try, try again…” Perhaps appropriate to sum up the life story of 29-year-old Italian American MLB hopeful Chris Colabello, the best is yet to come for this Massachusetts native. The slugger is poised to make his presence felt on the big league level this year when the Twins call him up from AAA Rochester. Colabello’s strong performance in the World Baseball Classic catapulted Team Italy into the second round of play this year. At Chase Field in Phoenix, he went 4-for-5 with a home run, four RBI and three runs scored against Canada to help Italy clinch a spot to move on to Miami and become the Chevrolet Player of the Game. While at Marlins Park, the Italians nearly posted an upset over 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic when Colabello clubbed a three-run bomb that rivaled any one of Giancarlo Stanton’s many web gems. The Team Italy clean-up hitter lived up to his title by finishing the WBC with a .333 BA, seven RBI and a 1.035 OPS in 18 at-bats.Colabello made a strong case to be on the 2013 Twins Opening Day Roster after hitting .294 with three RBI in
nine spring games for Minnesota. He received words of encouragement from Twins stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau despite being sent down to Triple-A ball to begin the season. Manager Ron Gardenhire had nothing but
praise for Colabello. “He did fine,” said the Twins skipper.
“He played great for Team Italy and really well for us. First base is a place where we don’t have a ton of depth. We have Morneau and then ad-libbing from there. So if he’s down there (AAA) swing the bat good, he could go right into the big leagues after all that time (seven years) in Independent ball. So it’s a good story.” After spending seven seasons in the Can-Am Independent League, Chris Colabello was signed by the Twins and spent last season at Double-A New Britain, where he put together a .284 BA with 19 home runs and 98 RBI. In 46 games this season at Triple-A Rochester, Colabello commands a .360 BA and leads the Red Wings in hits (63), doubles (17), runs (29), home runs (12) and RBI (42).
Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg has known how special of player Chris Colabello is for nearly two decades. The former Chicago Cubs European scout and current Italian MLB Academy director Holmberg said, “I’ve known Chris for maybe 20 years because he used to come over to Italy with his dad. His dad pitched in the Italian Baseball League. His mom is Italian. Chris is just a great kid. He loves to come over and play for us. We enjoy having him. We like him. He’s a very energetic, tremendous kid.” A star player in Italy for eight years who also pitched for the Italian national team in the 1984 Olympics at Dodger Stadium, Lou Colabello brought along his family during his international baseball career while playing and managing abroad. As a result, Chris spent several of his formative years overseas and even played with Team Italia teammate Alessandro Maestri as a youth. Like a fine Italian wine, Chris Colabello gets better with age. Let’s hear his story:
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) February 22, 2013
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) February 23, 2013
Twins win 5-4. Pablo Hernandez gets the save. Morneau with the three-run double. Colabello with game-winning hit. Attendance: 5,048
— LaVelle E. Neal III (@LaVelleNeal) February 25, 2013
Roberto: Having shadowed Justin Morneau in Twins Spring Training and having torn the leather off the ball with your hot bat, you really made a statement playing against your Canadian colleague in a Team Italia uniform during the World Baseball Classic by beating Team Canada 14-4 in a mercy rule victory.
Chris Colabello: Yeah. It’s been a pretty interesting journey to get where we are right now. Especially for me personally coming from independent ball and all that stuff. But it’s been great. I’ve been trying to take everything one moment at a time and just try to embrace it to the best of my ability. I think that when I was younger I would probably let moments that this speed up on me, and it would have been a little overwhelming. But I think with maturity comes the ability to just kind of embrace it. It’s great. I got to talk with Justin a bunch when we played him. I don’t think he’s too happy with us because of the final score that day. But it’s pretty neat and obviously a great experience for the Italian team.
— Dustin Morse (@Twins_morsecode) March 8, 2013
Roberto: Showing up to Twins camp and finding out you would be rubbing shoulders with former American League MVPs Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer as a result of being assigned
a locker next to two Minnesota baseball icons must have given you goosebumps?
Chris Colabello: Yeah, for sure. I really did think my locker was in the wrong place (laughter) or they had forgotten me or something like that. It’s been really neat and obviously I’m so thankful for the organization for giving me the opportunity to get in the door last year, to be in big league camp this year and the opportunity to play up here in the WBC. In terms of stars in the Minnesota Twins for the past 15 years, you can’t really think of a guy or two that are bigger than Joe and Justin. They are just tremendous people, tremendous players. They’ve made it an easy transition for me and kind of made it a little
bit less nerve-racking than I thought it would be.
