Results tagged ‘ Rocco Baldelli ’

Hellboy Might Need a Handyman

I can imagine that Tampa Bay Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson will have a special carpentry project to complete in the near future. I can definitely imagine a particular DIY (do-it-yourself) project to be penciled in bold letters on the Hellboy’s off-season “Honey-Do” list.

I can visualize him now peering over expansive pile of timber with the same intensity and commitment he showed 29 times during 2011 as he took the mound. Bet he is even wearing a Rays game day cap on his head, with a pencil fashioned behind his ear. Just like sheriff Brody needed a “Bigger boat”, Hellboy is definitely going to be in the market for a trophy case addition soon.

Recently Tampa Bay Rays rookie starter Jeremy Hellickson got the fantastic news back home in Des Moines, Iowa that he had been selected as the 2011 Baseball America M L B Rookie of the Year. Joining the ranks of Baseball America past R O Y winners such as Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols (2001), Diamondbacks SP Brandon Webb (2003), Tigers SP Justin Verlander (2006), Brewers OF Ryan Braun (2007), Tigers, Cubs C Geovany Soto (2008) and Giants C Buster Posey (2010).

Major League Baseball and the Baseball Writers Association of America (B B W A A) will not officially announce their respective National League or American League Rookie of the Year Award winners until November 14th but history is definitely tilted Hellboy’s way as 8 out of the last 11 M L B seasons, the Baseball America R O Y selection also heard his name announced as their respective league’s R O Y award winner in mid-November.

Hellboy also ended the National League’s 4-year grip on the award and Hellickson became not only the first pitcher to stake claim to the award, but also the first American League player to win the honor since Detroit Tigers rookie SP Justin Verlander back in 2006. This same Baseball America MLB Rookie of the Year honor eluded former Rays standouts Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, Joe Kennedy, Rolando Arroyo, plus current stars 3B Evan Longoria and SP David Price. Interesting enough, former Rays 3B/DH Eric Hinske (2002) and SP Hideo Nomo (1995) won the same award, but not as Rays.

Amazing that Hellickson in his first full MLB season posted a .210 opponents batting average, which ranked 3rd in the MLB behind possible Cy Young candidates Verlander and Los Angeles Dodger hurler Clayton Kershaw. Didn’t hurt that the young Rays starter saved his best for later in the 2011 season as Hellboy bolstered a 2.64 ERA from the All-Star break to the end of the 2011 season, plus garnered a coveted American League Divisional Series pitching assignment.

Hellickson is definitely another reason to feel optimistic coming into the Spring of 2012 when he will not only have another year under his belt, but possibly possess even a few more tweaks to his pitching arsenal. With that in mind, maybe there should be a tweak to Hellickson’s DIY project plans, possibly re-configuring his carpentry plans to include an addition to his home. Got a feeling this is the first wave of many shiny pieces of MLB acknowledgment that Hellboy will receive in his career.

If you need help Jeremy, I am pretty good with a tape measure and a circular saw.

Cobb’s Honesty and Rays Diligence Could Save More Than His Career.

It is so easy for a pitcher to rule numbness and “tingles” throughout their arm as just the offshoot symptoms of a “dead arm” syndrome. His team could also push off the discomfort and pain towards that same side of the coin, and just let a pitcher works his way out of the situation. But I want to take the time to commend both the Rays Medical Staff and Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his crew  in their swift and concise decision making process concerning rookie pitcher Alex Cobb.

 Cobb is a budding, talented young pitcher who could have easily tried to hide his condition on Saturday night in fear of losing his place in the rotation, or possibly again being demoted back to the minors. Cobb could have taken the path of deception and the condition could have escalated or gotten worse until damage was irreversible and either surgery or shutting him down for the season was the only solution. In this case, honesty might have been the perfect course of action, and saved more than just his pitching career.

Some could say the play during the game where he had to come over and cover First Base on a bunt single by the A’s Coco Crisp could have been the precursor to this aliment coming to the surface. A blunt motion or force upon his right arm could have jarred the symptoms, or possibly brought to light a potential hazard in waiting. But that is just conjecture until the final medical reports ate filed.

Sure we might not know the extent or cause of Cobb’s arm numbness or sensations yet, but if the Rays learned anything from the Rocco Baldelli situation, it is to take nothing for granted. Sometimes a simple diagnosis would be the perfect solution, but the problem could still be there hiding, waiting for another chance to spring up and cause more havoc for Cobb in the future. By being concise and precise, the Rays could eliminate mirror image symptoms that occur within our own bodies.

But this story has a double dose of goodness to it too. Cobb by revealing the “numbness” in his arm to the Rays Head Trainer  Ron Porterfield and Maddon, it put into motion an immediate plan to try and decipher the symptoms and get conclusive answers towards solving Cobb’s discomfort. Cobb trusted the Rays medical machine to help eliminate this tingling sensation and not put off either time or progression to solving the body mystery.

Because it is Cobb’s pitching hand, the Rays took swift and detailed actions to protect one of their budding pitching gems. Cobb never looked like he could establish a consistent rhythm on the mound on Saturday night, and possibly the “needles and pins” sensation might have shown up early in the night. Not going to blame the numbness, but unless Cobb was tipping off his fastball, the Oakland A’s just seemed to fest on it Saturday night.

Still, it was great to see Cobb say something before the matter could have escalated towards a potentially long term injury. Huge praise seriously has to go towards the Rays Medical staff for their due diligence and process of eliminating and evaluating towards finding a cause or effect of the problem.

