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And with that name, too. Imagine being named Ronnie Darling and having a real good chance to live up to it. Imagine being 20 years old and a Yale man in the spring named Ronnie Darling. Imagine being 20 years old and a Yale man in the spring standing 6'3", shaped and tapered. 205 pounds worth, with dark eyes that dance and fix on curveballs and people alike and olive skin tinted just enough never to pale. Imagine.
"This will probably sound egotistical," says Ronnie Darling, sounding in fact, very thoughtful, "but when I'm playing well, I think I can decide any game—my pitching, my hitting, you know, something."
Imagine being named Ronnie Darling and being half Irish and half Chinese-Hawaiian. It's last summer and your first time up at Yankee Stadium, in an amateur All-Star Game: 450-foot home run, leftfield bullpen. Now it's the ninth inning, you're 3 for 5, your team is ahead 10-9, but the other side has men on first and second, nobody out, meat of the order coming up. The call goes out to the outfield to bring Ronnie Darling in to pitch. You come to the mound. Strike out the first guy on fastballs. Strike out the second guy on fastballs. 90 to 95 mph. Third guy is looking for fastballs. Throw him a curve. Easy pop-up. Game's over. Oh, you Ronnie Darling. Imagine that.
What will Ronnie Darling do now? "This is the time for him." says Phillie Scout Dick Lawlor. "So much will depend on how well he plays this spring." Some major league bird dogs think that Ronnie Darling may well go No. 1 in June's draft, for which he will be eligible for the first time in three years. So it's time to step out now. There's not much more time to be a student or even a student-athlete.
Wherever he goes in baseball, Ronnie Darling will return to Yale to get his degree. He'll finish his junior year both academically and athletically this June. A C+ student majoring in history, Darling readily acknowledges that he's no intellectual, that he has had to put in long hours to get his grades. In the process he has come to understand that the value of an education at a school such as Yale transcends what one learns from books and professors. "When I came here, sometimes I thought I'd just play baseball and go through the motions of getting a degree," he says, "but the place is so competitive, it pushes you. And whatever your special ability, you can see it juxtaposed. I'm a baseball player, but I'll go into some class and there may be somebody sitting next to me who can play the piano better than I can play baseball. That's humbling, and it has been good for me. I can go out now and play in the pros, and whatever happens, I won't be lost."
Giamatti: "People talk of a scandal in athletics, but it seems to me that the real scandal is implicit: the very fraudulence of the college athletic enterprise, its acceptance as a mere ornament in the academic process. Too often, in too many institutions, athletics are self-contained. They must be made part of the whole educational process.
"To exploit our students as a source of revenue is a scandal and a shame. It also is foolish because anybody who thinks that by filling a football stadium you are going to even start to balance the budget is either kidding himself or trying to kid the rest of us.
"The point of college athletics is not to make money. The point is to provide another and very real opportunity in which people might be challenged, in which they might learn more about themselves and how to work with others."
Last summer Ronnie Darling was chosen MVP of the Cape Cod (Mass.) League, a very tough amateur circuit made up of college players. Ronnie Darling's teammates would often bring the weightiest volumes they could lay their hands on—"Karl Marx, stuff like that"—and leave them in the dugout, screaming suggestions at him that the books would give him something to do while he awaited his turn at bat.
At first many players doubted Ronnie Darling because he was a Yalie and all that. "What is this All-America?" one of them asked him. "Is this Ivy League All-America?" And then, as Ronnie Darling showed he was the best, he became more an object of frustration than of curiosity. Nobody else was Ronnie Darling, All-America of Yale.