Only second to Santa in holiday appearances, National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame spokesman Mike Piazza began early before Thanksgiving when he emceed NIASHF’s 37th Annual Awards Celebration and inducted John Andretti, Babe Parilli, Scott Pioli, Angelo Pizzo and Frank Zamboni at the InterContinental Hotel in Chicago.
International baseball ambassador and Italian National team hitting coach Mike Piazza got a jump start on Babbo Natale, otherwise known as Father Christmas, when he traveled to Veneto, Italy last January to speak to an enthusiastic audience at the 29th Annual Coaches Convention. Piazza said, “We all overteach and overanalyze hitting. Everyone has their own opinion, but in actuality–just as Ted Williams explained in his book–The Science of Hitting–the number one rule is to get a good ball to hit. Gaining an understanding of the strike zone and what you can and can’t hit is the key. Simply spoken, you can’t hit what you can’t see.” Borrowing a page straight out of Ted Williams’ book, Rudolph the red nose reindeer leads Cometa, Ballerina, Fulmine, Donnola, Freccia, Saltarello, Donato, and Cupido so that Babbo Natale is able to see which homes to hit and deliver presents to millions of Italian children every year. However, La Befana, the elderly woman who delivers gifts on Epiphany Eve (January 5th), is a cultural folklore tradition favorite and reigns as the undisputed Italian holiday champion.
La Befana is a nice old woman who some believe takes flight on her broom stick every year in the middle of the night in preparation of the arrival of Epiphany day on January 6th. She showers children with gifts to reward them for their good behavior. La Befana’s big sack on her back and basket is usually full of sweets and chocolates, which will make their way into the stockings of kids who have behaved on the day of the Epiphany. However, those children who didn’t do what they were asked by their parents and were naughty throughout the year will end up with a stocking full of lumps of coal. Yet, everyone loves La Befana. She is sometimes portrayed as having white or black hair with a long crooked nose, broken shoes and a patched dress. Unlike in America where children generally leave milk and cookies for Santa Claus, it is customary to have a nice glass of red wine waiting for La Befana upon her arrival to your house considering the long overnight journey she had to endure getting there.
Mike Piazza deserves more than just chianti for the seemingly endless journey he has had to experience to become enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Mets Hall of Famer is a fan favorite, and anytime he is affiliated with a night at the ballpark it is an instant hit. The Mike Piazza soccer jersey giveaway at the 2014 Italian Heritage Night at Citi Field was considered to be best Mets promotion of the season.
Commercial endorsements from Philips Norelco as well as special guest interview appearances on Complex News and TMZ Sports are just the tip of the iceberg of mass media that has spotlighted Mike Piazza recently. Expect nothing less than an avalanche of additional coverage in 2015 to follow with Piazza’s support of the National Italian American Foundation and the NIAF 40th Anniversary Gala.Author and University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Emeritus Professor Lawrence A. Baldassaro summed up why this blogger believes Mike Piazza is Italian American of the Decade when he wrote: “Of all the younger Major League players I interviewed for my book, Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball, none was more in touch with, and interested in, his Italian heritage than Mike Piazza. And his commitment to baseball in Italy is unmatched among those his age.”
Fast forward two decades and Nettuno Baseball Club’s all-time favorite, Lenny “Cappuccino” Randle, is now the team’s new general manager and co-owner. If anyone can start the Italian baseball revolution and transform Nettuno’s historical World War II U.S. battlefield site into baseball’s next field of dreams, it’s Lenny Randle. Supported by a first-class coaching staff of seasoned MLB vets including Chris Bando, Félix Millán, and Rudy Law, Randle is ready to turn Nettuno into European baseball’s biggest epicenter.
36,000 American soldiers landed at Nettuno in 1944 and brought along an arsenal of baseballs, bats, and gloves to keep their sanity during wartime. While the U.S. Army maintained its beachhead at Nettuno for five months, Italians were introduced to America’s favorite pastime. Baseball reached the masses when the Italian press learned of Joe DiMaggio’s visit to the game’s birthplace in Nettuno after his retirement in 1957. Randle’s Nettuno Baseball Club will pay tribute to the Italian American icon at Stadio Steno Borghese in 2015.
The Nettuno Baseball Club looks to inspire a whole new generation of baseball fans and players while upholding the legacy and traditions of the game in Italy. Under the leadership of General Manager Lenny Randle and President Piero Fortino, the Nettuno Baseball Club is building international alliances with corporate sponsors interested in expanding its reach through innovative marketing and interactive fan engagement.
Sponsorship members of the exclusive Nettuno Baseball Club Home Run Club pledge $20,000 and receive a plethora of benefits including: roundtrip airfare to Nettuno/all ground transportation, two nights accommodation at a luxury hotel, private meet and greet with players and coaches, gourmet lunch and five-course dinner at beachside restaurant, VIP Season Tickets/baseball game box seats at stadium, guided tour of local attractions and destinations including World War II Monument and Rome, radio/tv mentions, announcements on game days, a permanent banner at stadium, corporate logo on all printed materials/online media presence and link from the Nettuno website. Until the Asian and American monopoly on baseball’s culture and resources eases up and Major League Baseball and its corporate partners invest in youth and professional leagues in Europe, the fate of the game’s future is dependent on the involvement of former MLB vets like Lenny Randle and Mike Piazza. Finding and developing players is one of Nettuno Baseball Club’s strengths. Both 20-year-old Atlanta Braves prospect Mattia Mercuri and 17-year-old LA Dodgers prospect Federico Giordani ascended up the ranks through Nettuno Baseball Club. Cultivating prospects like Nettuno’s Mercuri and Giordani into major league-quality players and using them like missionaries to promote baseball in Europe will make a strong enough impression back home to give young Italian athletes the vote of confidence that playing MLB is a viable option. Every time Major League Baseball has reached out to expand its constituency to new geographic areas, it has been rewarded with tactical and cultural innovation, a broader fan base and a higher quality of play. Why should Europe be any different? Without MLB financing, the Nettuno Baseball Club and Italian Baseball League depend on corporate sponsorship and FIBS. To learn more about the fantastic opportunities afforded to businesses and athletes, please visit Lenny Randle Sports Tours.
