Consistency Key For McDonald

COLUMBUS, OH - After leading the International League with a career high 157 hits and being voted to the All-Star team last season as a member of the Durham Bulls, Darnell McDonald is hoping for the same success with Triple-A club Columbus this season. His versatile defense and consistent bat have provided an early spark to the lineup.

Darnell McDonald has always been gifted with athletic talent. After leading both his high school football and baseball team to three state titles, McDonald was offered a scholarship to play football and baseball at the University of Texas. Although he rushed for more than 6,000 yards as a tailback in his high school career, McDonald turned down the scholarship to pursue his career in professional baseball. In the 1997 draft, the Baltimore Orioles drafted McDonald in the 1st round, and his dream had finally become a reality.

"I liked both sports the same, but when baseball offered me the kind of money they did, it was something I couldn't pass up," McDonald told CapitolDugout.com regarding his decision to choose baseball over football. "The money was the determining factor, but I love the challenge of this game and that's what keeps bringing me back. I am happy I made the decision to follow baseball and I don't regret it."

Darnell's success at the professional level is nothing new for the McDonald family. Darnell's younger brother, Donzell, was a former member of the Columbus Clippers; his father, Donzell Sr., played in the Pittsburgh organization. Two of his uncles also played professional sports; Ben played in the NBA with Golden State and James played in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams.

"My family has provided great advice for me," said McDonald. "Adversity is important, particularly in baseball. You can fail 7 out of 10 times, but still be successful. It takes awhile to get used to that concept, especially coming out of high school where I didn't have much failure. They just keep telling me to stay focused and keep pushing along."

In just his fifth season, McDonald won the Brooks Robinson Award as the Baltimore Orioles' Minor League Player of the Year in 2002 as a member of Rochester. Although McDonald had accomplished a great feat, his adversity and passion for the game would be tested in 2003 after enduring his first major setback. He played in 40 games with Ottawa before suffering a tear of the glenoid labrum in his right shoulder. His surgery to repair the shoulder was successful but caused his season to end in early June.

McDonald credits his quick recovery to his hard work off the field. "Working out in the off-season and making sure I was in shape going into the 2004 season was beneficial," McDonald said. "For me, a lot of it was flexibility, so I tried to focus on that and strengthen my body."

McDonald has responded from his setback with immediate results on the field. Last season with International League foe Durham, Darnell finished the season with a league leading 157 hits. McDonald was recognized for his efforts as he was voted to the International League All-Star team.

"It made me feel real good. It felt good that I accomplished something and it was rewarding to see other people appreciate it. They saw the hard work I put in and the good season I had. It was great to be recognized, but my ultimate reward is when I get to the big leagues."

 Following the conclusion of the 2006 season, the Washington Nationals signed McDonald as a minor league free agent in November. Now in his 10th season of professional baseball, McDonald brings experience and knowledge that he hopes will provide success for the team. His outstanding hustle in the field and consistent bat at the plate has provided leadership for the younger players.

"I like to lead by example," said McDonald, who says his actions speak louder than his words. "I am not a big vocal guy or a cheerleader. I like to go out and play hard like the game is supposed to be played. Hopefully that will be contagious for the other players. When you see someone else making plays, it makes you want to do it even better."

McDonald has been nothing short of spectacular at the plate in the early stretch of this season. He is currently batting .296 with 9 RBIs, but more impressive than the average is his .402 on-base percentage. Consistency and being mentally prepared have been the biggest factors of his early success.

"I focus on being consistent," he said. "Sometimes you have your streaks where the ball doesn't find the hole, but sometimes you have streaks where everything gets through. The most important thing is not getting too high or too low. I try to be consistent every day and have a quality at bat every time up."

McDonald credits his success to coaches and players who have crossed his path throughout his career. "Anyone I come in contact with that has been around the league, I can learn something from," said McDonald. "I try to sit and listen to as many people as I can and pick up little things. At this point in my career, I have a routine and I know what gets me ready for games. I try to focus on what I did last year and continue that success this year."

Not only has McDonald provided a consistent bat to the lineup, but he has used his athleticism and speed to cover the outfield. Starting in every game this season, McDonald has only made one error. His versatility and mistake-free play gives the pitching staff comfort behind them.

Defense is a key factor for McDonald, who told CapitolDugout.com, "I think defense is the most important thing. When you are able to keep runs off the board, it helps the offense. I focus on taking good routes to fly balls and I will catch anything I can."

Most players would be satisfied with the numbers put up by McDonald in 2006, but Darnell feels he can contribute more to the team and wants to increase his productivity. With experience and great talent, McDonald has a bright future in front of him. Although his goal is to get to the majors, he knows he has to take care of business here in Columbus.

"I want to build on last year and have better numbers this season. I want to improve by stealing more bases, drawing more walks, improving my on-base percentage, and scoring more runs. If I am scoring runs, that means I am getting on base."

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