Rangers’ Anthony Ranaudo tweets interest in pitching for Team Italy in response to prayer to Saint Anthony
One should never underestimate the power of prayer. Saint Anthony has miraculously helped believers find lost things and people when all else has failed. So when the Texas Rangers selected 6-foot-7 right-hander Anthony Ranaudo out of New Jersey’s Saint Rose High School in the 11th round of the 2007 draft and failed to sign the promising Italian American pitcher, they looked to Saint Anthony to bring him to Arlington. After eight years of intensive prayer, the Rangers acquired Ranaudo in January from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for lefty pitcher Robbie Ross. The miracle worker Saint Anthony was once again called upon over two years ago when prayers went out for divine intervention for Team Italy prior to the start of the 2013 World Baseball Classic. When hitting coach Mike Piazza had successfully recruited Cubs’ slugger Anthony Rizzo to join la squadra azzurri, it was time to pray to the great Saint Anthony to find the “missing” Anthonys to complete the Italian roster.
A simple tweet exchange two years ago could very well be a blessing to Team Italy from Saint Anthony should Major League Baseball allow franchise players to participate in the 2015 Premier 12 Tournament in Japan and Taiwan. With Ranaudo’s positive response echoing his desire to pitch for underdog Italy, Italian MLB Academy director and Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg can possibly bolster his pitching arsenal alongside Braves’ All-Star reliever Jason Grilli, Blue Jays prospect Tiago Da Silva, Diamondbacks prospect Tim Crabbe and former Cubs’ minor leaguer Alessandro Maestri. Coach Holmberg deserves credit for Team Italy’s upset victories over Mexico and Canada in the 2013 WBC. By keeping some of MLB’s finest hitters guessing what was coming their way next when calling for a slew of off-speed pitches from the dugout, many big names including Adam Jones (.167), Carlos Beltran (.143), Alex Rios (.125), Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Votto (.000) never felt comfortable at the plate.
Patience has always been a virtue for Ranaudo. Instead of signing with the Rangers out of high school in 2007, he played baseball at Louisiana State University, where he was third in NCAA strikeouts and led the LSU Tigers to become 2009 National Champs. Four years after being chosen by Boston as a supplemental first-round pick in the 2010 draft, he made his MLB debut with the Red Sox last year and won four games with a 4.81 ERA in seven starts. Ranaudo started the 2014 season at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he compiled a 14-4 record and was voted the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher. Anthony is currently competing at Rangers Spring Training Camp in Arizona for an Opening Day roster spot as their number five starter.
On my recent journey to the 2014 European Baseball Championship in Regensberg, Germany, I was fortunate to speak with 37-year-old MLB European academies consultant and 2014 Team France bench coach Andy Berglund. His energy and passion for the game was apparent on and off the field. Serving as France manager Eric Gagne’s right-hand man, Berglund proved to be worth his weight in gold as the French advanced with Italy and Germany to the second round of competition in Brno, Czech Republic.Roberto: Let’s start from the beginning. You grew up in Valley City, North Dakota and attended the University of Minnesota, where you graduated magna cum laude in Public Relations in 2001. You played literally every single position, correct?
Andy Berglund: I played outfield and pitched when I was in high school and in college I was a utility player in the leagues I played in. I had two shoulder surgeries during my college years that knocked me out of competition. When I was healthy again I played that utility role over in Europe and Australia. I did catch some games in Europe, so I’ve played every position.
Roberto: Did that help you later as a coach knowing the roles and responsibilities of each position?
Andy Berglund: Absolutely. I think once you’ve played the position, you at least have a feel for what a player goes through. There are some many intangibles (receiving, blocking, throwing, calling a game, being a vocal captain of the infield) to being a solid catcher, for example, that to teach it at a higher level, I think you have to also experience it as well.
Roberto: You actually began coaching youth baseball while still very young, right? What attracted you to this profession?
Andy Berglund: I started coaching youth baseball when I was still around 15, during summers in North Dakota. My father was a high school wrestling, football and baseball coach, so I took after him and saw how much enjoyment he got out of coaching. I started focusing more on coaching as a profession when I realized injuries were going to keep me from reaching the level I wanted to on the field. I didn’t want to be away from the game, and coaching was the next logical step.
Roberto: Did you consider playing professionally in America before embarking on your first European adventure playing in Sweden for the Alby Stars and coaching the Eliteserien team in 2002? How were you recruited?
Andy Berglund: To be honest, I was planning on going to law school out of college. After I graduated, an opportunity came about to go to Europe for the summer, and I discovered baseball was developing there. I worked for MLB International that first summer and through meeting other European players, I landed a spot in Sweden. Those first two summers got my foot in the door to the playing and coaching opportunities I’ve had over the last 13 years now in Europe.
Roberto: Knowing European baseball was in its infancy, did you have the patience to grow the game?
Andy Berglund: To me, the game is still in a grass roots phase here, just trying to be mentioned with soccer and hockey, which dominate the European landscape. Your patience is definitely tested at times, but that’s the beauty of the challenge. I’ve met dozens and dozens of people in the same situation in Europe baseball development, who have had their own part in growing this beautiful game on European soil.
Roberto: Was it difficult to play in adverse weather conditions in North Dakota and later in Scandinavia? Please describe the worst care scenario you ever played in.
