The Book of Zeus: How a personal tragedy and high expectations turned a childhood prodigy into a college star

Austin Hannon | @austin_hannon1, Sports Editor

On Feb. 4, 2014, a 52-year-old man died after almost two weeks on life support. 13 long days earlier, a series of blood clots caused his heart to suddenly stop beating due to a lack of oxygen.

That man’s name is Denny Denton.

Denny lived the dream life of any father. He had four sons that loved everything he loved. And after nurturing them for the beginning of their lives, he now gets to watch them grow from above into the men he knew they would be.

There is no doubt that Denny left behind plenty of memories and lessons for his four sons. The one thing that would live on forever in the Denton family is the sport of baseball.

That includes his third son, current Alabama third baseman Zane Denton.

“I didn’t want a name that could really be changed into anything,” Zane’s mother, Traci, said. “I wanted it to be simple. I had a few names picked out, but it was a family decision. At the time, I didn’t know anybody named Zane.”

His name isn’t the only thing unique about him.

Just five months before his father’s passing, Zane and his travel team made the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The highlight of the tournament was when a 12-year old Zane hit a grand slam in front of Denny and his younger brother Myles on national television.

Zane was a household name in his hometown of Brentwood, Tennessee. As he wandered the halls of Woodland Middle School, everyone knew Zane. He was on ESPN for weeks, and was able to miss almost a month of school to play baseball.

He was a local 12-year old celebrity. And yet, you would have never known.

Zane is a very reserved person. A lot of that has to do with having two big brothers that dominate every conversation at home.

“Zane has always been more of an introverted person because he never could get a word in around me and Bryce anyways,” his oldest brother, Chase Denton, said.

No matter what, the hype around his middle school never got to him. He would just quietly smile and say his thanks to anyone that approached him about his newfound fame.

Traci said that while Zane was oftentimes silent, when he did or said something, it was powerful.

One year in his elementary-school days, the school was hosting a “Pennies for Patients” event. Zane had saved money to spend on whatever an 8 or 9 year old would usually buy. However, Zane decided to donate every last dime to the charity for leukemia patients.

He told his mother, “Grandma Lori has leukemia, and I want to help her get better.”

Zane never lost that thoughtful touch. Since his father passed, he has always been the definition of a rock in the life of everyone he knows.

“Zane has taught me countless things,” Myles said. “The biggest thing I can take from Zane is his calmness. Bad things can happen, and Zane remains the same. He shows it in the game as well as everyday life. His consistency has made him such a good player and brother, and will continue to help him wherever he takes his talents in the future.”

Just before he started high school, his older brother Bryce was selected in the second round of the MLB Draft. To make it even crazier, it was by their lifelong favorite team – the St. Louis Cardinals.

Bryce was a dynamite player in high school, and is probably the best player to ever come out of Ravenwood High.

With that excitement also came unruly expectations for Zane as he began his high school career, and he definitely felt that pressure.

“When my brother was drafted out of high school, I definitely put extra pressure on myself to get drafted,” Zane said. “My brother matured physically at a younger age than I did.”

To nobody’s surprise, he quickly burst onto the scene at Ravenwood – seeing plenty of action on the varsity team beginning his freshman year. But as Zane rose up the high school prospect ranks, his character never changed.

“Zane was one of those people that doesn’t have a bad bone in their body,” one former student at Ravenwood High School said.

“In all my years of knowing Zane, he always had a smile on his face and was never negative or mean to anyone,” another said.

After all was said and done, Zane was the top-rated third baseman in the state of Tennessee in 2019 by Perfect Game USA and Prep Baseball Report.

And yet, he was not selected in the MLB Draft – putting yet another obstacle in his way.

“I do think Zane felt like he should have gotten drafted out of high school just like Bryce,” Chase said. “Bryce was a freak of nature, though, at a young age. There were 20 to 30 pro scouts at most of Bryce’s high school games, but never more than two or three at Zane’s. But he still wanted to hear his name get called. We listened to the entire thing on the radio and he didn’t.”

The good news for Zane was that plenty of college coaches wanted his talents.

Tennessee, Auburn, Arkansas, Clemson, South Carolina, Middle Tennessee State and Alabama all sent offers his way. Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon was largely impressed with Zane’s talents on the field and in the classroom.

“Zane played on a really good travel team with a lot of good players, and I just thought he had a real above-average feel to hit,” Bohannon said. “I saw him play several times and he very rarely swung and missed or swung at pitches outside the strike zone. He’s just one of those guys that’s got the hitting gene – that is just a pure hitter. He’s done a really good job of developing his body here, developing some athleticism and becoming a much better defensive player. He’s also grown as a person and achieved success at a high level in the classroom, which we as a staff are proud of.”

Zane finally decided on Alabama during his junior year of high school, and came with the intention of turning a once proud baseball program back to its old status.

“I wanted a few years in college to focus on the weight room and to continue getting better on the field,” Zane said. “I chose the University of Alabama because I had a great relationship with Coach Bohannon throughout the recruiting process and I wanted to be a part of turning around the Alabama baseball program.”

Since joining the Crimson Tide in 2020, Zane has become a staple in the lineup. He started in 11 of 13 games his freshman year before the season got cut short due to COVID-19. Last year, Zane was tabbed on the SEC All-Defensive Team as well as the Newcomer All-SEC Team. Since the beginning of last season, Zane has started all 103 games played by the Crimson Tide. And currently, he leads the team in home runs with 11.

It’s been eight years since Denny’s death, and even to this day Zane does everything in his father’s honor.

“Losing my father at a young age was really hard on me as well as my family,” Zane said. “He taught me everything I know about baseball and believed in me more than anybody. I still carry this experience to this day because it taught me to never take anything for granted. Baseball became my escape from anything negative in my life as well as a way of honoring my dad’s memory. My dad was a huge inspiration to me because of how much time he invested in our baseball careers. He traveled across the country as a pilot, but any time he was home he would take us to the field or cages every day. His passing only inspired me more because it gave me that extra motivation of dedicating my work and success to him.”

Zane has earned the nickname “Zeus” since his early playing days, and it may just be the perfect moniker for him. While Zeus is the god of the sky and is known as the most powerful god in the world, he is also the stable protector of all his people.

Sounds similar, doesn’t it?

While Zane may be quietly donating all of his money to charity during the week, he’s taking all of your favorite pitchers out of the park on the weekend.