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Delgado Is Safe At Home…'Bad Boy,' Good Fit

Carlos Delgado Is Safe At Home

By Joe Capozzi

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

February 13, 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Palm Beach Post. All rights reserved.

AGUADILLA, Puerto Rico – Never mind that he's hit 336 home runs and made more than $70 million in 12 seasons as one of baseball's most feared sluggers.

Carlos Delgado III still gets yelled at by his father.

"You're coming up too soon!" Carlos Delgado II barks to his son at first base. A hulk of a man at 6-feet-4, 340 pounds, "Big Carlos" sounds every bit as menacing as he looks while swinging a fungo bat inside Parque Colon.

The weather-beaten stadium is where Little Carlos blossomed into a major-leaguer. Perched 150 feet from an Atlantic coastline of rocky beaches that rise into cliffs, Parque Colon is named after Christopher Columbus, who came ashore nearby in 1493 during his second expedition to the New World.

On the stadium's outside walls, the salty air has chewed away at colorful murals depicting Columbus' arrival and at a plaque explaining how Roberto Clemente, Puerto Rico's greatest baseball hero, took his final swings there at a baseball clinic Dec. 27, 1972, four days before he died in a plane crash.

Inside, Delgado's image smiles at Clemente's on a mural across the left-field wall. But at first base, near a pile of green seats that were ripped out four months ago by Tropical Storm Jeanne, Delgado is not smiling at all.

The Marlins' new first baseman, who signed Jan. 27 after leaving the Toronto Blue Jays, is trying to glove grounders on a field pocked with crab holes, and it isn't easy, especially with Big Carlos getting on his case.

"He's like that every day," Delgado says later, raising his voice above the gentle roar of the Atlantic surf as he walks across the outfield.

" 'You're jumping!' or 'Keep your balance!' or 'Why'd you pull that ball?' Up until three or four years ago he would come up to SkyDome. He sat three or four rows up from the dugout and he'd whistle at me. I'd be like, 'What are you going to tell me now?' But I do appreciate it. He was always there."

Many baseball players spend chunks of their salaries on personal trainers to help them stay sharp in the off-season. Delgado, 32, has been working out here since December with his 60-year-old father. They meet at least three times a week. Big Carlos will whack fungoes or feed balls into a pitching machine.

It's been this way since the father taught the son to hold a bat.

To understand Carlos Delgado III – why he bats left-handed, why he protests the war in Iraq, why he's a multi-millionaire who chooses to live in working-class Aguadilla – one must understand his parents.

Mother Carmen, a retired medical technician, and Carlos II, a retired drug and alcohol counselor, have been married 34 years. They live in the same house where they raised their four children.

Sister Tania, 33, a secretary who collects stray dogs, lives in town. Another sister, Tamara, 28, teaches in New York. Younger brother Yasser, 30, helps run his brother's charitable foundation and lives at home.

Carlos lives 10 minutes from his parents in a three-level, three-bedroom home with a batting cage and two pitching machines. He's building a new home across town on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

"It's not a huge city, but it's me," Delgado says of Aquadilla, which has a population of about 60,000. "This is laid-back. My family's here. I could have a nice, fancy place in a nice city. You can buy that. But you can't buy family, you can't buy friends."

Ever since he signed his first big contract with Toronto, he has offered to build his parents a dream home. Big Carlos and Carmen have refused. They prefer their three-bedroom house, the one with no dishwasher and Yasser's punching bag hanging from the porch ceiling.

The house sits at the end of a cul-de-sac whose entrance is partially blocked by a junk car. It's a working-class neighborhood with no street signs. Visitors are simply told to make the first left past the Wendy's as they drive down the city's main street.

"We've lived here for the last 21 years," says Big Carlos, who is filling out a wicker chair on a front porch of ceramic tile. "We have good neighbors. We're happy."

Neighbors describe how they would see little "Carli" and his father leaving the house with bats and balls. How Delgado visits his parents every day during the off-season when he's in town. Last week, he arrived with shrimp empanadillas or mofongo (a mixture of mashed plantains and seasoned pork) from a street-side vendor near his parents' house.

"This is an extraordinarily united family," says family friend Alfredo Gonzalez, a retired economics professor at the University of Puerto Rico. "There is something that was always striking – (Big) Carlos was always systematic in his training."