Andy Berglund: The cold conditions you deal with are part of growing up in the north for sure. I’ve played in games where snow was coming down, actually coached in games in April in Prague where it was snowing and have been “snowed-out” in games up in Sweden. Coaching the Czechs in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in 2012 was brisk. There were parkas everywhere in the stands.
Roberto: You played baseball internationally in England, and Western Australia as well, correct? Exactly where? How did that help your mission?
Andy Berglund: I played for the Melville Braves in Western Australia. They actually won the WA State League title this past year, so I’m very happy for the club. It was a long time coming. The experience in Australia was very helpful in me seeing how aggressive they played the game. The Aussie’s are just flat out tough characters on the field. I truly respected that about them. Part of the mission here in Europe is to make the players tougher and more game-tested, and the experience in Australia was a good reference point. I loved how they played. The game has developed a lot in Australia the past 10 years as well with the ABL coming back and more and more players in the U.S.
Roberto: When did you become a Major League Baseball International coach?
Andy Berglund: Working with the MLB Roadshow from 2001-2004 in the UK and Germany. I started as an MLB Envoy in 2009 in Germany and 2010-2011 in the Czech Republic.
Roberto: Your coaching stints for MLB included time in England, Sweden and three years in Germany, correct?
Andy Berglund: Yes, and that’s expanded into the role I have now, which is an MLB Academies Consultant. There are nearly 20 different Academies in 11 different European countries now that MLB supports with coaching, equipment and player development.
Roberto: As the Ambassador for MLB and its development in the UK and Germany, you introduced baseball to over 20,000 children for their first time. Describe that experience. How were you recruited for this position?
Andy Berglund: As part of the MLB Roadshow, we would spend weeks on the road and each week visit new schools in bigger German and UK cities to introduce the game of baseball. The goal of the program was to introduce the sport and get kids excited about playing and joining local clubs and participating in MLB’s Pitch, Hit & Run program as well. I was recruited through a friend named Ian Young and in turn met Jason Holowaty, who I now work directly with on game development in Europe and Africa. Roberto: You returned to the states to earn your Masters in Communications from North Dakota State University in 2006. How did you balance your love for the game in Europe while missing family back home?
Andy Berglund: The toughest part of working in Europe is being away from family and I try to get back as often as I can. My oldest brother has three young sons, and it’s challenging being away and missing the finer parts of watching them grow up. Still, we find ways to see each other every year and make the most of it.
Roberto: Considering you returned to Northern Europe as a player and coach for the Stockholm Baseball Club in 2008, you must have loved it there. In fact, you led the team to its first ever Swedish Championship. Did that validate your belief that you could instill success into the mindset of other players?
Andy Berglund: Sweden is a beautiful country. That season, I specifically wanted to come back over to coach, play and win a title with Bjorn and Peter Johannessen, who had became friends over the years. I was really welcomed there by the Claesson family, who oversee the club. The dedicated people in the club made it a goal to really put together an action plan to develop the youth programs and build the best club in Sweden. Stockholm has won 5 of the last 7 Swedish championships since then and have a solid youth program with new facilities being built.
Roberto: You later became a member of the Swedish Senior National Team in 2009. At that point, did you know coaching in Europe was your destiny?
Andy Berglund: Not fully, but I knew that there would always be an attraction to coaching baseball in Europe not matter where I was in the world.
Roberto: However, it appeared that the West Coast was tugging at your uniform as you spent time in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point and Carlsbad. What attracted you to Southern California?
Andy Berglund: I wanted to experience baseball year-round and found a great opportunity to coach at a high school in Newport Beach. It was my first real head coaching position, and I really enjoyed learning what it takes to try and build a championship program.
Roberto: You began as the head coach for Sage Hill High School in Newport Beach in 2008 after the baseball team had endured its third consecutive losing season. You turned things around there after developing a thorough communication program involving the student-athletes and their parents. You were selected as 2008 Academy League High School Coach of the Year. While at Sage, you put together a 51-18 overall record which included two league titles and one second place finish. During this time you were influenced by the likes of Mark McGwire, Wally Joyner, Bruce Hurst, and Lee Smith. You also studied the modern science of pitching with Tom House and Ron Wolforth. Care to comment on your experience coaching in Orange County and working with these former pros?
Andy Berglund: I had seen videos on Ron Wolforth’s Athletic Pitching program and read books on Tom House’s pitching philosophy as a way to learn more as a coach, on arm action and pitching. We were fortunate enough to have Tom House come visit Sage Hill for a practice and he worked brilliantly with our pitchers. I met Ron Wolforth this past year at a conference in Paris. I thanked him for showing me a new way to train and protect young pitchers arms. I met Mark McGwire while doing ProKids Academy camps with his sons back in Southern California and picked up some great hitting tips from him. Joyner, Hurst and Smith, I met later on at our European Elite Academy in Italy. They are all wonderful teachers. You’d have to pinch yourself sometimes, being such a fan of these guys growing up, and then having conversations with them. The past few years the Elite Camp has featured Barry Larkin, Steve Finley, Greg Swindell, Tom Gordon, John McLaren, Art Howe and Dale Murphy, to name a few. It’s an amazing experience to pick these guys’ brains on the game.
