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Honor, company dazzle Baldelli

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 11, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rocco Baldelli sounded as if he wasn't sure what was more amazing.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rocco Baldelli sounded as if he wasn't sure what was more amazing.

That he won this year's prestigious Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year award, or that he joined a list of recipients that includes stars such as Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones, Paul Konerko and Eric Chavez.

"It's pretty crazy for me to even look at that and to say I've gotten an award that they received," Baldelli said from Buffalo, N.Y., where Triple-A Durham opened play in the International League finals. "It was pretty unbelievable hearing it."

Baldelli, 20, was chosen for the progress he made in going from Class A Bakersfield to Double-A Orlando to Durham, hitting .331 with 28 doubles, 19 homers, 71 RBIs and 26 steals in 117 games, and for the promise he showed.

"Rocco Baldelli not only had an outstanding season in the minor leagues but we think it's the start of an outstanding major-league career," general manager Chuck LaMar said Tuesday. "When we signed him we thought he had the rare combination of athleticism, baseball instinct and the makeup. We couldn't be happier for him and he's part of a continuing list of young players we think will make a difference at the major-league level."

Baldelli, the Rays first-round pick in 2000, said he learned something each step of the way this season. If, as expected, he is called up to make his major-league debut when the Bulls finish play this week, he said it would just add to his experience.

"If it happened, obviously I'd be real excited," Baldelli said. "I'd be ecstatic. ... It's fun to think about, but it's not what I'm thinking about."

RED, WHITE AND BLUE: A speech by U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, head of Central Command, will highlight tonight's patriotic pregame ceremony marking the Sept. 11 anniversary.

All fans will receive commemorative T-shirts with the phrase "We Shall Never Forget" and a U.S. flag spirit card. Military personnel who were stationed in Afghanistan will carry flags, and there will be a 21-gun salute and a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace. Police and fire personnel from bay area units will be introduced with the players, who will wear special caps and uniforms.

The game will be stopped at 9:11 p.m. for a moment of silence. God Bless America will be performed during the seventh-inning stretch.

HUFF DADDY: Aubrey Huff can match Quinton McCracken's 1998 club record 18-game hitting streak with a hit tonight. Huff's extended his streak to 17 with a fifth-inning homer and is batting .447 (30-for-67) during the streak.

JOE'S WOES: Since leaving an Aug. 25 game with a tired arm, Joe Kennedy has made two rough starts, allowing 14 earned runs on 15 hits (including three home runs) in 112/3 innings. "I'm not pitching very well right now," said Kennedy, who has not won since Aug. 4.

IT'S MANNY'S WORLD: Ramirez made a mistake Monday by not running out a ground ball, and Boston manager Grady Little said he made one by not taking Ramirez out. But Ramirez made some amends with a winning homer, then struck again Tuesday. His 17 home runs and 65 RBIs against the Rays are the most by any opponent.

NUMBERS GAME: The Rays are 1-7 on the 10-game homestand, having been outscored 65-20 while pitching to a 7.63 ERA. ... The Rays are a franchise-worst 48 games under .500 at 48-96. ... The nine straight losses to Boston at the Trop are the most to any opponent.

BULLS REPORT: Durham's opener in the best-of-five International League championship series at Buffalo was suspended due to rain tied at 4 in the 12th. The game will be continued today before the scheduled second game.

MISCELLANY: ESPN2's telecast will be carried across most of the country tonight. ... Carl Crawford will be in leftfield. ... The 568 innings by Tanyon Sturtze, Paul Wilson and Joe Kennedy are the most of any AL trio except Oakland's Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, with 600.

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