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From Morton to the Majors? The tireless tale of Dan Bolt

Dan Bolt swings against Evansville. Photo courtesy Bradley Athletics and Josh Schwam.

Dan Bolt has constantly lived and breathed baseball; just take a look at his numbers and honors to prove it: a career .318 batting average, 29 home runs, a Collegiate Baseball Newspaper All-American and preseason MVC Player of the Year in 2021. Ask anybody to name one current Bradley baseball player and the first to come to mind for many is Bolt. 

For Bradley, albeit a well-performing school in sports for a university of its size, to land an All-American talent is certainly a notable accomplishment. So how did he get to this point of helping Braves baseball to be noticed on a national scale? The answer lies in a hint of geographic luck and a heap of hard work. 

A native of Morton, Bolt began his baseball journey the same way many youths across America do: playing T-ball at about kindergarten age. Growing up, he took advantage of living in close proximity to the Little League park in Morton, where he spent a majority of his summers at. While Bolt’s family was frequently involved in sports, neither of his parents played beyond the high school level. 

“That’s quite the blessing,” Bolt said. “My parents and grandparents pushed me. They’ve always motivated me and given me unlimited support when it comes to baseball.”

While attending Morton High School, Bolt successfully juggled playing baseball and basketball for the Potters. Before terrorizing Missouri Valley opponents, Bolt stood out as a force in the Mid-Illini Conference by earning second-team all conference honors in basketball his senior year, adding to an all-state selection for baseball the same year for the Potters.

“I just think basketball helped me stay athletic and build those quick-twitch muscles which are huge for baseball,” Bradley’s right fielder said. “That helps you be able to react quick and have some speed.”

Bradley’s head coach Elvis Dominguez took note of the “fun-loving and outgoing” youngster from right down Interstate 74. Coming out of high school, Bolt was the 109th-ranked recruit in the state of Illinois, according to Perfect Game, and Dominguez knew that he could be a threat in the lineup. 

But defensively? Bradley’s skipper had concerns about that. 

“He could always hit,” Dominguez said. “One of the reasons he didn’t start right away as a freshman was because he lacked defense. We sat down and I told him you can’t just be a career DH and he took that to heart.” 

Bolt was nevertheless excited to become a Brave after supporting them throughout his childhood. A handful of current Braves have followed suit and stayed in Central Illinois after high school, including Dunlap’s Jackson Chatterton and Taylor Catton, Metamora’s Ryan Vogel and fellow Morton son Isaiah Gudeman. 

“I always supported Bradley because they were the local team, but never once did I think that I was going to play for them,” Bolt said. “It was just the best opportunity to play baseball at the highest level possible.”

Bolt spent more time in the dugout than in the field as a freshman, only seeing action in 11 of the Braves’ 51 games. While he was soaking up the game at a college level, he was taken under the wing of sophomore outfielder Jean-Francois Garon. However, Bolt credits his rise to stardom mainly to his coaches. 

“Between Coach Dominguez teaching you life lessons and [hitting coach] Coach Trewyn giving you the baseball skills, you put that together and I just ran with it,” Bolt said. “I couldn’t be more thankful for who I’ve had as coaches because sometimes you don’t get the best coaches and it can go sideways and push people away from the sport. I’ve been blessed enough where year-in and year-out I’ve had coaching that not only helps you get better but keeps you interested and motivated.” 

In turn, Dominguez raves about Bolt’s intensity, passion, and hard work — all qualities that endear players to coaches.

“There’s a lot of talent I’ve had in all my years, but I’ve never had as many other intangibles, which are the work ethic, the passion, the ability to be the best at whatever they’re doing,” Dominguez said. “His work ethic is what really sets him apart. Dan has a chance to go far, I don’t think he’s done playing baseball for a while.”

In his sophomore year of 2018, Bolt etched out a regular role in Bradley’s lineup, hitting to the tune of .270 and five home runs. After having honest conversations with Dominguez, Bolt made up for his defensive shortcomings, enabling him to earn the role. 

“I just took it personally after my freshman year to make it a goal of mine to not only emphasize hitting but just perfecting my game all around and that started with defense,” Bolt said. 

“He has really become a Gold Glove kind of guy in the outfield. He’s become a full ballplayer; a complete ball player. He actually works harder on his defense than he does on his offense,” added Dominguez. 

The many hours of staying late after practice for Bolt became publicly apparent when he gunned down the go-ahead run at the plate from right field in last weekend’s series against Evansville. In one of the most memorable moments of his career, the senior proceeded to hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth, his second of the game and sixth of the season through 22 games. Bradley’s everyday right fielder now boasts three outfield assists on the year, already a career high. 

In the batter’s box, Bolt is building off a 2020 season where his .881 slugging percentage ranked sixth in the nation during the abbreviated campaign. Though unable to play the full length of the season and complete his pandemic-year pace, the graduate senior has not missed a step in 2021. His four 4-hit games this year are tied for most in a season in the span of three decades, his companion atop the Bradley leaderboard being current New York Yankee, Mike Tauchman. 

Dominguez sees no reason why Bolt can’t be the 12th player that he’s coached to reach the big leagues. 

“Mike is a guy just like Dan who, whenever everybody went home, he would stay for another hour or two and just work, and work, and work,” Dominguez said. 

Bolt said that he has taken advantage of Tauchman returning to Peoria on Alumni Weekend. The parallels between both players are similar, but Bolt’s biggest takeaway has turned out to be his defining attribute. 

“That guy [Tauchman] worked his butt off,” Bolt said. “That was one thing I took away. Your odds [of making it to MLB] are already slimmed down and he proved that wrong.”

Bolt’s constant drive to become a better player has forced Dominguez to coach Bolt tougher and demand more from him than his teammates. 

“Do I push him harder? Yes, because I know he can take it and he responds in a way that’s like ‘I’ll show you,’” Bradley’s head coach said. “I keep stressing that you can’t be satisfied. Now there’s some guys that can’t handle that. They think that their coach is always on them, but I’m trying to make them better, trying to make you fill out the back of their baseball cards.” 

Bolt has a chance to find his baseball card in the hands of collectors as he prepares for the 2021 MLB Draft. He would become the 17th Bradley alumnus to reach the majors if he can continue to produce such impressive numbers. 

“I hope and pray I get that opportunity because I’d like to make the most of it,” Bolt said.

Like all wise college athletes, Bolt has a backup plan should baseball lead him to a dead end. The outfielder graduated in 2020 with a degree in finance and is nearing the halfway point of finishing his MBA. 

Bolt enjoys outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing and golf when he needs relaxation from baseball. If you asked either Bolt or his coaches, however, relaxation isn’t a common word in Bolt’s vocabulary.

“He is talking all the time, talking hitting all the time and talking baseball all the time,” Dominguez said. “He’s just wired different, he’s a high-energy guy and really intense when it comes to competition.”

Dan Bolt’s determination and hard work prove that such attributes can drive anyone to their highest possible peak. The Bradley faithful have the privilege of watching Bolt take the MVC by storm now, but wait on bated breath to hopefully hear his name said on televisions across the country in a few short years. 

If you haven’t already, take notes, Peoria. 

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