Rodriguez shows character from humble beginnings

5/23/2006 - Boxing

He was only 4 years old when his parents said goodbye. They told the little boy named Delvin that they were going to America. He thought they would soon send word that everything was all set and he could join them.

It didn't happen that way.

Little Delvin stayed on that farm in the Dominican Republic. He remembers being cared for by extended family. His uncles worked the land so they could eat what they grew. He remembers walking three miles to school every day on dirt roads and the fights and struggles that came along with that. But most of all, he remembers an emptiness.

"I would go into the woods and just sit there and cry. I would pray that my mom and dad would come and get me," Delvin said, reflecting back 20-some years.

A season would come and go. Crops would come and go. Work was done day and night on the farm. Still, the American Dream his parents set out to fulfill wasn't becoming a reality. There was Delvin, a young innocent boy in an impoverished country, with his sister, Marylin, waiting patiently.

"I would listen to hear if a car was coming. And I would always think to myself that is my mom and dad. I would think every car that was driving toward me was my parents."

Years passed. Finally, the call came. At almost 10 years old, Delvin Rodriguez was going to Danbury, Conn., to live his life with his parents. It took them more than six years to make this happen. It would take just a few short visits to the Police Athletic League Gym for his own American Dream to pack a punch.

Unfortunately, his father, Pedro, was deported from the U.S. just after Delvin arrived. But Rodriguez soon realized the love and attention he had longed for through a different father figure. Mike Salazar took him under his wing and showed him the ropes, literally and figuratively. While Salazar taught Rodriguez his way around the ring, he also taught him the way around a whole new world.

There were no crops to tend to. There were no three-mile walks to school. What there was to deal with though was English, American culture and becoming a man.

To this day, he is still winning at all those challenges.

"He still at times feels a little intimidated by our culture and is trying to always understand things better," said longtime boxing manager Stan Hoffman. "I'm sure you have heard this a million times, but this kid has such incredible character. My family has been around hundreds of fighters I've had, and they can't get enough of Delvin. He is quiet, not a braggart and is intelligent."

That combination, along with great athleticism, heart and a right hand, has paved the way for a pro career that has him the winner of eight consecutive fights. Rodriguez (18-1-1, 10 KOs) is now on the verge of being a ranked welterweight and will try to further himself in this week's Friday Night Fights main event (ESPN2, 9 ET). He takes on former Olympian Luis Hernandez (20-2, 13 KOs).

Rodriguez has learned a lot since those days as a boy in Connecticut and he isn't slowing down.

"I give him a book at a time," Hoffman said. "Right now, he is reading Thomas Hauser's biography on Muhammad Ali. I give him the book. He reads it and we discuss what he read. He enjoys it. That's the kind of kid he is."

But now the kid has his own kid. At 26, Delvin Rodriguez feels like his life has real meaning. Meaning that has the playful eyes of a 4-year-old little boy named Delvin Jr.

"I didn't know how much love you could have for another person," Rodriguez thoughtfully answered when asked about fatherhood.

"Everything I do, I have to think about him. Every step I take in my life is a step that is based on what is good for him. It's a whole different environment. I try the best. I hope he grows up a great man."

It doesn't go unnoticed by those around him. Rodriguez started boxing before his son was born and he was simply a fighter. Then, his son came into the world and so did a whole new team. Rodriguez became a true professional boxer. Now with the backing of Northeast Promotions, and the managing of Hoffman, he has the tools to make a run toward the top.

Rodriguez was impressive the first time we saw him on ESPN. It was August 2004, when he was put up against Allen Conyers. Conyers was undefeated and trained by the world-class Buddy McGirt. In the fifth round, Rodriguez's harder punches made the difference. One of those blows sent Conyers not just to the canvas but over the ropes. It was like a Jack Dempsey painting. There was Conyers on the concrete. At that moment, Rodriguez had arrived.

He is a TV fighter with skill, a fighter who isn't afraid to take a risk knowing he will return the favor.

He got up off the canvas in the first round against Chris Henry on ESPN to score four straight knockdowns and a TKO win. He also laid out 22-win veteran Luther Smith in one round.

"I feel so much more comfortable and confident in life. Having that kid made me a different man. I am not the type of guy that wants to hang out. With my team around me, now I concentrate on my career and I do everything straight," Rodriguez said.

Hoffman has been down this road before and knows where it's all headed. "He is so into boxing. He said his life has changed and I'm happy to be a part of it. Now he is into talking about why things in the ring happen, why he does certain things, he is thinking more. I sincerely believe we have a world champion with this kid."

The "kid" sincerely believes it, too. There are no more days crying in the woods. No more days wishing the next car would be his salvation. Delvin Rodriguez is at home, with his family, on his terms, being his own man.

Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."