Results tagged ‘ Joe DiMaggio ’

Woonsocket Rocket Heads into the Sunset

 

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I remember it like it was yesterday, the Ted Williams Museum was holding a silent auction just beyond the sun-drenched grandstand of Progress Energy Field during the final Spring Training game ever at the facility and I was down underneath the stands bidding furiously for number 10 of 20 produced lithograph portraits by renown sports artist James Fiorentino of one of the Rays budding star.

I did everything in my power to possess that mesmerizing portrait, not for its collectible value or even its future fiscal nature, but because on that canvas was one of the most exciting players in Rays baseball to me. He was one of the first true Rays produced stars to emerge from the Rays farm system and provide instant relief to the Rays Republic.

But there was another admirer standing close to me that day who kept the bidding fast and hectic and if not for the pure grace of me being left-handed, and quick with the stroke of a pen, this authentic piece of Rays history would have slipped from my grasp.

I had successfully won the auction, plus an additional Ted Williams Museum authenticated second photo of this same Rays athlete. I had gone 2-for-2 that day and left happy with a portrait under either arm…It was a great day.

This portrait was of the same Rays athlete who made his Major League Debut just over four years earlier on Opening Day, March 31, 2003 and his inspired outfield and hitting prowess impressed not only the Tampa Bay locals, but the national media also showed him a bit of love as he ended the 2003 season with a third place finish in the 2003 Rookie of the Year Award. Only 3 years after being selected in the First Round of the 2000 MLB Draft, he had made Tampa Bay fall in love with his hustle, determination and charisma.

This same series of 20 Fiorentino inspired portraits were commissioned just after that stellar rookie season. A lot has happened to this athlete since this photo was done and the time I put it firmly on my home wall. He has been to the World Series, been in many magazine articles and photos including a great cover shot from above during the 2008 World Series.

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Most people might not know of his artistic side with practical jokes and molding Styrofoam cups into portrait works of art while sitting in the Rays dugout. Or of his ever changing facial motif that has gone from clean shaven, to a bushy moustache, to a full grown “Grizzly Adams” beard.

Things beyond his immediate control began to dictate his career since 2005 when he endured an ACL tear, Tommy John’s surgery and an aliment that would take down an adult elephant. On March 12, 2008, I was huddled underneath those same Progress Energy grandstands when he addressed the baseball world and took a hesitant step back from the game he so loved.

The defining quality I have always remembered and admired about this athlete was his determination and strength to push beyond the boundaries of normalcy. His decision to fight this aliment, helped him progress to actually get a chance to celebrate his franchise’s first post season bid with a lot of the same players that went through the Rays farm system with him.

His ultimate tenacity was rewarded in April 2009 with the pre-game presentation of a glistening diamond encrusted ring to commemorate his part in the Rays 2008 American League pennant. This amazing career might have only lasted 8 MLB seasons, but this is the same athlete who began 2010 as a Rays special roving instructor before signing a MLB contract late in 2010 and again help his teammates celebrate another postseason berth.

He has endured pain and suffering that would have most players packing their gear and going home forever. Instead of giving into utter temptation, this player sought out medical answers and was not going to let this aliment define him. Even in that 2003 Fiorentino portrait, you can see the confidence, the swagger, that innate desire to not give in to the norm and fight until exhausted.

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In 2008 when he took a step back from the game, it was not with the intentions to retire and fade into the background. From the moment he first set foot on the turf at Tropicana Field, to his recent retirement announcement at the tender age of 29, this athlete envisioned the “Rays Way” of playing the game even before Rays current Manager Joe Maddon’s even entered the Rays clubhouse for the first time.

I am going to miss Rocco Baldelli. He is the only Rays player I have ever forgiven for going to play for a division rival because he was fulfilling a life long baseball dream.. Baldelli will not wander far from the Rays light as he will take a position within the Rays front office as a Special Assistant possibly working wit the next great Rays athlete.

That 2003 rookie season portrait will still stay hung above my baseball collection. Because when I think of early Rays baseball, Baldelli is the first name that pops into my mind. Somewhere I think even DiMaggio would be smiling about the way the “Woonsocket Rocket” played the game.