Roberto: You left it all behind to become the head coach for the Eagles Praha of the Czech Pro League. In addition, you served as head coach for the Czech Senior and Junior National Teams in 2011 and 2012–leading to the highest finishes in the country’s history (Silver Medal). Did that give you confidence that you could impact a developing nation’s appetite for the game?
Andy Berglund: My time on the field in the Czech Republic was very rewarding. We took the same approach with trying to build on what was already there and fine-tune it into something special. I think you said it correctly, because the appetite for baseball in the Czech is definitely growing and they are really having some success. It’s great to see their young teams go to the Little League World Series, the World Championships and have the success they are having. It proves a small baseball country can achieve big things.
Roberto: How did it feel being nominated as the EBCA Coach of the Year in 2011 and speaking at the Coaches Convention?
Andy Berglund: I was very fortunate to be considered and very happy for Brian Farley when he won. I thought the Dutch’s 2011 World Championship really helped put European baseball on the map in ways it had never been before. Now the Dutch and Italians are beating traditional baseball powerhouses in the World Baseball Classic and it is great for the exposure and development of the game overseas.
Roberto: Did you start up the Czech MLB Baseball Academy?
Andy Berglund: No, Martin Smidt started the Prague Academy and David Winkler started the Brno Baseball Academy. I help with their development on behalf of MLB. The Brno Academy has really developed into a solid program and a lot of those players are representing the Czech U15, U18 and U21 teams that are winning medals at the European Championships.
Roberto: Did you enjoy serving as the bench coach for Team France in the 2014 European Baseball Championship?
Andy Berglund: Yes. A lot of work was put into getting France back on the right track by the federation, so it was good to be a part of.
Roberto: You have been a strong advocate for baseball in both France and Czech Republic. Both teams made strong showing in the Euros and their numbers have jumped up considerably in the International Baseball Rankings. Do you think that your coaching has catapulted these countries into becoming up-and-coming powerhouses?
Andy Berglund: I would say the success in France and the Czech Republic has been result of the good people in the federation that are willing to push the envelope for development working well with the best coaches in the country. It takes getting into a room, getting to the bottom line, discussing the resources you have, putting together a blueprint and attacking the goal you all want to achieve. Throw away the politics. Get down to business. For me, wherever I have coached, my goal was never to finish anywhere but the top. Once the players embrace that vision, you truly have something powerful and dangerous anytime you step on the field.
Roberto: Do you believe MLB will embrace European baseball as they have in other parts of the world and invest there beyond the MLB academies?
Andy Berglund: I do. I know they are looking into having an opening MLB series being played in Europe, much like they did in Australia this past year. I know it is an intriguing market for MLB, especially with the success the NFL has had hosting games in London and the NHL has had hosting games in Europe.
Roberto: What is your personal opinion on the future of baseball in Europe?
Andy Berglund: It’s going to continue to grow. You are going to continue to see more players signed out of Europe and Africa. Hopefully soon, you’ll see more of them playing in the Big Leagues. The process is just going to take time. The level of play here has definitely increased; the domestic leagues have become stronger, as have the national teams. There are some more established countries here in Europe that have strong ambitions to take the game to another level, numbers wise, exposure wise and game development wise. They will be leading the charge to see where the game is over the next 5-10 years.
Roberto: It’s nice to know MLB veterans like France manager Eric Gagne and Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza are on board?
Andy Berglund: Definitely. They bring even more exposure to the sport and raise the interest that much higher. You are talking about two huge names in baseball that only stopped playing in the MLB less than 10 years ago. To have them involved is huge for marketing the sport and also raising the interest back in the U.S. on how and why these guys are getting involved.
Roberto: Any final thoughts to share?
Andy Berglund: The last thing I’ll mention is something I’ve learned from Barry Larkin. His advice to the game is: “Get Better Every Day. Today, be better than you were yesterday. And tomorrow, be better than you were today.” I think that’s the best way to look at what we are all trying to accomplish in baseball, as players, coaches and in development, to keep you humble and to keep you motivated.
Roberto: It’s a pleasure seeing you again after over a year. It’s quite an honor to be with you at the 2014 European Baseball Championship. Thank you for taking time out to talk.
Marco Mazzieri: Thank you. We enjoyed our last experience in the World Baseball Classic with you so that’s why it was no problem doing this.
Roberto: Did you feel confident or did you have butterflies in your stomach when you faced your strongest opponent, the Netherlands, for the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship?
Roberto: And you are very proud of all of them after they have spent so much time under your guidance and that of Italian Baseball Academy director Bill Holmberg. Considering these players are a work-in-progress, it must be rewarding to see them perform in pressure situations.
Marco Mazzieri: I believe a player is never a finished product, so for these kids to be here is a tremendous experience. Hopefully they will pick it up a couple notches. They need to start walking with their own feet now. By playing competitive games, it will help them get to the next level.
Roberto: You must also be proud of the Italian Baseball Academy graduates who are now representing Team Italia.
Marco Mazzieri: I am proud of all the guys we have right now. We’re proud of Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo, Royals prospect Marten Gasparini and all those guys we have there in MLB. I think it’s to the Italian Baseball Academy’s credit with all the work Bill Holmberg is putting into this project that we see results. It’s something we’re proud of, and we hope there are more in the future.
