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National Post

One Humble Slugger: With 304 Homers And 959 Rbis, Carlos Delgado Is The Most Accomplished Hitter In Blue Jays History. But For All He's Done, This Could Be The Affable First Baseman's Last Season In Toronto. If He's Worried, It Doesn't Show

By John Lott

March 15, 2004
Copyright ©2004 National Post. All rights reserved.

DUNEDIN, Fla. - Carlos Delgado signed his first Toronto contract in October 1988, when he was 16. He has been a Blue Jay ever since. Entering his 10th big-league season, he is the franchise's most accomplished slugger (304 homers, 959 RBIs) and arguably its most widely recognized player. But his Toronto tenure seems destined to end after this season. In the final year of a four-year contract, he will make nearly US$19-million on a team with a US$50-million payroll. At the Jays' spring-training complex yesterday, Delgado, 31, recalled his rookie year in St. Catharines, Ont., the periodic debate over his leadership, his chances of remaining a Blue Jay in 2005 and the joy of operating heavy equipment.

1. When you signed with the Blue Jays at age 16 in Puerto Rico, what did you imagine your career held for you?

CD Back then my only dream was to make it to the big leagues. Now, as I look back, when I was 16, I didn't know anything. Obviously, I made a decision that I wanted to play pro ball instead of going to school. Three days after I graduated from high school I went to mini-camp, then to St. Catharines. I was there two years, through a lot of ups and downs.

2. What was the adjustment like?

CD It was definitely different. You know, a young kid from Puerto Rico ends up in St. Catharines, Ont., at the age of 16, never been away from home, spending most of the time with people that you never met. What made it easier was that everybody was in the same boat. You got a bunch of kids from all over the place and they all have the same dream. You make friends easily because you spend a lot of time together.

3. Was the language adjustment difficult?

CD At the beginning, a little bit. I wasn't fluent but I knew enough to get by. I wasn't going to starve, I'll tell you that much. The more you learn, the easier it gets.

4. Was starting your career in St. Catharines intimidating or frightening for you?

CD I decided not to think about it that way. It could have been, but I said, "This is what I want to be doing. I have my family behind me." After a while you get into a routine. I have the ability to adjust quickly to pretty much any situation.

5. You started the 1994 season in the big leagues and hit all those home runs in April (eight in the first three weeks), then ended up going back to the minors. How did you deal with that?

CD It was tough. I felt like I was almost living in a dream. I don't think I was supposed to be there at that time. I came to spring training as a catcher, then (manager) Cito (Gaston) comes up to me and says, "How do you feel about playing left field?" And I go, "Wow, I haven't played left field since little league, but I'll give it a try." Next thing I know I make the team, and everything was like a big dream. I hit a bunch of home runs the first week and I'm saying, "Wow. I like this!" Pretty soon there's trouble (he stopped hitting) and I go from the best baseball in the world to Triple-A, from the SkyDome to MacArthur Stadium, which was a s---hole. I figured I could sit and cry about it or go back to work and get myself back to where I wanted to be. I was on a mission. When I got a taste of the big leagues, that's where I wanted to be.

6. That's a pretty big change, to walk out of the minors and into the big leagues.

CD It's overwhelming. People say you can't have too much of a good thing. You can. If you think you have it made when you walk in, and you're enjoying all the perks and all the rest and you don't work, you're in for a rude awakening. That's what I always tell the young kids: It's easier to get here than to stay here.

7. So you didn't make that mistake? You worked just as hard when you got here?

CD Totally. I was never that talented a kid with all the potential. In my family, my brother was. He had all the talent. He could stop hitting for two years and pick up a bat and start right where he left off. I had to practise. I had to work at it. My first few years weren't easy. I got sent down twice. I switched positions three times. I had to platoon before I finally got a chance to play every day in mid-'97 and then '98. People look at me now and say, "This guy's got it made, he's got almost 10 years in, he's making all that money, blah, blah, blah." But it wasn't that easy. I'm not complaining. I love what I do. And I learned a lot along the way.

