Away from the Game: O's reliever Darren O'Day was planning to become a plastic surgeon

Darren O'Day doesn't just transcend the dumb-jock stereotype. He shatters it into tiny pieces.

He scored high enough on his entrance exam to get into medical school. Scored high enough on another entrance exam to get into law school.

But right now he's too content with his gig as a quietly effective side-arm reliever for the Orioles to think about doing anything else.

"I knew I wanted to play baseball," the 29-year-old right-hander says now. "You can't give up that opportunity for anything. ... [But] you never know if you belong in the major leagues until you get there and achieve success."

The Jacksonville, Fla., native was no sure-fire baseball prodigy. So when he failed to make the University of Florida baseball team as a walk-on freshman with a conventional pitching delivery, he continued his studies as an animal biology major. He envisioned fulfilling his life-long dream to become a veterinarian.

Even when he made the Gators' squad the next year as a side-armer, he thought he'd end up as a vet.

Then a few years later, an epiphany.

"My senior year, I was sitting in class and I just decided I wanted to be able to talk to my patients," he said.

He decided to take the grueling Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, with a notion of becoming a plastic surgeon.

Right after Florida finished as the runner-up in the 2005 College World Series, O'Day came home and crammed for the test for three weeks.

"It's all the science you've learned, beginning in second grade to the last day of bio-chemistry in college," he says. "It's the hardest test, for my money, that you can take."

On a hot summer day, O'Day joined a couple of hundred other med school hopefuls in a big auditorium on the Florida campus for the eight-hour test. The atmosphere was stifling.

"I try not to remember that day," he says with a smile. "The room is extremely tense. Because people have been studying for six months up to three years. And everything they've done comes down to this day."

O'Day saw students pacing the hall before the test, looking as if they'd throw up any second. He saw students sobbing when it was over, convinced their hopes of becoming a physician had just gone up in flames.

But he scored well, in the 85th percentile. After that, he shadowed an orthopedist, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) and a plastic surgeon who did pro bono work treating patients with chemical burns and injuries from industrial accidents.

Plastic surgery seemed the best fit.

"In plastic surgery, there are no emergencies," O'Day says. "There are definitely some advantages of being an elective-practice surgeon as opposed to being on call."

Not long after taking the MCAT, O'Day was talking to his roommate, who had recently taken the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

Casually, the roommate said: "I think the LSATs are harder than the MCATs. How hard can it be to memorize a bunch of science questions?"

"So I said ' All right, I'll take the LSAT and see how that goes,'" O'Day said.

O'Day says he never wanted to be a lawyer. He simply viewed the law school test as an intellectual challenge. Still pitching for Florida, with another year of eligibility left, he bought an LSAT prep book from Barnes & Noble and studied it ferociously.

"Percentile-wise, I actually did better on that [test] than I did on the MCAT," he said.

But when the Los Angeles Angels signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2006 and he went off to play minor-league ball, he shelved his hopes of being a physician. His MCAT score, good for three years, expired in the middle of his rookie season in the majors.

Would he consider a career in medicine after his playing days are over?

"I can't predict the future," he says, "but I plan on playing baseball for at least six, seven more years. Once you enter med school, it takes you eight to 10 years to be a fully board-certified plastic surgeon. The longer I play, the less chance I would go back."

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