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Crasnick: Big Fish


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JUPITER, Fla. ? Carlos Delgado probably figured he was below the radar in Toronto, banging out 30 homers and 100 RBI in a bad year, but word spreads quickly in the information age. If you smack enough fly balls off SkyDome restaurant windows to make the waiters nervous, the impact is bound to reverberate all the way to, say, Dade County.

 

When Delgado signed a four-year, $52 million contract with Florida in January, he brought the type of credibility that comes with two All-Star Game appearances and 336 very big flies. "He's our Jim Thome, our Manny Ramirez," said Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell.

 

A select few players have the strength and bat speed to hit a ball less than square and still send it to the vertigo regions of a park. They possess a brand of power that impresses major leaguers who aren't easily awed.

 

"I know every time I hit a home run, I hit the ball perfect, because I don't have that type of power," Lowell said. "But you see balls in batting practice where Carlos just reaches out and it's off the top of the wall in left center. And you say, 'Are you kidding me?' "

 

A lot of teams made momentous acquisitions over the winter. Randy Johnson gives the Yankees reason to think that things will be different this October. Tim Hudson looks great in a Braves uniform, and Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez alter the dynamics with the Mets. But no single player fills a crying need more succinctly than Delgado, who gives the Marlins instant lineup balance and desperately-needed pop from the left side.

 

Florida has won two World Championships since 1997 without a left-handed masher. In 1997, Bobby Bonilla hit 11 of his 17 homers from the left side, and that was that. In 2003, the Marlins didn't have a lefty hitter in double figures in home runs. If opponents kept Dontrelle Willis in the park, they were pretty much safe.

 

Late last season, manager Jack McKeon ran out a lineup with lefty Juan Pierre and switch-hitter Luis Castillo at the top, followed by righties Paul Lo Duca, Miguel Cabrera, Lowell, Jeff Conine, Juan Encarnacion and Alex Gonzalez in varying order. "The lefty in the other team's pen could take three days off,'' Lowell said.

 

Discount the Cliff Floyd glory years, and Hee Seop Choi's 15 homers last season qualify as the most ever by a left-handed batter in franchise history. When a franchise longs for the days of Orestes Destrade, you know it has issues.

 

? I know every time I hit a home run, I hit the ball perfect, because I don't have that type of power. But you see balls in batting practice where Carlos just reaches out and it's off the top of the wall in left center. And you say, 'Are you kidding me?'?

? Marlins 3B Mike Lowell on Carlos Delgado

Dolphins Stadium (formerly Pro Player) is known as a place where long fly balls go to die because of its heavy, stagnant air and spacious dimensions. Among National League parks, only San Francisco's Pac Bell was less generous in yielding home runs during 2002-2004.

 

While Delgado might have been spoiled by 11 seasons in SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre), he knows what it means to play in cavernous environs. His old park in Aguadilla, his hometown in Puerto Rico, measured 396 feet down the right-field line and 440 to straightaway center ? so far that a ball couldn't clear the fence unless it had "Titleist'' stamped on it.

 

"The moment I start thinking about home runs, home runs, home runs, I get in trouble,'' Delgado said. "I consider myself a gap-to-gap kind of guy. If I hit the ball hard and it goes in the gap, I'll take a double. There's nothing wrong with that.''

 

If this were a wistful, old-time baseball story, Delgado would have remained in Toronto, working with charities, hitting his 500th career homer in a Blue Jays uniform and smiling his effervescent smile all the way into the Hall of Fame. But single-team lifers are virtually extinct these days, and he was destined to depart.

 

Seattle, Baltimore, Anaheim, Texas and the Mets all expressed interest in Delgado when he filed for free agency last winter. But the Rangers and Angels wanted him as a DH ? a prospect he didn't find appealing ? and the Mariners jumped to sign Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre rather than wait for the process to play out with Delgado.

 

The Mets' courtship of Delgado had the inevitable soap-opera feel. There were questions about whether Al Leiter bad-mouthed New York to recruit Delgado for the Marlins, and David Sloane, Delgado's ultra-quotable agent, didn't exactly hit it off with the Mets brass or the New York media. Sloane sent out daily e-mail updates to the press, and kept on sending them until one New York writer referred to him as "publicity addicted.''

 

Delgado is such an approachable star, so outwardly easygoing, it's hard to envision him landing in the middle of controversy. But he fell into a big one last year when he refused to stand for the playing of "God Bless America'' during the seventh inning stretch because of opposition to the war in Iraq.

 

At the general managers meetings in Arizona in November, 10 of 15 executives surveyed said they thought Delgado was a better sign than Sexson. But one club official cited Delgado's anti-war stance as a strike against him. "Frankly, I don't care for Delgado's politics,'' the executive said.

 

Delgado's mindset was forged, in part, by watching the devastation and environmental damage that resulted from six decades of bombing exercises by the U.S. Navy on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. Delgado has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to aid in the cleanup.

 

"It's a little island off the coast of Puerto Rico with 9,000 people, so who cares?'' Delgado said. "But I'm Puerto Rican and we've seen the people there get hurt, the economy get hurt, people with diseases that people on the main island don't get. If it looks like [expletive] and smells like [expletive], it's probably [expletive].''

 

Delgado's principal misgiving, in speaking his mind about the war in Iraq, is that soldiers and their families might have taken his stance as a personal affront.

 

"The only thing that makes the headlines is the controversial,'' Delgado said. "I never said I had anything against the soldiers or the military. All I said was, I'm not in favor of this war in particular. I have the utmost respect for the troops, and I feel the biggest sympathy for families who lost loved ones during this war. But it's hard to explain your point of view to every single person.''

 

Delgado landed in the middle of another mini-flap recently when he told a Toronto paper that he was turned off by Mets general manager Omar Minaya's appeal to his Latin heritage in an attempt to woo him to New York. During a game in Port St. Lucie on Saturday, a pro-Mets crowd booed Delgado from the moment he appeared in the on-deck circle. Now he knows what to expect when the Marlins visit Shea Stadium this summer.

 

"That's New York,'' Delgado said. "They're passionate about everything they do, and I have to respect that. You gotta love it.''

 

Then again, as Barry Bonds so eloquently put it recently, you have to be a pretty good player to make 50,000 people stand en masse to tell you that you stink.

 

With his civic-mindedness and flair for 450-foot homers, Delgado has the potential to be a gate attraction in Miami. He recently bought a place in south Florida, and he plans to eventually seek out some local charities to embrace. But first things first.

 

"I have to play baseball, and that's going to take a lot of my time,'' Delgado said. "If I hit .220, nobody in the city will want me to do anything, anyway.''

 

Fat chance that will happen. If Delgado fits in south Florida the way he fits in the Marlins' batting order, he'll be right at home.

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Nice article. Are you allowed to post espn-insider articles on this forum? Just asking, because I've been on other forums that do not let you post premium (paid for) information. Usually the rules are to post a link - and if you're a premium member (like espn insiders) you can read it.

 

Anyway, if you haven't guessed by my username - I lOVE Delgado, and I think his signing was HUGE for the Marlins.

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