When the Marlins signed Delgado to the richest per-season deal in franchise history – a four-year, $52 million contract – they finally got what the team has never had: a legitimate power hitter who bats left-handed.

For that, they can thank Big Carlos.

Becoming a lefty

Delgado throws, writes and eats with his right hand. But as soon as he was big enough to hold a bat, his father taught him to hit from the left side.

"The majority of pitchers are right-handed," Big Carlos says. "So left-handed hitters have an advantage. The best hitters have been left-handed. Rod Carew, Stan Musial. Babe Ruth. Ted Williams. Barry Bonds."

Once Delgado learned to hit left-handed, his father devised drills to prevent the boy from pulling the ball. He would set an empty fruit crate behind second base on a field in the Villanueva housing project and pitch to his son. The balls hit to left field, his father would pick up. Balls pulled to right the son picked up.

"Since he didn't like picking up the balls, he learned to hit to the opposite field," Big Carlos says.

He would paint baseballs, one side black, the other side white, and pitch at night and in the day, forcing Delgado to concentrate on just one half of the ball.

He would put Little Carlos in a swimming pool with water up to his armpits and make him swing a bat through the water and its stiff resistance. He had him swing an aluminum bat against a tire to build up his wrists and forearms. And he had him run sprints on the soft sands of Crashboat Beach to build up his legs.

"It was hard work," Delgado says. "I guess he found a way to make little games out of it and make it fun. But when you're little, who was going to think I'd be in professional baseball, let alone with the Marlins? It just kind of worked out."

By 13, Delgado would always play with boys at least two years older. Two years later, during a youth tournament in Battle Creek, Mich., Big Carlos was startled to hear a voice on the public-address system asking for "the father of Carlos Delgado."

At first he thought his son was in trouble. Then he was greeted by a handful of scouts eager to learn more about the talented 15-year-old catcher. He said the Pittsburgh Pirates eventually offered his son a $70,000 signing bonus. Big Carlos turned it down; he wanted his son to finish high school.

The scout offered to take the Delgados from Battle Creek to Pittsburgh, where Clemente played from 1955 through '72.

"He wanted to take us to Three Rivers Stadium. That was very intriguing because here we're all fans of Roberto Clemente," the elder Delgado says. "But I said, 'We've been here without eating rice and beans for nine days. We're going home to Puerto Rico.' "

In 1988, Delgado chose to sign with Toronto, he says, in part because of the city's Latin community. Delgado, 16, signed for $90,000. The check has never been spent – he deposited it in a retirement account where he says it continues to draw interest. He graduated from high school the following June, two years early, and the Blue Jays began touting him as the next Fred McGriff, only better.

Four years later, Delgado was a rising prospect, tearing up the Florida State League for Toronto's Class A Dunedin team, when he caught the eye of agent David Sloane.

During the 1992 FSL All-Star Game that was played in West Palm Beach, Sloane arranged to meet with Delgado at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens.

Delgado was ready to sign with Sloane. " 'First do me a favor,' " Sloane remembers Delgado telling him. " 'Come to Puerto Rico and meet my parents. I want them to give you their blessing.' "

Last month, Delgado was being courted by the New York Mets, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles. He was in San Juan on Jan. 23 when he thought he had made up his mind to join the Marlins. But first he made the two-hour drive to Aguadilla to spend the night with his parents and discuss his decision to move to South Florida.

"He's 32 years old. He's made a ton of money. He's received accolades for his performance on the field. Yet he still has the respect and affection for his parents to get their blessing," Sloane says.

Life beyond baseball

Delgado spends his spare time traveling with his girlfriend, scuba diving and reading (Brazilian poet/philosopher Paulo Coelho is one of his favorites).

In Toronto, he fell in love with the theater and took his parents to see Les Miserables and Mamma Mia! Big Carlos became a film buff after attending the Toronto Film Festival.

Delgado is unfailingly polite, addressing Marlins officials as "mister."

"One of his best qualities," Big Carlos says, "is that he can manage frustration."

The elder Delgado recalls how his son was able to block out the screams and taunts from fans last year at Yankee Stadium when he refused to stand during the singing of God Bless America.

