Healthy Delcarmen homed in
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Manny Delcarmen was only trying to live by The Code, the one in which every jock in every sport has been indoctrinated for at least 150 years.
You gotta play hurt.
Sounds great. You gotta play hurt. And so Manny Delcarmen kept pitching, even as his ERA rose dramatically from month to month: April, 0.00; May, 3.00; June, 4.00; July, 4.66; August, 5.25; and, finally, September, 14.14.
People were asking, “What’s wrong with Manny? Why has he no sizzle on his fastball?’’ The answer was simple. Delcarmen’s shoulder was killing him. But he’s no star. He’s replaceable. When you’re replaceable, you really think you need to abide by The Code, and so he said nothing. He played hurt.
When it was all over, and Delcarmen’s 4.53 ERA and 44 strikeout/34 walk 2009 season was in the books, he let it be known that we weren’t looking at the real Manny Delcarmen, the one he likes to think we’ll see this year, now that he’s had an offseason to cure what ailed him.
“I definitely feel strong and healthy,’’ he says. “I feel a lot better than I did at the end of last year; 2009 was a lesson learned for me. I learned they’d rather you go out there and be at your top potential, rather than just trying to muscle it up.
“But it’s the way you’re taught. You know that position players go out there with bumps and bruises all the time, and as a pitcher you feel you need to go out there even if you’re not 100 percent. I kept thinking I could pitch through it.’’
The batters told him otherwise.
Delcarmen is a special Red Sox player, and when you think about it, a special Boston treasure, for no other Red Sox player can say he is playing for his hometown team. He is the only native Bostonian to play for the Red Sox in the last 45 years. Yup, born here, raised here, practically a Hyde Park neighbor of the mayor, West Roxbury High School, Class of 2000.
All these guys grew up wanting to be big league ballplayers, or major league athletes of some sort. But only Manny Delcarmen grew up wanting to play for one team, and one team only: the Boston Red Sox.
“This experience has been unbelievable,’’ he acknowledges, “because growing up, all I wanted to do was play for the Red Sox. When I was in high school, and scouts would come through, I would always say that the team I wanted to play for was the Boston Red Sox.’’
Why Manny, you ask? Why among all those high school kids between Bobby Guindon in the early ’60s and today has Manny Delcarmen been the one and only native Bostonian to make it in the bigs? There have been all kinds of suburbanites — Tony C, Richie Hebner, for starters — but just Manny Delcarmen in the past 45 years coming out of the city.
“My dad, and the way I grew up,’’ he offers.
Manny Delcarmen Sr. was a ballplayer. He had played some minor league ball, and he really never stopped playing.
“He played in all those leagues over 30, he played softball, and everywhere he went, I did too, me and my glove,’’ Delcarmen explains.
Prior to 1965 and the institution of the baseball draft, Delcarmen would have been in control of his own destiny, signing with whom he pleased. But in a draft scenario, there is never a guarantee of anything. Thus it was a nerve-racking day in the Delcarmen household when the 2000 draft went through the first round without a phone call.
The ultimate fantasy, of course, would have been for him to be drafted by the Red Sox in the first round. Manny and his family had to settle for the second-best bit of news, that the Red Sox had taken him in the second round.
It took him into his fifth year of organized baseball to make it up to the big club, and it was a tough journey, punctuated by the infamous “Tommy John surgery’’ for ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction in 2003. There he was, 21 going on 22, worrying whether he would ever have a career. So there’s no problem identifying the low point.
“They kept me down here [Fort Myers] all year to rehab,’’ he recalls. “I couldn’t wait to get out. Even today, when the paperwork comes for spring training, I go, ‘Ooo, no, not Fort Myers again.’
“But the trainers did a great job. They got me in great shape. The whole experience was a big wake-up call for me. I learned how to take care of myself much better. I won’t say it was the best thing that ever happened to me or anything, but it was a real eye-opener.’’
When Delcarmen is right, he is a very effective righthanded setup man. As a one- or, on some occasions, two-inning pitcher, he lives off a mid-90s fastball that makes him just shy of dominating. He has had seasons in which he has been death on righthanded hitters in Fenway (.188 in ’08) and seasons in which he has been among the league leaders in preventing inherited runners from scoring (24.2 percent, or 8 of 33, last year, even with all his struggling). When he’s right, he joins Hideki Okajima as a key bridge between the starters and Jonathan Papelbon.
Delcarmen has been that guy before, and he’s ready to be that guy again.
“I’m working on a few things with [pitching coach] John Farrell,’’ he says. “I’m feeling good and the ball is coming out of my hand well.’’
There is no way he wants to blow this gig.
“Many people say they’d like to live a dream, but I’m doing it,’’ he says. “I play before my family and friends. I live at home. I’m doing what I always wanted to do.’’
In this life, you live and learn. What Manny now knows is that if you’re a pitcher, The Code is a crock.