Pitchers have a limited shelf life normally in baseball. Good news came swiftly after  Porterfield sent Cobb to a local hospital for some more detailed blood tests.  Soon afterwards it was learned that Cobb did not have  a possible blood clot in his arm, which could have been a immediate cause of the numbness. There might be a battery of medical tests in Cobb’s future, but possibly this honest gesture might just be life saving.

Even thought the Rays have put Cobb on the DL, this move could prolong and help discover a possible aliment that is beginning to develop within Cobb. The result could be many more wins, and a long career. It is still amazing to be the torque and pounds per square inch a pitcher puts on his joints and muscles nightly throwing in Major League Baseball.

Injuries happen in a sport where a pitcher throws so much torque and pressure on their pitching arms nightly. By Cobb being upfront and telling the Rays about his discomfort, it might have been a precursor to more Rays wins, and a longer career. Sometime each of us hide small aliments or nicks and pain from our employers, hoping they will just simply go away.

Cobb was in tune with his body’ enough to know something did not add up, and asked for help before it could of escalated or become a more complex problem. It is a great example of a player trusting his gut, and a team listening and help solve a potential setback. Kudos again to Cobb and the Rays staff for both doing the right thing. Hopefully this is just something minor, but if it is not, then it could save more than just Cobb’s career…it could save his life.  

Fuld is Making the Numbers Work for Him

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Since the Tampa Bay Rays assembled
their full squad back in mid-February, Rays outfielder Sam Fuld has
been on my “watch list”. Brought into the Rays fold via a trade
from the Chicago Cubs for Rays fire baller Matt Garza can be pressure
enough just to make the squad, but Fuld has seemed to be on some sort
of mission early on in this young 2011 season, or maybe it is just
part of his family linage.


Fuld comes from a family of high
achievers. His mother is a state Senator in the tiny state of New
Hampshire, his father a well respected member of academia as the Dean
of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire.
Fuld himself attended the brainiac Stanford University and interned
at Stats, Inc, which covers 85 International sports leagues
(including MLB) after his 2005 season with Peoria in the Midwest
League .

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Number have always seemed to follow
Fuld, who graduated with a degree in Economics and always seemed to
have calculations ans statistics with him, even at a young age. His
mother, Senator Amanda Merrill proudly said,


He didn’t carry
around the typical teddy bear or worn-down baby blanket when he was
young. He carried a book of numbers. He had a baseball stats book
with him all of the time, like a security blanket. He kept the
history of the game and numbers. That’s what he loved.”

Before Opening Day in 2011, Fuld has
spent only 140 days on a Major League Baseball roster, but this
Spring and in the early stages of the 2011 season, Sam Fuld is
showing everyone around the MLB why this spunky 5’10 ( yeah right)
spark plug has been watched with such anticipation. His determination
and strive to achieve well above his vertical stature has him right
now on a mantel with the Rays Republic.


Not even 8 games into the 2011 season
and Fuld has constantly shown defensive plays that astonish and
amaze. His “superman” leap towards a dying liner hit by Chicago
White Sox outfielder Juan Pierre with the bases loaded as a firm
example of the lengths Fuld will go to give his Rays a chance to
celebrate nightly.

Pierre, hit the ball into the perfect
spot for not only extra bases, but a possible inside-the-park Grand
Slam, but the breakneck speed of Fuld, and a perfectly timed leap
instead left most fans at home and the assembled masses in U S
Cellular Field bewildered. You know you have done something truly
amazing when the home team fans stand up and cheer your play.


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Statistically, Fuld should not of had
even a glove on that ball, but possibly being a fan of those same
numbers, Fuld knew the possibilities and still thrust himself
sideways on the Rightfield warning track region to bring in that
small white sphere.


Even after heading to the Rays dugout
after the conclusion of the bottom of the inning with Rays trainer
Paul Harker attending to his multiple scrapes and abrasions, the
magnitude of the moment probably had not hit Fuld yet. The play was
probably going to be the best defensive play not only for the Rays
but in the MLB so far in 2011, or until Fuld pulls off another daring
display of man versus gravity.

The wild part is so far in 2011, Fuld
has thrust himself also into the fold of the Rays Republic by making
defensive play after play early on this season, showing why Rays
Manager Joe Maddon and the staff selected him as the 25th
member of the Rays roster. I have a feeling Fuld never fretted about
the numbers game, he already knew his odds were good if he played “
his game”.

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Fuld’s incredible run at the numbers
continues as he has already stolen his fifth base, which leads the
American League and is tied with Diamondback Willie Bloomquist and LA
Dodger Matt Kemp for the MLB lead. With 5 steals in his first 8
games, Fuld has done something only 2 other Rays have ever done:
Former Rays OF Carl Crawford had an MLB leading 6 SB after 8 games in
2004, and SS Julio Lugo had an MLB high 5 SB after 8 games back in
2005. While Fuld has had 3 20 SB seasons in the minors, he had only 2
total steals in 98 games over 3 seasons for the Cubs.

Fuld has already hit three times in the
revered Rays lead-off spot, garnered 2 outfield assists, ans is
wearing the past uniform number of another swift Rays outfielder who
retired from his playing days this past Spring. Only negatives you
can find right now is early on his usual BB/K ratio has taken a hit
as Fuld currently has 3 BB and 3 K’s to his credit.


Over 5 of his past 6 professional
seasons, Fuld has usually totaled more walks than strikeouts. His
ratio of 66 Walks to 37 K’s last season at Triple-A Iowa was the
second best in all of Triple-A baseball. Fuld has only struck out
more than once in 7 of his 301 games.