— LaVelle E. Neal III (@LaVelleNeal) March 9, 2013
Did I just see my boy @drewbutera go deep?!?! That’s what I’m talking about..
— Ben Revere (@BenRevere9) March 8, 2013
— Dustin Morse (@Twins_morsecode) March 8, 2013
Roberto: You also have Twins’ Drew Butera watching your back. He was outstanding in
the WBC with his two-run homer against Team Mexico. The chemistry in the Team Italia clubhouse was uncharted because at the end of the day the other team’s big league names on a lineup card didn’t translate in the game-ending box scores. Team Italia’s spirit, desire, passion, drive, and commitment to win games day-by-day under the leadership of manager Marco Mazzieri along with the coaching staff of Tom Trebelhorn, Bill Holmberg, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto, Alberto D’Auria, Gilberto Gerali and Claudio Vecchi.
Chris Colabello: Yeah. It’s a testament to the staff and the organization. You know, being able to put together a group of guys that first and foremost would mesh well together. There was not a single ego in that clubhouse. It’s pretty unbelievable. We kind of embraced the role of underdog that everybody pinned on us. We certainly didn’t believe we were the underdog coming in. I think we obviously proved that to people playing strong baseball games in a row against some really good teams. Drew and I started talking when camp just opened. Every day we’d see each other at spring training. ‘Paisans’, you know, it’s kind of like that comradery came with it. Having played the European Cup last year, I saw what a great group of guys it was. It’s truly amazing to bring a guys from a big league camp and have them join with IBL (Italian Baseball League) guys and some guys from other walks of life and to have us all feel like we’ve been playing together for years is pretty amazing.
Here’s a picture of Albert Pujols and Mike Piazza during today’s BP taken by someone twitter.com/fcat27/status/…
— frank catalanotto (@fcat27) March 7, 2013
Roberto: You could not have had a better guidance than Italian MLB Academy Director and Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg as well as Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza.
Chris Colabello: Yeah, for sure. Even on that end, you’ve got a guy who in my opinion
is a Hall of Famer in Mike Piazza, and a guy like Bill Holmberg–who is probably more prepared than any coach I have ever met in my entire life in terms of being able to scout, gather information and help guys out. Obviously, Marco is the leader of that group. It’s pretty amazing stuff because I think a line I remember hearing is ‘Attitude reflects leadership’ so it’s obviously a testament to them and the ability they go about teaching the game and helping guide us who we are.
— Can-Am League (@CanAmLeague) December 18, 2012
— MLB Public Relations (@MLB_PR) March 12, 2013
Roberto: How did you make the transition from Independent baseball to MLB-affiliated ball and what were the expectations that went along with it?
Chris Colabello: It was all new to me at that point. Obviously not being drafted initially kind of hurt a little bit, and I really didn’t know where the road was going to lead. Baseball is a big part of my life. Worcester was probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my career. The manager I played for, Rich Gedman and the people I was around, some of my best friends for the rest of my life are some of the guys I played with in Worcester. After that 2005 season, we had a great experience. It was our first year. The city was really excited about it. I got a real taste of how the best minor league places are run because we were certainly treated like royalty. I had the opportunity to sign with Detroit (in 2006).
I really didn’t know what to expect. It was all new to me. I had never been to Spring Training camp. I was really excited. I didn’t know how many guys there would be. Coming in as a free agent signing, I think at some point you have got to stand out. Again, I had mentioned before, when I was younger I used to let things speed up on me a little bit.
I think that was probably part of what happened in camp unfortunately. I thought I had done a pretty good job performance wise and in terms of work ethic. And I think I had some good reviews from coaches before I had left, but things didn’t work out for whatever reason it was and back to Worcester it was.
2011 Independent Leagues Player Of The Year: Chris Colabello: Chris Colabello is the 2011 Independent Leagues Pl… bit.ly/vwXlKo
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) October 27, 2011
Roberto: At age 27 during your 2011 season with the Worcester Tornadoes, you put up impressive offensive numbers which earned you Can-Am League Most Valuable Player and Baseball America magazine’s Independent Baseball Player of the Year honors. How could the Minnesota Twins not take notice? They saw something special in you and shortly thereafter offered a minor league contract.
