September 25, 1981 |
Woonsocket, Rhode Island
|Batted: Right||Threw: Right|
|March 31, 2003 for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 3, 2010 for the Tampa Bay Rays|
|Runs batted in||262|
Rocco Dan Baldelli (/ /; born September 25, 1981) is a former Major League Baseball outfielder and designated hitter. Because of his excellent size and speed, and in reference to his hometown, he was nicknamed, "The Woonsocket Rocket", early in his professional career. After a promising beginning to his baseball career, a mysterious metabolic/muscular disorder would lead to numerous injuries and force Baldelli to retire as a player at age 29.
Rocco Daniel Baldelli was born to Dan and Michele Baldelli in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.  Rocco Baldelli attended the PEGASUS Gifted and Talented middle-school program at La Salle Academy in Providence. He played baseball for the Rhode Island Tides, an AAU ball club. Then he switched to Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, Rhode Island, for high school. During his senior year at Bishop Hendricken High School, he pulled his oblique muscle, but still managed to hit .531-5-13 with nine steals in only 32 at-bats. Not only did Baldelli excel at sports but excelled in the classroom as well. There he posted a 4.25 grade point average. On the SAT, he scored a very high 1,300 and considered University of North Carolina, Wake Forest University, Princeton and Yale as potential colleges to attend. He was also a four sport star, earning all-state honors in baseball, indoor track, basketball, and volleyball and was selected in the first round of the 2000 amateur draft. Had he not signed with Tampa Bay, he would have attended Wake Forest University on a baseball scholarship. He also seriously considered attending Princeton University.
Baldelli signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for $ 2,250,000, with money to attend college, and headed for Princeton, West Virginia to play minor league baseball. Baldelli had trouble adjusting to professional baseball. Says Baldelli, “In Princeton, I had a hard time with all parts of the game…I didn't know how to play the game. Coming out of high school, I'd just come up to the plate and swing as hard as I could every time and try to smoke the ball. I didn't know about hitting mechanics, breaking pitches or reading pitchers.”
Baldelli overcame his struggles as a hitter and quickly rose through the Tampa Bay organization. In 2000 he was ranked the Tampa Bay Devil Rays ninth best prospect. In 2001, he was the considered the fifth best prospect in the organization. By 2002, just two years after being drafted sixth overall, he was the number one prospect in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ minor league organization.
Major league career
Tampa Bay Devil Rays/Rays
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".
2003-2004: Early success
Baldelli made his major league debut on Opening Day 2003, starting in center field. He and fellow rookie outfielder Carl Crawford would be two of the few bright spots on a Devil Rays team that lost 91 games. Baldelli finished the 2003 season batting .289 with 11 home runs, 78 RBI, 89 runs scored and 27 stolen bases. He also finished in the top ten in many hitting categories in the American League. He was seventh in at bats with 637, tenth in hits 184, tied Ichiro Suzuki in eighth place with eight triples, and fourth in singles with 133. He also led the AL in outfield assists and ranked 2nd in range factor, indicating that he was one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. Baldelli came in third in the voting for 2003 AL Rookie of the Year behind New York Yankees' outfielder Hideki Matsui and winner Ángel Berroa of the Kansas City Royals.
Baldelli had a similar sophomore campaign in 2004, batting .280 with 16 home runs, 74 runs batted in, 79 runs scored and 17 stolen bases.His defensive statistics were again among the league's best, as he led the AL in range factor and finished 4th in outfield assists.
2005-2006: Injuries and renewed success
Baldelli started the 2005 season on the disabled list after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament over the offseason while playing baseball with his brother. He had surgery and was expected to be back by the All-Star break. However, he seriously injured his elbow while working out and needed Tommy John surgery to fix the damage, which led to months more rehabilitation.
After missing almost a full season and a half, Baldelli returned to the D-Rays' lineup against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on June 7, 2006. Baldelli was a regular starter in the outfield for the rest of the 2006 campaign and had his best statistical season, hitting .302 with 16 home runs, 57 runs batted in, 57 runs scored and 10 stolen bases in only 364 at bats and again appearing among the league leaders in multiple defensive categories.
2007-2008: Medical issues
In spring training before the 2007 season, Rocco pulled his hamstring. The injury lingered, but Baldelli attempted to play, appearing in 35 games (15 as a designated hitter) and posting only a .204 batting average. He aggravated his hamstring in May and was placed on the DL on May 17. Doctors recommended a period of rest, after which Baldelli reported to the minor leagues for a rehab assignment. After several games, he injured his hamstring yet again and was shut down for the remainder of the 2007 season.
After these setbacks, Baldelli underwent extensive medical testing to determine the reasons for his muscle problems and worsening fatigue after even brief workouts. Doctors discovered some "metabolic and/or mitochondrial abnormalities" and began trying to design a medical plan to improve the condition.
He was specifically diagnosed with mitochondrial channelopathy. Mitochondrial Channelopathy is a rare cell disorder that affects ions in neurological “pathways” and causes severe muscle fatigue.  Though this mysterious disease can be life-threatening Baldelli was diagnosed with a moderate form which can be managed by medicine.
Baldelli attempted to return to game action during spring training in 2008, but his continuing physical problems made it impossible. On March 12, he held an emotional press conference in which he announced that he would be once again placed on the disabled list as he tried to find an effective treatment for his mysterious ailment. Though he did not retire, the future of his baseball career was in doubt. Accordingly, on April 1, 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays declined Baldelli's contract option for the following season (2009), potentially making him a free agent after the season.