 

 

 

A Haunting Good Time

 

People have always questioned if there is something after this life. If there is an existence that follows between this physical life, and an afterlife or even a possible state of timeless limbo before we might finally be transported to another realm. It is one of those cosmic questions that each of us seek the answer to at some point in our lives. Each of us play and weigh the realities and possibilities within our own intelligence to hopefully come up with our own reality limits and beliefs.


With All Hallow’s Eve beginning in several hours, I thought it might be a bit interesting tonight to dig into the history and possible presence within my little township of St. Petersburg, Florida to bring out a few examples of paranormal or odd baseball-related coincidences within the city limits of a town where baseball might be played all year long, even beyond the human sightlines. With a city like this so rich in baseball lore, maybe you want to believe it is happening.. or maybe you have seen it yourself?

There are several sites I could bring into this discussion tonight from the downtown waterfront Ponce De Leon Hotel penthouse suites where New York Yankee legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig spent their time in this small hamlet while Spring Training with the Bronx Bombers. Where tales of the heavy footsteps and loud chuckles when no one is in the rooms with you echo at night. The smell of cigarette and smoke clouds when no one is on the porches or verandas during the early evenings.

 

Or maybe there is an unforeseen baseball tourney going on just down the street in a small neighborhood park just off 13th Avenue North along side a quaint city park that used to house a single field that used to be used by the Yankees and several other teams that have trained in this city in the past.


That to this day city employees still think the small baseball complex is still visited by unknown guests, possibly by Ruth and the Yankee Clipper, Joe Di Maggio. Where the smell of cherry scented cigars, a favorite of former Yankee Manager Miller Huggins s till permeates the early morning air as employees enter the locked building for a new days work.

 

That Huggins-Stengel Field, which is now the home turf of the St. Pete High School Green Devils baseball team might not be the only team taking batting practice and infield. Also watching might be a lone apparition sitting in a dugout just as he did with his Yankee players so long ago. Could former Yankee Manager Casey Stengel also be spending some of his afterlife viewing the game he loved, or still commanding his troops on the field during the eerie cloak of darkness?



Or could the Rays actually be getting some unseen help by the paranormal as visiting teams stay in a local hotel steeped in ghost tales even before the Rays existence in 1998. Most people outside of St. Petersburg would not remember the tales of the old Vinoy Hotel during its derelict days as vandals, the homeless and countless other unseen residents of the once swank hotel walked through its dilapidated halls and rooms after first closing its doors to the public in 1974.



But then another coat of glowing pink coral paint was applied to the hotel in the 1990’s as the discarded hotel property was purchased and restored to its old former glory as the Renaissance Vinoy Resort. And the swank hotel then became the hub for visiting Major League Baseball teams who came to play the hometown Rays, and were met by more than a few fans from beyond the baseball realms.

Since that time, visiting team players and Rays players experienced unusual events and happenings in their stays at the hotel, with a few players even balking at returning to their rooms at the 5-star resort .


My favorite visiting player event happened to former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons who rushed up to his room on the fith floor in the old section of the Vinoy hotel to catch an early night’s rest. Before he hit the sheets for the night, Gibbons set the alarm clock by the edge of his bed and went into the bathroom to wash up and get ready for his nightly sleep.

As Gibbons returned to the bed, he noticed the alarm clock, which he had previously set was now off. He immediately sat up to reset the clock and noticed that the power cord was draped over the clock . The electric plug was located near the floor area of the room and behind the nightstand. Gibbons ended up sleeping with the lights on that night.


But he wasn’t the only visiting player to get a rough night’s sleep from the Vinoy’s unseen staff. Former Toronto Blue Jays Manager Cito Gaston also had an event where his hotel room door, which was previously locked by him kept unlocking and swinging open during the course of the night.

