Results tagged ‘ Alex Maestri ’
Setup man for Team Italia’s Grilli, Nick Pugliese closes for Unipol Fortitudo Bologna in Asia Series
Euro Cup and Europe’s first-ever representative in the Asia Series, Pugliese takes on the champions from the pro leagues in Japan, Chinese Taipei, Korea and Australia.
Siamo ancora una volta CAMPIONI D'EUROPA!! Foto: Simone Amaduzzi Photographer http://t.co/YdsT5hAjE0
— Fortitudo Baseball (@FortitudoBC1953) August 3, 2013
We spoke with Bologna’s closer prior to the start of the Asia Series in Taiwan (which runs from November 15-20).
Roberto: Having experienced MLB-affiliated ball with the Angels organization, you were a welcome addition to the Italian baseball fraternity. Explain the transition from Fortitudo Bologna to Team Italia.
Nicholas Pugliese: When I got the call to go to Bologna to play, I shot right over. I didn’t waste any time. I saw it as an experience to travel and to play on an international level. It’s kind of given me a second life in terms. Because I would never be in this position if I wasn’t involved with Italy to begin with. Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri would have never seen me so I have nothing but good things to say to my GM that found me, Christian Mura, and Marco Mazzieri for giving me a shot to play on this team.
Roberto: After pitching at Lake Sumter College, you transferred to Steton University and made the 2008 All-Conference team after issuing only 11 walks in over 65 innings. Although you were not drafted, you still managed to be signed by the Los Angeles Angels.
Nicholas Pugliese: It was awesome. Tom Kotchman of the Angels gave the opportunity to play some professional baseball. I am forever grateful for that. I loved the three years I played for them. It was a great organization. I learned a lot, and I give a lot of credit to them for where I am right now actually.
Roberto: Having played at Tempe Diablo Stadium during Angels Spring Training and later return to play against your former organization as a member of Team Italia must have been a homecoming.
Nicholas Pugliese: It was a homecoming because I hadn’t seen these guys in a couple years. You’re talking about 300 guys! We all got close, we worked together, we played together. The whole coaching staff I got to see when we played the Angels. It was an awesome feeling. To see their faces light up when they saw me. Not expecting to ever see me out here again. It was a great experience.
Roberto: Through the blessing of Italian baseball, you have received a new lease on life. Out of all the minor leaguers that you played with in the Angels organization, how many of them can say they have pitched against MLB All-Stars at Chase Field and Marlins Park in the World Baseball Classic?
Nicholas Pugliese: Not a whole lot. They actually all called me and told me how jealous they were. It’s kind of bittersweet how things turned out, but I wouldn’t trade in this experience for anything. It was unbelievable.
Roberto: Getting the win against Mexico must have been one of your most memorable moments in baseball.
Nicholas Pugliese: The whole tournament was the highlight of my whole baseball career obviously. It was short, but it was amazing. The competition we were able to see, the guys we were able to meet. We proved that we can play with anyone. Roberto: Let’s talk Italian heritage.
Nicholas Pugliese: I’m sort of split between an Italian father and a German mother. My dad’s side is the strong Italian side. It’s always been about family and cooking. It actually goes back all the way to my great grandparents, who were born in Italy. So the actual paperwork wasn’t easy to find to go back and get all that stuff going. My Italian heritage will always be there, and I’m proud to play on this team.
Roberto: Did your mindset and pitching philosophy change when you crossed the Atlantic?
Nicholas Pugliese: It changed a little bit. International baseball…the whole set, the rules, the hitters…everything changes a little bit. So you adapt. You either adapt fast or die pretty much. But you’re constantly adapting. That’s what baseball is all about anyways. Coming back to the World Baseball Classic, we had to constantly change to these hitters from country to country, team to team.. I mean you learn to adapt fast or none of us would be here in the first place.
Roberto: What was the initial reaction by the Italian-born players to have an Italian American like you join their team?
Nicholas Pugliese: Playing on Team Italia is a little different because I have been playing for the Italians for two years in row now. I’ve gotten to know a lot of these guys since we’ve been playing together for a while. Initially coming to this team was a little standoffish. You know, these American guys coming in. And it would be the same way the other way around. But as long as you are there to win, and you’re giving your all then they take you in. That’s how it should be.
