Del., Zane hit a grand slam to help his team earn a 10-0 win. The team was eliminated after needing just two more wins to advance to United States championship.
“My dad always talked about us being in the major leagues someday and it always sounded like his biggest dream,” Bryce said. “When he got to watch Zane play with 19,000 people there on national TV, I’m sure that was one of his moments.”
Not only did Denny watch his second-youngest son perform on a big stage, but he also got to see Bryce be recognized for his years of hard work.
Last summer, Bryce received a scholarship offer from the University of Tennessee.
“My dad was really excited,” Bryce said. “He was the one that heard about it first because it couldn’t go through me. I remember him saying it’s just one small step and that I just need to keep working towards more.”
With his first Division I offer in-hand, both Bryce and his dad went back to training. Throughout the fall and winter, the two continued to build on what they started.
As the season drew near, it seemed as if nothing was going to be able to slow Bryce down. However, everything came to a halt one January afternoon.
“That morning, I told him I was going to school, I loved him and I’ll see him after school,” Bryce said. “Those were my last words to him.”
That day, Denny suffered from a series of blood clots that caused his heart to shut down due to a lack of oxygen. He passed away on Feb. 4 after spending 13 days on life support.
He was 52.
“Life can throw you a curveball anytime and you never think it could happen to you,” Bryce said. “One day you come home from school and everything changes.”
For the first time in their lives, Bryce and his brothers were without their biggest fan, coach and best friend.
|Chase (left), Zane (front), Denny (back) and Bryce (right)|
“You just have to face reality,” Bryce stated. “You have to pick yourself back up. The last thing my dad would want us to do is sit around and cry and pout and feel sorry for ourselves.
“We still have stuff we need to do and the dreams he’s instilled into us that he’d want us to fulfill, Bryce continued.
“I’m not going to try to act like I’m an invincible man, because you definitely get hit with a wave of emotions. There’s definitely a little bit of a breakdown process there, but you just have to pick yourself back up.”
Even though he had just been hit with the biggest challenge of his life, Bryce faced the adversity head-on and didn’t look back.
“I really had to step up and take care of my little brothers,” he said. “I’ll now be their mentor in baseball while my older brother is at college, and I’ll just step up and become more of a man. I feel like how you handle stuff thrown at you is what makes you.”
Zane, 13, plays for the 13U Showtime Baseball Team, while Myles, 9, plays for the 10U Heritage Hurricanes.
Returning to baseball
A little over one month after his dad passed away, Bryce and the Raptors began their regular season. For the first time in his life, Bryce had to face the reality his dad wasn’t going to be at his games anymore.
“You never know how someone is going to respond to a tragedy like that,” said Craig. “Here I am at 45-years-old and I still have my father. Personally, I know it would’ve been very difficult for me at age 16 to be able to handle that.
“The way Bryce has handled this says a lot about his mental toughness.”
Even though his father is no longer sitting behind the left field fence at his games, Bryce knows he’s still watching him.
“My dad had always talked about how he hated how he could never watch all four of my brothers play,” Bryce said. “If we’re all playing at once, he could only be at one place. So, we always talk about how he can watch all four of us at once.”
In his entire career, the happiest Bryce had ever seen his dad was after Bryce was named the Most Valuable Player of the Continental Amateur Baseball Association 14U World Series in 2012.
He got a chance to relive that moment following the 11-AAA title game against Brentwood this past Tuesday. After throwing eight strikeouts and allowing three hits in a complete game shutout, Bryce was named the tournament’s MVP.
“I could just picture him right there and know how happy he was for me,” he said. “It was a good feeling.”
“I’m really proud of him,” Bryce’s mom, Traci Denton, said. “He’s taken a lot of adversity and turned it into something more positive. I think he’s really just trying to make his dad proud.”
Even though he admits losing his father hit him hard, Bryce said there was no reason why he should let that bring him down.
He looked at the challenge ahead, stared down his fears and ran to the roar.
“There’s a lot of people that get scared of pressure, scared of fear and scared of failure,” he said. “Why be scared when you can face all of it and possibly overcome it?”
Denton and the Raptors host Hillsboro in the Region 6-AAA semifinals at 7 p.m. Monday.
This summer, he will play for the 16U, 17U and 18U Team Elite baseball teams based out of Atlanta.
He is fielding offers from UT, Middle Tennessee State University, Lipscomb, University of California Santa Barbara and Tallahassee Community College.
Sam McGaw is the sports editor for Brentwood Home Page. He can be contacted at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @SamMcGawSports.