The Statue of Liberty is thousands of miles and one time zone away, but the epitome of what that landmark stands for can be found a lot closer.
Roberto Delgado came to Killeen after his family relocated from Puerto Rico. He didn’t speak a word of English and struggled to find his way.
But baseball was his niche and after overcoming a language barrier and some rough patches while adjusting to life in Texas, Delgado will move to his second state in the union as a member of the New Mexico Junior College Thunderbirds.
“We left everything we had down there,” Delgado said. “Family, everything, we were here by ourselves. I let everything out on the field to keep my mind off everything. It made me really hungry and I kept working and working. Just trying to make it somewhere.”
Delgado just completed his senior year with the Grey Wolves. As a pitcher, he held opponents to a 2.01 ERA, struck out 80 batters and had two saves. He also was a solid infielder who led his team with 14 RBIs, hit .297, had seven doubles and a homer.
“Roberto has been really dedicated and worked hard,” Shoemaker head coach Harry Zambrana said. “He didn’t know the language, but everybody saw how hard he worked and it got contagious and helped in our successful year last year.”
Rounding the bases
While his journey through baseball hasn’t finished, it’s taken a lot of work to get to this point.
Delgado came to Killeen before the
2011-12 school year, his sophomore year, with his mother, step-father and younger sister to search for better opportunities.
Relocating in general is difficult for many teens, but Delgado had to adjust to a whole new culture without even knowing the language.
“I was trying to get along with this new life, adjusting from where I used to live and it was really hard,” Delgado said.
There are no school-affiliated teams in Puerto Rico so when Delgado was on campus, he found some comfort on the diamond with the game he’s been playing since he was three-years-old.
But even that came with some knuckleballs.
Zambrana helped Delgado in the long run by forcing him to figuratively stand in there and face some heat in the short term.
“Honestly, I learned how to speak English on the field,” Delgado said, while pointing at Zambrana. “This man right here didn’t let me speak Spanish and so I did it. I had to speak to the guys and I had to communicate either way so that was the only way I could learn.”
Zambrana was also Delgado’s sophomore geometry teacher.
“He had me all day long and that’s just the way he responds,” Zambrana said. “He doesn’t respond to the babying and we knew with his character and his makeup, in order to get him to do things we wanted him to do, you had to demand it out of him.”
Zambrana credited Delgado with having the maturity to not take anything personally and understanding the big picture.
But that wasn’t the end of his struggles.
A trip to the mound
Delgado was in the process of overcoming a lot on the field, but the effects of the relocation also showed up in the classroom.
But one of the turning points in Delgado’s prep career took place in the fall of his sophomore year during a conversation with Zambrana.
“We had a heart-to-heart conversation about where he wants to go in life and his grades,” Zambrana said. “The light bulb just turned on, and there was no looking back from there.”
During the conversation, Delgado told Zambrana that he wanted to go to college. With that, Delgado put on his rally cap and didn’t let anything get in his way.
He started hitting the books harder, missed baseball practice only to attend tutorials and broke out of his classroom slump.
That approach led to a breakout junior season in which he went 7-1 with a 2.50 ERA and struck out 63 batters on the mound while hitting .392 with 24 RBIs and six doubles.
Delgado helped Shoemaker win a three-team playoff with Ellison and Killeen to make the playoffs for the first time since the school opened in 2000. The Grey Wolves went 16-12 in 2013 and faced Midlothian in the bi-district round.
“I got more familiar with life over here,” Delgado said. “I got used to it, I could handle it.”
T-Bird takes flight
Delgado’s dream came true last month when he was one of 12 athletes to make their college commitments official during a Shoemaker High School signing ceremony at the school’s gym.
During the two-hour long ceremony, Delgado, Zambrana and his family spoke in front of teammates, classmates and faculty and talked about his struggles in the new country and how he was able to turn things around.
“I think he’s a role model for a lot of those guys that come over from different countries and don’t speak a lot of English and struggle,” Zambrana said. “He never used his language barrier as an excuse and it never affected him. He had a goal in mind and he was going to make sure he attained that goal.”
NMJC is an National Junior College Athletic Association school in Hobbs, N.M. that has had more than 100 former players drafted by MLB teams since 1990.
Delgado said he looks forward to the challenge of NJCAA play and hopes a degree in sports medicine will lead to a career in athletics.
In addition to his talent, the Thunderbirds will get a resilient player to say the least who is living an American dream.
“I do see it like that,” Delgado said. “We lost everything that we had in Puerto Rico, we started broke and with me doing great things in the field, I’m trying to get everything for my family.”