Facing an ‘us or them’ ultimatum, the pitchers were dismissed. “I was in tears the whole way home,”
Grilli said. “The good part of it was I got to see Italy, but the worst part of it was it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I didn’t get to play.” Grilli traces his family heritage roots to Florence and Naples. He said, “I’m 75 percent Italian. My last name is every bit as Italian as you can get. The name on the front of the jersey is always more important than the name on the back, but in this case, the two go hand-in-hand.
I wouldn’t have ‘Italia’ on the front if I didn’t have ‘Grilli’ on the back. Obviously, I love the United States. But I’m also proud of my lineage.”
said Grilli. “And that’s what I am. I’m an Italian,” said the Italian right-hander (il Italiano adopera la mano destra) who reminisced about his experience playing for Team Italia in
the World Baseball Classic. “One day Tommy Lasorda came in to talk to us. It was one of
the greatest speeches I’d ever heard. I wish I’d memorized or recorded it. He talked about the pride that comes with being Italian, with such feeling. It was a great experience.”
Having been invited to attend the 28th Annual Italian Coach Convention in Parma, Italy, Grilli is seriously considering a coaching career in Italy after he retires from Major League Baseball. “I know (former MLB All-Star and Team Italia coach) Mike Piazza has a house
(in Italy), and he goes over for a couple months every year,” Grilli said. “It‘s intriguing.” Selected by the San Francisco Giants in the first round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft (fourth pick overall), Grilli made his MLB debut with the Florida Marlins in 2000 and has made 330 career appearances during his 10 seasons in the big leagues. The Pirates signed Grilli as a free agent on July 21, 2011, and he has posted a 2.76 ERA with 127 strikeouts in 92 appearances over the last two seasons. He hinted at comfort and a heightened sense of excitement for Pittsburgh’s resurgence to Clemente-era dominance as top reasons for re-signing. “I’ve been on 10 different teams,” Grilli said. “The grass is never always greener. It’s really all the same. There’s just something fitting here. It’s just a baseball town and it bugs me as much as it bugs everybody else in this city. They want this so bad.” In 2012 Grilli limited opponents to just one run in 15 of his 64 appearances and struck out at least one hitter in 56 of the 64 games. He set a franchise record for relievers by striking out at least one batter in each of his first 19 appearances in 2012. Although a bull in the pen on the mound, Jason is quite the gentlemen to members of the press. The local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America recently voted Grilli as the winner of the Chuck Tanner Award–an award that recognizes the player who is most cooperative with the media. Jason Grilli wants to bring back the World Series glory days to Pittsburgh. As a proud Italian, he supports MLB’s initiative to foster baseball’s popularity in Italy through the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS)-sponsored MLB Italian Academy and international games like the World Baseball Classic. Grilli said, “I’m in the books in Italian baseball, and that’s good. Major League Baseball wants the game to grow globally, and I’m happy to be a part of that.”
Prior to joining the Brisbane Bandits, the closest lefty pitcher Chuck Lofgren ever came to Australia was in 2010 when Aussie teammate Trent Oeltjen from the Nashville Sounds, Triple-A affiliate for the Milwaukee Brewers, introduced him to Vegemite. It was during this time period that the Wild Wild West California Country boy, who always wears boots on days that he pitches, got a chance to meet his idol Garth Brooks at the superstar’s Teammates for Kids Foundation Fundraiser at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Brooks later summoned Lofgren from his sixth row seat at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater to join the band onstage.
Click HERE to see his live performance. “Besides being drafted, that was the best thing I ever did,” said Lofgren, who plays a Seagull six-string guitar in a Country music cover band. “When you’re playing tiny mom and pop shops and dive bars, it’s a lot different than getting up there with him.” It’s been a long road for the former 2004 Cleveland Indians fourth round draft pick, who was heralded in the Baseball America 2006 Handbook “as one of the top lefthanders in the minors.” The Baseball America 2008 edition speculated that Lofgren “could make his big league debut later in the year.” However, his MLB debut eluded him after an extended stay at Triple-A Columbus did not warrant a call-up. When the Cleveland Indians left Lofgren exposed in the Rule 5 draft, the Brewers claimed him in 2009. After a 2010 season-long Nashville audition, which included his unrehearsed performance with Garth Brooks at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Milwaukee set him free.
