Results tagged ‘ Rocco Badelli ’
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.
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.
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.
It is about two hours before we again get to hear that first “official” thump into the catcher’s mitt to signal the official beginning of another fantastic Major League Baseball season for the Tampa Bay Rays. And it is great that Mother Nature decided to participate today with a nibbling cold breeze circling through the stadium, and the warming heat from that big orange ball in the sky are both making this first day of real baseball tingle, just like an early childhood Christmas morning.
Hate to admit it to the baseball world, but I am a sentimental old fool when it comes to the game of baseball. Some say I am too emotionally and mentally attached to the game and that has produced some interesting flashbacks over the last few days. To me, it is just a reminder or a mental revisiting of some past Rays Spring Training Grapefruit moments that stand out in my mind. And there has been a bit of a revolving continual flashback video within my mind’s eye recently that hopefully will diminish with Guthrie’s first pitch. But they are great moments to me, and ones that always bring a smile to my face.
But even with a head nod from Rays reliever Dan Wheeler yesterday in the rain-reduced workouts at the Rays complex, another vision came of the young Wheeler being one of the only members of that first Rays Draft class to make it all the way to the top beginning with his fantastic Spring Training back in 2000 when he also won the Al Lopez award for the then D-Rays. It brought back times of seeing someone like Travis Phelps who was drafted so late in the 1998 MLB Draft you would think he would be a scout or in another line of work instead of coming into Rays games as a reliever and reminding people around Tampa Bay that confidence and talent can get you what you desire in life if you mix in a healthy dose of determination into the equation.
And not everything rushing through my mind has been a good time. There was a moment on March 19,2005 right after seeing possible future Baseball Hall of Fame member Roberto Alomar trotting off the Progress Energy Park infield for the last time with his head down that it donned on me he might have just made his last Major League Baseball play, and then within a few hours notice, Alomar announced to the baseball world he was retiring from the game due to vision and back problems. And the duo night’s announcements of both Alomar and outfielder Danny Batista leaving the game on the same date left some of us gasping and wondering if the team might be cursed.
But then memories like 2008, which was the Rays last season training in St. Petersburg, Florida come to my mind. Visions of Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir predicting while he was rehabbing an elbow injury that the playoff was the goal of the 2008 team. And maybe set into motion during that Spring Training quote nugget during a Spring Training interview out at Rays Namoli complex, this team formulated their foundation and cemented their confidence for the entire season. Instantly this team began to win those 1-run games that Spring.
And combined with emotional games against the Yankees in which Yankee farmhand Shelley Duncan was dishing out some baseball justice, this team came together on the clay and dirt of Progress Energy Park. And that cosmos of emotions built up right up until the March 23,2008 game against the Cincinnati Reds when the team played their last Spring Training game ever in the stadium where they had held every Spring Training game since 1998. For they were going to relocate 80 miles Southward the next Spring in the seaside hamlet of Port Charlotte, Florida taking over a refurbished former Spring home of the Texas Rangers. And that last sell-out game held a bevy of emotions that overflowed into the grandstands and grassy berms.
Even if the Spring Training game have been transported to our South, the Rays team taking the field today know what is ahead of them. With Rays Manager Joe Maddon discarding the mathematics and bringing on the abbreviated, we are entering a new Rays era. “What’s Important Now” is the new mantra. Maddon chatted a lot with Ken Ravizza, the Rays performance consultant and sport psychologist who actually came up with the Rays new possible T-shirt phrase, breaking the Rays Manager’s string of number-induced team slogans. Staying in the “present moment” is going to be key in the way the Rays play this Grapefruit season.
Breaking from the untold failures of the Rays past has been accomplished. This new Spring edition of the Rays will again try and control the controllable from today’s game throughout 2010, with an earmark to correcting past inferiors and mental stop signs. The team seems to be focused towards the immediate future, and what each and every one of them can bring to the table. I commend them for the early acknowledgment of what has to be trimmed and better defined for this team to again taste champagne in October.
But I am also a student of the past, and I personally know that sometimes you have to go back to review the past before you confidently step forward. So today as Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett steps into the batter box against Guthrie there is a heightened sense of renewal in the air here in Sarasota, Florida.
There is new orange paint surrounding Ed Smith Stadium, but there is also a crispness that only a great Spring Training baseball game can deliver, and a refreshing rebirth in “The Rays Way” this Spring that should lead to lofty heights and great results. And with that, it is time to watch some last minute preps toward seeing baseball for the first time in 2010. I am excited, reminiscent of the past, and also eager to see the future…Play Ball!
is an open letter to all of the Boston fans who either read or even
hate my Tampa Bay Rays talk from time to time. I thought you all might
like to know what kind of classy guy you got when you signed Rocco
Baldelli a few weeks ago. You might have saddened people like me who
got to know this quiet guy who was never at a loss for words or time
for the Rays and other teams fans.