Roberto: Playing for the Italian National team, you have assumed the role of closer when Italia won the 2012 European Championship.
Nicholas Pugliese: It started out where Alessandro Maestri was the guy to go to in the ninth, and him being away in Japan kind of opened that role for me. It kind of just worked out, and I’m glad that I could fill the spot at the time. For Team Italia in the World Baseball Classic, I set up for Grilli. I got a long way to go before I take his spot…Roberto: What was the vibe like in the clubhouse when the MLB-affiliated players
(Punto, Denorfia, Liddi, Rizzo, Colabello, Grilli and others) joined the Italian National
team for practices in preparation for the World Baseball Classic?
Nicholas Pugliese: It was a totally different energy when they showed up. We were practicing for about a week without them. We were working hard and everything. But as soon as they could all come, it was just a total new energy. We’ve meshed obviously and you could see how we play the game. We’ve meshed very well. A quick mesh..which is important. That’s why a lot of these teams got upset because they hadn’t played together, and they were kind of playing selfish. I mean instantly we played well together…we meshed. You can see the result from that. What it really comes down to is baseball is universal. Whether you were born in Italy or you were born here, you speak Italian or not, it’s universal. You have a passion for the game. I mean you are going to give it your all. Everyone sees that. It’s easy to come together and win some games.
Roberto: Easier said than done. Look at Team USA in the WBC. Team Italia literally gifted them a win so that they could qualify for the second round in Miami.
Nicholas Pugliese: We had a chance to take them. We had them shaking in their shoes a little bit. It was just one bad swing. We did take it a little different. It wasn’t a must-win for us. We kind of used it as an opportunity to get all our guys in, get the experience going. If it really came down to it into a must-win situation, the outcome might have been a little different. But I mean for what it was worth, we played them tough and they were playing really tight for a while.
Roberto: Having already qualified for the second round prior to game time against Team USA, you have got to admit Team Italia was playing for fun.
Nicholas Pugliese: We definitely had a big weight lift our shoulders. We had a lighter energy going in there, but at the same time when it comes down to it we’re going to grind it out. It was good. We had a good time. Roberto: Especially with Jason Grilli around…
Nicholas Pugliese: I picked Grilli’s brain a lot. He’s probably sick of me by now. But every chance I had to go up to him and ask some questions, I’m just all ears. I’m a sponge with him. I love talking to him. He’s got a lot of awesome knowledge. He’s a great guy to be around. All the pitchers really look up to him. I mean I don’t have the stuff that someone like Grilli has out there. I don’t have the 96 mile per hour fastball so I have to just go with straight aggression and go after these guy–not wasting any time and pitching to contact. That’s my game plan, and that’s what I’m going to go out with there every single time. I’m just hoping that I can help the team keep moving on.
Roberto: While interviewing Mike Scioscia, I asked if he would consider joining the Team Italia coaching staff, and he said that would be dependent on how the Italians played.
Nicholas Pugliese: I don’t know how many more stars we can add to this coaching staff, but adding him would be amazing. I don’t know what else he wanted to see from us at this tournament. All he had to do was turn on the TV and enjoy his Italian heritage. It would be awesome to see Scioscia on the staff at any time. Roberto: I feel that Team Italia is blessed to have such a talented coaching staff featuring Bill Holmberg, Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto to take Italian baseball to the next level so that the team can compete with the game’s elite in MLB.
Nicholas Pugliese: Pitching coach Bill Holmberg has always been great. Mike Piazza has been awesome. He is just one of those special guys. He and Frank Catalanotto, you see them on TV and you look up to them. The next thing you know you’re in the dugout making jokes with them like everyone else. It’s awesome that they can relate to us on that type of level and share their knowledge with us.
Roberto: Team Italia is a very special team. In fact, two of your Italian teammates–Juan Carlos Infante and Alessandro Vaglio–will be joining you on Unipol Bologna in the Asia Series. What are your chances of doing what Team Italia did in the 2013 World Baseball Classic?
Nicholas Pugliese: I know all the Asian teams will be coming off of their seasons and will not only be baseball ready but highly talented. So it would be nice to head out there and surprise some guys with a few sneaky wins.
Roberto: Best of luck to you, the team and manager Marco Nanni. Thank you for your time!
Nicholas Pugliese: Thank you Roberto!
