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Playing wall ball

Centerfielder Rocco Baldelli says that in his more athletic days in high school, he had a vertical leap of roughly 40 inches.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published May 13, 2007


Centerfielder Rocco Baldelli says that in his more athletic days in high school, he had a vertical leap of roughly 40 inches. Between leading Bishop Hendrickson High School in Warwick, R.I., to four straight state baseball titles, he added state crowns in basketball and volleyball. He had major hops. On Thursday night, in a one-run game at Camden Yards, Baldelli made a home run-saving catch to rob Kevin Millar of his second of the game. Millar hit a ball to left-centerfield that seemed destined for the Orioles bullpen, but the 6-foot-4 Baldelli - seemingly effortlessly - leaped and made the catch, extending about 3 feet above the 7-foot wall. "I always say baseball makes you unathletic, " Baldelli said. "I was in better shape back in high school as far as running and jumping. We just don't jump as much in baseball. The only time you jump your highest is when you jump like that, and I've only had to jump maybe five times in the past six months."

It was his first leaping takeaway. He made catches over the wall by reaching up in Minnesota and Anaheim. The nearly 12-foot walls at Tropicana Field don't give Baldelli much opportunity to make those kinds of plays at home.

"When an outfielder goes to that fence at that height level, then you've got this rubber track with his athleticism, he's going to leap tall buildings in a single bound, " manager Joe Maddon said of Camden Yards. "If all the other walls in the league are like that wall, you see that catch every night in every ballpark. That's uniquely the shortest. They had to have had that in mind when they built that."

Future legend

The Rays host "Legends of Wrestling" night Friday, bringing out a dozen World Wrestling Federation personalities, including Bret "The Hitman" Hart, "Mean" Gene Okerlund, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, King Haku, Tatanka, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, the Nasty Boys, Rick Steiner and the Cuban Assassin.

The Rays plan to put a wrestling ring on the field and have three matches after the game, including the reunion of the Nasty Boys, Rays pitchman Brian Knobs and partner Jerry Sags.

The promotion raises the question: Which Rays player is professional wrestling material?

Pitcher Scott Kazmir thought infielder Ty Wigginton might make a good grappler, catcher Josh Paul would be a decent ringside announcer and reliever Jae Kuk Ryu could look the part if he put on a mask.

The obvious choice among his teammates, however, was DH/OF Jonny Gomes.

"You can just kind of see him getting the crowd all pumped up and running around, " Wigginton said.

And his nickname?

"The Bay Area Hustler, " Wigginton said of Gomes, who is from Petaluma, Calif., an hour north of San Francisco. Gomes frequently wears a sleeveless shirt with Bay Area Hustler on it after games.

"The one thing is, I just don't know if he'd look good in those bikini briefs, " Wigginton said.

"Yeah, I don't know about that, " Kazmir said, "but maybe he'd go out there and tears his T-shirt off or something."

Untouchable

Before Saturday, closer Al Reyes hadn't pitched in a week. But he's still ranked among the best. A look at the lowest opponent batting averages among relievers in the majors, through Friday:

Francisco Cordero, Brewers .077 4-for-52

Reyes, Rays .104 5-for-48

Russ Springer, Cardinals .111 4-for-36

Kevin Cameron, Padres .113 6-for-53

Rick White, Astros .114 5-for-44

Doug Brocail, Padres .115 7-for-61

Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox .119 5-for-42

Internet item of the week

A white T-shirt with the phrase "Jesus is a Devil Rays fan" on the front - and we're not talking about former reliever Jesus Colome - had an opening bid of $9.99 and, like the Rays, was still waiting Saturday afternoon for its first big hit of the week.

Providence Journal (1998)