MERIDEN — Pete Daniels was a star baseball player coming out of Platt. Jeff Bagwell was a star baseball player coming out of Xavier.
They met in 1986 at the University of Hartford. They were teammates and roommates. This was Daniels’ first impression of the kid from Killingworth.
“I knew it the minute I saw him play that he was going somewhere,” Daniels said Thursday. “Once he got traded to the Astros, I knew he was going to make it.”
Daniels said he was happy to hear that Bagwell, along with Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez, will be inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame on July 30.
Bagwell, in his seventh year on the Cooperstown ballot, received 86.2 percent of the vote, well over the mininum 75 percent required for induction and the highest of the three players elected this year.
Daniels said Bagwell and Meriden’s Ernie Carr are the most talented players he had ever seen play in person. Carr made it to Triple-A in the Dodgers’ organization before his career was halted by injury.
Bagwell also played soccer and basketball at Xavier before heading to UHart.
“He was one of the of the best hitters I’ve seen,” Daniels said. “He’s a fearless player. He produced from Little League on up.”
Daniels transferred to Eastern Connecticut State University as a sophomore and went on to a Hall of Fame career of his own in Willimantic. He was inducted in the Eastern Connecticut Hall of Fame in 2015.
Daniels won a baseball state championship as a Platt senior in 1986. In his senior year at Eastern, he was an All-American third baseman on a Division III national championship team.
Daniels hit .374 from the No. 3 spot in the 1990 season in which Eastern finished with an 18-game winning streak. The Warriors led the country in hits (544), runs (433) and team batting average (.342).
Bagwell, who spent three years at Hartford before being drafted in 1989, still holds the Hawks’ top spot in batting average (.413), home runs (31), runs batted in (126) and slugging percentage (.733).
His No. 27 jersey was retired by the Hawks in 2004. Houston retired his No. 5 jersey in 2007.
Bagwell was taken in the fourth round of the 1989 Major League draft by the Boston Red Sox. He spent two seasons in Boston’s minor league system before being dealt to Houston. There, from 1991 through 2005, Bagwell played the entirety of his 15-year Major League career and blossomed as a star.
He was the 1991 National League Rookie of the Year and the 1994 National League MVP. He was named to the National League All-Star Team four times. He played (and lost) in the 2005 World Series. He is the only Major League first baseman to hit 400 home runs and steal at least 200 bases (Bagwell had 207).
Through all that, Daniels remained close with Bagwell.
“He stayed at my house quite a bit when he was playing in New Britain so he didn’t have to go all the way home,” Daniels said. “We were pretty tight.”
Daniels was one of the first to know when Bagwell was traded from the Red Sox to the Astros. The news came down in the clubhouse at New Britain’s Beehive Field.
Daniels added that Bagwell, while playing with the Astros, flew back to Connecticut to see his ailing father, Pete Daniels Sr.
“That was about 15 years ago,” Daniels said. “My father had cancer and he was very close to my father and he flew home to see him.”
Daniels said he’s considering heading to Cooperstown on July 30 to see his friend inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“We’re going to see what my son’s baseball schedule is like,” Daniels said. “But my son (Ryan) has been begging me to go. I haven’t seen Jeff in five or six years. But if I saw him it would be like no time had passed. We had some fun.”
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