Better. Not bitter.
That’s what happened to Darrell Porter’s family after his tragic death 12 years ago. His three children, who ranged in age from 14 to 20 when Porter died at 50 of a cocaine overdose, today are thriving adults who don’t so much remember how their father died, but rather how he lived.
“I know he would be so proud of his kids,” said Deanne Porter, Darrell’s widow. “They are wonderful people, they’ve done very well, given the adversity of his death. They became better people, not bitter people, and I know he would be extremely proud of them.”
The Porter clan will be in Oklahoma City on Monday to celebrate Darrell’s induction into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. Darrell Porter is one of the greatest athletes in OKC history. Signed in 1970 by OU as a quarterback out of Southeast High School and taken fourth overall by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1970 amateur draft, Porter chose baseball.
Good pick. He was in the major leagues by 1971, a starting catcher by 1973, a pennant winner with the Royals in 1980 and the World Series Most Valuable Player with the Cardinals in 1982.
But a drug addiction plagued Porter through much of his playing days. He wrote about it in his 1984 biography, “Snap Me Perfect”. Porter had been sober for more than 20 years before the relapse that cost him his life.
Still, his children say that their feelings of being cheated out of more time with their father are countered by the times they did have.
“Definitely a combination of both,” said Ryan Porter, 26. “I think there are things I missed out on, because he wasn’t here. Like I said, I was blessed that I got to hang out with him while he was alive. I understand the circumstances. I understand what happened. It’s a bummer. It’s an easy trap to fall into, ‘I got cheated out of this.’
“But when it comes down to it, the years I got to spend with my dad, and my family got to spend with him, they were good years. Obviously, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. They were very special to me.”
Daughter Lindsey was 20 when her father died. “At first, you just kind of survive,” she said. “Once you get past the shock, you look back and survey. I think all of us feel we had such a wonderful relationship with our dad. He loved us all unconditionally.
“We have so many great memories, we feel so blessed about the time we had with him. There’s still many days go by I wish he was still here, hear his voice, feel his hug, but faith was a huge part of my dad’s life. He instilled that in all of us kids. Our faith allowed us to cope as well as we could with his death.”
The Porter offspring don’t remember their dad the ballplayer. Porter’s final major league season was 1987, when Lindsey was five, Jeff was three and Ryan was not yet born. They remember their dad the dad.
“I was fortunate I got to spend a lot of time with him,” Ryan Porter said. “He wasn’t playing any of my life. We were good buddies. He was a very kind person. Very giving. Very compassionate. He loved people. He loved speaking, using his platform to make a difference. Using baseball and some of his experiences and choices he made to help people.”
Lindsey said athletics never were her gift. “I was his little girl,” she said. “He would take me on dates, go to plays. We connected in a lot of other means, other than sports.” Darrell would drive Lindsey to school most days. She calls those days “investing in my life.”
Deanne Porter said Darrell always felt blessed that his sons were born left-handers, which meant no serious catching for them. Both became pitchers. Hard to be raised in the Kansas City suburbs, the sons of a great Royal, and be compared to dad.
“He said he felt like God had made his boys both firing left-handed throwers so he would not have to follow in his footsteps as a catcher,” Deanne said. “That was God’s way of protecting him.
“He did not pressure the boys at all to be ballplayers. He did coach Jeff a little when he was younger. Never ever put pressure on the boys. He had experienced that growing up and he didn’t want them to feel like that his love for them was defined by baseball. He wanted them to do whatever he chose to do. He played a lot of golf with them. He was there to support them.”
Ryan Porter played baseball for four years at Rockhurst College; Jeff played two years at Rockhurst. Ironically, Ryan said, he didn’t get serious about baseball until after his father’s death.
Darrell’s brother, Eddy, went to see Ryan play a series at Rockhurst. “Ryan actually asked me, ‘did I remind him of his dad,’” Eddy said. Eddy said he found a resemblance. “Ryan had a great heart, and that reminded me a lot of Darrell.”
And now Darrell Porter’s hometown gathers to honor one of its greatest athletic heroes. Convening to take part in the celebration will be his children, which honors Porter with how they live.