Delgado's anti-war stance is rooted in Puerto Rico, on the island of Vieques, where the U.S. Navy tested bombs for 60 years. He remembers stories from his father and his friends about the explosions, about residents being diagnosed with cancer.

"I've been involved in that struggle for over 40 years," Big Carlos tells a Florida reporter. "You're afraid of hurricanes; we're afraid of the bombs."

Delgado isn't as politically active as his father, but he conducts his own silent protest when God Bless America is played by not standing at attention.

"They're politicizing the song, they're politicizing the game," he complained to his father after ballparks began playing the song when games resumed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Connecting baseball to 9/11 "was a big lie," Big Carlos says. "It was an act of terrorism that the whole world was against, but it was politicizing baseball and that shouldn't be done. I support him 100 percent, and the family, too."

What wasn't publicized was that Delgado was among the first players to donate money – he gave $100,000 – to the children and widows' fund for New York City firefighters.

And when the son of a close friend was sent to fight in Iraq, Delgado sent the friend e-mails of encouragement.

Delgado isn't nervous about the reaction he will get in Florida, his first U.S.-based home team, when he enacts his protest.

"This is not about politics. This is about baseball," he says. "I just say God bless America, God bless all the countries where there's peace."

Going the distance

Less than two weeks before he is scheduled to report to Jupiter for spring training, Delgado arrives early to Parque Colon. He is leaning on his black pickup when Big Carlos shows up and pulls his bat and a box of balls from the trunk of his car.

Big Carlos is wearing tinted prescription sunglasses and a Marlins cap, and he crosses the street with a slow but graceful stride, literally stopping traffic as drivers slow down to wave.

Father and son walk across the grassy field that stretches to a concrete wall. The park has imposing dimensions – 340 feet to left field, 415 to center and 396 to right.

Delgado has hit plenty of balls over the left-field wall. But no one – not even the great Clemente or Delgado, whose 336 homers rank 17th among active players – has hit a ball over that "396" mark.

"Not once. Not even close," he says. "I bounced a few over. I hit a lot of triples."

He turns his head from left to right field and flashes his trademark smile, which is framed these days in a goatee with distinguished specks of gray.

"This place puts Pro Player Stadium to shame," he says, referring to the recently renamed Dolphins Stadium, the pitcher-friendly home of the Marlins, where the right-field wall is 345 feet away.

Delgado has two home runs in 26 interleague at-bats at the Marlins' home.

"It's going to be a challenge," he says. "But I don't look at the walls. You know they're there. If I do the mechanics right, it's going to work. Hopefully."

Big Carlos isn't worried. All these years of drills have worked, right?

"I don't know," he replies, "but he does have 336 home runs."

'Bad Boy,' Good Fit

Guard Carlos Arroyo emulated former Pistons greats as a youth and followed his dream of playing in the NBA to nondescript FIU, where hard work helped make it a reality.


May 27, 2005
Copyright © 2005 MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

When Carlos Arroyo was a skinny kid in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, who spent most of his spare time playing basketball or watching highlight videotapes of Joe Dumars and the Detroit ''Bad Boys,'' who would have foreseen the day that Arroyo would be a Piston himself?

When Arroyo was a skinny kid at Florida International University who spent most of his spare time in the coach's doghouse, who would have envisioned him as a professional player?

Well, Arroyo, for one. He can't remember a time when he was not certain he would make it to the NBA.

Here he is, just as he dreamed it. Or even better. He is playing for his idol -- Dumars -- on the defending NBA championship team, against the Miami Heat, with at least three games in Miami, the city he now calls home.

To top it off, his wife, former FIU cheerleader Xiomara, is expecting their first child -- a girl -- in August. Daddy might have a diamond ring to show her by then.

''I always had a feeling inside that I wanted to get here,'' Arroyo said. ``When people see something they're not supposed to have, they try harder. But I never thought in a million years it would be this much fun.''

Arroyo is the point guard coach Larry Brown calls off the bench to relieve Chauncey Billups or inject energy. Arroyo gave the Heat problems with his clever passes in the Pistons' 90-81 Game 1 victory. He had a team-high seven assists in 10 minutes. Arroyo was less effective in the Pistons' Game 2 loss, scoring four points in eight minutes as Brown chose to rely more heavily on Lindsey Hunter's defense. But the Heat expects to see more of Arroyo as Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference finals unfold Sunday and Tuesday in Detroit.