Home team Unipol Fortitudo Bologna hosts Korea’s Samsung Lions, winner of the 2011 Asia Series, in the opener of the 2013 Asia Series on November 15 at Taichung Inter-continental Baseball Stadium in Taiwan. Local Taiwanese favorite
Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions of Tainan welcome visitor Unipol Fortitudo Bologna on November 16. The European Cup Champions will get a well-deserved day of rest on November 17 before continuing on in the tournament should they qualify for the semi-final and final rounds of action with competition ending November 20. Italian supporters will have the opportunity to listen to Radio Arena Sportiva live broadcasts of the 2013 Asia Series with host Daniele Mattioli by clicking HERE.
Adam Buschini was awarded the first-ever ABL Triple Crown for his heroic 2012-13 ABL regular season. The Triple Crown–awarded to a player who has the highest batting average, the most home runs and driven in the most runs in a season–is one of the game’s rarities. The Triple Crown has only been achieved 16 times in over 130 years of MLB history. The Northern California Italian American slugger claimed the ABL Triple Crown with a .363 batting average, a league record-tying 15 homers, and an ABL record-breaking 50 RBI in just 45 games. He was named ABL Player of the Week twice. In ABL Round 10 action, Buschini went 8-for-17 (.471) with a double, three home runs and 9 RBI. He exploded in ABL Round 13 when he went 9-for-15 (.600) with four homers and 9 RBI to help the Canberra Cavalry claim the top playoff spot and eventually win the ABL Championship. Adam Buschini’s success continued as he led the Padres AA affiliate San Antonio Missions to a 2013 Texas League Championship.
Hayden “Big Dog” Beard, a member of the 2012 San Antonio Missions and local resident mentor of the Canberra Cavalry pitching staff, now serves as pitching coach for the 2013-14 Canberra Cavalry. With over four years of experience in the Mets and Padres organizations, Beard knows talent when he sees it. The Big Dog is thrilled to have Nick Pugliese on the team roster after watching the former LA Angels prospect pitch for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic as well as his stellar ABL debut performance.
“It was good to get Nick in there during the first game of the year and get him a feel for the league,” said Beard. “He had a solid outing punching out two without yielding a hit. He threw both his sinker and slider for strikes from different arm angles with good life on his pitches. We project him as a back end of the bullpen arm at the moment.” Pugliese did not disappoint in his second ABL lights out appearance.
He struck out three more in 1.1 innings of relief, placing him third in the league in strikeouts (5 K’s
in 2.1 innings pitched). Pugliese is enjoying his time playing in a Cavalry uniform knowing full well that he could come face-to-face with his Aussie teammates in the upcoming Asia Series when he suits up for the European Cup Champion Fortitudo Bologna squad. Nick said, “So far everyone is awesome, and the country is super nice. It’s a strange scenario for the Asia Series because I play the first two weekends here in Australia then join Bologna in the same tournament my Canberra team will be going to.” Although Pugliese may be conflicted on the real prospect of facing his Aussie teammates in the Asia Series–which features the champions from Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Australia and Europe–Canberra pitching coach Beard looks forward to the opportunity of his team facing its own relief pitcher. He said, “Our boys would relish the opportunity to play against him in Taiwan. It’s always fun playing against your mates!” Despite the loss of Pugliese’s services in the Asia Series, the Cavalry charge abroad will be mighty indeed with the addition of Toronto Blue Jays prospect Jon Berti–who he led the Single-A Advanced Florida State League in games played (128), at-bats (505), runs (85), hits (126), triples (5), walks (57), and stolen bases (56). Replacing Adam Buschini at second base, Berti is up for the challenge. Voted the Florida State League’s top base running prospect by Baseball America and Team MVP by the Dunedin Blue Jays, Michigan’s Jon Berti is a welcome addition to head coach Michael Collin’s international all-star lineup. In the case of Florida’s Nick Pugliese, who rubbed shoulders with Collins in the LA Angels organization when both aspired to play MLB, it’s a reunion of two grinders who desire to keep the ABL throne in Australia’s capital. “We started last season with the goal to bring the Claxton Shield to Canberra,” Collins said. “Our goal hasn’t changed coming into this season. This year we will be defending the Shield from the top and not chasing from the bottom. Cavalry General Manager Thom Carter is proud of his team and coaching staff as well as the baseball supporters in Canberra. “This is a milestone to be celebrated,” said Carter. “It shows just how much baseball has grown as a sport within the capital city. Each coach brings strong expertise to the table and as a team we couldn’t be more excited.”
