FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Rocco Baldelli has gone public.
The Rhode Island native decided it was time to reveal the serious health issue that has kept him sidelined for much of the last few seasons. The 26-year-old Rays center fielder said he has metabolic and/or mitochondrial abnormalities, which causes severe fatigue and muscle cramping.
After dismissing rumors about him having MS or a rare blood disorder, and denying that he was a steroids user, in an interview with the Journal last Saturday, Baldelli decided to discuss his health issues publicly in an attempt to stop all the speculation. He met with the Tampa-area media this morning and, in a phone interview this afternoon, said he was relieved he was able to finally talk about it.
''When I wake up tomorrow, I’m going to feel a lot better than I did today,'' he said. ''It’s been difficult for me not knowing what the problem is, and having to hear other people speculate. That was frustrating.''
What remains frustrating is that doctors still don't have a specific diagnosis . . . or a specific treatment plan.
''I still don’t have a specific diagnosis,'' he said. ''I wish I did, because I would feel better knowing exactly what it is,” he said.
''It’s causing me fatigue and muscle cramps to a point where I can’t function as a ballplayer, so I’ve decided to put my health No. 1 and step back.”
He will be placed on the disabled list indefinitely and he said he’ll stay on the DL until something changes, or he learns something new.
When asked if this was a life-threatening issue, Baldelli was cautious with his answer but believes that it is not.
“It’s difficult for me to comment on that,” he said. “I’m not worried about it being extremely serious and I don’t like to use the term [life-threatening]. Doctors are fairly certain this is not serious to that point. It’s a problem, a serious problem, but not something I’m worried about.”
He visited numerous doctors around the country during the offseason searching for answers. He wanted to know the stem of his medical problems because he knew something was wrong.
''My muscles weren’t functioning like they were supposed to,'' he said. ''I was pulling muscles and having cramps, and I wanted to figure out where this general feeling was coming from.''
Baldelli has no plans on retiring because he said he still loves the game and wants to play again. His contract expires at the end of the 2008 season, and indications are the Rays -- who must exercise a 2009 option by April 1 -- will not extend the contract.
''While on April 1 we may decline the option, when the time comes we'll do anything and everything to make sure he's part of this organization," said the Rays' executive vice president of baseball operation, Andrew Friedman.
''I’m not even worried about that,'' said Baldelli. ''I don’t know necessarily what I’m going to be doing as a player right now. I don’t know what my function is going to be whether I’m going to be working out (in Tampa) or back at home. The only thing I’m going to be worried about this season is trying to figure out what’s going on health-wise, and that’s all I’m worried about.
''It helps when my team, everyone from the manager (Joe Maddon) to the training staff to everyone on the club, is behind me and trying to help me health-wise. They have put everything else aside and said this is their No. 1 priority, which is very good for my sake.”
Back to work: Beckett stiff after workout, Kolb sent to minors
After having my computer shattered by a foul ball Monday at Port St. Lucie, the IT guys at the Journal did a tremendous job getting me a brand new one. It arrived in Fort Myers this morning so I'll be able to blog and work once again.
A couple of quick notes:
Pitcher Josh Beckett (back) did some rehab work on Tuesday and arrived at work this morning "a little stiff" according to Terry Francona. The stiffness is due to the exercises Beckett was put through on Tuesday, but the manager said he's doing ok.
"We talk every morning when he comes in," said Francona. "The big thing I stress to him is that there's no timetable (on a return). It's when he's healthy and that's all I want him to worry about. He understands that."
There are still questions regarding Beckett's availability for the Japan trip. There is a very good possibility he could remain in Florida when the team leaves next Wednesday.
*Red Sox newcomer Bartolo Colon will make his spring debut Thursday against the Rays. The veteran right-hander is scheduled to work two innings.
*The Red Sox assigned right-hand pitcher Dan Kolb to minor-league camp.
