San Diego senior Domnique Key, who has overcome a number of obstacles while growing up, says USC is sticking with him despite some arm problems this spring.
Months from finishing his senior year at San Diego High, baseball pitcher Domnique Key has the next four years of his life planned out at USC.
The first five years of his life, however, didn’t foster lofty expectations for the soon-to-be Trojan.
With both parents absent from his life because of drug abuse, Domnique spent his early days living with grandparents Ozel and Marie Clark in Barrio Logan.
Things changed after Domnique’s father, Darryl Key, decided to leave the drugs behind when Domnique was 5. Sober for about 11 years, Darryl now works for an environmental remediation company that specializes in the removal of harmful materials.
It wasn’t until he was 7 that Domnique would make a change of his own by taking his cousin’s baseball glove to the park. The move completely shifted life’s trajectory for Domnique, a 6-foot, 200-pound prospect who’s pitched sparingly for the Cavers this spring because of arm trouble.
“A Little League coach came up to me and asked if I knew how to play,” said Domnique, who made an early commitment to USC before this season started. “I said, ‘No,’ and then he had me play catch with him. I guess I could throw pretty well because he signed me up for his team.”
His road to Dedeaux Field wouldn’t come without a few more hiccups.
Young and athletic, Domnique wouldn’t settle for just one sport. He wanted to play basketball and football, too.
“I let him play other sports,” Darryl said. “But I always wanted him to be careful. I was always afraid he’d hurt himself.”
That’s exactly what happened when Domnique was in seventh grade.
“It was embarrassing,” Domnique said while covering his face. “It was the last game of the season for basketball. I go up for a layup and there’s this 6-foot-2 girl and I think to myself, ‘Oh no, this girl’s huge,’ so I come back down and get called for a huge travel. When I landed, I rolled my ankle backward.”
After recovering from a broken ankle, Domnique finally had his opportunity to shine on the baseball diamond when he joined the Cavers. He quickly caught the eye of coaches when he landed a spot on the varsity as a sophomore.
San Diego coach Tim Staninger said Domnique can go far in the game.
“He’s a very special talent,” said Staninger, a former pitcher at Crawford High in 1985. “I’ve seen guys throw 80 or 90 mph, and he’s throwing 95 mph. That’s something most 17-year-olds don’t do. You don’t see that.”
The injury bug bit Domnique again in August when he found himself pitching for the Warhawks — winners of 13 travel ball national championships. He developed tendinitis in his throwing arm after participating in some ill-advised competition.
“It was just me being dumb,” he said. “We were in Ohio and the whole team gets together to start playing long toss. We start having a competition of who could throw the farthest. I won, but I guess I lost.”
Domnique sat out for the next four months without touching a baseball. He said USC officials have told him the injury won’t hurt his scholarship status.
Being sidelined hasn’t been easy as Domnique continues to count the days when he’ll be one of the few Cavers baseball players to trade in blue and white for USC’s cardinal and gold.