Rocco Baldelli, But Why?

Class A's Finest

There’s been plenty of sappy stories written on this topic. This isn’t really one of them.

Rocco Baldelli made his big another return to baseball on Monday night. This time it was for the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the Single-A Florida State League affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

The last time that Baldelli took the field as a player, he was in a Boston Red Sox uniform, the team that he idolized as a child growing up in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. This time he faced the Daytona Cubs and struck out all four times that he came to the plate.

Baldelli signed a minor league contract with the Rays the same day that he made his return to baseball against Daytona. The move was the first official step to a process that most saw coming from a mile away.

The background of Baldelli is very well documented. He was the “Pride of Woonsocket,” the first-round draft pick with all the potential in the world. He carried the unique blend of power and athleticism, even drawing premature comparisons to Joe DiMaggio from a number of veteran scouts.

The Good Ole' Days

All of that ended when a long string of injuries resulted in doctors insisting that Baldelli undergo some medical tests. They discovered a mysterious mitochondrial disorder that most doctors still aren’t quite sure what to think of.

Baldelli has been somewhat able to fight through the disorder, but it has definitely been a very ginger fight. Managers are forced to count the amount of times that he swings the bat like it’s a star pitcher’s pitch count. They are forced to conserve him as much as possible, rarely letting him play an entire game or on consecutive days.

The generic disorder that Rocco has makes many routine things a challenge. His muscles tire after the lightest of workouts or activities. The deeper he goes into a game or workout, the more and more chances skyrocket of a serious injury. It was said during his occasional contributions during the Rays’ 2008 playoff run that his legs would often begin shaking badly if left in past the sixth inning or during long innings.

But when effective, Baldelli is special. This is why the Rays continued to give him a chance in 2008, and why the Red Sox surprised some by giving him a $500,000 chance in 2009.

Boston’s gamble didn’t pan out. Baldelli appeared in 62 games, registering 150 at-bats, meaning that he was paid a little over $3,333 for every at-bat.

Rocco in Boston

When there was no interest in free agent Rocco after 2009, the Rays brought him back as a “roving instructor.” His job was supposedly to travel to the Rays’ various minor league outlets and coach prospects on baserunning and outfield defense. However, it became clear that the title was something of a cover-up early in the 2010 season. When the Rays were at the Trop, Rocco often was too. When the Rays took batting practice, Rocco was usually involved.

The Rays are firing up another attempt at a Rocco comeback, but why?

Baldelli was a slight asssett to the team in 2008 during both its regular season pennant race and playoff run. But to many, the 2009 season proved that he still is heavily crippled by this medical issue that doctors shake their heads at.

The Rays feel an obligation to Baldelli. The franchise is known for being painfully loyal to players, and its treatment of the once-promising centerfielder is a glaring example of that loyalty. This is why they signed him to a minor league deal and started discussing hopes that he could contribute down the stretch when rosters expand.

Loyalty is the only way to explain it.

Tampa Bay possesses one of the deepest and most fruitful farm systems in baseball. The Rays have excessive amounts of talent to draw upon when baseball allows them to extend their roster in September. From Desmond Jennings to Jeremy Hellickson to Fernando Perez, these are all players that can contribute every day, play in versatile roles and not need the constant personal attention of a team physician.

Only a matter of time.

But they’re not Rocco.

They’re not the man who stood in a press conference on March 12, 2008, and made an entire room teary-eyed as he questioned his condition, his career and his life. They’re not the man who Rays’ players all grew out beards in honor of as they awaited his return from the disabled list during that same season. They’re not the Pride of Woonsocket.

The March 12 Presser

Whether it’s right or not, some things get treated as more than a baseball decision. Sure, Rocco is worth pulling for. But to what extent?

-Bryan

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Rocco Baldelli, But Why?

  1. You’re a heartless bastard… Wanna run the Braves?

    Glad you mentioned the Joe D comparisons because that’s about the only thing I remember about Rocco’s early days. Must have been the Italian connection.

    I’m of an open mind about this. Sometimes the karma moves payoff in the long run.

    Oh, and “Charlotte Stone Crabs.” No comment.

    • bholt11

      I’ll gladly run the Braves and only ask to be paid in sorority girls from UGA.

      I remember hearing the Joe D comparisons back in the day and being like “Huh? He just got here.”

      I love Rocco, I really do. I personally was a huge supporter of his during 2008 and he’s a team guy and all the players love him and blah, blah, blah. But now, it just seems a little bit like “this again?” Just don’t really see the on-field benefit in it when here’s so much other promising talent at his exact position that the Rays could bring up.

      My little sister may or may not own a Stone Crabs shirt.

      Thanks for being my lone readership…again.

      That’s all.

  2. Pingback: [THE HANGOVER] The One Where We Discuss Soriano’s Revenge, Shields Performance And The Return Of Shouse | Rays Index

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