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This might be the only part of his game
right now that begs for improvement, but considering Fuld is on his
first run through the American League, some adjustments might be in
order. Fuld has already provided some extreme bright spots for the
Rays so far in the 2011 season. Most might think his offensive game
needs tweaking, but his defensive format is perfect for the Rays.


Even during this White Sox series, Fuld
has seemed to be at precisely the right outfield position at the
right time to make a hard play seem simple, or even an amazing play
just jump off the page at you. Much like former Rays OF Rocco
Baldelli who did the same thing for so long in a Rays uniform wearing
the same number 5. Maybe Fuld does understand the numbers……Hmmm?

What is Your Favorite 2010 Rays Moment?

 


 

As I was waiting for the Tampa Bay Rays plane to arrive Sunday evening at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport Rays game day emcee Rusty Kath was asking a few smaller Rays fans an important question for possible bobbleheads and assorted prizes. It was a simple question: “What was your biggest Rays moment in 2010?”


The question seemed so simple at first thought, but instantly there became a avalanche of special Rays moments throughout the season, including about 10 Rays moments that kept appearing again and again in my mind based on their place in the Rays scheme of things this season, and their importance to the overall Rays clinching their second American League East title in three seasons. And I guess the best place to start is in April and work our way back towards today.

 

April 6th

This was the Rays home opener against the Baltimore Orioles, and was set with pomp and circumstance normally associated with the first home game, but something felt different this year. It was not the two-colored flaming spirals in the Rays infield before the game, it was something brewing beneath the surface of this contest.

It was Carl Crawford’s eight consecutive Opening Day spot in the line-up, and possibly his last as a member of the Rays. But it was his play on the field that separated this day from any other this season.

Crawford sealed the Rays victory with a 2-run walk-off double that tore the feathers from the Orioles for a 4-3 loss. It was classic Crawford, and instantly this image came to mind as the reason I am going to miss C.C.


 

 April 17th

Was a special moment in Rays history as the day I truly began to believe that Rays closer Rafael Soriano was going to be something special in 2010. Not only did Soriano help save the Rays completion of the prior night’s suspended game, a 3-1 Rays victory. Soriano also got his second save of the day in the Rays 6-5 win in the high cap of the unexpected doubleheader . To win one game in Boston is a great thrill, to win back-to-back within 12 hours of each other is a moment to remember.


 

May 2nd 

This game evolved into a special home moment for the Rays Republic as Rays starter Wade Davis and Royals starter Zack Greinke both threw 7 scoreless innings each with Greinke only making one mistake. But that one mistake ended up being the only run scored in the ballgame when Greinke left up a fastball to Evan Longoria that he deposited in the Leftfield stands for a 1-0 Rays victory.


 

June 8th

This contest displayed the versatility of the Rays as a great offensive and pitching team as Rays starter Jeff Niemann 2-hit the Toronto Blue Jays in a 9-0 shutout of the birds at Tropicana Field. The night was highlighted by 2 Home Runs by Carlos Pena., one a Grand Slam. Niemann has his bid for a No-Hitter broken up in the top of the sixth inning by Toronto shortstop Mike McCoy.



 

June 19th

This road game during the InterLeague schedule will be remembered for a lot of reasons. First it was an away contest against the Florida Marlins in which 15,000 Marlin Air Horns tortured the Rays players eardrums for the entire contest. But it might have been the true signal that the Rays patience at the plate was beginning to return dividends as the Rays got 4 walks in the 11th inning, including 2 with the bases loaded to secure a 9-8 win.


It was also the night that saw the debut of Rays usual starter James Shields as he came in for one scoreless innings of relief and picked up the win on this night. Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine also got his first Major League Baseball save on this especially extra noisy night (I am bringing my Marlins Air Horn to Game 1 of the ALDS tomorrow).

 

July 26th

This date will probably be set in stone by many among the Rays Republic as the most important night in Rays pitching history. On this night, Rays starter Matt Garza produced the Rays first No-Hitter against the Detroit Tigers. More amazing was the fact Garza and Detroit starter Max Scherzer were trading No-No bids until Rays slugger Matt Joyce hit a Grand Slam to provide the needed punch to seal Graza’s gem.


Garza threw 120 pitches on the night with 6 strikeouts and one lone walk to Tigers Rightfielder Brian Boesch in the second inning to eclipse the chance for a Perfect Game. The entire night Garza seemed on a different plane and was constantly bombarding the strike zone pushing 80 of his 120 pitches across the plate for strikes.

 

August 1st

This extremely exciting Sunday afternoon game against the New York Yankees where Alex Rodriguez was still hunting for his 600th career Home Run. He did not start in the contest, but came on as a pinch hitter and was struck out looking to end the 7th inning by Rays starter James Shields. It also signaled the coming drama between the Yankees and the Rays as the Rays pulled within one game of the Yankees after this 3-0 victory at Tropicana Field.


 

August 10th

During this road game start the Rays Republic got to see some of the immediate future for the Rays on the mound. Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson took the mound in this contest at Comerica Park against the Detroit Tigers and gave up a lead-off hit to Austin Jackson before he then retired 18 straight Tiger hitters enroute to his second straight Rays win. Hellickson threw 7 inning and got 7 strikeouts and the Rays countered by getting 8 runs on 9 hits, including 4 doubles, to defeat the Tigers 8-0.


