I spent six days in spring training and saw Pawtucket play four times. In those four games, the PawSox scored a total of 10 runs.
I guess the hitters were waiting until it counted.
With 11,306 patrons in attendance on Opening Night at McCoy Stadium (I won’t call them “fans” until The Masters is over); the PawSox scored 11 runs on 12 hits and hammered the Rochester Red Wings 11-3.
(Not for nothing, but the PawSox have won all 5 season openers since I’ve been part of the broadcast team. Every major league club that lost its opener this year should consider that in the off-season).
The star of the show was Darnell McDonald who went 4-for-5 in his PawSox debut, with a double, home run, and 5 RBI. The 31-year-outfielder is in his 10th International League season and Pawtucket is his 7th I.L. team.
“Everyone that puts on a uniform in the minor leagues has the same goal – to play in the big leagues and that’s obviously my goal,” McDonald told me. “But I just love playing baseball – it doesn’t matter where it is. Pawtucket has always been one of my favorite places to play. We have great fans and a lot of support.”
While McDonald began the season with a huge night, it wasn’t as memorable for him as Opening Day one year ago. For the first time in his pro career, Darnell made a major league roster to begin the season and started in centerfield for the Cincinnati Reds.
“I really can’t put it into words what it meant because when you work so hard and so long to accomplish something and it finally comes true – it meant the world to me,” McDonald said. “A lot of people probably thought that it wouldn’t happen, but I always saw that light at the end of the tunnel and I had that belief in myself that I could play in the big leagues and to get that opportunity meant a lot to me. It’s something that I replay in my head all of the time, and I’ll never forget the feeling of running out on to the field on Opening Day.”
McDonald was one of the most decorated prep athletes in Colorado state history as he led Cherry Creek High School to 3 state titles in both football and baseball. In baseball, Darnell batted .606 as a senior and was named the National High School Player of the Year by Baseball America. In football, he rushed for 6,121 career yards and was set to play running back for the University of Texas.
But after being a first round draft pick by the Orioles, McDonald chose to play professional baseball directly out of high school. Of the 1,397 games he has played in as a pro, only 68 have been at the major league level, but Darnell describes himself as a late bloomer.
“I feel like the last few years I’m just coming into a lot of the things that I knew that I could do,” Darnell told me. “People develop at different speeds and now 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 learning and developing into the player that I knew that I could be coming out of high school. I just try to cherish every moment and appreciate where I am and just try to enjoy it.”
After getting 4 hits and driving in 5 runs, it’s safe to say that he enjoyed his PawSox debut.
The patrons certainly did.
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