Darnell McDonald properly welcomed home with CSHOF election

Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Darnell McDonald’s legendary tale began well before he ever stepped on Cherry Creek’s baseball team as a freshman.

Coach Marc Johnson knew that McDonald was going to be a special athlete as McDonald was close with Johnson’s son. McDonald stepped into the batter’s box at Creek as an eighth grader and in one swing, made his future coach aware that something special was about to happen to the Bruins.

“He hit a ball over our scoreboard in the outfield,” Johnson said with such confidence that it sounded like it happened yesterday.

McDonald could be special. McDonald turned out to be very special.

On Oct. 12, the full scope of his greatness as a Colorado athlete was recognized. McDonald was one of six individuals voted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.

There is zero doubt that each inductee was deserving, but McDonald represents a special kind of athlete. His accomplishments didn’t come at the collegiate level or for one of Colorado’s pro teams. He was a top high school star.

And he played for the school that is known for producing some of the top talent to ever come out of the state. According to Johnson, he was at the highest of levels even among the select few that emerged as Cherry Creek’s finest.

“He was the best athlete, just athlete, that ever played at Cherry Creek,” Johnson said. “He was an amazing athlete, not just a baseball player.”

There was little surprise when McDonald was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the MLB Draft in 1997. He embarked on a pro baseball career that lasted until 2013. He played for the Orioles, Minnesota Twins, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs.

He got the chance to play in some of the most historic ballparks in the country, yet some of his best memories come from his time growing up in Colorado.

“I had the opportunity to play at Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field,” McDonald said. “And to this day I tell people that some of the best memories I’ve had in my life are from high school.”

After his playing career concluded, he joined the Chicago Cubs in a coaching capacity but soon decided to open a private coaching venture in Arizona. The sunshine was great, but in his heart he is a Colorado guy and felt the pull to head home.

If he can pinpoint one thing in his baseball career that he would’ve loved to see happen, it would be home calling him back. In his entire time in Major League Baseball, he was never able to link up with the Colorado Rockies and play for his home team.

“I always wanted to do that,” McDonald said. “For whatever reason it never worked out. They never reached out to me and the only chance I ever had to play in Colorado was when I was with the Reds and the Red Sox.”

Perhaps the most satisfying moment of his professional career came on June 23, 2010 when he went 2-for-4 with a home run at Coors Field. He was playing for the Red Sox and they lost the game, but McDonald got to make the home run trot in his home town.

Now he wants to do more. He has been back in Colorado for a couple of months and is excited to plant new roots in his hometown. He’ll make his way to the Cherry Creek football game on Oct. 22 as the Bruins try and rebound to their first loss to an in-state opponent since 2018.

“I think this is my first game back since I graduated high school,” he said.

It probably won’t be the last. He couldn’t help but think back to his high school days and remember how much he and his friends loved checking out games all around Denver. It wasn’t just Cherry Creek. It was a time where the prep scene had some pretty special names competing on a regular basis.

“I remember when we were younger and we wanted to go see Chauncey Billups play at George Washington,” McDonald said. “It means a lot to be associated with those guys.”

He’ll embrace his Colorado fandom again as he’s sure to find himself rallying behind the Denver Nuggets and the Denver Broncos.

When it comes to the Rockies, he doesn’t want to just be a fan. He wants to be part of a solution that sees the franchise regain a competitive edge.

“I have a CR tattooed on my arm,” McDonald said. “I’d love to connect with them and see how I could be of value to them and help them bring a championship to Colorado.”

For now, he’ll settle for regaining his footing in town and also preparing to be honored as one of the top athletes in the state’s history.

McDonald and the rest of the 2021 class will officially be inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in May.

For one of the greatest prep athletes in state history, he’s hoping that’s plenty of time to narrow down the list of people that he needs to thank for their part in his athletic journey.

“It truly takes a village,” McDonald said. “I was told I have six minutes, talking about my speech, but’s about everyone here. Everyone at Cherry Creek and everyone before Cherry Creek.”

He has always considered Colorado home and his induction will be a great reminder that he may have played ball in some memorable cities, but there truly is no place like home.

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