Dante Baldelli makes contact during a recent playoff game against Lincoln. A 16-year-old sophomore at Bishop Hendricken, Dante seeks to add to the Baldelli legacy at McCoy Stadium this week as the Hawks face La Salle in the Division I finals. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN
PAWTUCKET â€” Walking into McCoy Stadium didnâ€™t seem quite as daunting to Dante Baldelli. Never mind that heâ€™s a precocious 16-year-old who on the surface has some big shoes to fill following in a certain big brotherâ€™s footsteps.
Call it a case of what happens when baseball and family serve as parallel threads.
â€śI want to be my own person. Obviously itâ€™s great to be his brother. Itâ€™s fantastic, but Iâ€™m not him,â€ť Dante said about the rather large baseball-related shadow he's following. That shadow was cast by Rocco Baldelli at McCoy in June 2000 just before he headed off to serve as Rhode Islandâ€™s ambassador to professional baseball.
A Cumberland native and sophomore at Bishop Hendricken, Dante Baldelli was not physically present at McCoy Stadium the night Rocco punctuated his high-school career with a two home-run showing in the third and decisive game of the Division I finals. Almost single-handily, Rocco strapped Hendricken to his two slender deltoids to capture what was the schoolâ€™s third consecutive state crown.
â€śI heard they went over the left-field fence and into the parking lot. They were bombs,â€ť was what Dante recalled hearing about Roccoâ€™s final interscholastic act as he sat at a picnic table Monday morning, one not far from the McCoy playing surface he and the rest of his Hawksâ€™ teammates will set foot upon come Tuesday night.
To become consumed with the family business to the point that the next in line feels that he or she is chasing the elusive white whale is one matter. Itâ€™s entirely different to let your mind play tricks to the point that you lose sight of the task at hand.
In Rocco, weâ€™re talking about someone who has been inducted into the Hendricken Athletic Hall of Fame. The lineage continues with the school retiring both his baseball and volleyball numbers.
Talk to young Dante and he understands what a fine line he walks in regards to Roccoâ€™s McCoy memories and the current Hendricken squad standing on the precipice of yet another crown.
â€śKnowing that he went here, won state championships and left a mark, it makes me want to keep that going in the family,â€ť Dante said. â€śI think about his legacy a little bit, but it wonâ€™t affect me too much. Iâ€™m just trying to help the team.â€ť
Dante came across as a teenager who is clearly comfortable in his own skin. When the former Cumberland National Little League product first showed up at Hendrickenâ€™s doorsteps two Septembers ago, he did so known as Roccoâ€™s kid brother.
As time has gone by, he feels heâ€™s been able to place a buffer between what Rocco accomplished at Warwick's private Catholic high school and having people see and view him in the simplest terms.
â€śIâ€™m more comfortable with the atmosphere of the school. Iâ€™ve adopted, but when I got there last year, my freshman year, (Roccoâ€™s Hawk athletic history) was on my mind,â€ť Dante said. â€śNow Iâ€™ve adjusted and itâ€™s not that big of an issue. Kids know me more for myself than being Roccoâ€™s brother.â€ť
A year ago, Dante was a member of Hendrickenâ€™s freshman baseball unit. This spring, heâ€™s the starting center fielder and No. 5 hitter. Heâ€™s hitting around .400.
â€śThe adjustment wasnâ€™t too different,â€ť Dante remarked about making a sizable jump in facing better varsity competition. â€śThe pitching is faster and so is the speed of the game, but the adjustments have been manageable.â€ť
â€śHeâ€™s a very good defensive center fielder. He tracks the ball down just like his brother did,â€ť noted Hendricken assistant Bill Campbell.
â€śDanteâ€™s a string bean with an open stance and really quick hands.
â€śHis brother probably showed him everything,â€ť Campbell smiled.
Standing at 6-foot-4, Dante Baldelli stands head and shoulders above just about all of his Hendricken teammates. As far as a certain sibling who 14 years ago turned McCoy Stadium into his own personal launching pad, Dante is not about to get awestruck by the next-to-impossible shadow Rocco created.
â€śI want to be myself,â€ť said Dante of a creed that figures to serve him well as he gets set to become the latest Baldelli to take center stage at McCoy.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03
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