Remember back in 2003, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were downright awful and wore those ridiculous teal uniforms?
Even then, there was hope. It came in the form of two young budding stars: Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli. A lot has changed since then, as Crawford has become one of the game's best outfielders, due for a massive payday and move to a big market in the upcoming offseason. Baldelli, on the other hand, has battled injuries and medical difficulties, leading to his semi-retirement as a coach for Tampa in 2010.
Then, Baldelli signed a minor league deal with the Rays this past June and began his comeback attempt. If he can pull it off, it will be among the most inspiring stories of determination in recent baseball history — like Rick Ankiel's, without the PEDs.
Baldelli is taking a big step this weekend, heading from Single-A Port Charlotte to Triple-A Durham, after hitting .283 with the Stone Crabs, reports the St. Petersburg Times.
Rocco still can't play every day, and hitting .283 isn't exactly cause for great optimism, but don't count him out. The guy won the Tony Conigliaro Award in 2008 for a reason. He's battled for years. He has an unbelievable amount of heart.
Let's also not forget that he was talented enough to be the 6th overall pick in 2000, hit .302 in over 350 at-bats in 2006, and is still only 28. You'd be a fool to give up on Rocco now.
The Rays, with their striking hitting woes of late, could really use a healthy Baldelli. It's not something they can count on, but what if he can come up and DH and inspire a team that is sputtering down the stretch? The whole rest of the team hits .220 anyway, so what is there to lose?
It's oddly ironic that as Carl Crawford looks to become part of Tampa's past this offseason, Baldelli may in fact become part of their future again.
He seems truly committed to the franchise, and, odd as it is to consider, he could become the first true legend of Tampa baseball lore.
It's a longshot, but don't count out seeing the 2003 era Baldelli again, this time without the teal threads.