NEWPORT NEWS ——At first glance, there's little about Ben Delgado that screams "catcher." He stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 170 pounds, size usually reserved for a middle infielder … or a place-kicker.
Then you see him on the field. He throws out 71 percent of would-be base stealers, so take off at your own risk. You see him block the plate against an opponent who has him by at least 40 pounds. You see him take command of his team in the same manner as Ivan Rodriguez and Johnny Bench — two of his idols.
"The position means a lot to me," said Delgado, in his third year as a starter at Warwick. "You're the quarterback of the team. I know what the position is about, so I know I'm going to get beat up back there and I know I'm going to get dirty.
"But I'm OK with that. I'm a tough guy back there."
Toughness is in his blood. His grandfather, Benigno, came to the United States from Puerto Rico when he was 18. He worked two, sometimes three, jobs to support his family. Then came Benny, Ben's father, who enlisted in the Navy.
The number 7 on Delgado's jersey at Warwick wasn't randomly assigned. It goes back the 1950s, when Mickey Mantle was roaming center field at Yankee Stadium. Benigno loved the Mick, so he wore his number 7.
So did Benny in high school and in a Puerto Rican independent league. And so does Ben now. Next year, hopefully it will go to brother Brandon. And, eventually, down the line to younger brothers Mikey, Matthew, and Joshua. (Maybe even little sister Arianna in softball).
Ben is wearing it well. In addition to handling the pitching staff and spoiling 10 of 14 attempted steals so far, Delgado is batting .436 with an on-base percentage of .523. He's scored 14 runs, more than anyone on the team except lead-off man Jahleel Sewer.
"If he were a little bigger, D-I (recruiters) would be all over him," Raiders coach Todd Barker said. "But he's a little undersized and flying under the radar. Once they get a look at him, people always seem to like him. But you have to see him and see what he's all about.
"He's our leader. He's a very emotional kid, and he's very hard on himself. Sometimes I have to rein him back in because the whole team feeds off him. When he's up, everybody's up. When he's down, a lot of times the other kids fall with him."
Ask Delgado about some of his favorite players, and he provides some obvious answers. He was born in New York and lived there the first nine years of his life, so he loves Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. But in the very next breath, he talks about Bench and Mantle.
And Roberto Clemente, the first Latin American player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"I'm a baseball guy," he said. "I know the stats, I know the older guys, I know the newer guys in the farm systems."
His father loves watching games with him.
"He's like an analyst during the games," Benny said. "I always tell him that could be his career."
Benny is one of Barker's assistant coaches, but his path there took an interesting turn. He was in the Navy, and like most military personnel he missed out on too many birthdays and games. But in 2005, he was diagnosed with degenerative disc and joint disease.
Soon after, he retired from the Navy. He did some substitute teaching and volunteering, and he also became an assistant at Warwick.
"God works in mysterious ways," he said. "I've been here about five years and I love it."
As for his 18-year-old son, who just made the honor roll at Warwick and has a good chance of making All-Peninsula District next month?
"I'm blessed to have him," Benny said. "He's the oldest of six kids, and when it comes to being my brother's keeper, he's a great kid. Sometimes I see him and I remember him, 8 or 9 years old, running around in those flip flop sandals. And now, wow, he's become this mature adult."
NUMBERS: Batting .436 … has scored 14 runs.
FAMILY: Parents, Benny and Kathy. Brothers, Brandon (16), Mikey (14), Matthew (13) and Joshua (8). Sister, Arianna (5).