Mike Piazza gives back to the game while coaching Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic
Rediscovering his ancestry in Italy and helping to make baseball relevant there are big priorities for the 12-time MLB All-Star. However, Piazza won’t deny his American upbringing. “I do not pretend to say what is not true,” he admitted. “I grew up as an American boy. Now, getting older, I understand the value of my heritage and I want to give some-thing back to Italy. I just got back from Italy, and I am doing a lot of research on my family roots from Sicily. During your baseball career, you really can’t focus on things like that because you are concentrating on playing. I’m not trying to reinvent my identity and say I’m doing the reverse Christopher Columbus thing.”
The all-time leading catcher with 427 home runs (.308 batting average) over his 16-year career and future Baseball Hall of Famer was coached by some of MLB’s best. The proud Team Italy coach Piazza said, “When I was coming up with the Dodgers I learned from Reggie Smith, and he was a direct disciple of Ted Williams. I really benefitted a lot from good coaching, so I feel I can impart my knowledge, and that is my way of giving back to the game. You can tell, obviously with our success and winning two European Championships since I’ve been there, it works…”
Upon retiring as a player, Reggie Smith spent time coaching in the Dodgers’ farm system before joining Tommy Lasorda’s staff in Los Angeles, where he remained from 1994 to 1999 as the team’s batting coach and first base coach. He later served as USA Baseball’s hitting instructor
from 1999 to 2008. Piazza hopes to emulate Smith’s coaching excellence with Team Italy. He said, “The players really listen, and it’s fun for me. I get a lot of joy from doing that. I’m not a huge ‘change a guy’ type of coach, I keep it simple. I’m not very autocratic. I don’t try to pound my system into guys. To me, hitting is personal.” When former Team USA skipper Tommy Lasorda played against Italy in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, the Dodger icon reflected on the sacrifice his late father, Sabbatino, made for the his family in search of a better life in America. He,
like many other Italians near the turn of the 20th century, came here from the Abruzzi region south of Rome seeking relief from the rough winters and hard terrain. However, unlike Lasorda–who wore the red, white and blue–Mike Piazza gives back to “La Squadra Azzurri” Team Italy as a fitting tribute to his grandfather Rosario from Sicilia and faces Team USA in the 2013 World Baseball Classic at Chase Field in Phoenix on March 9th.