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Delgado Has Big Contract, Humble Outlook
The newest Marlin comes from modest beginnings in Puerto Rico that shaped his life and attitude, and gave him a quiet humility that he has kept.
BY CLARK SPENCER
February 1, 2005
HOME RUN HITTER: Carlos Delgado is generating high expectations.
AGUADILLA, Puerto Rico - Carlos Delgado was ''going yard'' long before he started going deep on major-league pitchers. There was just one problem. He was smashing balls into the wrong yard, one belonging to a testy older woman who didn't take kindly to the barrage.
''She would come outside, pick up the balls and take them back inside with her,'' said Delgado's younger brother, Yasser. ``She wouldn't give them back to us.''
On the day the Delgado family moved from that neighborhood, the woman walked across the street and handed the two young boys a going away gift, an enormous bag.
''It was all those balls,'' Yasser said.
''The bag was this big,'' said Carmen Delgado, the mother of Carlos and Yasser, spreading her arms to show the size of the collection.
Carmen and Yasser are laughing at the story as they sit on the front porch of the home the newest member of the Marlins grew up in, a modest three-bedroom house at the end of a cul-de-sac atop a hill overlooking the Atlantic. Carlos lives close by, spending his offseason here, and stops in at least once a day to visit and check up on the family.
The waves along Crashboat Beach, a haven for swimmers, surfers and scuba divers, roil and foam below.
Parque Colon, the city's badly weathered baseball stadium where legend has it Carlos walloped a 420-foot home run as a 14-year-old and the great Roberto Clemente last swung a bat -- at a youth clinic four days before his death in a plane crash -- is located two miles south. Clemente and Delgado are honored with portraits painted on the concrete outfield wall in left.
The ballpark has seen better days.
Its azure paint is flecked and peeling, and sunlight pours through large openings in the grandstand's corrugated steel roof, disheveled when Tropical Storm Jeanne lashed the island in September. When someone asks when the stadium was built, one of the dozen or so teenagers practicing on the field yells out, amid laughter, ''1492!'' That's how old it seems.
Columbus, whose portrait also adorns one of the stadium's exterior walls, actually discovered what is now Puerto Rico on his second voyage to the New World in 1493.
Carlos Delgado was born in Puerto Rico in 1972, the second of four children.
Despite riches amassed during the dozen years he has spent in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, he has never really left. Aguadilla is home, he said, and always will be. He returns to Puerto Rico after every baseball season, hanging out with the locals and working out to get in shape for the next season. He practices his swing in a batting cage set up at his home. He plays dominoes, does a little scuba diving and barbecues.
''I go see my parents every day,'' he said. "When I'm in Puerto Rico, in Aguadilla, I leave my house at 7:30 every morning with a duffel bag. I go to the gym, then go to see my parents. I just use my house to sleep in, basically.''
Talk to those who know Carlos Delgado best, and it starts to sound like a broken record. They all tell you the same thing: family values, pride in country and the human condition are what rank most important to Delgado. He's a bookworm, art enthusiast, theater buff, amateur chef and all-around good guy who is more philanthropist than flash. He's a GQ dresser, but doesn't flaunt his celebrity.
''I'm a streaky hitter and a streaky reader,'' Carlos said. ``I always kind of think ahead. This [baseball] is not a lifelong thing. You have to be able to make it on the outside. I can't go to college while I'm playing baseball, but I can pick up a book.''
Said Robert Rodriguez, a sports marketer who works with Delgado on his numerous charity projects. ``He's very clever. He never has any hidden agenda. He's straightforward as you can get.''
His parents -- Carmen and Carlos II -- have to think long and hard when asked if they can recall any incidents involving their oldest son, ones that might have caused him to receive a scolding.
''Oh yes, I remember one,'' Carlos II said after carefully searching his thoughts, then going on to describe how Carlos joined his high school classmates on senior skip day.
From all reports, Carlos lived an idyllic, Opie Taylor existence as a child, and Aguadilla was his Mayberry.
Though he wields a big stick, Delgado's name has never come up in rumors involving steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs. He has never run afoul of the law. Friends say he prefers to live a quiet life. He rode his bicycle to some of Toronto's home games.
He was taught by his parents to respect others, which probably explains why Carlos continuously refers to Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest as ''Mr. Beinfest'' and why team president David Samson is ''Mr. Samson'' when speaking to them. He politely and willingly signs autographs for kids, as he did at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Thursday before heading home to Puerto Rico. He tells bashful youngsters not to be afraid about asking him for his autograph in the future.
''I hope you keep asking,'' he tells one small girl, who apologized for her request.
His father, affectionately known as ''Big Carlos,'' is a hulking presence at more than six feet and 340 pounds. He played amateur basketball, and coached Carlos in his younger days. He is a retired drug and alcohol counselor. He is responsible for turning Carlos, a natural right-handed hitter, into a left-hander, and convincing him to shun volleyball for baseball. His mother is a retired medical lab technician.
Their four children were required to perform household chores, such as washing dishes. There is still no automatic dishwasher in the Delgado family home, though the $68 million contract Carlos received as a Blue Jay -- and his new $52 million deal with the Marlins -- could have paid for one, as well as a mansion in which to live. They have declined those offers.
For that matter, the $90,000 bonus Carlos received from the Blue Jays when they signed the then 16-year-old catcher in 1988 was never spent. The money was deposited in a retirement account and, according to Carlos, continues to draw interest.
''I can only drive one car at a time, so why do I need 10 different cars? I have two. I'm very practical,'' Carlos said.
And he's also meticulous.
He keeps detailed scouting reports on every pitcher he faces, searching for weaknesses that will help him in future at-bats.
''I was one always to figure out why . . . why do this?'' he said. 'If I'm over at the house and see them doing landscaping, I say, `Why are you putting that in there?' It's the same thing with baseball. Why are guys getting me out? Why am I swinging at this? Why are we not playing well? So I try to find a way to fix it. That's my advantage.''
His Extrabases Foundation supports underprivileged and sick children.
''I'm very fortunate,'' he said. ``I'm grateful. I get up every morning. I can walk. I can touch things. I can breathe. I can run around. I do it [donate to charity] because I feel that it is right. I don't do it because people like it, or it looks good.''
Carlos has never married. He has dated Betzaida Garcia for four years. ''He cooks better than me,'' Garcia said, laughing.
Delgado came under scrutiny last summer when it was discovered he refused to stand for the playing of God Bless America during the seventh-inning stretch, a silent show of protest for the coupling of wartime politics and baseball. Teams first began playing God Bless America after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and some have continued to play the song in patriotic response to the Iraq war.
E-MAILS TO SOLDIER
What went unreported were his weekly e-mails to a Puerto Rican soldier serving in Iraq, ones encouraging the Army reservist to ''Stand tall and be proud,'' according to Rodriguez.
''He's very patriotic, and he's very proud to be a Puerto Rican,'' Rodriguez said. ``He wears the Puerto Rican flag on the tongue of his cleats. He always stands up for the American national anthem. He just believes the song was related in the wrong way with the war.''
Delgado is his own man.
''He's a class individual, professional all the way through,'' said Cookie Rojas, a Spanish-language radio broadcaster for the Marlins and a former coach of Delgado with the Blue Jays.
Said Rodriguez: ``That's the way he is. He's legit.''a