There are many ways to show you love something. Most of those don't involve etching a logo into your skin. But for Rocco Baldelli, he decided long ago he loved the game of baseball, so having the Major League Baseball emblem tattooed right above his left ankle was the way he chose to display his love for the game.
Many still know Baldelli, given the moniker "the Woonsocket (R.I.) Rocket" growing up in the Northeast, as the man who patrolled center field for seven big league seasons, six of them with the Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately, one cannot play America's game forever, and when injury and illness left Baldelli unable to play the game he loves, he had to hang up his cleats at age 29.
You can still find Baldelli in the Tampa Bay organization though. His new title as special assistant of baseball operations has him traveling to all the minor league affiliate teams of the Rays. Baldelli spent the majority of the P-Rays' six-game homestand of July 18-23 in Princeton, the place where he started his professional baseball journey eleven years ago.
However, he noticed that things were not exactly the way he left them back in 2000.
"The place (Hunnicutt Field) has changed quite a bit," Baldelli said, "but it's looking good. It was my first experience of pro baseball. Princeton's a good place for people to start their career."
For Baldelli, things were not as easy as he hoped while he was in Princeton. The sixth overall pick in the 2000 amateur draft hit just .216 in 232 at-bats with the P-Rays, with a .310 slugging percentage not helping his cause.
Baldelli's star would get brighter, however. By 2003, he was a big league outfielder and made a solid first impression, finishing third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting that season.
When healthy, Baldelli always gave his team quality statistics. In seven seasons, Baldelli contributed 60 stolen bases and 60 home runs to go along with a .278 batting average. He averaged 19 home runs and 19 stolen bases per 162 games throughout the duration of his professional career.
But none of that stacks up to what Baldelli got to experience in 2008, when he played in the World Series for the first time.
"Playing in the World Series was the highlight of my career," Baldelli said with a smile. "I played a lot of hours of baseball in my life but playing in the World Series was a whole different thing."
Baldelli went 1-for-6 in that Fall Classic, a series that the the Tampa Bay Rays ultimately lost to the Philadelphia Phillies. Baldelli's one hit in that series left the yard, a homer.
Fast forward to 2011, his job now is centered on finding talent that can lead Tampa Bay back to the promised land of postseason play, and he is given many different responsibilities to make sure that happens.
"Over the course of the year, my typical week changes," Baldelli said. "It has to do with anything going on with the on the field happenings of the organization. Early in the year I do a lot of amateur scouting. After that, it's seeing all the affiliates firsthand."
Baldelli should be used to the traveling. After playing professional baseball for eleven years, he knows what it's like to live out of a suitcase.
"I do a lot of pro coverage," Baldelli said. "I see our big league club play a lot, as well. It's a lot of traveling, but a lot of fun."
Baldelli says the talent level here at Princeton is top notch. While he does not see anybody on the current P-Rays squad that reminds him of himself, he admits the future is bright for the organization.
"We have a lot of good players here," Baldelli said. "I think it's a good possibility that we have a handful of big leaguers on the team."
Baldelli says his favorite part of the game is the people he gets to work with on a daily basis. The logo on his ankle shows he has no intention of leaving this game anytime soon.
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.