 

August 28th

This game was the contest at Tropicana Field against the Boston Red Sox that saw both Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria flirt with a possible cycle in the same game. It was also the game that B J Upton hit a tying Home Run in the 8th inning, then Dan Johnson hit a walk-off Home Run that pushed the visiting Red Sox to 5 ½ games behind the Rays for the American League Wild Card. It signaled the beginning of the end for the Boston club as they never got closer than 5 ½ game again to the Rays in 2010.


 

September 13th

In this premier contest we saw two of the American League’s best left-hander going against each other to try and prop each other up as favorite for the 2010 American League Cy Young candidate. Both Yankee starter C C Sabathia and Rays starter David Price traded zeros for 8 innings each before each left the ballgame.

It wasn’t until the bottom of the 11th inning when pinch hitter Reid Brignac sent a solos shot into the Rightfield stands that either teams blinked in this 1-0 walk-off victory.


So there are 10 possible candidates for my greatest moment in Rays 2010 history. I truly think Garza’s No-Hitter is the top pitching moment of 2010, but as a team, there is still another moment I truly feel has to be added to this list.

October 3rd, might be the biggest team based moment of 2010. As a team the Rays stood solid and would not break after going down early to a 2-0 deficit. With the bases loaded, Rays reliever Chad Qualls got a well deserved double play ball that got the Rays out of the inning without further damage.


The Rays ended up scrapping together an impressive top of the 9th inning rally when pinch hitter Rocco Baldelli single to leftifield, then stole second base ( his 1st SB of 2010). Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach then put down a great ball down the Third Baseline that Royals Third Baseman Wilson Betemit misfired a throw to First Base for an error and Baldelli scampered in to score. Rafael Soriano then converted his 45th save of the season as 8 Rays pitchers combined for the 3-2 victory.

 

The win cemented the Rays clinch of the 2010 American League East title with an exclamation point needed going into the playoffs instead of question marks. The victory solidly put all discussion to bed that the Rays backed into the post season as A L Champs, plus gave the Rays Home field Advantage throughout the American League segment of the post season. 

The gutsy extra inning win completely embodies the Rays mantra of “WIN- What’s Important Now”. It also helped send the Rays homeward so they could host the Texas Rangers instead of travel straight to Minnesota to begin the American League Divisional Series tomorrow afternoon.


Those are my special Rays moments of 2010 so far. With the post season about to get into full swing in 24 hours, possibly more fantastic Rays moments could be added to this list before the Rays take their last at bats, or final place in the field in the 2010 Playoffs.

Hopefully I have 3 more champagne celebrations to cover, and a parade downtown to photograph. The time is upon us for greatness to arrive. It is time to show the rest of the country what Rays Republic fans have known all season long, it is never over against the Rays until that last Umpire’s call.

 
 
 
 
 

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.
 

Love Seeing Baldelli in Rays Blue!

 

 
AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

I was talking to a rival friend of mine who transplanted to Tampa Bay from Boston 2 years ago before the Tampa Bay Rays opened their doors today about the possibilities of either the Red Sox or the Rays getting the services of Rocco Baldelli. Immediately I spoke it loud and clear that the possibilities of Baldelli (in the near future) posing in a Red Sox jersey was slim to none and slim had left the building. My colleague was a bit put back by my state of arrogance bliss at that statement, for I knew a secret he did not about Baldelli. My friend kept going with his “Rocco” speech reminding me that Baldelli was a Rhode Island native son and had an instant kinship and valued and cherished his time with his beloved Red Sox.

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).
My naïve Northeastern baseball friend with the big red “B” prominently displayed on his cap then stated that because of the overall returning strength of the Red Sox outfield unit in 2010, and some preexisting medical issues, maybe Baldelli was viewed more as a extended bench player than an active participant and the Red Sox gave him his freedom to pursue other options. And I began to laugh at my friend because pulling up the Baldelli’s medical card seemed a bit amateurish at best to me. It is really well documented the struggles and the pains and strains Baldelli’s fatigue syndrome took on both his professional and private life. But I could not see a team release someone for that reason alone…could I?

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.

 
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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.

 
AP Photo/Unknown Photographer

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.
 

 
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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.

 

Crawford Celebrates his 1,000 Leftfield Start

 
 
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I popped up a tweet on Twitter the other day asking if I might be the only member of the Rays Republic to know that Tampa Bay Rays Leftfielder Carl Crawford celebrated his 1,000th start in Leftfield as a member of the Rays on Saturday night. Coming into the Rays 2010 season, Crawford has started 983 times in LF for the Rays, and with him sitting out only one Rays contest prior to their 18th game of the season on Saturday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, Crawford has now become a member of the 4-digit career starts longevity club in the MLB.

And I suspect in the last 10 years, that club has not inducted a lot of this generations MLB stars. But there was not a single Raysvision scoreboard moment before, during or after the game. No special mention of this awesome feat during the Rays Radio broadcast, or a spoken word over the Public Address system to give all of the Rays fans in attendance a chance to get on their feet and give Crawford the Standing Ovation he deserves for his long tenure service to the Rays. Here is a guy who has been a constant face of the Rays franchise since Crawford took his first steps upon the Field Turf II in 2001, and I am the only one outside, or in the Rays Press Box who saw this stat printed in the Rays 2010 Media Guide.


Not to push that I have any literary tendencies here, but I have been known to grace and glance at the pages of this 448 page colossal Rays Media Guide before and during Rays games as an instant resource for little tidbits and snippets just like this one concerning CC. Maybe what is troubling me deep down inside is that it would only take 30 seconds of airtime, a minute of scoreboard recognition, and might show Crawford that his sweat and grime over these years has been valued beyond just the “W’s” , the base stealing, and his multiple All-Star nods. That the Tampa Bay region has truly taken him in as a member of their own Rays family.