Boston got to see about Baldelli over the past few seasons is small in
comparison to the Rocco we all got to know and consider one of the
greatest all-time Rays. We all were taken aback in April 2008 when
Rocco pretty much said goodbye to all of us at a late Spring Training
press conference when he announced his illness and that he might not be
back ever to a baseball diamond. You could see the tears begin to well
up in his eyes as he considered life without baseball.
you what, maybe the millions of prayers and well wishes given to him
over that time helped to rebuild the man we thought would patrol center
field for the Rays until he retired. It is a part of life that people
move on from your ball club. But people like Rocco leave a lasting
impression that will still be there for years to come. From his
leadership in the clubhouse and on the bench during his recoveries over
the last few years, Baldelli has been the perfect team mate. Always
there for help and to lend a hand.
you are getting one of the true class acts in baseball, and I thought
you should know about this incredible ad placed in the St Petersburg Times
today by Baldelli thanking the team;s fans for their support. Even when
he was injured, he used to take the pitching stats and make styrofoam
impressions of his team mates and then give them to others to auction
off for charities and for fund raising events.
will truly miss Baldelli for his play on the field for the Rays since
2000 when he was drafted. He is one of those guys who makes hitting the
ball seem simple because of his nice and clean stroke to the ball. His
effortless running and fielding made you think of a young Joe DiMaggio,
who Baldelli was linked to early in his career. You got a guy who as
real on the field as he is off it, and Boston is a better town for him
care of this guy and he will reward you with more than just timely hits
and runs. He will show you what it takes to be a professional
ballplayer and how to treat both the fans and the city like a winner
day in and day out. Truly Boston, Rocco is a diamond in the rough, so
be nice and polish him every once in a while so he doesn’t tarnish, and
he will shine bright for Boston.
Holy Moly, in the last few days a lot of things have been coming up and out of the Tampa Bay Rays camp, But best of all, as of today, we have LESS than 30 days now until the boys’ hit the clay again in Port Charlotte, Florida for the first time. With this new Spring Training Complex comes new problems for the Rays players for the first time in their careers. This was the last team to report to their Spring Training home in the same town that they call home during the regular season. With the new complex a good hour and a half away from the St. Petersburg, Florida area, the guys might have to adjust to being away from the confines of their soft, warm beds for a month.
That can be a make or break moment for some teams. The aspect of not training locally has a double meaning for the Rays. First they are training this season south of their usual demographic area, and that will invite new fans from the reaches of the Port Charlotte, Naples and Fort Meyers areas to embrace the team and get more comfortable with the Rays. Considering that the Rays are establishing their Florida State League class A team here in the city will also help promote a hometown feel every year for the team as the local citizens get to know and watch their local guys move through the Rays system.
A baseball team to call you own can be a major thing for a city’s pride. It gives a town an outward appearance to the rest of the world as a destination and not just a name on a map. With the Rays playing in the sunny and beach-filled west coast of Florida, it will give people up north and in other regions of the country the chance to vacation during the cold spells and still have all the luxuries of Florida that the Tampa Bay area held for the Rays for over a decade in St Petersburg, Florida. But the best thing it can do is help the local economy and boost a city’s morale and visual focus to the world.
Do not take that lightly, a lot of teams play their regular season games in town that have huge reputations, like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit. Not only do these towns have long history with baseball and middle class America, but they have also trained in Florida for a long, long time. The aspect of escaping the snow, wind and sleet and have a month of warm sun and cool breezes can have a rejuvenating effect on the mind and soul. Sometime you think that teams did it to get their minds set right and with the warm weather you tend to relax and want to work out and your worries tend to drift with the winds.
So here we are within sight of the guys stretching and throwing some long toss, and with that we will probably see some changes in a few of the players physical states, and as always someone will have a different hairstyle or facial hair to show to the fans. It used to be Rocco Baldelli who has gone from baby faced peach fuzz, to a mustache on season, to a full grown Grizzly Adams rendition before finally shaving it in Seattle before his first start in 2008.
But the guy that will probably command the most attention upfront will be Rays starting pitcher Scott Kazmir. As we know, Kazmir suffered from some elbow problem early in Spring Training in 2007, and in this off season decided to do a bit of working out and building himself up to a point where he was no longer going to be carded every time he went into a new place for dinner or a beverage. Kazmir has put on about 20 odd pounds on his frame, and his arms are showing the bulk of the change.
