Baldelli accepted a baseball scholarship offer from Wake Forest but later decided to bypass college and sign with the Devil Rays, who, enamored with his pure athleticism, snatched him with the sixth pick in the 2000 draft. Tampa Bay gave its prospect a $2.25 million signing bonus.
As Baldelli becomes more acquainted with major league pitching, the Devil Rays believe he'll develop into a 25- to 30-home-run hitter while continuing to hit for a high average. The team is also impressed with the improvement he has made on defense. At week's end he was tied for third in the league with five outfield assists. "The biggest thing for him was adjusting to the pace of the game," says first base coach Billy Hatcher.
For now his coaches stress the importance of good work habits. Until he reached the majors Baldelli never had a pregame routine. Now before each game he hits soft tosses for several minutes, followed by another 20 minutes of hitting off a tee. Then batting practice begins. "When I was growing up, I just went out and ran around, swung the bat as hard as I could," he says. "I was never taught to play the professional way."
Baldelli is open to new experiences of all kinds. Three years ago he and a group of other players from an instructional league camp visited a tattoo parlor in St. Petersburg. While most of the guys had murals etched on their backsides and biceps, Baldelli opted for something more understated: a small Major League Baseball logo branded just above his left ankle.
Upon seeing the tattoo, Dan told his son, "You better get there, or you've got a problem. Maybe you should have waited." But even then Baldelli had the same thought that has carried him through his two months in the big leagues: Why wait?