Danny and the Home Run Tree: the Story of a Star Local Athlete

January 19, 2018 2:11 pm0 commentsViews: 863
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When Danny Elko was a kid growing up in the Red Cedar section of Levittown, he loved to play baseball with the neighborhood kids in the field across from his house at 8 Rocky Pool Lane.

There was a big tree in center field. If you hit the ball over the tree, it was an automatic home run. Danny hit a lot of them.

The athletic genes had come from his father, Pete “Piccolo” Elko, who had played third base for the 1943 Chicago Cubs. He registered his son in the Levittown Pacific Little League, where Danny played for six years.

“My favorite coach was Nick Williams,” Danny told a Leader reporter. “Coach Williams made me come out to the game even when I felt like slacking off. He once caught me sneaking out the back window of my own house when he came to pick me up. But as a result, I got better as a player.”

Danny Elko became a star player for Woodrow Wilson High School (now Harry S. Truman High School) and was voted to the East/West All-Star Game at Veterans Stadium. He was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1972. After a couple of minor-league seasons he went to spring training with the big-league Yankees, but was eventually cut. “Steinbrenner had just bought the team,” he said. “And he cleaned house.” Danny went back to the minors.

By 1974, Danny was homesick and weary of the nomadic minor-league life. “I was riding buses and eating at White Castle every day,” he said. But then fate intervened, and Danny Elko was picked up the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I had a good spring training camp in Florida,” he said. “I hit around .300 and I had a cannon for an arm.” Danny made the team.

“Lee Elia told me to come over to the hotel in Clearwater to meet some of the bigwigs. Ruben Amaro was there, and Jim Bunning. They all laughed at how skinny I was. Lee handed me $20 and told me to go across the highway to get myself a pizza and some beer.”

It was April 10, 1976. On his way across Highway 19 on foot, Danny was hit by a speeding truck. He crashed through the windshield; his left hand—the cannon hand—was nearly severed.

He was rushed unconscious to Morton Plante Hospital, where doctors were able to reattach his hand. But Danny Elko’s baseball dreams had come to an abrupt end.

Aimless and depressed, he eventually wandered north to Buffalo. He went to college, graduating at the age of 26. Years passed before he made his way back to Bucks County, where he found work in the landscaping business.

One recent day, Danny Elko stood once again in the Red Cedar field of his youth (see photo). “I don’t remember that tree being so tall,” he laughed. “But back then, I guess it wasn’t.” He talked about getting the old gang together again for an over-50 home run derby.

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“I’m grateful for all the good people I’ve had in my life,” he said. “My Mom and Dad. My coaches. Dave Christian, who grew up in Appletree and was like a big brother to me.”

What advice would he give to a promising young athlete?

“Play your sport, but get an education. It can all end so suddenly.” ◼

 

 The Lower Bucks Leader is a free, monthly community newspaper and can be found at over 700 stores and businesses in Lower Bucks County. To find a location nearest to you, call 215-499-5535 or email Editor@LowerBucksLeader.com 

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