The Truth About Darrel Chaney

Darrel Chaney is a prince. I just wanted to get that out in the open right away. Regardless of anything else you may have heard, he is a prince among men, and I am fortunate – blessed, really – to consider him my friend.

For my part, I haven’t been a very good friend. I’ve written some flippant things that were intended to be funny in a sardonic, dugout-humor kind of way. Instead, I fear, it was more like the rantings of drunken bleacher bum. Stupidity ruled the day. Instead of wicked dugout humor among the fellers, it was hurtful, disrespectful dreck, which makes me not much of a friend. In fact, it makes me a louse. I’ve been called worse, but I’m trying to keep this family-friendly.

What I can do, however, is let Darrel and the world (or that teeny, tiny portion of it that finds this blog by accident or, more likely, by invitation) know the truth, see what’s in my heart when I’m not trying to swim with the snarks and make with the yuks. You know, some people have a stage persona, and then their real-life persona. And sometimes writing is like that. The sardonic snark stuff is pure bull, it’s my stage persona. This right here, this is the real-life stuff.

So here it is again … Darrel Chaney is a prince. I remember him as a ballplayer, but I know him as a wonderful person, a guy with a huge heart and soul, and a quick wit. He is the main reason our little rural United Way raises thousands and thousands of dollars every year through a celebrity golf tournament.

Sure, I may joke that our celebrities include guys like Tracy Stallard, whose claim to fame is that he gave up Roger Maris’ 61st home run (did I mention that Tracy is a fine fellow, who jokes easily about his moment in history?), and a handful of people who had the proverbial cup of coffee in the penthouse suite of sports. But you know what? All of our celebrities, even Chief Nokahoma, even the ones who competed in Olympic sports that I didn’t know existed, were all committed to something bigger than most of us can imagine. They were great at what they did. And they’re great to participate in our tournament. Make no mistake — we also get Hall of Famers like Phil Niekro because of Darrel. So, we got the Hall of Famers, and we got the folks who made the roster, and we got everyone in between, a pretty diverse slate from more sports than I can remember.

And the fact is, all of these celebrities are treated like princes and princesses, because Darrel wouldn’t have it any other way. It helps that he is surrounded by an amazing group of United Way volunteers who make sure our celebrities get the superstar treatment. These individuals, like Darrel, give freely of their time and energy to put on a first-class, much-anticipated fund-raiser.

Bill Sutton, a longtime United Way volunteer who seemingly has never met a stranger, saw Darrel give a speech at a local church nine or 10 years ago, and soon he and Darrel were scheming to start a golf tournament to raise money for our local chapter. Darrel used his connections in sports, and his wealth of talent as a bridge-builder, to lead the charge. Here it is years later and the tournament is bigger and better than ever.

For a sports geek like me, who didn’t have to be told who Tracy Stallard was, part of the charm of our event is the fact that many of our celebrities were not superstars. They are accessible, fun people. Yes, a few are Hall of Fame types, but all  of these men and women, regardless of whether you’ve heard of them or not, have accomplished amazing things — again, they played their games at the highest levels possible, and that is saying something.

I wrote that Darrel proudly wears his World Series ring – that wasn’t a joke. He does and he should. It’s impressive, he earned it, and it looks really, really good. He wasn’t a starter on those incredible Big Red Machine teams of the 70s, but he wasn’t an afterthought, either. He was the classic part-time role player who did his job really well, a guy who lived for (and usually lived up to) the moment. I’ve joked with Darrel about the whole hitting thing and he reminded me that he has gone deep. And you’ve got to have major league nerves to stand in the batter’s box and face big-time pitching (he told me once that he was hit by Nolan Ryan — the fact that the man was even in position to FACE Nolan Ryan is damn impressive, especially to a guy like me, who probably couldn’t hit .200 in slowpitch softball).

Darrel Chaney wasn’t a good Major League hitter? Yeah? So what. Tell that to the million other guys who wanted his job, who tried to take it from him but couldn’t, because the guy had guts, a great glove and always knew that it took nine guys on the field and 25 on the roster to make a team. He’s the guy managers want on their ball-club. I read something about Darrel that was written by another blogger, Josh Wilker, who said Chaney looked like the kind of guy who would stop a ground ball with his teeth if he had to. He’d do whatever he could to help his team win. He brought honor to the game.

We have a great local United Way committee with the same mentality, all of them willing to stop a ground ball with their teeth if it would help raise money for this worthy charity. All of them team players, willing to do what it takes to get the job done (and they get it done really well).

But it all starts with Darrel Chaney, a superstar in all the ways that count most.

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