Matts’ Bats Chat with Darren O’Day (Part 1)

IMG_5455Last week, I had a great opportunity to go to beautiful Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland to interview Orioles closer Darren O’Day about his nomination for the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award. O’Day was honored for his award nomination at a pre-game ceremony.  During our interview, I also asked him a few questions about other topics, including his upcoming free agency and his unique submarine delivery, which will I will publish in a later post.  This Matt’s Bats Chat with Darren O’Day is about and his work helping military charities and his nomination for the Bob Feller Act of Valor award.

The Act of Valor Award is given out to three people who share the characteristics of Bob Feller: an active MLB player, a member of the Navy, and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Award winners are selected because they are dedicated to serving our country and share the values and integrity of Bob Feller.  In addition to the Orioles’ O’Day, other MLB nominees this year included Brad Ziegler of the Diamondbacks, Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox, Adam LaRoche of the White Sox, Jay Bruce of the Reds, Trevor Bauer of the Indians, Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers, Wade Davis of the Royals, Steve Cishek of the Cardinals, Brian Dozier of the Twins, Curtis Granderson of the Mets, Sean Doolittle of the A’s, Charlie Morton of the Pirates, Ian Kennedy of the Padres, and Craig Stammen of the Nats.  The winners will be honored at an award ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial in downtown Washington, DC in November.

I asked O’Day what it means to him that he is nominated for an award named after the great Bob Feller.  “It’s truly an honor. When I heard I was being nominated for this award, I went and researched him.  The more you learn about him, the more in awe you are of his decision to take time off from Major League Baseball to serve in the Navy.  He gave up four years of his career to potentially get hurt or die in the line of duty.  Like I said, it’s a great honor to be associated with an award in his name.”  O’Day told me the story about the opportunity he when he was 6 or 7 years old to meet Bob Feller at a minor league baseball game in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.  O’Day handed Feller a pen to sign an autograph for him, and it exploded on him!

IMG_5415O’Day has done many terrific things that earned him this nomination.  One of the things O’Day and his wife, FOX News reporter Elizabeth Prann, have done is organize a “Barbecue for the Troops” event that helps support the USO. O’Day explained the whole process to me. He told me that he sponsored the event at Camden Yards and guests brought donations for the USO. In the event’s inaugural year in 2013, O’Day raised $17,000. The USO is great because it helps deployed troops and their families.

Another activity O’Day and some other Orioles help out with is the Military Sunday Suite. Orioles players donate money to buy a suite every Sunday at Orioles Park for active military members, and they get to meet some players during batting practice, get a t-shirt, and are recognized during God Bless America and the 7th inning stretch. “The sacrifices they make and the things they have to forgo to serve in the military, we couldn’t make up for that.  Tickets to a game pale in comparison to that.  We couldn’t really make up for that, but we try to do something small  and do something nice,” O’Day told me.

That’s not all O’Day does to support the military.  He also supports a cause called Luke’s Wings, and for the past three years he has donated money for every strikeout he records. Luke’s Wings helps families travel to be with injured service members during their hospitalization and rehabilitation. “I like their mission.  When somebody decides to serve in the military, it not only affects them, it affects their whole family.”  “When a service man or woman is injured, they have a lot to deal with, and their families also have a lot to deal with.  Luke’s Wings takes care of their families and provides funding to get them flown out whereever they need to go to see their injured family member.  It makes it a lot easier on the family to take a lot of the financial burden off them.” In 2013, O’Day raised over $2,300; in 2014 he raised over over $3,600, and this year he will donate over $4,000.  “I wish I would have raised more, because that would’ve meant more strikeouts,” he joked.

Finally, once a year when the Orioles face their interleague rivals the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, O’Day and other Orioles players make a visit to Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda to meet with some Wounded Warriors in the rehab center there. Most of the patients are going through physical therapy after serious injuries.  “Some of the baseball players can relate on a much smaller level”, O’Day told me, “because we have also had injuries.”  “They have just had a huge change in their life, so we like to go down there and hang out with them for a day.  We get to know them a little bit, and a lot of them are baseball fans, and hopefully get to make one day a little bit better for them.”  He added, “there’s a lot of good men and women who pass through there and I have actually developed relationships where I keep in touch with some of them who passed through there.”

The Bob Feller Act of Valor Award foundation just announced the winners of this year’s awards.  This year they are celebrating Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, Hall of Fame Royals 3rd Baseman George Brett, and Navy Chief Petty Officer Gennell Cody.  Although O’Day didn’t win this year, he still has done many great things and I hope to see him nominated again next year.  I will attend the awards ceremony again this year and have interviews with Lucroy and Brett.

In addition, look out for the rest of my Matt’s Bats Chat with Darren O’Day, coming soon.  We talk about more about his baseball career.

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