“It was poetic, in retrospect,” O’Day said. “Drove around for an hour trying to find some flowers. I went and visited him, made my peace with it. Talked to him, came back, and they put me in a game here.”
“That kind of gave me the confidence. It’s crazy to think that all happened in Baltimore,” said O’Day, who still writes Adenhart’s initials on the inside brim of his game hats.
“It played a big role in my transition from being OK to good, because I saw the game taken away from him without his choice. That, with the combination that I was on my third team in one year of major league service, I was like, ‘What am I doing? I’m spending all of my time out here worrying about if I’m good enough to be here instead of really finding out if I am. I’ve shared that story with various teammates in hopes that they can find something that motivates them, too”
For the next two seasons, O’Day became one of the best set-up relievers in baseball, posting a 1.99 ERA and pitching in the 2010 World Series. The next year he dealt with injuries and the Rangers attempted to slip him through waivers in October.
The Orioles claimed him even though they were in between general managers and didn’t have an official front office leader (Dan Duquette was hired a week later). In 2012, O’Day became the Orioles’ most trusted set-up man, and he has continued to thrive in a late-inning role — compiling a 2.35 ERA in 132 career appearances as an Oriole. His superb 2012 season landed him a two-year, $5.8 million contract that includes an option for 2015.
“When he got the two-year contract, he came in and said, ‘Thank you,’ to me. I said, ‘You thanking me? How about we thank you?’” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He’s one of those guys, that if you weren’t 57 and tired all the time after a game, you’d like to hang out with him.”
“Game for just about anything”
O’Day is part practical jokester and part learned intellectual. The two sides have been clashing since he was a child.
“I like to do things people say I can’t do, show off and be goofy. So I would get grounded every so often,” O’Day said about his childhood. “And when I’d get grounded they’d lock me in a room and I’d have to read. My mom would buy me piles of books for when I did get grounded. And I would just read them.”
He’s still an avid bibliophile; he loves detailed pieces on why things are the way they are. This summer, O’Day read a book that explained the history of the periodic table of elements and another that researched the background of common scientific laws.
“He’s over my head. If he had talked about that kind of stuff back then I many never have signed him,” joked Kotchman, the scout. “I just knew he was a good baseball player.”
A self-admitted technology geek, O’Day pre-ordered the original iPad, wanting to be one of the first in the country to have it. He often tools around Camden Yards and road cities on a Solowheel, a portable electric unicycle.
Both products have been used against O’Day by his friends. When he was in Texas, veteran lefty Darren Oliver intercepted the shipping of the original iPad and hid it for days, leaving a frantic O’Day searching for his new toy.
“He was a hot mess,” Prann, his wife, joked.
Last summer, MLB Fan Cave, Orioles closer Jim Johnson and Showalter concocted a fake interview about the Solowheel with an actor posing as a Wall Street Journal reporter to prank O’Day. It culminated with Showalter screaming at O’Day for jeopardizing his career. The video has been viewed more than 57,000 times on You Tube.
O’Day has been the target of jokes because he’s often the one messing with his buddies or doing something dumb for a laugh. Like the time in college when Prann, a Florida lacrosse player, and several of her teammates convinced him to don a women’s lacrosse jersey and a skirt.
“I think it was about 10 girls to one, the peer pressure was on,” Prann laughed. “Darren’s game for just about anything, which is one of his great qualities.”
Sometimes his conniving antics bordered on real trouble. Like when he and a few high school buddies attempted, as his mother called it, “a Chinese fire drill with a hostage.” The plan was to drive down a busy road with a friend in the trunk. Stop. Pop the trunk from the inside and watch the friend jump out and run away, as if he were being kidnapped.
They were practicing in a shopping center when a woman exited an ice cream parlor with her children and saw the boy escape the car. She copied O’Day’s license plate number and called the police, who sent three cruisers to his house. O’Day and his friends had decided not to pull the stunt on the road after all, but they still had to deal with the cops.
“They went and faced the [officers] and they were respectful, so fortunately they didn’t fry them,” Ralph O’Day said. “And they could have.”
Showalter said O’Day has achieved the perfect balance between knowing when to let off steam and when to concentrate on his job. He’s a guy with humble beginnings, a successful career and an ability to laugh at himself.
“He is the smartest dumb guy I know. Super book smart, but then he’ll lock his keys in the car,” Oliver chuckled. “He is a nerd that plays baseball.”
As Hunter puts it, “He’s the average Joe, I guess you could say. Everybody and their brother thinks that they can come in and throw sidearm in a big league game because of Darren O’Day.”
Unlike most things in his life, O’Day’s not going to over-analyze how an anonymous reliever has become a fan favorite or why his unconventional path to the majors has worked out so well. He’s learned, through tragedy, adversity and a whole lot of laughs, to keep moving forward.
“It’s definitely amazing,” O’Day said. “I think what helps me every day is that I am so grateful for the opportunity to play this game for a living and do what I really love. That’s helped me where I’m at now, just because of the journey I have taken.”