The year was 2002, I was attending my first Devil Rays Spring Training in St. Petersburg, Florida . I was watching the Devil Ray players come through the gate from the players area. At the time I barely knew any of these young players. An older gentleman I met that day was from New York and he knew all the players names. He said he had watched many of these young players come through Hudson Valley, the class A farm club for the Devil Rays minor league system. I explained how I was from the Raleigh-Durham which in the past few years had switched from being affiliated with the Braves to the Devil Rays. The one name I remembered that the man shouted out was, “Hey Rocco”. He told me this player was a future star for Rays and would one day be occupying the Rays outfield for years to come.
That summer of 2002 Baldelli at the age of 20 hit his way throughout the Rays minor league system. He started in High A Ball in California, then got promoted to Orlando in the Southern League where he continued to hit, and finally got promoted to the Rays AAA Durham Bulls.
With Lou Piniella heading up the Devil Rays in 2003, Rocco had a nice spring. With Carl Crawford winning the LF job, and Baldelli winning the CF job, the future seemed bright. That summer Baldelli went on to have a great start of his career. He was hitting over .300 and they were comparing him to a young Joe Dimaggio. The comparison to the Hall Of Fame hitter who has the record of hitting in 56 consecutive games was never a fair one. Especially, one who was just trying to make a name for himself. But, soon all of baseball knew about Rocco Baldelli.
The freak basketball injury the off-season of 2004, led to missing first what was projected as a half a season. Then, he ended up missing the entire season. Then came the hamstring injuries, a tweak here, and so on.
In the sad series of events this spring, Rocco was out. We heard rumors last week there may be a serious career ending condition. Nobody would talk about his condition. Even Rocco denied it.
Now the word today is that Baldelli will start the year on the DL list with an unknown condition that leaves him feeling extremely fatigued after short workout. Rocco is out indefinitely. Rocco says this is not retirement. We don’t know if we will ever see Rocco in a baseball uniform again. At the age of 26, with all the physical talent in the world when healthy, we’re pulling for you Rocco!