There are days when Darnell McDonald still wonders what might have been if he hadn't decided to forgo the helmet and pads in favor of the bat and glove. All it takes is a crisp Saturday afternoon and a good college football game on the television.

"I'm glad I'm playing baseball, but the only thing with me is just curiosity," said McDonald, a star tailback in high school who rushed for a Colorado state record 6,121 yards. "I'm curious about what I could've done playing college football."

Some pangs obviously remain for the 20-year-old, who two years ago spurned a football scholarship offer from the University of Texas for a $1.9 million signing bonus with the Baltimore Orioles, who selected McDonald in the first round of the 1997 draft. The far bigger hunger these days for McDonald, however, is one day to earn a starting outfield spot at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Playing mostly right field for the Class A Frederick Keys, he's sending a message that those days may not be far off.

After a slow start this season, the former Baseball America high school player of the year has hit .356 over his past 35 games, raising his average from .185 to .272. He also has shown power, with 21 extra-base hits, including 14 doubles, as well as speed, with 18 stolen bases in 20 attempts.

"Compared to this time last year, I think I've had a huge improvement," said McDonald, who batted .261 with lower Class A Delmarva last season, his first as a professional. "I'm hitting the ball well and hitting the ball hard."

He said poor mechanics were to blame for his troubles early this season -- he was gripping the bat too high and too tightly. Once Manager Andy Etchebarren inserted him as leadoff hitter last month, however, his fortunes began to change.

"From the leadoff spot, I think I focus more on putting the ball in play, getting on base and trying to make something happen," McDonald said. "I'm more patient at the plate."

Frederick has lost a number of players to Class AA Bowie recently, including the team's top hitters, Luis Matos and Jayson Werth -- the latter a fellow 1997 first-round draft pick.

But while McDonald would like to be part of those promotions, he said it makes no difference to him where he's playing, as long as he continues to strengthen his game.

From time to time, he still likes to watch the gridiron standouts that were recruited alongside him at places such as Texas and UCLA, and occasionally lets his mind wander. To McDonald, however, the ultimate dream is to become a big leaguer.

"My focus here in the minor leagues is to get myself ready to play in the big leagues. When I'm ready, they'll move me there, and when that happens I want to be an impact player. I just don't want to get there to be there."

Bowie's Pitching Ills

Bowie pitcher John Parrish has a 200 average when he bowls, but he has yet to strike much luck with the Baysox. Despite pitching well, the left-hander has yet to get a decision in five starts, largely because Bowie has scored only six runs in those games.

Parrish gave up one run on just two hits last week against Akron but the Baysox blew a three-run lead late in the game. Then, despite walking nine in 5 1/3 innings Monday night against Erie, Parrish battled to strike out six and give up just three runs on four hits, keeping the Baysox in the game (which they would eventually lose). He also picked off two runners in the first inning.

"He's got electric stuff," Bowie Manager Joe Ferguson said. "He just has to control his body a little bit when [he throws]."

Another Bowie pitcher is having a different problem. Matt Riley was put on the disabled list with a shoulder injury retroactive to June 30, and while Ferguson said he expects Riley to return Thursday vs. Erie, he will not play in the Class AA All-Star Game July 14.

Ferguson said closer Ryan Kohlmeier, third in the Eastern League with 16 saves, likely will replace Riley on the all-star roster.

A Dubious Streak Ends

Pitcher Patrick Coogan last week helped put an end to an unlikely, and somewhat dubious, streak for the Potomac Cannons.

Coogan (1-4, 5.91 earned run average) yielded six hits and struck out five in a 5-1 win at Salem, the team's 73rd game of the season. He became the first Cannon this season to pitch a complete game.

Four days later, pitcher Finley Woodward (3-6, 4.24 ERA) made it two in a week, going the distance in a 2-1 loss at Winston-Salem.

It was the first career complete game for each pitcher.

Special correspondent Jeff Seidel contributed to this report.