I could fill a book with the names and events by countless players and staffers that have had the paranormal “touch” them by events in this hotel. Here is another one. Baltimore Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts even had his own experience after he put some freshly dry cleaned clothes in the room’s closet and closed the closet door only to find those same clothes out of their plastic wrappings on his bed when he returned to the room. Could a courteous transparent chambermaid put out Robert’s clothes for the evening?

 

My favorite event actually involves a old Rays Bullpen player. Jon Switzer was a old left-handed reliever for the Rays who had his first brush with the presences at the Vinoy when he was first called up to the majors by the Rays.

Switzer and his wife stayed at the Vinoy on the fifth floor of the older section of the hotel and were both awoken by a scratching sound that seemed to be coming from within the walls behind their bed’s large headboard. The sound persisted for 15 minutes then disappeared, but returned later that evening even loud enough to awaken have have both of them bolt upright and turn on the night light to investigate the room.
 

It was at this time that the room’s presence quickly made itself known to both Switzer and his wife as they both viewed the painting above their bed seem to come to life. The painting was of a woman in a Victorian outfit with a basket of flowers in his right hand. The picture, which originally had flowers in the woman’s left hand was now showed the woman’s left hand scratching at the glass as if to find a way out of the enclosed glass. The couple stared in disbelief at the picture for several moments before finally bolting out of the room.
The stories about the Vinoy are so widespread among baseball players that when the Toronto Blue Jays once pulled up to the resort for an upcoming series against the Rays, ex-Blue Jay outfielder Jose Cruz Jr once got on the charter bus P A system and told the players, “Hopefully you guys got sleeping pills because this hotel is haunted.” 

Most people seem to have forgetten about this hotel’s sordid past. That during World War II, the hotel was been used as a military rehabilitation hospital where many soliders checked in, but not all took a final journey out of its doors on their feet. Death and suffering has lingered among these hotelhalls and rooms for a long time.


Combined with the years of neglect and decay following its closure for 20-odd years, residual energy seemd to have been stored among the pink coral and ornately carved wooden moldings. Countless unnerving events have been documented by other hotel guests besides the visiting baseball players. Unconfirmed deaths among the hotels while is disrepair, including a homeless person who supposedly drowned in a water-filled elevator shaft after falling and breaking his neck only help to fuel the legends.

Whether you believe or not, these events did happen and are happening today.


 

How many of you remember the photo I took this January of a pre-dawn Progress Energy/ Al Lang Field where an out of the ordinary blue hue interrupts the most darkened green background of the grandstands. I am of the belief that even if you do not actively believe or even acknowledge the existence of these events you have to respect the intentions that the past can be relived over and over again.

And on a night that will come in a few hours where the macabre and the unknown are to rule the activities, isn’t it at least wise to not taunt or treat them with disrespect…even in a small hamlet like St. Petersburg?


Rocco Baldelli News Conference and Tidbits

 

Trivia Question:


When was the first match up between a deaf pitcher and a hitter in baseball, and who were the participants?

 Answer at the bottom of the Blog.

 

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 Center fielder 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 Center fielder 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 Center fielders 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. [1] 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 schedule 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 Anaheim 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 D L 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 purposely 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 in 2008, 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:

 

This off season, 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.

 

Rocco Baldelli announced that he has a mitochondrial metabolic abnormality during a press conference on Wednesday.

 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 Center field back-up this season to give BJ Upton some needed rest during the season. Maybe the Rays will look at their Minor leaguer’s in camp, or sign a veteran like Kenny Lofton to relieve B J, 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.

For your muscles, in fact, for every cell in your body — the source of energy that keeps everything going is called ATP. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the biochemical way to store and use energy.

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!

 

 Trivia Question Answer:

 It happened on may 16, 1902, featuring William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy of the Washington Nationals in the batters box, against New York Giant pitcher Luther “Dummy” Taylor.   the opponents greeted each other in sign language, then hoy knocked out a single against Taylor.

The wording in quotes above is the listing in the Baseball reference material I used for the Trivia question. I, in no manner, used the phrasing, “dummy” as a cruel reference or in a demeaning nature here concerning these fine ballplayers. 

 

 

 

 

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