Who is new Twins manager Rocco Baldelli?
It took a couple of seasons, but Minnesota Twins brass Derek Falvey and Thad Levine now have “their guy” leading the clubhouse.
The Twins hired Rocco Baldelli last week as the 14th manager in club history. At 37, he’s the youngest manager in Major League Baseball and the second-youngest hire in Twins history, as Tom Kelly was 35 during his first full season as Minnesota’s manager in 1987. (Well, make that the third-youngest manager if you count Billy Heywood.)
That decision to bring in a young Kelly worked out just fine. So who is this Rocco Baldelli guy — and what does he offer?
Well, first off, Baldelli brings a hot new nickname to the Twin Cities. His flashy moniker — the “Woonsocket Rocket” — is a tribute to his hometown of Woonsocket, R.I., the birthplace of Hall of Fame players Nap Lajoie and Gabby Hartnett. That nickname must produce a best-selling jersey next season during Players’ Weekend, right? Right?
Not only does he have a great baseball name, Baldelli’s background in the sport ain’t bad, either.
A highly touted prospect out of high school — so good, anyway, that Bill Belichick (then with Cleveland Browns) called Indians executives and said Baldelli might be the “best athlete he had ever seen” – Baldelli went straight to the pros as Tampa Bay’s sixth overall pick in 2000.
On a fast track to the big leagues, Baldelli made his MLB debut at age 21 on March 31, 2003, and collected a hit. He finished his first season third in the Rookie of the Year vote, just behind Kansas City’s Angel Berroa and New York Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui.
Although his playing career started promising, he soon ran into injury problems. Baldelli missed the entire 2005 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was never fully healthy again, as he suffered through a debilitating disease that shortened his career.
Baldelli played 135 games from 2007-10 before calling hanging up the cleats. In 519 career MLB games, Baldelli notched 531 hits, 60 home runs, 99 doubles, 18 triples and a .278/.323/.443 slash line.
Soon after his retirement, Baldelli started working in 2011 with Tampa Bay’s player development department and did that until he was named the Rays’ first-base coach. He stood in the coach’s box from 2015-17 before growing into his new role last season as a “major league field coordinator.”
And now, he’s your manager of the Minnesota Twins.
Other quick facts about the Twins’ new manager:
— A highly touted baseball prospect out of high school, Baldelli had over 50 scholarship offers to play baseball but one at UCLA — for volleyball.
— Baldelli’s brother Nick played baseball with Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
— Baldelli is the first Twins manager to own a Twitter account. You can follow him @roccodbaldelli.
— His other brother Dante plays outfielder for Boston College and hit .235 as a sophomore last season.
— His mom, Michelle, was named after Hall of Fame outfielder Mickey Mantle.
— Baldelli loves his dog, Bowie. Who wouldn’t?
— He has a passion for horse racing and is involved in the breeding business.
— Baldelli is a tall dude. He finished his MLB career listed at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds.