Darnell McDonald hopes to be this year’s Nick Green.
Prior to last season, Green signed a minor league contract with Boston and was expected to be Pawtucket’s starting second baseman in 2009.
Instead, Nick won a spot on Boston’s opening day roster due to an injury to Julio Lugo, and when Jed Lowrie got hurt in April, Green became the Red Sox starting shortstop. He never spent a day with the PawSox.
McDonald is a 31-year-old outfielder who will go to spring training with Boston after signing a minor league deal. Although the Red Sox added outfielders Mike Cameron and Jeremy Hermida this winter, McDonald hopes to earn a spot in Boston.
“I’ve learned over the years to not focus on the things that I have no control over,” Darnell told me from his home in Arizona. “I go to spring training looking to make the team and you never know what’s going to happen. I think that everyone that puts on the uniform has that goal, but I love playing baseball and it doesn’t matter where. Don’t get me wrong, the big leagues is the place to be, but there are a lot of variables.”
Last year, McDonald not only made Cincinnati’s opening day roster, but he was the Reds starting centerfielder in the season opener against the Mets. It was the first time in his 12-year career that Darnell began a season in the major leagues.
“When you work so hard and so long to accomplish something and it finally comes true, it’s hard to put into words what it means,” McDonald said. “To hear my name announced in the opening day lineup and to actually play in that game meant the world to me. A lot of people probably thought it wouldn’t happen, but I always saw that light at the end of the tunnel and had the belief that I could play in the big leagues. I’ll always remember what it was like to run out on to that field.”
The former 1st round draft pick batted .267 with 2 HR and 10 RBI in 47 games with Cincinnati and .314 with 9 HR and 40 RBI in 73 games with Triple-A Louisville. He followed that up by batting .378 with 6 HR and 20 RBI in 19 games in the Mexican Winter League.
“I feel like the last few years I’m just coming into my own,” Darnell told me. “People develop at different speeds and I feel like I’m in my prime. I feel like I have a lot of good years left in me, my body feels good, and I feel like I’m becoming the player I knew I could be.”
I got to know Darnell last year while filling-in on some Cincinnati Reds broadcasts. Before leaving Pawtucket to join the Reds for a few days, PawSox manager Ron Johnson (now Boston’s first base coach) asked me to say hi to him. As it turns out, RJ was a big fan of McDonald’s (the player and the restaurant) and often told Darnell that he would love to have him on his team.
“We developed a friendship during all of the years that I’ve played against him,” McDonald said. “I’ve seen how he interacts with his players and I’ve talked to guys that have played for him, and he’s good for the game. He has a lot of fun and that’s what I try to do when I play. He’s the type of guy that you want to play for and hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to do that with Boston.”
If Darnell doesn’t make the Red Sox, he’s likely to begin the season as one of the starting outfielders in Pawtucket. The PawSox would become his 7th International League team having previously played for Rochester, Ottawa, Durham, Buffalo, Columbus, and Louisville over the past nine seasons.
“I tell people that I’m tired of that league,” Darnell said with a laugh. “I know all of the clubhouse guys, a lot of the fans that you see every year, and that’s a good thing that baseball has done for me – it’s allowed me to establish a lot of friendships all over the world. It doesn’t hurt to see familiar faces in different places that you go, but hopefully I won’t spend too much time in the International League this year.”
His goal is to wear a Boston uniform at some point.
“I’ve always been envious of players with the Boston Red Sox because there’s so much history and the fans are so great,” McDonald told me. “I remember when I was playing for the Orioles, when the Red Sox came to Baltimore it felt like we were playing in Boston because there were so many Red Sox fans there. When they called me this winter it was difficult because the Reds gave me a great opportunity last year and it was tough to leave, but getting the opportunity to play for an organization like the Red Sox is something I couldn’t pass up. I just look forward to putting on that uniform. It has a different ring to it when you tell people you play for the Boston Red Sox.”
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