Heard This: Matt Torra signed with the EDA Rhinos to take over Manny's vacated roster spot #CPBL
— Dan (@MyKBO) July 2, 2013
Finishing up last minute packing before my 18 hrs of flying tomorrow. Eda rhinos can't wait to join you. Kaohsiung Taiwan here I come.
— Matt Torra (@TheContractor31) July 2, 2013
After agreeing to take Manny Ramirez’s roster spot midseason on the EDA Rhinos, 2005 Arizona Diamondbacks #1 draft pick Matt Torra embarked on an overseas baseball journey he will never forget. After pitching for Team Italia in 2013 World Baseball Classic, it appeared the right-handed hurler’s curiosity and appetite for international competition and world-class cuisine had peaked. With wife Jessica and daughters Isabel and Mia in tow, the young Torra family flew from Boston to Tokyo before landing in Taiwan to begin their adventure in Kaohsiung City, where the EDA Rhinos played their home games. In his 12 starts in the Chinese Professional Baseball League, Torra was one of the league’s finest best control pitchers–allowing just five walks in 78 innings of work. In his final start for the EDA Rhinos in the 2013 Asia Series against the Canberra Cavalry, he once again demonstrated his control of the strike zone by issuing only one walk in 8.2 innings pitched. Canberra slugger Michael Wells spoke of Torra and said, “The guy throwing up there threw some very good pitches, it was tough at times.” Yet the toughest walk for Torra was the one back to the airport, where Torra and his family had time to organize their thoughts before heading back to America. Facing an uncertain future ahead with the season now over, Torra’s agent Jim Masteralexis still aspires to get his once highly-prized client to join the game’s elite and make it to MLB. With over 578 innings pitched in Triple-A ball under his wing while playing in the Diamondbacks, Rays and Nationals organizations, Torra has been on the cusp of the big leagues. With his recent success on the EDA Rhinos, this 29-year-old Italian American is poised to follow the footsteps of Team Italia teammate Chris Colabello in getting to the show. After speaking with current free agent Matt Torra, it is apparent that he is more than ready.Roberto: You were a 2005 MLB first-round draft pick alongside Ryan Braun and Jacoby Ellsbury. You must have felt pretty good knowing you were the Diamondbacks #1 selection.
Matt Torra: That day was a great experience. It was a day I will never forget. The only thing close to that was pitching for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: You pitched at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where you led the Atlantic 10 Conference with 111 strikeouts and the entire country with the nation’s lowest 1.14 ERA in 2005. What was the transition like from college ball to professional baseball?
Matt Torra: For me it was a big transition. I went from college ball, only got 10 innings of pro ball before I got hurt and had to have surgery on my shoulder. And then coming back not only was I trying to adjust from college ball to pro ball, but I also had to try to figure out and learn how to pitch again after surgery. For me it took me about half
of a season in 2007 to try to start getting a feel again
for the ball. Once I started to do that, I found success
again, and every year I have just continued to build
on it. Just take stuff that I have learned every year
and try to apply it into my pitching repertoire.
#Rays acquire RHP Matt Torra from Arizona for cash considerations, send him to Triple-A Durham
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) July 2, 2011
Roberto: You were dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011 and worked under the guidance of Italian American manager Joe Madden. How was that experience?
Matt Torra: I got to meet him for the first time at 2012 Rays Spring Training. He was a great person to be around. He’s polite to everybody. You know, he said hello to everybody. He never singled-out anybody. So to be around him and to be around that organization at the time was great. Everybody welcomed you from the top to the bottom of the organization. And they treated you very well. It was definitely a good experience for me. They treated everyone with respect. Obviously someone in my position as a non-roster invitee coming into camp, you definitely show respect to the more veteran guys and everything. But everyone said hello to you. It was nice just being in there. They all wanted you around the guys. It was a good experience.
— William Ladson (@washingnats) December 28, 2012
Roberto: How was your experience with the Washington Nationals?
Matt Torra: I was really excited to getting back on with Mike Rizzo, who drafted me with the Diamondbacks as the scouting director. And jumping on with Mark Scialabba, who is the head of the minor leagues there. I thought it was going to be a great opportunity with a great organization. I was in the best shape of my career coming out of the World Baseball Classic. But it was frustrating because I got hurt with an oblique strain coming off the WBC. I missed the first couple of months. By the time I reached Triple-A Syracuse, I was more than a month behind the other pitchers in the Chiefs’ rotation. I jumped into the season quickly, without much prep.
— Nationals (@Roto_Nationals) June 17, 2013
Roberto: When you finally got healthy and got into stride, it looked like you had turned the corner and were on the rebound. But all of a sudden you were let go when least expected.
Matt Torra: To get released after I think I finally got my groove going was unexpected. In the long run, it was for the best and it allowed for the Taiwan opportunity to come up.
Roberto: Coming off the heels of paying tribute to your Italian heritage by playing for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, it doesn’t get better than that.
Matt Torra: Yeah, that was a great experience. I began working with the team on February 20th to prepare for the WBC, which began in early March. Everybody was very welcoming. Manager, pitching coach, players, everybody–they were all polite and energetic about the game. It was a great experience.
Roberto: Do want to pinch yourself to make sure that you are not dreaming as you make an imprint in the Italian baseball history books as a contributer to Team Italia in the WBC?
Matt Torra: You try to take it all in and experience it. But you also don’t want to get overcome by it. You need to stay focused when you get a chance to pitch in a game. You don’t want it to overwhelm you, but at the same time you want to remember every single second of it. And know that it was a blessing to come and do this. I started two years ago tracking my ancestry to obtain dual citizenship and everything. For some reason, I just happen to start that and the fact that I could jump on the team was great. Everything just came together for a reason. It was just an amazing trip.
— Matt Torra (@TheContractor31) March 3, 2013
Roberto: You must be a proud Italian American ballplayer.
Matt Torra: I felt like everybody on the Italian team was definitely playing for the team on the front of the jersey. They were playing for Italia. I think that is why we had success in the first two games (defeating Mexico and Canada) and why Italia will continue to have success in the future. But at the same time for a lot of guys it was a great opportunity to showcase what they had. To come out and compete I want to help this team as best I can–whether it’s one batter or three innings–whatever they need me for. I want to go out there and do that. As you know, there are some of us that have not been in the big leagues that don’t get that much exposure on TV. So to have a tournament like the WBC is great for a lot of people. We just got to go out there and stay focused. Once again, don’t let it overwhelm you and know that as you go out there and make a good pitch or as a hitter go out there and execute what you are trying to do. Try not to do too much, and you are going to be successful.
Roberto: As a pitcher, you then have to wipe the slate clean after every at-bat regardless if you just gave up a home run or struck out the hitter. You must remain focused on the pitch you are about to deliver.
Matt Torra: Every pitch matters, especially in a short tournament like the WBC when it matters even more. No matter what happens you can’t change what has already happened. You need to bear down, focus and just execute every pitch. And just worry about that next pitch you are going to throw. Have a good game plan, stick to it and trust the stuff. Trust all the hard work you’ve put into it and know you have the ability to get guys out.
Roberto: So by staying in the present moment and not living in the past?
Matt Torra: What has happened in the past or what will happen in the future doesn’t matter. It’s really one pitch at a time on offense and defense. The team that executes, the team that makes the least amounts of mistakes is going to come out on top. I believe with the talent that I have seen on Team Italia that we have the ability to come out on top in the very near future.
I am proud to be part of team Italia. Tough way to go down but it was an honor being part of the team. #italia.
— Matt Torra (@TheContractor31) March 14, 2013
Roberto: Having a coach like future hall-of-famer Mike Piazza on Team Italia must have been inspirational for all the ballplayers?
Matt Torra: It was… When you get to be around guys like that, you pick their brain as much as you can. With Mike Piazza as a hitting coach and a catcher for all those years, as a pitcher you want to pick his brain. What did he see when he was calling a game? As a hitter, what was he looking for going up to the plate? So anytime you have the opportunity to gain some knowledge from a coach, you should definitely take it. You write it down, or you just remember it. And then it will be there and you’ll be on the mound at some point and all of a sudden you’ll remember–hey, so and so said this, let’s apply it and boom–it works! So you have got to take any time you have a chance to pull information, you have got to do it.
Roberto: It’s obvious that the coaching dynamic duo of Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto helped Team Italia players offensively to be very productive at the plate.
Matt Torra: They were outstanding. From one to nine and even guys coming off the bench, they all did an excellent job. Mike and Frank brought a lot of confidence to Team Italia. We were on a roll and had the type of energy of being aggressive to execute on both sides of the game to make something good come out of it.
Roberto: So would you consider your time with Team Italia to be your most memorable moment of your baseball career to date?
Matt Torra: In my career so far, participating in the World Baseball Classic with Italia was pretty amazing. Seeing a team come together in a way Team Italia did was unbelievable.
I think me getting that call up to the big leagues will be a great moment for me as well.
I haven’t experienced it yet so I can’t tell you what it feels like. But I know the feeling on the field celebrating after beating Mexico and Canada was something special. It was a special group of guys. We had the right combination of players and the heart and desire to win. Yes, we had some big league players on Team Italia, but we had a lot of guys people didn’t know about. Even myself…where there are some people who know about me, but I am not a big name guy in Major League Baseball. We left our hearts out there. It was big for us. When you’re on the field celebrating, I don’t know if you can get that feeling anywhere else. It was up there. Obviously when my kids were born, you have a great feeling. Getting married and stuff…but that feeling you have celebrating with 28 guys on the field is unbelievable.
