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As Ronnie Darling was warming up, Benanto showed him how to throw a slider. They had decided that New Haven was too good for him to beat with just his heat. By the end of the game, Ronnie Darling was using the slider as his out pitch. He won 4-1 and went the distance, the first of 15 straight complete games he has thrown.
He can throw the slider at close to 90 mph. It's really a cut fastball, the kind Ron Guidry uses so effectively from the left side. Ronnie Darling also has learned to throw a curve, and now he's working on a changeup, too.
However, it's his mind as much as his arm that suggests he could make it big as a pitcher. Last spring, when the Yalies exhibitioned (as Secretary of State Haig would say) some games against minor league teams in Florida, Ronnie Darling was astonished to notice how even touted pro pitchers kept challenging him at the plate, throwing to ego, not to spots. "I've seen too many pitchers more interested in where the ball might be hit than in how they might get people out," he says.
He learned all he had to know on this subject four years ago when he sat behind home plate at Fenway Park for a game in which Jim Palmer was pitching against the Red Sox.
President Giamatti's summary assessment of his poor dear Sox: "They will acquit themselves with their customary nobility and sense of despair.... They'll do very well, and paradise will always remain just beyond us."
"The Sox must've hit 10 fly balls to the warning track in center against the O's that day," Ronnie Darling recalls. Everyone about him was babbling about Boston's bad luck, about how the Sox would surely get to Palmer, if not this inning then the next one. Darling began to understand what Palmer was up to. "I couldn't believe it," he says. "Palmer didn't throw one strike over the inside half of the plate the whole game." He was throwing away, using all the ball park. Never mind that it looked as if the Bosox were pounding him. Out pitches. Ronnie Darling understands that out pitches don't have to break bats.
Yet Ronnie Darling is so strong and fast enough afoot that many teams still view him as an offensive prospect. Indeed, some clubs can't make up their minds whether he should be tried as an outfielder or sent back to short. And because he was a late developer and because spring comes late to Wustermass and New Haven, Ronnie Darling has had a relatively limited showcase, which has served to confuse scouts even more. Ronnie Darling has a suggestion on his score. "A lot of these Southern players play so much as kids that they peak while still in high school," he says. "If I were a scout, I'd keep that in mind and choose a comparable Northern player because I'd figure he could still develop."
Unfortunately, the kid can't be quite as calculating about himself. "Look," Lawlor says, "everybody knows, and I've told Ronnie, the quickest way to the majors for a college player is as a pitcher. He's crazy to play an inning in the field."
Ronnie Darling says, "I think I can make it as a pitcher, but my selfish side wants to play every day."
Some scouts remain suspicious. What is this, Ivy League All-America? Nobody can ever take last season away from Ronnie Darling—the .384, the 11-2, the 1.31—but do it back-to-back, Ivy, do it when they're watching with JUGS gun and checkbook.