The South Bay native grew up watching his favorite player, Will “The Thrill” Clark, play at nearby Candlestick Park, and it was always a childhood dream to play for the San Francisco Giants. It was a family affair for Lofgren as his father was a 35-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department and worked on-field security near the dugout during Giants games. He signed as a minor league free agent with the Giants’ organization in 2010. Lofgren pitched in 2011 at Single-A San Jose, Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Fresno–posting a 5-3 record with a 4.31 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 6.8 K/9 rate, and 5.2 BB/9 rate. The Giants were looking for more from their local cowboy so Lofgren dug deep to his baseball roots when he was a successful two-way player and made the transition from lefty pitcher to first baseman and outfielder with his bat.
As a teenager, he was named to the AFLAC All-American High School Baseball Classic in 2003 for his precise pitching and consistent hitting after three consecutive years as a two-way player for the USA Baseball team in Mexico (Gold Medal Winners), Venezuela and Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. When Lofgren was drafted by Cleveland in 2004, he was so good offensively that his contract allowed him to pitch and hit. Unfortunately, a home plate collision quickly ended his hitting career as the Tribe did not want their star pitching prospect getting hurt. Yet, after eight years of pitching in the minor leagues Lofgren was willing to lay it all on the line as a hitter for the San Francisco Giants when he re-signed as a minor league free agent for the 2012 season. If current free agent Rick Ankiel had successfully made the transition from pitcher to hitter in MLB, why couldn’t Lofgren do the same? The six-foot-four, 220 pounder was encouraged by the support of the Giants’ front office–especially Vice President Bobby Evans, who reportedly liked Lofgren’s swing and wanted to work with him.The Giants had the lowest 2011 run total in the National League and as a result had little patience for Lofgren’s offensive transformation. On March 12th
San Francisco trimmed down its roster in preparation of 2012 Spring Training and had to part ways with
the once-heralded baseball prospect. In a classy response to his release, Chuck Lofgren (@chuckylof) tweeted: “Got released today by the Giants always thankful for the opportunity from the team that I grew up watching and loving. One door closes…” Although not a Major League Baseball club, American Association of Independent Professional Baseball’s Amarillo Sox happily opened the door for the multi-talented player. Since it is a rarity in baseball to find a starting pitcher who can serve as the team’s designated hitter on most pitching off days, Lofgren was a welcome addition to the 2012 Amarillo Sox roster. In his 200 at-bats, Lofgren compiled a .245 batting average with eight doubles, two triples, three homers, 32 walks and 25 RBI. Making 20 starts and working 119.2 innings, the veteran pitcher compiled a 4-6 record with a 4.36 ERA. 2012-13 Brisbane Bandits pitcher Chuck Lofgren (4-3, 3.05 ERA) appears to have found his groove again playing in the Australian Baseball League. His most impressive
start on December 7th against the Perth Heat yielded 11 strikeouts
and was by far his best outing yet. Lofgren said, “Coming out you always want to face Perth. You hear that they’re the team to beat.” The 26-year-old American import went 6.2 innings and limited the reigning ABL champion Heat to just one earned run, seven hits and one walk. Lofgren may just have to sing Garth Brooks’ “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” again for MLB as a reminder that he still has a lot of game left in him despite being written-off prematurely.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea and redhead Angel pitching prospect Alex Da Silva end up LA baseball rivals
AC/DC, Crowded House, Helen Reddy, Kylie Minogue, Little River Band, and Men At Work are just some of the big names that have sprouted out of Melbourne, Australia. There has never been a drought for world-class talent hailing from the metropolis often referred to as the “cultural capital of Australia” and the world’s most liveable city. Melbourne is the capital and most populous city in the state of Victoria.Four-year-old Michael “Flea” Balzary moved from Melbourne to New York when his father, a customs officer, was transferred in 1967. Shortly after his parents divorced at age seven, his dad returned to Australia, where he now lives on the outskirts of Canberra with his second wife. Flea’s mother later married American jazz musician Walter Urban Jr. and moved the family to Los Angeles in 1972. Flea would often sit in on weekly jam sessions with his stepdad and the constant flow of musicians who visited. While most of the California high school kids were into disco and dance music, Flea listened to jazz legends Louie Armstrong, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. His greatest childhood memory was when he met Gillespie backstage after one of his concerts. Flea’s musical interests diversified when he discovered funk music and Jimi Hendrix became his new idol. He befriended Anthony Kiedis in 1977 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers formed after Flea left Fear and declined an offer to join PiL in 1984. Flea has a strong connection to his Aussie roots. He professed, “I love Australia with my heart and Australian blood coarses through my veins. We are coming to Australia early next year, can’t wait to feel the connection to my birthplace once again.” The bassist owns a beachfront property in the little town of Congo on NSW’s South Coast. Flea said, “Chances are, I’ll end up living there permanently. Without wanting to sound corny, I feel it in my blood when I’m in that part of Australia. I get a lot of power and strength from the land.”
Power and strength are two attributes commonly referred to when Melbourne Ace and LA Angels pitching prospect Alex Da Silva takes the mound. Signed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim international scout Grant Weir as a free agent on January 10, 2011, the 19-year-old Da Silva has a cannon for an arm. Weir commented, “Alex probably throws harder than anyone in the country. Just his tools are impressive.” Equipped with a 90 plus MPH fastball, curveball, change-up and cutter, Da Silva is committed to working hard everyday to realize his dream of making it to Major League Baseball. This past Australian Baseball League season the six-foot-two Aussie hurler was in good hands pitching under the guidance and supervision of Melbourne Ace manager Phil Dale, a former minor league coach for the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves as well as a national baseball coaching legend for leading the Australian team to its first ever silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics with a 1-0 upset over Japan. We checked in with Alex recently.