8. What were the biggest lessons?

CD Patience. Learning to execute, work hard, adjust, sacrifice. You have to be able to follow orders. It's always a test. You have to figure out a way to get stuff done when you're not at your best. You have to learn to work with different people. Sometimes you're working with one person for a long time and now suddenly that person isn't there any more. You have to learn to be responsible and accountable for your own actions. The more successful you get, the more responsibilities you've got.

9. Lessons for life as well as baseball?

CD It's all about life. It made me a better person. I mean, I love the game, but I learned as much off the field as I did on the field. Besides that, it gave me an opportunity to travel, to meet a lot of people, to see things that otherwise I wouldn't have seen. Financially, I've had opportunities to make investments that other people don't have, buying real estate, playing the stock market. It's nice. Because of the game, I've had the opportunity to learn all these things.

10. When it comes to things like investments, you take an active role? You don't just hand it over to a financial adviser?

CD I'm tough on my accountant and my financial guys. I ask a lot of questions.

11. Why do you think you and the city of Toronto have been a good fit?

CD I'm a people person. Obviously, I've done well. It's easy to jump on the bandwagon. I'm not criticizing the fans or anything, but if you do good and you're a halfway decent guy, you'll get a lot of people liking you, more than if you don't do good and you're a great guy.

12. What about the city itself, outside of baseball?

CD The city has a lot to offer, but it's not crazy and hectic like New York or L.A. Toronto's more mellow. I don't know if it's the European influence, but I really like that. People are not rude. I think Canadians are very polite.

13. What do you enjoy doing outside of baseball?

CD I like to travel. I like good food. I like shows and concerts. I spend a lot of time with the family. I read. I love computers. I love to cook. I like to be handy around the house. I like to try new things. I have a piece of land at home (in Puerto Rico) and we were doing some work on it with some heavy equipment. I asked the operator, "Can you teach me how to operate this machine?" Next thing, I'm operating the machine. I like to do things like that.

14. What are you reading?

CD Right now I'm reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera.

15. A couple of years ago your batting average started to fall and the fans got on you. You weren't used to that. You seemed troubled by it.

CD I wasn't troubled by the fans. Obviously you don't like to get booed. But I'll be the first one to tell you if I'm not doing good. But it was a quick change. I had never seen that before. You think, "How quickly they forget." But then I think, "Well, they're paying so they can say whatever the hell they want." What bothered me more than anything was that some of the media reports weren't accurate. I'm an honest guy. They were going on about leadership. I said, "What, do you have to hit .330 to be a leader?" No one could answer. I figured that was the end of my argument.

16. What are your criteria for being a leader?

CD I figure the most important thing is not being selfish. You have to be considerate and fair. Once you accomplish that, I think the guys are going to respect you more than maybe a great player who's a little selfish, or who's always bitching and moaning about something. You also have to realize that everyone has a lot to offer and you have to work with all kinds of people.

17. It sounds like you're saying you take pride in being a good person.

CD I'm one of the greatest persons you've ever met, I'll tell you right now. (Grins.) Sometimes it's hard, because not many people (outside of the baseball fraternity) get to know you. But I'm solid. Straight as an arrow. I'm not an angel either. But I'm a mature, honest guy.

18. As the seasons have come and gone, have you thought about spending your entire career with Toronto?

CD Of course. This year will be 10 years. You say if you get another long-term contract, the next thing you know, you've stayed here for your career. Obviously, coming back here will be my first priority. We obviously have to figure out a way that will work for both of us. I like the direction we're taking as a ball club. This winter J.P. (Ricciardi, the general manager) went out and got six pitchers. You've got to give him credit for that.

19. What do you think your chances are of coming back to Toronto next season?

CD I wouldn't want to guess. I hope they're good. We'll see what J.P. has to say.

20. Given the apparent change in baseball's economics, can you really expect another contract like the last one?

CD Watch me hit 50 home runs and drive in 150 and we'll talk. (Laughs heartily)

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