Delino DeShields has a Delaware-sized chip on his shoulder. Throughout his 12 years in the majors the Cubs second baseman has told anyone who'll listen that his home state—land of, uhhm, several rest stops—is where it's at.
Like many Delawareans, DeShields has taken part in the following dialogue too many times to count:
Q: Where are you from?
Q: Oh! I drove through there once. Disrespect for the First State is part of what drives DeShields, who likes to think of himself as the defender of his native turf. "My goal has always been to shed some light on Delaware," says DeShields, 33, who was raised in Seaford, "and to let people know, hey, we may be small, but we come to play."
For much of last year one had to wonder whether DeShields's mantra was as empty as Newark's Christiana Mall on a Sunday morning. The same man who was named MVP of the Orioles after a breathtaking 2000 season was, for three months, one of the American League's worst players. In 58 games with Baltimore, DeShields hit .197 with an uncharacteristically high 42 strikeouts in 188 at bats. Looking back, he links the hellish numbers to playing with a listless team doomed to finish with the league's second-worst record. Still, he was furious when, on July 2, the Orioles released him. "They gave up on their MVP," he says. "It hurt." In hindsight, he considers it a blessing.
Five days after he was dumped, Chicago general manager Andy MacPhail called DeShields to ask if he'd be interested in joining the Cubs as a utilityman. DeShields jumped at the chance. He found new life in Chicago, where he played four positions, served as an offensive spark plug, soaked in the Wrigley aura and laughed more than he had in years. "This is the happiest I've been in baseball," DeShields says. "When I came over here last year, I was down. The guys here brought me back to life."
Adds rightfielder Sammy Sosa: "Delino was lost for a little while. Now he feels like a man again."
In allowing free-agent second baseman Eric Young to walk, the Cubs handed DeShields a regular gig, as well as the lead-off spot in the lineup. With Fred McGriff, Sosa and free-agent signee Moises Alou forming one of baseball's best middle-of-the-order trios, it's imperative that DeShields, whose career .354 on-base percentage is 11 points lower than Young's, and No. 2 hitter Bill Mueller get on base early and often. Equally important, DeShields must use his quickness and athleticism to plug the hole on the right side of the infield which, with the 38-year-old McGriff at first, will often seem to hitters as wide as Lake Michigan. "Delino is a perfect fit" says MacPhail. "It's easy to forget that he was one of the best second basemen for many years. He's an established pro." The Cubs have also asked DeShields to serve as a mentor to Bobby Hill, 23, their second baseman of the future, and possibly return to a utilty role if Hill is ready to play full-time sometime this year.
DeShields doesn't mind the multitasking. This winter he maintained a rigorous schedule, coaching an age 8-and-under Boys and Girls Club basketball team, working out on a daily basis and continuing to develop 302 Entertainment, his two-year-old music production company. DeShields aspires to follow the career path of Quincy Jones, only on—what else?—a regional level. Three-oh-two is Delaware's area code, and DeShields wants to use his business to promote musical talent from his home state. "I don't care what avenue you take: business, sports, music," he says. "If you're from that part of the country, nobody notices you. That has to change."