Chris Colabello: Yeah. It was kind of a whirlwind. I finished the 2010 season on a tough note. I broke my hand. I got hit with a fastball and missed the final two weeks of the season. I think I was really, really hungry at that point. So I started working a lot earlier than I normally would, especially in the cage with a good friend of mine, Bobby Tewksbary–
who is one of my best friends in the world. We‘d start getting after it in the cage…talking about timing and rhythm things, swing stuff that really changed my life (laughter). It allowed me to free myself up as a hitter a little bit which turned things around in my 2011 season. It was pretty magical in terms of finish. And of course all those nice accolades I was able to receive…I think helped me kind of break into affiliated baseball. I couldn’t be more thankful to the Twins organization for giving me that chance.
— Parker Hageman (@OverTheBaggy) February 5, 2012
“Taking a Moment to Appreciate the Underdogs” – A great look at Indi League Player of the Year Chris Colabello… fb.me/1mKQyKO9K
— Jesse Lund (@TwinkieTown) February 16, 2012
First baseman Chris Colabello is one of the reasons I enjoy covering the minors. bit.ly/IlxMtJ
— Kevin Thomas (@ClearTheBases) April 29, 2012
Rock Cats’ Chris Colabello hanging on to his major league dream. cour.at/Paz0tC
— Hartford Courant (@hartfordcourant) July 4, 2012
New Britain’s Chris Colabello, a 28-year-old rookie and refugee of independent league, is having MVP type season. twincities.com/twins/ci_21292…
— Tom Powers (@TomPowersPP) August 12, 2012
— TwinsFanZone (@TwinsFanZone) August 25, 2012
— ACgreyhounds (@acgreyhounds) September 5, 2012
Roberto: The accolades continued to mount as you were a 2012 Eastern League All-Star team selection in addition to being chosen as the Eastern League’s Most Valuable Player runner-up. You must have broken some hearts when your 98 RBI single-season club
record for Double-A New Britain in 2012 surpassed the previous 1998 record set by Doug Mientkiewicz (88). Quite an accomplishment in consideration MLB veterans and former
Rock Cats Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Jacque Jones could not reach the prior plateau during their minor league careers.
Chris Colabello: Yeah (laughter). It was a lot of fun. I think 2012 turned out to be,
I couldn’t have imagined it, just as good if not a better year than 2011. I was on a little bit of a different stage. There was little more riding on it, but it was awesome. I reminded myself about having fun and the game doesn’t change no matter where you are. Once I started having fun, things began to free up for me. In both places early, I ran into some trouble. Again that mental maturity…aging has kind of helped me along the way. It reminded me how to battle back from situations like that so the numbers turned out to be what they were. It was a lot of fun.
Roberto: You have trying to beat the odds in breaking in the big leagues your entire career with the same conviction to succeed despite getting older everyday. What keeps you moving forward in achieving your life-long dream?
Chris Colabello: Ultimately, I think if you are passionate enough about something in life it would be irresponsible not to pursue it to the fullest extent. Baseball is such a big part of my life for so long and obviously a huge part of my family, huge part of my childhood. It’s a part of me. People say baseball doesn’t define who I am. Well in a lot of ways I feel like it does for me. Obviously it doesn’t define the type of person I am, but there’s always a huge part of me that will be in love with this game for the rest of my life. I think I just got really good at not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Every time I heard someone say ‘no’, it kind of made me want it much more and maybe work for it that much more. It allowed me to do things that I could take to that next level. Here we are today. Persistence and not taking ‘no’ for an answer are the way to do it.
Chris Colabello: He’s about passion, persistence, desire. Ultimately, I don’t know what makes us different. I think
we all just have a deep-rooted love for
the game. I can’t imagine my life without the game of baseball. It’s nice to be around someone who has gone through the
same things and thinks the same way.
Roberto: You also have a very strong connection
with Team Italia pitcher Alex Maestri and his father,
Dr. Paolo Maestri. Let me get this straight. You were 14 and playing baseball in Italy when Dr. Maestri was
at the right place at the right time to save your life. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you were lounging on the back of your baseball coach’s car when your coach took off down a hill at 30 mph without seeing you in the rear. You jumped off and landed face-first, resulting in a deep gash near your mouth and severe bleeding to the point where you were choking on your own blood. Dr. Maestri helped you get the blood out so you could breathe again. What a nightmare! Thank God there was a doctor nearby to render first aid and save you.