Tried and tested as “Azzurri” teammates on Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, utility infielder Nick Punto and backup catcher Drew Butera quite naturally bleed Dodger blue. Butera was reunited with Team Italy leadoff hitter Nick Punto when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31, 2013. Destined to get the most from one of MLB’s finest pitching staffs, Drew is a valuable asset to the dream team of Dodger General Manager Ned Colletti. Born on August 9, 1983, the Florida-native is the son of Sal Butera—a journeyman catcher who played 359 MLB games for the Blue Jays, Twins, Reds, Expos and Tigers from 1980-1988. Drew was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2002 MLB Draft but instead opted to play college ball at the University of Central Florida (UCF). Ironically, father Sal now works as a scout for the only Canadian MLB franchise.After throwing out 48% of potential base-stealers and hitting .325 in his last season at UCF, the right-handed catcher was a fifth round pick by the New York Mets in the 2005 MLB Draft.
A big opera fan who used to listen to Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti in the clubhouse before games while in the Mets’ minor league system, Drew was named Florida League All-Star and later promoted to Double-A ball in 2007 before being traded to the Twins—where Butera family history was made as Sal and Drew became the first father-son combination to play for Minnesota when he made his MLB debut on April 9, 2010. Known for being able to handle pitches with grace rarely seen at the major league level, he became the exclusive catcher for Carl Pavano. Having a producing a calming effect on his pitching staff while calling a great game from behind the plate, Butera kept Francisco Liriano focused on every pitch which garnered the lefty a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, 2011. Known as a pitcher’s catcher, Drew even went as far as taking the mound to throw a scoreless inning (including a strike out) against the Brewers in 2012.
Drew Butera was a big hit for Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Delivering a two-run home run that helped defeat Mexico and a two-run double that buried Canada. Butera was instrumental in each of Team Italy’s victories to earn the team the right to advance with Team USA to the next round of play in Miami. Dodger teammate Nick Punto was just as important in the WBC. Punto led off in every one of Team Italy’s five games and raked at the plate (.421 batting average, 8-for-19, two doubles, two walks and five runs scored). Both players along with Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Tony Lazzeri, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Ernie Lombardi, Ron Santo, Tommy Lasorda, Tony Conigliaro, Craig Biggio, Tony La Russa, John D’Aquisto, Ken Caminiti, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto, Joey Votto, Jason Grilli, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Denorfia, Dan Serafini, Alex Liddi, Chris Colabello, Brian Sweeney, Mike Costanzo and Reid Rizzo are featured in the Artists’ Tribute to Italian American Baseball Exhibit at Convivio, 2157 India Street in San Diego. Artists’ Tribute to Italian American Baseball showcases original artwork, photographs, uniforms, articles, and other related artifacts related to baseball players of Italian descent and those with strong ties to San Diego. Works by nenowned Italian American artists Christopher Paluso, James Fiorentino, Vincent Scilla, Professor John Giarrizzo, Warren Reed, Zack D’Ulisse, and Rob Monte will be on display alongside sports artists Chris Felix, Vernon Wells, Jr., and Jeremy Nash at the Little Italy Heritage Museum at Convivio Center. For more information on the exhibit and special events–including player and artist appearances, visit www.ConvivioSociety.org or phone 619-573-4140.
San Diego’s Little Italy and Sanremo’s Alex Liddi share a love for baseball and its rich Italian history
While attending Beverly Hills High School, Agostino Liddi played baseball before repatriating to Italy after graduation. It was there that he met his future wife, Flavia, who played softball competitively in Italy.