Roberto: How are things going for you in Tempe, Arizona?
Alex: Feeling pretty good at my first Angels Spring Training camp. It’s pretty good. They are very keen on looking after the players so everything is taken care of. I mean from getting picked up in the morning, breakfast, lunch. It’s just a baseball paradise here, you know.
Roberto: It’s everything you expected it to be?
Alex: And more…
Roberto: Reports from Australia are that you pack some heat with your fastball. Is that true?
Alex: It’s a bit more like that back home, but over here I am just another fish in the sea. I’m mean, it’s nothing special, really. That’s where I have to develop. I mean, back home, yeah, There are not many guys that throw that hard. Over here, everybody does. I’m just another number.
Roberto: But you’re a hard worker committed to a seven-year contract.
Alex: Yeah, seven years but at the moment just (taking it) day-by-day.
Alex: You see how they go about their business and whenever they step on the field it’s always 100% business. It gives you something to go off and something to follow. Especially those guys, they are really good examples to follow. They always give you a nudge in the right direction when you need it. They are really good people to have around.
Roberto: It must have been tough watching the Australian Baseball League Championship between your Melbourne Aces and the Perth Heat?
Alex: At the same time as you’re not playing, you’re still kind of there. You know the guys, especially Darryl George when he was getting up. I grew up with him. I know exactly what is going through his head. I’ve seen him do it since he was like 11-years-old. At the same time, you know they are doing everything they can and hopefully in the years to come I’ll be the guy out there.
Roberto: Did you have a case of the butterflies when you took the mound for the first time in the Australian Baseball League?
Alex: I played the very first series in Sydney. That was the only series I played. I came on when we were down to a time limit so I was put on to waste a little bit of time. Yeah, the crowd wasn’t too happy so it was a little bit of a new experience for me. You know, the crowd against me. We were trying to do everything we could do to stretch the game a little bit. It’s a tough situation.
Roberto: You played with Chicago Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo from Italy at the MLB Australian Academy. What were were impressions of him?
Alex: When I first met Alberto, he was one of those really fun guys to be around. Always smilng. His English is actually pretty good, but we still messed around with him a little bit. But he took it in the spirit it was meant to be. In terms of a catcher, I really like the way he went about his business. He took control of the game. There were times when I wanted to throw a pitch that I wanted to throw, but he insisted and pulled me back in line a little bit. In terms of catchers that I like, I just like catchers that get the job done and don’t say too much. I do my job, and they do their job.
Roberto: But do you take things personally when catchers are insisting on a pitch, and you are shaking them off for another?
Alex: I’m not a big fan of shaking guys off. Every now and then I might feel that I know a hitter pretty well and the pitch I want to throw might be a bit more effective. When they put the same sign down twice, I always think they’re really persistent on this one so I give them this one. I’ll go with what they say. You might have a bit of a joke about it later if they get a hit off you. Go back to him and say that it should have been a curveball instead of a fastball. I usually just trust what they do.
Roberto: Baseball is still in its infancy in Australia. With the abundance of more popular sports on your home turf, what lured you into baseball?
Alex: Well there is AFL, Australian Rules Football, but I didn’t like running that much so that kind of put me off it. I tried karate for a little while. I guess I really liked the guys who played baseball. I played with some pretty cool guys growing up. There was just something there that kept me going back every year. I really don’t quite know what is was, but something kept luring me back.
Roberto: Who was an inspirational figure in your baseball career?
Alex: My very first baseball coach, Greg Dawes, he was a bit of a hard ass. Even little things like everytime you go out there to make sure your shirt is tucked in and your socks are tucked up stuck with me until now. In a way, that’s the way the game should be played. That little bit of respect he taught me for the game carried on. Now I enjoy it much more because I got all that basic stuff out of the way. Now it’s off to the fun stuff in just playing, and I don’t have to worry about it.
Roberto: What is the most frustrating part of pitching?
Alex: The hardest part for me is when you throw a really good pitch, you’ll throw a curveball that snaps off really well, and the hitter comes up with something. He might get a hit off a curveball that would have bounced before the plate. I mean what things are out of your control are the things that really get to you. So you do your job really well and you hit your spot, but the hitter just does a better job. For me that’s the hardest thing. Or you do your job, you get a guy to roll over and there’s an error in the field. They’re the kind of things that really get me. I mean you’ve done your job, and at the end of the game you’ve got a loss next to your name. They’re the things that really get me. It’s just things that are not in your control is what frustrates me a little bit.
Roberto: Is it fun competing with international players abroad?
Alex: The two dominant forces here are the Americans and Latins. Americans are very similar to Australians. There is always the language thing. We say ‘mate’. They always make fun of us saying stuff like ‘Hey mate” and things like that. The Latino guys are really cool to be around, they’ll mix in some Spanish. They’ll mess with you a little bit, and you mess with them back. Just the other day we tricked one of the Latino guys into thinking that ‘vamos’ which means ‘let’s go’ meant ‘French toast’. So he is out on the field yelling ‘French toast’ (laughter). There’s really not that much difference culturally. I’ve been told that Tempe, this area, is very similar to Brisbane. It’s like being at home, just a bit drier and not as many hills. Otherwise, it’s very easy to assimilate into this environment.
Roberto: Other than the jetlag and the time difference?
