HOUSTON, Texas -- As a boy, Daniel Mengden sat for hours in his front yard throwing a tennis ball to the curb across the street, carefully studying how it bounced off the cement differently with each toss.
"He drove the neighbor across the street nuts," said Mengden’s mom, Beth.
The youngster had plenty of time to consider ball trajectory in between studying sessions as Mengden and his four siblings were homeschooled growing up in Houston, where he dreamed of playing one day for his hometown team.
"Sitting outside, Daniel would play his own game or reenact the [Astros] game the night before," Beth said. "He wrote down notes and played the game himself in the middle of the street."
In 2014, his dream came true when he was a fourth-round draft pick by the Astros out of Texas A&M.
Mengden steamrolled through the minors, drawing the attention of big league clubs which paid off last summer when the 23-year-old was acquired by the A’s in the Scott Kazmir deal. Before Oakland called him two weeks ago, Mengden had posted a 1.19 ERA in his 11 starts between Double-A and Triple-A, striking out 67 batters in 68 1/3 innings.
Mengden, who rocks a Rollie Fingers-esque handlebar mustache, has looked at home on the mound for Oakland. In his first two starts, Mengden mixed pitches well, working his curveball and a sneaky fastball that’s topped out at 98 mph for a 2.25 ERA. Despite Mengden’s poise, the rookie’s gone 0-2 since making the bigs.
"Mengden was terrific," manager Bob Melvin said after Thursday’s loss to the Texas Rangers, whose starter Colby Lewis took a no-hitter to the 9th inning. Mengden went 6 1/3 innings for the A’s, allowing only one earned run on four hits, striking out seven. "He put together two outings, like that typically you’re 2-0, maybe a no decision in a game like this, on the other side a well-pitched game. It’s unfortunate that you pitch that well, and we waste two pitching performances that he’s given us for the first two outings of his career."
Mengdens, though, are known to perform well in the spotlight.
"My parents always told us if you want to win and be successful, you’ve got to work your hardest," Mengden said.
His parents, Joe, an IT expert in the financial field, and Beth, a homemaker, who instilled strong work and religious ethics in their five children. They raised competitive athletic overachievers to be the best at what they do. Daniel’s 89-year-old grandfather is the former Texas state senator, Walter Henry Mengden, Jr.
Beth worked odd jobs –– from cleaning homes to holding garage sales –– earning extra money, so the children could pursue their dreams, and teaching the whole bunch. Joe oversaw Daniel’s baseball development, while Beth focused on shepherding younger siblings Rachel and Michael, 20-year-old fraternal twins, and Gabrielle, 17, all of whom are accomplished ballet dancers poised for pro careers.
Daniel and older sister Victoria were homeschooled until their teenage years and attended Westside High School in Houston. The three younger siblings continued to be homeschooled, which allowed them to devote more time to dance instruction.
But back when the five kids were young, they all took dance class, even Daniel. At age 9, his mom thought that signing him up for ballet and jazz would help his coordination for baseball, she said. He reluctantly took the dance class, but only for one year, which culminated in a recital where he danced to "Pachelbel’s Canon." The future pitcher also played soccer and swam competitively in high school.
The rest of the kids didn’t give up so easily. Michael, at 16, attended the world-renown Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Russia. Rachel, Michael and Gabrielle have all won the Youth America Grand Prix, ballet’s largest amateur competition that awards scholarships. All three train at the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School under the widely respected former Cuban dancer Ariel Serrano. This fall, the trio will audition for jobs at professional ballet companies. (Eldest sister Victoria, 25, trained in tap dancing through her high school years but became a high school science teacher and now coaches cheer.)
"They’re very supportive of each other," Beth said. "They’re loving brothers and sisters and they inspire each other." Rachel recently posted a heartfelt message on social media about how much her brother’s Major League Baseball success encourages her to pursue her pro dreams, even if he only makes pitches dance.