Chris Colabello: Yeah, it was a pretty unbelievable experience. I’m very, very fortunate to (have) the Maestri family. Without them, I firmly believe that
I would not be here today.
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 8, 2013
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 9, 2013
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 10, 2013
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 10, 2013
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 13, 2013
Thank you to all the fans who supported us and to the group of guys in that clubhouse who made this experience so incredible #TeamItaly
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 14, 2013
Now that Chris Colabello is with us,
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 14, 2013
it is time for the call-up to Minnesota and his long-awaited MLB debut at Target Field. Looking ahead at their schedule, it would be ideal to bring Colabello up on May 29th when the Brewers visit the Twin Cities. That way the Italian American slugger will have the chance to share with Milwaukee’s Jeff Bianchi all the special moments that he missed. Unfortunately, the Brewers feared their infielder–who recently returned from the 15-day DL–would be injured if he played for Italia in the World Baseball Classic.
— Bobby Tewksbary (@TewksHitting) May 8, 2013
Roberto: You have a knack of being a winner and landing on winning teams. Do you truly have a winning spirit and the Midas touch?
John Mariotti: A championship team is made up of a specific group of players. Each player brings something different to the table in order to fit the mold and make up what is to be a championship team. My hard work and dedication toward baseball, I believe, are the traits that Pat Scalabrini (manager of Québec Capitales) and Marco Mazzieri (manager of Team Italy) saw, which made me one significant piece of the puzzle for their team. I am the type of player that never wants to let my teammates down and always striving to be the best.
John Mariotti: I got a call in October of 2011 by Team Italy in regards to playing in the European Championship and WBC. Immediately we began the citizenship process and in August I was on my way to Italy to prepare for the European Championship in Holland.Roberto: Did you have a choice to play for Team Canada instead of Team Italy?
John Mariotti: I did not have the option to play for Team Canada.
Roberto: Will it be difficult playing against some of the players you grew up with in Canada while pitching for Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic?
John Mariotti: I know a couple of players on Canada’s team, John Axford, Chris Leroux and Jonathan Malo. When I was in college, I hit with Joey Votto for two years when I would come home for Christmas break. It will be an awesome experience to play on the same field as these guys, but I think that it’s understood that when its game time, all feelings are set aside.
Roberto: Does Team Canada have an edge because they have seen you pitch before or do you have an advantage because you know their Achilles’ heel?
John Mariotti: In baseball, I believe the biggest advantage is experience. Most of the players on Team Canada are or have played in the Big Leagues. Nonetheless, I believe in my talent and so do the Italians and I am going to work hard so that I am able to compete at my best in order to help us win.
Roberto: Who were some of the coaches that have inspired you?
John Mariotti: Murray Marshall (Team Ontario Baseball) was one of the coaches who gave me a shot to play elite baseball. His passion to coach and love for the game was an inspiration not only to me but to all of his players. In college it was both coach Darren Mazeroski (Gulf Coast Community College) and coach Gary Gilmore (Coastal Carolina University) that had a great effect on my career. Battling elbow injuries for two years, both coach “Maz” and “Gilly” believed in my ability and that I was going to perform.” They were two coaches that saw and believed in my talent and gave me every opportunity to succeed.
I owe them a lot.
John Mariotti: Ron Wolforth at Pitching Central in Houston, Texas, in a nutshell, gave me back what I have left of my baseball career. After suffering an injury that ultimately resulted in being released and what looked like the end of my career, I went to see coach Wolforth in Houston as a last hope. What I didn’t know was that hope wasn’t an option. He was going to get me back to playing, that’s how good he is. He is the pitching guru. Working with coach Wolforth got me back into professional baseball: two Can-Am Championships, one European Championship with Team Italy, a Phillies Spring Training invite and now a chance play in the World Baseball Classic. He is a big reason for my success. Pat Scalabrini was another inspiration in my playing career. After being released by the Winnipeg Goldeyes, coach Scalabrini gave me a shot to prove myself.