This can be a double-edged sword for a pitcher. With some added on muscle and weight, sometimes your old release points will seem a bit off and might even bring about a change in your delivery that can either hamper or help you velocity. Now this not to say that he will look like a Blue hulk, but even to consider Kazmir with a little extra muscle means we might be seeing him finally take that last step to wanting to be an elite pitcher in this league.
No one has ever doubted his determination or his desire to be a great pitcher, but in the last few seasons, he has shown a bit of a vulnerable side due to arm situations, that thank goodness have not had lasting effects or brought up conditions that would limit his pitching beyond simple rest and flexibility training. This is a season where the youngest current member of the Rays rotation, and also the most experienced gets to lead by example and maybe finally take that last hurdle to become a household name in places besides Texas and Florida.
Kazmir has the likability and the up front bold and confident nature to speak his mind and back it up. Don not forget people, this is the guy who boldly said during last years Spring that the team would make the playoffs and go beyond. Such a statement at the time was met with snickers and belly chuckles. How could this young pitcher know more than the mass of sportswriters’ and columnists situated all over the green grasses. How could this pitcher, who was limited in his workouts make such a statement when he had to stand by and watch for a short period of time.
The boldness and the bravado of Kazmir was only a glimmer of the teams total personality in 2008, he portrayed and possessed the true spirit of this team in 2008, he was the young gun fighting for respect and nation-wide attention for the first time. Kazmir might not have been the poster boy for the Rays revolution, but he surely held one of it’s best weapon in his left shoulder. So is he the only one showing off season commitment and possible advancements in his career in 2009? He has another young player right there next to him that has been labeled a slacker and will transform to change his 2008 persona into a budding All Star.
People commented a lot last year that B J Upton looked like he was slacking off at the plate by not striding in and using his front shoulder to hit the ball for power. But these are the same people who maybe did not see that game in Baltimore when Upton went down in a heap and was in obvious pain due to his shoulder popping out of joint. It is a problem he has had his entire life, but in 2008, it became front and center to the world. He played the entire 2008 season with a tear in his shoulder and did not make a big deal out of it to the media or the fans.
When it finally came out that his power numbers were absent mostly due to that injury, people looked back and then remembered the incident and cut the guy some slack. It began to feel better about October of 2008, and Upton then went on a bit of a power tear showing that a healthy Upton is a productive Upton. In the off season, Upton underwent surgery to hopefully prevent the same injury from happening again. There are no 100 percent surgeries in life, but this one will help him develop that power stroke again that we saw in the playoffs. It will also help him relax a bit more at the plate and be able to take more pitches, which will make him more of a threat to walk and then steal bases in 2009.
But his progress has hit a bit of a snag, and he might not be able to swing as much as he would like in Spring Training. It is thought that he will be ready a week into the season, maybe after the team comes back from its first road trip through Boston and Baltimore. The prognosis is bad if you want a healthy Upton from game1, but isn’t it better that we have a 100 percent, ready to go Upton a week later than to maybe make him adjust and maybe even re-injure himself before he is ready.
Players’ make sacrifices all the time for the sake of the game and their teams. One week will not cost the Rays anymore than using another player in his spot for a few games, then they will have him back in center field patrolling the outfield for the rest of the season. I can wait for a healthy Upton. I also think this is the year he will awaken and raise a few eyes towards him finally taking steps to the All Star game and becoming that great player we all have seen in him since he first came up in September at the age of 17 with the Rays.
Life will be exciting in Tampa Bay in 2009. The team will strive nightly to bring home wins and also bring back the excitement of 2008. They will try and establish a winning baseball tradition in this area. Along with the joys and sorrows of 2009, we hope to see a few more of these guys take their games to the next level and establish themselves as players and competitors. 2009 is only 30 days away from starting its infancy, but in Tampa Bay, our team is all grown up and ready to take on the world………again.
It is also learned from family sources that Baldelli has not been contacted recently by the Boston Red Sox. It wasa thought he might be deep into negotiations with the teams as their fourth outfielder in 2009. At one point, it was considered that the Red Sox ,the Cincinnati Reds and The Philadelphia Phillies were heavily pursuing Baldelli for their teams. It is an afterthought that Baldelli would give the Tampa Bay Rays a chance to match or beat any contract offered to him by another team. The Rays stood by Baldelli during the past 2 seasons while he was rehabbing his multiple injuries and helped set up treatment appointsment with leading docotrs and clinics who prodded and poked Baldelli before diagnosising him in 2008 with the fatigue syndrome.
