Thursday, January 8, 2009

No, Rocco. Thank you.

I remember the first time we talked to Rocco Baldelli during spring training 2003. He thanked us. We laughed.

Baldelli was a rookie in his first major league camp. He was honest and polite.

We thought that would change once he got a taste of the big leagues.

It never really did.

Baldelli signed with the Red Sox on Thursday, ending his nine years in the Rays organization.
He will be missed by the fans and the people who cover the team.

Baldelli was everything the Rays could want, except, of course, healthy.

But even during his struggles with his hamstring injuries and with the Mitochondrial Disease that placed his career in jeopardy, he always remained polite and honest while dealing with the media.

I’ll never forget his press conference last March when he talked for the first time about the disease. How he held himself together is beyond me. I heard he walked back to the locker room, sat in front of his locker and cried.

I can tell you this: Most of the reporters in that tiny room under Al Lang Field that morning wanted to do the same.

Baldelli thought his career was over. Actually, he was thinking worse things than that.

Thankfully, it wasn’t.

He returned in August and helped the Rays reach the World Series. He had a big RBI in Game 7 of the ALCS against Boston. I had a feeling that day the Rays would win and Baldelli would come up big.

I told him that on the field after the game.

He thanked me.

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