Former Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli retired today at the ripe old age of 29.
Its notable because Baldelli was plagued by a series of weird illnesses and injuries throughout his too short career, and he never lived up to what some, especially the Rays, believed was a solid, long range resume in the making.
Aside from a very short stint with the Boston Red Sox (boooo!!! hisssss!!!), Baldelli was a Ray his entire career, and it appears he’ll stay that way as he moves into a front office position.
His retirement is notable for a number of reasons, but there’s two I’d like to make known:
Although he wasn’t a vital part of the team, really ever, his retirement is yet another change for a Rays offseason that has been filled with them. He’s also the last remaining piece of all those shit years for the ball club to say goodbye, and in a way, it gives them an opportunity to truly embark on their future as something brand new. Everything is essentially prologue for the Rays, and I would recommend any bandwagon jumpers to get on board right now. Through a lot of bad management and business decisions, the club was searching for their identity since their inception. They’ve definitely found it, though, and while they might finish third in the AL East this year, they will compete for a number of titles over the next decade. Guaranteed. Check out their farm system if you have any question.
Also, a little personal Rocco story I’d like to share, which makes his injuries and career just a little more tragic in my eyes.
I worked for roughly six months at a hotel on St. Pete Beach (think pink) and Baldelli’s family were regulars there. They stayed for what seemed like months on end, and during their stay they were treated like royalty. Not because their son was a famous millionaire baseball player (though that didn’t hurt), but because they were some of the most friendly people to come through that place.
His pops would regulary come down to the front desk and shoot the shit with me, not about the Rays or baseball but just ‘stuff’, and it was always a welcome sight to see Mr. Baldelli come through the doors. Don’t get me wrong, he would come down, need things for the room, be about vacation business, but more often than not he just came down to chat, drink a beer, catch up, and be on his way.
It was natural to see Rocco around the hotel, too, and on those occasions when he’d pop in with his dad, or one of his little brothers, or just by himself, he was the exact same way as the rest of his family.
Anyone who has ever worked in hospitality or retail or at a restaurant will tell you, more often than not you deal strictly with assholes, with people who look down on you as a lower lifeform. Not the Baldellis, and not Rocco, and they had every right to be like that. Instead, Rocco was affable, friendly, and a truly warm human being, which was obviously something he picked up at home, from his folks.
I wasn’t raised with baseball, wasn’t really a fan, but those little interactions eventually led me to Tropicana Field, and to the Rays, and endeared me to the club. I’ve been a fan ever since.
It was funny, because his dad, a lifelong Red Sox fan, just couldn’t understand how I hadn’t been to a baseball game my entire life, and although he’d bust my balls about being from Indy (he was a Pats fan, of course), he’d always say, “Oh, you gotta make it to a game!”
There’s a lot more to be said, and written, about the Rays 2011 season, and Baldelli, but for now I’ll say this: Much respect to Rocco, and his pops, and GO RAYS!