At first glance, Orioles reliever Darren O’Day is just another fortunate jock who played top-shelf college baseball, married the beautiful blond, cruised to the majors and is now a millionaire.
Get to know O’Day, though, and the clichés spin away like the submariner’s slider to a befuddled batter.
That blessed right arm?
He swings it around to the plate at about knee-level, prompting ribbing from teammates that he’s a glorified softball pitcher. Throughout his career, his fastball has averaged just 86 mph.
That collegiate baseball career?
He went to the University of Florida on an academic scholarship and was cut from the baseball team as a freshman walk-on. He tried again his sophomore year — after developing a funky side-armed delivery refined in a summer beer league — and eventually became the Gators’ closer.
That major league career?
He was signed as a fifth-year senior, luring him away from plans to be a plastic surgeon or a veterinarian. He has been waived by three organizations. And he’s had to overcome a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder in 2008, a torn labrum in his hip in 2011 and, most recently, soreness and tingling in his fingers that cost him most of this month before cortisone injections last week helped him return to the mound Thursday.
Oh, and that beautiful blond wife?
That’s Fox News reporter Elizabeth Prann, whose career may be more high profile and hectic than her husband’s. In some circles — like when she introduced him to the country’s former first couple, George W. and Laura Bush — he’s Mr. Elizabeth Prann.
Dust off the baseball stereotypes and there’s so much more to O’Day — from that unconventional pitching motion to his fans joyously chanting a surname that, technically, isn’t even his.
To paraphrase a popular beer commercial, O’Day may be the most interesting man in the baseball world. At the least, he’s one of its brightest dudes with one of its most refreshing stories.
“He is different than everybody because he is smarter than everybody,” says fellow Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter. “I think I can honestly say that. He is just flat-out smarter than everybody else. That’s what makes him so unique.”
“A fake Irish-Polish man”
Start with the name: Darren Christopher O’Day.
A good Irish boy from Florida.
The name is on his birth certificate. It’s the melodious ole-rhyming surname fans chant — “O’Dayyyyy, O’Day, O’Day, O’Dayyyyy” — whenever he enters a game.
But his family name is not O’Day. It’s Odachowski. It was changed decades ago.
“[My dad] thought that 40 years down the road, when I came into a tie game in the eighth, it would be really hard for fans to chant, ‘’Odachowski, Odachowski, Odachowski,’” O’Day deadpanned.
The real story is a little more complicated.
O’Day’s grandfather, a World War II veteran who suffered from an undiagnosed case of post-traumatic stress disorder, died in a car accident. His wife then single-handedly raised her three sons, including O’Day’s father, Ralph, who was 13 when his father was killed.
At her work, Mrs. Odachowski shortened her name to Odach — with the ‘ch’ silent in Chicago’s Polish community — to make it easier to pronounce. As a tribute to their mother, who worked tirelessly so all of her sons could go to college, O’Day’s father and one of his uncles legally changed their names after they were married.
“And it came out O’Day,” the pitcher said. “So that’s why I am a fake; a fake Irish-Polish man.”
He honors his family history in a subtle way. Stitched on the side of his game glove is “D. Odachowski.”
That story sums up O’Day’s life. What you see isn’t necessarily what you get. There always seems to be a little more. Or a twist you weren’t expecting.
“Beer league” standout
Now 6-feet-4, 220 pounds, O’Day was always into sports, including hockey, basketball and cross country. He loved baseball the most and considered playing at a smaller college but instead chose Florida for academic reasons.
When he was cut from the Gators’ baseball team as a freshman, O’Day embraced regular college life. He played intramural softball and flag football and concentrated on his schoolwork, majoring in animal biology.
What it did is it set me up for a good academic career,” he said.
After his freshman year, a friend asked him to pitch in an over-18 adult league in Jacksonville. He agreed, and he had been messing around throwing sidearm while playing catch with his older brother on vacation, so he figured he’d try it in games, too.