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Orioles reliever Darren O'Day might be the most interesting man in baseball

Right-handed set-up man -- whose real family name is Odachowski -- is far from the typical jock

September 20, 2013|By Dan Connolly | The Baltimore Sun

“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.

O’Day gave up a walkoff single to former Oriole Kevin Millar, the only batter he faced. The Rangers then boarded a plane for their next road series in Baltimore. The following day O’Day rented a car and drove roughly 90 minutes to a Williamsport cemetery, near Hagerstown, to visit Adenhart’s grave.

“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.”

O’Day retired Ty Wigginton one night and Adam Jones the next.

“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.

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