I met Carlos Delgado for the first time in 1991 when I was broadcasting games for the Blue Jays’ top farm club in Syracuse and he got promoted from Single-A Myrtle Beach for one game at the end of the season.
He was a 19-year-old catcher and I had a full head of hair.
Nineteen years and approximately $146 million in salary later (for Carlos, not me), our paths have crossed again as the 2-time All-Star attempts to come back from the first serious injury of his career.
“I missed hanging out with the boys and competing – that’s what drives me,” Delgado said. “I have a passion for the game and the day that I don’t, I’ll tip my cap and go. If you don’t have passion, it’s hard to crank it up every day. You need to have that inner desire to go out there and try to out-play the opposition and I still feel that I have that. That’s why I’m still taking five hour bus rides from Pawtucket to Scranton at age 38.”
(photo courtesy of Jessica Kovalcin)
After two surgical procedures on his right hip, Delgado stepped into the batters box on Monday for the first time in 456 days. After taking a pitch, he swung at a curve ball and missed a home run by a few feet when Scranton/WB’s Greg Golson made a leaping catch against the right field wall.
“I didn’t really have butterflies, but I felt a little weird out there,” Delgado said. “This is something that I’ve been doing my whole life, but it’s been awhile since I took the field and played in an organized game.
“You let your abilities take over. I don’t think that’s an indication on whether I’m ready or not, but I like to think this is a little like riding a bicycle – you don’t forget how to do it.”
That’s what the Red Sox are hoping for.
While Delgado isn’t likely to ever hit .344 again (as he did in 2000), or belt 44 HR (as he did in 1999), or drive in 145 runs (as he did in 2003), he could give the Red Sox a left-handed hitting compliment to Mike Lowell at first base as Boston tries to fill the void left by the season-ending injury to Kevin Youkilis.
“When you play for Toronto in the American League East, the Red Sox and Yankees are always beating you up, so it is a little strange to be on the other side,” Delgado said with a laugh. “I wish I was here under different circumstances, but it is what it is, and I’m going to try to take advantage of this opportunity and try to get ready as soon as I can.”
In 17 major league seasons, Delgado has only been to the playoffs once – in 2006 when the Mets lost a 7-game series in the NLCS to the Cardinals. He does, however, have a World Series ring, as he made his big league debut with Toronto in September of 1993 before the Blue Jays won their second straight championship.
“It is a nice thing and I’m not going to try to minimize that by any means, but there is a different taste in your mouth when you actually played and contributed,” Delgado said. “For that ring, I was a September call-up and I didn’t contribute anything. I had one at-bat and one walk in two plate appearances. It is pretty cool and it’s something you can tell your kids and your grandkids about, but it would be a better story if I actually earned it over a long period of time.”
While Delgado hopes to play in a World Series, he also has a statistical goal needing 27 home runs to reach 500 for his career.
“I’m not saying that that is the reason that I’m playing, but when you play as long as I have and get as close as I am to that benchmark, it definitely becomes important,” Delgado said. “But it’s not a life and death situation. I want to come in after my long rehab and see all of the hard work pay off. I spent a lot of days in the clinic after the two surgeries doing rehab and there were a lot of bumps in the road. It is nice to work your way back and make it to the big leagues. From there, if I’m lucky enough to hit 27 more home runs, it would be a great honor and a privilege. But I want to play the game for the right reasons and I respect the game a lot. I want to go out there and have good at-bats and try to win.”
Last year, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote a column making the case that Delgado is a Hall of Famer. I asked Carlos if he agrees.
“If you ask me, I’ll say yes, but I don’t get to vote,” Delgado said. “I guess we’re going to have to wait a few years for that. It’s completely out of my hands, but it would be an honor – I’m not going to lie to you. If I get that call it would be a phenomenal honor and privilege.”
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The PawSox return home on Friday to open a 4-game series against Buffalo. Delgado is likely to be in the lineup on Friday, and Dustin Pedroia is expected to rehab with the PawSox on Saturday and Sunday.
I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage on Friday, beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.
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