Baldelli reunites with old friends
If not for health issues, Sox outfielder may still be with Tampa Bay
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Forget, for a minute, the Rhode Island roots of Rocco Baldelli, who is entering his first season with the Red Sox. When Baldelli got off the team bus and entered the Rays' Spring Training complex on Friday, that is when he felt at home.
It mattered little that Tampa Bay is in a new facility this spring, miles away from where it used to train in St. Petersburg. Baldelli went through just about everything a player could go through with the Rays, the team that drafted him in 2000 and the one he never officially left until signing with Boston in January.
If not for his rare health ailment -- chanelopathy -- which causes excessive muscle fatigue, Baldelli would not only still be with Tampa Bay, but he'd be a focal point for the team.
"If he was healthy, he'd be our starting right fielder, but it just didn't want to work that way," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "Everybody had to move on. I'm happy he's near his home. I think the people of New England will definitely appreciate him. It's probably one of those good moments that works out for both sides. That's how I see it."
Baldelli formed such a close bond with Tampa Bay head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield that he actually called him on that January night he decided to sign with Boston.
"Well, I think I can say that I don't know that I'd be out here playing if he didn't put in the effort that he did," Baldelli said of Porterfield. "I don't know any other way to put it better than that. The guy gave it everything he had, and I'm out here and I'm playing again. For that, I'm very thankful."
"It kills me to see him in another uniform," said Porterfield. "And I wish him the best. Just not against us."
Because this was an exhibition game, Porterfield probably wouldn't have minded at all if Baldelli's towering shot down the left-field line in the third inning had been ruled a home run instead of foul by inches. Later in the game, Baldelli delivered an RBI single.
Just how much documentation did Porterfield have on Baldelli's health issues?
"Over 3,000 [pages]," said Porterfield. "The hardest thing for me was I just kept asking questions. And then we had so many doctors in the mix that you want to keep letting the other one know what the other one said. And then we'd have a difference of opinion. So the hardest thing was keeping everybody in the loop."
Now, it is the Red Sox keeping tabs on Baldelli, whom they hope will be a productive fourth outfielder.
"We're trying real hard to get a read on him," said Boston manager Terry Francona. "The idea is to get the most out of him on the field and not wear him out before he gets to the field. We've tried a lot to make sure he understands, because he is a real conscientious kid, [we have to tell him] that, 'Hey, you don't have to lead the rundown drills.' The more we understand about his condition and the more we get to know him, hopefully the better decisions we'll make."
One thing Baldelli can say for sure is that his last year with Tampa Bay -- though one of the hardest physically -- proved to be one of the most gratifying. He got to play in the World Series, albeit one the Rays lost to the Phillies in five games. He clubbed a home run against the Red Sox at Fenway Park in the American League Championship Series.
His biggest memory?
"Celebrating at Tropicana Field," Baldelli said. "I never thought there would ever be a celebration at Tropicana Field. Going to the playoffs, going to the World Series, just that whole three-, four-week span right there, collectively, will probably be the most memorable thing that I've done at this point of my life, I'd say, by far."
As for what Baldelli can add to the Red Sox, and how often he will be able to play?
"We'll find out as we go," Francona said. "Some of this, we really don't know. Neither does he. That's part of the reason we were probably able to get him."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.