Sep 20, 2013

Former Italian / American Player: Rocco Baldelli (2003-2010)

Rocco Daniel Baldelli was born September 25, 1981 in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

He was a gifted high school student posting a 4.25 grade average & starring in four sports. He earned All State honors in track, basketball, volley ball & baseball. He would have attended Wake Forest on a baseball scholarship but signed as first round pick with the Tampa Bay Rays instead.

In 2002 he hit .331 at all three minor league levels getting to the Tampa big league club by 2003. He had a fantastic rookie year batting .289 with 32 doubles 11 HRs 78 RBIs & 27 stolen bases. He led all A.L. center fielders in assists (15) for the first of two straight seasons, was second in put outs & posted a .989 fielding percentage.

Baldelli began to get compared with Joe Dimaggio, sharing similar abilities, both being of Italian heritage, wearing #5 & playing center field. Al LaMacchia, a professional scout for over 50 years, went so far as to call Rocco "Joe's twin".

In 2004 he put up similar numbers: .280 average 16 HRs 74 RBIs 27 doubles & 17 steals, with a .978 fielding percentage. In 2005 he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the off season. requiring surgery.

Before his return he was set back again as he needed Tommy John surgery. He missed a season & a half returning in June of 2006. He went on to hit a career high .302 with 16 HRs 24 doubles 10 stolen bases & 57 RBIs in only 364 at bats. In 2007 he pulled his hamstring & worsened it when he attempted to play. He began to suffer from fatigue & doctors found metabolic abnormalities. His physical condition made it impossible for him to play & he held an emotional press conference in 2008 informing the media of his state. He took medication & supplements and made it back to the Rays for 28 games of the 2008 season.

Post Season: He made their post season roster & enjoyed the teams first season of success. In Game #3 of the ALCS he hit a 3 run HR off Boston's Paul Byrd to give Tampa the Series lead. In the Series he hit .333 going 2-6 in two games. In the World Series he had a double play assist in the outfield of Game #2 against the Phillies. He went 1-6 in the Series.

After the season he was the winner of the Tony Conigliaro Award, as he overcame adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage. Further medical testing found that Baldelli suffers from a form of channelopathy, which makes his condition less serious and more treatable than previously thought.

In 2009 he signed with the Red Sox, playing in 62 games with 7 HRs 23 RBIs & a .253 average. His physical condition made it very hard for him to play and he became a free agent at the end of the season.

He came back to Tampa as a coach & then signed a minor league deal. He got promoted &made it back to the Rays squad as a 2010 September call up. On September 5th, he hit a dramatic HR in his Rays return in an 8-7 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore.

He played in ten games the rest of the season, batting .240. He got to play in the 2010 post season, going 0-3 in the ALDS against the Texas Rangers.

Retirement: He announced his retirement in January 2011 & accepted a job in the Rays front office. In his seven year career he hit .278 with 60 HRs 262 RBIs 99 doubles 18 triples & a.323 on base %.

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