Ronald Vincent believed in Jesse Daniels when no one else did.
When Daniels looks back on his life, which includes 8 1/2 years in prison, he wonders what the Greenville Rose High baseball coach saw that no one else did. Vincent never coached Daniels, but he has known him since he was barely a teenager.
“Through everything that happened, R.V. (Vincent) never looked down on me, never gave up on me,” Daniels said. “When I didn’t see anything good in myself, he saw me as someone who could be a good person and help other people.”
Vincent, the state’s leader in high school baseball coaching victories, nominated and pushed for Daniels to be inducted into the J.H. Rose High athletic hall of fame.
Others may have seen Daniels, now a 60-year-old man long besieged by drug abuse and criminal behavior, as an unlikely candidate for the school’s highest honor, but Vincent saw Daniels as a worthy addition.
“He was one of the best baseball players we ever had,” Vincent said. “He made bad decision after bad decision and fell just about as low as you can go.
“But he pulled himself up and is spending his life helping others. That’s something to celebrate.”
A changed life
Daniels is an associate minister at New Hope Worship Center in Louisburg. He said he has a burden for the homeless and the hungry. He helps them when he can. He works with young men, telling them to not follow the path he trod.
“I ask them if the road they are traveling leads to happiness and success or to the grave,” Daniels said. “My story seems to touch them.”
Daniels says he hasn’t used drugs since Nov. 23, 2003. His was a jailhouse conversion. He said he spent hours in Bible reading and in prayers, and he credits his new faith with changing his life.
“I had been living very selfishly, only concerned with myself,” he said. “I’ve changed.”
There are plenty of drug users who claim they are former drug users. Daniels knows that people are watching to see if his actions are true to his words.
‘We always have concerns’
Pastor Joe Ferguson, the minister at the Church of God-affiliated New Hope, said he was cautious when he first met Daniels at recreation basketball games and heard his story.
“I think we always have concerns if people have really changed,” Ferguson said. “But the things that Brother Jesse has told me have checked out. I have received letters from people, including people in jail, who say that J.C. has helped them.
“It appears that God has done a wonderful work in his life.”
Vincent said he never had doubts that Daniels would turn his life around. None. Not when injuries hastened Daniels’ exit from professional baseball. Not when the only job Daniels could get was on the garbage truck in Greenville.
Vincent doesn’t think he stuck his neck out when he pushed Daniels for the schools’ highest athletic honor.
“J.C. never was a bad person, but he really made a lot of bad decisions,” Vincent said.
Mets were interested
The New York Mets were interested in drafting Daniels out of high school in 1972, but the day the Mets’ scout came to watch him play baseball he missed the game after being suspended for fighting at school.
He enlisted in the Army and after being honorably discharged in 1975 went to Louisburg College the next January. He played two spring seasons at Louisburg and helped lead it to the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
Daniels, who played second base, outfield and shortstop, was taken in the second round of the amateur draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977.
“He was an outstanding player and had a real chance of playing in the big leagues,” said longtime Louisburg coach Russ Frazier. “He was really talented but made bad choices. Hopefully, he has turned his life around. I hope so.”
Daniels said he played well in the pros, but he was cut by the Dodgers after a year and a half.
“It was my mouth and my arrogant attitude that cost me a chance of making the Dodgers’ big league team,” he said.
He later signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979. An elbow injury effectively ended that chance and his career.
A sudden fall
Within two years, he was selling cocaine and heroin. He became a thief. He’d have periods of sobriety, but he always returned to drugs. He was in and out of prison and eventually served 34 months of a 40-month sentence.
Throughout it all, Vincent remained steady.
“I knew he’d come around sometime,” Vincent said. “I had faith in him.”
Daniels teaches and occasionally preaches at the New Hope Worship Center in Louisburg. He said he is in a good place, but somewhere deep there are sometimes wisps of his past life.
“Kicking drugs is not as easy as some people think,” he said. “With me, I could never stop on my own. My faith had to do it. That’s one of the reasons I try to surround myself with good people. I know I’ve got to have support.”
And he has no bigger supporter than Ronald Vincent, a man who never coached Daniels in baseball, but has helped coach him in life.