Three years ago my dad's best friend gave me a list of Yankee games to choose from as my birthday present. I ended up picking a game in late April against Tampa Bay. My dad asked why I would choose to go see the worst team in the league. I had one answer: Rocco Baldelli.
Naturally, my dad's response was, "That's a good reason to go to a game...Rocco Baldelli. Who is he anyway?"
The previous season I had been watching a Yankees-Rays game, and Baldelli caught my eye. I liked the power he showed at the plate, and he seemed to be a pretty good center fielder, but I really didn't know a whole lot about him.
Back then he was a highly touted 24-year-old whom some scouts labeled "DiMaggio-like" on possibly the worst team in the AL. Despite all his promise, no one really knew who he was.
I always get excited when I see an Italian last name on a baseball uniform (it doesn't happen often). Plus, he's a good-looking guy, so all of those factors were enough for me to want to go see the Rays.
Right now he's one of the veteran guys (at all of 27) leading the Rays on their quest for their first World Series appearance. On Monday night, he hit a three-run home run off of Paul Byrd over the Green Monster to give the Rays an 8-1 lead. While Rocco Baldelli is a well known guy right now, there are several things that people may not realize about him.
Baldelli started the 2008 season on the disabled list, which unfortunately had become a familiar place for him. He was on the DL for almost all of 2005 and 2006 with a serious knee injury, and then missed most of 2007 with a variety of ailments. 2008 wasn't looking promising either, considering Baldelli was constantly fatigued and couldn't even make it through batting practice.
As it turns out, Baldelli has what is known as mitochondrial myopathy, a disease that starves muscles of energy to function. No one was sure if he would return this season or ever play baseball again, but with the help of the Rays' medical staff and a variety of consulting doctors there was hope for him. They devised an exercise and medication plan, and on Aug. 10 he made his return to the majors.
After all the injuries, after all the comments that Baldelli might be just another talented young player embattled with injuries, and after all the work to find out what was wrong with him and fix it, Rocco Baldelli is showing he is the stud I always knew he was.
He is the Cinderella story inside the Rays' Cinderella story, and his teammates and coaches couldn't be happier for him.
His team is one win away from their first ever World Series appearance and he is a big part of it. Although I'm sure he would love to win a World Series, Baldelli would probably tell anyone that he is just happy to be playing in the majors again with his disease under control.
You can bet that after his performance in the ALCS and all he's been through this year, people will know the name Rocco Baldelli.
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