While playing Class A ball in 1964 an unimaginable tragedy befell future major leaguer Danny Breeden.
The 22-year-old second-year pro catcher had struck up a friendship with 13-year-old Jerry Highfill while playing for Wenatchee (Wash.) in the Northwest League. Highfill was a shortstop on a local Babe Ruth League team and Breeden became his baseball mentor.
On July 30, the youngster had spent part of the afternoon at Breeden's home and then rode to the
ballpark with him.
During batting practice, Highfill was shagging balls for the Chiefs, working behind the pitcher's screen, taking throws from the outfield to keep the BP pitcher supplied. He strayed to the third-base side of the screen to field a ball, with his back to home plate.
Breeden was taking his cuts and hit a screaming liner towards left field that struck Highfill squarely in the back of the head.
Players rushed to the fallen youngster, who managed to address several of them by name before he was rushed to the hospital, where he died a short time later.
Breeden had to be sedated and another two of his teammates were too grief-striken to play in that night's 10-0 loss to Lewiston.
Members of the Wenatchee club served as Highfill's pallbearers at his Aug. 2 funeral.
Breeden had been signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1963. After the season he was picked by the Cubs in the 1963 first-year player draft. The Cardinals bought him back after the tragic 1964 season.
He played four seasons at the upper levels of the Cardinals' minor league system before being traded to San Diego after the 1968 season.
Breeden appeared on a Topps "Padres Rookie Stars" card in the high-numbers of the 1969 set, but he never played in the majors for San Diego. Coincidentally, the card back mentions that he was optioned to Elmira in the Eastern League before the 1969 season began . . . but he also never played for Elmira. He opened the year at Class AAA Syracuse, the Yankees' International League club (probably on loan) where he was a teammate of Thurman Munson.
On June 30 he was sold to the Cincinnati Reds, who assigned him to their American Association farm club at Indianapolis, then called him up for three games in late July to fill in when Johnny Bench was sidelined for 10 days. Breeden got a single off Gary Gentry in his first major league at-bat; it was his only hit with the Reds in eight at-bats (.125).
Breeden showed up on his second (last card) Topps card in 1970, #36, Reds Rookie Stars, but he spent the entire 1970 season back at Indianapolis. After the season he was traded back to the Cubs.
He spent most of May and June with the Cubs, appearing in 25 games, including five with his younger brother, Hal. The rest of the year he played at Chicago's AAA team at Tacoma. It was another season at AAA in Wichita in 1972.
Just prior to the 1973 season, the Cubs sold Breeden back to the Padres. He split that year between Hawaii and Phoenix in the Pacific Coast League. It was his last year in pro ball.