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Rocco Baldelli returns to Tampa Bay Rays as a special assistant

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays brought back familiar face Rocco Baldelli as a special assistant to work with the organization's young players.

But it's not inconceivable Baldelli could work his way back into their lineup later this season.

"We're not doing this with that in mind," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said, "but anything's possible."

Baldelli, 28, made it clear he was not ready to retire and hopes to "someday, maybe" play again. For him to do so this season, he would have to successfully rehab an unspecified right shoulder injury that currently prevents him from throwing, though it doesn't interfere with his hitting.

That might be a big if since Baldelli said the shoulder problem — which became an issue midway through last season with the Red Sox — has him in constant pain and will likely eventually require surgery. It is also the reason he didn't take one of the several offers from other teams to come to camp and compete for a job.

"At this point I can't really do what I want to do on the field." Baldelli said. "I wasn't comfortable going to spring training this year, because I wouldn't be able to perform."

Baldelli came up as one of the Rays' prized prospects and became one of their most popular players, but he was sidelined often by injuries then a career-threatening bout with a mystifying illness, first diagnosed as mitochondrial disorder then channelopathy.

He returned to play a key role during the 2008 postseason run, but the Rays didn't re-sign him, and he spent last season in Boston, hitting .253 in 62 games, and was again not re-signed. He said the illness is under control and he is feeling pretty good.

For now, the Rays are happy to have him back in their organization — "He looks better in blue," Friedman said — and doing, on a one-year deal, what he can to help.

"It was a no-brainer for us," Friedman said. "We think from all the time Roc's been in this organization, all the positive relationships that he's formed, the experiences he can share with our young players, it's something we're very excited about."

Even without knowing Baldelli's exact role, manager Joe Maddon said, "It's good to have him within the group again." There also were smiles and kind words around the clubhouse. "That's cool," longtime teammate Carl Crawford said.

Baldelli insisted Tuesday there was no specific plan to return as a player and he was thinking only about his new assignment, which will have him traveling to work with different minor-leaguers.

"I think I'm going to have fun being out on the field again and having the Rays jersey on and going out and trying to do anything I can to help the young players in the organization," Baldelli said. "I don't think I'd want to do it in any other organization than this. I feel like this is my home."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Rocco Baldelli returns to Tampa Bay Rays as a special assistant 03/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 10:47pm]
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