It was a scene from an earlier, simpler time, before the onslaught of cell phones, pagers and wide-screen, high-definition television. The Padres, a longtime entry in the Boston Park League, and in a scramble for the BPL’s two remaining playoff spots, had just emerged with a 6-3 victory over Cannon Club at Hyde Park’s Ross Field, but now the players, instead of celebrating their victory, were milling together in the parking lot, glued to their car radios, hanging on every word that barked from various speakers.
Incredible. People, standing together, focused, alert, listening to the radio. This is how folks heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Kennedy assassinations.
But in 2005, when and why do people hunker over … a radio? For these guys, the answer was simple: Manny Delcarmen, a product of Hyde Park, whose family’s house is just a few blocks from Ross Field, was making his major league debut with the Boston Red Sox.
“We had heard he had been called up by the Red Sox,” said Brandon Cody, a Padres infielder and a 2004 graduate of Amherst College. “And late in our game, we heard he was warming up. Manny Delcarmen was warming up for the Red Sox! It was unbelievable.
“When our game ended, we all went to our cars and turned our radios on. When they said Manny’s coming in to pitch, the place just erupted.”
“Nobody could move,” said Nelfi Morales, a veteran Padres infielder. “It was, like, ‘Wow, that little kid is pitching for the Red Sox.’ It was just awesome.”
It’s not unusual for the Red Sox to reach into their minor league system and bring a fresh arm to the big leagues. In 1995, the last year the Red Sox finished in first place in the American League, then-general manager Dan Duquette paraded 26 different pitchers in and out of Fenway Park.
But the news that Manny Delcarmen had joined the Red Sox was different, in a shocking, numbing and breathtakingly exciting way.
Local role model
Manny Delcarmen is local. Born right here in Boston. He spent his early years in Jamaica Plain, and his teen years in Hyde Park. He is a graduate of West Roxbury High School. And while many Red Sox players would be lost if they ventured two blocks south of Newbury Street, Delcarmen has a weathered cab driver’s knowledge of the city. As recently as one week ago, when he was still pitching for Triple-A Pawtucket, Delcarmen showed up at Dorchester’s Casey Field to watch the Boston Park League’s Carlson Club, whose roster includes his young brother, Eddie, as well as a number of ex-teammates from his West Roxbury High days.
“He was sitting right over there,” said Carlson Club’s Jose Diaz, one of Delcarmen’s closest friends as well as his catcher at West Roxbury High. “He was showing up all the time when Pawtucket wasn’t playing. It wasn’t any big deal to him. He wanted to be with his friends.”
If he turns out to be a success with the Red Sox – and he worked a 1-2-3 inning of relief against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in his debut on Tuesday – Delcarmen is going to have more friends than he thought imaginable. Once little more than a likeable kid from Hyde Park whose baseball talents caught the attention of the Red Sox, Delcarmen is now a symbol of pride in Boston’s many neighborhoods.
A son of Dominican-born parents, Delcarmen is a product of the city. Now, he is being looked upon as the prince of the city.
“Manny has realized his dream, but he’s also realizing all of our dreams,” said Victor Ortiz, a youth development specialist in Worcester who grew up in Dorchester. “I remember years ago, playing catch with this energetic little kid. Now you turn on the TV and he’s with the Red Sox.
“I think it’s still just sinking in with a lot of people.”
Ortiz, who has written about sports for local weekly newspapers, along with carving out a niche as a regular caller to sports radio WEEI – he’s perhaps better known as Victor “I Told You So” from Boston – isn’t so much interested in how Delcarmen’s success will help the Red Sox, but, rather, how it will help Boston’s kids.
“If Manny makes it with the Red Sox,” Ortiz said, “just think of all the 12-year-old kids who are going to want to be like him.”
