In Memory of
Michael Curtis Darr
The beginning of Spring Training is supposed to be a time
when optimism reigns supreme, but that was all put on hold on February 15th when San Diego Padres outfielder Mike Darr was
tragically killed in a one car accident. Darr was just over a month shy of his 26th birthday, he leaves his wife, Natalie,
and their two children, Michael Jr. and Matthew.
A three sport star in high school (football, basketball, baseball),
Darr hit .512 with 12 home runs as a senior at Corona (CA) high. Following his father, also named Mike who pitched professionally
in the 70s including a one inning stint with the expansion Toronto Blue Jays in 1977, Darr would chose baseball as his profession.
In June of 1994 he was drafted in the second round by the Detroit Tigers and played in their farm system until spring
of '97 when he was dealt to San Diego for 2B Jody Reed. At Single A Rancho Cucamonga Darr broke out hitting .344 15 HR and
94 RBI, which earned him San Diegos Minor League Player of the Year Award. He followed up with another strong season in 1998,
hitting .310 at AA Mobile.
By that time Darr was regarded as one of the organization's top prospects. He didn't have
great power, but was a line drive hitter that had speed to leg out extra base hits. He was also an above average outfielder
with a strong arm and great range. A shot at the big leagues would come very soon for Mike Darr.
Darr made his major
league debut on May 23, 1999, and picked up his first hit in his fourth at bat off Arizona's Andy Benes. His first home run
would come on June 8th against Oakland's Tim Hudson. He played in 13 games, hitting .226, before being sent down to AAA Las
Vegas. Darr was called up again on September 9th and fared much better during that stint hitting .353 in 12 games. He finished
the season with a .271 AVG in 48 AB.
Darr also split the 2000 season between San Diego and Las
Vegas. He had a five game stint in April with the Padres before being sent down, but went on to share the organization's Minor
League Player of the Year Award with Jeremy Owens (he also won the award outright in 1997). After being recalled on July 31st,
he went on to start 49 of the Padres final 57 games. All told, he played in 58 games and hit .268.
2001 was Darr's
breakthrough season; he was the Padres opening day center fielder and went 2 for 2. Although he hit only 2 home runs, they
both came in dramatic fashion. On August 16th he beat the Mets with a 2-run blast in the bottom of the 8th, the other came
in the bottom of the 10th on September 22nd defeating the Giants. Darr finished the season with a .277 AVG in 105 games. He
played all three outfield positions and posted a .990 fielding percentage, leading the club with six outfield assists.
the retirement of Tony Gwynn and Rickey Henderson leaving via free agency, a regular outfield spot was there for Darr's taking
entering Spring Training. The Padres thought highly enough of Darr to place him on the cover of their 2002 media guide, along
with five other players, with the title "The Blue Print for the Future". Now the team will have to cope with a tragedy for
a second straight year (On July 29, 2001 minor league pitcher Gerik Baxter was also killed in a car accident).
free spirited personality made him popular in the clubhouse, "Everybody liked Mike Darr," said former teammate Ben Davis (now
with Seattle). "Honestly, I can't believe there is any way anyone could not like Mike Darr. Everyone liked who he was and
how he played the game. He was one of my best friends and I loved playing ball with him. He was always exciting to watch because
he could do anything on the field. This could have been a big year for him."
A friend of Darr's and passenger in his
car, Duane Johnson, 23 of Reno, NV, was also killed in the accident. Neither he nor Darr were wearing their seat belts. Ben
Howard, also 23, survived the accident with minor injures. He was riding in the back seat and wearing his seat belt. Howard
is a minor league pitcher in the Padres organization.
Sadly, we will never see Mike Darr play another game of baseball.
More importantly he leaves a wife without a husband and two young children without a father.
Darr's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com