Delgado a leader by example

On and off field, Delgado a leader by example

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Carlos Delgado calls New York "the biggest stage in the world for baseball," and the Mets first baseman can now speak from a first-hand perspective.

Delgado finds it somewhat amusing -- and telling -- that he has committed a lot of time and effort into charitable endeavors over the years and done them in relative anonymity; that is, until he arrived in New York last year and received the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award for such things.

"First of all, you don't do things to get recognition," Delgado said Friday at Mets camp. "You do them because you want to. You do them not expecting anything in return. But over the years we've worked pretty hard to help as many people as we can. When we got to New York, some of the charity part got a little more exposure."

That only made things better for Delgado's Extra Bases Foundation, which funnels money and services to some 20 charities. Donations increased markedly, he said.

After spending 12 seasons in Toronto -- and compiling 336 home runs and 1,058 RBIs -- and a year in Florida, Delgado can now talk about what an eye-opener New York has been for him. He's yet to command the commercial endorsements befitting a player of his accomplishments, but he is hopeful that will occur this year, with a season of significant promise on the horizon.

"You can't even compare New York to Toronto," he said. "Toronto is way smaller. It's not exactly a baseball town. It's more about hockey. In New York, everybody sees the games on television, home and away. Back in Toronto you had to catch the visiting team's broadcast in order to watch most of the games.

"So the people in New York know how you're playing all the time. When you do well, they love you. The same way, when you do bad there is no place to hide."

Delgado handled the increased scrutiny well. He hit just .265, but it came with distinctive production -- 38 home runs and 114 RBIs -- despite playing often with a balky wrist and elbow.

Just as importantly, Delgado's presence behind Carlos Beltran in the lineup helped Beltran rebound from a disappointing first year as a Met. Beltran had 41 home runs, 116 RBIs, scored 127 runs and stole 18 bases.

"I still had to go up there and hit the ball," Beltran said, "but he's one of the guys people respect. Pitchers had to decide whether to pitch to this Carlos or that Carlos, and I felt a lot of times they needed to pitch to me with him there. Any team would love to have Carlos."

Delgado, 34, now is rebounding from offseason surgeries to his right wrist and right elbow. The wrist is fine, with the pinched nerve problem solved. The elbow area needs more strengthening, he said, though he hit a towering home run Tuesday in an intrasquad game.

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"I have to keep working on the strengthening," Delgado said, "just because endurance is the last thing to come. I do a lot of forearm exercises. The idea is to make the muscles around the elbow stronger. It's a good thing. We all need more strength."

For a decade now, Delgado has been keeping a notebook full of information on opposing pitchers, specifically detailing each at-bat. It's helped him and it's to the point now where teammates ask to see it.

"I share the information," he said. "It's not rocket science. There's no secrets in there. But it works for me. Gives me a little more information. At the end of the day you still have to go up there and hit the ball, but it kind of helps you develop a plan, an approach."

As a young player in Toronto, Delgado one day just scribbled down some information about a pitcher and it soon became a habit. "I was looking for some sort of edge, something to help me figure out the game."

Years later, he's not only figured out baseball -- besides his on-field prowess, he's clearly one of the Mets' clubhouse leaders, a thoughtful and articulate spokesman -- he's not bad at the game of life, either.

He generally spends much of the offseason in his native Puerto Rico and is close to his family. In fact, this week he closed on a house for his parents that is about 10 minutes from where he lives there.

A big smile came over his face when he mentioned it.

He's similarly tingly about his wife, Betzaida Garcia, approaching an April 1 projected birth date for their child. He has access to a private plane that will fly him there for the delivery.

"I wouldn't miss it for anything," he said.

Unlike a number of his Mets teammates, he doesn't envision himself playing until he's 40. "I want to be able to take my kids to school," he said.

Outside his family, charitable pursuits consume much of Delgado's time. He tries to help a wide variety of children -- those in the inner-city, handicapped, problem, poor.

"It's kind of humbling," he said. "It makes you appreciate more what you've got. When you complain about something that's so small, and then you see people that are fighting for their life, it makes you feel like you're, well, spoiled. Like, just shut up and go on with your life."

It's an inner moral compass that regularly shines through with Delgado. Perhaps it is one reason that prompted former Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston to say of him, "If you had a son, you'd like him to be like Carlos."

Charlie Nobles is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.