Starting on Monday, November 10th and running until November 17th, Tampa Bay Rays fans can support Rays rookie pitcher David Price in his quest to be on the cover of the December 5th, ESPN, the Magazine’s ”Next” issue. This issue is the magazine’s yearly guess as to the movers’ and the shakers’ of the coming season. It will be focusing on 4 key figures from 4 different sports who might be the people to watch in 2009.
With Price set to enter his second Spring Training this year with the Rays, even money will tell you that he will break camp on the 25-man roster for the team. A plus would be a number 4 spot in the rotation, and a chance to finally prove to the league that he is the next great leftie in the American League.
With the pedigree growing daily, Price, who was the Baseball America choice as the Minor League Player of the Year this past season came up to the big club for the post season push and excelled beyond the team’s wildest expectations. Price became the first rookie in MLB history to record a win and a save in the playoffs without recording a decision during the regular season.
His shining moment of the playoffs has to be his mastery of the defending World Champions in Game 7 of the ALCS at the Trop. against the Boston Red Sox. Price came in and dominated the final inning to put the exclamation point on the series and send the Rays to their first World Series appearance.
Along with Price running for this spread on the cover will bethe NFL’s Atlanta Falcon rookie quarterback sensation, Matt Ryan. He has led the wingless Falcons air attack in 2008 on their climb back to the top of the NFC. From the world of auto racing we have Joey Logano, who in the words of NASCAR legend Mark Martin is the “real deal.” And winding up the quad will be Spanish basketball wizard Ricky Rubio. He has been compared to the late great “Pistol Pete” Maravich in ability and range on the court.
So do not forget to go to www.ESPN.com and vote for our next great pitcher daily to earn him the right to be the coverboy on the December 5th issue of the publication. It is time for the Rays Republic to sound off and show that we have a voice and are not afraid to use it.
Forgotten in all the talk about free agents and the trade chatter going on last week was the forgotten fact that Ray’s pitching coach, Jim Hickey is currently without a contract with the team. In 2008, while most of the team’s coaches were given 2-year contracts, Hickey was given a 1-year deal because of an off the field activity.
The activities of the night of the last game in 2007 have played out in the media and the courts and I really am not going to rehash it out here for respect of the team and Hickey for taking a professional and responsible solution to the event.
So, as of this time, the Rays are currently without an “official” Pitching Coach for the team under contract. With Andrew Friedman returning from both the MLB GM’s meeting and Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s wedding in California this weekend, this might be high on the agenda of thing to complete before the Winter Meetings in a few weeks.
To Hickey’s credit, the Rays Bullpen and their starter’s did perform absolutely outstanding during the season and during the playoffs. I put alot of that on the work he has done the last few years’ with the team and in letting the guys mature and evolve both on the mound and off during the year.
His philosophy of pitching to location spots instead of letting his pitchers’ throw has sometime caught the wrath of myself and some of the Rays’ fanbase. Some of the control issues of young ace Scott Kazmir can be related to the action of changing his pitching style to throw to locations instead of challenging the hitters with his superior fastball. By making Kazmir conform to location pitching it has caused Kazmir to loose some of his velocity and confidence on his slder during the season.
With off season training and work Kazmir will become a better pitcher in 2009 for the Rays. That being said, I do hope that the Rays retain Hickey for 2009 on a 1-year contract and see if he can perform another miracle season with his staff.
Joe McDonald of The Providence Journal sat down with Rocco Baldelli recently and asked him about his 2008 season and his aspects for the future. The article covered how Baldelli’s year with the Rays was a rollercoaster that went from a huge low to the ultimate high of playing in the World Series with the Rays.
It also went into the subject of if Baldelli could see himself play for the Rays bitter rival, the Boston Red Sox. Considering the newspaper is based in the Northeast, it is no wonder that the article pulls a mostly favorable view for the Red Sox. But with Baldelli also being raised in Rhode Island, it does go into the pride and the lifetime dream of playing in Fenway Park for family and friends.
I said that there were about 6 clubs currently looking at him and that the Rays have not been able to sit down with him yet and discuss any situations for 2009 with the team. Considering the wild week at the GM meeting, and the nuptuials of his manager this past weekend, Baldelli might get a call to discuss thing during the next week.
I still have a gut feeling that the Rays will get the first chance to make an offer and entice Baldelli based on their past actions of working with him during his injury and having faith in him upon his return to the 25-man roster.
The ball might now be in the Rays court as to how Baldelli decides where he will play in 2009. He can be an effective right-handed bat off the bench and also be a truly effective 4th outfielder for any team in baseball. The fatigue situation can now be controled by rest, medication and monitoring, but the true measure will be in who wants him more, and to what extent in the upcoming year.