You could say that Alex was a truly a baseball baby since it was reported that Flavia played first base for the first three months of her pregnancy carrying Alex. When Alex was old enough to play, his mother coached his baseball teams. As a teenager, his father drove him long distances to compete in games throughout Italy. With the addition of their two sons, Thomas and Alex, the couple shared their love of the game to transform the Liddi’s into the archetypal Italian baseball family. Alex Liddi was honored last year by the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) for his valuable contributions to the game. FIBS president Riccardo Fraccari called
Liddi “the real ambassador of Italian baseball” after he became the first player from Italy to play in the Major Leagues since 1954 and the first-ever Italian-developed player in MLB. Liddi, the face of European baseball, has the opportunity to spur the growth of baseball back home by playing at the sport’s highest level. By watching Liddi on MLB.tv and reading the nightly box scores, young Italian athletes are now inspired to think that playing Major League Baseball is a viable option. Currently at Triple-A Tacoma with Team Italia pitcher Brian Sweeney, Alex Liddi is playing with conviction
in anticipation of his return to the Mariners for his third consecutive season. Now leading the Rainiers in home runs (8), runs (34), and RBI (32), the sheer power of Italian
24-year-old Liddi will be a welcome addition to the Seattle lineup when MLB rosters expand to 40 players in September. The European baseball ambassador was kind enough to sit down for an interview at the 2013 World Baseball Classic in Phoenix.
Roberto: You were signed in 2005 by Mariners’ scout Wayne Norton and current WBC Team Spain manager Mauro Mazzotti. Isn’t that a good sign for Italian baseball when two Italian managers, Italy’s Marco Mazzieri and Spain’s Mauro Mazzotti, are leading two of Europe’s finest ballplayers in the WBC?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, I’m happy for him that he is able to participate in the World Baseball Classic with another team. I wish him the best.
Roberto: Has the journey with the Seattle Mariners organization been a good experience so far?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, I enjoy my time in Seattle and in the minor league system. I think that it’s a pretty good system. I’ve enjoyed my years playing with them. I’ve got to thank them for giving me a chance to play in the big leagues. So I’m really thankful.
Roberto: You began your professional career in 2006 with the Peoria Mariners and then were then promoted to Single-A Wisconsin. You remained there until 2008 at which time you were batting .313 and enjoyed an eight-game hitting streak when you nearly hit .500! That must have been memorable?
Alex Liddi: Yeah. At every level you go, you try to make adjustments. I was trying to show them that I could play in the states.
Roberto: In 2009 playing for Single-A Advanced High Desert, you led the California League with a .345 batting average, 23 home runs, and 104 RBI. You were selected as a Cal League All-Star. In addition, you were awarded the Cal League MVP, Topps Cal League Player of the Year, Mariners Minor League Player of the Year and MLB.com Mariners Organization Player of the Year. What an accomplishment!
Alex Liddi: Yeah, it we kind of my break out year. We had a good team that year so it was a little easier for me to put out good numbers plus it was a good hitter-friendly park. But that gave me the confidence, and it gave me the chance to keep going for the rest of that year. All these things combined made me have a really good year.
Roberto: How did it feel playing on Team Canada at the Toronto’s Rogers Centre in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and beating the home team on their own turf?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, it was a good time for me. It was probably one of the biggest memories of my life, of my career. I had the chance to beat Canada at the highest level of competition. It will always be something that I will bring with me. I am happy that I was there.
Roberto: In 2011 you were invited to your first Spring Training camp with the Seattle Mariners. It was special because you hit back-to-back grand slams in consecutive games and produced impressive numbers: .385 batting average and a .429 on-base percentage. Your stellar 2011 campaign at Triple-A Tacoma (30 home runs, 104 RBI, 121 runs scored, 32 doubles and 61 walks) led you to your MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners on September 7. 2011. When you got to the big leagues, you hit three home runs and drove in six RBI in 40 at-bats while playing 15 games as a September call-up. Did you ever have to pinch yourself to make sure you were not dreaming anymore and come to the realization
that you were actually a big leaguer?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, for sure. I remember that I had a good spring, but I was still young.
So I had to go back down to Triple-A and develop myself a little more. But then it was getting really close to when the roster expanded to 40 in September, and I was getting really pumped. I maybe had the chance to get called up. Somebody would say ‘yes’
that I was going to get called up and somebody else would say ‘no’. Until they called
me and told me that I was getting called up. It was kind of like all the dreams came true, and it was a big day for me.
Roberto: You also played in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game. That must have been an
eye-opener playing in the front of the MLB media under the watchful eye of a worldwide televised audience.
Alex Liddi: It was a real honor. I would have never expected that to have come to me.
I was really happy to go there. It was really fun.