''He's creative and fast,'' Dumars said. ``He changes the pace of the game. We hit them with Chauncey and Rip [Richard Hamilton], and then Carlos gets into the game and he's all over the place. He gives us a totally different look. He's the perfect guy for us coming off the bench.''


Arroyo has found a comfortable fit on his fourth team in four NBA seasons. He joined the Pistons in January after a falling out with Utah coach Jerry Sloan, who demoted him to fourth in the guard rotation.

''It was great for me to get out of Utah, which was a tough time for me,'' Arroyo said. ``They never communicated to me why I wasn't playing.''

Dumars and Brown, former guards, went after Arroyo. But Arroyo endured a difficult transition under Brown, who admits he is hypercritical of his floor leaders.

''I've been schooling Carlos,'' Billups said. ``He is a little different from me. He can't take all that Larry says. He has a quicker fuse than I do. I say, `It's OK, just play and don't worry about it.'

'Larry's going to be on you no matter what you do, so you might as well just play. Carlos wouldn't listen to me when he first got here. He was like, `Larry won't let me do this or that.' I said, `He's not going to let you do anything. You just have to do it. ''


Arroyo had a similar rocky start with former FIU coach Shakey Rodriguez, but he won him over, too. He was suspended or disciplined a few times by Rodriguez for falling behind academically or being tardy. During his junior year, he was suspended for eight games after punching a student manager.

''It was an argument that turned heated -- not an assault,'' said Rodriguez, now coaching at Krop High School. ``I was asked to throw him out of the university, but I knew he was a good kid who meant well.''

Today, Arroyo credits Rodriguez and Donnie Marsh, who was his coach during his senior year, for preventing him from wasting his talent.

''I would take a couple things back if I could,'' Arroyo said. ``I don't feel any of that hurt me because it was part of growing pains.''

Rodriguez originally went to Puerto Rico to recruit a different player, ''but everybody kept telling me the best player on the island was Carlos Arroyo,'' Rodriguez recalled. ``So I stayed an extra day, and when I saw him I knew if the major schools found out about him we wouldn't have a chance.''

Arroyo and his twin brother, Alberto, were taught the game by their father, who is a lawyer in Fajardo. Arroyo used to study the NBA tapes his father bought for him, and he loved to pretend he was Dumars or Isiah Thomas.

Arroyo was signed early.

''Later, when the bigger schools got wind of him, they'd ask him why he signed with FIU because no one had heard of it,'' Rodriguez said. 'Carlos would say, `They will once I play there.' ''

FIU had moderate success during the Arroyo era. His teammate, Raja Bell, also made it to the NBA; he plays for Utah. But usually Arroyo was playing in front of a couple hundred spectators at Golden Panther Arena.


He has been on much bigger stages since. He's a national hero in basketball-mad Puerto Rico after scoring 24 points and dishing seven assists in a 92-73 upset of the Brown-coached U.S. team at the Athens Olympics last summer. He also scored 23 points to lead Puerto Rico to a 76-70 win against the U.S. at the 2002 Pan Am Games. He is the fifth Puerto Rican to play in the NBA. He has Puerto Rico's flag sewn into the tongues of his shoes.

''I'd like to get a beach house there, but everybody is in my business back home,'' he said. ``That's why I enjoy living in Miami. I feel like I'm home, and I have my privacy.''

Art ''Pilin'' Alvarez, coach of Nike's Miami Tropics, said University of Miami star and Puerto Rico native Guillermo Diaz came here 'because he wanted to follow in Carlos' footsteps. He saw how Carlos made a name for himself. And Carlos did it with hard work. I remember on the night before his wedding he was practicing until 2 a.m.''

Arroyo was undrafted out of FIU and bounced from the Toronto Raptors to Spain to the Denver Nuggets before averaging 12.6 points for Utah and signing a multiyear contract. After things went sour with Sloan, he was relieved to land in Detroit.

''I am where I want to be,'' Arroyo said. ``But I know I've got to keep proving myself.''


Herald sports writer Stephen F. Holder contributed to this report.

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