Love Seeing Baldelli in Rays Blue!
AP Photo/Chris O’Meara
I granted him that, and did tell him that Boston was the only team I could see him in their jersey and not think about booing or even scoffing Baldelli because of that lifetime dream of wearing those colors. But I quickly remind my absent-minded friend of the respect and admiration Baldelli had for this Rays organization and the soft spot they had in his heart too. My rival friend did acknowledge that the Rays might have provided and given Baldelli an better chance to show his early Major League talents and early chances to strive as an outfielder with the young Rays, but that Boston took him to the promised land (playing with a “B” over his heart).
I still remember standing near the back of the room under the stands of Progress Energy Field on March 12, 2008 when Baldelli met with the local media and announced his existing condition, and his plans to possibly leave the Rays and seek immediate extended medical treatment for his condition. I still remember some of his statement that day very vividly:
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.
My friend was a bit astonished that I could recite or even retain any pieces of that statement with any sense of clarity. But then again, he forgot that Baldelli was the center of that first class of Rays farmhands to finally breakthrough in the early 2000′s. But I also got to admit it, I surprised myself too. The pure fact that Baldelli (to me) along with Carl Crawford were the “young gun Rays”. That loss of innocence on that afternoon cut deep to my inner core. But I also knew of the extra time and extended efforts of people like Rays Head Trainer Ron Porterfield took to personally attend and research Baldelli’s medical needs and his extended rehabilitation to normalcy on the ball field was amazing.
I also knew of the extended olive branch by the Rays for Baldelli to stay within touch of the Rays organization as he searched for his initial medical treatment options not only showed the respect and the admiration the Rays entire organization had for Baldelli, but showed the friendship ties and bond that could not be easily broken by such a medical imperfection. The Rays knew they found a rare person is the player once so prominently compared to Yankee legend “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio. My rival friend forgot how Baldelli struggled out of sight of the baseball world that day and finally returned in Seattle during a Rays series to play again in the sunlight of Safeco Field bearing the Rays colors.
And certainly my baseball buddy here had his selective memory card swiped clean to forget that Baldelli on October 13,2008 against his beloved team went 1 for 3 with 3 RBI in the confines of Fenway Park in the American League Championship Series. And he surely forgot Baldelli also went 1-3 during Game 7 of the ALCS hitting a single in the bottom of the fifth inning that plated Willy Aybar with a decisive run in the contest. Baldelli had finally seen success wearing the Rays colors, and that you can never take away from a player. But my friend quickly used one of my same lines from a Janet Jackson song, “What have you done for me lately? Wooo wooo hooooo hoo”
My “B” tattooed buddy was unaware that Baldelli was still involved in the world of baseball before I calmly stated to him that Baldelli was a frequent visitor to the Rays clubhouse and had taken more than a few turns in the Batting Cages within Tropicana field before Rays games this season. I also knew that recently he had been working out with Rays Strength and Conditioning Coach, Kevin Barr to get physically able and ready to maybe in the near future partake in another round of Major League Baseball games. That the prognosis I had heard showed great promise and resources that Baldelli was both physically and medically willing and able to play again at this level.
My uninformed buddy got all giddy and began to remark that he would look great again in the Red Boston # 5 jersey and spoke of the outfield epidemics that had plagued his Red Sox in 2010. I let him ramble on a bit before I stopped him and asked why Boston released him after the 2009 season. He had no real concrete answer, but thought it might have been for the best at that moment in time. I then popped the old news to us Rays fans that Baldelli had actually been in a Rays dark blue sweatshirt as early as February 28,2010 when the Rays pitchers’ and catchers’ first reported in Port Charlotte.
That Baldelli was currently “employed” by the Rays as a Rays farm system roving outfield and hitting instructor while also working himself into shape after his shoulder injury in 2009. Baldelli had entered the Spring with some lingering effects from his shoulder aliment, and the Rays aw it as an opportunity to rehab someone with distinctive Rays history and fan appeal in case of an emergency later in the season. This fact stunned my Bostonian friend and he was stammering that Baldelli had no reason to go back to his Rays roots after being in the splendor of Beantown. He had played in the big city and now he should have rewarded Boston first with any return to the MLB discussion.
I reminded him he might have asked the Boston brass for the same set-up as he rehabbed his shoulder but do not officially know if Baldelli might have gotten turned down by the Red Sox. In the long run, Baldelli came back to his Rays roots were he not only knew would he get treated great by the entire organization, but also had fond and awesome memories within its brief history. I ended up the conversation with my rival friend that I think we will see Baldelli again in a official Rays jersey before the end of the 2010 season. For Baldelli is rising again like the Phoenix in Tampa Bay and will again have a role on this team making its way towards the playoffs.
My friend quickly scoffed at the notion as he went towards the stairs in Section 144 to gain a Batting Practice baseball. But before he got out of sight I reminded him of the times before that Baldelli had been on the canvas and the referee might have been counting him out, but he rose to fight another day and showed the tenacity of a warrior. My friend laughed as he quickly ascended the stairs out of sight. I then popped my head out of the stairwell near Section 138 and looked towards the Rays dugout.
Standing next to the rail signing an autograph was a familiar sight. It was Baldelli talking and leaning against the rail. The Rays had finished B P and were no where in sight, but Baldelli lingered for a few moments talking with a few fans before also disappearing towards the Rays clubhouse. Just that momentary sighting brought back a wave of emotion, not just from that March 12th event, but from the multitudes of highs and lows that had evolved since the Rays took him in the First Round back in 2000. Baldelli was officially sighted again within Tropicana Field…Hopefully it will not be the last time in 2010.