It's easy to see why Dan Taylor belongs in the Frederick Community College Athletics Hall of Fame.
Taylor played baseball there for two years after high school, and did well enough to garner a scholarship to a bigger college. He returned eight years later as FCC's coach, and helped make the Cougars a national powerhouse in becoming the program's all-time winningest coach.
Taylor, a 1985 Liberty High School graduate, is set to be inducted into FCC's second hall of fame class May 1 at a ceremony in Frederick. And he's very thankful that his baseball path led him to so much success at the community college.
"Frederick Community College has been a huge part of my life," Taylor said. "I don't think there's a day that goes by that I don't think about, or something doesn't come up about, my tenure there. I don't know that it has truly sunk in. Couldn't be any prouder to be going into their hall of fame, that's for sure."
The ceremony itself will no doubt conjure up some fond memories for Taylor and his family, but the 47-year-old's journey has been one that he tries never to forget.
"You think of a guy that doesn't come from a whole lot. Seven of us growing up in a two-bedroom apartment at one point," said Taylor, who came to Carroll County just before high school from the Woodlawn area. "Barely getting by and struggling to get through things. And going to community college and not always having the gas money to get there. ... Probably going to be emotional."
Taylor said he didn't play organized baseball until he was 13, getting involved in Sykesville Little League and joining a travel team that played its home games at Liberty. He didn't make the cut with the Lions as a freshman, but the following spring Taylor found his way and eventually helped Liberty reach the state playoffs in 1985.
Taylor said he missed the final game of his high school career — being late to homeroom that day — but his baseball days weren't over. Even if it seemed that way at the time.
"After Liberty, after having a good career, you're kind of wondering what you should do," Taylor said. "You think you're going to get drafted, you think you're going to get all these Division I offers. And nobody comes knocking."
After some time playing American Legion ball in Westminster, Taylor made the move to Frederick Community College. He had a standout sophomore season, he said, with 15 doubles, nine home runs, and 43 RBIs in less than 35 games. Soon Taylor found himself headed to the University of South Carolina Upstate on a baseball scholarship, he said, playing first base and outfield.
When school wasn't in session, Taylor came home and played for the Littlestown and Taneytown in the South Penn League. But he said he still wasn't sure about his future.
"You have student loans to pay after college. You don't know what you're going to do," Taylor said. "I didn't take the easy way, where you just get into coaching right after playing. I was just doing stuff up in the Baltimore area. I was waiting tables at the Marriott Hunt Valley. I did title searches, abstracting work at different court houses.
"One day you have this epiphany that you don't see yourself doing that for the rest of your life, what can you do?"
Taylor said his wife, Jennifer, brought up the idea of high school coaching. He got some offers in the metro area, he said, but a call from FCC changed everything.
The Cougars were making a change at head coach, and they were asking one of their former players to come in as an assistant for a semester to eventually take over.
That meant a commute from Baltimore to Frederick, but Taylor said he loved the idea of becoming a college coach and being able to shape a program.
Taylor said he accepted the position, much to his wife's chagrin.
"You get there, and you're petrified," he said. "I still remember the very first meeting. You're looking at the guys, you're like, 'Oh my God, what did I do?' I was 28 at the time. I felt like I was young and very insecure. But it's amazing what you can do when pushed to do it."
FCC went 22-12 in Taylor's first year as coach, 1997, and followed that up with a 29-13 record and a Region XX title. A losing season came in 1999, but that was the only one for Taylor's teams. The Cougars won back-to-back region crowns in 2001 and 2002, and reached the national championship series in 2002 with a 36-9 record.
Taylor left FCC after that season to become the head coach at Mars Hill College in South Carolina, and he left with a 161-77 record, three trips to the NJCAA World Series, three Maryland JUCO Coach of the Year awards, and three Louisville Slugger Regional Coach of the Year honors.
And Taylor mined a familiar place when he could to bring quality players into the program.
"It was just the most amazing run," he said. "Carroll County was very good to me when I was coaching at Frederick."
Mars Hill was another successful stop for Taylor, who led the baseball program to South Atlantic Conference runner-up finishes in 2006 and 2010. He spent 10 seasons at the D-II school, and the Lions posted 233 wins during his tenure.
After coaching at the high school level for two years, Taylor joined the coaching staff at UNC-Asheville in 2014 and remains an assistant with the Bulldogs while living near the college in North Carolina.
But he stays connected to his roots, because Taylor said that's why he became a standout player and coach in a life filled with baseball.
"My heart is certainly in Carroll County, and Frederick," he said. "To me, that's all one big place. I know they're in different counties, but the love I have for that area certainly will never die."