— Mister Baseball (@MisterBaseball) September 14, 2014
Roberto: You also invited Alberto Mineo along with Reds pitching prospect Davide Anselmi to Team Italia Spring Training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida.
Marco Mazzieri: Yes, we did. In fact, Alberto looked very good back at the time in February and now seeing him seven months later he looks even better as you can tell.
Roberto: Having seen Alberto when he first reported to Cubs Spring Training Camp in Arizona a couple years ago as compared to how he is today is remarkable. He has matured immensely and his body physique has filled in. The confidence that he exudes now at the plate now is impressive. I know you have worked diligently with him to become the player that he is today. You must be like a proud father to him now.
Marco Mazzieri: Well, I think we are all proud of Alberto Mineo and the way he has developed. As you said, he has a tremendous attitude. When he just walks around the field, you see a player. I think this kid has a chance to be really, really good.
Roberto: No doubt MLB European scout Bill Holmberg made a great catch for the Chicago Cubs when he signed catcher Alberto Mineo.
Marco Mazzieri: It was…I hope that he can get some more playing time in the higher levels. It is not my job to say, but I think he could become a lot better player beyond the Rookie League.
Roberto: Earlier in the first round of the competition in Regensburg, Germany, I saw you arrive early at the ballpark to give one-on-one hitting instruction to Alex Liddi in the batting cages. I observed the dynamic between you and Alex, and it was incredible. He listened intently to everything you said and absorbed it in like a sponge. Then he applied what he learned from you an hour later in the game when he was at-bat against Great Britain and hit three consecutive home runs.
Marco Mazzieri: We have been working together since he grew up playing professional baseball. It’s long story with Alex actually. Because we have been together since 2005. He moved up from San Remo to Grosseto, where I live. He was not even 16 at the time when started to work with me on his hitting and with Gianni, our strength and conditioning coach, on his physical side. Since then, we’ve been working together almost every winter offseason working on his hitting. He’s been getting good results and that’s why he listens.
Europeo di baseball: il fuoricampo di Alex Liddi colto da Duck Photo Press pic.twitter.com/LTOGvRTeFc
— FIBS (@FIBSpress) September 14, 2014
Roberto: Your current roster is probably 75% Italian-born-and-developed players, right?
Marco Mazzieri: Yes, but I think we should all be proud of this group of guys no matter if you have major league guys, rookie league guys or guys who work and play baseball. When they all get together, it’s just one single group. Of course, you have different personalities but they play and lead as a team. And they like it as a team because I think for me and my coaching staff, which I am very proud to be working with such a great group of coaches, one of the biggest accomplishments through all the success we had through the years. But the fact that this group of people have a tremendous energy when they get together. You can tell actually from the WBC to now in the Euro Baseball Championship– win or lose–it’s just a great group of guys.
Roberto: The energy and chemistry of the Italian National team combined with the MLB-affiliated players made Team Italia one complete family playing together. One can tell that the future is looking bright for Italian baseball.
Marco Mazzieri: Well, we hope so. The team chemistry is really crucial for me and my staff. We believe that a group of individuals going towards the same direction can accomplish a lot more than just talented guys who just play for themselves. It has always been my idea, and when we put a group together we try to make the right decision based on the people first and the players second. Because we believe in the chemistry first with everone in the same direction, we try to channel all energies toward one single goal and luckily we have been able to do that.
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) August 27, 2014
Roberto: After having spoken to many of the MLB-affiliated players who have played for Team Italia over the years including Jason Grilli, Chris Denorfia, Nick Punto and Drew Butera, they have all cited the experience as being some of the best times of their career.
Marco Mazzieri: Well, by you saying this–and I know it’s true because I have talking to the guys–it just gives me goosebumps when you have those kind of players. All those guys are tight with this team. Every time we see them, and we are together they are part of the family. We shared a common energy that we were able to get for the two World Baseball Classics in 2009 and 2013. I happy to know that they cherish those times as much as I do.
Roberto: Considering Major League Baseball has injected millions overseas in Asia and Australia, I believe the time is now for MLB to invest in European baseball.
Marco Mazzieri: I think you are right. They have invested everywhere in the world, and I think sometimes Europe gets underestimated because baseball is not the number one sport. But as we have seen in the past, you can get good players from everywhere. Just getting back to Bill Holmberg and what he is doing for MLB at the Italian Baseball Academy. I have met many, many coaches in my life and in my career, but I have never seen one with that much dedication and who cares more than he does for his pitchers.
Great job Bill Holmberg! My fellow coach! God Bless! pic.twitter.com/BBFyftX0yS
— Mike Piazza (@mikepiazza31) July 22, 2013
Roberto: Team Italia spent Spring Training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida with hitting coach Mike Piazza. I’m sure everyone missed him during the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship.
Marco Mazzieri: We missed Mike. He is a tremendous guy. He is a tremendous hitting coach and former Team Italia player. So we missed him very much and wished he could have made it but he couldn’t.
Marco Mazzieri: It’s not the color of the passport that matters, it’s about the passion in the heart. We are on a mission even if we have a younger team.
Roberto: Team Italia and European baseball will soon reap the fruits of your labor of love in developing tomorrow’s stars. Thank you!
