Baldelli is Honored for his Perseverance
It seems like I have been talking about this guy for a long time this week. He has been a linch-pin of the Tampa Bay Rays organization since he was selected in the 2000 Amatuer Draft number 1 for the team. He was a anchor in centerfield for the Rays until a off-season injury began a run of over 3 years of on and off again Disabled List visits.
He has been a model athlete and aggressive competitor. He has beaten not only the odds to make to the major league level, but also taken on a ailment that was poised to take it all away from him for good this Spring. It was a sad day in March2008 when Rocco Baldelli met the media under the bleachers at Progress Energy Field and relayed the news that his ailment might have just cost him the game he loved.
But through the teams’ positive efforts and the numerous flights across America to seek out doctoras and remedies Baldelli never faltered from confidence. It was written that one one such flight Rocco told his father that he might not be able to win this fight, but he carried on until he was finally assured that he could again play the game with grace and agility again.
So it is with great pride and a test of mind over matter that the Tampa Bay Rays’ own Rocco Baldelli was voted the winner of the 19th annual Tony Conigliaro Award. This award is presented annually to a Major League player who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage that were trademarks of the late Major Leaguer. Baldelli is the third Rays player to recieve the award. Former Rays pitchers’ Tony Saunders ( 2000) and Dewon Brazelton ( 2004) have also recieved the pretigious award.
Tony’s brothers, Billy and Richie, will make the official presentation of the award at the 70th annual Boston Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s dinner on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009, at the Westin Waterfront Hotel in South Boston.
The Rays placed Baldelli, 26, on the 60-day disabled list on March 28 with a mitochondrial disorder, a condition that slows muscle recovery and causes fatigue, costing him the first 116 games of the season; he also missed the final 124 games of 2007 due to a hamstring injury.
Baldelli fought his way back to the Major Leagues and returned in August to hit .263 in 28 games with four home runs and 13 RBIs for the Rays in 2008, playing a key role during the team’s postseason drive. The Rhode Island native contributed to Tampa Bay’s World Series berth and AL Championship by hitting .333 with one home run and four RBIs in the ALCS against the Red Sox. Overall, Baldelli hit .200 (4-for-20) during the postseason with two home runs and six RBIs.
In the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, Baldelli went 1-6 during the series, but made an timely solo homer in Game 5.5 in the 7th inning off Ryan Madson to even the score at 4-all. The Rays eventually lost that game, and the series, but the determination and the spunk of Baldelli was apparent to everyone in the ballpark that night.
In 1990, the Red Sox began the award to perpetuate the memory of Conigliaro, who died that February after an eight-year struggle to come back from a massive heart attack that left him severely handicapped. Major League teams submit nominations and an independent 12-person panel does the voting.
Baldelli came in first with 43 points followed by Arizona’s Doug Davis with 27 and Oakland’s Brad Ziegler with 26. Cleveland’s Cliff Lee, Cincinnati’s Mike Lincoln and Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox also received votes.
Past winners of the award are: Jim Eisenreich (1990), Dickie Thon (1991), Jim Abbott (1992), Bo Jackson (1993), Mark Leiter (1994), Scott Radinsky (1995), Curtis Pride (1996), Eric Davis (1997), Bret Saberhagen (1998), Mike Lowell (1999), Kent Mercker and Tony Saunders (2000), Graeme Lloyd & Jason Johnson (2001), Jose Rijo (2002), Jim Mecir (2003), Dewon Brazelton (2004), Aaron Cook (2005), Freddy Sanchez (2006) and Jon Lester (2007).
Conigliaro became the youngest player at age 20 to lead a league in home runs when he hit 32 in 1965, and the youngest in AL history to reach 100 homers (22 years, 197 days). His promising career was tragically shortened when he was hit in the face by a pitch at Fenway Park on Aug. 18, 1967. He missed all of 1968, made a dramatic comeback in 1969 and was traded to the California Angels after the 1970 season. Conigliaro played two years with the Angels and then made another comeback with the Red Sox in 1975, his final season in the Major Leagues.