Alex: Yeah, it was a bit difficult. My flight from Sydney to LA was fourteen hours, and I didn’t sleep a blink. The first couple days were hard. It took me like four days to feel like I was right. That’s going to happen. You’ve got to deal with it.
Roberto: It’s part of the game. What’s next for Alex Da Silva?
Alex: After spring camp and extended spring, I hope to make a rookie or rookie advanced team from there. I mean, either way,
I don’t really mind so long I am still playing here. That’s the greatest blessing just to be able to come out and play everyday. At this point, it’s spring, extended spring and short-season.
Roberto: Is Anaheim in the future?
Alex: I just want to get there. It doesn’t matter when. I just want to make the big leagues. That’s why I am here. That’s why I was signed because somebody thought that I could make the big leagues. That’s just what I want to do. Doesn’t matter when, doesn’t matter who for—whether it be Anaheim or New York—it doesn’t matter. I just want to get there.
Roberto: Are you looking forward to pitching for the Melbourne Aces in the 2012-13 Australian Baseball League season?
Alex: I think by the end of the season, I might want a little break. I might take a couple weeks off, but I would like to play as many series as I can play with them. I would love to go over and play whatever role Melbourne Ace manager Phil Dale puts me into. Really, I would like to play as much baseball as I can.
Roberto: Any words of encourage or advice for up-and-coming baseball players worldwide?
Alex: Never give up. There is always setbacks, but you have got to keep going through the setbacks. I have been lucky. I haven’t had many injuries or anything,
I know some guys that have, and they are still where
I am. The thing is every time you have a setback, you just have got to keep going. Get through, get to the next little bit. Set yourself goals, get to the next little section. For me, my next section is to get through spring healthy and hopefully not giving up too many runs. I don’t expect much from myself at this point, but I mean once I get an idea where I am at extended spring camp then I will set myself some good goals. You know, like I may not want to give up more than one hit for every two innings or something like that. You really have got to set specific goals and when you get those goals—reward yourself! Maybe instead of
just running around your block–you’ll go for a run to the beach. You have always got to have those goals, and at the end of those goals you have got to have a goal to look forward to.Roberto: So have some immediate short-term goals leading to long-term goals?
Alex: Yeah, for me where I live at the bottom of the hills there is a place called the 1000 steps. Instead of my normal running, you know, it got a little bit boring so after I had a good outing I would go there. If I was starting, I would say that I wanted to get through five innings and only give up two runs or just be in a leading position coming out when I leave the game. If I got that, then I could go up to the 1000 steps and do my running because it’s a beautiful rainforest which is a bit cooler and a really nice place to run. That was my reward. Or just about anything that I looked forward to.
Roberto: What about the growth of Aussie baseball with the injection of the MLB-sponsored Australian Baseball League (ABL) and the MLB Australian Baseball Academy?
Alex: In terms of the fanbase, with the ABL in place it has just exploded. It still has a long way to go. As far as the MLB Australian Academy, you can look at how many guys have been signed since the program started… My year alone 12 guys were signed and the year before me was even better. Everyone of them has been through the Academy multiple years. It’s getting the results.
Roberto: Any words for your friends and family back home?
Alex: Missing you guys. I’m doing you proud!
Despite Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and redhead Alex Da Silva ending up on opposing sides of LA baseball, their love for Melbourne is skin deep. On game day when LA Angel pitching prospect Da Silva gets ready for a start, he pumps up the volume with some of his favorite jams from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rise Against. When Chili Pepper bassist Flea wants to get fired up before a big concert, he watches Matt Kemp and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Regardless how these two individuals mentally prepare for their performances, both are professionals grounded and undeniably connected by their Australian blood.
Padres add heat to mix with reliever Miles Mikolas, the legendary Lizard King of the San Diego bullpen
Venice Beach’s Lizard King, an alter ego of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, imitated a Native American shaman. Since shamans identified strongly with an animal deity, Morrison chose the lizard because of its ability to reinvent itself by constantly shedding its skin and personified his deity by only wearing leather pants. Native cultures shaman guide followers through sacred ceremonies involving the ingestion of peyote to lead worshippers on a spiritual awakening of higher consciousness in the same way Morrison led his loyal audiences through a journey so that they may never think the same way again. Opting to skip the hallucinogens and make believers of those weak at heart in the Peoria Javelinas bullpen during the 2011 Arizona Fall League, new San Diego Padre relief pitcher Miles Mikolas turned Lizard King chose to square up on clubhouse dues by accepting the $250 dare bet wagered by fellow players and ingesting a Mountain Dew marinated cold-blooded reptile.
“I settled down and made some really good pitches there toward the end. One bad pitch. Right after Stanton hit the home run I was like, ‘Well, you know, there it is. Welcome to the major leagues.'” Mikolas made his encore appearance pitching in the Padres’ 6-3 loss to the Marlins on Sunday, when he came in relief during the eighth inning and recorded the final out after issuing a walk. Prior to pitching in the Bigs, Mikolas was 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA in Double-A San Antonio. Padre manager Bud Black commented, “This spring, he threw the ball well.
