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Rocco Baldelli

A view of Rocco Baldelli.

Rocco Daniel Baldelli (born September 25, 1981 in Woonsocket, Rhode Island)[1] is a Major League Baseball outfielder for the Boston Red Sox. Baldelli is a New England area fan favorite and was known for his outstanding speed and throwing ability. However, medical issues have put the future of his baseball career in doubt.

Early life and career[]

Rocco Baldelli graduated from Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, Rhode Island. He was a three sport star, excelling at baseball, basketball, and volleyball and was selected in the first round of the 2000 amateur draft. Baldelli made his Major League debut on March 31, 2003.

In 2003, he and Hideki Matsui were among the contenders for AL Rookie of the Year. Baldelli was considered the favorite for the first few months of the season, but his consistency did not last while Matsui continued to be a consistent run producer. Matsui - a Japanese baseball star who spent many years in Japan's professional league - and Baldelli both fell short of winning the award, losing out to Angel Berroa of the Kansas City Royals. Several members of the BBWAA contested Matsui's rookie eligibility, and two left him off their ballots, ensuring the win for Berroa. Baldelli finished the 2003 season with an impressive line, batting .289 with 11 home runs, 78 runs batted in, 89 runs scored and 27 stolen bases.

In 2004, Baldelli had a similar season, batting .280 with 16 home runs, 74 runs batted in, 79 runs scored and 17 stolen bases. He led all major league center fielders in range factor (3.03).

According to professional baseball scouts, Baldelli shared many similarities to Hall of Fame outfielder Joe DiMaggio ever since his days as a prep star. This can be attributed to Baldelli's athletic ability, their shared position (center field), wearing the same uniform number (5), and their Italian-American heritage. Al LaMacchia, a professional scout for over 50 years, went so far as to call Rocco "Joe's twin" [2] [3].

Medical issues[]

Baldelli started the 2005 season on the disabled list because he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee while playing baseball with his brother in the offseason. He was initially expected to be back by the All-Star break, but while rehabilitating he injured his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery, which forced him to miss the entire 2005 season.

After missing almost a full season and a half, Baldelli returned to the Rays lineup against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on June 7, 2006. Baldelli played frequently for the rest of the 2006 campaign and hit .302 with 16 home runs, 57 runs batted in, 57 runs scored and 10 stolen bases in only 364 at bats.

In Spring Training before the 2007 season, however, Rocco pulled his hamstring. This injury would linger. After appearing in only 35 games early in the season, Baldelli was placed on the DL again. He reaggravated the injury while on a rehab assignment in the minor leagues and remained inactive for the remainder of the baseball season.

In the following offseason, Baldelli underwent extensive medical testing to determine the reasons for his muscle problems and extreme fatigue after even brief workouts. Doctors discovered some "metabolic and/or mitochondrial abnormalities" but were unable to provide an exact diagnosis.[4]

Baldelli attempted to return to game action during spring training in 2008 but was unable to do so. On March 12, he held an emotional press conference in which he announced that he would be once again placed on the disabled list in an attempt to overcome his mysterious medical issues. Though he did not retire, the future of his baseball career was in doubt.[5] Accordingly, on April 1, 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays declined Baldelli's contract option for 2009, potentially making him a free agent after the season unless a new contract is signed with the club.[6]

After more medical consultations, Baldelli began taking a combination of medications and nutritional supplements that seemed to improve his condition. On May 29, 2008, he began playing in extended spring training games, and in mid-June was sent to play in the Rays' minor league system for further rehabilitation and conditioning in the hope that he might return to the majors during the 2008 season.[7] [8]

Finally, on August 10, 2008, Rocco was activated and started in right field for the Rays in a game against the Seattle Mariners. Baldelli had been growing a beard for months as a "symbol of his rehabilitation" and shaved it off before playing. In the contest, he had an RBI single as well as a diving catch before coming out of the game after the 5th inning.[9]

After the 2008 season, Baldelli became a free agent. He signed a one-year deal worth $500 thousand plus roster incentives with his hometown Boston Red Sox on January 8, [2009]]. He, barring injuries, will be the fourth outfielder on the team, behind Jason Bay, Jacoby Ellsbury, and J.D. Drew.


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