Rocco Baldelli's story serves as both a painful reminder of how quickly our fortunes can change and an inspiration to take the punches life gives us and get back up. At just 27 years old, Baldelli has faced, and more importantly overcome, more adversity than many will face in a lifetime. Tonight, at the Boston Baseball Writers dinner, he is expected to announce that he is coming home.
A native of Woonsocket, RI, Baldelli grew up rooting for the Boston Red Sox, and now he will have the chance to play for them. But this opportunity certainly didn't come the way many thought it would.
In 2000, Baldelli graduated from high school as a three-sport star athlete with 4.25 GPA. He received offers to attend Princeton and Wake Forest but instead opted to sign with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who had selected him with the sixth overall draft pick in the 2000 amateur draft.
Known for his speed and rocket arm, Baldelli soared through the Tampa minor league system, reaching the majors at the age of 21, just three years after he was drafted.
Baldelli received strong support for the Rookie of the Year award after batting an impressive .289 with 11 home runs, 78 runs batted in, 84 runs scored, and 27 stolen bases.
His second season was a similar success with a line of .280, 16 home runs, 74 batted in, 79 runs scored and 17 stolen bases.
Unfortunately for Baldelli, injuries began to plague a his promising career. In 2005, he started the season rehabbing from a torn ACL injury suffered while playing with his brother during the offseason. While rehabbing, he suffered an elbow injury, which forced him to have Tommy John surgery and subsequently miss the entire 2005 season.
On June 7, 2006, Baldelli returned to the Tampa Bay lineup and hit .302 with 16 home runs, 57 runs batted in, 57 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases in just 364 at-bats. It appeared he had made a full recovery.
But his injury woes were far from over. In spring training, 2007, Baldelli suffered a hamstring injury that would plague him for the entire 2007 campaign in which he played just 35 games.
In the offseason, Baldelli was diagnosed with a mitochondrial abnormalities which cause one to tire easily and thus become more susceptible to injury. Baldelli's career had been turned upside down.
After an emotional press conference to announce he would be going to the disabled list once again, it appeared Baldelli's future as a Major League Baseball player was over.
After a long rehabilitation process, his condition improved to the point where he could resume his career. Baldelli returned to help the Rays make an unexpected postseason run to the World Series—a fitting end to his time in Tampa Bay.
On this day (Jan. 7, 2009), Baldelli is expected to be honored by Boston Baseball Writers with the Tony Conigliaro award for overcoming adversity. What better day could there be for a man to begin living his childhood dream?