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Darnell McDonald Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 75

As high schooler at Cherry Creek (Colo.) HS, Darnell McDonald knew early on that feeling
good meant playing good—mainly because whether it be baseball or football, on the field as an
amateur McDonald had no reason not to feel good. The Texas recruit was deemed the heir to
Ricky Williams at running back for the Longhorns, and on the diamond McDonald was named
the Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year in 1997.

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“I look back at my high school career, it was probably the most fun time of my life,” said
McDonald. “Looking at high school sports now, some kids don’t even play high school
sports—they go straight to the travel ball circuit. I don’t know what I would do without having
that experience of playing high school sports.”

McDonald spurned Texas in favor of a $1.9 million dollar bonus from the Orioles as the 26 th
overall pick in the 1997 draft. As his older brother Donzell was already in the minor leagues,
freshly signed Darnell thought he had a good scouting report on life in the minors.
“The Yankees at that time did a really good job taking care of their minor leaguers,” said
McDonald. “That’s not how everywhere was.”

Life with long bus rides and ratty hotel rooms wasn’t kind to McDonald’s mental state, and
neither were professional pitchers.

“You get to pro ball and you realize, everyone’s good,” said McDonald. “In high school I hit
.606 my senior year—that’s not a lot of failure. You get to pro ball, you start failing a lot (…)
You’re playing a game of failure, the most important thing is how you deal with that failure.”
McDonald’s time in the Orioles organization was filled with hurdles, not just on the field.

Baltimore had multiple general managers during his tenure, meaning extra pressure to impress
new brass that hadn’t been the ones to hand him his draft bonus, not to mention dealing with the
emotional weight of his mother’s death before the 2000 season.

While Mcdonald had a long-awaited breakout season in 2002, in which he entered the following
season as the Orioles’ #2 prospect, he was never able to translate his tools into the stardom he’d
hoped for when signing out of high school. He played 17 games in the big leagues during the
2004 season, but spend the next few years bouncing from organization to organization, trying to
figure out who he was as a player.

“The biggest part of development is understanding yourself, what you do well, and continuing to
develop those skills,” said McDonald. “There were so many times where I didn’t know what I
was doing.”

After short big league stints with the Twins and Reds, McDonald landed in the Red Sox
organization for the 2010 season, now 31 and over ten years removed from his days as a two
sport Phenom. It was in Boston, though, that McDonald finally found peace and purpose with his
life in baseball, and regained the mental state that’d led to success as an amateur.

“When I went to the Red Sox I had gone through so many different things that I was at the point
of my career where I was really practicing gratitude, just happy to be here. I had already been
released, all these things had happened to me, I was playing with house money and it was
actually the best I’d played in my career,” said McDonald.

McDonald turned in the best years of his career with Boston, spending the better part of three
seasons with the organization, mostly as a big league role player. McDonald retired after the
2013 season, and like most athletes was unsure of life after his playing days. He tapped into what
made him successful during the back half of his career—mastering the mental side of the game,
and parlayed that into a job in the Cubs organization working with players on mental skills.
“The more that you can just focus on playing baseball, the best chance you’re going to give
yourself,” said McDonald.

On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm,’ former big league outfielder and current
NESN Red Sox analyst Darnell McDonald joins to walk through his career.

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