ST. PETERSBURG - For some, it was like yesterday when the Rays gave Rocco Baldelli the keys to the centerfield kingdom, signing him to a five-year contract (three plus two options) that could have netted the Rhode Island native a cool $60 million.
The date was November 10, 2005 and with Carl Crawford already in tow with his own long-term deal struck before that season, two of the three outfield positions were supposed to be locked in for years to come. The two even picked up the nickname "Crawdelli."
But that was then and this is now.
"I'll be starting the season on the disabled list," Baldelli said in a hastily prepared press conference before the game. "I have been to many different doctors to try and figure this out but no one has been able to come up with anything definitive yet. I want to get this done so I don't have to keep answering the same questions over and over."
The current diagnosis is a mitochondrial metabolic abnormality, which, according to the Cleveland Clinic, amitochondrion (singular of mitochondria) is part of every cell in the body that contains genetic material. Mitochondria are responsible for processing oxygen and converting substances from the foods we eat into energy for essential cell functions. Mitochondria produce energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is then transported to the cytoplasm of a cell for use in numerous cell functions.
Baldelli has been betrayed by his body and within a few weeks the 26-year old could become an ex-Ray, which, if you pardon the pun, add insult to the injury. If he is on the DL, the Rays will have picked up that option.
A nagging hamstring issue opened the door for B.J. Upton and the heir to the shortstop position took over the middle outfield position on a permanent basis in 2007, leaving Baldelli on the outside looking in, even if he were to return to normal health.
"It's not really encouraging right now," said manager Joe Maddon before Wednesday's contest with the Yankees. "He hasn't been progressing and is still a day-by-day situation. It's just not moving forward."
The team had until April 1st to decide whether Baldelli is a good enough risk to pick up his option. The 2008 buyout is estimated to be in the $4 million range, not much under what his regular season salary would have been. Regardless, it would have been a huge gamble to buy him out should someone, anyone figure out how to get around the genetic issue.
"It's tough to figure out," Maddon said when asked if he thought Baldelli was snakebit. "It's something that he feels. Unless you're in that body you have no idea what it feels like. It's unfortunate because he is such a gifted athlete and maybe one of the more gifted if he had a chance to play every day. It's harder for him than it is for us."
In the meantime, Maddon is trying anything to find outfielders, one to back up Upton, and how to plug the right-field/DH spot. The skipper said that if everything went according to plan, Baldelli was supposed to be the backup in center, play right and occasionally DH. Now that all seems moot.
It was just last spring where many were talking about the glut of outfielders the Rays have and just one year later it is literally a who's-who for the open roster spots.
The trades of Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes may have helped in creating a more peaceful clubhouse but now there are some interesting names being floated for the opening day roster spots.
"We're looking at every option," said Maddon, not bringing up the rumor that Tampa Bay is interested in veteran Kenny Lofton. "We're good in center and left and with Jon [Jonny Gomes] in right. We're looking close at [Jon] Weber and [John] Rodriguez. We were looking at Ben Zobrist out there but he's hurt too. Right now it's up in the air a bit."
It is a case of looking at everyone in camp right now for the Rays and Cliff Floyd is an option, only he seems more suited at designated hitter. Floyd is not an answer in any scenario unless it becomes dire.
The game plan at this point is to get Weber and Rodriguez plenty of work and you could see Willy Aybar getting some looks out there in the coming days and weeks. Even infielder Joel Guzman has seen time in the outfield.
The Rays were thinking about carrying a dozen pitchers so a super-utility player was paramount. That is where Zobrist was supposed to fit and be available should anything happen to Upton. For now those plans are on hold.
"You're comfortable with Weber playing all three outfield positions and defensively he is a bit ahead of Rodriguez," the manager said. "He is a very fundamentally sound outfielder and has one of the better throwing arms in camp. Rodriguez has done some good things in the majors in the past and I really like the power potential in his bat."
The big talk starting spring camp was who was going to be the fourth and fifth starters. Just two weeks in, the outfield has become topic number one.
POLICING THE AREA: Some of the Rays were out early and Jon Weber was chasing a fly ball in center. He crashed into the wall and it was not long after the workout was concluded that someone drew a chalk line on the wall like the police do around a body. It disappeared just before the team took batting practice.
KAZ CAN: Scott Kazmir is rested and raring to go. The Rays' southpaw is schedule to pitch live batting practice tomorrow around 8:00am and if all goes well he will see game action Sunday. No players have been named to appear at the live BP session.
STUMPED: Yankees' batting practice came to a screeching halt when coach Stump Merrill was hit by a thrown ball just above his left lip. The incident happened behind second base and after laying on the field for some time he was taken off on a stretcher to an awaiting ambulance. It was not known if he had suffered a concussion.
TWO ANDYS NOT DANDY: Rays' infielder Andy Cannizaro spent some time in a local hospital because he was having stomach issues with medication he was taking for his back. He had an outpatient IV to help settle things down. Over in the Yankees' clubhouse, Andy Pettitte was schedule to start Wednesday's game at Al Lang Field but was scratched due to a muscle irritation near his pitching elbow. The lefty joked that he was going to have his arm amputated tomorrow but the Yankees said he will be back in his regular rotation spot in five days.
WARMING UP: The Rays will return to Ft. Myers Thursday to face the Red Sox at City of Palms Park in a 1:05 start. Schedule to pitch for the visitors are Matt Garza, JP Howell and Mitch Talbot. Friday Tampa Bay returns to Al Lang Field to host the Blue Jays at 1:05. Edwin Jackson looks to bounce back from his worst outing of the spring and will be followed to the hill by Trever Miller, Al Reyes, Kurt Birkins and Grant Balfour.
LIVE FROM PORT CHARLOTTE: Interested in what is going on at the Rays' new spring training site? There is a live camera at the stadium to keep you up to date. CLICK
TURN ON, TUNE IN:The Rays will broadcast select games this year via their radio partners, 1250 WHNZ and 620 WDAE. There will also be two games telecast by Fox Sports Net Florida. Here is the schedule - ALL GAMES AT 1:05pm UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED:
• March 15 @ Atlanta (ss)- WDAE, or
• March 15 @ NY Yankees (ss) - WDAE --- 1:15pm
• March 16 vs Detroit - WHNZ / FSN
• March 21 @ NY Yankees - WDAE ---- 7:15pm
• March 22 vs. Pittsburgh - WHNZ
• March 23 @ Reds - WHNZ
• March 28 vs Reds - WHNZ / FSN
• March 29 @ Reds - WHNZ
GIT YER TICKETS HERE: Single game tickets are on sale now at the Tropicana Field box office, Tampa office, and all TicketMaster locations. Tickets can also be purchased online (www.raysbaseball.com or www.raysbeisbol.com) or by calling 888-FAN-RAYS.
Ted Fleming, the owner/operator of TBSN
Radio 510, has been covering the sports scene in the Tampa Bay area for the last decade via the airwaves and in print. His radio show, Speaking of Sports, is syndicated by the Black Athletes Sports Network live from 11:00am to 1:00pm weekdays. He frequently discusses the Rays on his show. Additionally, he is a stringer for PA Sports Ticker