Italian national team manager Marco Mazzieri, named 2014 Coach of the Year by the Italian Coaches Convention in Treviso, knows it will be an uphill battle for Team Italia in the European Baseball Championship. He said, “Defending our title will not be an easy thing to do. We’re going to have to contend with not only the likes of Holland, but Spain and Germany are also expected to make a splash in this year’s tourney. Having won the last two EU Championships, we’re the team to beat. We have a target on our backs, and we’ve got our work cut out for us this year if we want to bring home a third consecutive title.”
2014 Euro Baseball Championship co-host Germany, ranked 19th by IBAF, will benefit greatly should German fans rally round the home team and Minnesota Twins’ highly-prized prospect Max Kepler–recipient of an $800,000 signing bonus in 2009–represent his country. Kepler said, “Baseball is growing in every German city I go to. They’ve opened two boarding schools in Germany, so there are opportunities for kids to step up the baseball game if they want to. I hope baseball is on the same level as soccer one day in Germany.”
17-year-old Kansas City Royals’ prospect Marten Gasparini, who received a $1.3 signing bonus in 2013, has plenty of experience playing for Italia internationally in the Under-15 World Cup in Mexico and in the Under-18 World Cup in South Korea. Having recently been hit in the face by a ball while playing shortstop for the Rookie League Burlington Royals, let’s pray the young Italian who has been heralded by many scouts as the best European 5-tool player ever is able to participate in the EU Baseball Championship.
20-year-old catching prospect Alberto Mineo, who was signed by former Chicago Cubs scout and current Italian Baseball Academy director Bill Holmberg for $500,000 in 2009, was under the guidance and direction of mentor Mike Piazza during Team Italia’s 2014 Spring Training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. Catcher Mineo and 19-year-old Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Davide Anselmi worked together there in preparation of the European Baseball Championship.
Alberto Mineo è stato convocato per un’amichevole dei Cubs di Chicago. Ex Accademia, Mineo giocare nelle Minors pic.twitter.com/EBFCLtIZ8H
— FIBS (@FIBSpress) March 19, 2014
Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza is committed to the growth of Italian baseball. The future MLB Hall of Famer said, “I truly believe in the marketability of baseball in Europe, in Italy specifically. I’m here completely focused on this ballclub to get the most out of our players here and hopefully help them along in their individual careers. But also we’re just trying to bring attention as well to baseball in Italy. And we think that‑‑at least in my personal opinion–that we can produce players and there’s a future there.”
Alberto Mineo and Davide Anselmi invited to Italy's National Team camp in Vero Beach. http://t.co/c7CHWPpFqz
— odeni (@waynopapp) February 14, 2014
— Mike Piazza (@mikepiazza31) February 28, 2014
For further information on the upcoming European Baseball Championship and details on how to obtain tickets for the September 12-16 games in Regensburg, Germany, click HERE. To learn more about the international competition and tickets for the September 12-21 Czech Republic games, click HERE. For an updated schedule of the 2014 European Baseball Championship and complete game box scores, click HERE.
Having won its second straight European Championship in 2012 after defeating the Netherlands, Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri expects nothing less than a third consecutive EU title since the Italian National Baseball Team has captured 10 European titles and placed second fifteen times in 32 overall appearances. The Netherlands–winner of 20 EU Championship titles with nine runner-up finishes–and 12-time Bronze Spain stand in their way.
Before Italia has the opportunity to face the Netherlands and Spain in the semi-final and final games held in Brno, Czech Republic, they must first qualify by defeating Belgium, Sweden, France, Germany and Great Britain in Regensburg, Germany. The Netherlands and Spain can both advance to the final rounds with wins over the Czech Republic, Greece, Croatia and Russia in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Although Team Italia has been dominant of late in European baseball, the Netherlands won four straight EU Championship titles from 1999 to 2007. “This has been a long-time rivalry,” Team Italia skipper Marco Mazzieri said of the showdowns with the Dutch. “I have tremendous respect for their program. With that said, I like to beat them just as much as they like to beat us. Luckily, we’ve been able to beat them the past couple of years in the European Championships.” However, the Dutch have fared better than the Italians in the international competition spotlight. The Netherlands reached the second round of the 2009 World Baseball Classic, won the 2011 World Cup in Panama and went as far as the semi-finals in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Mazzieri admits the Dutch have an advantage when it comes down to recruiting top international talent from the Netherlands Antilles, which are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. “It’s easier for them to get players from the Caribbean,” said Mazzieri.
Considering twenty-eight percent of all players making the 25-man MLB opening day rosters last year were born outside the United States, it should come as no surprise that 241 players from 12 different countries were represented on the diamond. Former New York Yankee Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens, who serves as the Netherlands manager when not coaching for the San Francisco Giants, is from Curaçao. He spoke about Major League Baseball’s effort to grow the game globally. Hensley said, “International competitions give many countries the chance to show people that we can compete with the best team in baseball, Team USA.” With the Netherlands pitching staff led by MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven and the best position players from Curacao and Aruba being mentored by former Yankees infielder Robert Eenhoorn–who heads the Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Association, the Netherlands is now home to six baseball academies and a bonafide professional stadium in Hoofddorp which will host an upcoming MLB Season Opening Series soon.In the 2013 World Baseball Classic, the only player on Spain’s 28-man roster born in the country was pitcher Eric Gonzalez, who grew up in the Canary Islands and whose parents are Venezuelan. Eleven of his teammates were born in Venezuela and six in Cuba. The makeup of Team Spain reflects the changing demographics of the country, where nearly half of the five million legal immigrants are from Latin America. Some members of Team Spain received passports because of their family roots in Spain, while others qualified to play through marriage or long-term residency. Mauro Mazzotti’s team is dangerous because the manager recruits baseball’s secret weapons from former Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and Latin America. Manager Marco Mazzieri hopes to replicate the winning synergy demonstrated by the international Team Italia lineup of MLB-affiliated players in the WBC with a roster of primarily homegrown talent in the European Championship. He said, “I’m really focused on developing our guys and possibly to add good players as we did in the 2013 WBC. We would like to get players from all over the U.S. a little bit more, but we just have to make do with what we have.” Expect the defending Euro Champions Italians to play with intentions of a three-peat.
