James Darnell: This One Time at Band Camp

Who knew the best baseball player was in the band? Usually the athletes don't go near the band or the physics club or the math club, for that matter. A broad generalization, sure, but it stands to reason. When picking your team for some organized sport, you don't look to the band for your first selection – unless, of course, you lived in Danville, California around 2005.

The opposite is also true. When the County Honor Jazz Band needed a trumpeter, no one would have believed he was the star baseball player at San Ramon Valley High School. Again though, that is unless you lived in Danville.

Danville's finest; James T. Darnell has not only mastered the trumpet while studying under Cal State Long Beach professor David Evans, he's also mastered the art of tearing the cover off of a baseball.

His mother Cynthia Darnell recalls the day he was born, "The obstetrician looked at us and said, ‘Wow. You have a football player on your hands here."

Moving from California to South Carolina was quite a trek, but his mother says he knew where he was going, "He wanted to play college baseball. He didn't play the draft game. He also told all the recruiters from the beginning of his senior year that he was going to South Carolina. We just trusted that he was making the right decision. When he left, it really hit home though. I like to believe though Danville is not in South Carolina, we are there in spirit 100% of the time."

On the opposite coast, his freshman season at South Carolina was not what one would classify a tremendous success. Hitting .239 with three home runs and 18 runs batted in while appearing in 51 games, Darnell probably considered pursuing a music scholarship.

In a day and age where video games induce sedentary lifestyles amongst our youth, it would have been easy to test his confidence – maybe lose that edge. That's where family lineage played a role. Not only does he come from an athletic family, but he also comes from a musical family.

His mother went to college on a volleyball scholarship and plays the flute. His Dad, once a star QB in High School, plays the guitar. His little sister plays the clarinet. Forgetting baseball in favor of his trumpet seems too easy. According to James' Mom though, that's not all he does well, "He's always been this way. That's the part of James that I treasure. Not only was he an A student through high school, but he's a really good impersonator too. I've always told him that if a day job doesn't work out, he should be a comedian."

With the highest rated high school player in the country, Lonnie Chisenhall, coming to South Carolina, his sophomore season looked to be no easier. After all, Chisenhall played the same positions. Before the season started though, Coach Tanner already penciled him into the everyday line-up. Whether Chisenhall played third and Darnell right field or vice-versa, they were both going to start.

He stuck it out, earned that starting job at third base and has made the most of it. He leads the 14th ranked Gamecocks in home runs (15), slugging percentage (.658), on base percentage (.443), and sacrifice flies (4). He's second in runs batted in (49), while fourth in batting average (.323). Needless to say, 2007 is a little more fun than 2006.

Caption: James Darnell has been key to the Gamecocks' success this season.

A natural infielder, Darnell learned from former San Francisco Giant second baseman, Eric Johnson. His first coach in organized baseball, Johnson still draws rave reviews from the Darnell family. "EJ would always tell him, ‘Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.' EJ was just a great teacher."

Indeed, perfect practice played a significant role in making Darnell the baseball player he is today. "It's a lot of fun. We've got so many good guys on this team. I'm just proud to be a part of it. Everybody in our line up can hit the ball out of the ballpark," says Darnell.

His perseverance and determination led the way, "My goal has always been to just work as hard as possible and get the most out of my ability."

When confronted with a smile about his seemingly scripted answer, Darnell genuinely declined, "I'm serious. I always wanted to be this kind of player. I just worked hard to get there."

Coming from a guy who admitted after the Furman game he'd counted the number of home runs it would take to pass them for the NCAA home run lead, you have to believe him. He's also the one who admitted to joking with Travis Jones about his home run totals while Jones, ever the humbled gentleman, denied it.

In a day when athletes are scared their statements might get misconstrued, it'd be easy to see why they give scripted answers to any question. However, in Darnell's case, his mom Cynthia tells stories of James as a child that prove his pursuit of being "the best player (he) can be."

"He would pack the car with buckets of balls, water and everything for everyone. Only then he'd tell us, "OK, let's go to the field. He meant all of us. His Dad would pitch while me and his little sister shagged balls in the outfield. James would just hit."

If that isn't enough to convince, consider Darnell as a high school student, "In high school, we'd get back from a game and eat dinner, then I'd hear click, click, click in the driveway. It was James doing 1000 reps of jump rope."

Mom Darnell continues about her son's work ethic, "With James, what you see is what you get. I'd like to take credit for that, but like Gatorade, it's just in him."

A reporter's dream, Darnell speaks from the heart, smiles and understands he's in a spotlight. Though outspoken, not a shred of ego stains the delivery. Before you know it, the James Darnell interview turns into Darnell bragging about his teammates – not himself.

He talked about his impressive line-ups in high school, the home run hitting prowess of Travis Jones, the line up he hits in now and how talented they all are. He brags about the pitching staff, the coaches and the fans. He never brings himself up unless you specifically ask him about him.

Considering Darnell's constant pursuit to best any challenge, it'd be hard to imagine him not being a high draft pick after his junior season. Though Gamecock fans would be more crushed than any of the balls he's rocketed into seats around the SEC, his Mom trusts his judgment, "If, God-willing, he gets to play at the next level, he's always made good decisions. I have confidence he'll make the right one someday if he has to choose."

Through all of the success, he's managed to keep the personality and that good-natured approach. His mom's theory seems best, "The music piece of it added to the competitive fire - that mix gave him a good balance. That's probably why he's so easy going, but can be intensely competitive."

As the hits and the long balls keep coming, we've only seen the beginning of what's sure to be a successful career. Whether it's holding a bat, a trumpet or a microphone, James Darnell is going to succeed somewhere, somehow, no matter what.

His answers don't seem so scripted now, do they?

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