You Can Have Rocky……. We Have Rocco
It’s become the norm for Major League players to arrive at their home clubhouse four or five hours early. Some work out, some play cards and others do crossword puzzles quietly in front of their lockers. Rocco Baldelli doesn’t have that luxury. Instead, the Rays outfielder spends the four hours before every game getting various treatments, taking a cocktail of pills and doing everything possible to offset a rare mitochondrial disorder that causes extreme fatigue.
And while his Tampa Bay team may be the best story in baseball, Baldelli’s triumph is that he is suiting up in a Rays uniform at all. The Rhode Island native held a tearful press conference this past spring announcing that he would start the year on the disabled list to try to recover from four years of nagging injuries and mysterious illness.
Five months, two rehab assignments and a diagnosis later, Baldelli defied his own doubts and was reinstated to the Rays’ lineup Aug. 10.
It is a gift the Rays faithful cherish, as every time Baldelli runs out to right field or steps up to the dish he is greeted with thunderous applause. The sixth overall selection in the 2000 June First-Year Player Draft, Baldelli was a coveted young player full of promise before being struck by his illness.
Now he is a symbol of hope, living proof of the powers of modern medicine. After returning to the Rays’ lineup, Baldelli played in 46 games down the stretch, hitting .263 with four home runs and 13 RBIs.
One of the runs he drove in came on Aug. 30, when Baldelli delivered a walk-off double to clinch a 10-9 victory over the Orioles. Maybe he hasn’t returned to the same physical condition he was in a few years ago, but on that day, Baldelli was back in a big way. And his teammates — who rushed the field to mob Baldelli following the walk-off — couldn’t have been happier.
Baldelli shies away from reflecting on the magnitude of what he’s done. The unassuming 26-year-old is perfectly content sitting in front of his locker — tucked away in the right corner of the Rays’ clubhouse — and pretending he is just another ballplayer.
But the Rays know better.
Baldelli’s fight is far from over. He isn’t cured by any means and could blow out at any second. The Rays declined his option for next year, and his future is uncertain. But right now, the opportunity to lace up his cleats and help his team in the Wolrd Series against the Phiadelphia Phillies is there. And for Baldelli, that is more than enough.
The following blog is a reprint of a blog I first posted on March 13, 2008, about 3 hours after the Post game News Conference with Rocco Baldelli during Spring Training:
Rocco Baldelli was once called “Joe’s twin,” by professional Scout Al LaMacchia. This of course, is referring to the great Joe DiMaggio. Rocco had been compared to the Yankee great since his prep days at Bishop Hendricken H.S. in Warwick, Rhode Island.
Baldelli was drafted by the Tampa Bay (Devil)rays in the first round of the 2000 Amateur draft. Rocco worked his way up the Rays’ minor league ladder to be named the team’s starting Centerfielder for the 2003 MLB season. Rocco debuted on March 31, 2003 and hit and powered his way to a third place finish in the Rookie of the Year ballot that year.
In 2004, Rocco was the returning Centerfielder and was looking to improve on his 2003 stats. His 2003, .289 average, with 11 HRs and 27 stolen bases was just a glimpse of what might be in store for Rays fans in the future. In 2004, Rocco led all MLB Centefielders in range factor with a 3.3.
Range Factor (commonly abbreviated RF) is a baseball statistic developed by Bill James. It is calculated by dividing putouts and assists by number of innings or games played at a given defense position. The statistic is premised on the notion that the total number of outs that a player participates in is more relevant in evaluating his defensive play than the percentage of cleanly handled chances as calculated by the conventional statistic fielding percentage.
In 2005, Rocco began the year with a ACL tear while playing ball in his R.I. backyard with his younger brother. He was on scedule to be back by the All-Star break in 2005, but he sustained a elbow in jury and was lost for the rest of the season. Rocco had “Tommy John’s” surgery to repair his elbow and rehabbed at the Minor League complex in St. Petersburg,Florida.
Rocco was fired up and ready to roll in 2006, and finally got back on the turf versus the Los Angeles Angels at Anahiem on June 7, 2008. Baldelli played throughout the rest of the season ending with a .302 average,16 HRs, and 57 RBI’s in only 364 at bats.
In 2007, Rocco began his trip onto the DL after pulling his hamstring during Spring Training. the injury seemed to slowly heal, but while on a Minor League rehab assignment, the injury became worse. Rocco spent the rest of the year inactive, but a very important part of the team. He could be seen on the bench either taking down the pitch stats, or intentively watching the opposing pitcher for signs of him tipping off his pitches or pitch outs to first base. Joe Maddon felt that Rocco had an energy and a positive attitude that was beneficial to his young squad and took him on away games the rest of the season.
