“You throw a guy like that with that kind of stuff in at that level and he can make [hitters] look stupid,” Kotchman said. “And he did.”

Med school on hold

O’Day, however, had a decision to make. If he didn’t make the majors, would it be worth it to put his promising academic future on hold? He had taken his medical school entrance exams, scored well and had enjoyed shadowing a Gainesville plastic surgeon.

That surgeon, by pure coincidence, was Dr. John Poser, a former All-Big Ten pitcher at Wisconsin. Poser’s father, Bob, also a doctor, pitched briefly in the majors in the 1930s for the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Browns.

When Poser was leaving Wisconsin in the late 1960s his father advised him to give up pitching for medicine. The reasoning was simple: Poser could make a lot more money and have a much more stable life as a doctor.

By the time Poser met O’Day, baseball salaries had exploded.

“I was telling Darren what my dad said, only in reverse,” Poser said. “You’re only young once and now the business opportunities are in your favor. He was a lock for med school, not a lock for the majors. But I saw 6-foot4, 220 [pounds], good-looking, smart. I just had a feeling he could make it work.”

Before finalizing his decision, O’Day discussed it with Prann, then his girlfriend. Professional baseball was a lottery ticket, so they had never discussed it as a serious future option.

“It was a $20,000 bonus. I was like, ‘You have to go. That is crazy,’” said Prann, who has worked her way up from local TV to a gig at Fox News in Washington covering politics among other assignments. “I mean, I was making $2.50 an hour. I did get a good job out of school, but [at the time] we were both broke.”

O’Day decided that he would try pro baseball for two years. If it didn’t work out, his medical scores would still be valid and he’d go back to school, likely in whichever town Prann had begun her journalism career. That was in May 2006.

A lesson taken from tragedy

By April 2008, O’Day had made the Angels’ Opening Day roster. He pitched in 30 games in three stints with the Angels that year but was diagnosed with the shoulder tear that September. While he was rehabilitating, the club removed him from its 40-man roster.

“I think the one time that he did get down was the first time when the Angels put him on waivers, because the Angels gave him his first opportunity,” Ralph O’Day said. “He thought maybe this is the end.”

In December that year, O’Day was selected in the Rule 5 draft by the New York Mets. He pitched in four games that April before being designated for assignment.

He was in limbo again — and this time with a heavy heart. One of O’Day’s best friends during his minor league climb was Nick Adenhart, the Angels’ top pitching prospect from Williamsport, Md., who was killed by a drunk driver on April 9, 2009, hours after pitching his best game in the majors.

The following afternoon O’Day made his Mets debut.

“It was tough on him,” O’Day’s mother, Michal, said. “He finds out about Nick and then three hours later he has to pitch. That’s tough to handle.”

The Mets told O’Day he could go to the funeral in Maryland, but O’Day didn’t want to leave with his job situation so tenuous. He was taken off the Mets’ roster days later anyway.

That next week was one of the strangest periods of O’Day’s twisting and turning life story. He was claimed by the Texas Rangers and flew to Toronto to meet his new team. When he arrived at Rogers Centre, the Rangers and Blue Jays were locked in an extra-inning game. O’Day learned he may be needed in the bullpen immediately, but, as always, there was a twist.

The Rangers didn’t have a uniform for O’Day. So he had to wear one reserved for left-handed minor leaguer Kason Gabbard. In the bottom of the 11th inning, with two on and one out, O’Day was summoned into the game wearing the jersey of a guy he didn’t know. When he took the mound, he had to introduce himself to Rangers manager Ron Washington.