Nieves attributes rise to mother
Yankees' backup catcher thankful for guiding presence
SEATTLE -- When Wil Nieves would return home to Puerto Rico following his efforts in the San Diego Padres' Minor League system, he enjoyed a relative amount of anonymity.
Even now, as the Yankees reserve catcher behind four-time All-Star Jorge Posada, Nieves is content with looming in the shadows. That's because his mother, Dommys Delgado, is still probably better known in his hometown and surrounding areas than the 29-year-old backstop.
Delgado is the executive director of the Commission of Professional Boxing of Puerto Rico in San Juan, and as Nieves proudly boasts, she has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only female head of a boxing commission.
"They know my mom more than they know me in Puerto Rico," Nieves said. "When I first started playing baseball in the Minor Leagues, nobody knew who I was. Then they'd say, 'Wil Nieves -- Dommys Delgado's son.' Then they'd say, 'Oh, yeah.'"
When the Yankees announced that Nieves had beaten out non-roster challenger Todd Pratt for the right to back up Posada this season, Nieves stood at a locker in the Legends Field clubhouse in Tampa, Fla., and thanked God for giving him the opportunity.
Looking back, Nieves also realizes that he would not have been able to achieve his Major League dreams without his mom's assistance.
"She's great," Nieves said. "They love her in Puerto Rico. She's real friendly and a Christian believer. She's easygoing -- if you need her, she's there for you, no matter what. If you say the word, she will pick you up and tell you something nice. She will go out of her way to help."
Nieves was the second-youngest of four children, with two sisters and a brother, and Nieves said he grew up without his father in the household.
That left it to Mom to balance both her heavy professional workload and also tend to the needs of four growing children, each with specific needs. For Nieves, that meant getting to baseball practice on time and continuing to pursue the challenges that the game brought with it.
"I knew it was tough [for her], because she had four kids and was working and trying to raise us," Nieves said. "She always had the time to take me to practice and to baseball games. I know I'm here because of God, but I'm also here because my mom was with me all the time. She means the world to me."
Nieves recalled his local baseball club needing to raise funds for a flight to play in an important tournament. Dommys was never too busy to lend a hand.
"We used to play every Saturday," Nieves said, "and they'd have a cantina where they would cook chicken and stuff to sell, so we could fly to the Dominican Republic and places like that. She used to do all that."
Even now, as Nieves serves the grunt duties that go along with being a professional Major League understudy -- warming up pitchers, catching simulated sessions, staying prepared just in case of unexpected action -- Nieves believes he is in this position because of Delgado's influence.
In that way, he's not so far removed from the onetime amateur infielder who drew the Padres' attention in Puerto Rico back in the mid-1990s.
"There are a lot of kids that probably never get to play baseball because they don't have their parents taking them to the games," Nieves said. "That's just something you need. Obviously, if you're a little kid, you cannot go by yourself. I'm here because she always found the time to take me."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.