During this time, Ron Porterfield, the Rays’ Head Trainer, and the medical staff did exclusive tests on rocco to try and pinpoint the situation and maybe finally get some positive results.
During the Spring Training in2008, Rocco was an early arrival to camp. He was out there every day trying to get his body to function correctly so he could get back on the field with his comrades. He was used sparingly this Spring until on March12, 2008, Rocco released the following statement to the press after the last Spring Training game at Progress Energy Field, the Rays’ Spring Training stadium:
This offseason, because of the physical problems I’ve been having, I started along with the team’s help to search them out and go see some doctors and try to find out what’s going on.
I was having a lot of problems the last couple years with my muscles and muscle strains. I think a good way to describe it is literally muscle fatigue and cramping, way before my body should be feeling these things. I would go out there and I was pretty much incapable of doing basic baseball activities as far as running and hitting and throwing.
These were things that I had done my whole life pretty easily and at some point in the last two years – we’re not exactly sure why – these things started to change. It was tough for me to deal with, but with the team’s help, they sent me to specialists, basically flying me around all over the country to try to figure out what was going on.
What the doctors eventually found through all of this was I have some type of metabolic and/or mitochondrial abnormalities. Basically, somewhere along the line in my body – I don’t want to get too deep into the medicine because it’s not really my expertise, but either my body isn’t making or producing or storing ATP the right way and therefore not allowing, apparently, my muscles to work as they should and, especially, recover on a day-to-day basis. So it becomes very difficult to get on the field every day and play.
When I say fatigue, I go out there and my body is literally spent after a very short amount of time out on the field, which makes it extremely frustrating and difficult, but it’s something that’s kind of a reality right now and something we’re dealing with the best that we can.
As far as my baseball career, I’m not here to stand in front of you telling you I’m retiring. We’re still going to pursue every avenue that we can to try to figure out what is going on, have a better understanding of what is going on. But at this time, throughout all of the extensive testing that we’ve done, we don’t have a concrete answer. The doctors’ consensus is that these are the problems that I’m experiencing and there’s a lot of medical proof of these things, but they’ve been unable to specifically identify an exact reason or an exact problem down to a specific name. That’s kind of frustrating, but that’s why we’re going to continue along with the team’s help to find out what’s going on.
I feel comfortable about this because the team has been so good to me and supported me in every possible way I could imagine. Without that, I don’t know really where I’d be right now, because this is as probably as difficult and frustrating a thing as I’ve ever had to deal with as a person. Like I said, we’re going to do everything we can to fix and hopefully solve this problem, and that’s pretty much where I’m at right now.
I put his entire statement here to reflect and hope that a solution or a cure can be found for this promising player. I have personally chatted with Rocco on occasion, and I can tell you there is no better guy in the clubhouse than him. He knows what was expected of him on Day 1, and he has done his best to make it back onto the diamond.
The Rays’ are in a pickle here tho. They were looking for Rocco to be a Centerfield back-up this season to give BJ Upton some needed rest during the season. Maybe the Rays will look at their Minor leaguers in camp, or sign a veteran like Kenny Lofton to relieve BJ, and Jonny Gomes through the year.
Here is a guy who could have rewritten a few passages in the books, and now might be done in because a metabolic nightmare within his body. I hope the doctors’ can find a solution soon, and have a positive prognosis so we can get this great talent back on the field sometime in the not to near future.
I will miss not seeing Rocco out there on another Opening Day in Baltimore on March 31,but his health is more important than the game right now.
Here is a short example of what ATP and the human body have in common. I found this on a website, and I hope it is easy to comprehend and understand.
The entire reaction that turns ATP into energy is a bit complicated, but here is a good summary:
- Chemically, ATP is an adenine nucleotide bound to three phosphates.
- There is a lot of energy stored in the bond between the second and third phosphate groups that can be used to fuel chemical reactions.
- When a cell needs energy, it breaks this bond to form adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and a free phosphate molecule.
- In some instances, the second phosphate group can also be broken to form adenosine monophosphate (AMP).
- When the cell has excess energy, it stores this energy by forming ATP from ADP and phosphate.
ATP is required for the biochemical reactions involved in any muscle contraction. As the work of the muscle increases, more and more ATP gets consumed and must be replaced in order for the muscle to keep moving.
Because ATP is so important, the body has several different systems to create ATP. These systems work together in phases. The interesting thing is that different forms of exercise use different systems, so a sprinter is getting ATP in a completely different way from a marathon runner!