Pitching legend Ron Darling was one of those pro baseball players I loved to follow while growing up in the 80s and 90s. We both played ball and were both pitchers (though I threw with my left arm, being a southpaw, while Ron is a righty), so I enjoyed watching him pitch.
Ron played for 13 years for the New York Mets and won a World Series champ ring before leaving the pro roster in the mid-90s, and moving to the broadcasting chair where he's been working since.
Now, he's added wine connoisseur and vintner to his bio too -- all in the name of diabetes research.
The New Yorker's youngest son Jordan was diagnosed with type 1 at age 10 about a decade ago, the first and only one in their family. With his son now 20 years old and a sophomore in college, Ron has just started his next venture, creating his own red wine.
No, this isn't one of those wines that's supposed to magically level out blood sugars or otherwise "cure what ails you." Nope, this is a real bonafide quality red wine that's made to appeal to hard core wine-lovers, while also raising money for the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) in Florida.
We had a chance to connect with Ron recently by phone, to talk everything from his son's diagnosis, baseball and wine, to the D-Dad's passion for D-research.
After his son's diagnosis, Ron says he quickly started trying to figure out what he could do to help. While Jordan had to do the blood sugar checks and learn the diabetes management himself, Ron says he and his family looked for a way they could best contribute.
"This is our family's disease, a worldwide disease... but in the end, it's his disease everyday. If I can't help him everyday, I will do what I can to help him in the long run, to ensure the climate is right for him to live a long and healthy life."
That led him to the DRI, an organization he said got his support "within the first half hour of visiting the organization's headquarters in Miami, FL." Their research is focused on finding a cure, and Ron says what he saw there was "brilliant." Since then, he says he's been obsessed with making sure the scientists have what they need in access and funding to do their work. He's held many different charity events and golf outings through the years for the DRI, and is part of the organization's national board. In 2009, he created his own charity called the Ron Darling Foundation that raises money not only for diabetes research but also other community programs like Habitat for Humanity.
"When I get talking about the research, I find myself more excited than anything related to baseball -- I guess that means I'm in the right spot, doing what I should be doing," he says.
So why start making his own wine? It's the latest fun idea he's had to keep raising money for the cause.
"I totally stole the idea of creating a new wine," Ron said with a laugh, explaining that while grocery shopping, he found himself buying salad dressing, popcorn and other Newman's Own products -- the brand created by the late actor Paul Newman.
"A light bulb went off, and I thought, 'Maybe I could do something like that,'" he said. "I kept coming back to wine for some reason, but all I really knew was how to drink it."
Ron says he started talking to some people he knew who had wine expertise -- specifically, New York restauranteur Steve McFadden and wine distributor HP Selections president Paul Favale. Soon enough, he had his sights set on making his own wine.
His new wine label is Donelan Syrah Darling Reserve 2010, named after its sourcing from the cool vineyards in Sonoma, CA. A dry red wine, Ron describes it as a petite syrah style that's made from black grapes and is dry with a bit of a spice, which fades away to reveal blackberry and rhubarb flavors.
It went on sale July 7, and according to the wine distribution page, the Darling Reserve is going for $45 a bottle, with all of the proceeds going to the DRI. Of course Ron has a baseball analogy to describe this type of wine he's created:
"We've gone through periods in baseball, like the decade of the slider or the split-finger... the petite syrah could be the next up-and-coming wine, so hopefully we're throwing the right pitch here."
Just as Newman's Own has become a visible and well-known brand people recognize and can find in their local stores, Ron hopes his wine will be become ubiquitous too -- especially since the money goes to diabetes research.
Ron says the funding is key to the DRI is making progress on its BioHub R&D that got its own marketing blitz in the diabetes community in March 2013. Most recently in early July, the DRI announced that the FDA has OK'd the start of a Phase I/II clinical trial that will test a possible site location for the BioHub inside the body -- in the omentum, an apron-like lining inside the abdomen. That pilot trial will allow researchers to transplant islet cells into the omentum inside a biodegradable scaffold, which is one of the approaches contemplated as a potential BioHub platform.
The money that flows from Ron's new wine will directly go toward that research.
His son Jordan, now in his second year of college majoring in English with minors in religious studies and psychology, is handling all social media for the new wine and will probably handle some of the marketing writing as well, we're told. Unlike his dad, Jordan doesn't have any plans to go into athletics, and will probably go on to grad school, Ron says.
In the end, it's all about doing what they can for diabetes research.
As far as baseball, Ron says he isn't playing anymore -- even recreationally. He has a "3,000-inning elbow," or what his doctor describes as an "80-year old sailor's elbow." So, aside from making his own wine and focusing on diabetes research, Ron stays on the sidelines and watches the current generation of ballplayers make their mark. Meanwhile, he hopes to make his mark on the D-world.
"I'm not Rupert Murdock, so I can't write $3 million dollar checks," Ron says. "But I'm doing whatever small part I can, and I'm proud and I think Jordan is proud, too, that we do that."