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) March 9, 2013
Roberto: I couldn’t agree with you more…I remember tweeting something like: third to my son’s birth and Team Italia’s upset over Mexico, it was one of the best days of my life.
Matt Torra: It was pretty amazing…to celebrate twice too on the field back-to-back. I think family events as far as marriage, birth, stuff like that…relationship with God–that’s in one category. I don’t think stuff outside of that can really surpass that. But as far as baseball stuff, what I experienced with Team Italia was unbelievable. It was a great experience, and
I think a lot of the guys on the team felt the same way.
Roberto: Team Italia demonstrated their heart and soul in the WBC. Every person wearing an Italian uniform wore it proudly each game.
Matt Torra: Everybody was in sync and in tune and watching every single pitch. We were focused and ready to go every game. We wanted to do something special.
Roberto: You had a special chemistry and a ‘never say die’ fighting spirit on Team Italia.
Matt Torra: Yeah, you could say we were the underdog. But it came down to who wanted it more. You could definitely see the heart, the will and the desire. You could see it on every single one of the Italian players. It made us persevere and confident. We were focused and determined to make something happen.
Roberto: How proud are you to be an Italian American and a part of Team Italia?
Matt Torra: It’s a great honor for me. It started two years ago when I began to research and find my great grandfather Giuseppe Torra’s birth certificate from Valenza, Italy and my great grandmother’s birth certificate. And find their marriage license from 1920, and then find the ships they came over on and everything. Once you start researching, you start seeing where you are from and everything. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s a great honor, and I’m very proud to have represented Italia in the WBC.
Roberto: It shows and I wish you the best in your career. Rest assured I will be there when you make your MLB debut. God bless you and your family. Thank you for your time today.
I look forward to meeting up with you again soon.
Matt Torra: Anytime…let me know. Thank you very much.
— Kinmen RisingProject (@KinmenQuemoy) November 21, 2013
Setup man for Team Italia’s Grilli, Nick Pugliese closes for Unipol Fortitudo Bologna in Asia Series
Euro Cup and Europe’s first-ever representative in the Asia Series, Pugliese takes on the champions from the pro leagues in Japan, Chinese Taipei, Korea and Australia.
Siamo ancora una volta CAMPIONI D'EUROPA!! Foto: Simone Amaduzzi Photographer http://t.co/YdsT5hAjE0
— Fortitudo Baseball (@FortitudoBC1953) August 3, 2013
We spoke with Bologna’s closer prior to the start of the Asia Series in Taiwan (which runs from November 15-20).
Roberto: Having experienced MLB-affiliated ball with the Angels organization, you were a welcome addition to the Italian baseball fraternity. Explain the transition from Fortitudo Bologna to Team Italia.
Nicholas Pugliese: When I got the call to go to Bologna to play, I shot right over. I didn’t waste any time. I saw it as an experience to travel and to play on an international level. It’s kind of given me a second life in terms. Because I would never be in this position if I wasn’t involved with Italy to begin with. Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri would have never seen me so I have nothing but good things to say to my GM that found me, Christian Mura, and Marco Mazzieri for giving me a shot to play on this team.
Roberto: After pitching at Lake Sumter College, you transferred to Steton University and made the 2008 All-Conference team after issuing only 11 walks in over 65 innings. Although you were not drafted, you still managed to be signed by the Los Angeles Angels.
Nicholas Pugliese: It was awesome. Tom Kotchman of the Angels gave the opportunity to play some professional baseball. I am forever grateful for that. I loved the three years I played for them. It was a great organization. I learned a lot, and I give a lot of credit to them for where I am right now actually.
Roberto: Having played at Tempe Diablo Stadium during Angels Spring Training and later return to play against your former organization as a member of Team Italia must have been a homecoming.
Nicholas Pugliese: It was a homecoming because I hadn’t seen these guys in a couple years. You’re talking about 300 guys! We all got close, we worked together, we played together. The whole coaching staff I got to see when we played the Angels. It was an awesome feeling. To see their faces light up when they saw me. Not expecting to ever see me out here again. It was a great experience.
Roberto: Through the blessing of Italian baseball, you have received a new lease on life. Out of all the minor leaguers that you played with in the Angels organization, how many of them can say they have pitched against MLB All-Stars at Chase Field and Marlins Park in the World Baseball Classic?
Nicholas Pugliese: Not a whole lot. They actually all called me and told me how jealous they were. It’s kind of bittersweet how things turned out, but I wouldn’t trade in this experience for anything. It was unbelievable.
Roberto: Getting the win against Mexico must have been one of your most memorable moments in baseball.
Nicholas Pugliese: The whole tournament was the highlight of my whole baseball career obviously. It was short, but it was amazing. The competition we were able to see, the guys we were able to meet. We proved that we can play with anyone. Roberto: Let’s talk Italian heritage.
Nicholas Pugliese: I’m sort of split between an Italian father and a German mother. My dad’s side is the strong Italian side. It’s always been about family and cooking. It actually goes back all the way to my great grandparents, who were born in Italy. So the actual paperwork wasn’t easy to find to go back and get all that stuff going. My Italian heritage will always be there, and I’m proud to play on this team.
Roberto: Did your mindset and pitching philosophy change when you crossed the Atlantic?
Nicholas Pugliese: It changed a little bit. International baseball…the whole set, the rules, the hitters…everything changes a little bit. So you adapt. You either adapt fast or die pretty much. But you’re constantly adapting. That’s what baseball is all about anyways. Coming back to the World Baseball Classic, we had to constantly change to these hitters from country to country, team to team.. I mean you learn to adapt fast or none of us would be here in the first place.
Roberto: What was the initial reaction by the Italian-born players to have an Italian American like you join their team?
Nicholas Pugliese: Playing on Team Italia is a little different because I have been playing for the Italians for two years in row now. I’ve gotten to know a lot of these guys since we’ve been playing together for a while. Initially coming to this team was a little standoffish. You know, these American guys coming in. And it would be the same way the other way around. But as long as you are there to win, and you’re giving your all then they take you in. That’s how it should be.
Roberto: Playing for the Italian National team, you have assumed the role of closer when Italia won the 2012 European Championship.
Nicholas Pugliese: It started out where Alessandro Maestri was the guy to go to in the ninth, and him being away in Japan kind of opened that role for me. It kind of just worked out, and I’m glad that I could fill the spot at the time. For Team Italia in the World Baseball Classic, I set up for Grilli. I got a long way to go before I take his spot…Roberto: What was the vibe like in the clubhouse when the MLB-affiliated players
(Punto, Denorfia, Liddi, Rizzo, Colabello, Grilli and others) joined the Italian National
team for practices in preparation for the World Baseball Classic?
Nicholas Pugliese: It was a totally different energy when they showed up. We were practicing for about a week without them. We were working hard and everything. But as soon as they could all come, it was just a total new energy. We’ve meshed obviously and you could see how we play the game. We’ve meshed very well. A quick mesh..which is important. That’s why a lot of these teams got upset because they hadn’t played together, and they were kind of playing selfish. I mean instantly we played well together…we meshed. You can see the result from that. What it really comes down to is baseball is universal. Whether you were born in Italy or you were born here, you speak Italian or not, it’s universal. You have a passion for the game. I mean you are going to give it your all. Everyone sees that. It’s easy to come together and win some games.
Roberto: Easier said than done. Look at Team USA in the WBC. Team Italia literally gifted them a win so that they could qualify for the second round in Miami.
Nicholas Pugliese: We had a chance to take them. We had them shaking in their shoes a little bit. It was just one bad swing. We did take it a little different. It wasn’t a must-win for us. We kind of used it as an opportunity to get all our guys in, get the experience going. If it really came down to it into a must-win situation, the outcome might have been a little different. But I mean for what it was worth, we played them tough and they were playing really tight for a while.
Roberto: Having already qualified for the second round prior to game time against Team USA, you have got to admit Team Italia was playing for fun.
Nicholas Pugliese: We definitely had a big weight lift our shoulders. We had a lighter energy going in there, but at the same time when it comes down to it we’re going to grind it out. It was good. We had a good time. Roberto: Especially with Jason Grilli around…
Nicholas Pugliese: I picked Grilli’s brain a lot. He’s probably sick of me by now. But every chance I had to go up to him and ask some questions, I’m just all ears. I’m a sponge with him. I love talking to him. He’s got a lot of awesome knowledge. He’s a great guy to be around. All the pitchers really look up to him. I mean I don’t have the stuff that someone like Grilli has out there. I don’t have the 96 mile per hour fastball so I have to just go with straight aggression and go after these guy–not wasting any time and pitching to contact. That’s my game plan, and that’s what I’m going to go out with there every single time. I’m just hoping that I can help the team keep moving on.
Roberto: While interviewing Mike Scioscia, I asked if he would consider joining the Team Italia coaching staff, and he said that would be dependent on how the Italians played.
Nicholas Pugliese: I don’t know how many more stars we can add to this coaching staff, but adding him would be amazing. I don’t know what else he wanted to see from us at this tournament. All he had to do was turn on the TV and enjoy his Italian heritage. It would be awesome to see Scioscia on the staff at any time. Roberto: I feel that Team Italia is blessed to have such a talented coaching staff featuring Bill Holmberg, Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto to take Italian baseball to the next level so that the team can compete with the game’s elite in MLB.
Nicholas Pugliese: Pitching coach Bill Holmberg has always been great. Mike Piazza has been awesome. He is just one of those special guys. He and Frank Catalanotto, you see them on TV and you look up to them. The next thing you know you’re in the dugout making jokes with them like everyone else. It’s awesome that they can relate to us on that type of level and share their knowledge with us.
