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A True Brit Answers the Call to Arms

Baseball: Birthright means Dodger batting-practice pitcher Delzer, 40, can play in European Championships.

July 27, 2001|CHRIS FOSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eddie Delzer watched the ball land far beyond the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium, where it rattled around the empty bleachers. He then turned and smiled at the batter who had just taken him deep.

Another satisfied customer.

Delzer's job in his first year as batting-practice pitcher for the Dodgers is to throw the strikes that enable batters to hone their swings. And building a batter's confidence is part of the gig.

But for Delzer, this also is training: Britain's great expectations for the European Championships rest, in part, on his left shoulder.

Delzer has not set foot in England since he was an infant, but he qualifies for the British team because he was born in Birkenhead.

Granted, the projected ace of Britain's staff is 40 years old, 5 feet 7 with a bit of a paunch. And when he's not working out the Dodgers' lineup, he plays in as many as five recreational men's leagues.

While this may say something about the state of baseball in Britain, it says more about Delzer's passion for the game.

He was so impressive during a five-game British Baseball Federation tryout last winter in Southern California that he landed a spot as a starter for Team Great Britain in the European Championships, which begin Saturday in Bonn.

"I'm getting to represent the country I was born in," Delzer said. "So I haven't been there in 38 years.

"This is the closest I'll ever get to the Olympics or the big leagues. As long as I can throw and compete at whatever level I'm asked, then I'm having fun."

With the Dodgers, Delzer has to put his competitive nature aside. Giving up hits is part of the job description. But his accuracy makes big league hitters wonder what he'd be like if his job was to get them out.

"He is really good at getting you locked in as a hitter," Dodger outfielder Marquis Grissom said. "What that tells me is he can get you out too, if he wants."

Delzer already has gone to some lengths to make sure he will be properly motivated this weekend. When he learned he was scheduled to face Russia in his first start, he rented "The Hunt For Red October," "Red Dawn" and "Dr. Strangelove."

"I know we're at peace and everyone is safe," Delzer said. "But I needed something to fire me up to pitch against them."

He shouldn't count on his own Hollywood ending. England has not had a successful history in international baseball. The British finished ninth among 12 teams in the last two European Championships.

Seeking a better finish, England has borrowed the strategy Italy took in becoming a European baseball power. The Italians have moved up the ranks by enlisting Italian-born players from the United States. And while they haven't found any DiMaggios, the imported talent helped them to a European Championship in 1997 and second-place finishes in 1993, 1995 and 1999.

"We needed to strengthen our team with players who were eligible for a British passport," said Kevin MacAdam, general manager for Team Great Britain. "We recruited from all the former British colonies and other places we invaded or sent convicts, including Canada, South Africa and Australia."

Delzer had pitched only recreationally since his four-year professional career with the Angel organization ended in 1988, having never made it beyond the Class-A level.

But with a little research, team officials in Britain learned of Delzer's college career. He was 16-6 in two seasons with Cal State Fullerton, including a victory in the 1984 national title game, when he gave up two infield hits in seven innings in a 3-1 victory over Texas.

Delzer's resume certainly looked good to British officials, whose indigenous talent is more comfortable bowling a googly in cricket than throwing a curveball or slider. So Britain Coach Gary Roberts called Delzer last September.

"I thought it was a joke at first," Delzer said. "He said, 'I hear you're throwing great.' I said, 'Coach, I'm going to be 40 years old.' But they wanted me to try out anyway."

Delzer lost, 5-0, to a team of Cypress College players in his tryout start, but he struck out 10. He also had seven hits in 11 at-bats as an outfielder during the five-game tryout session.

"Eddie's experience is invaluable to us," MacAdam said.

Britain needs a top-four finish in the European Championships to qualify for the 2003 World Championships in Cuba.

Delzer will turn 42 that year, but he chooses not to dream.

"I made the first two cuts for the 1984 United States Olympic team, then I signed [with the Angels]," Delzer said. "I might have played with Barry Larkin. That's how I compare this opportunity."

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