Alex Liddi: First of all, I have a lot of respect for him
as a person and as a player. He’s a really good friend
of mine and probably one of my best friends. He’s one
of those guys who always works hard and fights for everything. He never got anything easy in his life and always had to fight for it. That’s why I give him a lot of respect as a person. Plus he’s a really good pitcher with really good stuff. It was a shame when he got released by the Cubs, but at the same time I remember when I called him to tell him to keep his head up. I thought he could have pitched in the big leagues for sure, and I
still think he can. And then he got a chance to pitch in Japan and make it to the big leagues there. I’m really proud of him. Hopefully, he will have a long career.
Roberto: He actually was selected as the inaugural Fan Choice Award in the Australian Baseball League when he pitched for the Brisbane Bandits in 2011. Wherever he decides
to play, he always makes a major impact.
Alex Liddi: He has charisma. He has a really good attitude on and off the field that makes him a complete player. Good tools, good person, good teammate…so all these things combined together make him a really good player.
Roberto: What is different about Team Italia in the 2013 WBC from the previous team in 2009. What is different in the chemistry which makes the team such a dominant player in this year’s World Baseball Classic?
Alex Liddi: Last time in the World Baseball Classic we had a good team, but this time we have been playing together more. I mean we already know Chris Denorfia, Nick Punto, Anthony Rizzo–I’ve known Rizzo for a couple years now. He’s been a friend of mine since I have been playing against him for a long time. The other guys have been playing together for a while now so the team is really together now. Instead of the other teams, they might bigger names but they have never played together like we do.
Roberto: You could have a bunch of big names on a lineup card, but at the end of the day you look at the box score and the team with the biggest desire to win the game will actually succeed.
Alex Liddi: I think we showed them already that we came here to win. We’re not joking and you can see it on our face…our enthusiasm on the field. We’re playing hard right now. We’re playing real baseball so everybody has to be careful.Roberto: You are going out there playing nine one-inning games every contest, opponents should not take Team Italia lightly.
Alex Liddi: We’re playing as a team. Everybody can come up with the big hit. Nobody has got to do too much. Everybody’s got other people’s back, you know. We keep playing like this, and we’ll do a lot of damage.
Roberto: Having a stellar coaching staff which includes future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto, it must have a tremendous impact on your entire approach to baseball.
Alex Liddi: For sure. I mean when you have a chance to have coaches like Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto—guys who have been in the big leagues for a long time—it makes it fun just to be around those guys. You’re able to ask them questions and learn from them so that’s another big part of the team right there too.
Roberto: How proud are you being an Italian playing Major League Baseball and providing hope for Italian athletes that they too can play baseball professionally?
Alex Liddi: I’m really proud to have accomplished being the first Italian-born-and-raised player in the big leagues. It was something that I was always looking forward to coming up through the minors. That was my goal ever since getting signed. Getting closer to it, I could actually understand what it meant. As I got closer, and I was really excited about it. There was no pressure for me. It’s something I’m happy about that happened to me–getting to the big leagues. I’m really thankful to everybody for giving me the opportunity.
Roberto: I love what you represent to Team Italia, your family, friends and fans.
Alex Liddi: I respect this game, and I respect my family. You always got to remember where you come from. So I will always be there for my friends, and a lot of my friends are my fans too. They’re there for me so I got to be there for them. The fans are what make
the game fun. So you have got to be thankful for the fans. I really appreciate the fans. Without the fans, this game would be nothing…
try, try again…” Perhaps appropriate to sum up the life story of 29-year-old Italian American MLB hopeful Chris Colabello, the best is yet to come for this Massachusetts native. The slugger is poised to make his presence felt on the big league level this year when the Twins call him up from AAA Rochester. Colabello’s strong performance in the World Baseball Classic catapulted Team Italy into the second round of play this year. At Chase Field in Phoenix, he went 4-for-5 with a home run, four RBI and three runs scored against Canada to help Italy clinch a spot to move on to Miami and become the Chevrolet Player of the Game. While at Marlins Park, the Italians nearly posted an upset over 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic when Colabello clubbed a three-run bomb that rivaled any one of Giancarlo Stanton’s many web gems. The Team Italy clean-up hitter lived up to his title by finishing the WBC with a .333 BA, seven RBI and a 1.035 OPS in 18 at-bats.Colabello made a strong case to be on the 2013 Twins Opening Day Roster after hitting .294 with three RBI in
nine spring games for Minnesota. He received words of encouragement from Twins stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau despite being sent down to Triple-A ball to begin the season. Manager Ron Gardenhire had nothing but
praise for Colabello. “He did fine,” said the Twins skipper.
