Orioles’ O’Day took strange journey through Utah to MLB

Oct 9 2012 - 9:39pm

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Baseball fans here in Utah don't have a big-league franchise to call their own. Consequently, we're all over the map in terms of which teams we root for.

If you're looking for a team to latch onto this offseason, might I suggest the Baltimore Orioles? After all, they've got some guys with Utah ties on the roster, namely former Ogden Raptor J.J. Hardy and former Orem Owl -- and Salt Lake Bee -- Darren O'Day.

Go down the roster of any professional franchise and you're bound to find some really interesting stories. O'Day, for instance, has a remarkably unique background.

I happened to catch the submarine relief pitcher on the Jim Rome radio program the other day and heard him mention longtime Orem Owlz skipper Tom Kotchman, a guy known only too well by Raptors fans.

He correctly mentioned that Kotchman is known around baseball's highest circles for uncovering and developing rare talent. In O'Day, Kotchman saw something others missed. He took a chance on him, stuck him on Orem's 2006 roster and watched him earn seven saves in 14 appearances before moving up to A ball in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

He later returned to Utah in 2008, making 21 more appearances and again earning seven saves, this time for the Bees.

As a big leaguer, O'Day, a 29-year-old right-hander, has pitched for the Angels, Mets, Rangers and Orioles.

So far this postseason he has appeared in all three of Baltimore's games, including Monday night's 3-2 victory over the Yankees. He took over for starter Wei-Yin Chen with one out in the seventh inning.

He fulfilled his assignment by striking out Yankees star Alex Rodriguez.

Thanks to O'Day, the O's got out of the inning and held on to even the American League Divisional Series at 1-1. Game 3 will be played tonight at Yankee Stadium.

How O'Day got from being a walk-on at the University of Florida, to Utah and finally to the big leagues is a tale as unique as his pitching motion.

The Jacksonville native arrived at Florida just hoping to earn a spot on the Gators' roster. He didn't make it initially, so he decided to continue on with his education while pitching for fun in an adult baseball -- not softball -- beer league.

There he tinkered with his mechanics and developed a submarine motion which eventually became his calling card. He again tried out for the Gators, made the team and pitched in the 2005 College World Series.

He also was an All-SEC academic selection for four seasons and was named an Academic All-American as well.

O'Day told Rome if he hadn't made the Gators, he'd probably be a "desk jockey" right now.

Probably not.

O'Day, who is married to Fox News correspondent Elizabeth Prann, is a pretty smart dude. The same year he and the Gators went to the College World Series, he took the brutal Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and nailed it.

He had offers from some excellent medical schools but held off to keep his pro baseball options open. But before he got there, he also took the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) test because a lawyer friend told him he thought it was more challenging than the MCAT.

Turns out O'Day did even better on the LSAT.

So, obviously we're not talking about a dumb jock here. This guy had his choice between medical or law school but decided to give professional baseball a shot, but only after Kotchman saw him, signed him as an undrafted free agent and sent him to, of all places, Utah.

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner's sports columnist. He also covers the Utah Jazz and the NBA. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at jburton@standard.net. He tweets at http://twitter.com/jmb247

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