Meet the Great Britain pitcher who owns Mike Trout
PHOENIX – Daniel Cooper is an Angels fan.
What differentiates Cooper from the innumerable other fans of the Halos is that Cooper has reputedly held three-time MVP Mike Trout hitless across seven career plate appearances (0-for-6 with a walk, including back-field and exhibition at-bats). Cooper most recently got Trout Saturday night when Great Britain squared off with Team USA during the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
Cooper, a 36-year-old reliever who hasn’t pitched professionally since 2015, faced the daunting task of navigating a U.S. lineup chock full of MLB All-Stars, Silver Slugger winners and MVPs. His day job is in tech sales, but his recent night job was to get out Mookie Betts and Trout in succession in front of an energized crowd.
“When you’ve been retired from professional baseball for nine years, you’re playing with house money at this point,” Cooper said. “It was the [least] stress I’ve felt pitching in a long time.”
Cooper, calling it “probably the calmest I’ve been pitching in years,” worked two innings in a 6-2 defeat to Team USA, allowing one run before retiring six of the final seven batters he faced – including Betts and Trout, whom he got to fly out in succession, stranding a runner at second.
On May 14, 2010, Cooper and Trout crossed paths in the Single-A Midwest League. While Trout has gone on to become a generation-defining superstar, Cooper won that battle, striking out the then-18-year-old looking.
“[My buddies] were making fun of me because I’m like, ‘Mike Trout is 0-for-5 against me,’” Cooper said. “So now everyone posted, ‘0-for-6, 0-for-6.’ I faced him a few times in the Minors, and it’s cool to come full circle. You get to see these guys again and obviously, they’ve had prolific careers.”
Long before Cooper would become one of the two captains for Great Britain’s national team on its first run to the World Baseball Classic, he was taken in the 21st round of the 2009 Draft by the Mariners out of USC – much later than when Trout went off the board 25th overall to the Angels. Cooper spent three years in the Seattle system, where he compiled one highlight-worthy video – a strikeout of Nolan Arenado at High-A on May 28, 2011.
Injuries – and life – have since slowed Cooper. He dealt with thoracic outlet syndrome and had a rib removed, while he still struggles to gain feeling in the fingers on his right hand in cold pitching environments. During his nine-pitch battle with Trout at Chase Field on Saturday, his fastest pitch was clocked at 83.9 mph – which originally registered as a changeup inside the ballpark.
“I [was talking] with guys in the bullpen and I said, ‘I guarantee you if they flash [pitch type] up there, it’s going to say changeup,’” said Cooper with a laugh. “I’m a changeup/curveball pitcher now, I guess.
“I’ll take it. If they think I’ve got a fastball in the tank somewhere in the mid-90s, I’ll take it because I definitely don’t have the juice anymore.”
Cooper, a Southern California native, is playing for Britain through a heritage connection of his mother, Barbara, who was born in England. More important than his success in an at-bat against Trout in pool play is what getting outs against some of the best in baseball represents moving forward.
“All the stories we hear, the more we do, the more people in England get to see ‘Great Britain’ on a jersey on national television playing guys like Trout, Betts, Arenado, [Paul] Goldschmidt. These guys, they’re Hall of Famers,” Cooper said. “It starts with the children seeing it. When they see it and they start playing and they get to watch [us] play or they get to grow up watching us do this, they’re going to want to play baseball at a young age. That’s the only way to build a program, to start from the bottom.”
“Now what you’re starting to see is more and more people showing up, coming out of the woodworks,” manager Drew Spencer said. “It’s not just an American ex-pat who got stationed in London for a couple of years for their job. There are actually baseball players with British accents. They’re showing up more and more, especially because of what these guys are doing.”
Great Britain made a run to Pool C by sweeping through the Regensburg, Germany, qualifier in scintillating fashion in September 2022. Their roster features an eclectic blend of backgrounds: 22 players were born in the U.S., seven in the Bahamas, six in the United Kingdom and one in each of Canada and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They have become a tight-knit group that has made growing baseball in the UK and beyond its singular mission.
“It was ‘Dress as a hero day’ to go to school,” Cooper said of a team employee’s son back in England. “He dressed as a Great Britain baseball player. That’s cool to hear. That’s emotional for us to hear. Some of these guys are new to the team, some of us have been doing it for a long time, but that’s why I’m doing it. It’s something special to build, and hopefully this is just the start.
“No one’s going to want Great Britain in their pool going forward, I know that for a fact.”