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Rays prospect Baldelli has Web site for benefit of others

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 26, 2002

Dan Baldelli's internal alarm clock tends to go off right around 2 a.m., when most people in Rhode Island are asleep and when his son, Rocco, is finishing a game with the Bakersfield Blaze, the Devil Rays' Class A affiliate in the California League.

Baldelli will go online looking for a box score to see how his son fared, but he rarely gets that far. Within a minute of logging on, he usually gets an instant message from one of Rocco's friends, detailing his performance. When his son calls in the middle of the night, it's a good sign the young slugger has had a good game, as was the case Tuesday when he went 5-for-6 with four RBIs and five runs scored.

"It's a little bittersweet when he calls," Baldelli said Thursday. "I can't believe he's waking me up in the middle of the night, but I'm glad to hear he's doing well."

Rocco, the Rays' first-round pick in 2000, has a team-best .396 average, and his growing fan base can keep up with him at roccobaldelli.com, a charity site run by his father. Baldelli registered the site before his son was even drafted, knowing a site bearing Rocco's name could serve a real purpose as he moves through the Rays' minor-league system.

"I want to show him that this is the way to do it," Baldelli said. "You give back, you do things for others."

On the site, fans can purchase photos, cards, bats or balls autographed and even personalized by Baldelli, with proceeds going to the Rocco Baldelli Foundation. The charity sponsors scholarships to Bishop Hendricken High School, a private school he graduated from two years ago.

"Sending him there was the best thing I ever did, and this helps other kids who might not be able to pay the tuition but deserve to go there, too," his father said.

The site isn't about the money so much as it is the principle, an important thing for a 20-year-old who already has a $2.25-million signing bonus to his name. It has raised about $2,200 in its brief existence, barely enough to cover the cost of running the site and buying up photos and Baldelli rookie cards on eBay.com. The cards, like the prospect himself, could bring a strong return down the road.

For now, his biggest fans are back home in Rhode Island, so it's no surprise that when a rare Baldelli card sold on eBay on Tuesday, the winning bidder was an administrator from his old high school, just another fan of Baldelli's who is working on a collection.

Rays fans who want to keep up with Baldelli and other top prospects such as Josh Hamilton, Seth McClung and Jon Switzer can listen to live Blaze radio broadcasts during games at bakersfieldblaze.com.

SQUATTERS ALERT: Sites bearing the names for the Bucs' top draft picks already are spoken for. Marquisewalker.com belongs to Michigan Web Services, a company in Brighton, Mich., that runs about a dozen local sites. Travisstephens.com is registered to a Miami man, and neither registrant returned calls Thursday. Whether they're actually planning on building a site or are just sitting on the name with hopes of big bucks remains to be seen.

TID-BYTES: ESPN's Mel Kiper already is looking ahead to the 2003 NFL draft, with Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich atop his list of 15 rising seniors. Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey, Hurricanes defensive tackle William Joseph and Florida State tackle Brett Williams are among the 15, as is Central Florida receiver Doug Gabriel. CNNSI.com has a mock 2003 first round, with four Seminoles and four Hurricanes among the top 28. ... Newly acquired Bucs punter David Leaverton has a site of his own at davidleaverton.com, complete with an archive of stories from his playing days at Tennessee to a picture of him posing with the ESPN Gameday crew in Knoxville. Showcasing a self-deprecating sense of humor required of all punters, the site points out that the photo was taken during a commercial, asking, "Do you think they would honestly put a PUNTER on Gameday?"

-- If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, e-mail staff writer Greg Auman at auman@sptimes.com.

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