ST. PETERSBURG -- Rocco Baldelli had been afforded the opportunity of choice. That luxury led the former Rays star into another direction as the team's new first-base coach.
"I've never coached before, so I have a lot to figure out before Spring Training," Baldelli said. "I'm sure it will be an ongoing process, and I'll try to figure it out as I go. But I think I'll be up for the job."
Tampa Bay selected Baldelli with the sixth pick in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, and the native of Rhode Island made his Major League debut on March 31, 2003, at the age of 21. He hit .289 that season, with 11 home runs and 78 RBIs in 156 games. Unfortunately for the Rays and Baldelli, that would be his career high for games played in a season.
After a 2004 campaign in which Baldelli hit .280 with 16 home runs and 74 RBIs, the promise he showed began to be blunted by injuries. He was limited to 136 games in '04, missed all of '05 due to a left knee injury, then returned to play 92 games in '06. In the years that followed, Baldelli would be diagnosed with a muscle disorder that often left him fatigued, which made him more susceptible to other injuries. Ultimately, that condition caused him to retire following a 10-game stint during the 2010 season.
Baldelli made more than $6 million during his career, and he handled his money wisely. But Baldelli was just 29 when he retired, bringing him face to face with having to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. That's when Tampa Bay stepped in to offer him the chance to try out a myriad of jobs in the front office. Now the timing feels right for Baldelli to transition to his new position.
"I think right now this is the best thing for me, for a lot of different reasons," Baldelli said. "I really did enjoy, and I do enjoy, all the things that I have been doing, and I love the people I was working with on a day-to-day basis and everything that goes along with it. But when this opportunity came up and I spoke with [president of baseball operations] Matt [Silverman] about it, it really intrigued me.
"Up until this year, I had not thought about this in any way. I dove into what I was doing, and that was really all that was on my mind. So when this did come up, I started to think a lot more about it. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that this would be a really interesting and rewarding path to take. And like I said, I have a lot to figure out in a not-so-long period of time."
Silverman has immense respect for Baldelli, and he shares Baldelli's belief that the timing is right for the move.
"He has a tremendous work ethic and dedication to the organization," Silverman said. "We thought that his skills could be best served right now with him on the Major League staff. And the perspective he's gained over the last several years will only make him a better coach and provide more impact in the clubhouse."
Baldelli is ready for the challenge mentally, and he does not believe that his health will restrict him in any way.
"I always have to consider my health," Baldelli said. "But in this instance, I don't think it's going to be an issue at all. I feel good. I work out. I really don't hold back.
"I have to take care of my body -- and if I don't, I can feel it -- but I don't think with these job requirements ... I mean, the duration of the season, there's no days off. Essentially, it's a long year, and we all know that. And so, yeah, I did think about it. But at the end of the day, I don't have any worries about that."
Baldelli noted the many hats he's worn with the Rays, especially during the amateur scouting period in the spring, which was a physically demanding job because of the daily travel and the lack of days off.
"I feel like if I could get through that, I can get through this," Baldelli said.
Baldelli can't hide his excitement about his new position, though he needed some time to rekindle the excitement of being in a uniform.
"For a while, I needed to take the uniform off and get away from the field," Baldelli said. "I knew that when I stopped playing, I had that feeling inside of me, and I knew I had to do it. But I'm really looking forward to putting it back on and interacting with the players on the field.
"There's nothing like being out on the field during a Major League Baseball game. The energy and the competitiveness out there ... draws people in. Shoot, there's a reason people want to be out there. It's a great environment."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.