After further medical consultations, Baldelli's doctors found 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.
Return to the field
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.
Baldelli ended up appearing in 28 games for the Rays in 2008, mainly as a DH and pinch hitter but occasionally playing in right or left field. He hit .263 with 4 home runs and 13 RBI, and was deemed valuable enough to be included in the Rays' postseason roster as they made the playoffs for the first time.
Baldelli made an impact in his limited post-season playing time. In Game 3 of the 2008 American League Championship Series, Baldelli hit a three-run home run off Boston's Paul Byrd in the eighth inning to help the Rays take a 2-1 series lead. In the decisive Game 7 of the ALCS, his RBI single in the fifth inning gave the Rays their first lead of the game en route to winning their first American League pennant. And in Game 2 of the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, Baldelli made a double play by catching a fly ball and throwing back to first baseman Carlos Peña in time to beat Jayson Werth.
Because of Baldelli’s performance in the 2008 American League Championship Series many become aware about mitochondrial disease and how it affects the many people that have it. One article reported that a child with mitochondrial disease pretends he is Baldelli when he is at bat. During the Red Sox series the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation created a page on its website where children and parents could post notes for Baldelli. One such post read “I am a nine year old boy with Mito. I also like to play baseball. Great home run in the playoffs, I am cheering for you at home. How are you feeling?” 
Overall, Baldelli hit .200 in 20 postseason at-bats with 2 HRs and 6 RBIs. While improved, his medical condition prevented him from playing in back-to-back games, and he sometimes sat down to rest on the field during breaks in the action.
After the season, Baldelli was the recipient of the 2008 Tony Conigliaro Award, which is annually presented to a major league player who has "overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage that were trademarks of Tony Conigliaro. "
During the 2008-09 offseason, further medical testing indicated that Baldelli suffers from a form of channelopathy, which makes his condition less serious and more treatable than the previous diagnosis of a mitochondrial disorder.
Boston Red Sox
On January 8, 2009, Baldelli signed a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox, reported to be worth a base of $500,000 plus up to $6.75 million in incentives. As Baldelli grew up in New England, much of his family were Red Sox fans and he considered it a "childhood dream" to play for the team. He continued to wear number 5, becoming the first Red Sox player to wear that number since the departure of fan favorite Nomar Garciaparra in 2004.
Baldelli hit his first home run for the Red Sox on May 9, 2009 at Fenway Park against his old team, the Rays. For much of the season, however, he continued to struggle through physical ailments, landing on the 15-day DL twice and sitting out numerous contests with hamstring pulls and other issues.
For the year, Baldelli appeared in 62 games for the Red Sox, hitting .253 with 7 HRs, 23 RBIs, and 1 SB. Boston made the playoffs as the AL wildcard team, but a shoulder injury kept Baldelli off the team's postseason roster. After the season, he became a free agent.
Return to the Rays
During spring training 2010, Baldelli returned to the Tampa Bay Rays as a special assistant to observe and coach players in the organization's minor league system on baserunning and outfield defense. While his continuing fatigue problems and a lingering shoulder issue made it impossible for him to play baseball, he expressed the desire to eventually return to the field with the Rays if his physical condition improved. On July 19, 2010, Baldelli signed a minor league deal with the Rays and joined the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the team's Class-A affiliate. He gradually increased his playing time and was promoted to AAA with the Durham Bulls on August 16. The club stated that his health and success on the field would determine if he would be called up to the majors later on in the season.
On September 1, Baldelli was called up to the major league squad to serve as a designated hitter, pinch hitter, and reserve outfielder. On September 5, in his first at-bat since returning to the Rays' roster, Baldelli hit an 8th inning pinch hit 2-run home run against the Baltimore Orioles in Camden Yards and finished the game in right field. Baldelli played occasionally throughout September, was included on the Rays' postseason roster, and started at DH for the first game of the 2010 playoffs against the Texas Rangers. However, he suffered muscle cramping during the game due to his mitochondrial disorder and had to be removed from the Rays' playoff roster, again putting his future playing career in doubt.
Baldelli decided to retire soon after his medical condition forced him off the Rays' roster during the 2010 ALDS. However, Rays' executive Andrew Friedman advised him to take some time to be sure he really wanted to end his playing career. After three months of consideration, Baldelli officially announced his retirement on January 26, 2011 at 29 years old, stating that due to his illness, "I physically don't feel like I should be playing anymore." He remained in the Rays organization as a "special adviser" working in scouting and player development.
Though Baldelli’s career was hampered by a life-threatening disease, what many would see as the end for him, Baldelli actually thrived. Still loved by the fans in St. Petersburg, where the Rays play, he was asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before a division series game in 2013.
In 2004, Baldelli was inducted into the Rhode Island Italian-American Hall of Fame. Baldelli has listed his other interests as traveling, fishing and playing the bass guitar. He is the son of Dan and Michelle Baldelli and has two brothers, Nicholas and Dante. He resides both in St. Pete Beach, FL and Cumberland, RI, where his parents still live.
Baldelli is of pre-dominantly Italian and French ancestry but has a distant Syrian lineage through his paternal grandmother.
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- Career statistics and player information from MLB, or ESPN, or Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)