I think that continued on there in San Antonio. Of all the guys that we looked at, he was the guy that our Minor League people said, ‘He’s the guy.'” The San Diego skipper has liked what he has seen so far from the rookie Mikolas. “That’s a big curveball,” Black said. “His challenge will be to get that in the strike zone. It has good rotation. You can combine that with a low-90s, mid-90s fastball. It’s a nice variation. It’s a nice difference of velocity. But the key is getting the breaking pitch in for a strike, because he’s got enough fastball. There’s no doubt about that.” A few weeks ago, Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard–Mikolas’ roommate at Double-A San Antonio–predicted weeks ago that Miles would be the first member of the Mission pitching staff to break into the Bigs. ‘The Big Dog’ Beard said, “I’m stoked for Miles. It couldn’t happen to a better bloke!” After Jupiter High School baseball, Mikolas played through his junior year at Nova Southeastern University (NSU)–where he ranked fourth all-time with 167 career strikeouts and fifth with 32 games started–before being the seventh round pick by San Diego in the 2009 draft. That year he was one of four NSU players drafted, three of whom have now appeared on a Major League 40-man roster–including Mikolas, J.D. Martinez (Astros) and Mike Fiers (Brewers). After converting from a starter to a reliever, Mikolas quickly moved up the Padres system to the Single-A affilate Fort Wayne TinCaps, where he would become a 2010 Midwest League All-Star after striking out 78 batters in 60 appearances.
The Southern Florida native last season split time between the Single-A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm and the Double-A San Antonio Missions. He went a combined 4-0 with 21 saves and a 1.38 earned run average. Mikolas was dominant on the mound, striking out 69 in 72 innings of relief. Rumor has it that an unnamed Lake Elsinore Storm pitcher was betting everyone he could hit triple digits but could only hit 99 on the radar gun that year. However, the Lizard King of the bullpen has since touched 100 mph with a spike in velocity. The fearless pitcher and part-time shaman will change our way of thinking of the Padres’ winning ways by keeping hitters uneasy and off balance with his unrelentless heat and signature Mikolas Hammer.
A favourite of Pro Surfer Kelly Slater, The Beautiful Girls from Australia tour Canada and fast become more popular than BC starlet Pamela Anderson
McHugh said, “My only goal is to spread love and give something back to the Universe. I would love for anyone that the music reaches to share it and send it out into the World. The power of ‘word of mouth’ is almighty.” In the spirit of giving, all net profit of CDs sold will be donated to the Surfrider Foundation. Sublime with Rome in Australia, Mat McHugh is an Aussie one man punky reggae party. “I love the really early dancehall and rocksteady stuff. It’s as crusty and weird as early punk to me. King Tubby, Johnny Osbourne–that’s the more influential side of reggae to me–the originators, who led to the punky stuff like The Specials, The Clash, The Beat,” McHugh said. Mat McHugh, Kelly Slater and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam are passionate about surfing and music. So it would come as no surprise to see the three of them onstage singing about the sport they love and the special connection they all share with the ocean. Slater and Vedder have been friends for 15 years. Vedder also was very close to the late legendary punk rocker Johnny Ramone. Pearl Jam paid tribute to the Ramones by covering the classic “I Believe in Miracles”, which is one of Slater’s favorite jams. Dressed in a Labatt beer T-shirt, Pamela Anderson was “discovered” at a football game when her image was transmitted on the British Columbia Lions stadium’s big screen. Fans fell in love with the 22-year-old blonde bombshell, who was signed immediately to become Labatt’s Blue Zone Girl. The Beautiful Girls have had a tough act to follow in swaying the Blue Zone vote their way, but they are well-known for giving their ever growing BC audience intimate sold-out shows like no others. The Beautiful Girls Canadian show schedule is as follows: April 18th from 2:30-5:30 pm with Ash Grunwald opening @ Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival-Skiers Plaza and later that night at Kokanee FreeRide @ Moe Joe’s Nightclub;
April 19th @ Club 9one9 in Victoria; April 20th @ The Legion Hall in Tofino; and April 21st 7 pm with Ash Grunwald opening @ The Venue in Vancouver. The prolific and bona fide McHugh said, “I want to take this opportunity to deeply thank everybody that has supported me and my music, whether solo or with The Beautiful Girls, throughout the years. You’ll never know how much it means. Please accept this music how it was intended, with love…”
Radio DJ Roberto Angotti goes ‘Down Under’ with LA Dodger Shane Lindsay to drum up support for the Australian Baseball League and MLB
“MLB digs ‘Down Under’ and find nine Aussie stars”, I requested to include one of the featured Australian players–Pitcher Shane Lindsay of the Los Angeles Dodgers–because of a recent tweet received from @ABQTopes (LA Dodgers Triple-A affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes). I thought to myself that if anyone deserved to go directly from the Australian Baseball League straight to Major League Baseball without any pit stops it was the recently signed Dodger flamethrower. After the Isotopes were kind enough to retweet my article to its 2500 followers, I tweeted back: “Thanks for the RT (retweet) and for sending the Dodgers your best talent. Do you think Aussie Shane Lindsay will wear True Blue after ST (spring training)?”
Moments later @ABQTopes replied,
“He has the tools to impress, but new ownership will have the final say.” Time will tell who exactly will sign Lindsay’s checks, but in the meantime he is training rigorously in Arizona to prepare for the pitcher and catcher February 21st report date at Camelback Ranch in Glendale. Shane emailed me: “Hey mate, doing good…working my butt off in Phoenix and getting ready for camp at athlete performance.” Lindsay is taking this challenge very seriously.
