When the Orioles play their pivotal three-game series against the Boston Red Sox this weekend at Fenway Park, players throughout the majors will wear names they selected on the backs of their jerseys as part of baseball’s first Players Weekend, an initiative focused on allowing a glimpse into the backgrounds and personalities of the game’s individuals.
Most players will don nicknames. Manny Machado will wear “Mr. Miami” as an homage to his hometown. The name “Pappo” that Adam Jones will wear is a nickname his mother called him growing up. Chris Davis will wear “Crush.” Welington Castillo will wear “Beef.”
Orioles reliever Darren O’Day’s jersey will carry extra meaning, his own way of offering a tribute to a family history that is still being explored to this day.
He will wear “Odachowski” on the back of his jersey in Boston. It’s not a nickname; it’s his original family name.
O’Day’s grandfather, Stanley Odachowski, fought in World War II, and tales passed through the family say that he played a role in the D-Day invasion, but he returned with what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder. When Stanley returned, he never spoke about his service overseas, and he died in a car accident when O’Day’s father, Ralph, was just 14 years old.
That left O’Day’s grandmother, Geraldine Odachowski, with three boys to raise on the northwest side of Chicago on the corner of Addison Street and Normandy Avenue, a straight shot east over to Wrigley Field.
“A good, strong Polish woman who fought long and hard to get us all to go to college,” Ralph said.
Geraldine worked multiple jobs to raise her boys, and at one — as an accounting clerk at a local Montgomery Ward store — she went by the last name Odach, which was pronounced “Oh-day.” When Ralph married at age 25, he legally changed his name to O’Day to honor his mother, as did one of his brothers upon getting married, and a new surname was born.
“Names are interesting,” O’Day said. “You can learn a lot about a person finding out where they’re from. And maybe my last name brings to light what my grandfather went through. He went off to fight in a war and ended up never being the same afterward. It changed his life, it changed my dad’s life obviously and his brothers’ lives and his mother’s life. So maybe if somebody reads about that story and learns about it, it’s worthwhile. For me, it’s a tribute to that side of the family.”
O’Day, 34, also plans to use a glove that has the Odachowski name stitched on the side. He said he hasn’t used the glove in years and limited its usage to spring training games — he was concerned that the open webbing would give hitters a clue to the grip he was using. But O’Day said he figured out a way to maneuver through that this weekend.
“I’m kind of glad that he’s doing this,” Ralph said. “One of his little cousins in Chicago told his friends in school that his cousin played professional ball and they didn’t believe him because his name’s Odachowski and [Darren is] named O’Day. … And I’m kind of honored he’s doing this. I’ve often wondered what my college and childhood friends would think if they saw an Odachowski on the mound someday. So the fact that he’s doing it kind of gives me an opportunity to show people what he’s achieved in his life. ….There’s not a lot of Odachowskis in the world.
“But yeah, like Darren says, it’s easier to chant, ‘O’Day, O’Day, O’Day,’ than ‘Odachowski, Odachowski, Odachowski.’”
O’Day also plans to wear a USO shirt during batting practice. Players can wear shirts of a charity they’d like to spotlight before this weekend’s games as part of Players Weekend. O’Day and his wife, Elizabeth Prann, a Fox News reporter based in Washington, D.C., have held several events to benefit the USO.
O’Day also donates $50 for every strikeout to Luke’s Wings, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of current and former military service members who have been wounded in battle. Over the past five years, he has donated more than $15,000 through the effort. Last month, O’Day was recognized as the Orioles’ nominee for the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award, which acknowledges players who support service personnel.
Meanwhile, O’Day would love to find out more about his grandfather’s story. He didn’t know about it until he had to do a report on his heritage in the fifth grade. And still now, there’s lots to learn.
Ralph has scoured several avenues to find out more about his father. A fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis in 1973 destroyed 16-18 million military personnel files. He was able to uncover microfilm of some troop reports, but many of the details within were redacted.
He does know that Stanley served in the 1359th Military Police Company out of Illinois, which according to the American Air Museum in Britain’s online archive was a part of the Ninth Air Force Command, parts of which fought in the Battle of Normandy.
A few offseasons ago, O’Day visited the site of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, and just being there made him wonder about what his grandfather saw.
“I know he saw some horrible things,” O’Day said. “He’s come home and he would start screaming in German at night like someone was attacking him. When he was awake, he wasn’t entirely there. He saw some pretty terrible stuff.”
Ralph still has a box of about 150 letters that his father sent his mother while serving overseas, but even they offer few details.
“There’s no mention in there at all about location; just typical lovers’ banter,” Ralph said. “But it’s interesting to pull those out.
“I’d certainly love to know more. It’s the last great generation and it’s dying. I’d love to be able to pass it along to my kids and their grandchildren, so they can know about it.”
Orioles’ Players Weekend roster
Name; Number; Nickname
Tim Beckham; 1; Swaggy T
Richard Bleier; 48; Bleier
Brad Brach; 35; B-Rad
Zach Britton; 53; Brit
Dylan Bundy; 37; Bundy
Welington Castillo; 29; Beef
Miguel Castro; 50; Castro
Chris Davis; 19; Crush
Ryan Flaherty; 3; Flash
Kevin Gausman; 39; Gausy
Craig Gentry; 14; Gent
Mychal Givens; 60; Tony
J.J. Hardy; 2; J.J.
Jeremy Hellickson; 58; Helly
Ubaldo Jiménez; 31; Big U
Adam Jones; 10; Pappo
Caleb Joseph; 36; Cabob
Manny Machado; 13; Mr. Miami
Trey Mancini; 16; Trey
Wade Miley; 38; Miley
Darren O’Day; 56; Odachowski
Jonathan Schoop; 6; Mamba
Seth Smith; 12; Smith
Chris Tillman; 30; Tilly
Mark Trumbo; 45; Trumbo