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Rocco to be feted by hometown fans

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 15, 2003

BOSTON -- The Rocco Baldelli Show comes home to New England this week.

The Rhode Island native has been a smash hit through the first two weeks of his big-league career, bringing a .400 average and an 11-game hitting streak into Fenway Park tonight. Plenty of family and friends are expected to make the short drive to see him, including 130 from his high school.

"There might be a couple hundred each game," Baldelli said. "I couldn't tell you how many people have said they'll see me in Boston."

There also are a large number of New England media outlets that want to talk with him in addition to ones that sent reporters to New York last weekend, enough that the Rays are setting up a special interview time for him today. ESPN also is planning a feature, and Baldelli will talk with its crew today, too.

Baldelli went to Fenway about a dozen times to watch games, but this will be his first time on the fabled field, just like Saturday was at Yankee Stadium.

"I think my first major-league game is the most special," Baldelli said. "There's some other firsts I'm able to do, but that first game I played in was most exciting. But obviously it's all good."

Since the Elias Sports Bureau started keeping track in 1990, Baldelli's 11-game hitting streak is the third longest by a player at the start of his career. Colorado's Juan Pierre went 16 games in 2000 and Montreal's Ryan McGuire went 12 in 1997.

The longest hitting streak by an AL rookie at any time is 30 by Boston's Nomar Garciaparra in 1997. The Rays record is 12 by Randy Winn in 1998.

Elias also is researching the record for plate appearances at the start of a career without a walk. Baldelli has gone 54.

ADIOS REY?: The Devil Rays never have had a shortstop like Rey Ordonez.

They might not have him for long.

Ordonez, 32, was quoted in Monday's New York Post saying he might retire after this season.

"This is maybe my last year," he said. "I've played eight years in the big leagues. I want to spend more time with my family. I'm not sure now, but I'm thinking about it. We'll see what happens in September."

Ordonez is making $6.25-million in the last season of his contract. When the Rays acquired him from the Mets, general manager Chuck LaMar said they might be interested in signing him to a longer deal, though likely at a lower price.

DANGER ZONE: The other player who could make a newsworthy appearance at Fenway this week is rightfielder Aubrey Huff, who will have a severe challenge with the stadium's quirky configuration.

"It's probably one of the more difficult rightfields to play in baseball," manager Lou Piniella said. "It's bigger and it's tricky down the line. You've got to be careful; if you get in there too quick the ball can roll around and end up by the bullpen for an inside-the-parker."

Until the Rays know Travis Lee's sore right oblique muscle is better, they won't know whether Huff will play rightfield or first base.

NICK OF TIME: Nick Bierbrodt has two simple goals for his third start tonight:

a) "Don't give up seven runs in four innings."

b) "Get the first win for a starter."

Bierbrodt didn't make it through five innings in either of his first starts and has allowed 22 baserunners and 14 runs (12 earned).

MISCELLANY: Going into Monday's games, the Rays led the AL in hits (135) and were second in average (.295), fifth in on-base percentage (.345) and sixth in runs (64). They were one of six teams that had not been shut out. ... With Boston starting left-hander Casey Fossum, outfielder Carl Crawford may get his first day off. ... Closer Lance Carter is 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA and has allowed five hits in 10 innings. ... The Rays will get their first look at the seats atop the Green Monster.

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