After Saturday nights game I spoke with a member of the Rays media cliché` (who wants to remain nameless) about this and he told me it was maybe just an oversight, but that these kind of career stats do not come up or matter as much as the offensive gems Crawford could still obtain here in 2010. Plus since CC already owns most of the Rays offensive numbers not related to power hitting already, it might seem as repetitious to those outside the stadium.

That even thought the event should have at least gotten a chance for the fans to give a roaring sign of support for Crawford, there might have been more pressing issues and events that determined it to be a fact that slips by without notice….or should have if I had not brought it up.

 
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And maybe this Rays Media member is right. Maybe it should not be something I am not so upset about, or frustrated about at all. Maybe I am turning into one of those emotional baseball historic factoid saps who actually think a moment of simple acknowledgment and crowd recognition can sometimes mend a fence better than a boatload of money. Maybe I have finally crossed that proverbial fence I have been riding for years and actually am outwardly giving a damn about these guys.

But, that is just the way I follow the game. I am the guy who envisions the little things snowballing into bigger situations. Maybe I finally grew up as a baseball fan and now see multiple sides of the game simultaneously instead of just the action on the field.

But it did bother me that a Rays player like Crawford, who takes up 9 pages in the Rays 2010 Media Guide did not get some sort of cap nod, or even vocal mention besides here in a Rays MLB-based blog that most member of the Rays Republic will never read on their way to the other Rays blogs. But then again, I am a fan-based blog and only get a mention if I show a photo or a snippet of information most people would not know unless I flushed it out of the system.

I am considered by some in the lefty Press Box as a bottom-feeder who finds the small morsels and turn them into a Goliath fish weighting 200 plus pounds (maybe like this post). There have been some recent other snippets or morsels just from the Rays career start page that within 2010 will see a total of four other Rays current players set their own career starts record for their respective positions. Some people might say that it just seemed like yesterday that B J Upton was beginning to learn the ropes at the team’s Centerfielder after his flurry of starts around the Rays infield.

But would it had made any difference to any of us that Upton also on Saturday night became the Rays career games leader in Centerfield passing Rays roving instructor Rocco Baldelli by staring his 375th career game in CF. Ironic that John Fogerty was here and started with “Centerfield” as his first song of the night.


And with the National Media attention on the Rays duo earlier in the season, don’t you think that Upton and Crawford both posting Rays career start marks on the same night might be a nice little factoid to toss to the Media fish? You would think at least the folks at Elias might catch onto this small morsel. But neither of them were mentioned at all, even in the Rays MLB Press Pass online publication for either Saturday or Sunday.

Or would it have mattered that with his 85th start of 2010 somewhere around the 2010 All Star break, Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena will pass former Rays First Baseman Fred McGriff and become the team’s career starts leader making his 483rd start at First Base for the Rays? Want to bet that makes the media handout!

Or maybe the fact that recently, Rays Third Baseman Evan Longoria, who is entering his third season with the Rays, in only his sixth start of the 2010 season at home set the Rays Third Base career starts record with his 273rd start passing former Ray Aubrey Huff for that honor.

And I have gazed twice and did not see that on Sunday’s MLB Press Pass either…Hmmm? But maybe it is just me that thinks it is impressive and show the solidarity of this Rays player foundation and the longevity of the strength of this team that these four will all have set career start records during this season.

 
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And this is only talking about career starts, this is not digging into the team’s record books like a member of SABR even trying to find diamond hidden in the miles of words and facts. But the pure fact that these four instances just jumped out at me during this weekend truly speaks volumes to how if the general Rays media members do not have the space or the time to add such small bits of recognition, maybe that is a niche I should consider soon as my blog format.

Maybe there is a need to find the “small things” dangling off the line and take it like a Blue Marlin and run with it.


Maybe it is time to reconfigure and rethink. There is such a plethora of information out there in the Internet stratosphere just aching for some sunlight. Maybe I should take a few fellow Rays friends advice and seek one of those names upon the black tags around the Rays dugout and reestablish the Rays Renegade website. Maybe there is a place for both my long-winded blog posts, and smaller multiple paragraphs of photos or even great Rays information that could be beneficial to other Rays Republic followers.

But it does still bother me that Crawford, who started his 1,000th career game in LF for the Rays did not get an ounce of mention. Especially since the Rays player who holds second place in that LF category is former Ray Greg Vaughn who started only 159 Rays games, and who last manned that spot before Crawford became the heir apparent.

P.S. I know my photos are coming out a bit blurry, but I have an inferior camera. I at first thought it was my eyes going bad on me, but I had someone else also take a few and they came out the same way. As soon as I get some chicken feed, I will upgrade my camera and also get a wide angle/ telephoto lens that suits game day shots….Might take a while.

Rays 2010 Commercial Lacks “Wow” Factor

 
 Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Commercial
 

I got to admit, I love the big sound of the drum line resonating in the foreground of the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Television commercials. But there is something missing…. Something is missing we have seen for the last several years in Rays advertising. How yeah! A slogan. We have been bombarded in the past with “Heart and Soul”, “Feel the Heat” , “Catch Some Rays”, “We Are One Team” and Major League Baseball’s own “I Live For This” campaign.
 

But the rapid fire interaction of fans and players in the commercial does go great with the drum line music. See Carl Crawford taking a base away from the opposition, or seeing Even Longoria tee-off on a long ball into Section 146 of Tropicana Field can get me excited for the April 6th game, but what then…What happens after that?
 

