Tampa Bay Rays coach Rocco Baldelli knows what Carolina Hurricanes' Bryan Bickell is up against

Rocco Baldelli knows a bit of what Bryan Bickell is going through. Getty Images

Bryan Bickell is not alone.

He might feel like he is, but he's not.

The 30-year-old winger for the Carolina Hurricanes was diagnosed recently with multiple sclerosis. In a statement last week he said he hasn't been feeling right since the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs and could not understand what was happening. He was shocked to learn of the diagnosis but hoped to return to playing after the right amount of medication and treatments.

Former Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November 2012 and is now a high school goalie coach. Current Calgary Flames goalie coach Jordan Sigalet was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in late 2003 while he was a junior at Bowling Green University. The disease -- which can cause impaired vision, extreme fatigue and spasms and paralysis of muscles, and has no known cure -- tends to more frequently affect women, Caucasians or people with Northern European heritage.

Former Major League Baseball standout Rocco Baldelli had his promising career cut short after being diagnosed with a mitochondrial disease -- which has similar symptoms to multiple sclerosis -- when he was 29.

"At one point, I didn't know if my body was just failing me and I was going to die," Baldelli said. "These are the kind of thoughts -- death, or not being able to walk anymore. You go from worrying about playing center field and where you're going to live in the offseason and winning baseball games, to worrying about what is wrong with me and am I dying?"

Baldelli first began to feel something was wrong when he was 25.

"You know, especially as an athlete, when something is seriously wrong," Baldelli said. "You get to a point where you just want an answer."

Now a 35-year-old first-base coach for the Tampa Bay Rays, Baldelli was considered a generational player after Tampa selected him sixth overall in the 2000 amateur draft. He had all the key tools -- speed, strength, athleticism -- to go along with his ability to hit, run and throw. He was a complete player who earned the nickname "The Woonsocket Rocket" and was once compared to Joe DiMaggio.

During the 2007 season, his legs, specifically his hamstrings, would tighten up, then cramp, and his muscles weren't able to recover to a point where he was able to play every day. Baldelli met with team trainers and doctors to pinpoint what was happening. He was tested for multiple conditions by specialists all over the country. No immediate answers came, complicated by the fact that he also had been dealing with Lyme disease since he was 15. It was an emotional time.

Then, before the 2008 season, he was diagnosed with a cell disorder channelopathy, a mitochondrial condition that prevented him from being an everyday player in the majors. He was limited to 28 regular-season games with the Rays but still found a way to help the club reach the World Series that October and even homered in Game 5 against the Philadelphia Phillies before Tampa lost that series.

"There are playbooks for injuries -- broken bones and [torn] MCLs -- but there's no real playbook, no right way or wrong way to proceed in these situations; you're figuring it out as you go," Baldelli said. "It's scary, to say the least."

Baldelli never wanted to discuss his health. He didn't want anyone to feel bad for him or his situation.

"When you're playing, it's a real delicate thing to talk about, and you're not really sure what to say, how to say it, but it's a little easier for me to discuss right now," Baldelli said. "When you're still out there and trying to play, it's hard to talk about these things. It makes you feel your own mortality."

A native Rhode Islander, Baldelli was released by the Rays and signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2009 and played 62 games. Despite treatments and medications, the fatigue created by the disease became too severe, and he was forced to retire in 2010 after returning to the Rays for 10 games. He was 29.

During his ordeal, Baldelli never thought about calling it quits until the very end because he was doing what he loved, but major questions remained.

"How do I go on living the rest of my life? What's the rest of my life going to be like?" Baldelli said.

Baldelli still works out every day. He eats well and sleeps right. He has no choice, because if he doesn't live life in such a manner, he won't be able to recover and function well enough.

"I feel good," he said.

When he learned that Bickell, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Baldelli understood firsthand the challenges that lie ahead.

"It's a very scary thing," Baldelli said. "These are not things that young, professional athletes are really thinking about. These aren't the thoughts that are in your head. You're out there trying to compete, trying to earn a living and just trying to enjoy a pretty cool life. When you start dealing with these things, it really starts to freak you out. It really starts to make you question what's going on. As an athlete, you usually feel strong and people like to say 'invincible.' You just never really think something like this is going to happen to you, and it's not even on your radar.

"When it does happen, it scared the hell out of me. I was going for a lot of tests, and my body wasn't cooperating. I was feeling things that I knew I shouldn't be feeling."

Since these types of diseases affect everyone differently, it's tough for Baldelli to lend any advice.

"That's a hard question," he said. "There's no right way to approach these situations. You start to re-evaluate a lot of things in your life. You start to think about the rest of your life and how you want to spend it -- the things that are really important to you and the things that are not. You really start to get an early look at these things that probably most people don't really start to contemplate until a little later on in life. You just don't know how much time you're going to have, and you want to make the most of it."