Roberto: Team Italia is a very special team. In fact, two of your Italian teammates–Juan Carlos Infante and Alessandro Vaglio–will be joining you on Unipol Bologna in the Asia Series. What are your chances of doing what Team Italia did in the 2013 World Baseball Classic?
Nicholas Pugliese: I know all the Asian teams will be coming off of their seasons and will not only be baseball ready but highly talented. So it would be nice to head out there and surprise some guys with a few sneaky wins.
Roberto: Best of luck to you, the team and manager Marco Nanni. Thank you for your time!
Nicholas Pugliese: Thank you Roberto!
Home team Unipol Fortitudo Bologna hosts Korea’s Samsung Lions, winner of the 2011 Asia Series, in the opener of the 2013 Asia Series on November 15 at Taichung Inter-continental Baseball Stadium in Taiwan. Local Taiwanese favorite
Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions of Tainan welcome visitor Unipol Fortitudo Bologna on November 16. The European Cup Champions will get a well-deserved day of rest on November 17 before continuing on in the tournament should they qualify for the semi-final and final rounds of action with competition ending November 20. Italian supporters will have the opportunity to listen to Radio Arena Sportiva live broadcasts of the 2013 Asia Series with host Daniele Mattioli by clicking HERE.
The capacity crowd was treated to a live performance by 11-year-old Italian American singing sensation, Isabella Shiff, who recently traveled to Italy to represent her country at the Zecchino d’Oro (Golden Sequin) International Festival of Children’s Song broadcast on Italian TV and won the solo vocalist competition in her age category. Internationally-acclaimed sports artist Christopher Paluso, whose legendary art has graced the walls of the Italian American Sports Museum in Chicago and the San Diego Hall of Champions, mesmerized the audience with nostalgic baseball stories centered around his personal interactions with Joe DiMaggio and other Italian American icons. Attendees read text panels detailing the Italian diaspora and assimilation into American society through baseball before viewing artwork from Christopher Paluso, James Fiorentino, Chris Felix, Vincent Scilla, John Giarizzo, Rob Monte, Zack D’Ulisse, Tom Richmond and Jeremy Nash in addition to photos from Tom DiPace, Rob Cuni and Robb Long.
The exhibit on artist's tribute to italian american in baseball opened in San Diego. Watch the video http://t.co/o0HkfqJpKW
— FIBS (@FIBSpress) September 26, 2013
Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball features Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Tony Lazzeri, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Ernie Lombardi,
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) September 23, 2013
Ron Santo, Tommy Lasorda, Tony Conigliaro, Joe Garagiola, Craig Biggio, Tony La Russa, John D’Aquisto, John Montefusco, Ken Caminiti, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto, Frank Menechino, Jason Giambi, Joey Votto, Jason Grilli, Anthony Rizzo, Nick Punto, Chris Denorfia, Drew Butera, Dan Serafini, Alex Liddi, Chris Colabello, Brian Sweeney, Mike Costanzo, and Reid Rizzo. Throughout the exhibit’s exclusive engagement at Convivio, monthly birthday celebrations will feature movies and guest speakers to honor the careers of players and coaches of Italian descent including: Lou Colabello (10/10), Chris Colabello and Sal Varriale (10/24), Nick Punto (11/8), Jason Grilli (11/11), Roy Campanella (11/19), Joe DiMaggio (11/25), Mike Scioscia (11/27), Dave Righetti (11/28), Tony Lazzeri (12/6), Mauro Mazzotti (12/12), Craig Biggio (12/14), Marco Mazzieri (12/20), John D’Aquisto (12/24), Tony Conigliaro (1/7), Jason Giambi (1/8), Kurt Bevacqua (1/23) and Dan Serafini (1/25).
Christopher Paluso is the official artist for the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum and the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago. His work has included many Italian American baseball players (including DiMaggio, Berra, Lasorda and Piazza) and has appeared on magazine covers, limited edition lithographs, collector plates, baseballs and in museums. Visit http://paluso4art.blogspot.com for a glimpse of his legendary artwork.
— Claudio Bisogniero (@CBisogniero) September 27, 2013
Support from Italian Ambassador to the U.S. Claudio Bisogniero, FIBS, Team Italia coach Mike Piazza and CBS News has given Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball a great start in San Diego. A special thank you goes out to all who have made this monumental exhibition possible and free to the public.
Congrats to Italia! Under 18 European Champions! Forza Italia!
— Mike Piazza (@mikepiazza31) July 22, 2013
Great job Bill Holmberg! My fellow coach! God Bless! pic.twitter.com/BBFyftX0yS
— Mike Piazza (@mikepiazza31) July 22, 2013
While pitching for Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, lefty Dan Serafini began his 22nd season playing as a pro in America, Canada, Japan, and Mexico. With 104 MLB appearances for the Twins, Cubs, Pirates, Padres, Reds, and Rockies under his belt, the bullpen has always been a second home for the Twins’ first-round draft pick of 1992. So when when it came time for the San Francisco-born Serafini to choose an appropriate name for his new sports bar located close to the family home at 5215 Vista Blvd. in Sparks, Nevada, it was simply a case of serendipity that he call it The Bullpen at Aspen Glen.
The bullpen at aspen glen come drink kids pic.twitter.com/RxiOO0c8GJ
— Danny serafini (@dannyserafini) June 16, 2013
Dan Serafini has been one of the Bay Area’s hometown heroes since the early nineties. In his senior year at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, the southpaw pitcher was on every MLB scout’s radar after going nearly perfect (11 wins and 1 loss) and setting a single-season school record of 149 strikeouts. In his two seasons playing varsity for the Padres, he went 20-2 with a 1.70 ERA and 271 strikeouts. Perhaps the most appropriate way to leave a legacy that overshadows the numerous accolades that other notable Serra alumni have achieved during their high school campaign, Serafini was named to every All-Star team conceivable including: AII- WCAL, AII- County, All Peninsula, and All Northern California.
He was the 1992 WCAL, County and Peninsula Co-Player of the Year in addition to being named the San Mateo Times County Athlete of the Year.
Roberto: San Mateo’s Junipero Serra High School has been known to produce their share of athletes including Barry Bonds and many sports legends. While covering the Australian Baseball League, I learned that Brisbane Bandits’ Chuck Lofgren pitched at Serra High School. Having also played there, how does it feel being surrounded by a strong Bay Area professional athlete fraternity at Serra?
Dan Serafini: Serra High School is a great baseball facility and just a great school to go to. We had a lot of great players: Jim Fregosi, Dan Frisella…even some football players: Lynn Swann, Tom Brady. We have quite an athletic history. Some really good baseball players like Gregg Jeffries have come out of my school.
Roberto: Team Italy slugger Chris Colabello followed the same minor league path to MLB playing for Double-A New Britain RockCats. While you played there, you were named to the 1995 Eastern League All-Star team after going 12-9 with a 3.37 ERA.
Dan Serafini: That was a long time ago. I can barely even remember that. At New Britain, Chris got to play in the new stadium. I played in the old Beehive Stadium, which was more like a high school stadium with a trailer park locker room. I had a good year that year, and it got me a call up to Triple-A before the season was over.
Dan Serafini: It was not an easy team to pitch against for my first time playing in the big leagues, but it was a great memory. It was kind of funny.
The Twins wouldn’t let me into the locker room before the game. They didn’t want any animosity in the locker room because they hadn’t sent anyone down (to Triple-A) yet. I had to stay in a hotel and then on game day I got to show up right before the game started so that I could get ready to play. It wasn’t the greatest experience, but it was still a good experience. I got to the big leagues!
Roberto: At least it was a home game when you had to face the intimidating New York Yankees.
Dan Serafini: Although it was a home game in Minnesota, it was still intimidating. It was the New York Yankees—no matter where you are playing them, they are intimidating. Crowd factor definitely helped. I had the crowd on my side. I loved Minnesota. It was very supportive. I had a great time.
Roberto: You also had some more playing time with the Twins in 1997 and 1998. Was it rewarding for you?
Dan Serafini: It was. I got a very brief opportunity with the Twins. You know, going back from starting to the bullpen and starting and bullpen. I was never really able to fill my niche with the Twins. It was fun. It was rewarding. I’m a Major League Baseball player. There is nothing more rewarding than that.
Roberto: The Chicago Cubs bought your contract from the Twins on March 31, 1999. You made four starts for the Cubbies and put together a 3-2 record in 42 appearances with a 6.93 ERA.
Dan Serafini: The ERA was kind of high, but in my defense I actually pitched really well until the all-star break. I think I only had a 3 or 3.50 ERA up until the all-star break. Then my big
league pitching coach, Marty DeMerritt, wanted me to become a left-handed specialist and drop down sidearm and start pitching sidearm only. So I did that, and it completely screwed up the whole rest of my season. I was walking everybody, giving up all kinds of hits and just all kind of happened. I can’t blame him. He was just trying to help me out, but to change your pitching mechanics in the middle of the season… It’s really hard to make an adjustment to big league hitters. It hurt me pretty good.
Roberto: In the 1999 offseason you were traded to the San Diego Padres and pitched in three games in 2000. How did it feel to come back to your native California to play pro ball?
Dan Serafini: I was there for a long time. I didn’t get many opportunities.
I was mostly like a chess pawn. I just kind of sat in the dugout. I’d go a week straight without pitching in a game.
I didn’t get as many opportunities as
I would have liked to become a better player than I am today. San Diego is beautiful, and I’m from California–even though it’s Northern California where I’m from. Southern California is a beautiful place. I guess I had more fun there off the field than on the field.