Well, the Rays have a call out to all drum lines in the Tampa Bay area to repeat or bring your own style to the auditions to maybe have your own sound bytes on a future Rays commercial. And over the years we have heard several local groups before Rays games get out there and beat their drum skins and mix music with synchronized dancing to the beat. And that is a great thing that the Rays advertising guru’s want to reward the music makers of Tampa Bay.
 

But something is missing in these commercials. Something seriously is missing and needs to have a place within the next generation of the Rays produced ads. And it is really quite simple what is missing to me. It is the players themselves. I loved the old Raysvision commercials produced when John Franzone was here where we saw speedster Carl Crawford racing a wiener dog at Derby Lane. Or the ex-Heckler and my friend Keith as the caddie out at the Vinoy Golf Course getting robbed by Rocco Baldelli catching the fly golf ball.
 
Tampa Bay Rays 2009 Season Ticket Commercial

 

These commercials brought us into the player’s realm where we like to feel safe. For some odd reason, the commercials that have featured small segments with either the players in the action, or even Rays Manager Joe Maddon discussing the player, using their nicknames from 2009 brought you closer to the team. But this is the first segment of the Rays trying to get you to come out and experience the Rays carnival atmosphere that will be stage front in 2010.

 

Sure the many activities will still go on in Rightfield and Leftfield Street before the games, but there are many planned activities besides the Hess Express/Rays Saturday Night Concert Series to gain your attention. Every Friday night there will be a series of fireworks 10 minutes after the game indoors. Now this has been done before in Tropicana Field, but most fans remember it was pre-game, and the smoke decided to stay within Tropicana Field for most of the game that night.
 
2007 Colorado Rockies Commercial

I was hoping the Rays would go the route of the Colorado Rockies who have been producing for years player involved commercials and funny interactions that make each of those players featured more human and extremely approachable. The commercial above was even done about 5 years ago and you can see how the Rockies advertising uses a great dose of humor in their ads to get their fan’s attention.

And that has been one of the Rays key thing in the past. They are one of the most approachable teams in the Major Leagues, and the Rays should bank on that popularity and build a further fan base from it. Because the Rays are so easy to get to know and talk to, maybe a commercial where a 10-year old and Carlos Pena talk about life. Or Maybe a moment with a fan where Rays reliever J P Howell  teaches a lecture on the physics of the curveball. Humor is a big part of the Rays clubhouse, why not also bring it to the Tampa Bay community in their commercials?

 

But what do I know. I only minored in Advertising/Marketing in college, so my views might be 25 years old in concept, but then again, they might have good merit. But what I know is the team is striving to gain additional fans into the seat on nights that traditionally have shown a sea of blue seats to television cameras and the Nation on game highlights on ESPN and other media outlets. Maybe the key to getting those fans is to utilize their best natural resource, their players, in more future advertisements.
 
 
2009 Orlando Regional Tampa Bay Rays  Commercial
 

It is kind of funny, this commercial above was made last season to try and get fans from the Orlando area to attend Rays game, but not sure how that worked out for the Rays. It was a bit boring, but it looked more like a fan produced video, which showed more creativity than some I have seen in recent years.

Both print and visual commercials could be spiced up quickly with plays off of players like B J Upton scaling the wall like Spiderman, or even an old black and white commercial with Zorilla hitting homers into small scale cities. The possibilities are endless if you let your mind wander a bit and think outside the batter’s box on this concept.

Not to say tongue-in-cheek humor like that will fill the stands, but it will generate a buzz in the Tampa Bay community, which could easily translate into fans in the seats wanting to see what magic will happen that night….What about you?

It Doesn’t Feel like 15 Years

 

 
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It is still hard to believe just what has conspired over the last 15 years. It seems like just yesterday we were hearing the Major League Baseball “Acting” Commissioner Bud Selig announce to the Tampa Bay region’s fans that the Major League Baseball owners had rejected the relocation request of the St. Petersburg Baseball Group to move the San Francisco Giants to Tampa Bay. That same news was so heartbreaking to a region that blindly constructed a baseball venue and was relying on a hope that “If you build it, they will come.”
 
 
How many of us remember hearing that same quote being tossed out on our portable FM radio’s by the Q Morning Zoo and DJ Mason Dixon that the building of the Florida Suncoast Dome would show MLB that the Tampa Bay area means business. But we did get a second announcement from Selig not too long after that in the Spring of 1995, and this time, the news would be a bit more enlightening to Tampa Bay’s quest for a Major League level baseball team.
 
 
On March 9,1995 in the Breakers resort situated on the East Coast of Florida, right between most of our lunch time activities at 12:54 pm, Selig emotion-less face was again thrown up on our local television sets with another message to the Tampa Bay area. This time, by a 28-0 vote by the other current Major League owners, the St. Petersburg Baseball Group led by Vince Namoli was finally going to pop the cork on that celebration champagne bottle. Yes, finally we had Major League Baseball coming to the Tampa Bay area past their usual Spring Training dates.
 
 
And a small side note to all of this is that the Breakers is a resort that tends to bring good omens and news to this region of Florida. For in 1991, in this same resort, the Tampa Bay region also was awarded their National League Hockey franchise from this same Conference Room. And so began the franchise that would evolve within those 15 years from the Devil Rays, that were printed on the first T-shirts and Uniforms presented to the media at that announcement, to our present day Rays.
 

