The Tampa Bay Rays organization tops affiliated baseball with 16 drug suspensions since the start of the 2012 season. This is the team that had Josh Lueke on its 40-man roster for the better part of three years and just released former first rounder Josh Sale after a stretch of drugs and misconduct. But of all of the players in the system the last four years, only Matt Bush–who is currently serving 51 months in prison–can rival Andrew Bellatti‘s enormous mistake.
Bellatti, a right-handed reliever in major league camp for the first time this spring, told his story the other day to Marc Topkin. As an 18 year old fresh off his professional debut in the Rays organization, he lost control of his car while speeding and ended up killing a man. It is one thing to do drugs and let yourself and your teammates down–it’s obviously another thing entirely when someone dies.
The accident was not entirely Bellatti’s fault and he apologized to the man’s widow as much as he possibly could. Rays minor league director Mitch Lukevics said “an outstanding young man who was involved in a sad and unfortunate accident.” That may be true, but Bellatti could have spent seven years in prison if the aforementioned widow didn’t have mercy on him. He only had a chance to continue his professional career because of sheer luck.
But unlike Bush or Sale, who made a series of questionable choices, Bellatti has ensured that the car accident in 2009 would be his last black spot on his record. He doesn’t even drive anymore, allowing teammates and family to take him where he needs to go. And when he has been on the field, he has kept his head down and attempted to keep the focus on his performance on the mound.
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Bellatti has never thrown very hard, with his fastball staying around 90 MPH. However, armed with an excellent slider and solid deception, Bellatti has done enough to make it to catch the Rays’ eyes. In 2014 at Double-A Montgomery, Bellatti delivered a 3.68 ERA, striking out 10.1 batters per 9 innings while walking just 2.8. He turned just 23 in August and was 2.2 years younger than the Southern League’s average age. But those numbers, no matter how promising they seem, can only go so far.
If Bellatti makes the major leagues, he will need to pay an additional sum to the family of the man he killed. Even if he reaches the pinnacle and fulfills his dream of playing on baseball’s highest stage, the specter of his past will continue to loom over him. There is nothing he can do to escape that reality–we will certainly hear this story again if and when he cracks the Rays’ bullpen.
All things considered, though, the Rays wish that more of their troubled players could have reacted like Andrew Bellatti has the last several years. Why have so many players gone into a downward spiral while someone whose offense was worse than theirs was able to keep going? They don’t have to be as guilty and they don’t have to be as embarrassed–why can’t they find a way to get their careers on track?
Maybe it is because so many of them were first or second rounders while Bellatti was a 12th rounder. Maybe it is because most of them never experienced the introspection that killing another human being forced Bellatti to go through. No matter what the reason is, though, while Josh Sale and other talented players are gone, Andrew Bellatti remains with the Rays. There is not the slightest hint of inspiration that can be gleaned from his story, but it reflects poorly on how so many other players have seen their careers come apart.