`Great ride' gone west

Baseball: David Dellucci, whom the Orioles lost in the expansion draft, is flourishing with the Diamondbacks, but he fondly recalls his time at Camden Yards.

April 11, 2001|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

PHOENIX - David Dellucci knows exactly what's missing each time he hears the national anthem before the start of an Arizona Diamondbacks game.

The "O."

"There's nothing like hearing the Baltimore fans say it," said Dellucci, who spent three years in the Orioles organization. "It sent chills down my spine. I still think about it today every time I hear it played."

Dellucci was the Orioles' No. 10 pick in the 1995 draft, the year the team made pitcher Alvie Shepherd its top selection. The outfielder rose quickly through Frederick and Bowie, and was the Double-A Eastern League MVP.

He was called up to Baltimore in May 1997, after Eric Davis became ill and was diagnosed with colon cancer.

"I was a nervous wreck walking into the clubhouse the first day," he recalled. "I hadn't been to spring training with those guys. Then they started to arrive: Jeffrey Hammonds, B.J. [Surhoff], Raffy [Palmiero], Cal [Ripken], Robbie [Alomar]. It was an All-Star team and I was in the middle of it."

But 17 games and six starts later, he was back in Bowie after the Orioles acquired Geronimo Berroa.

"It was still a great ride," he said. "I remember watching Cal in everything he did. I watched Raffy take BP. I studied B.J. on defense."

The Orioles lost Dellucci to the Diamondbacks in the expansion draft that fall along with Esteban Yan and Aaron Ledesma; the team protected Danny Clyburn and Eugene Kingsale.

"It was tough when I got drafted and had to leave. Baltimore is one of the best parks and has some of the best fans in baseball," he said.

But Dellucci, a fan favorite in Camden Yards, has attracted a similar following in Phoenix with his aggressive, take-no-prisoners style of play. He is hitting .467 this season with the Diamondbacks.

After each spring training game this year, he was mobbed by autograph seekers. Section 133 in Bank One Ballpark is filled with fans wearing his No. 25 and cheering every sliding catch, every hit.

Still, Dellucci looks at the Orioles' outfield manned with converted infielders and wonders, "What if?"

"There were rumors after Albert [Belle] went down that they might trade for me," he said. "But it was just a rumor. Camden Yards is an outstanding place, but the closest I'll get now is interleague play."

The last two years with the Diamondbacks have not been easy for Dellucci. Just 63 games into the 1999 season, he was hitting .394, when a wrist injury became too painful to live with.

A rare condition threatened the circulation in his left hand, and surgery was required to keep it from "turning to rubble," said his doctor, who gave him a 70 percent chance of playing again.

Dellucci made a strong comeback last year, hitting .300 in the first 34 games in Triple-A Tucson, but broke his hand on a diving catch. After another stint on the disabled list, he was called up by the Diamondbacks in September and finished the year 7-for-20 as a pinch hitter.

Out of options and with a surplus of left-handed bats and outfielders on the roster, Dellucci found himself on the bubble. The team acknowledged it was shopping him around.

In the end, with Reggie Sanders on the disabled list, he made the cut. At 27, Dellucci is the youngest outfielder on a roster with an average age of 32 years, 16 days - the oldest in the majors.

Instead of learning from veteran Orioles, Dellucci said he's watching Matt Williams, Mark Grace, Steve Finley and Randy Johnson.

However, his favorite memory remains a Baltimore one: a diving catch on the warning track of a ball hit by then-Toronto Blue Jay Shawn Green. It made the "SportsCenter" highlights.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," he said. "I tried not to look at the big screen, but I had to take a peek. That catch put me on the map with fans. They gave me a standing `O.' "

There's that "O" again.

Dellucci file

Born: Oct. 31, 1973

Home: Baton Rouge, La.

Height, weight: 5-10, 180

Position: Right field

Bats/throws: Left/left

MLB debut: June 3, 1997

How acquired: Selected from the Orioles in second round of 1997 expansion draft

Career totals: 210 games, 7 HRs, 72 RBIs, .289 avg.

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