Last June, Pete Delkus finally made it to the big leagues.
After 10 years with Cincinnati's ABC affiliate, the 40-year-old TV weatherman was offered a position with Dallas-Fort Worth's WFAA. This transition was a significant one: Cincinnati is the 33rd-largest media market in the country, while Dallas Fort-Worth is the seventh.
Delkus can now be considered one of the elite weathermen in the country, an unqualified success in the highly competitive television industry. But the path he took to meteorological stardom was a highly unorthodox one, a result of some fortunate connections he made while pursuing his childhood dream of pitching in the Major Leagues.
"Like most kids, I dreamt of being a Major Leaguer," said Delkus, who grew up in Illinois. "I wanted to be a ballplayer; it was the only thing I wanted to do. I would draw a strike zone on the wall and imagine that I was Tom Seaver, trying to get out Johnny Bench or Pete Rose in the World Series."
Delkus' fixation on baseball success paid off. In his senior year of high school, he was MVP of the state tournament. Upon graduating, Delkus enrolled at Division II Southern Illinois University, where he made an indelible impression. His 26 victories set a school record, and he ranks in the all-time top 10 in both strikeouts and innings pitched. In recognition of his four years of dominance, Delkus was inducted into SIU's Hall of Fame in 2005.
Despite his collegiate accomplishments, Delkus was overlooked in the 1987 first-year player draft. This was especially disappointing, as he had assumed that the nearby St. Louis Cardinals were interested in selecting him.
"I thought I'd get drafted," he recalled. "I figured that at least the Cardinals would recognize me. When they didn't, it bothered me. I didn't understand how it works."
However, the father of one of Delkus' SIU teammates was Del Wilber, who had once managed in the Minnesota Twins organization. Wilber got in touch with Twins Minor League Coordinator Jim Rantz, and as a favor they signed Delkus as a non-drafted free agent. He was then assigned to the Twins rookie-level team in Elizabethton, Tennessee.
Rookie League batsmen were no match for Delkus and his nasty side-arm delivery. Pitching in a relief role, Delkus allowed just five earned runs over 37 2/3 innings pitched in '87. He struck out 44 batters and walked seven en route to accumulating eight saves. And, perhaps most satisfyingly, he pitched well against the Johnson City Cardinals.
"It was always nice to beat the Cardinals," said Delkus. "They apparently didn't have faith in my arm, but I wanted to prove to them that it's about what's on top of your shoulders."
Delkus spent 1988 with the Kenosha Twins of the Class A Midwest League, where he put together a spectacular season that put him on the map as one of the top prospects in the Twins organization. Over 61 appearances spanning 68 innings, the right-hander allowed just two earned runs -- good for a microscopic 0.26 ERA. In fact, he didn't even allow a run until August, a feat that was recognized above and beyond the world of Minor League Baseball.
"Harry Caray mentioned my name during a Cubs game -- that was one of the coolest things that had happened to me up to that point," Delkus said. "It was just a special season. I was named the Twins' Minor League Player of the Year and the Midwest League's Rolaids Relief Man of the Year."
The Kenosha Twins had a rookie manager in 1988 -- current Minnesota skipper Ron Gardenhire.
"Gardenhire was the best manager I ever played for," said Delkus. "I enjoyed his style, his honesty, integrity and ability to relate to the players. Teams just play well for him. Gardy is a special kind of person."
In 1989, Gardenhire and his star reliever both earned a promotion to the Orlando Twins of the Double-A Southern League. Delkus appeared in 76 games and tossed 139 2/3 innings, both career highs. His 1.87 ERA led the league, and he walked just 28 batters.
Delkus continued his climb up the Minor League ladder in 1990, this time appearing with the Portland Beavers of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. While his 65 appearances led the league, he did not dominate opposing hitters as he had in the past. His ERA shot up to 4.18, and he only struck out 35 batters in 90 innings of work. Still, Delkus was on the cusp of the Major Leagues and figured he had a shot to make it in 1991.
Instead, he suffered through an injury-plagued campaign and ended up spending most of the year back in Orlando. As former teammates such as Scott Erickson and Mark Guthrie celebrated the Minnesota Twins' improbable World Series victory, Delkus was left to wonder if he would ever make it to The Show.
He wouldn't. During Spring Training in 1992, Delkus blew out his elbow.
"I think that was God's way of telling me my baseball career was over," he recalled.
But a new career was ready to begin: TV weatherman.
"I always had figured I'd be a sportscaster after my playing career," said Delkus. "A few years before I had met some of the sports guys from WFTV in Orlando. I got in touch with them and started working at the station as a sports intern. At the end of the year, the news director asked me to fill in and do a weekend weather slot. I did it one Saturday, one Sunday, and on Monday I was offered a job as a weatherman."
It's a story that seems almost too good to be true. The only stipulation was that Delkus would have to go back to school to get professional certification, which he was more than willing to do.
"For credibility with the public, you have to know what you're talking about," Delkus said.
After four years at WFTV, Delkus accepted a job with WCPO in Cincinnati. It was there that one of the defining moments of his career took place. Anticipating a deadly tornado that was heading toward the region, Delkus spent the night at the station. Therefore, he was the only TV meteorologist on the air when the storm hit at 4 a.m. His ensuing coverage of the terrifying twister established his reputation as a trusted and dedicated weatherman. Delkus considered it all part of the job.
"It's just the way I was raised, and something that baseball reinforced," he said. "Nothing is easy, you have to work for everything. So, with that mentality, my thought was 'This is just TV.' If you work hard, that's part of the job. There are so many parallels between TV and baseball; it really helped me become who I am."
Delkus' nine years at WCPO were an overwhelming success. But Cincinnati is a small-market town, and he had always wanted to work in a Top 10 market. When Dallas-Fort Worth's WFAA offered Delkus a position, he didn't have to think twice.
"People in the business know WFAA," he said. "It's one of the most recognized stations in the country, and it's an honor to work here."
Between his work schedule and the desire to spend as much time with his family as possible, Delkus doesn't follow baseball like he used to. Still, he's always interested in how the Twins are doing.
"I've got nothing but the best memories of the Twins," he said. "Not all organizations are like them. First of all, they are good people. They really took care of us. I feel a level of loyalty to them and will always root for them."
So what's his forecast for 2006?
"The Twins are going to be competitive; it's only a matter of time before they make it to the playoffs. A lot of it's because of Gardenhire. I know what kind of man he is and what kind of manager. They're going to contend this year."