Without a doubt, Lindsay could very well be vintage Jonathan Broxton
with additional strength out of the bullpen. Last season wearing Chicago White Sox silks, the gutsy and often “wild” Australian hurler was not afraid to throw inside with his intimidating signature upper 90’s fastball to strike out hitters. The Dodgers believe Shane Lindsay has what it takes to become successful in MLB, and all he has to do now is figure out who to impress…the “wild” Kim Kardashian?In order for me to impress on why you should vote for me to be in the 2012 MLB Fan Cave by clicking HERE so that I may deliver an innovative and fresh approach to the coverage of pro baseball and also report on the latest cutting-edge music and pop culture trends, it is imperative to hear from others about my positive influence on them–as I am not accustomed to being my own publicist! Let’s first connect the dots through the Skunk Records and Sublime stories as told by San Diego-based Slightly Stoopid drummer Ryan ‘RyMo’ Moran.
While on the road with Rebelution , Ryan Morgan recently spoke about my good friend, Mike ‘Miguel’ Happoldt–co-founder of Skunk Records and producer for Sublime, Slightly Stoopid, Unwritten Law, Long Beach Dub All-Stars and Long Beach Shortbus. ‘RyMo’ explained, “In a nutshell, Skunk Records was two people. It was Brad Nowell from Sublime, and Mike Happoldt. Mike Happoldt is still one of our producers to this day, we work with him all the time. Basically those two guys started that record label as an underground Long Beach record label. It was basically two friends who just put their heads together and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to start recording.’ At the time, Mike Happoldt was called ‘Miguel’. Miguel was going to Long Beach State and he was in a recording arts music program there … and so after hours there they would sneak into Long Beach State, and Sublime recorded a whole bunch of stuff there. They would basically just sneak in after hours and use the studio from like, 8 p.m. ‘till 4 in the morning and then come back in the next night and do it all again. Skunk Records really was just a grass roots movement between those two guys.
Now sadly, we all know the story that Brad Nowell passed away in ’96 from an overdose on heroin, which sucked. At that point Mike, or Miguel, basically kept the label going, but it shrunk considerably. It went from like a full-on functioning label to just basically him doing stuff out of his house on a smaller scale. Basically, Skunk Records released quite a few records from bands like The Ziggens, one of Sublime’s favorite bands from back in the day. They released a good amount of other stuff —- obviously the work they did with Long Beach Dub All-Stars. Basically, Skunk Records is just Miguel Happoldt. It’s his project.”
When LA music industry insider executive Dana Smart interviewed Mike ‘Miguel’ Happoldt about Sublime and the influence of reggae, yours truly got some serious props.
Mike said, “Brad was a huge fan of DJ Roberto Angotti of KNAC (not metal yet) in Long Beach. He taped every show between 1985 and 1986.” You can listen to some of the songs that Brad loved by clicking on the following podcast link–The Waxcast Episode 2: Homage to Reggae Revolution–a loyal listener’s tribute to my radio show
before moving on to Los Angeles’ #1 Young Adult Radio Leader, ‘The World Famous KROQ 106.7 FM’, where I deejayed from 1986 through 1992.
I would see Brad regularly when I promoted Club Reggae at Fenders Ballroom in downtown Long Beach, where huge punk groups would perform in the larger room and Jamaica’s Wailing Souls and Eek-A-Mouse, England’s Pato Banton and Tippa Irie as well as LA’s Untouchables and Fishbone and other reggae/ska groups would play in my part of the ballroom on weekends. We would not discriminate against anyone who would enter our Punky Reggae Party. Long Beach experienced a London boomtown feeling in the early/mid-80’s. I clearly remember Brad joining me in the DJ booth when I promoted Eek-A-Mouse and Sublime together at Bogart’s in Long Beach. He came again to check me at an Andy Summers gig as well. When singer Gwen Stefani and bassist Tony Kanal from No Doubt were a couple without a contract, they would frequent my OC Club Reggae where I would test market their records on the dance floor.
After graduating early in 1980 from high school at age 17, I studied abroad in London and immersed myself in the 2 Tone movement. Borrowing elements of ska, punk rock, rocksteady, reggae and New Wave, bands like The Specials, The Selecter, The (English) Beat, Madness, Bad Manners, and The Bodysnatchers were the talk of the town. However, it was UB40’s “My Way of Thinking” that captured my imagination. Their progressive and upbeat style of British reggae was ear candy, and I could not get enough of it. I also learned of another Birmingham-based band called Steel Pulse. I collected records from London’s Aswad and Linton Kwesi Johnson as well. The artists trusted me, and I traveled with UB40 throughout America as their emcee while supporting Sting and The Police. I became the first radio deejay to interview British reggae, ska and two tone artists and break their records in America while hosting “Roberto, Rock, Reggae” on KSPC 88.7 in Claremont, California. Although a college station, the strong 3000 watt signal penetrated in Orange, LA, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Within two years in 1982, I got my first real job in commercial radio when I was hired as a new music jock.
Working overnights at ‘Rock N Rhythm KNAC’ in Long Beach, I mixed New Wave and Classic Rock from the 50’s-70’s in this unique format which allowed deejay freedom with two personal choices per hour. I would bring in my crate of records from independent and unsigned artists to customize my radio show with a healthy dose of reggae and ska. After I had created a huge buzz for the music, I was rewarded with the first reggae show–“Reggae Revolution”–on commercial radio in addition to working my KNAC new music weekend deejay shifts and serving as program director of Pomona College’s KSPC. Often I would receive acetate test press copies of songs fresh out of the studio from up-and-coming LA New Wave bands like the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (who would later drop the long name), The Motels, X, The Blasters, The Plimsouls and Missing Persons. The groups would have listening parties while paying close attention to the audio quality of the recording on-the-air before going back in the studio to master the song.
