Ryan Danbury

Former Valdosta High star Ryan Danbury was drafted by the Houston Astros after hitting .368 with 10 home runs and 27 stolen bases for North Florida Community College.

VALDOSTA — Playing professional baseball has always been a dream for Ryan Danbury. That dream might now become a reality.

Danbury, a former Valdosta High star, was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 42nd round of last week’s First Year Player Draft.

“I’m pretty excited,” Danbury said. “(A few years ago) I never would have expected it. It proves how much hard work pays off.”

Fittingly, Danbury got the call from the Astros at one of his favorite places: the baseball field.

“We were getting ready to play a game. I was about to start warming up when my phone rang, and it was the Astros,” Danbury recalled. “That was great, to get that call on the ballfield.”

The Astros love Danbury’s speed (he runs a 4.38-second 40-yard dash) and his ability to get on base, and envision him as a center fielder. He was a shortstop at Valdosta, but moved to the outfield when he got to junior college.

Danbury had a big year with North Florida Community College this year. The redshirt freshman batted .368 with 10 home runs and 41 RBIs as the Sentinels’ leadoff hitter and right fielder. He also stole 27 bases.

“I was real happy with my season,” Danbury said. “I’ve never had a year like that. I’ve been working with (longtime Kansas City Royals minor league coach) Jeff Garber, and he’s helped me a lot with my swing.”

Danbury was well on his way to an All-Conference season when he suffered a broken thumb, which caused him to miss the end of the season. Despite missing almost half of the conference season, he was an honorable mention All-Conference selection.

But now the thumb has healed, and Danbury is back on the diamond. Right now, he is playing for the Waynesboro (Va.) Generals in the Valley League, a summer baseball league where the players use wooden bats. In 2007, he played briefly with the Generals, who won the league championship, batting .316.

“I love playing here,” said Danbury, as he rode on a bus from Waynesboro to Harrisonburg, Va. for the Generals’ next game. “The fans are great. The competition is tough. You see a good pitcher every day. And you hit with wood bats. That makes me use my speed more, because it’s harder to hit for power with a wood bat.”

The league attracts a lot of Division I players. Danbury’s teammates include five players from Southeastern Conference schools and four from Atlantic Coast Conference schools.

Players in the Shenandoah Valley League live with host families during the summer. Right now, Danbury and a teammate are living on the top floor of a barn on their host family’s farm. Not your ordinary sleeping arrangements, but Danbury says he loves it.

Now Danbury faces a decision: Sign with the Astros or go back to college? Right now, he says he’s not sure which route he will take.

“It’s a hard decision,” Danbury said. “I don’t know what I will do. But either way, I’ll be playing baseball.”

If he doesn’t sign with the Astros, Danbury will play for Walters State, a junior college in Tennessee, next season. He has to change schools because North Florida Community College has dropped its athletic program.

“All of us were sad about it,” Danbury said. “I loved playing for NFCC and the coaches. I’ll miss it.

“I talked with some (four-year) schools, but I decided to go to Walters State because I could get more playing time there. There I will be the starting center fielder and get to play every day. They’re a top junior college program, and they’ve had a lot of players get drafted.”

But no matter where he plays in 2009, he will be playing baseball. And there’s nothing Ryan Danbury enjoys doing more than that.

“I love playing baseball. It never gets old,” Danbury said. “I don’t know what I’d do without it. I’ve made so many friends playing baseball. It’s a lot of fun.”

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