Roberto: After being traded to Pittsburgh and playing for the Nashville Sound, you had a 4-3 record with a 2.60 ERA before the call up to the Pirates on August 5, 2000 to make 11 starts.
Dan Serafini: After getting traded from San Diego, I had a really good month or so in Nashville before getting called up.
I made my first start against the San Francisco Giants and won. That could have been probably my favorite time in the big leagues–to be going back home to my hometown and beating San Francisco in San Francisco. I had a pretty good season with Pittsburgh. They were struggling and in last place. I threw well for Pittsburgh. I just didn’t fit in their books.
Roberto: Signing with San Francisco must have been a dream come true?
Dan Serafini: I didn’t get to stay with San Francisco too long. They signed me as a big league player, but they didn’t have a roster spot. I went to Triple-A for a little bit. I was making a substantial amount of money for a Triple-A player so when they couldn’t find a spot for me I got released about a month after
I signed. So I really didn’t get much of an opportunity with San Francisco.
Roberto: You quickly signed with the Mets and played for the 2001 Triple-A Norfolk Tides, where you posted 5-2 record with a 3.31 ERA in 31 games.
Dan Serafini: I didn’t waste anytime—maybe two days later signed with the Mets. Went to Triple-A and played there a little bit. I pitched pretty well, but got into an altercation with the GM. I ended up getting released and walking on over to the other clubhouse and signed up with Milwaukee that same day.
Roberto: You finished off the 2001 season pitching for the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis Indians and posted a 2-2 record with a 5.96 ERA. However,
you chose to move on from Milwaukee
and were granted free agency in October, 2001. This opened the door for other opportunities, and you ended up signing a minor league deal with the Anaheim Angels. Was that another short-term engagement by design or a matter of being released? Please clear up all the misconceptions and incorrect information the media has picked up on to make you have to stand up for yourself and clarify.
Dan Serafini: Well you know the thing is…the media–they always say you were released, you were released, you were released. But for a lot of those teams I’ve actually picked the option for my release.
I didn’t get released. They would option me down to Triple-A, and I felt that I didn’t deserve to go to Triple-A. So for a lot of those assignments I chose not to go.
Roberto: After opting out of your contract with the Angels, you tried to make a comeback in late 2002 when you signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. You began at Triple-A Memphis, but then on April 21, 2003 you were released.
Dan Serafini: I knew what was going to happen because during the offseason I signed for such a high contract to go to Triple-A. I knew they were using me to fill a spot. So I knew as soon as no one came down from the big leagues or something that I was going to get released.
Roberto: So you expected it?
Dan Serafini: I had signed for a substantial amount of money to go and play in Triple-A. Within the first month when Kevin Ohme was sent down from St. Louis, they got rid of me the next day. I pitched okay there, but it was really hard because I have always been a starter my whole career and I kept bouncing back and forth. I was going from bullpen to starting to bullpen and starting and never got into a rhythm. So for all these teams I played for, I had really a tough time coming out of the bullpen and learning my routine and learning to play. Unfortunately, I didn’t really prove myself that well as well.
Roberto: It sounds like the experiment on the big league level of being a sidearm specialist coming out of the bullpen went terribly wrong. It was not exactly the best training ground for trying something new.
Dan Serafini: No. The only chance I had to experiment was on the big stage, which is really difficult if you are not physically or mentally prepared for those things. I wasn’t…I was only 21 or 22 at the time. It was a difficult road for me–that’s for sure!
Roberto: Did being disillusioned with American pro ball inspire you to head south to Mexico?
Dan Serafini: Yes, I played my first year in 2002. It was winter ball for Mazatlan. I had a great manager and a really fun time there. And they said if I ever had a problem in summer that I was more than welcome to play in Mexico. So after that St. Louis series, I went in 2003 to go play summer ball in Mexico.
Roberto: The Cincinnati Reds noticed and purchased your contract on August 25, 2003.
Dan Serafini: I ended up winning the ERA title. I set the record for the most wins in a row that season. I was a starter. I got back in the my swing of things. I got my mechanics back and pitched really well. I got called up and went straight to the big leagues in Cincinnati.
Roberto: On August 26, 2003, you started against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Dan Serafini: I believe I also started in a game versus St. Louis. Then I went back to the bullpen after I told the GM
I wouldn’t go to the bullpen and that I would only start. Because I had already 130 innings pitched in Mexico, I was tired and said I didn’t want to get up and down every day out of the bullpen. After I said I only wanted to start, the GM said that was exactly what I was summoned there to do–to start for Danny Graves because he got hurt.
So I went there, got two starts and they stuck me in the bullpen. It was a disappointment. I know it’s a business, and I just need to man up and do it. It was just hard. I talked to Bobby Valentine in 2004, and he asked me to go down to Vegas and throw a bullpen for somebody to try out for the team he managed in Japan. I went out there and tried out for the Chiba Lotte Marines. I was hurt at the time. I had a broken collar bone because
I crashed on a motorcycle messing around with my friends. Despite being injured, I still got a good enough report from the try out to go to Japan.
Julio Zuleta charged Dan Serafini on the mound after a ball nearly hit him in Japan in 2004 .
Roberto:: After being granted free agency and playing for Bobby Valentine’s Chiba Lotte Marines in 2004 and 2005 as well as the Orix Buffaloes in 2006 and 2007, were you treated with a little bit more respect in Japan?
Dan Serafini: It was really rewarding because I actually got treated like a player that I was. Japan did nothing but give me the highest respect. Bobby Valentine did nothing but give me the highest respect. He kept me on a routine for the full season, and I had a really good career in Japan. I still talk to Bobby off and on the internet. I was happy to see him as an Ambassador for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Bobby Valentine throws out the first pitch of the 2013 WBC game between China and Japan.
Roberto: Did you follow all the drama that surrounded Bobby Valentine last year when he managed the Boston Red Sox?
Dan Serafini: I did. In fact, before the season began I called him and asked him for a job to see if I could get a Triple-A job or a coaching/ player job. His hands were tied. He said that he couldn’t make any moves. But I followed him and saw all the disappointing articles about him and stuff from players that couldn’t handle his attitude. I thought it was ridiculous. He’s the smartest guy in baseball–hands down. He may want a little more attention than he deserves, but that’s his character.
If people don’t like it, they try to crucify him. He’s a very good man!
Roberto: It’s too bad he was the scapegoat for the Red Sox.
Dan Serafini: It really was. I know he’s done some things in his past that has rubbed people the wrong way–and we all have. It’s just the way different personalities go–especially when you have a bunch of superstars in the one locker room. It’s almost like you have to walk on eggshells around these people because they’re more sensitive than most people that are not superstars.
Roberto: When a player digs into the batter’s box and gives you a long grimacing stare, is your best response and message to the hitter simply the delivery of your next pitch?
Dan Serafini: Yes, definitely–without a doubt. There’s got to be respect both ways. For me, I’ve always been tired of being called a cheater or having a dismal career by what some reporters have said. I feel like I have fought the longest just like Bobby Valentine did to get my career to where it is right now.
Roberto: You signed a deal with the Colorado Rockies in 2007 and pitched on September 7th against the San Francisco Giants.
Dan Serafini: It was a great feeling. I was excited. It was tough because I had just come back from Japan. I broke my hand in Japan, and they decided to release me at the last quarter of the season just because they were not going to use me anymore and had no chance of the playoffs. So they sent me home, and
I signed with Colorado. I got called up to the big leagues a couple weeks later and after four years of not having seen a major league game got to pitch to my first batter–Barry Bonds!
Roberto: What were the odds of you facing one of baseball’s most feared hitters in your MLB comeback attempt?
Dan Serafini: It was pretty interesting. I had some butterflies.
Roberto: How did you sustain your hand injury overseas?
Dan Serafini: That happened at a game in Japan. I was pitching and lost my footing in the bullpen. It was on my glove hand.
I kind of slipped and fell over. I used my hand to stabilize myself from falling over, and I broke my ring finger, pinky and a couple bones in the middle of my hand.
Roberto: In Japan you also sustained an achilles injury which required medication to help with the healing process and eventually led to a positive test for MLB banned substances when you signed with the Rockies in 2007.
Dan Serafini: I actually got a serious injury and had surgery on my achilles. When I came back from Chiba Lotte, I tore my achilles tendon in the year we won the championship. I signed a two-year contract with the Orix Buffaloes for a substantial amount. My leg with in a cast for four months so they were shooting it up all year long trying to get it balanced back.
After my first year at Orix, I wasn’t throwing very well because my body was so out of balance that it started hurting my shoulder and back. So they told me to just take the rest of the year off and come back for 2007. I was still having problems with my leg and the way my muscles were firing in 2007. So again a doctor was giving me a medication that I didn’t think much of because I passed all of my drug tests and Olympic testing in Japan. So I didn’t even think twice about it. And that’s what it was when I got tested on the last day of the season with Colorado. It was still in my system, and I got busted for it.
Roberto: It looks like MLB used you as a scapegoat to fill their 2007 quota and deter players from using banned substances.
Dan Serafini: Yes, I think so. I mean because I tried to fight it.
I had to do a lot of things for my defense. I had to get the doctor from Japan to come and fly to New York to testify for me in court. He wanted $500,000 to do it because it would give Japan a bad name since I never failed a test in Japan. So I said, ‘Screw it, I’ll take the 50-game suspension and wear it for now.’ I didn’t think that it would be that bad, but Colorado didn’t sign me back. The GM at the time, Dan O’Dowd, didn’t give me my National League Championship ring. They gave me my playoff share because I was there for a short time, but they didn’t give me a ring because they were disgraced by the fact that I was a cheater and stuff like that. It was just bad. An unnamed journalist tried to say that I was trying to respark my dismal career. My response was like: ‘What’s so dismal about making over 10 million dollars?’ I don’t think that’s too dismal…
Roberto: If a man can’t look at me in the eye and share his theory to my face without the facts in hand—and instead choose to hide behind a computer desk in favor of meeting publishing deadlines, then it’s not news worthy in my book.