And these word spoken by then Rays Team Owner Vince Namoli to the Tampa Tribune might sum up the great celebration and also the knowledge that we still had a long journey ahead of us before that First Pitch in 1998. “It’s been a path of 10,000 steps, 10,000 phone calls, 10,000 frustrations. Now we’re at the end of the path, but we start a new path,” Naimoli said. “We start to focus on hiring a general manager, on the Dome, on the development of the franchise, on the minor-league system, on Opening Day 1998. We’re into the fun path.”

 
 
What a huge rollercoaster ride it has been over the last 15 years. From completely setting up a professional complex in the existing Spring Complex that the New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals had used in the past in western St. Petersburg, to finalizing the lease agreement with the City of St. Petersburg so that the then D-Rays could pursue their initial changes needed within their new domed home. And the $ 150 million that Namoli and his group first paid to finally become the first owners of this franchise seems pale now considering all the great moments and events that have transpired since that announcement.
 

I still remember both announcements as if it was yesterday and still have that memory of finally hearing we had our dream of a professional baseball team in our sights and had a hard road ahead of us, but one that always has been a pleasure. From our first pick (Paul Wilder) in the 1996 First Year Players Draft, to the recent announcement of two-time All Star Hank Blalock being signed by the Rays, to paraphrase an old television commercial, this team has come a long way baby!
 

And today I hope all Tampa Bay fans take a moment after 12 pm to again try and remember and enjoy this moment. Sure we might have had a few rough years starting out before our Rays farm system began to churn out players like outfielder Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, or pitcher Joe Kennedy who showed us that building through our minor leagues was our path to the top. And less than 7 years after Crawford first played on the turf of Tropicana Field, we envisioned a rise to Playoff status, and an eventual ride to the World Series.
 

 

And as we near that special moment in time today, it is actually fun for me to go back in time and remember I was sitting in a local gym when the announcement hit the airwaves that sent the room into an instant celebration. Because around me also working out were minor league players from the Orioles system and also a few University of Florida football players getting ready for Spring drills. Instantly the mood went from working out to celebrating, and I know we were not alone in wanting to paint the town red that night.

 
 
15 years can be a long time. Heck, when I was 10 years old I always dreamed of being 15, which gave you more responsibilities like playing Senior League baseball, or driving the car with your parents with you. But year 15 for the Rays might be a benchmark season. Already there is a air that this season might assemble the best team overall to ever man a Rays jersey. This season the possibilities are there for the Rays to again claw there way past division rivals Boston and New York to fight for their October rights to play for that shiny gold trophy. The announcement on March 9,1995 was the Tampa Bay area’s eight chance at trying to secure a Major League team.
 

I think the best way to celebrate this blog today is to remember a story posted by the Rays team writer for MLB.com, Bill Chastain, who at the time of the announcement was an employee of the Tampa Tribune. In that story, his last paragraph was a quote by Namoli on the day’s events. And I can think of no better way to end this blog than remembering those same words spoken by a man who somehow saw into our team future and made such a prophetic statement 15 years ago.
 
“Some fans and media will shorten our last name to Rays,” Naimoli said. “And, so, I will leave you with that: Hip, hip hoo-Ray.”
 

Great to See Rocco Back in Rays Blue Again

 

            
             SPTimes.com

It was so great to see former Rays outfielder and all-around good guy Rocco Baldelli standing outside the Rays clubhouse this morning underneath the overhang at the Rays Spring Training complex in Port Charlotte, Florida. It has just been over a year and a half since Baldelli last donned the same type Rays blue outerwear during the 2008 World Series games in Philadelphia, and the Rays colors still fits him like a glove.

But it did also had a bit of an eerie feel to the moment as it seems like such a long period since we saw Baldelli roaming the outfields at Tropicana Field. But there he stood this morning just smiling away with great opportunities in front of him and a chance to get healthy and help his former team’s next generation..

 
 

But even with a..that smile on his face, and his constantly shaking hands with Rays players who also gathered under that awning to see him and wait out this rain shower, Baldelli seemed to have that energized look on his face where he is totally excited to again be with this franchise, and around the game of baseball this season. I shouted over to Baldelli and he waved and then I asked him what number he planned to wear during Spring Training?
 
 

Baldelli just smiled and nodded his head and told me “we will all see soon enough”. A bit bummed, but then again, he has only been here a few hours and maybe Rays Equipment Manager Chris Westmoreland did not have his jersey done yet. I am guessing Baldelli will sport number 55 this Spring, since no one else in Rays Major League camp has that number, and it is twice as lucky as his old number 5 currently sitting on Rays DH Pat Burrell’s back.
 
 

But Baldelli was not just standing there waiting for the rain to stop so he could compete again for an outfield slot with the team, or even a part-time Designated Hitter spot, Baldelli accepted a chance today to come back onto the Rays staff as a Special Assistant with the team, and will be assigned to the Rays minor league camp and serve as an instructor during the rest of this year’s Spring Training. He will concentrate his efforts as a roving instructor focusing on base running and outfield play with budding minor league players like Desmond Jennings and 2009 Draftee Todd Glaesmann.


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Having someone of Baldelli’s caliber and skills in this year’s minor league camp will be great for a top tier prospect like Jennings so that he has a sounding board with a former top tier prospect who made that quick transition to the Major League level. And the Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman jumped at this great opportunity of having an MLB-caliber player like Baldelli to come into the start of the Rays minor league camp to advise and help mentor the next generation of Rays major league ready players. Plus the ” instructor” situation also helps Baldelli by supplying professional level baseball facilities and medical attention as he rehabs from a unspecified shoulder injury Baldelli endured during his 2009 season when he played sparingly with American League East rival, Boston.