Although we did not have the signal strength of LA powerhouse KROQ, Long Beach’s KNAC–lead by the innovative program director Jimmy ‘The Saint’ Christopher (who would later become the PA announcer for the Texas Rangers at the Ballpark at Arlington)–was looked upon by the music industry as an indicator station. While other stations would only play one or two tracks from an album, KNAC would dig deeper and play as many as four or five. Once research had indicated that the public liked the tracks, then only would the more conservative and bigger KROQ’s of the world would add songs to the playlist–especially if there was payola.
I thought that I would never sell my soul to the corporate giants, but it took a KNAC format change to Metal in 1986 for me to take a sabbatical in the UK and come back stronger than ever at KROQ. While a Film Studies major at Claremont McKenna College, I had done a documentary of the English Beat and written my thesis on reggae based upon two interviews with legendary original Wailer, the late and great Peter Tosh. He was the Original Jamaican Rude Boy that many of the two tone characters emulated years later in England. After graduating from college and taking some time off, I embarked on a journey to document UB40’s making of the ‘Geoffrey Morgan’ Album in their hometown of Birmingham, England. Staying at each band-member’s house a week at a time, it goes without saying that the lads were tired of my eternal smiling grin and my video camera staring at them every step of the way. Upon arriving at their DEP studios in the industrial section of Birmingham’s Digbeth, the band suggested I go down to an open audition held underground at a local pub where local talent would be performing live.
My life would change forever… At the time, a local MC by the name of Pato Banton had recorded two tracks on UB40’s ‘Baggariddim’ Double Album. One of the tracks, “Hip Hop Lyrical Robot”, was a B Side to the #1 song “I Got You Babe” featuring Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders. After the success of the Beat’s “Pato and Roger Ago Talk” off the Beat’s ‘Special Beat Service’ Album, Ranking Roger continued to produce Birmingham’s top MC while Pato was on fire.
Roger did not disappoint the local reggae massive when he produced Pato’s 12″ single called “Mash Up The Telly”, which was the song that I had videotaped at the audition and later became a big UK smash hit. Before I could stop the camera and say hello, Pato was out the door and gone… I was blown away at his amazing talent and charisma on camera. I showed the footage to UB40 back at the studio, and the next day keyboardist Mickey Virtue game me Pato’s 12″ single “The Boss” and business card.
I immediately phoned and arranged a meeting with Pato’s manager, Grantley ‘G.T.’ Haynes. I learned that he also managed another client from London’s #1 Saxon Sound named Tippa Irie, who had massive success with “Hello Darling”. I had been sending postcards to KROQ Program Director Rick Carroll so he would expect me when I arrived back in LA. Equipped with new vinyl and a vengeance to get back on the radio, I brought back “Reggae Revolution” to the Southern California airwaves with a much improved signal that reached five times the amount of listeners I had previously at KNAC. Within a few months, Pato Banton and Tippa Irie were signed to U.S. recording contracts.
I arranged for Pato to record a song at the KROQ studios with the San Diego-based rock group Private Domain. The end result was “Absolute Perfection”, and the song became an instant hit on commercial radio throughout America in addition to a staple in the KROQ Top 10 playlist. Later I took Tippa Irie to see his first Black Eyed Peas concert at the Belly Up in Solana Beach. The end result there was “Hey Mama”, a track that broke radio charts internationally and was a MTV favorite. UB40 have always respected my writing style, and they paid me the ultimate compliment when they asked me to write the liner notes for their Dancehall Album.
After they flew me to Jamaica, I was able to work out of Ali Campbell and Brian Travers’ Oracabessa Records HQ in St. Mary. There I would vibe up full stop and meet a long cast of Jamaican stars passing through including Sly & Robbie, Rappa Robert, Toots Hibbert, Jack Radics and Mr. Vegas. Once word got out that I was writing liners, the phone rang constantly. The Sublime camp always loved my articles for Mean Street Magazine and asked for to write the liner notes for ‘Sublime: Everything Under the Sun’ Box Set. Mad Professor requested that I write Macka B’s ‘Global Messenger’ CD liners as well.
Music Club U.S.A. allowed me to go through the entire Fashion Records catalogue out of South London and produce two compilation CDs: ‘Love All Night’ and ‘Essential Dancehall Classics’. Despite having my plate full between teaching English in Orange County and freelance writing nonstop, I continued working with Pato Banton as he had a long list of recording artists who to this day consider him an inspiration and a foundation artist. Sting recorded with Pato on a couple occasions and flew he and his band on his private jet to Spain. Peter Gabriel recruited Pato to join him on his international WOMAD Tour. Ali and Robin Campbell scored a #1 hit with Pato on “Baby Come Back”. I have since arranged for Pato Banton to tour with the likes of 311, Matisyahu, English Beat, and Argentina’s Los Pericos. Tippa Irie and Pato Banton are first-rate live performers and consummate professionals in the recording studio. Both constantly in demand, it won’t
be long before they each throw out the first pitch at an upcoming MLB game and perform live in the MLB Fan Cave.