Twins OF McDonald gets second chance at big-league success
By Anthony Maggio
PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) - Darnell McDonald hasn’t even seen the movie, but that doesn’t detract from the meaning of the ‘Braveheart’ tattoo on the right side of his neck.
The outfielder was selected in the first round by the Baltimore Orioles in 1997 and made it to the majors for the first time in 2004, only to be released after the season. He has been with four organizations since, but didn’t make it back to the big leagues.
That is until Friday, when McDonald proudly donned his Minnesota Twins uniform and a smile while he stood on the home dugout steps, confident, and ready for his first big-league contest in three years.
“What I’ve been through in my career, persevering nine years, having the high expectations I had coming out, then getting released, then getting back to this point, it’s been a long road,” McDonald said. “But I wouldn’t want to change it for anything. It builds a lot of character. I’m able to enjoy this moment that much more knowing how hard I worked to get here.”
McDonald comes from an athletic family. His brother, Donzell, was drafted by the New York Yankees in 1995 and has played baseball professionally ever since. His father, Donzell Sr., played baseball in the Pittsburgh organization. His uncle, Ben, played in the NBA with Golden State, and another uncle, James, played in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams.
Considering that pedigree and his selection by the Orioles 26th overall selection in the 1997 draft, expectations were high.
But McDonald failed to impress in the minors, needing nearly seven seasons - interrupted by shoulder surgery in 2003 that forced him to miss most of the year - to finally make his major league debut in 2004. Once he got to Baltimore, McDonald hit just .156 in 32 at-bats.
He was given his release, then spent the next three years in the Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Washington organizations. In 2005, he served a 15-game suspension after testing positive for a banned substance.
Did he ever think his dream of making it back to the majors had passed him by?
“I’d be lying if I said no, but I always had confidence in my abilities,” McDonald said. “Some people develop later than others. To me, I had to go through adversity to get where I am now. I appreciate the game a lot more now. You can’t take it for granted. That’s the biggest thing I learned, you can’t take this game for granted.”
On June 24, McDonald was acquired by the Twins in exchange for pitcher Levale Speigner - a Rule 5 selection by the Nationals from the Twins’ organization - and sent to Class AAA Rochester. McDonald hit .315 with 17 doubles, four triples, two home runs and 41 RBI in 73 games with Class AAA Columbus. When he joined the Red Wings he was told to keep doing what he was doing and he would get his chance with the big club.
When Minnesota right fielder Michael Cuddyer was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Friday, that chance had arrived.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire didn’t know much about his newest acquisition, but third baseman Nick Punto, who played with McDonald in the Arizona Fall League back in 2000, put in a good word.
“He brings a lot of speed, he’s great outfielder, A good hitter,” Punto said. “He’s got all the tools. Hopefully he can just come up here, relax, and play. That’s what I told him, relax and have a good time.”
Gardenhire gave McDonald the start in right field in his first game, but doesn’t expect him to make up for the loss of Cuddyer’s .289 average, 10 home runs, 56 RBI and 61 runs scored this season.
“I won’t ask ‘Mac’ to come in here and do superman stuff,” Gardenhire said. “I just want him to be a part of it, fundamentally do the things he’s supposed to do, put a few good swings on it, catch the ball, and we’ll go from there.”
McDonald just wants to contribute in any way possible to prove to Gardenhire and the Minnesota organization that he belongs at this level. He needs to do so soon, because at 28-years old, his opportunities are wearing thin.
But as the ink on his neck represents, McDonald has worked too hard to not be confident he’ll succeed.
“It’s been a long road, a lot of ups and downs - but all for the good,” McDonald said. “It made me feel better when they said I was going to the big leagues. I’ve worked hard for these three years and I’m just happy to be here with the Twins.”