Checking out Ballparks for the 2014 European Championship http://t.co/Y7TJ19mrF8
— Murray Cook (@cookmurray) July 3, 2014
For further information on the upcoming European Baseball Championship and details on how to obtain tickets for the September 12-16 games in Regensburg, Germany, click HERE. To learn more about the international competition and tickets for the September 12-21 Czech Republic games, click HERE. For an updated schedule of the 2014 European Baseball Championship and complete game box scores, click HERE.
Three-time defending Italian Baseball League champion T&A San Marino is loaded with seasoned MLB players and prospects selected by Orioles’ scout and San Marino GM Mauro Mazzotti, who was named 2012 Coach of the Year by the European Baseball Coaches Association and was instrumental in leading underdog Team Spain to its first-ever appearance at the World Baseball Classic. T&A San Marino features an international all-star cast including starting pitcher Júnior Guerra–a former catcher in the Braves and Mets organizations–and relief pitcher/closer Jesus Delgado–who made his MLB debut for the 2008 Marlins–both of whom are veteran Venezuelan hurlers who bolster the dominant San Marino pitching staff.
Adding pitching depth to San Marino’s roster is 35-year-old Italian American Chris Cooper, who was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 35th round of the 2001 MLB amateur draft. Cooper, who hails from Pittsburgh, explained that his original family name was Cocchiararo. “It’s alphabet soup,” Cooper said, smiling as he elaborated on the scenario. “They changed my last name when my great-grandfather came over in 1911. They misspelled his name about three times, and the story was, supposedly, he pointed at somebody’s nametag when he was getting his papers here in the U.S. They just said, ‘Okay, we have Cooper.’” Cooper is joined by fellow Italian national team member Lorenzo Avagnina as well as Canadian-born Paul Macaluso. Both San Marino outfielders Avagnina and Macaluso are the unsung heroes of the squad as they emulate general manager Mazzotti’s true grit style of play and “Never Say Die” approach to the Italian Baseball League.
Standing in the path of T&A San Marino’s path to the European Cup is a very dangerous Rimini Pirates baseball team. Their pitching arsenal is led by MLB veteran/Oregon native Mike Ekstrom and Cuban-born southpaw Enorbel Márquez-Ramírez along with former Mariners’ minor leaguer Jose Escalona serving as Rimini’s closer. Should the Rimini Pirates defeat T&A San Marino in the upcoming Euro Cup, they will be the European representative in the 2014 Asia Series–an international competition featuring the champions of the Australian Baseball League, Korea Baseball Organization, Nippon Pro Baseball in Japan, Chinese Professional Baseball League and the European Cup. Having already earned himself a ticket to the Asia Series as the pitching ace for the 2014 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Champion Perth Heat (5-1, 0.72 ERA, 50.1 IP, 10 BB and 57 K), Ekstrom could potentially have a difficult decision to make on whether to play for the Aussie or Euro Cup Champs. Team Italia pitcher Nick Pugliese was faced with similar circumstances when he played for last year’s European Cup Champion Unipol Bologna and the 2013 ABL Champion Canberra Cavalry. Because Pugliese was committed to the Italian team, it opened up a roster spot on the Cavalry pitching staff for Ekstrom. Despite being a member of the Perth Heat, Ekstrom was granted temporary pitching privileges for rival Canberra Cavalry so that Australia could put their league’s best players out on the field in the international spotlight. The strategy paid off big as Ekstrom led the longshot Cavalry to the 2013 Asia Series Championship, and the ABL was subsequently awarded the winner’s $500,000 prize money. Should Rimini win the Euro Cup, let’s hope that Ekstrom chooses to share some amore by bringing home the loot to benefit Italian baseball.
— Baseball RTW (@RTWBaseball) April 30, 2014
Based on what he has been written in his blog “Baseball Round The World”, Ekstrom has nothing but love for Italia. How could he not when Italian American teammate Jack Santora, a 19th round Arizona Diamondbacks draft pick in 1999, has shown him the ropes after having spent the last eight years playing the infields of the Italian Baseball League. The Monterey, California native Santora, along with Rimini hometown hero and Italian national team captain Mario Chiarini–who played for the 2000 Arizona League Mariners and competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics–are the elder statesmen of the squad. These veterans have been both critical to Rimini’s success and inspirational to newcomers to the team like Ekstrom. However, nothing means more to the players right now than the EU Champions Cup and the right to represent European baseball in the 2014 Asia Series.
