It's not easy for Daniel Boyle to attend minor league baseball games.
His goal of playing professional ball dashed years ago, Boyle has a difficult time watching players, who he once competed alongside, continue playing the game he still loves.
"Sometimes it's still hard for me to go to games," he said. "But the dream's over. I'm 29 years old. The dream was over about six, seven years ago."
A new dream, however, is being played out before local fans' eyes.
In his third stint this season with the Peninsula Oilers, spending last summer as the manager of the Alaska Baseball League squad, Boyle is filling a major void for the current edition of the Oilers.
Not only is he serving as an assistant coach off the field, but he's mirroring that role on it, too, playing left field, shortstop and even catcher as the team awaits the arrival of the remainder of its players.
"I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't love to play," he said. "I do love playing, but at the same time, I want to help these guys develop because a lot of these guys have the same dream that I had and I want to help them maybe get that dream and maybe make it a reality."
Whether he realizes it or not, Boyle is helping them more on the field than he could off it.
Constantly displaying his passion for the sport -- stealing bases, making diving catches and even twice sliding head first into first base, leading first-year skipper Tom Myers to refer to him as Cincinnati Reds legend Pete Rose -- Boyle's infectious attitude travels with him every time he steps over that white line.
"He brings so much energy. He's really a role model on the field," said right fielder Jeremy Gould. "He plays so hard, you can't help but play hard behind him and just give everything you've got because you know he's giving everything he has."
That's the way it's always been.
Growing up 30 minutes south of Sacramento, an Oakland Athletics fan through and through, Boyle played two years of collegiate ball at Yuba College, using his deft baserunning ability to swipe 62 bags in 1999 -- still the California junior college single-season record -- while adding 48 thefts the following year.
"I played a different style. But that's why I was able to continue to play where I did," said Boyle, standing just under 6 feet. "Because I'm a little guy and I had to play that way in order for me to continue playing. I didn't have the skills, the power, the pop, that everybody else had, so I had to go balls out every time I played."
It's that gutty effort that earned him a scholarship to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., where he played for two years before his drive and motivation dissipated into thin air.
"Believe it or not, I couldn't stand baseball for the guy I played for," he said. "I hated baseball."
But Boyle recaptured the passion that once earned him Male Athlete of Year honors at Yuba and translated it into a season of independent ball in Louisiana and then a year-and-a-half coaching stint at a California high school.
He now has three years under his belt as an assistant coach at Cosumnes River College, while spending each summer on The Last Frontier.
"I love it up here," he said. "It's a great time for the summer to get away from everything back home with all the baseball stuff I've got going back there and I'm working on school stuff to get my way up toward being a head coach and that kind of thing. This is a great way to get away and still be a part of the game."
That first head-coaching opportunity unexpectedly occurred last summer when then-Oilers manager Aric Thomas left the team for personal reasons less than 10 games into the season and Boyle stepped in, guiding the team to a 25-18 mark and a 17-18 record in the ABL, good enough to tie for a third-place finish.
"It was an experience," he said without elaborating on whether it was good or bad. "I really did learn a lot from it. ... I really like coaching the game. The hard part for me is that I am so competitive, and obviously, you see the way that I play and go about, and I expect guys to play it that way. But guys aren't going to play that way."
They might now.
In his second stint at filling in on the field for the Oilers, going 9-for-28 with nine RBIs, eight stolen bases, eight runs and a .487 on-base percentage in 11 games in 2006, Boyle is leading by example so far this season.
Not only has he played left field and caught three innings behind the plate, even calling the pitches for a hurler pumping his gas at over 90 MPH, but stepping in at shortstop late in Thursday's game against the San Francisco Seals, Boyle's true character demonstrated itself.
With one out in the top of the ninth and the Oilers attempting to complete their first no-hitter in 25 years, Boyle came off the bench after serving as the designated hitter for the first eight innings and darted backward into foul territory on a high fly ball.
If anything, it was the left fielder's duty to make the grab. Nonetheless, Boyle ranged over and made a mind-boggling diving catch, sprawling horizontally just beneath the left fielder's charging body in preserving the no-no, which the Oilers would eventually finish off two pitches later.
"I thought it was going to drop for sure, where the left fielder was," Gould said. "That ball was in no-man's land."
Not for the speedy Boyle it wasn't.
"That's just how I play," he said. "I can't turn that switch off."
And Myers doesn't want him to.
"That's what you need, is you need a guy that's got not only leadership qualities by the way he carries himself, but also by the way he plays," he explained. "Once he has to go into the complete coaching role, we hope somebody else is infected by what he's done up to this point and will continue with that."
Third baseman P.J. Sequierra, who plays the hot corner for California's Santa Rosa Junior College, a Big Eight Conference foe of Cosumnes, where Boyle coaches third base, said his current fellow infielder would talk to him during games, making him laugh despite his attempts at concentration.
That's still the case today.
"We're always talking. He's giving me advice. He's coaching me still when I'm in the field," Sequierra said of this season. "When I'm at third, he can tell me go up for a bunt or something. You can trust him because he's a coach and he's smart. Any other player tries to tell me something, maybe I'm like, 'Well, what does that guy know?' But he's an actual coach and he knows baseball."
While he may be hitting only .154 (2-for-13) with four walks, an RBI and a run scored, Boyle -- who saw only seven pitches in three at-bats during his 2008 debut, saying, "I'm trying to act like Jeremy Gould or P.J. Sequierra when I'm more of a little guy" -- is now replicating what he was known for during his playing days.
Having stolen five bases, including consecutive thefts of second and third in Friday and Saturday's wins over the SoCal Running Birds, Boyle is again up to his old tricks.
"He's going to get dirty. The guy's probably got the dirtiest uniform on our team," Myers said. "With the mentality that we're going to try to instill and play all summer with, is run the bases aggressively, and he does it. He doesn't need to be told what to do because he was successful and knows how to read pitchers. Hopefully our young guys can also learn from that."
That's precisely what is motivating Boyle every time he takes the field.
"I hope it does," he said, "so when I do get on them about things, they can't say, 'Well, you wouldn't have done that.' When they watch me play now, (they know) that I do do that."
As long as he remains on the roster throughout the season, Boyle can still to play the part of a player and a coach when ABL play begins on Thursday.
And don't be surprised to see him do exactly that.
"It's a long year and I'm not going to be hesitant to run him back out there," Myers said, adding they've joked about playing him in all nine positions, which very well may happen. "He does a lot. On the base paths, he creates some chaos.
"I'll tell you what," he added, "if we need a pinch runner, he's going to be the first guy that comes off the bench."
His teammates wouldn't have it any other way.
"I want him here all summer," Gould said. "I want to bring him back with me to school. He's unbelievable."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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