Notes: Baldelli challenges Rays

Notes: Baldelli challenges Rays

MINNEAPOLIS -- A wise man once said: "If you use youth as an excuse, then it is."

Interesting. The succinct statement was actually made by University of North Dakota hockey coach Dave Hakstol, at the NCAA Frozen Four tournament, but it is also perfect for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who, at an average age of 24.79, are the youngest team in Major League Baseball, and the youngest since the 1983 Minnesota Twins. But manager Joe Maddon prefers to build on the positive of the exuberance of youth, rather than dwell on the inconsistencies.

In the process of the ups and downs that seem to be a requisite of a young team, there is also the quest for leadership to emerge. That was possibly in evidence when center fielder Rocco Baldelli sounded off after the Devil Rays had sputtered through most of Saturday night's 12-5 loss to the Twins.

"I just don't think we came ready to play today," Baldelli said. "Maybe I'm missing someone, but I don't think there's one guy who came to the field ready to go and have a good effort. Obviously, we went out there and tried, but that wasn't anywhere near going to be good enough or acceptable. There's no explanation for it. It's just bad baseball."

Maddon didn't see the comments as a problem, but possibly as a positive influence, because although Baldelli is only 25, he has four years of Major League experience.

"I'm fine with one of our veteran players voicing an opinion, as long as it's positive, and this sounds as though it was intended that way," said Maddon. "I didn't see the comment, but I heard about it. It was something to the effect that our guys didn't come to play. I don't know that the guys weren't ready or didn't care, but after the first two games were so difficult, and hard, and fast, Saturday's game was a departure.

"I want some players to step up and speak their mind. As long as it's done in a positive manner, we have to make sure we learn from it."

Red rubber ball: Maddon has stressed that when the team has a bad game, the important thing is how the players bounce back. So before Sunday's game, and with Saturday night's blowout still in mind, the manager said the team's project was to bounce back "like a red rubber ball."

Then he immediately said: "The Circle, 1968." A music group called The Circle, which might be called a one-hit wonder, recorded a song named "Red Rubber Ball," in the 1960s, and the reason it became an interesting bit of trivia so readily recalled by Maddon was, he said, because, "They wrote that song in my favorite college bar at Lafayette."

Maddon majored in economics at Lafayette College, in Easton, Pa., where he played three years of varsity baseball as a shortstop and pitcher who later switched to catcher, and one year of freshman football. He was a quarterback, and in his final game, he completed 13 passes in a row and was 14-for-17 for four touchdowns against Lehigh.

Before Sunday's game, Maddon said, "I think you'll see a completely different game today."

Extras: Jonny Gomes returned to the lineup Sunday, batting in the ninth slot as designated hitter. "The other names in the lineup have been doing well," Maddon said. "Jon hasn't played that much, but he's in there. Some might think there's a stigma attached to batting ninth, but not to me. To me, you're in the lineup, and all it means is you hit after the No. 8 guy." ... Rookie Delmon Young, who was striving to extend his season-opening hitting streak to cover all 12 games, has been hot ever since he first came up, on Aug. 29 of last season. From that date through Saturday night's game, Young had played in 41 games and had 56 hits -- a figure that has only been bettered by six players in the last 50 years. One of them is Baldelli -- in 2003, Baldelli set a team high with a 13-game season-opening streak. ... Carl Crawford didn't wear just one commemorative Jackie Robinson Day No. 42 jersey on Sunday. He wore a different No. 42 Rays jersey each inning, and they will be auctioned off for charity.

Coming up: The Rays will return home to Tropicana Field on Monday to face the Orioles. Right-hander James Shields will face Baltimore left-hander Adam Loewen at 7:10 p.m. ET.

John Gilbert is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.