Although the battlegrounds for the European Champions Cup Finals will take place nearby, Rimini and San Marino had to travel great distances to play the other EU Championship teams and win their respective Qualifier Champions Cup bracket to get here. Rimini defeated the best from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Ukraine and host Brno, Czech Republic, while T&A San Marino beat a similar group of international squads which included Italy’s Nettuno and home team Vaessen in the Netherlands. Italian Baseball League favorite T&A San Marino may have the edge over Rimini, but the Pirates are not to be underestimated. Rimini outfielder Leonardo Zileri‘s hitting frenzy in the European Champions Cup Qualifier garnered him a .591 batting average (13-for-22) and awards for MVP and Best Hitter in the tourney. T&A San Marino will counteract with Venezuelan slugger Jairo Ramos, whose performance in the European Champions Cup Qualifier (.500 BA, 2-2B, 2-HR, 9 RBI) yielded similar MVP and Best Hitter accolades in the competition.
With the much anticipated best of three-game series between T&A San Marino and Rimini for the 2014 European Champions Cup taking place beginning August 7th, baseball fever is at its all-time high in Italy. The Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) website will provide up-to-date details and links to the live internet streaming broadcasts. More than a local rivalry between San Marino and Rimini, the ramifications of winning the European Champions Cup extend internationally as the EU representative in the 2014 Asia Series. May the best team win and go on to turn heads in Taiwan. Lord knows an injection of winners’ prize money earned abroad would help nurture the growth of the game in Europe.
Having a strong presence in Albuquerque since the transcontinental railroad first arrived in the city in 1880, the Italian Americans will now have the opportunity to relish over Italy’s pride and joy and San Remo’s hometown hero as the latest addition to the Isotopes roster this summer. Similar to that of early Italian immigrants’ journey, struggle, and perseverance after leaving their motherland in Italy for better lives in America, Liddi has also endured his own personal and treacherous MLB roller coaster ride up-and-down the ranks in the Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox organizations prior to signing a minor league contract with the LA Dodgers. With most of his Big League experience defensively at first and third, Liddi is a versatile player who can play shortstop and the outfield. Having played in 61 regular season games since making his MLB debut in 2011, the 25-year-old slugger is anxious to prove himself worthy of a trip out west to LA. Alex Liddi has a strong connection to Los Angeles since his father, Agostino (Augustine), graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1970. Agostino’s parents left Italy shortly after World War II to work as tailors in America. 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. Alex was literally weaned on baseball by his father and mother. You could say that Alex was a truly a baseball baby because 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 baseball, his mother coached his teams. As a teenager, his father drove him long distances to compete in games throughout Italy. With sons, Thomas and Alex, the couple shared their love of the game to transform the Liddi’s into Italy’s premier baseball family.
What made Team Italia so heavenly to watch in the WBC was due in part to manager and Dodgers’ European Scout Marco Mazzieri’s faith in Alex Liddi. Mike Scioscia’s Los Angeles Angels became believers in a WBC warm up exhibition game in Tempe prior to the start of the 2013 international competition. Liddi went 2-for-3 with a double, a two-run home run and 3 RBI against the Halos. The Italian cleanup hitter continued his hot-hitting ways and played stellar defense at third base during the first two WBC games against Mexico and Canada. He literally wrecked havoc on opposing pitchers by going 4-for-7 with two walks, three runs and three RBI. The two wins ensured Team Italia’s advancement to the next round of action with USA against WBC Champion Dominican Republic and runner up Puerto Rico. If Liddi can rediscover his offensive prowess while in Albuquerque, then the face of European baseball will be a big name in Little Italy and Chavez Ravine.
— Dustin Morse (@Twins_morsecode) March 8, 2013
Alex Liddi looks on while Drew Butera speaks during a 2013 WBC Press Conference.
story. It’s more about, if you quit then you lose.” Without a doubt, this 215-page book is quite an accomplishment. Grilli discounted the praise and said: “They are short pages, double-spaced. You know all the tricks to make your 10-page paper longer. Maybe that is what it is…a lot of insert pictures in the middle. If you don’t want to read the book, at least look at the pictures.” Just My Game chronicles Grilli’s love of the game of baseball and highlights his incredible and trusting relationship with his best friend and father, former MLB pitcher, Steve Grilli. Just My Game takes readers through the highs and lows of the Team Italia pitcher’s career including his 18 strikeout performance as a junior at Seton Hall, his selection as the #4 first-round pick in the 1997 draft, life in the minor leagues, and his recovery from several near career-ending injuries leading up to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ remarkable 2013 playoff run. Jason Grilli will be making several book signing appearances in the coming months in support of the launch of his long-awaited autobiography. Be the first to purchase Just My Game before it goes on sale to the public by visiting Jason Grilli’s Facebook. Readers will be pleasantly surprised to find the eloquent foreword to Grilli’s book written by 2013 National League Manager of the Year and Pirates’ skipper Clint Hurdle. Known to be a proponent of the power of positive thinking, Hurdle is the perfect setup man for Grilli’s autobiography.