*Shortstop Julio Lugo hit in the cage this morning and took some ground balls, too. He should be able to play soon, and if that happens and suffers no set backs, he should be able to make the trip to Japan. If he's not ready, or even close to it, he will remain in Florida.
*Center fielder Coco Crisp is still being bothered by a groin injury, but he's been able to hit in the cage. Francona said this morning when the switch hitter bats from the right side that's when the groin bothers him most. Crisp has been spending most of his time in the training room.
*Curt Schilling can be seen around the clubhouse, but he hasn't been heard from much this spring. The veteran has a serious arm injury in his biceps and there's a chance he may not be able to pitch this season. Or at least until later in the summer. He wants to make the trip to Japan with the team, but Francona said this morning that's still up in the air.
"Our thinking is what's in his best interest," said the manager. "That's what we care about. The appearances are secondary to what we're tyring to do here, and we're trying to remind people that. He wants to go, but again, we need to sit down and talk to everybody."
GATOR: He had a strange career, Mike Greenwell did. He arrived relatively unheralded but was a .300 hitter almost from the get-go, and quickly wrestled the left-field job away from Jim Rice. He finished second in the MVP voting to Jose Canseco in 1988 and seemed poised to . . . well, if not live up to the Williams-Yastrzemski-Rice tradition of Red Sox left fielders, at least not disgrace it. But his game never progressed from that point, and as the Sox slid under .500 in the 1990s he was seen as part of the problem and not part of the solution. His eventual departure in 1996, bathed in the controversy of he and Roger Clemens cleaning out their lockers in the final week of the season while the team was still in postseason contention, soiled his reputation, as did his sniping at then-general manager Dan Duquette. He's been gone for a long time now, and it didn't seem like he was missed.
But time really does heal all wounds. There's been some fence-mending in recent years, culminating in Greenwell's recent election to the Red Sox Hall of Fame. And yesterday he returned to what he calls "the family.'' Joe McDonald recounts Greenwell's visit to City of Palms Park and his candid and frank comments on many things Red Sox, including the possibility of steroid use by his ex-teammate and (we assume) still-friend Roger Clemens. And he had many candid and frank comments about himself, including his internal debate as to whether or not he should use steroids.
He'll be at Fenway this season for the first time since that controversial final week in September of '96. It'll be good to have him back.
STOP MAKING A MOUNTAIN OUT OF A MOLEHILL: Chad Finn would be more worried if Beckett had a blister. (touchingallthebases.com)
THIS YEAR'S BECKETT: Beckett, as the saying goes, took his game to another level in 2007, and it's one of the reasons -- maybe the main reason -- the Red Sox won the World Series. SI.com's Tom Verducci identifies five pitchers who might make similar improvements this year. No 2 on his list: Daisuke Matsuzaka.
ELSEWHERE ON THE MEDICAL FRONT . . . McDonald reports Julio Lugo and Coco Crisp are making progress, Lugo moreso than Crisp.
SUN RISES IN EAST, DOG BITES MAN . . . and Jonathan Papelbon looks impressive. (projo.com)
ROUND TWO: The Yankees and Rays meet today for the first time since their war of words last weekend, and the question is: Will hostilities resume? Newsday says no. The New York Daily News says maybe. The St. Petersburg Times' Gary Shelton says he hopes so.
WELL, HE DID ALWAYS SAY HE WAS AN AN IDIOT: Everyone feels the Rays are poised to take a giant step forward in 2008, though how big a step they can take in the fast lane of the A.L. East is an open question. But Johnny Damon probably went one step too far when he declared Tampa Bay ''may be the team to beat in our division.'' (St. Petersburg Times)
IF ONLY 'OL BLUE EYES WERE HERE TO SEE IT: Torre and his new team, the Dodgers, are headed to China for an exhibition series with the Padres. Some of the squad, however, is hanging back in Florida and 80-year-old Tommy Lasorda will manage the holdovers in seven games this spring while the varsity is away. His first one was yesterday, and he gave the fans their money's worth. (yahoo.com)