Doctors are one thing, but Ron Darling knew that it was time to return to work when he found himself watching late games on the Mets’ recent West Coast trip to the last out.
“I missed it,” the SNY analyst said before Tuesday night’s Giants-Mets game at Citi Field, his first since April 13, when he announced he would require surgery to remove a “large mass” from his chest.
On May 6, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
“As far as being back at Citi Field, it’s fantastic,” he said. “You really don’t realize until you’re away how much this is in your blood.”
Darling, 58, said it was a difficult decision to come back, and acknowledged he is not yet at full strength. His voice sounded thinner than usual during the telecast.
He initially did not plan to address reporters to save his voice and energy for the game, but he opted to hold a brief news conference owing to the strong interest in his return.
“As far as how I feel, it’s kind of the unknown,” he said. “I don’t know what my stamina is going to be like in the game or voicewise.
“So if Keith \[Hernandez\] is talking a lot, you’ll know where I am on that. I feel like it’s the right time and everyone thinks it’s the right time. The doctors do, so we’ll try.”
Darling, Hernandez and Gary Cohen have been together since 2006, and are among the most popular announcing teams in baseball. At the top of the game telecast, Darling said: “I missed you guys. You’re like brothers to me.”
Todd Zeile, SNY’s lead Mets studio analyst, filled in for Darling during his absence.
“I know many people that played with Todd and I know everyone to a person always said he’s a fantastic teammate, and he certainly was that for me, picking me up while I was on the 60-day IL,” Darling said. “I really want to thank him a lot. It’s a very difficult thing to be thrown into and I thought he was fantastic.”
Darling, who also is Turner’s lead national analyst, hopes to require no more than monitoring from doctors until the season is over. He will have a light schedule the next two weeks, then “hit the road running” when the Mets visit Atlanta on June 17.
He called his cancer diagnosis “sobering,” but said he has not yet had time to “wrap my brain around it.”
“I really didn’t have any feelings about myself,” he said. “I had feelings about my three sons and my wife. They were the ones I thought about. I’ll think about me maybe down the road.”
Darling has been overwhelmed by well-wishes, including what he estimated to be 3,000 to 5,000 cards and letters. He said he would bring a suitcase full of them on the road to try to catch up on responses.
“I guess I didn’t know, or I guess I didn’t know to what extent, being part of this Mets family meant in my life,” he said. “It’s very humbling. It’s extremely humbling. I feel like I just do this simple job of being on-air, but it reaches a lot of folks.
“I was 22 years old when I was called up to the Mets. I’m 58 now, and I feel like I’ve gotten love from these fans in that entire time, and none more evident than these last 60 days. I’m just really humbled. You feel like it’s just a little personal struggle, a challenge, but so many people want to make sure that you feel as though you have their hugs, so I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that one, too.”
With David Lennon