Dan Serafini: Exactly. You know it’s like so many people just wrote stories about me that never even asked me the details or took the details out. Even Tom Verducci and things he wrote in my
article. I said so many things to balance and justify the difference between cheating and other kinds of uses of certain PEDs or whatever. And they don’t want to listen to that, but everybody wants to be negative and listen in to CNN nowadays.
Roberto: Not a lot of players want to comment in fear of being blackballed. But you are not afraid to speak your mind and represent Team Italia in the World Baseball Classic. It’s your time to shine and be heard.
Dan Serafini: Yes, it is. If people want to call me a jerk, whatever but you know what… I’ve been around this game for 22 years now. And I know that 90% of the people I have played with have said: ‘If I had a chance to use it and make myself better, then I would have too…’ You know, that’s what we’re here for.
Roberto: I don’t blame you for having headed south to pitch for the Monterrey Sultanes after all that nonsense.
Dan Serafini: They were a great organization. I played with them for a while and just kept bouncing back and forth. I pitched
well in Monterrey, got to the playoffs a few times and then I got traded.
Roberto: You spent 2008 and 2009 in Mexico before heading to the East Coast to play for the Bridgeport Bluefish in the Atlantic Independent League.
Dan Serafini: Yes, I did that just for a little bit so that I could get a job back in the states. I wanted more people to see me pitch, but nothing came of it.
Roberto: Yet Mexico loved you and you represented the country in several Caribbean Series.
Dan Serafini: Yes, I believe I played three Caribbean Series for Mexico–all during winter ball because the Sultanes play during the summer. In the winter I played for Yaquis de Obregón in
the 2008 Caribbean Series and then again in 2010 and 2011
I played for Mexico in the Caribbean Series.
Roberto: What’s the difference between baseball played
abroad and in the U.S.?
Dan Serafini: For one, the United States has the best players in the world in the major leagues. So it’s kind of hard to represent the United States because it has so many great players. Mexico and Italy have a lot of great players that have been overlooked by United States. It’s hard. With me representing Mexico, I am one of the better players in Mexico because that’s just where I am playing at the time. With my experience and talent, I can make those teams and play for those teams. I could possibly pitch for Team USA but that team has so many Americans from all over the country to pick from. So it’s really hard to make that team.
Roberto: How were you recruited to pitch for Team Italia?
Dan Serafini: Actually they called me in 2009 and found out
that I was Italian through my agent. After they got the background information about my Italian ancestry, they said that they would love for me to come and try out. I came down, tried out and they said that they could definitely use me as a starter or reliever because of ‘my good arm.’ So the rest is history as far as that.
Roberto: It must have a been a major personal victory for you when Team Italia upset Mexico in the 2013 WBC.
Dan Serafini: Almost everyone on Team Mexico I either played with them or against them. Team Italy asked me to write a
scouting report on the whole team, which I did and gave to the coaches. They watched a few of their games during their exhibition games and said it was ‘spot on’ as far as the scouting report. That’s what we used, and it actually came out well. We pitched well against them. We played great defense against them, and we came out victors.
Roberto: Once Team Italia’s manager Marco Mazzieri gave me his cell phone number, I felt compelled to do the same and gave him a scouting report on Team Canada. We all had to do our part.
Dan Serafini: Well, that’s it…exactly! We’re here to win. Right
now, I’m not an American. I’m an Italian, and I’m here to beat Team USA today. I was there to beat Canada yesterday, and I was there the day before to beat Mexico. Granted I have friends from every team from all over the world, but right now I’m just Italian. I’m here to walk all over every other team.
Roberto: How proud are you to be Italian?
Dan Serafini: I am very proud to be Italian. It’s unfortunate because I have always had a strong Italian family growing up, but Italian heritage or history was never really taught. I never learned Italian even though my father speaks Italian and both of my grandparents only spoke Italian. I just wasn’t brought up that way. Now doing more research about Italy and possibly thinking later in my career to maybe going to play in Italy for a little bit. I’m really interested in the Italian culture and to visit all around Europe. I’m looking forward to it. Italians are a well-educated culture to begin with. Everyone on our team speaks perfect English and perfect Italian. Some speak Spanish, Italian and English. I think they are just educated people. Unfortunately
when you move to another country and are unable to speak their language fluently, you tend to get away from your native language.
I know when I played in Mexico my whole team spoke English. I didn’t have a chance to learn Spanish because people talked to me in English. So it’s not as diverse as you think. It’s a lot harder, even my wife can tell you it’s a lot harder to go there and learn a language because everyone is polite to you and tries to talk to you in your language to make you feel more comfortable. So we have a tendency to get lazy
and not try. But right now I listen to Italian tapes every night because
I want to try to learn Italian.
Roberto: That’s because everyone is trying to be hospitable
and speak your native tongue?
Dan Serafini: Yes. I mean the Italians come right over here, and they all speak English right out of the gate. They don’t even try to speak Italian. They’re like: ‘No, we’re in America now–we’re speaking English.’ That’s what they do.
Roberto: How does having a coaching staff that includes future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza affect your approach to the game?
Dan Serafini: Mike is a great guy. Look at his story–coming from the 62nd round as a favor to his godfather Tommy Lasorda! Something ridiculous like that and becoming the best
offensive catcher of all time…whatever his statistics are.
Being blessed enough to play against him and talk to him,
it’s a great experience. Just because we have one more
person with a ton of experience on our team. He has been
in the spotlight for what…16 seasons! You know, I’ve been
in the spotlight for seven. Grilli has been the spotlight for
eight. So it’s like we have plenty of experience. It’s nice to
have someone of that magnitude on our team helping us out.
Roberto: Mike Piazza could be doing something else with his time,
but his heart and soul are committed to Team Italia.
Dan Serafini: You’re right. It is…and we appreciate that! He could
be doing anything with his time, and a lot of us could be but we’re all here together to represent Italy. We’re going to represent the right way this time.
Roberto: Thank you for your time today. I’m sure this story will be continued next time we get together to talk.
Dan Serafini: Yes, definitely…I’m looking forward to continuing it. I will answer any question that needs to be answered. It’s nice to be able to explain myself for a change, and hopefully one day people will look at me differently.
San Diego Padres’ Chris Denorfia was recently a guest on MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk”.
— Friarhood (@friarhood) July 11, 2013
The Friarhood is a great website for San Diego baseball fans who want the latest Padres coverage with updated news and analysis. Writer Jeremy Nash not only provides the congregation with his uplifting “Five Good Things” column, but also showcases inspirational traditional and digital art featuring unsung hero Chris Denorfia. Successfully bridging the gap between the Padres’ faithful and lovers of modern art, the Friarhood’s Nash is just as much a rock star as Team Italia’s “Deno” in our book. However, Denorfia possesses superhero power equipped with lethal doses of kryptonite to demolish left-handed pitching. One of his favorite targets is MLB All-Star pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers. Deno has hit three home runs in his career 31 plate appearances against Kershaw. Kershaw’s losing 0-3 record and inflated 4.67 ERA against the 2013 Padres has a lot to do to Deno’s appetite for Dodger pitching (.342 BA, three home runs, two doubles and eight RBI in 11 games to date).
— Jeremy Nash (@Jeremy_Nash) July 6, 2013
The Southern California North and South baseball rivalry will be in full effect with playoff hopes when the Dodgers visit Petco Park and battle the Padres on Little Italy Night on Saturday, September 21 at 5:40 pm. A pre-game ceremony honoring the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibition at the Convivio Center (2157 India Street in San Diego’s Little Italy) will take place behind home plate prior to the first pitch. Longtime San Diego Little Italy resident and Padre alumni John D’Acquisto will be our honored guest at Petco Park.
you’re always proud of your heritage and where you’re from and what it represents. I’m proud to be Italian, and I think everyone on that field is proud of their roots and where they come from. I’m just happy I’m in a country where you have a chance to play a game that you’re passionate about like baseball. That doesn’t happen everywhere.” Who could blame Scioscia for thinking Sal Varriale would be nearby since Luca Panerati, originally signed by the Cincinnati Reds Italian scout, was making his second WBC appearance for Team Italy. It seems everyone wants to rub shoulders and be around the MLB talent magnet Varriale, who has been credited with the recent Reds’ acquisitions of Italian RHP Davide Anselmi and Slovakian LHP Jakub Izold after showcasing their talents early on while playing at the MLB European Academy in Tirrenia, Italy. The Cincinnati Reds, the true titans in the European baseball scouting world, received their greatest compliment when the first German-developed MLB player–Donald Lutz–made his big league debut against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 29, 2013.
I just wanna thank all my family, friends,coaches all over the world for everything they have done for me! This is a special day #happy
— Donald Lutz (@braunerhulk) April 29, 2013
Asked before the Angels exhibition game if he would join Italy’s WBC coaching staff in the future, Scioscia responded favorably. “I’d be happy to. Let’s see how this game turns out today. I don’t want to get my butt kicked, and then join the team that beat us (laughter). I would love it.
