Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
With a Name like Rocco, Never Count Him Out?
Those around the Tampa Bay Rays fan circles have heard me preach this sermon before about a possible Rocco Baldelli redemption in 2010. I have been known on more than one occasion this year to go into a sort of “prodigal son” type oratory with regards to Baldelli. His inclusion back into the Rays farm system today originates not from any acts of sorcery , psychic premonitions or a magical spell being cast, but the subtle reality that Baldelli always knew he was not done with baseball, and always felt more at home with the Rays.
The addition of Baldelli’s name on the dotted line today doesn’t seem forced on us, minutely trivial or even have the slightest hint of a publicity stunt. Today’s signature is Baldelli’s subtle way of again returning to his baseball roots to a Rays organization that that stood besides him as he suffered through his medical chaos. This could be his unique way of showing his undying devotion to a franchise that did not turn their backs on him as a player, and of a clubhouse that stood proud with him as he toiled to again regain prominence in the Major Leagues.
His signature today spoke volumes about a man who wanted to reward a kindness, evoke again a yearning competitive nature, and show that a determined devotion not only to the game, but to yourself can bring about a career resurrection. I am not blinded by the fact this will not be a vintage 2002-2006 Baldelli on the clay and turf that will be fighting to regain some lost time, and possibly a last chance to regain some baseball glory. I am also not naïve enough to suggest Baldelli is the total answer, but he is an adequate solution that comes at a great price for such veteran knowledge. Sometimes it is not about the money people.
Already there are rumbles and grumbles that his signing could be a omen that the Gabe Kapler era could come to a close soon. But in reality, when we see Baldelli moving through the Rays farm system with vigor, then we will be able to embrace Baldelli’s return with more enthusiasm and vitality. But it is key to note that Baldelli could probably have gone elsewhere as he got healthier after rehabbing his shoulder injury this season. The Rays were probably not the only people watching Baldelli’s progress with angst and excitement. But he chose to stay with those loyal to him in the past.
Baldelli sought out a position with the Rays for a reason this Spring. It might of had nothing to do with the Rays organization standing tall alongside through thick and thin before Baldelli returned to the Rays outfield in Seattle in 2008. It definitely did not have anything to do with his choice to play for his childhood idol team in Fenway Park either. Baldelli doesn’t owe the debt of his Major League career to the Rays, but he does have some finite unfinished business with them.
Baldelli was on that bench in Philadelphia during the 2008 World Series and saw that game quickly jettisoned out of the Rays reach. Baldelli soaked in the pain and agony along with the wet and cold that night, and internally knew this Rays team deserved more. He saw the Rays heads go down one-by-one, he saw the Rays spirit and excitement slowly drain from their faces. Baldelli knows how close that series really was, and he wants another chance to change the outcome. Motivational angst, even about an sporting event have made outnumbered armies conquer (Evil) Empires or desolate (Red Sox) Nations.
Baldelli might not have the agility of his former Major League self, but he has gained the aspect of baseball intelligence that will serve him, and the Rays better in the long run. What he lost in mobility and range, he has picked up in positioning and anticipation, ingredients that most young players regard as trivial. His mental thought processes to play this game have been enhanced, while his physical attributes might still better than most still playing. But the most honest emotion Baldelli has going for him right now is he still has that hunger.
Determination and hard work can only take you to a certain limit, but yearning and a hunger to succeed can vault you into the middle of the pack with ease. You could see it this Spring as he worked out lightly to regain touch and feel for the game. Seeing that Baldelli smile again as he exited the Batting Cages at the Trop earlier this season made you proud. His eagerness to get back into that Batting Cage again for another round of pitches, just inspired you more each time. You saw it in his progression in his strength while throwing in the outfield of Tropicana Field as fans and friends whistled for his attention. You just knew Baldelli was going to wear that Rays number 5 again this season.
No matter if Baldelli returns in September or possibly sooner, he is a veteran presence that could evoke some fear from American League pitching staffs when he steps into the batter’s box. His acquired Major League offensive skill level has shown he can hit for power, bunt or even go to the middle to get the man in (GTMI). That is a key component of the Rays attack that is really missing right now. Baldelli can be an easy fix to a complex series of problems that has plagued the Rays, and led to improbable losses this season. The addition of a skilled veteran like Baldelli, who also has some unfinished business within the Major Leagues could be a step in the right direction for the Rays.
When he goes to the plate tonight for the Class-A Charlotte Stonecrabs, it will be a renewal of sorts for Baldelli. This is another chance for Baldelli to again rise like the fabled phoenix and provide a possible late season difference for the Rays. No visual magic, no offensive sorcery, no mirrored images of his former self. It is Baldelli’s chance again to show his determination, his undying spirit and his overall veteran presence could be the push upwards the Rays need to fight for their second American League East title. He resurrected his career in 2008 after people doubted him and his abilities to even come back again and play at all. I pity the people who counts Baldelli out again because one thing you can not measure with statistics is heart. And in that category, Baldelli is still batting 1.000.
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