After turning in outstanding baseball careers at Granite City High School, Southwestern Illinois College and Southern Illinois Carbondale, Cody Daily is thrilled that he’s playing at the professional level.
“It means a lot,” Daily said.
Daily is playing for the Chicago White Sox organization at the Arizona Rookie League, which forms the lowest rung of the minor-league system. All of the games in the 14-team league are played in the Phoenix area.
“It’s a process,” said Daily, who signed with the White Sox in December. “It takes years to make it to the bigs. It’s not like a tryout. It’s a process. The guys who play well keep moving up. Year by year, it’s definitely a grind.”
So far, Daily is off to a good start at the Arizona Rookie League. He’s one of the White Sox’s leading hitters with a .365 batting average after 13 games.
“I came to spring training and I had a good spring training,” Daily said. “A lot of coaches told me they’re surprised and they didn’t expect me to do what I’ve done. I think I made the most out of it so far and try to stay consistent.”
Daily, who plays first base, became the 64th player from the Granite City area in the last 100 years to play professional baseball.
“It means a lot that I’m representing my hometown and people are rooting for me,” Daily said. “It makes everything worth it being out here.”
Next to the concession stand at Babe Champion Field, there’s a sign of the 64 players who played pro baseball. The sign was built last year by Keith Wagner, who graduated from Granite City in 1974, and Babe Champion came up with the list of the players.
Champion, who was a sophomore on the 1948 state championship baseball team, said he worked on the project for two years.
“It took me a long time,” Champion said.
Daily’s father, Rick, is also on that list. Another father-son duo on that list is Daren and Jake DePew. Daren, the principal at Granite City High School, played high school ball at now-defunct Granite City North before playing professionally and Jake, who graduated from Granite City in 2010, is playing with the Tampa Bay Rays organization.
Jake, who was selected by the Rays in the ninth round of the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft, is playing for Tampa Bay’s Double A affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits.
Daily said he believes more players from Granite City will be added to the sign in the future.
“There’s a good tradition of baseball in Granite City,” Daily said. “Chad Spanberger is at Arkansas right now and I think he’ll probably get a shot. He’s playing well right now. Who knows? Some others could be coming up.”
Champion said the list of professional baseball players from the Granite City area is a big part of the history of Granite City baseball.
“There are so many people who have done well,” Champion said. “We want these little third- and fourth-graders and these fifth- and sixth-graders and these eighth-graders come into our school and have some idols.”
The Warriors have competed at state four times and placed twice, winning it all in 1948 and placing second in 1963. The Warriors won three district titles, eight regional championships and four sectional crowns.
Granite City won its last regional title in 2010, when it beat Alton 10-0 in the Class 4A Granite City Regional title game. Daily and Jake DePew were members of that squad, and Daren DePew was the head coach.
With the win over Alton, the Warriors won their first regional championship since 1994. Jeff Ridenour, one of the coaches on the Granite City baseball team, was a member of the 1994 squad and went on to play professionally. He also played with the Granite City Steelers Mon-Clair baseball team.
In 1948, Granite City became the third Metro East team to win a state title after beating New Athens, another area team, 4-1 in the championship game.
Champion played left field and was named to the all-state tournament team. Carl Linhart, who was named the state tournament’s Most Valuable Player, was signed by the Detroit Tigers as an amateur free agent in 1948 and played three games with the Tigers in 1952.
In 1963, the Warriors lost 4-1 to Maine West in the state championship game. Charlie Papp, who was named to the all-state tournament team, went on to play professionally.
The last time Granite City qualified for state was in 1970. Jim Greenwald, who is now the Granite City Community School District superintendent, and Ed Hagnauer, the city’s mayor, were members of that squad. Greenwald is also on the list of professional baseball players.
Champion said the list is composed of players from not only Granite City, but also neighboring communities Madison and Venice. Ted Savage, who was from Venice, was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1960 and went on to play for eight teams — including the St. Louis Cardinals — during a nine-year career. Champ Summers, who went to Madison High School but lived in Granite City, played for six teams over 11 years. Summers played college baseball at SIUE.
Bob Stegemeier, who went to high school in Wood River, coached the Granite City North baseball team to a trip to the state tournament in 1979.
“We try to be fair to the players and try to be fair to the people who lived here most of their lives and are still living here, but went to another high school,” Champion said.
Another player on the list is Dal Maxvill, who helped the Cardinals win a pair of World Series in the 1960s and went on to become the team’s general manager in the 1980s. A second baseman, Maxvill made the final out of the 1964 World Series against the New York Yankees, catching Bobby Richardson’s pop fly in game seven.
Others include John Bischoff, Charlie Jackson, Harry Boyles, Sam Harshany and Francis Parker. Bischoff played for the Cuban League in 1923 before playing with the White Sox and Boston Red Sox. Jackson played for the White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates in the mid-1910s. Boyles played 11 games for the White Sox from 1938-39. Harshany played four seasons with the St. Louis Browns.
Champion’s sons, Keith and Kirk, also are on that list. Keith played in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system from 1982 and 1984 and is the advance scout for the San Francisco Giants. Kirk worked as a coach for the White Sox and influenced Daily to sign for the Chicago American League franchise in December.
Daily has been in Arizona since March, when he started training for the White Sox. He said he’s still focusing on making the major-league level.
“I definitely want to keep playing well,” Daily said.