— Jamie Ramsey (@Jamieblog) May 12, 2013
I went over there and did clinics in Italy. The passion is there, and hopefully the resources will catch up. A guy like (Alex) Liddi comes over and plays in the major leagues. That’s a huge boost for international baseball, European baseball and in particular Italian baseball.” With the Angels’ 12-6 victory over Team Italy in the WBC exhibition game, Mike Scioscia need not worry about coaching the team that beat him in 2013 Spring Training. At the conclusion of the post-season when the Angels come out on top, he can approach owner Arte Moreno with a clear conscience and ask permission to join the Team Italy coaching staff for the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Now in his 14th season as the Angels’ manager and under contract through 2018, Scioscia is the longest tenured manager in Major League Baseball. His stature would not only instill confidence in Team Italy to become a baseball superpower, but also propel MLB International to give Europe the necessary tools to become fertile ground for a slew of top international prospects like Italian Marten Gasparini. Although the Dominican Republic and Venezuela are favored by MLB international scouts, 16-year-old switch-hitting shortstop Marten Gasparini–Europe’s top amateur prospect from the Italian MLB Academy–is making scouting officials think twice about the emerging baseball market in Italy. The last European prospect to garner as much interest from MLB teams was Max Kepler, a German outfielder who signed with Minnesota in 2009 for a European-record $800,000 and entered 2013 as the Twins’ #10 prospect. Considered by many scouting officials to be one of the best international prospects and possibly the finest European prospect ever, Gasparini is projected to receive a $1 million plus signing bonus when the 2013-14 international signing period opens in July.
Without Aldo Notari, the former Italian Baseball Federation President (from 1985-2000) who recruited the first “oriundo”, there would not be a place in the European baseball history books for Sal Varriale. It was the Parma-born Notari’s persistence of not accepting “no” for an answer from the Brooklyn native Varriale that changed the face of Italian baseball forever. Now it’s time to apply the pressure on another great Italian American baseball mind from the East Coast and ask for the benefit of the game that he coach Italy in the 2017 WBC. It won’t be long before Sal Varriale begins to ask: “Where’s Mike Scioscia?”
San Diego’s Little Italy and Sanremo’s Alex Liddi share a love for baseball and its rich Italian history
While attending Beverly Hills High School, Agostino Liddi played baseball before repatriating to Italy after graduation. It was there that he met his future wife, Flavia, who played softball competitively in Italy.
You could say that Alex was a truly a baseball baby since it was reported that Flavia played first base for the first three months of her pregnancy carrying Alex. When Alex was old enough to play, his mother coached his baseball teams. As a teenager, his father drove him long distances to compete in games throughout Italy. With the addition of their two sons, Thomas and Alex, the couple shared their love of the game to transform the Liddi’s into the archetypal Italian baseball family. Alex Liddi was honored last year by the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) for his valuable contributions to the game. FIBS president Riccardo Fraccari called
Liddi “the real ambassador of Italian baseball” after he became the first player from Italy to play in the Major Leagues since 1954 and the first-ever Italian-developed player in MLB. Liddi, the face of European baseball, has the opportunity to spur the growth of baseball back home by playing at the sport’s highest level. By watching Liddi on MLB.tv and reading the nightly box scores, young Italian athletes are now inspired to think that playing Major League Baseball is a viable option. Currently at Triple-A Tacoma with Team Italia pitcher Brian Sweeney, Alex Liddi is playing with conviction
in anticipation of his return to the Mariners for his third consecutive season. Now leading the Rainiers in home runs (8), runs (34), and RBI (32), the sheer power of Italian
24-year-old Liddi will be a welcome addition to the Seattle lineup when MLB rosters expand to 40 players in September. The European baseball ambassador was kind enough to sit down for an interview at the 2013 World Baseball Classic in Phoenix.
Roberto: You were signed in 2005 by Mariners’ scout Wayne Norton and current WBC Team Spain manager Mauro Mazzotti. Isn’t that a good sign for Italian baseball when two Italian managers, Italy’s Marco Mazzieri and Spain’s Mauro Mazzotti, are leading two of Europe’s finest ballplayers in the WBC?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, I’m happy for him that he is able to participate in the World Baseball Classic with another team. I wish him the best.
Roberto: Has the journey with the Seattle Mariners organization been a good experience so far?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, I enjoy my time in Seattle and in the minor league system. I think that it’s a pretty good system. I’ve enjoyed my years playing with them. I’ve got to thank them for giving me a chance to play in the big leagues. So I’m really thankful.
Roberto: You began your professional career in 2006 with the Peoria Mariners and then were then promoted to Single-A Wisconsin. You remained there until 2008 at which time you were batting .313 and enjoyed an eight-game hitting streak when you nearly hit .500! That must have been memorable?
Alex Liddi: Yeah. At every level you go, you try to make adjustments. I was trying to show them that I could play in the states.
Roberto: In 2009 playing for Single-A Advanced High Desert, you led the California League with a .345 batting average, 23 home runs, and 104 RBI. You were selected as a Cal League All-Star. In addition, you were awarded the Cal League MVP, Topps Cal League Player of the Year, Mariners Minor League Player of the Year and MLB.com Mariners Organization Player of the Year. What an accomplishment!
Alex Liddi: Yeah, it we kind of my break out year. We had a good team that year so it was a little easier for me to put out good numbers plus it was a good hitter-friendly park. But that gave me the confidence, and it gave me the chance to keep going for the rest of that year. All these things combined made me have a really good year.
Roberto: How did it feel playing on Team Canada at the Toronto’s Rogers Centre in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and beating the home team on their own turf?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, it was a good time for me. It was probably one of the biggest memories of my life, of my career. I had the chance to beat Canada at the highest level of competition. It will always be something that I will bring with me. I am happy that I was there.
Roberto: In 2011 you were invited to your first Spring Training camp with the Seattle Mariners. It was special because you hit back-to-back grand slams in consecutive games and produced impressive numbers: .385 batting average and a .429 on-base percentage. Your stellar 2011 campaign at Triple-A Tacoma (30 home runs, 104 RBI, 121 runs scored, 32 doubles and 61 walks) led you to your MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners on September 7. 2011. When you got to the big leagues, you hit three home runs and drove in six RBI in 40 at-bats while playing 15 games as a September call-up. Did you ever have to pinch yourself to make sure you were not dreaming anymore and come to the realization
that you were actually a big leaguer?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, for sure. I remember that I had a good spring, but I was still young.
So I had to go back down to Triple-A and develop myself a little more. But then it was getting really close to when the roster expanded to 40 in September, and I was getting really pumped. I maybe had the chance to get called up. Somebody would say ‘yes’
that I was going to get called up and somebody else would say ‘no’. Until they called
me and told me that I was getting called up. It was kind of like all the dreams came true, and it was a big day for me.
Roberto: You also played in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game. That must have been an
eye-opener playing in the front of the MLB media under the watchful eye of a worldwide televised audience.
Alex Liddi: It was a real honor. I would have never expected that to have come to me.
I was really happy to go there. It was really fun.
Alex Liddi: First of all, I have a lot of respect for him
as a person and as a player. He’s a really good friend
of mine and probably one of my best friends. He’s one
of those guys who always works hard and fights for everything. He never got anything easy in his life and always had to fight for it. That’s why I give him a lot of respect as a person. Plus he’s a really good pitcher with really good stuff. It was a shame when he got released by the Cubs, but at the same time I remember when I called him to tell him to keep his head up. I thought he could have pitched in the big leagues for sure, and I
still think he can. And then he got a chance to pitch in Japan and make it to the big leagues there. I’m really proud of him. Hopefully, he will have a long career.
Roberto: He actually was selected as the inaugural Fan Choice Award in the Australian Baseball League when he pitched for the Brisbane Bandits in 2011. Wherever he decides
to play, he always makes a major impact.
Alex Liddi: He has charisma. He has a really good attitude on and off the field that makes him a complete player. Good tools, good person, good teammate…so all these things combined together make him a really good player.
Roberto: What is different about Team Italia in the 2013 WBC from the previous team in 2009. What is different in the chemistry which makes the team such a dominant player in this year’s World Baseball Classic?
Alex Liddi: Last time in the World Baseball Classic we had a good team, but this time we have been playing together more. I mean we already know Chris Denorfia, Nick Punto, Anthony Rizzo–I’ve known Rizzo for a couple years now. He’s been a friend of mine since I have been playing against him for a long time. The other guys have been playing together for a while now so the team is really together now. Instead of the other teams, they might bigger names but they have never played together like we do.
Roberto: You could have a bunch of big names on a lineup card, but at the end of the day you look at the box score and the team with the biggest desire to win the game will actually succeed.
Alex Liddi: I think we showed them already that we came here to win. We’re not joking and you can see it on our face…our enthusiasm on the field. We’re playing hard right now. We’re playing real baseball so everybody has to be careful.Roberto: You are going out there playing nine one-inning games every contest, opponents should not take Team Italia lightly.
Alex Liddi: We’re playing as a team. Everybody can come up with the big hit. Nobody has got to do too much. Everybody’s got other people’s back, you know. We keep playing like this, and we’ll do a lot of damage.
Roberto: Having a stellar coaching staff which includes future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto, it must have a tremendous impact on your entire approach to baseball.
Alex Liddi: For sure. I mean when you have a chance to have coaches like Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto—guys who have been in the big leagues for a long time—it makes it fun just to be around those guys. You’re able to ask them questions and learn from them so that’s another big part of the team right there too.
Roberto: How proud are you being an Italian playing Major League Baseball and providing hope for Italian athletes that they too can play baseball professionally?
Alex Liddi: I’m really proud to have accomplished being the first Italian-born-and-raised player in the big leagues. It was something that I was always looking forward to coming up through the minors. That was my goal ever since getting signed. Getting closer to it, I could actually understand what it meant. As I got closer, and I was really excited about it. There was no pressure for me. It’s something I’m happy about that happened to me–getting to the big leagues. I’m really thankful to everybody for giving me the opportunity.