“He played great for Team Italy and really well for us. First base is a place where we don’t have a ton of depth. We have Morneau and then ad-libbing from there. So if he’s down there (AAA) swing the bat good, he could go right into the big leagues after all that time (seven years) in Independent ball. So it’s a good story.” After spending seven seasons in the Can-Am Independent League, Chris Colabello was signed by the Twins and spent last season at Double-A New Britain, where he put together a .284 BA with 19 home runs and 98 RBI. In 46 games this season at Triple-A Rochester, Colabello commands a .360 BA and leads the Red Wings in hits (63), doubles (17), runs (29), home runs (12) and RBI (42).
Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg has known how special of player Chris Colabello is for nearly two decades. The former Chicago Cubs European scout and current Italian MLB Academy director Holmberg said, “I’ve known Chris for maybe 20 years because he used to come over to Italy with his dad. His dad pitched in the Italian Baseball League. His mom is Italian. Chris is just a great kid. He loves to come over and play for us. We enjoy having him. We like him. He’s a very energetic, tremendous kid.” A star player in Italy for eight years who also pitched for the Italian national team in the 1984 Olympics at Dodger Stadium, Lou Colabello brought along his family during his international baseball career while playing and managing abroad. As a result, Chris spent several of his formative years overseas and even played with Team Italia teammate Alessandro Maestri as a youth. Like a fine Italian wine, Chris Colabello gets better with age. Let’s hear his story:
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) February 22, 2013
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) February 23, 2013
Twins win 5-4. Pablo Hernandez gets the save. Morneau with the three-run double. Colabello with game-winning hit. Attendance: 5,048
— LaVelle E. Neal III (@LaVelleNeal) February 25, 2013
Roberto: Having shadowed Justin Morneau in Twins Spring Training and having torn the leather off the ball with your hot bat, you really made a statement playing against your Canadian colleague in a Team Italia uniform during the World Baseball Classic by beating Team Canada 14-4 in a mercy rule victory.
Chris Colabello: Yeah. It’s been a pretty interesting journey to get where we are right now. Especially for me personally coming from independent ball and all that stuff. But it’s been great. I’ve been trying to take everything one moment at a time and just try to embrace it to the best of my ability. I think that when I was younger I would probably let moments that this speed up on me, and it would have been a little overwhelming. But I think with maturity comes the ability to just kind of embrace it. It’s great. I got to talk with Justin a bunch when we played him. I don’t think he’s too happy with us because of the final score that day. But it’s pretty neat and obviously a great experience for the Italian team.
— Dustin Morse (@Twins_morsecode) March 8, 2013
Roberto: Showing up to Twins camp and finding out you would be rubbing shoulders with former American League MVPs Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer as a result of being assigned
a locker next to two Minnesota baseball icons must have given you goosebumps?
Chris Colabello: Yeah, for sure. I really did think my locker was in the wrong place (laughter) or they had forgotten me or something like that. It’s been really neat and obviously I’m so thankful for the organization for giving me the opportunity to get in the door last year, to be in big league camp this year and the opportunity to play up here in the WBC. In terms of stars in the Minnesota Twins for the past 15 years, you can’t really think of a guy or two that are bigger than Joe and Justin. They are just tremendous people, tremendous players. They’ve made it an easy transition for me and kind of made it a little
bit less nerve-racking than I thought it would be.
— LaVelle E. Neal III (@LaVelleNeal) March 9, 2013
Did I just see my boy @drewbutera go deep?!?! That’s what I’m talking about..
— Ben Revere (@BenRevere9) March 8, 2013
— Dustin Morse (@Twins_morsecode) March 8, 2013
Roberto: You also have Twins’ Drew Butera watching your back. He was outstanding in
the WBC with his two-run homer against Team Mexico. The chemistry in the Team Italia clubhouse was uncharted because at the end of the day the other team’s big league names on a lineup card didn’t translate in the game-ending box scores. Team Italia’s spirit, desire, passion, drive, and commitment to win games day-by-day under the leadership of manager Marco Mazzieri along with the coaching staff of Tom Trebelhorn, Bill Holmberg, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto, Alberto D’Auria, Gilberto Gerali and Claudio Vecchi.