I did not disappoint. The two years of winning two championships with Québec was the most fun I’ve had playing ball in a long time. It was the support and belief by coach Scalabrini that really helped me get to this point, and I can’t thank him enough. These coaches were big inspirations for me.
Roberto: What are your best pitches that you have come to depend on?
John Mariotti: I throw a sinker, changeup and slider. My sinker and changeup are my two plus pitches. As a sinkerball pitcher, my job is to keep the ball on the ground and let the defense work. My changeup is a pitch that will keep hitters honest on the sinker and is one of my out pitches in certain situations.
Roberto: How good are the Italians? What are some of the strengths of the team?
John Mariotti: The Italians are very good; we have a lot of talent on our team and a great coaching staff. Aside from that, I believe it is the passion, teamwork and the will to win of the Italians that is going to help us achieve success.
John Mariotti: Bill is one of the more knowledgeable coaches I’ve had the pleasure of playing for. Bill and I spent a lot of time together over in Europe, and he taught me a lot about pitching. He has totally changed my mentality as far as how I approach hitters. His knowledge and ability to scout teams and prepare the pitching staff with information about our opponent is impressive. He is very passionate about teaching and coaching players.
He is a key component to the coaching staff and the success of the Italians.
Roberto: How about a few words about Team Italy hitting coach and future Baseball Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza? How has he helped you and the pitching staff?
John Mariotti: Mike’s is a very knowledgeable person. His experience and knowledge for the game will definitely be a big factor in helping us succeed. Aside from this, he brings a certain character to the team, one that keeps the atmosphere on the bench very light and pressure free. He is a very knowledgeable person, who’s always thinking. I think Mike has helped us pitchers by preparing the catchers. Mike prepares our catchers for competition both mentally and physically and I think that by doing so, it only helps make the pitchers better.
Roberto: With the injection of more MLB-affiliated players participating in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, can Team Italy compete in Pool D and advance?
John Mariotti: No doubt. The Americans are the favorite in our pool, but as far as the rest of the teams go (Canada and Mexico) I think we have a really good shot at advancing to the second round.
Roberto: Who else would you have liked to see join Italy in the World Baseball Classic?
John Mariotti: One name that came to mind that I thought might be on the team was Mike Napoli. I’m pretty sure he is of Italian decent.
The six-foot-one right hander made his professional debut in 2007 with Orioles’ Short-Season Single-A Aberdeen and posted a 2-2 record with a 1.46 ERA. He spent his entire 2008 campaign at Single-A Delmarva. Mariotti began the 2009 season at Single-A Advanced Frederick and moved up to Double-A Bowie, where he started 13 games and compiled a 3.44 ERA. The Orioles’ farmhand was back at Frederick in 2010, when he made 41 appearances out of the bullpen and chalked up three saves.The Woodbridge, Ontario MiLB expat was a welcome addition to the 2011 Québec Capitales‘ starting pitching rotation. Mariotti went 11-1 in the regular season with 2.74 ERA in 108.1 innings of work before going undefeated in the postseason with a 1.98 ERA. The Philadelphia Phillies came calling for Mariotti as he was signed to a minor league contract and invited to 2012 Spring Training. The hype was short-lived, and he retreated to comfy Les Capitales de Québec, where he tallied a 10-1 record in 98.1 innings with a 4.03 ERA in 2012. Under the leadership of manager Marco Mazzieri, pitching coach Bill Holmberg, hitting coach Mike Piazza, third base coach Alberto D’Auria and first base coach Claudio Vecchi, Team Italy remained undefeated (9-0) in the 2012 European Championship by outscoring opponents 45-4 during the first five games of Pool A competition and then continued with their winning ways by outscoring others 18-6 in the remaining four games of the medal round. By defeating the Netherlands twice back-to-back on their home turf during the final two days of the 2012 European Championship, Team Italy demonstrated its resilience against a squad which was the biggest surprise of the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Remember the Dutch defeated the Dominican Republic twice and moved on to the second round of play.
Let’s put the Italian victory over the Netherlands in the 2012 European Championship into perspective. By the Dutch winning the 2011 World Cup after upsetting a talented Cuban team in the finals, does that make Italy the new elite class of European baseball and the spoiler in the upcoming 2013 World Baseball Classic? With John Mariotti’s winning spirit, Italy has got a real shot.