THUNDER BAY, Ontario, Canada—As Team USA heads into its fifth game of the World Baseball Softball Confederation's U18 World Cup against Cuba, the matchup brings a bit more meaning for one of its players.
Switch-hitting utilityman Raynel Delgado was born in Cuba and left the island with his mother, Yanely Pinero—who was granted release for her prowess in practicing internal medicine—when he was just seven years old. From there, they met his mother's parents in Miami, where he has lived for the past decade.
"It was only me and my mom down there," Delgado said. "She's a doctor, and we came over her when she got her release, and she brought me with her. She's still a doctor here . . . All I remember from Cuba was fun. It was a fun time in my life, because I was young, and all I knew was just going out there and playing with my friends."
The 17-year-old, now living in Miami Lakes, Fla., didn't pick up a baseball until leaving his home country. He started in T-ball just after coming to the States and from there, he joined the Florida Travel Baseball program as he got older and better. And even though he never played in Cuba, Delgado believes he still plays with a hint of Cuban flair.
"The style of baseball I play is from Cuba and from the Latin world," Delgado said. "Because in Miami I work with guys who are from Cuba, and so their teachings are passed on to me—basically I play with a Cuban style."
Beyond the showcase circuit this summer, and without an invite to the Tournament of Stars, Delgado was given the chance to secure his spot—the last available—at USA Baseball's trials ahead of the World Cup when he displayed skill and an outstanding presence at the National Team Development Program.
"He impressed us at NTDP with his demeanor and his team attitude, and then he played really well too," said Matt Blood, Team USA's 18U director. "He showed us he could play a lot of different positions: the infield and even the outfield. When we first talked to him at NTDP, he wanted to make the trials, and I said, 'We only have one spot right now, and it's an outfield spot.'
“He said, 'Well get me an outfielder's glove and from now on, I'm an outfielder,' and he played in left field."
Added Delgado: "There was one spot open, and Matt called me, and I ended up making it from the NTDP. It was very exciting. Just to represent this country, it's amazing. I feel like I'm 99 percent from America, because I didn't grow up here, but more than half of my life was spent here."
Solidifying his place in Team USA's World Cup lineup at the trials in Minnesota, Delgado has continued to bring each of the assets that made an early impression with him to the games in Thunder Bay.
"His attitude and commitment at that point really impressed us, but he also hit really well and showed us he could play some outfield," Blood said. "We knew he was a good defender on the infield, and he worked out on the infield, but during the games he played left field.
"We were impressed by the way he carried himself and the way he played. We brought him to trials, not sure if he'd make the team or not, and he played great at trials and he's been one of our most productive hitters on the team so far."
Added Andy Stankiewicz, Team USA's manager: "He's done a great job. He went to the NTDP and he showed himself really well. He got an opportunity to get to the trials, and he's taken full advantage of his opportunity. He's a switch-hitter, he can play the infield and some outfield as well, so he gives us some versatility, which you really need on that 20-man roster."
Through four wins for Team USA, Delgado has two doubles, four walks, and three runs scored, and couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity to wear the red, white and blue on the world stage.
"This is incredible," he said. "It's just amazing. (Tuesday) we expect a much harder game than against South Africa. (Monday) we were just kind of going through the motions and nobody was really feeling it, but we expect a lot more from Cuba . . . It's going to be a fun game.
“I want to bury them into the ground. I don't know why, but I just do. My parents are going to be watching from Miami and my mom wants us to win. She obviously still has family back there in Cuba, and so do I, but we're all USA right now."