Baldelli's surgery goes well

The Devil Rays outfielder begins rehab immediately and will miss 6-9 months.

Published November 6, 2004

While Devil Rays centerfielder Rocco Baldelli waited to undergo Friday's surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, a nurse asked him if he wanted something to read.

"No," Baldelli said, "but I'll take one of those doughnuts."

Baldelli's father, Dan, who was waiting with his son at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic in Vail, Colo., and relayed the story by phone with a laugh, figured Baldelli's unhindered appetite was a good sign.

"That means he's okay," Dan said.

That is relative, of course. But considering the young star is looking at being out 6-9 months, the news after a three-hour procedure performed by renowned knee specialist Richard Steadman was encouraging.

"Everything is good," Dan said. "(Steadman) said everything was very successful. It was nice to hear."

Now comes the tough part.

Dan said he and his son will remain in Colorado until at least Tuesday as Baldelli begins rehabilitation that could keep him off the field until July.

Dan said the rehab began Friday.

"They go right to it," he said. "They want him to get it moving."

Baldelli, 23, was hurt Oct.24 while playing baseball with 7-year-old brother Dante in the back yard of his parents' home in Cumberland, R.I., where Baldelli stays during the offseason.

Baldelli's knee gave out when he sidestepped to avoid running over Dante in a race for first base.

"It just goes to show you how fragile your body parts can be at times," Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said. "You endure a whole season running into walls and sliding into people and nothing happens, but you have a little fun ... "

Baldelli did not believe the injury was serious and waited almost a week before getting an MRI exam. But Rays team physician Koco Eaton said the delay did not worsen the injury because Baldelli knew enough to ice the knee and keep it elevated as much as possible.

Eaton said the ACL was discarded and replaced by a graft of Baldelli's left patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap to the shin bone.

"You take a strip down the middle so as not to weaken the tendon," Eaton said.

Small pieces of bone at either end of the tendon are removed and fitted into holes drilled into the top of the shin bone and bottom of the thigh bone.

"The holes are drilled right where the ACL originates and where it ends," Eaton said. "The tendon replicates the ligament."

Eaton said the beauty of the procedure is that "the body scars down the area from which the patellar tendon was taken from, so you don't miss that. And the patella graft is actually stronger than the ACL. Some studies have shown it's twice as strong."

Which means a full recovery?

"Yes," Eaton said. "That's what we're all hoping and praying for."

ZIMMER TO STAY: Special assistant Don Zimmer said he is not interested in a bench coach job with the Mets.

"I'm right here where I got it so good," Zimmer said. "That's where I'm staying."

Zimmer, 73, said Willie Randolph called him during the playoffs to ask about his interest in joining the Mets if Randolph was named manager. Randolph got the job Thursday. Zimmer said he called Randolph on Friday to tell him he was sticking with the Rays, with whom he recently signed a two-year contract.

"I called him and told him congratulations on the job," Zimmer said. "I gave him a couple of names I thought would be good men for him. He said, "Are you in the mix?' I said, "I'm a Steve Spurrier. I'm not in the mix.' I'm right where I need to be."

PROSPECT HAS SURGERY: Wes Bankston recently had wrist surgery, but Cam Bonifay, director of player development and scouting, said the outfielder should be ready to go by March 1. Bankston, a fourth-round pick in 2002, hit .289 with 23 home runs and 101 RBIs last season for Class A Charleston.