Roberto: I love what you represent to Team Italia, your family, friends and fans.
Alex Liddi: I respect this game, and I respect my family. You always got to remember where you come from. So I will always be there for my friends, and a lot of my friends are my fans too. They’re there for me so I got to be there for them. The fans are what make
the game fun. So you have got to be thankful for the fans. I really appreciate the fans. Without the fans, this game would be nothing…
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
and quite possibly Rome as members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in both America and Italy.
Although Rizzo may have a long road ahead to attain the internationally recognized status that Piazza has already garnered, it isn’t the first time that the 23-year-old has had to beat the odds. While a prospect in
the Red Sox organization during early 2008, Rizzo was diagnosed with limited state classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The Boston front office as well as Red Sox pitching ace
Jon Lester, a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, were supportive of Rizzo in his battle against cancer. By beating this life-threatening disease, the sky was the limit
for this young man’s future. Now a cancer survivor himself, Rizzo is an inspirational role model who helps cancer patients and their families through the ongoing efforts of
the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation.
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) April 21, 2013
We’re thrilled to partner with the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation for our 3 “Meet the Team” parties this season,… fb.me/JbEwE5Ba
— Kane County Cougars (@KCCougars) April 8, 2013
Andre Dawson joined Anthony Rizzo at the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation’s Walk Off For Cancer 5K this morning: twitter.com/Cubs/status/27…
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) December 9, 2012
We’re proud supporters of the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. Check out Anthony’s story and foundation here bit.ly/ScGxre.
— Marucci(@MarucciSports) November 20, 2012
— Between the Vines (@CubsStories) October 1, 2012
Initially interested in playing for Team USA but eclipsed by the stacked MLB All-Star calibre roster, Anthony Rizzo was intrigued by Mike Piazza’s guarantee for a prime time slot in the lineup as Team Italia’s slugger. “He’s just a great kid, and I think it’s just wonderful he chose to play with our team,” said Piazza. “As soon as we saw him walk through the door at spring training we exhaled.” However, if the opportunity arose to play for Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Rizzo has publicly stated that he doesn’t know which jersey he would wear–which is an encouraging sign for all believers. Piazza, who in many ways serves as his Sicilian baseball mentor, prays that he will stick with his roots and play for Italy. “It is important to have an impact guy like that with not only huge size, but status to play for Italy,” Piazza said. “If he’s finally able to reign in and stay healthy and maintain discipline and hit to all fields in Chicago, there’s no doubt he’s going to be a very productive major league hitter. I think he’s going to be big time for many years to come.”
Everyone, Cubs fan or not, should support The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. Check out his site at rizzo44.com. Thanks!Plz RT
— Anthony Rizzo-Holics (@AnthonyRi44o) September 17, 2012
After Team Italy defeated Mexico and Canada to advance from WBC Pool D play in Phoenix with Team USA to the next round at Marlins Park in Miami, Rizzo spoke proudly in defense of his team and chastised those who didn’t believe Italy would compete in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He said,
“No one scripted us to be where we are. But we had a lead in every game we played in this tournament. Every-one has written us off–we shouldn’t be here, this and that. I think we’ve earned the respect that we didn’t get at all in this tournament.” Rizzo conceded that he didn’t have the greatest of expectations for Team Italy, nor did he have any idea that his experience playing for Italia would be the most cherished of his career. “To be honest, I got over here, played the first couple exhibition games and thought, ‘We have good hitters, decent lineup, guys who do their job,’ and Mexico was the game of my life that I’ve ever played. It was so much fun and energetic. It was crazy.” The drama began in the ninth inning when Rizzo hit a two-run double off Mexico’s closer Sergio Romo to give Italy a 6-5 lead and ended when Italy’s closer Jason Grilli got Jorge Cantu to ground out to second with bases loaded.
Not only was Team Italy victorious on more than one occasion with their come-from-behind 6-5 thriller over Mexico and their Mercy rule 14-4 clobbering of Canada, but the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation were also big winners. Many of the Cubs personnel pledged $500 each to the nonprofit if Italy won at least one game. Chicago manager Dale Sveum joked with Rizzo saying that it was only $50, but the team has the morning meeting and friendly wager on video. All winning proceeds collected by the young Cubbie went to the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. “I made sure to text everyone with dollar signs to get their checkbooks ready,” Rizzo said. Once again Rizzo had beat the odds, but this time it benefited his charitable organization and the many families of cancer patients it serves. There was greater good than a game of baseball here. The lives affected by the good fortune of Rizzo and Team Italy far exceeded the box scores. The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation’s race for a cure to combat this deadly disease coupled with the genetic makeup and clubhouse chemistry among Italian players and coaches made for a winning combination second to none as Team Italy moved on to round two of WBC play along with Team USA at Marlins Park in Miami.
Italy took an early 4-0 lead against the 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic. Rizzo contributed offensively with a walk and run scored, but the Italians fell short in a heartbreaking
5-4 loss. Facing elimination versus WBC runner-up Puerto Rico, the left-handed slugger drove a three-run double into the right center field gap to put the Italians up 3-0 in the fifth inning, but Puerto Rico came back to lead 4-3. Rizzo walked in the top of the ninth to represent the game-tying run, but he would be left stranded. Team Italy made Italian baseball history by advancing to the World Baseball Classic second round where they nearly upset the 2013 WBC Champion and Runner-Up. Baseball fans and family in Italy could not be more proud of Team Italia’s performance in front of an international audience. The Rizzo family is originally from Ciminna, which about 30 miles southeast of the capital of Palermo in Sicily. Anthony Rizzo’s great grandfather, Vito, came over from Italy in 1905 on
the Prince Albert and went through Ellis Island. Rizzo’s father, John, remained in contact with his brother’s brother-in-law in Sicily throughout the WBC tourney. John Rizzo said, “They have a small core of baseball fans. It’s like a cult thing.” It won’t be a cult for long as baseball continues to be gain popularity among Italy’s youth. Having won back-to-back European Baseball Championships, the Italian national team has attracted the country’s finest athletes. Analogous to Chinese hero Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin’s contributions to the growth of basketball in China, Italian-born Alex Liddi and Anthony Rizzo are now baseball icons in Europe.
With every Team Italy win came its fanaticism. It was no coincidence that the merchandise booths at Phoenix’s Chase Field had sold out of of t-shirts and jerseys before Italy’s game against Team USA. The onslaught of Italian youth sporting RIZZO proudly on their back has only begun. Just as he has become of the face of the Chicago Cubs franchise, Anthony Rizzo has become the backbone of the Italian baseball revolution supported by Mike Piazza. When the 12-time MLB All-Star catcher becomes the first Italian American to be inducted into both the American and Italian Baseball Hall of Fame, the stakes for Anthony Rizzo to repeat history will set the tone for a Team Italia reunion.
by MLB is experiencing a renaissance. The two-time MiLB All-Star spent five seasons in the Chicago Cubs system. Alex Maestri later ventured Down Under, where he would be named 2011 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Team World All-Star and given the inaugural ABL Fan Choice Award. When I first met the 27-year-old right-hander at the Italian MLB Academy near Pisa last year, he told me that the Kagawa Olive Guyners wanted him to pitch in Japan. He took on the the role of the team’s closer and was a knock out from day one. In each of the two months he played for Kagawa in 2012, he was named the indy league’s pitcher of the month. On July 9, 2012, Maestri’s contract was purchased by the Orix Buffaloes of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) League. He worked diligently to advance from the farm team to the top-ranked league in Japan. In his NPB debut for the Orix Buffaloes, the international baseball ambassador from Italy pitched 6.1 innings to earn his first victory while allowing just one run with four hits and striking out five. He went on to dominate in the NPB and made seven more starts for the 2012 Orix Buffaloes. Posting a 4-3 record with a 2.17 ERA,
Alex Maestri averaged nearly one strikeout per inning
(49.2 innings/40 K). He was equally impressive during his 2011/12 ABL campaign. The Brisbane Bandits pitcher finished third in the ABL in innings pitched (63.2) and strikeouts (53), fourth in WHIP (1.16) and sixth in ERA (3.25). In Round Eight of the regular season, he earned Australian Baseball League Pitcher of the Week honors after throwing a stellar complete game two-hitter against the Canberra Cavalry. Team Italy starting pitcher Alex Maestri faces Team Puerto Rico today at 7pm (EST) in a win-or-go-home showdown televised live on the MLB Network from Marlins Park in Miami. He and his fellow Italian teammates are ready to show the world that the defending European Champions are loaded with talent ready to lock and load in the competitive 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: Welcome back to the USA!
Alex Maestri: How are doing Roberto? It’s nice to talk to you. I’m feeling good. It’s been a long journey coming here. Everything is good. I’m glad to be with the Italian national team now. I’m looking forward to this WBC tournament and this year coming up.
Roberto: After your successful campaign for the Japan Professional League’s Orix Buffaloes, the team has really stepped up its efforts in recruiting players from overseas.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you know, every year the team signs foreign players. This year we got seven so we’re probably going to have to rotate. That’s stuff that I can’t control, but it’s going to be fun. The team looks very good. We have a lot of Japanese players that are pretty good and young so I think it’s going to be an exciting year.
Roberto: Did you enjoy the food in Japan?
Alex Maestri: The food there is great. It’s so good. I heard good things about Japanese food before I went there, and when I got there I really appreciated it. Their cuisine is not all about sushi like we think. That’s what I thought too before I went there, but they actually have a huge variety of good food. It’s all very, very good.
