Rocco Baldelli will be sidelined indefinitely - but is not retiring - because of what he said are "some type of metabolic and/or mitochondrial abnormalities,'' a condition that leaves him feeling extremely fatigued after just a brief workout.
"When I say "fatigued" my body is literally spent after a very short amount of time out on the field which makes it extremely frustrating and difficult, but it's kind of a reality right now,'' he said during a 13-minute session with reporters before Wednesday's game. "I feel like I've done a serious workout after a very short period of time, and it's a very odd feeling. ... I try not to be too dramatic when I explain what's going on, but it's not easy when you're out on the field for a very short period of time and you're done, and you're not really worth anything else out there. That's a tough thing to handle because you wonder why. You wonder why this is how your body feels.''
Baldelli, 26, said there has been no exact diagnosis but the consensus of several experts was the rare condition that limits the ability of his muscles to recover. "Basically somewhere along the line ... either my body is not making or producing or storing ATP the right way and therefore not allowing, apparently, my muscles to work as they should, and especially recover like they're supposed to on a day-to-day basis. It becomes very difficult to go out and literally be on the field every day and play.''
ATP, according to the website health.howstuffworks.com is a chemical, adenosine triphosphate, that is the energy source for muscles and "in order to continue exercising, your muscles must continuously make ATP. To make this happen, your body must supply oxygen to the muscles and eliminate the waste products and heat. The more strenuous the exercise, the greater the demands of working muscle. If these needs are not met, then exercise will cease - that is, you become exhausted and you won't be able to keep going."
Baldelli provided this description:
"I think the best way to describe it is literal muscle fatigue and cramping way before my body should be feeling these things. I would go out there and I was pretty much incapable of doing basic baseball activities, running and hitting and throwing. These were things I had done my whole life pretty easily and at some point within the last two years, we're not exactly sure why, these things started to change.''
Baldelli moved to verge of tears several times in discussing details of his condition for the first time. He indicated he did not consider the condition life-threatening, saying "it's not something I'm overly worried about as far as on a long-term basis right now. And he said he would do "everything in my power" to get back on the field, but there was no timetable for a return, whether this season or ever. The Rays will place him on the disabled list to start the season and "identify" a replacement to be part of a platoon situation in right field and provide depth at the other spots and DH.
"As far as my baseball career I'm not here to stand in front of you telling you I'm retiring,'' Baldelli said. "We're still going pursue any avenue that we can to try to figure out what is going on and have a better understanding of what is going on. But at this time throughout all of the extensive testing that we've done, we don't have a concrete answer. The doctors' consensus is these are the problems that I'm experiencing and there's probably a lot of medical proof of these things but they have been unable to specifically identify an exact reason or an exact problem down to a specific name. That's kind of frustrating.''
Baldelli said he will remain on the disabled list "indefinitely until we find out something else that could possibly improve my situation.''
Executive vice president Andrew Friedman termed Baldelli's condition "extremely rare" for professional athlete but said the Rays will work diligently to find a way to get him back on the field.
"The most important thing is I think all of us are cautiously optimistic,'' Friedman said. "I don't have a medical reason to feel that way, but I know with Rocco's determination, with our training staff, with modern medicine the way it is, I refuse to believe there's not a way we can figure this out. It may prove to be naive. It may prove to be right. We don't know yet.''
Baldelli thanked the Rays for their support, saying "this is probably as difficult and frustrating a thing I've ever had to deal with as a person. And we're going to do everything we can to fix and hopefully solve this problem.''
Before Baldelli spoke, Rays manager Joe Maddon offered this perspective:
"It's tough to figure out. It's something that he feels. It's something that unless you're inside that body you have no idea what it feels like. And it's unfortunate because you're talking about a gifted athlete right here. One of the more gifted athletes I would think in all of the American League given a chance to play on a daily basis. So it's hard. It's hard for him. It's harder for him than for us. It's frustrating for us, it's a career for him. It's a way of life. It's supporting his family in the future. It's difficutl. So we're just trying to pay attention to him and respect, because you have no idea what he feels like and it's frustrating. But it's even more frustrating for him.''
Baldelli, 26, has been sidelined since sustaining a hamstring strain in a May 15 game, and has played just twice this spring, last on March 4, because his legs haven't recovered well and don't feel right.
"It's not really encouraging right now, it hasn't really been progressing,'' Maddon said before Wednesday's game. "It's one of those day by day situations and it's not moving forward.''