And there were a few Rays fans out in the rain with me today wondering why the Rays were civil and open to bringing Baldelli back into the Rays fold after he played for our “arch enemy” last season. And the answer is really quite simple. This situation helps both parties involved, plus it gives Baldelli a chance to realistically see if he might also be open to taking the same Coaching path of former Rays slugger Jared Sandberg and move into the coaching profession after his playing career.

 
 

It also is a perfect “win-win” situation for Baldelli as able to provide certain nuances of the game to the Rays developing players, plus he will be able to rehabilitate his shoulder injury with a Rays medical staff that already knows his past injuries and medical history, and could be beneficial in providing top notch rehabilitation care and treatments while Baldelli also works with the Rays minor leaguers and eventually works out on his own to see if playing again is in his future. But this is also a way for Baldelli to keep his head in the game of baseball and stay mentally ready to play too.

 
 

Think about it for a second here, you are a Major League baseball player and you suffered through months of pain and anguish to find yourself unwanted by your 2009 team and a free agent seeking a shot to compete somewhere, but people know of your shoulder woes, and pass you by, or tell you to get healthy and then give them a call. Baldelli is in that middle “no-man’s land” zone right now between playing, or maybe having to make a difficult career choice in the near future to pursue coaching full-time and mentoring future ballplayers, or getting the chance to regain yourself and your baseball career. How could you not see this opportunity as a positive step to see what you could or maybe pursue after your playing days are over, but also still have your options open to continue with the game.

 

 
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And the Rays have always been open to inviting former Rays players to work with their teams a ample chance to come back into the Rays organization and be a authority figure, or sports mentor to work with other Rays prospects to hone their craft and make them the best they can be in their baseball maturation process. Baldelli is not the first former Rays player to come back to his former club and provide instruction and mentor players. Ex-Ray and current Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs came back to the Rays in 2001 and served one season as their Hitting Coach before leaving the team.

Dave Martinez, who got the first hit in Rays history came back several years ago as an outfield instructor and is now sitting every game besides Rays Manager Joe Maddon as his Rays Bench Coach. And who can forget that 2009 Baseball Hall of Fame nominee Fred McGriff has spent several Rays Spring Trainings working as a Special Advisor to the Rays. Add on that scenario of the consistent growth within the Rays Coaching ranks of Sandberg through the Rays system from his first stint with short-season Princeton to his current post as Manager of the Hudson Valley Renegades for the2010 season.

And Sandberg might just be another budding former Rays player turned manager to some day patrol the benches at the Major League level within a few years. This Rays Front Office has always been open to hiring former players who understand the Rays system, and also adhere to their team’s mantra. And bringing back Baldelli right now just seems perfectly right to me.

 
 

Having Baldelli working out with the next generation of Upton’s, Crawford’s and maybe even another Baldelli just shows his passion and his drive for the little things about playing this game at it’s top level. And it is important to note here that Baldelli is not “retired”, but basically weighing his options and between jobs. Baldelli might have to take a step back like ex-Rays catcher Toby Hall did in 2009 when Hall was rehabbing a shoulder injury and get healthy before finally making some difficult decisions on his baseball future. But I personally would not bet against Baldelli not being wearing some team’s uniform at some point this season.
 
 

There is presently no talk of Baldelli wearing a Rays jersey besides his current Rays gear on his back while he does his job as a roving instructor. But the Rays and Baldelli both have left that door wide open for a future discussion about his plans. And that in itself is almost a mirror-image to the 2009 Spring Training situation where the Rays brought in rehabbing reliever Jason Isringhausen after his 2008 injuries into Spring Training with an eye to get him healthy, then make some personnel decisions.

Isringhausen eventually got healthy and appeared in a Rays uniform in 2009, but Isringhausen went down with a torn elbow ligament and had to undergo Tommy John’s surgery . Could Baldelli be this season’s “Izzy” and be able to again get back to the Major League level?

 
 

Would Baldelli even be open to taking another limited role situation with the Rays similar to his 2008 status with the team, or could there be an eye towards him being a possible in-house alternative/replacement if Rays Designated Hitter Pat Burrell gets injured or off to a weak start in 2009?. All these questions are streaming through my mind, and I know some of you also have those thoughts coursing through your cerebral cortex. But for now, Baldelli is here to heal and help guide and be a source of inspiration and motivation for the next generation of Rays. But that also doesn’t rule out the possibilities of Baldelli not being able to don a MLB jersey at some point in 2010.
 

 
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And there is no guarantee it would even be the Rays classic blue and white, or even a Rays Blue jersey. B ut having Baldelli here is motivation enough for me to feel better about the future of this team. Some web sites have called him the “Prodigal Son”. To some of us, Baldelli never went away, he just was on “vacation” away from the Rays. But in the end, is this the kind of guy you want on your team? Is this the type of former player you want teaching your young players “The Rays Way”?

And can the Rays prospects learn and mature hearing of Baldelli’s past and develop their own pattern to enrich their game before hitting the Major League level? To all three of these questions, I sound a loud and resounding “Yes”. Hopefully in the near future, Rays fans will see Baldelli standing on the side of the field again both his glove and a black bat in each hand, or maybe it will be Baldelli’s arms swaying and pointing a shift to one of the Rays minor leaguers to put him into a better fielding position based on the hitter tendencies, either way, it is great to see Baldelli again in a Rays uniform. Blue just seems to be his color!

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