Roberto: Did you find a good plate of pasta there?
Alex Maestri: Actually, you know what, they are very good at cooking pasta too. They can reproduce everything very well. They are very good at learning about other cultures and making it theirs.
Roberto: The Japanese have the longest life span. So they must be doing something right.
Alex Maestri: They are doing a lot of things right.
— MLB Europe (@MLB_Europe) August 13, 2012
Roberto: Your Japanese YouTube video is amazing. Have you ever been in the spotlight like that before?
Alex Maestri: Not at all. That was like the first time. After the game, the player of the game gets interviewed in front of the fans in the stadium and put on the big screen. My debut was actually a great game. I got to do that right on the field. It was cool. This fan had this Italian flag with him, and he came all the way close to the dugout. He passed the flag to one of the reporters who gave it to me. So it was good, it was good seeing the colors of Italy in Japan.
I was very proud too to represent those colors in a good way.
Roberto: It almost had an Olympic feel to it.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you see those gold medal runners walking around the track with their flags. I was just standing around though. It was a really a weird day. I really didn’t feel uncomfortable. I really didn’t know what was going on.
Roberto: It must have been an adrenalin rush.
Alex Maestri: It was during the game. Afterwards, I was just relaxed and happy. I was done pitching, and we won the game.Roberto: Tell me about what you remember most about playing Minor League Baseball.
Alex Maestri: I was here in the states for six years, and five of those six years were with the Cubs. I have a lot of great memories with that team. The game that I remember the most was a Cubs Spring Training game, and I was with the big league team against the A’s. They gave me one inning, and it was pretty good.
Roberto: And you got to face Italian American Jason “Giambino” Giambi.
Alex Maestri: Actually Giambi is the only one who actually got a hit off me. I faced four guys, and three (Orlando Cabrera, Matt Holliday and Eric Chavez) of the four were strikeouts.
Roberto: Since he is Italian, were you giving him a free pass to first base?
Alex Maestri: (Laughing) Yeah, I guess so.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I mean in Italy we have a lot of good players. It’s a shame that there is not much money supporting baseball so it’s not easy to develop guys. But we have the Italian MLB Academy now, and you know it’s doing very good. There are some young players that are doing some really nice work. And there’s more and more scouts going down there to look at them. It’s a pleasure for me to represent the country all over the world. And even if I just play for myself on the team that I play with, I always play for my colors, I’m always proud of that. Roberto: Forza Italia! Forza Azzurri!
Alex Maestri: Yeah, per sempre Forza Azzurri!
Roberto: You don’t take any prisoners when you pitch, and you proudly wear your colors on your sleeve. It shows that you pour your heart and soul every time you step on the mount to throw.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I think that’s what you have to do on the mound. You’re not always going to succeed. But that’s the attitude you’ve got to have to pitch.
Roberto: Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg has changed the mindsets of many on this staff for the better.
Alex Maestri: Bill has been my pitching coach forever. He has known me since I was a kid And you know I started working with him when I was 18-year-old and started to go to the Italian MLB Academy. But even before that he was working with me. He’s my main pitching coach. I always try to go the Academy during the offseason and have a few workouts with him. I really like the way he teaches pitching. I think everybody, all the pitchers that get to work with him, they appreciate his work.
Roberto: He was the one who wrote your name on a scouting report for the Chicago Cubs, and the next thing you know you were signed to MLB.
Alex Maestri: At the time he was an international scout for the Chicago Cubs, and you know I was doing pretty good. I was young and I was doing good for my team. And he said that he was going to take a chance and sign me. He said that I could make the Big Leagues. He really believed in me. He gave me a great opportunity to come over and gave me a chance to play in the states.
Alex Maestri: We really love that. It’s great to have him around in the dugout. He’s like doing this for fun. He enjoys working with us… That’s why we appreciate it so much. I think he is positively influencing the program that we have. The fact that the team is winning and improving proves it. So that’s why he keeps coming back.
Roberto: Coach Piazza helps pitchers as well, right?
Alex Maestri: Oh definitely. We always have meetings in the morning.. He comes in with Bill and always says his opinion on our pitching. He was one of the best catchers in the game so he obviously knows a lot about pitching too. It’s just great having him around.
Roberto: Being the underdog, Team Italy plays like there is no tomorrow.
Alex Maestri: I guess it’s kind of normal since baseball is not so developed in Italy. People don’t really respect Italian baseball, but you know it’s kind of like the fun part of playing. Nobody really thinks that we are strong. But I think we are a very good team actually, and we should again surprise a lot of people around the world.
Roberto: It this also an opportunity to play on the world’s stage to show MLB what they missed out on?
Alex Maestri: I don’t think I have to have any sort of revenge, I just want to play good for myself and my country. I was here in the states, and they gave me a great opportunity to play here. I had a lot of great experiences here so it’s not like I’m mad at anybody. Things just went that way. I had a tough year in 2010 so it’s normal that I got released. You know I’m still playing baseball. I’ve got a great opportunity now in Japan. I just love what I do so like I said before I am just going to play for my country and not for anybody else.
Roberto: You look healthy and happy. With this Italian team playing to win, I know you are going to give it your all.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I think a few years back, the Italian national team just went out playing a few tournaments to kind of like participate. But now with manager Marco Mazzieri, you have a very good attitude and it rubs off on all the players. Now you have a very strong group that won two European Championships back-to-back. And now everybody is starting to feel confident about themselves. And in baseball that’s what is about—confidence. You know we got ability so we need to be confident and just go out there and play baseball.
Alex: I’ve got my pitches like everybody else. I just got to keep working on them and make them as confusing as I can for hitters.
Roberto: In prior in WBC competitions, you have been stellar. I hope that you will continue to shine in the upcoming 2013 WBC.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you know, that’s the plan. We always try to do our best. And that’s what I’m trying to do this time around. Right now I’m getting ready and going day-by-day. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely give my best effort.
Roberto: Are there any players in the WBC that you know from you days in MiLB?
Alex Maestri: The only guys that I remember is catcher Chris Robinson from Canada. We were in the same organization. We never really played together. I have played against many of the USA players like Mike (Giancarlo) Stanton and Jonathan Lucroy. It’s cool facing them again in the World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: Every pitch has to count with the WBC pitch limits in place.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, that’s kind of like the plan every time you go out. You know it’s a team sport so everybody is going to have do his own thing. I know that I will do my part with my pitching, but once I’m done with my pitches then there is someone else coming in to take over. We just all have to do this together, and it’s going to be touch. We’re playing the best teams in the world, and it’s going to be hard work. So we’re going to have to be really focused.
Roberto: You have to execute.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you’ve got to be able to execute and if you don’t you just lose games. That’s why we play this game. You know, we enjoy that part of it.
Roberto: What does it mean to be an Italian playing baseball?
Alex Maestri: I just started to play baseball because of my brother. At the time I wasn’t really watching any baseball on TV. I started doing that later on, but it was cool seeing all those guys with Italian names written on the back of their jerseys. I just grew up hoping that one day that I would be able to take their place.
Roberto: With the influx of MLB players now joining Team Italy, how will it change the personality of La Squadra Azzurri.
Alex Maestri: I think it’s going to be the same. We have a good personality now. Those players are going to definitely improve the level. Because obviously they are Big League players and they have more experience than we do. It’s going to make the team better, but I don’t think it will change the personality of the team.
Roberto: You are representing Italy on all corners of the earth wherever you compete.
Alex Maestri: I feel like it. I always travel the world and play baseball in different countries. But my roots are always with me so I feel very proud of that. I’m sure all the other guys feel proud of that too—even the Big League players that are going to play for us. We already had a bunch of them in the World Baseball Classic, and they play as hard as we do. They want to win, and it’s just going to be great to do it all together.
Roberto: Any favorites? Has the Dodgers’ Nick Punto lived up to his name as the shredder by tearing the jersey off walk-off heroes after Team Italy victories?
Alex Maestri: I don’t know about Punto, but another guy who had an unbelievable WBC tournament was Chris Denorfia. At the tournament, he really gave everything he had. He made some great plays defensively and had some clutch hits so it’s going to be good to see him again. Jason Grilli has been with us for the first two World Baseball Classics. He’s just a great guy. He loves to come and play for us. Alex Liddi, of course, is one of my best friends.
I haven’t seen him in a long time. I saw him the other day, and it was just great seeing him again. He’s really family. I feel like his brother. And all the other guys that are going to come are going to be very welcome.
Roberto: You will be in the capable hands of catchers Drew Butera from the Minnesota Twins and Tyler LaTorre from the San Francisco Giants. Have you ever worked with them before?
Alex Maestri: Actually not. I haven’t had the pleasure to work with them yet. It’s going to happen in the WBC.Roberto: Since you were in the same organization as the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, it will be sort of a Cubbie reunion with two Italians on the same team.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I heard really a lot of good things about him. We both played for the same organization so it will be good.
Roberto: Anything else you would like to say before we sign off?
Alex Maestri: I’d like to say hi to everybody. I would like to thank the great people all over the world. I really enjoy what I’m doing now. I might not be enjoying this for the past seven years if it had not been for them. Thanks!
Roberto: I really enjoyed meeting you at the Italian MLB Academy and talking with you today here in Arizona prior to the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Thanks for your time!
Alex: Thank you very much, and thank you for the work you do for Team Italy. It’s good to have somebody who really cares about this team and tries to promote the team as much as you do. Thank you for doing that.
Roberto: Thank you. It’s my pleasure. I believe in you and Italian baseball. God bless Italia!