Delgado gets back to basics

Delgado gets back to basics

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The gears tick mechanically and methodically inside Carlos Delgado's head, and that's usually a good thing. In a game where players succeed using either brains or brawn, Delgado uses both. And uses both quite well.

Until last year, that is, when one asset began to attack the other. Shortly after Delgado started struggling at the plate, his brain threatened to completely throw his brawn out of whack.

It's not as if the gears stopped ticking. No, quite the opposite. They started turning so quickly and with such fervor that the whole operation began to unhinge. He concocted solutions and boiled up recipes, and in doing so only accelerated his downward spiral. For once, his brain was stumped, and his brawn simply didn't know what to do.

"I wasn't as focused as I needed to be," Delgado said Monday as he reported to camp, the gears again moving as he searched for an answer. "I ended up thinking too much, trying to do too much, trying to fix it too quick, instead of just stopping for a second and making an adjustment."

The result was a season in which Delgado posted the worst overall numbers of his career, prompting questions of whether the once-mighty slugger's career might finally be complete.

"He was good at times," manager Willie Randolph said, "but the Carlos Delgado we all know, I'm sure he's never had a year like that."

He hasn't -- that's fact, not opinion. And he doesn't plan to again.

Delgado described last season as a "roller coaster," though he might have picked a more accurate metaphor. Roller coasters run logically -- what goes up must come down -- whereas Delgado's season more closely mirrored a consistent downward slope. There were positives, to be sure -- a .323 average in July seemed to exorcise his slump, and a .321 mark in September gave him another dash of hope -- but that overall downward trend remained.

And the gears ticked faster as Delgado searched for a solution.

When a veteran such as Delgado falls into a slump, emerging isn't always easy. He knows he's in trouble, so he concocts all sorts of ways to improve. He thinks, and thinks. And eventually, he over-thinks.

"Hitters, they guess a lot, or try to overanalyze," Randolph said. "Well, sometimes they just get in a little rhythm where they don't guess the proper way. He ran the gamut last year of the things that were uncharacteristic of someone of his character."

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What's characteristic of his character is hitting home runs. It's something Delgado didn't do nearly as often as the Mets expected last season, and something he'll need to do this year if the Mets are to live up to their high expectations. He's one of the few players from which the team can hope for marked improvement, tagging him perhaps more critical than anyone to the Mets' ultimate success.

So Delgado went to work this winter, again relying on those gears. He tinkered with his swing, tinkered with his hands, tinkered with his feet. He destroyed his old motion and completely rebuilt it, ensuring that this year's Delgado would be a different sort of player and a different sort of hitter -- or so he quite sincerely hopes.

"I broke it down and started from scratch, like I was learning to hit for the first time," Delgado said. "It was a nice process. It was a nice friendly reminder."

Maybe it will work, and everyone will forget. Delgado certainly hopes so. Yet at 35 years old, Delgado can't be certain that anything will work again. He's at an age when every mistake and every decline seems to be some fatal flaw. When a player is old, common sense and a dash of cynicism are all anyone needs to condemn him to retirement -- surely, that old guy can't recover.

There comes a time, it seems, where baseball folks no longer believe a player can bounce back. And Delgado doesn't quite care.

"I don't have to prove anything," he said.

Perhaps not, but he'd certainly like to. His left hand, fractured on the season's final day, has since healed. His memories, also fractured on the season's final day, haven't.

For that to happen, the Mets will have to win. And for the Mets to win, Delgado will have to produce. Even while the gears keep turning.

"In some ways, these types of moments and situations can sometimes be a blessing of disguise," Randolph said. "It can force you to make adjustments, it can force you to come in with a different type of motivation or a different type of fire in your eyes. That's why I feel really good about Carlos coming in this year."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.