FROM LITTLE LEAGUE TO COLLEGE: Gaines, Neal, Mallory love, live baseball

Daniel Neal, Joe Gaines and Logan Mallory finished out their baseball careers at Union College with an impressive senior year. The three helped lead their team to a second place finish in the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) this past season, while also helping the Bulldogs to make their first appearance in the NAIA Regional since 2012. | Photo Contributed 

Baseball has always been the thing that has connected these three London natives.

For Joe Gaines, Daniel Neal and Logan Mallory, baseball has always been a way of life, as the three began playing Little League together at a very young age.

Mallory eventually parted ways with Neal and Gaines, as he went to North Laurel and the other two were at South Laurel. But they never stopped playing the sport they loved, as all three played baseball at their respective high schools.

“Once we got to high school we were kind of rivals, you might say,” said Gaines.

And after graduating high school, the three that started out as young boys just learning the sport joined forces once again once college rolled around.

Gaines was the first to make his decision to play baseball with Union College, while it took Mallory and Neal a little longer to become Bulldogs, as Mallory started out his freshman year of college at Kentucky Wesleyan, while Neal was at the University of Tennessee.

“I actually went to Kentucky Wesleyan out of high school and it was really far away and I just didn’t feel like it was home to me, so I moved to Union and I felt like it was a better choice for me,” Mallory said.

“I left Tennessee and I wasn’t even going to play anymore, I was just going to give it up but Joe (Gaines) went there (to Union College) and I’d played with him since we were little, so Joe talked me into giving it one more shot,” Neal said.

The three agreed that getting to play together once again was really something special.

“We’d played together from the beginning and it was nice to get to play together again at the end,” Neal said.

Though they admitted the team struggled in their first years at Union College, the three were able to come together in their senior year to cap off impressive baseball careers as Bulldogs.

Neal, Gaines and Mallory helped lead their team to a second place finish in the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) this past season, while also helping the Bulldogs to make their first appearance in the NAIA Regional since 2012. Union College finished its season with a 28-25 overall record after taking a loss in the opening round of the regional.

“Capping off my senior year by going to the regional was really the icing on the cake,” Mallory said. “Contrasting that with my junior year, 2018, we didn’t really do much in the way of playing ball. To turn it around this year and go to regional and finish second in the conference was a big turn around.”

Though the three have now finished up their college and baseball careers, they have all agreed that the experience of playing baseball in college is something they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.

“I had baseball practice and games and I had to do that on top of all my school work, on top of clinical hours for my athletic training program—baseball is a full-time job,” Gaines said. “Just balancing all that, I know that anything that gets thrown at me in the future, I’ll be able to balance it because I had to do all that stuff at once. I think that’s prepared me for any obstacle I might come across in the future.”

“It (baseball) has provided me with countless opportunities—helping me pay for school is the biggest thing, helping me to get a degree, it taught me how to work in the team environment and how to work with others,” Mallory said. “It’s just provided more life skills, more things that contribute to other things outside of just baseball.”

Neal encourages anyone considering playing a sport in college to go for it.

“The experience and the friends you’ll make playing a college sport is unlike anything else you’ll ever have,” he said. “I loved playing baseball in college and I would never go back and change anything about it.”

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