Pressure at home
The Red Sox have had their share of Massachusetts natives over the years, most recently Framingham’s Lou Merloni. In 1964, Tony Conigliaro, raised in Revere and Swampscott and a graduate of St. Mary’s High in Lynn, famously debuted for the Sox, hitting a home run the first time he stepped to the plate at Fenway Park. By the time he was 22 years old, he had already hit 100 career home runs.
But the postcard-perfect story – local boy makes good with Red Sox – came with a price.
“You know how it is in Boston,” said Billy Conigliaro, Tony’s younger brother, who himself debuted with the Sox in 1969. “It can be a tough town to play in, and I believe even tougher when you’re from here. The first time I ever played at Fenway, I looked up and saw my high school coach in the stands. It puts a little pressure on you, because you don’t want to fail in front of the people who care about you.
“Tony got picked off second (base) in this one game, and then I got picked off first,” Conigliaro said. “The next day, there was this headline that said the Conigliaros should take a course in family baserunning. I didn’t blame the paper. They’re just bringing color to their coverage. But you get a little embarrassed, because your friends are reading that stuff.”
Does Conigliaro have any advice for Delcarmen?
“Yeah, don’t hang around with Manny Ramirez,” said Conigliaro. “And I mean that. Hang around with the wrong guys, guys who don’t care, and you develop bad habits. Also, pace yourself. People would talk about Tony’s nightlife and all that, but, believe me, he got his sleep. And he took excellent care of himself.”
Rather than being a burden, Delcarmen’s friends seem more like a support system. Note that seeks out, that he still shows up at Casey Field and other Boston Park League venues, where he excelled while pitching briefly for BPL entry Mass. Envelope in 2000, before signing with the Red Sox as a second-round draft pick.
“I’ve known him all my life, and when we were kids we always said we were going to play for the Red Sox some day,” said Diaz, who was with Delcarmen the night he was called up. “People are going to say, ‘Oh, he’ll change now. He’ll want to have fun.’ Well, Manny’s always had fun. I bet he’ll be the same guy he’s always been.”
It helps that Delcarmen grew up in a baseball environment. His father, Manual “Cookie” Delcarmen, played some minor league baseball back in the day, and later, starred for a local softball juggernaut called the Red Hats.
“Manny was taught by his father to respect baseball,” said Jose Diaz Sr., one of Cookie Delcarmen’s oldest friends as well as a former teammate on the Red Hats. “Manny has always lived to play baseball, so the mound is his home. He’ll be comfortable there, even if it’s Fenway Park with all those people watching.
“I talked to him on the phone when he got called up. I told him, ‘You’ll be so nervous you’ll have diarrhea.’ That’s our little joke. And he may have been a little nervous that first time on the mound, but that will go away.”
The scouting report
Five years ago, Dorian Rojas was standing at shortstop at West Roxbury High as the game was about to begin, Manny Delcarmen on the mound. As Delcarmen kicked into his delivery, a platoon of scouts behind the backstop directed their radar guns at the young pitcher.
“We had seen scouts before,” said Rojas, who now plays at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn. “But this was different. The scouts were everywhere, and I almost jumped out of my shoes. But it didn’t bother Manny. That’s why I think he’ll be a success with the Red Sox.”
As Rojas spoke, Carlson Club’s game against the Padres had just been postponed because two of the light towers at Casey Field were not working. Rojas and his teammates began collecting their gear to return home, but there was a universal belief at Casey Field on this night: Now that Manny Delcarmen has emerged from Boston’s neighborhoods to play for the Red Sox, perhaps the city will do a better job taking care of its athletic facilities.
“You don’t realize how easy it is for these kids to just give up and stop playing,” said Josue Feliciano, a player-coach on Carlson Club. “For a lot of kids, if you’re not playing baseball, you’re on the streets.”
Ed Neal, who coaches the Padres, and is also head coach at Roxbury Community College, put it this way: “Everyone’s going to want to be the next Manny Delcarmen. The best way to make that happen is to have better ballparks.”
Copyright © 2005 Boston Herald, all rights reserved. Written by Steve Buckley, and reposted with his permission.