Muno making his pitch off the field

Eight-year Minor Leaguer adjusts to front-office role in Tacoma

After eight years on the diamond, Danny Muno made the move from player to corporate sales manager with the Rainiers. (Jeff Halstead)

By Michael Avallone / MiLB.com | January 9, 2019 10:30 AM

He won't say he's retired -- at least not yet. It's not that Danny Muno is afraid of moving on from a career that spanned eight seasons and included 17 Major League games. He's just not ready to completely shut the door on the only profession he's ever known.

But there comes a time when all ballplayers -- good, bad or legendary -- face the reality of walking away from the game. That's where Muno found himself at the conclusion of the 2018 season, and it's led him to an unexpected career.

Facing a new kind of pitch

Muno entered last season at 29 years old, several months shy of his marriage to Tacoma resident Kelsey Russell and nearly three years removed from his first and only taste of Major League life. He suffered a midseason knee injury -- an ailment that eventually required arthroscopic surgery -- with Triple-A Tacoma and played his final game of the 2018 season, and perhaps his career, on June 24.

Muno and Russell, whom he had met the previous year, tied the knot 15 days later. The couple purchased a home soon after, and with it came new responsibilities and the realization that it might be time to think about life after baseball. That's exactly what Muno did.

"We had recently been married and bought a new house. I had a decision to make," the Long Beach, California, native said. "It was by no means an easy choice to make. Having to choose between chasing my dreams and continuing to play baseball or find a regular job was tough, but the Rainiers offered me an opportunity to stay where we've established our home and I took it. This club and city hold a special place in my heart."

Instead of preparing for Spring Training and fighting for a spot in the bigs, Muno is learning a new trade. As a corporate sales manager, the former infielder has gone from trying to hit pitches to making his own. He travels around the area and meets with local corporations and business owners to entice them to purchase ticket packages for the Rainiers' 2019 season.

"I majored in kinesiology [at Fresno State University]," Muno laughed. "So this definitely is a bit of a change. But the Rainiers have a very good and extensive training program, and although I'm still learning, I feel I have a good head start on what to expect and how to do it. There's a lot to learn and I'm certainly not an expert, but so far, so good."

Among his talking points is the legacy of Pacific Coast League baseball in Tacoma, which dates to 1960. The Rainiers -- as they have been known since affiliating with the Mariners in 1995 -- hold the circuit's longest streak of continuous membership. The organization will celebrate its 60th year in Tacoma at historic Cheney Stadium in 2019.

"This is a great baseball community and has been for a very long time," Muno said. "Plus, I don't discount the positive effect being a former player can have for me. It's a great way to get your foot in the door. So many of the businesses and people I've dealt with want to chat about baseball, and I'm happy to do so. It's a good way to break the ice."

A dream realized

Although excited about the challenges his new role in Tacoma's front office has afforded him, Muno still considers himself a ballplayer. The reality of his situation as he nears his 30th birthday may have compelled him to begin penning a new chapter of his life, but the desire to play hasn't faded away.

"I still have playing in the back of my mind," he explained. "I haven't made any formal [retirement] announcement. I'm technically a free agent, and if by some chance a team wants to give me another opportunity, I'm still in shape and ready to go. I hope for another chance but no matter what, I wanted to stay within baseball circles, and this job is one way to do that."

Muno's professional career began when the Mets selected him in the eighth round of the 2011 Draft following a standout collegiate career at Fresno State. He earned Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 2008 while helping lead the Bulldogs to their first NCAA championship. He left as the school's all-time leader in games played (259), runs scored (251) and walks (213) and ranked second in hits (332) and doubles (69). 

He hit the ground running with Class A Short Season Brooklyn, establishing a franchise record while leading the New York-Penn League with a .355 batting average. Muno appeared in a career-high 127 games in 2013, when he hit .249/.384/.379 with 67 RBIs, 92 walks and 15 stolen bases for Double-A Binghamton.

Two years later, the hard work paid off in the form of his Major League debut with the Mets. Muno singled in his first at-bat and then swiped his first base. It was an emotional time for his entire family, and not just because a dream was realized.

"It was a whirlwind for me," Muno said. "I was one of the last cuts during Spring Training and then I got the call about my mom [Anne] having a stroke. I flew to California to be with her and after a few days, she told me to go back and play. She said she'd be fine and to go do my thing. A few weeks later, I was called up [from Triple-A Las Vegas] and, thankfully, she had improved enough that she was able to travel to New York to see my first game."

Muno appeared in 17 games and collected four hits in 27 at-bats (.148) over the course of five separate stints with the Mets, who went on to represent the National League in the World Series that year. But Muno never returned to the Majors.

"It's amazing to realize I reached that level," he said. "I was a never a top prospect in high school or college. I always had to earn everything that I've achieved in my career. I've worked hard and had the help of some terrific coaches and teammates along the way. Without their support and that of my friends and family, I would never have done it. It was a dream come true." 

Offseason MiLB include

Muno moved on to the Marlins and White Sox organizations before beginning 2017 with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the independent Atlantic League. The Mariners signed him that May and placed him in Tacoma. A few weeks later, he met his future wife and established a foundation in the place he now calls home.

If June 24, 2018 does turn out to be the date of Muno's last game as a professional, he went out the way he came in ... almost identically, in fact. The switch-hitter had two hits, scored a run and collected an RBI -- just as he did eight years earlier in his first game for Brooklyn.

"I haven't let myself get to the point of looking back [on my career]," Muno said. "When Spring Training rolls around and if I'm still not playing, it might start to hit me. I've been a part of some great teams and great organizations. I've made a lot of friends along the way and I achieved my ultimate dream. 

"But like with anything, whether I'm on the field playing or selling tickets, I give it my all. I'm starting at the bottom again like I did as a player. I'm going to work as hard as I can and hopefully move up through this aspect of the baseball world. We'll see where it takes me."

Michael Avallone is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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