Hurdle has been busy of late reading Jason Kendall’s Throwback, which was co-written by sportswriter Lee Judge. When asked if fans should buy Jason Kendall and Lee Judge’s Throwback, Hurdle responded: “Give this book a read. I’ve known Lee Judge for over 20 years. He has an unquenchable thirst for ‘Why’ questions and a passion for the game. He doesn’t just want the answers. He wants understanding. I’ve spent time with him in Minor League and Major League cities and clubhouses, and we are still friends! There is a sincere effort and old school way this book has been put together, and it is deserving of your time. You will laugh. You will learn. You will leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for the game we love.” America’s favorite pastime has always left fans and amateur players alike yearning for the answers to questions about how pros play the game. Have you ever wondered about pre-game rituals, what is being said at home plate, the signs a catcher uses to communicate with the pitcher, how a team silently communicates and the right way to hit a batter or what goes on behind closed clubhouse doors? All-Star catcher Jason Kendall is more than qualified to shed some light on the subject using his 15-years playing behind home plate with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, and Kansas City Royals as a true testament. Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summed it up nicely when he characterized Kendall and his new book as winners. Gibby said, “Jason Kendall is the ultimate competitor, a modern-day gladiator. If you had nine Jason Kendalls, you could never lose.” Undoubtedly, Throwback provides readers an opportunity to gain an insider’s view of the game from a true-grit player’s perspective. Coupled with Jason Grilli’s new offering of Just My Game, baseball fanatics now have a winning combination of required reading guaranteed to bring hours of enjoyment and a fonder appreciation of what makes these players truly inspirational.
Mike Piazza is a baseball immortal regardless of what a pack of bitter, jealous sports writers think. Everyone knows he was The Man.
— Thomas Wilkinson (@RosenblattsBoss) January 8, 2014
“We just want to continue to draw attention to the fact that we believe baseball is marketable in Italy. We think it’s viable. We think there’s a lot of upward growth. We can produce players over there. I’m convinced of it,” said Piazza. 17-year-old switch-hitting shortstop Marten Gasparini–compared to a young Derek Jeter–and 19-year-old lefthanded-hitting catcher Alberto Mineo lead the charge of the Italian baseball revolution spurred by Dodgers scout/Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri and coaches Holmberg and Piazza.
— Mike Piazza (@mikepiazza31) February 28, 2014
International baseball ambassador Mike Piazza traveled to Veneto, Italy recently 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.” Twelve years ago in 2002 Piazza met FIBS President Riccardo Fraccari while visiting Italy on a MLB International mission to help the game develop in Europe. Fraccari asked Piazza if he would be interested in representing Italy in international competition, and the proud Italian American responded that it would be privilege to play for the Italian national team in honor of his Sicilian ancestry. During a 2006 World Baseball Classic press conference, Piazza addressed reporters who questioned why he chose to join Team Italia and said, “You may not understand it, but for Italian Americans getting a chance to finally play for Italy is like a duck chick getting close to the water for the first time.” The Italians have since fared well in the World Baseball Classic, nearly upsetting 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic and runner-up Puerto Rico. Piazza’s influence swayed Cubs’ slugger Anthony Rizzo to play for Team Italia alongside other MLB Italian Americans including Padres’ Chris Denorfia, A’s Nick Punto, Twins’ Chris Colabello and Pirates’ Jason Grilli. Piazza’s power of persuasion even impacted the Team Italia coaching staff as former MLB journeyman Frank Catalanotto joined the Italian baseball revolution. Team Italia’s homegrown talent held its own and contributed to the overall chemistry of the squad. Alessandro Maestri–the first Italian-born-and-developed pitcher signed by MLB in 2006 and infielder Alex Liddi–the first Italian-born-and-developed player to make his MLB debut in 2011 have benefitted greatly from Piazza’s guidance and mentorship.
Grazie di nuovo @FIBSpress! Had an amazing time in Veneto. Great coaches convention. Forza Italia!
— Mike Piazza (@mikepiazza31) January 19, 2014
Maestri said, “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.” Liddi echoed the sentiment and said, “When you 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 them. You’re able to ask them questions and learn from them.”Piazza has been a proponent of uplifting and preserving his Italian cultural heritage by supporting the efforts of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), George Randazzo–founder of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and Roberto Angotti–curator of the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibition. Piazza befriended Angotti during the two weeks Team Italia spent in Phoenix preparing for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. When Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda dropped in on Team Italia’s practice at Dodgers’ Spring Training Camp in Glendale to address the team, Roberto knew he was on the frontline of the Italian baseball revolution. Lasorda’s emotionally-driven speech coupled with Piazza’s serious commitment inspired Angotti to share the experience with others through a traveling exhibit paying tribute to Italian American baseball.
— WBC Baseball (@WBCBaseball) January 10, 2013
Piazza said,”This commitment I have with the Italian Federation is something I really care about. I feel a strong tie to Italy, since my heritage is there. My grandfather Rosario came from Sciacca, Sicily, to the United States and my father grew me up following the Italian tradition pretty much. I think it’s in our DNA to strive to work hard and persevere. Most our ancestors came over to the United States with just the clothes on their back. I think that was the case with my grandfather, who had nothing in his pocket to start a life here in the U.S. When we have the strength and pride of the Italian family with the support we can give one another, it builds character and allows us to achieve our true potential. I don’t think there are a lot of Italian American families that don’t have strong support behind them. I do not pretend to say what is not true, I grew up as an American boy. Now, getting older, I understand the value of my heritage and I want to give something back to Italy.”