Monday, June 29, 2009 | 11:30 p.m.
Did you hear the one about a major league baseball player nearly losing his thumb in an attempt to save a child from an alligator attack in the neighborhood lake?
Las Vegas 51s outfield David Dellucci sure has. In fact, he invented the tall tale.
As an avid hunter and fisherman growing up on Baton Rouge, La., Dellucci is no stranger to fish stories. So, when he accidentally injured his thumb while packing his trailer for Spring Training with the Cleveland Indians this season, Dellucci tried to inject some humor into an embarrassing injury that required surgery and forced him to miss nearly two weeks of training camp.
"That story caught on like wildfire and I said, 'What the heck, I might as well tell the media' and they dove for it hook, line and sinker," Dellucci said. "I eventually told them the real story, but if anyone asks, I'll be glad to give them the alligator story again."
Unfortunately for the affable Dellucci, nobody in the Indians organization was laughing a few months into this season when Cleveland demoted a once marquee free agent acquisition to the minors on May 29.
After signing a three-year, $11.5 million dollar deal with Cleveland in December 2006, Dellucci missed nearly three months of the 2007 season with a left hamstring tear that required surgery.
In 2008, Dellucci hit .238 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI while backing-up left fielder Ben Francisco. Dellucci started just 46 times in left field and 46 times as a designated hitter.
"I had a rough three years in Cleveland," Dellucci admitted. "It seemed like every time I got rolling, I'd have another injury… It was a difficult time, but I always felt like I still had the ability to play if I could just get on a roll and stay on a roll. I knew I could be my old self, but it just never happened."
Dellucci's thumb injury, no matter how comical, seems now as if it was a precursor to his downfall.
In 14 games with the Indians this year, Dellucci batted .275 (11-for-40) with one RBI.
On June 1, the Indians released the 35-year-old lefty.
"I'm very grateful that I had the opportunity in Cleveland and I'm thankful for that," Dellucci said. "But the funny thing about baseball is that you are almost to a certain degree self-employed and you have to do what is best for yourself. I think with their situation, with the team wanting to go with younger outfielders, there wasn't much playing time for me. So it was best for me to leave. There is no chip on my shoulder."
Since signing a minor league contact with the Toronto Blue Jays (the 51s' parent club) on June 10, Dellucci has appeared in 14 games with Las Vegas and is batting .273 (15-for-55) with three home runs and six RBIs.
"This is a great organization," Dellucci said prior to the 51s 4-2 victory over the Sacramento River Cats Monday night. "I'm enjoying my teammates over here. The coaching staff is excellent. I can't say enough good things about everyone here so far."
Although Dellucci is not the type to admit it, patrolling the outfield at Cashman Field is not exactly the same as roaming the hallowed grounds of Yankee Stadium.
Yet having a 13-year big league veteran, especially one with a World Series ring from the 2001 championship run of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is an invaluable resource for the 51' younger players.
"People can learn how to prepare for a game just by watching (Dellucci)," said Las Vegas manager Mike Basso. "It's good to have him here… He wouldn't be here if Toronto didn't want to have a look at him. He's a proven Major League hitter."
While Dellucci certainly hopes to suit up in a Blue Jays uniform soon, it is hard not to imagine the former LSU star as excited to play in Modesto as Toronto.
The former National League leader in triples not only professes his love for baseball, but he has transformed those words into action with Dellucci's Dream Foundation. Through that charitable organization, Dellucci not only raised more than $100,000 for Hurricane Katrina and Rita victims, but he has also set up free baseball camps with dozens of MLB players for underprivileged youth.
"I think there are a lot more distractions nowadays that lead kids down the wrong paths," Dellucci said. "So if they can have a positive role model in their lives and I can bring down professional baseball players to instruct the kids, teach the game and just get them outside for exercise, it might send them on the correct path."
Dellucci's path, however, is starting to make its way toward an inevitable – and the oft-injured outfielder knows it.
But prior to retirement, Dellucci hopes to earn one more shot in the Show.
"It's everybody's goal to make it to the Major Leagues and I'm here trying to get better in hopes that that happens," Dellucci said. "But while I'm here, I'm going to play hard and have fun. It's the love of the game and the love baseball and the love of teammates that's keeping me going."
Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or firstname.lastname@example.org.