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ATLANTA, U.S.A. – When the Atlanta Braves signed Randall Delgado as a 16-year-old in Las Tablas, Panama, they envisioned a tall, strong and dominating right-hander who would one day be a staple in their starting rotation.
They were right.
Delgado used his fastball to blaze a trail through the minor leagues, where he posted all-star seasons in 2010 and 2011.
Delgado’s journey from Panama reached its pinnacle when the 22-year-old beat out an array of talented prospects, including Colombian Julio Teherán, to earn a spot in the starting rotation to open the season.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder showed why he was ranked the team’s third-best prospect by Baseball America this season. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, highlighted by allowing a run on two hits in 6.1 innings in a victory over Miami on June 6. But he’s also struggled at times, including when he gave up four runs on six hits and was pulled after recording just four outs in a loss to the Boston Red Sox on June 23.
“I started off pitching pretty well,” Delgado said prior to a recent series against the Washington Nationals. “I have made some mistakes and some bad pitches. But everybody here has tried to help me. They tell me I can learn something every time I go to the mound and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
In 16 starts, Delgado is 4-9 with a 4.52 earned-run average. He’s allowed 43 earned runs on 83 hits to go along with 69 strikeouts and 41 walks. He also has been let down, at times, by his teammates’ sloppy defense, which has prolonged innings.
Delgado recently sat down with Infosurhoy.com at Turner Field – the Braves’ home stadium – after he led the team’s youth clinic.
Infosurhoy: What’s it like to achieve your goal of playing in the major leagues?
Delgado: It’s nice. It’s more comfortable than playing in the minors. When you play, you play in front of more people and all that. I had all of that in my mind. But it’s so different. It’s cool to reach the dream you’ve had since you were 5 years old. It’s good to make it here.
Infosurhoy: You signed with the Braves as a teenager. How hard was it to leave Panama and your family?
Delgado: I signed when I was 16, and I was 17 when I started playing professionally because I signed right in the middle of the Dominican Summer League. Then, I had to wait until the next year to play [for the Braves]. I started playing in the Dominican Republic, and I got to the Braves after that season was over. The wait was worth it, but it was tough to leave my family.
Infosurhoy: What was it like being in the U.S. as a teenager? Was it a big shock?
Delgado: The first year, yeah. But you’re doing what you like to do, which is playing baseball. But I missed my family and my mom’s food. You have to handle all of that, being away from them. It can be hard.
Infosurhoy: Did you know English when you arrived in the U.S.?
Delgado: I knew some words from school. I used to see movies in English that I liked. I have been working on it ever since I got here.
Infosurhoy: You speak English well. How did you pick it up so quickly?
Delgado: Just by talking, by asking questions. It helped me a lot to learn it.
Infosurhoy: What’s the best part of living in the United States?
Delgado: I have been a lot of places in professional baseball and I like it here. I like all the food, all the different cultures, everything. I like Atlanta, too. I have just been here a year, but I really like it.
Infosurhoy: How much of a role model to you and others from your country is the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, the game’s all-time saves leader?
Delgado: Everybody likes Mariano. I have followed him since I started playing. He is a big star here and in Panama, obviously. I’ve watched him since I was little. He means a lot to us.
Infosurhoy: Do you think you can be a role model like Mariano Rivera?
Delgado: Oh yeah, I would definitely like that. I would like to try and make good things happen to show the children in Panama. I still return home every year during the offseason.
Infosurhoy: What other players do you look up to from your country?
Delgado: I admire Carlos Lee a lot, and players who have been in the majors for many years, like Ramiro Mendoza and Bruce Chen. They are my role models.
Infosurhoy: How big is baseball in Panama?
Delgado: It is the first sport everyone plays – and everybody likes it, even the children. They start playing at 5 and watch all the games on TV, which has made the game as popular as it is today.
Infosurhoy: Do you host any camps for children when you go home?
Delgado: Yes. I have a camp and I work with all the children who want to play. They’ve got a Little League there and we’ve got one stadium where I live.
Infosurhoy: You were the only Braves player at a recent youth clinic. What do you like about working with children?
Delgado: The fun part is they are kids. They are smiling and laughing all the time. You get to teach them a lot. You talk about whatever they want and they have a lot of questions. They have questions about what you do off the field. As a pitcher, they always want to know your best pitches. They want to know what pitches you throw. I like it a lot. I like it when I can do something that’s positive for children.
Infosurhoy: You can have dinner with four people, dead or alive. Who would you pick?
Delgado: I would say Mariano Rivera and of course, my family. I go a lot of months without eating with them, so it would be nice to eat with them.
Infosurhoy: What’s your most-prized possession?
Delgado: My glove. The first one I used. I also save important baseballs. I’ve got my first strikeout ball saved in my collection. They mean a lot to me.
Infosurhoy: From where do you draw your inspiration?
Delgado: First, I am inspired by my family, followed by people who follow me. They all want me to do well and keep doing better. I play for all of them.
Infosurhoy: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Delgado: I don’t know. I’m just trying to stay healthy so I can play in the major leagues as long as I can.
Infosurhoy: When you’re not in Panama, what do you miss the most?
Delgado: My mom’s food.
Infosurhoy: What’s your favorite meal?
Delgado: I like everything. I like to eat Italian food, like pasta.
Infosurhoy: What’s your mom’s best meal?
Delgado: She cooks me rice and steaks. Whatever she cooks, I love it.