Sunday, July 27, 2008

(AP Photo)

Darren O'Day is in the midst of his rookie season pitching in the Major Leagues with the Angels. The 25-year-old submarine-throwing reliever has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the big leagues, making his MLB debut in only his third professional season.

O'Day went undrafted despite a solid college career as a reliever at the University of Florida, but the Angels wisely signed him as a free agent. And 21 months later he was in the Angels bullpen.

Today O'Day begins an occasional column sharing his thoughts along the way of his first season with the Angels.

Hey, Angels fans. Chuck has asked me to share some the excitement I've been through the last six months with you. Hopefully, if he is persistent enough to remind me over and over to write these, we can make this a regular thing. I am writing from above the Grand Canyon, flying comfortably on the team plane, headed for a ten day East Coast swing against Baltimore, Boston and New York. The wild ride that has led me to this cushy seat, my own row, and excellent food started in February, on a plane with markedly less comfortable accommodations (middle seat and peanuts), heading the other way from Jacksonville, Fla., to Phoenix for my first big league spring training.

As a minor leaguer, an invite to big league camp is about the most exciting news you can receive in the off season. Spots are very limited in camp, and to be one of the few selected means the front office and coaching staff thinks very highly of you and your skills. It is not only a reward for what you did the year before, but an opportunity. It is a chance to test your mettle with the best players in the world, and show these coaches and players what you can do. I found out in mid-December that I would be attending and immediately started training harder than I had ever before. Our organization is so flush with talent that I knew my only chance to hang with these guys was to take it to another level. So, I packed up my belongings, said goodbye to the hometown crowd and moved an hour and half south to live with my brother, Kyle, in Gainesville, Fla., where I played four years of college baseball for the University of Florida.

Kyle is three years older than me, and as most little brothers do, I idolized him when I was little. He started playing teeball when he was 5, and of course I couldn't wait for my chance to get started. If my counting skills at the time weren't limited to how many fingers and toes I had, I probably would have started a countdown of days until my first game. I give Kyle (and my dad Ralph) the credit for getting me into baseball. As my flight accommodations came full circle above, so did Kyle's involvement in my baseball career.

Kyle trains Olympic caliber sprinters in Gainesville, and along with help from strength guru Rana Reider, he adapted their workout for my baseball needs. It was the most challenging regimen I have ever done, but far and away the most rewarding. Everyday I would leave the track, weight room and baseball field feeling defeated and weak, but knowing in the back of my mind that this is what I had to do to shine in spring training. I firmly believe that my hard work and Kyle's program is what put me into position to take advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves in spring training, and ultimately got me to the big leagues. He is also a massage therapist, who specializes in soft tissue work, so not only did he spend many mornings putting me through his program, but many afternoons putting my body back together after he destroyed it! So he did all this and has still yet to receive compensation for any of it. What do you think says "thanks for getting me to the big leagues"???

When I started there, it was just me training alongside the sprinters, but as the winter wore on I had two training partners join me: Flint Wipke (playing at high-A Rancho) and Devin Thomas (a Tigers farmhand). It turned into a little training camp of sorts. Kyle and I agreed that we should try to do something formal in the coming years, so we can share the routine and up the intensity even more. So lookout for Camp O'Day, or baseball bootcamp, or maybe I'll let him pick the name.

This entry is getting long, so maybe in the next one I will talk about Big League camp itself. Hope you guys enjoy it, and thank you for reading.

- Darren O'Day

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