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From Yale Field to the Big Leagues, Darling Reflects

Ron Darling (photo from Yale Sports Publicity archives)
Ron Darling (photo from Yale Sports Publicity archives)

Darling Won A World Series Championship With The New York Mets In 1986

PHOTO GALLERY: Darling's Yale Years and Beyond

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – In Game 6 of the memorable 1986 World Series between the Mets and Red Sox, Mookie Wilson's groundball went through the legs of Bill Buckner, leading to a walk-off win for New York; and Ron Darling barely made it back to Shea Stadium in time to see it.

The star right-handed pitcher for the Mets, who attended Yale University from 1979-1981, was on his way home as suggested by his pitching coach, before deciding to turn around and rejoin his team, whether it be in victory or defeat.

"Back in those days, Shea Stadium would be packed with 55,000-plus fans, so you had to wait about two hours to leave after the game," said Darling in a phone interview. "Our pitching coach. Mel Stottlemyre, told some of us pitchers, 'we're going to win this game, so go home and get some rest before our big game coming up'."

As Darling drove down Grand Central Parkway, he said he heard silence from Shea Stadium, which made him think the Red Sox had scored again. That is when he decided to head back to Shea.

"I turned around because win or lose, I wanted to be with my teammates," said Darling. "Just as I got back into the locker room, I saw the game-winning hit on one of the televisions and got to hear Vin Scully's call."

Darling's successful major league pitching career, which amounted to a 136-116 overall record on the mound with the Mets (1983-1991), Expos (1991), and Athletics (1991-1995), started from his three seasons on the Yale baseball team.

"Attending Yale helped prepare me for my big league career because every student was the best in his class from home, just like every player in the majors was an All-Star from Connecticut or Oklahoma, or wherever they were from," said the Yale alum.

Upon entering Yale, it was actually Darling's intention to play both football and baseball since he was heavily recruited by legendary Bulldogs' football coach, Carm Cozza. He was never recruited for baseball at Yale due to the coaching change from Ken Mackenzie to Joe Benanto in 1979, but it was baseball where he found his best opportunity.

"If there were five or six regrets in my life, one is that I didn't continue to play football at Yale. I would've loved to play for Carm," said Darling, who decided to play only baseball upon arriving in New Haven.

It wasn't until Darling's sophomore season that the hard-throwing righty started focusing on pitching, though it wasn't an easy road to take for the athletic ballplayer.

"Benanto was a big reason for my switch to pitching. I previously had no desire, because I hated pitchers and I hated pitching," said Darling.

However, with his strong arm and athleticism, Darling decided to help the team and also ease his track to the major leagues.

"Coach said we didn't have enough pitching, and that was all I needed to hear," said Darling. "He also said I was a good athlete now, but pitching would help me get to the pros. So our deal was he would let me keep playing the field and hitting on a daily basis in-between starts on the mound."

It was a move that paid-off in a big way for Darling, who quickly rose to the upper-ranks of college pitchers with his natural ability on the hill.

His sophomore season in 1980 was his best statistical year, making 15 appearances on the mound and 12 starts. Darling threw 12 complete games, recording 109.2 innings, with an 11-2 record. He also garnered an impressive 105-48 strikeout-to-walk ratio and allowed only 16 earned runs.

In the 1980 and 1981 seasons, Darling was one of four future professional athletes playing three different sports on the Yale baseball team. Teammates Rich Diana (Miami Dolphins), Joe Dufek (Buffalo Bills and San Diego Chargers), and Bob Brooke (NHL from 1984-90, 1984 Olympic team) would also go on to make strides in their professional athletic careers.

"When I was at Yale, there was a tremendous amount of good athletes on the team with Diana, Dufek, and Brooke. I can go on and on. It was those guys who separated us and the baseball program from other sports at Yale," said Darling.

As good as the Millbury, Mass., native was as a pitcher for the Bulldogs, he put up stellar hitting numbers as well. In the 1980 season, Darling led the team with a .386 average with three home runs, 12 doubles, and 25 RBI. He also had 66 total bases and a slugging percentage of .589.

"I usually hit second or third, right in front of Diana, who was usually clean-up," said Darling. "I didn't have a lot of power, but I was a good, everyday hitter. It was good coaching that helped me. It was also a lot of fun traveling to the places we went in the Ivy League. It was very competitive, playing straight-faced ball."

It wasn't until an NCAA Regional at Yale Field on May 21, 1981, that Darling would pitch in arguably the greatest college baseball game ever played. The Bulldogs took on St. John's, a Northeast power, as Darling would go toe-to-toe with Red Storm pitcher, Frank Viola, his future Mets' teammate.

"St. John's was like 58-2 coming into that game, they were such a powerhouse," recalls Darling. "Every hitter was over .500 and I remember thinking that I hope we don't get embarrassed. We knew how good they were."

The day before the game was played, Darling remembers a lack of participation at practice due to many players having academic obligations to fulfill, leaving the Bulldogs without a full lineup.

"The day before the game, we had a workout, but only six guys could come because the others had academic work to do," said Darling.

"We pictured there being a lot of yelling and intensity at the St. John's practice, and yet, we didn't even have enough guys for a team at ours," joked the former Yale ace.

Darling would go on to pitch a no-hitter through 11 innings against the Red Storm, ultimately losing on a double-steal by St. John's in the 12th. The visitors won, 1-0, as Darling fanned 16 batters.

As the Yale baseball program enters its 150th season, Darling shared his thoughts on what has made the program stand the test of time and remain a staple at the university.

"All the different guys who played at Yale in the past, we just wanted to make them proud," said Darling. "Guys like former President George H.W. Bush who played, we felt like we had an obligation to live up to the history of the program."

Darling, currently a baseball broadcaster for SNY and the MLB Network, also credits Yale for giving him the social tools to succeed in his career after baseball.

"I didn't know my education would help me in broadcasting, but it's a wordsmith game," said Darling, who majored in French and Southeast Asian History. "The confidence I got from going to Yale helps me every time I'm in front of a camera or on television."

Darling calls Mets games throughout the season with play-by-play announcer Gary Cohen and fellow color commentator and former Mets' teammate, Keith Hernandez.

When asked why it is that Hernandez was given a cameo role on the popular sitcom, Seinfeld, and not him, Darling credits Hernandez's acting ability.

"He has more acting chops than me," joked Darling. "He brings a levity and fun aspect to our broadcasts. But he did get to kiss Elaine, and I'll be jealous of that forever."

Darling, as well as current Yale head coach John Stuper, both have World Series rings from their time in Major League Baseball (Stuper with the Cardinals in 1982, Darling with the Mets in 1986). With Stuper in charge of the program, Darling feels the future of Yale baseball is in good hands.

"I played against him since he was with the Cardinals and I'm really glad the Yale players get a professional education," said Darling. "The Cardinals are one of the best-run organizations in all of sports and Stuper is a product of that system. With him teaching what he knows, it is a fantastic thing for Yale baseball."

 

Filed by Steve Lewis, Yale Sports Publicity