Baldelli unfazed by slow start

Updated: May 5, 2004, 10:57 AM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN Insider
Rocco Baldelli was 21 years old last May, putting up big numbers for a second-division team in an empty ballpark, and he kept picking up newspapers and seeing his name mentioned in comparisons with Joe DiMaggio. Good thing he's a low-key guy.

Baldelli finished with a .289 average and 184 hits -- one fewer than Ted Williams's total as a rookie -- and came in third in American League Rookie of the Year voting. But you got a sense things might not go as smoothly for him in spring training, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays rewarded him by renewing his contract for $320,000.

"It's a non-issue," Baldelli told reporters.

Later that same day, Baldelli bruised his left forearm when he was hit by a Doug Waechter pitch in an intra-squad game. The swelling would go down eventually, he assured everyone.

It wouldn't have mattered if the showers ran out of hot water or Baldelli got stuck behind a Florida blue-hair with the right blinker in the terminally "on" position during the drive home. They would roll out the balls again tomorrow, and everything would be fine, because it always is.

Jerry Crasnick

ESPN Senior Writer