WARWICK – If nothing else, Sunday offered Rocco Baldelli a rare chance to partake in some deep-seeded reflection.
An intensely private sort, Baldelli more often than not comes across as a man of mystery rather than someone who’s willing to lay all his cards on the table. Such an introverted/reclusive approach helped the Woonsocket native get through the turbulent times that arose during his career of seven major-league seasons, the belief at the time that the less the general public knew, the better.
Moments after making a speech that signaled his induction into the Bishop Hendricken Athletic Hall of Fame, Baldelli demonstrated that he too can let his guard down and speak with candor. Fielding questions that touched upon the past, present and future of this onetime-gifted-athlete-turned-front-office-type, he seemingly embraced the moment while speaking in front of TV cameras and recording devices with a multitude of smiling expressions all while dressed in a black blazer with a green-and-yellow striped tie and khaki pants.
Baldelli clenched a bottle of water as he met with the media, yet he hardly saw the need to quench his thirst during the nearly 12-minute session. Once the answer to one question was given, it was onto the next query. Relaxed and composed, Baldelli gave every indication that the honor that brought him to town meant a great deal to him. After all, it’s not every day that your alma mater sees fit to open its Hall of Fame doors.
“I think like most athletes, you don’t sit back and look at what you’ve done. Athletes have the mindset where they’re looking to what they’re going to do next,” said Baldelli, who while at Hendricken excelled in baseball, basketball, volleyball and track. “I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish and have always taken a lot of pride in what I’ve done on the athletic field, but generally I don’t think about those sorts of things after the fact.
“I guess it’s OK for a day of that, to sit back and appreciate everything,” Baldelli delved further.
Perhaps what’s helped the 30-year-old Baldelli come to terms with his identity as a native son who went on to play baseball at its highest level is the title he presently holds with the Tampa Bay Rays, the same organization that selected him out of Hendricken with the sixth overall pick of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft. Serving as a special assistant to the Rays’ baseball-operations department, Baldelli finds himself part of a strategist group whose mantra is to cultivate and harvest talent.
“If you’re working with the people I work with, it’s best to be prepared because they do a good job,” said Baldelli about finding himself as one of the trusted minions in the cabinet run by Rays general manager Andrew Friedman.
In order to stay current with Tampa Bay’s more-seasoned baseball minds, Baldelli finds himself diving headfirst into the various realms that make up the scouting and player-development departments. If that means taking a flight to check out a promising high school or college talent, or get in the car and drive away from the Rays’ spring training base located in Port Charlotte, Fla. to check out some Grapefruit League action, Baldelli’s motto of go yonder is one he takes very seriously.
For one thing, Baldelli didn’t have to wait long to embark upon the next phase of his career after removing his uniform for the last time. For that he’s thankful.
“When I was done playing I didn’t know what I was going to do. I know friends who are going through what I went through a year or two ago. It’s intimidating and a little scary,” Baldelli said. “I know some guys, they’re done playing and don’t know what to do next. Some decide they’re going to play golf for six months and then decide. Some are worried and others don’t have a care in the world.
“I know that Friedman told me that when I was done playing to contact him if I wanted to stay in the game,” added Baldelli, who during his speech mentioned that younger brother Dante, a star on the Cumberland National Little League squad that fell one win shy of reaching the 2010 Little League World Series, will be attending Hendricken come this fall. “I didn’t know what I would end up doing, but here I am.”
As part of his current role, Baldelli frequently visits Tropicana Field to discuss the findings of his latest venture.
“In the office you’re discussing and listening to the opinions of people you rely on. It’s about having good, quality discussions and out of that comes a good decision,” he said. “It’s a game of information. It’s not 10 or 20 years ago where everything is gut feel and just kind of make decisions based on subjective reasons. There’s a lot of objectivity in what we do. Anyway you can get information, you get it.”
Trading in his spikes for a stopwatch seemingly agrees with Baldelli. Now in his second season as a staunch observer of the game, he finds himself at peace with life after baseball – even though he admits it took some time in getting over the fact that he was through playing.
“Last year [during spring training] I put the uniform on and went out with the players. In order to stay out of the sun, this year I’m wearing one of the big, big hats and the kahkki pants,” Baldelli said. “Everyone wishes they could throw the uniform on and still be out there regardless of how old you are. Maybe I’m no different, but I like what I’m doing right now.”
If ever the sudden urge to rethink retirement from baseball ever overcomes Baldelli, all he has to do is listen to his body. The muscle-fatigue abnormalities that capped his career in premature fashion – Baldelli took the occasion to clarify that he is not suffering from mitochondria, the disorder he’s often been linked to – still surface from time to time, but nothing too drastic to the point that he’s taking medication.
“I’m 30 and there’s a small part of me that thinks that I should be still out there playing, but I know that at certain times I feel certain things in my body where I know that there’s no way I should be competing at the highest level of professional sports,” Baldelli stated. “I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this is where I’m at. I loved competing more than anything, but I’m still smiling and breathing and everything is good.”