Carlos Delgado isn't your average college freshman.
At 45 years of age and with a physique that suggests he could easily add to his 473 major league home runs if he had a bat in his hands instead of a pencil, Delgado doesn't fit the demographic of the typical bright-eyed first-year student.
"I signed when I was 16, right out of high school, and never went to college. It was something I always wanted to do," Delgado told Blue Jays broadcaster Jim Tarabocchia in an interview during his visit to Dunedin as a roving instructor. Eight years after the conclusion of his big league career, Delgado is studying business at University of Sacred Heart in his home country of Puerto Rico. "I like to challenge myself. In four years when we're having this conversation, hopefully I can say I got my degree."
While he's a student in the classroom, Delgado has become a teacher on the field. As a roving instructor with the Blue Jays, Delgado has become a valued resource for numerous prospects in the Toronto system.
"My title is Special Instructor, but the way I see it, I'm kind of like a mentor slash instructor," Delgado said when asked to describe his current role with the Jays. "I travel in the minor leagues and see the different affiliates all the way up to AAA. I talk to the hitters, work on their approach, try to develop a plan, and I see if there's something that needs to be corrected."
Delgado, who hit 336 homers in a Toronto uniform, the most all-time by a Blue Jays batter, approaches each young hitter he works with differently.
"The most important thing, we want players to own what they have. It's their style. You don't have to be like me. Because, you know what, everybody's different. I don't want anybody telling me that I have to hit this way. It's just how we can figure out how to make you more efficient and a better hitter at the end of the day."
Delgado isn't interested in changing the swings of the prospects he works with, preferring to offer them advice on how to have more success with the tools they already have.
"You see guys with more complicated swings. You've got guys with simpler swings. You have to work with what they give you. At the end of the day, they have to hit the ball. For me, the big thing is putting them in a position where they can get to the hitting position and be ready to hit that fastball."
In an age with advanced technology available that can break down a hitter's swing by fractions of a second, Delgado preaches the basic fundamentals of swinging a bat that can be easily forgotten or overlooked at the professional level.
"Just simple stuff that sometimes we forget along the way. You know, keep your eye on the ball. I know we've been told that since were in little league, but sometimes we get caught up trying to do big guy stuff and forget to look at the ball. At the end of the day, we see the ball and the bat meets the ball. I don't want to oversimplify it, but you've got all this practice, all this repetition, but you want guys to actually do it in a game and execute it."
While he teaches a simple approach to hitting, Delgado openly acknowledges that the game has changed in many ways since he was an up-and-coming prospect himself mashing 30 homers and driving in 100 runs (both still team records) with the Dunedin Blue Jays 25 years ago. With all the changes, however, the act of hitting a baseball remains the same.
"The game has changed over the years. The industry has changed. They've got more stats, more technology. They're trying to make it quicker. But at the end of the day, it's the same game. You gotta throw the ball, somebody is trying to hit the ball, gotta catch the ball. Some of the same lingo in baseball is just the same candy in a different wrapper. Good hitters back then and now get ready, get their hands to the ball, stay to the middle of the field, and swing through the ball."
Being a full-time student and teacher is enough to keep Delgado busy, but education and educating aren't his only endeavors.
"I've got two kids, so I'm a full-time dad. For the last 16 years I've run a non-profit organization in Puerto Rico to help kids. That keeps me busy doing charity work. I'm a freshman in college studying business. And I get involved in the game. I was with the WBC team; I was hitting coach for Team Puerto Rico. That was a fun experience. I help out with the national team home in Puerto Rico when they're getting ready for the tournament."
He pauses to laugh.
"Never a dull moment."
Be sure to listen to Jim Tarabocchia's full interview with Carlos Delgado at this link.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.