NEWS - APRIL 2016

 

Ron Darling Recalls Lessons From Life's Curve Balls

The Wall Street Journal April 12, 2016

 

Ron Darling, 55, was a starting pitcher for the New York Mets from 1983 to 1991. He is a baseball analyst for TBS and author of “Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life” (St. Martin’s). He spoke with Marc Myers.

 

Being pulled from Game 7 of the World Series in 1986 was crushing. My entire pitching career passed before my eyes as I handed over the ball in the fourth inning. I felt I had let the fans and everyone on the Mets down. As I took the “walk of shame” from the mound to the dugout, I thought, “This wasn’t supposed to be how things turned out.”

I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but I don’t remember a single wave or palm tree. My family moved to Millbury, Mass., in 1963 when I was 3. My father, Ron Sr., was from Vermont and was stationed in Hawaii in the Air Force. That’s where he met my mother, Luciana, who is Hawaiian and Chinese. Both had been in the foster-care system as children and were kindred spirits.

 

Ron Darling’s “Game 7, 1986: Failure and Triumph in the Biggest Game of My Life”

When my father was discharged, one of the families he had lived with as a child had started a machine-shop business in Millbury and offered him a job. He moved the family there when he was 26.

 

Our house in Millbury was one of those ranch-style homes put up after World War II to meet the demands of returning servicemen. The best part was the acre out back. My father loved baseball and built a full diamond.

 

I shared my room with Eddie, one of my three younger brothers. We had to share a twin bed, so I’d sleep on the far side, at the very edge. I still sleep that way today out of habit. My wife, Joanna, laughs about it.

 

Growing up in Millbury required a certain toughness. To be honest, I didn’t feel 100% welcome at first. My 

mother’s heritage and that fact that my brothers and I were very brown made us the strange family on our block.

The world has changed and today people are so much more spiritual and in touch with their thoughts. I grew up when feelings weren’t talked about. If you had a tough day, you were expected to just pick yourself up and move on.

Playing sports helped. After I came home from school, I did my homework, grabbed my bike and rode to Windle Field where I’d meet up with whoever wasn’t in detention to play baseball.

 

I loved all sports. Anytime you’re good at something, you want to show off, so I loved playing and hearing friends and family cheer. My mom was an incredible athlete. She had been a third baseman on a competitive local softball team. To this day, I can still have a proper catch with her, and she’s 72.

 

Dad was a huge Red Sox fan. We lived about an hour from Boston, where sports is like a religion. When I grew up in the ’60s, the Red Sox weren’t great, and the Patriots had just started playing and were awful. But the Celtics and Bruins were terrific.

 

At an early age, I knew I was different as an athlete. When I was 7, I’d prepare for the baseball season in my backyard. I threw the ball so hard my father had trouble catching it. He was a great Little League coach, and I was on his team.

I went to Yale on a scholarship. I started on the football team but switched to baseball after freshman year. I had grown 6 inches over the summer. At first, I was a shortstop but the coach shifted me to the pitcher’s mound when they saw my arm.

 

Yale taught me valuable lessons. Students there were among the smartest kids in their high schools and were fiercely competitive. I learned that you have to develop a backbone to prepare yourself to survive the scrum of excellence and climb your way to the top. In 1981, I left Yale in my junior year after being drafted by the Texas Rangers.

Today my wife and I live in a three-bedroom apartment on New York’s Upper East Side. We live on the 37th floor, and I can see the Mets’ Citi Field from my bedroom. Tyler and Jordan, children from my first marriage, are in their 20s and out of the house. In February, my wife and I had a boy, Ron III.

 

Now, I sit in my home office and it’s so spiritual gazing off into the distance. I often think about how fortunate I have it and how many things had to go right—and wrong—for me to be here.

Even though the Mets wound up winning Game 7 and the World Series, I wouldn’t change a thing that happened to me during the first four innings. I am who I am as a husband and a father, and all of it relates to one humbling night 30 years ago in late October.

 

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