Latter-day Saint teenage slugger Danielle Gibson lists a highlight on her “long ball” resume that no big leaguer (not Babe Ruth, not Bryce Harper, not even Hank Aaron) can claim: a home run cycle.
For sports fans and stats nerds, a home run cycle is a mythical, seemingly unattainable feat — the stuff of video games and cheat codes. Major League Baseball has been around for 150 years and not a single player has hit a home run cycle.
But the next time Danielle Gibson — a lifelong Church member and a University of Arkansas softball player — hits for the home run cycle, it will be a repeat performance.
For the uninformed or indifferent, a home run cycle is hitting a solo, a 2-run, and a 3-run home run, and a grand slam, all in the same game.
When Danielle stepped to the plate on Feb. 23 for her first inning at-bat against Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, she wasn’t swinging for the home run cycle — she didn’t even know what that was. She simply wanted to help the Razorbacks erase an early 2-0 deficit.
With a runner on base, she knocked the ball over the fence at Arkansas’ Bogle Park to tie the game with a 2-run home run.
Danielle returned to the plate the next inning, this time with two runners on. Again, she drove the ball out of the yard for a 3-run home run.
The bases were loaded in the 3rd inning when the sophomore returned to the batter’s box. Grand Slam.
By this point, the Razorback dugout was buzzing.
“My teammate Hannah (McEwen), our leadoff hitter, told me, ‘You’re about to hit for the home run cycle!’”
Danielle had no clue what she was talking about.
Hannah was happy to educate: “You’re going to hit every type of home run that can be hit in one game.”
But when Danielle stepped to the plate in the 4th inning for what would be her last at-bat, the home run cycle didn’t appear possible. She had a teammate on third base and she needed to hit a solo home run to complete the cycle.
Then a bit of magic (fate, maybe?) happened. Perhaps unnerved facing Danielle, the pitcher threw a wild pitch, allowing the baserunner on third to come home, emptying the bases.
“The stars were aligning ... . I told myself to go for it,” she told the Church News.
That final pitch arrived well off the plate, but Danielle swung big, made solid contact and the ball drifted over the outfield wall and into the college softball history books.
Danielle became just the second NCAA Division 1 softball player to hit for the home run cycle — and the first to do it in four innings. (And, for the record, Arkansas notched the win, 15-3.)
Ruth Gibson was in the stands that evening watching her daughter play. After each home run, she excitedly called her husband, Todd Gibson, who was at the family home in Murrieta, California.
“We couldn’t believe what was happening,” said Ruth.
It didn’t take long for news of the oh-so-rare home run cycle to spread across the sports world. Danielle’s historic game continues being covered by a variety of new agencies — including the Washington Post, ESPN and SiriusXM radio.
“It’s been crazy,” admitted the 19-year-old psychology major, who has juggled interview requests in between classes and softball games and practices.
Danielle said she’s also grateful. The past several months have been sometimes challenging. After earning all-conference honors last season at Arizona State, she made the tough decision to transfer. Initially, she wasn’t sure where she would continue her college career — so she relied upon the Lord and the guiding words of her patriarchal blessing.
Deciding to play at Arkansas, she said, was an answer to many prayers.
“For some reason, Heavenly Father guided me here,” she said.
She is the only Latter-day Saint on the Razorback squad. But she said her coaches and teammates have welcomed her faith and religious convictions.
“A lot of the girls have been super supportive ... . I feel really blessed to be part of this group.”
She posts Book of Mormon passages in her locker to keep her grounded during the ups-and-downs of the college softball season and feels comfortable talking to her team about her Latter-day Saint beliefs.
The gospel offers Danielle eternal perspective, allowing her to step away from the pressures and demands of school and softball. “I’m so grateful to be able to have that in my life.”
She’s also grateful for the Latter-day Saints friends and connections she has made with the small but strong young single adult community in Fayetteville.
Danielle won’t hit for the home run cycle every game, but she’s eager to help the Razorbacks win games and conference championships. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to win a ballgame — whether it’s (laying down) a sacrifice bunt or hitting a home run or make that diving catch to end the game.”
And her lifelong connection to softball won’t end when she graduates in a few years. Danielle plans to become a college coach when her college playing days end.