Chris Colabello: Yeah. It’s a testament to the staff and the organization. You know, being able to put together a group of guys that first and foremost would mesh well together. There was not a single ego in that clubhouse. It’s pretty unbelievable. We kind of embraced the role of underdog that everybody pinned on us. We certainly didn’t believe we were the underdog coming in. I think we obviously proved that to people playing strong baseball games in a row against some really good teams. Drew and I started talking when camp just opened. Every day we’d see each other at spring training. ‘Paisans’, you know, it’s kind of like that comradery came with it. Having played the European Cup last year, I saw what a great group of guys it was. It’s truly amazing to bring a guys from a big league camp and have them join with IBL (Italian Baseball League) guys and some guys from other walks of life and to have us all feel like we’ve been playing together for years is pretty amazing.
Here’s a picture of Albert Pujols and Mike Piazza during today’s BP taken by someone twitter.com/fcat27/status/…
— frank catalanotto (@fcat27) March 7, 2013
Roberto: You could not have had a better guidance than Italian MLB Academy Director and Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg as well as Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza.
Chris Colabello: Yeah, for sure. Even on that end, you’ve got a guy who in my opinion
is a Hall of Famer in Mike Piazza, and a guy like Bill Holmberg–who is probably more prepared than any coach I have ever met in my entire life in terms of being able to scout, gather information and help guys out. Obviously, Marco is the leader of that group. It’s pretty amazing stuff because I think a line I remember hearing is ‘Attitude reflects leadership’ so it’s obviously a testament to them and the ability they go about teaching the game and helping guide us who we are.
— Can-Am League (@CanAmLeague) December 18, 2012
— MLB Public Relations (@MLB_PR) March 12, 2013
Roberto: How did you make the transition from Independent baseball to MLB-affiliated ball and what were the expectations that went along with it?
Chris Colabello: It was all new to me at that point. Obviously not being drafted initially kind of hurt a little bit, and I really didn’t know where the road was going to lead. Baseball is a big part of my life. Worcester was probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my career. The manager I played for, Rich Gedman and the people I was around, some of my best friends for the rest of my life are some of the guys I played with in Worcester. After that 2005 season, we had a great experience. It was our first year. The city was really excited about it. I got a real taste of how the best minor league places are run because we were certainly treated like royalty. I had the opportunity to sign with Detroit (in 2006).
I really didn’t know what to expect. It was all new to me. I had never been to Spring Training camp. I was really excited. I didn’t know how many guys there would be. Coming in as a free agent signing, I think at some point you have got to stand out. Again, I had mentioned before, when I was younger I used to let things speed up on me a little bit.
I think that was probably part of what happened in camp unfortunately. I thought I had done a pretty good job performance wise and in terms of work ethic. And I think I had some good reviews from coaches before I had left, but things didn’t work out for whatever reason it was and back to Worcester it was.
2011 Independent Leagues Player Of The Year: Chris Colabello: Chris Colabello is the 2011 Independent Leagues Pl… bit.ly/vwXlKo
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) October 27, 2011
Roberto: At age 27 during your 2011 season with the Worcester Tornadoes, you put up impressive offensive numbers which earned you Can-Am League Most Valuable Player and Baseball America magazine’s Independent Baseball Player of the Year honors. How could the Minnesota Twins not take notice? They saw something special in you and shortly thereafter offered a minor league contract.
Chris Colabello: Yeah. It was kind of a whirlwind. I finished the 2010 season on a tough note. I broke my hand. I got hit with a fastball and missed the final two weeks of the season. I think I was really, really hungry at that point. So I started working a lot earlier than I normally would, especially in the cage with a good friend of mine, Bobby Tewksbary–
who is one of my best friends in the world. We‘d start getting after it in the cage…talking about timing and rhythm things, swing stuff that really changed my life (laughter). It allowed me to free myself up as a hitter a little bit which turned things around in my 2011 season. It was pretty magical in terms of finish. And of course all those nice accolades I was able to receive…I think helped me kind of break into affiliated baseball. I couldn’t be more thankful to the Twins organization for giving me that chance.
— Parker Hageman (@OverTheBaggy) February 5, 2012
“Taking a Moment to Appreciate the Underdogs” – A great look at Indi League Player of the Year Chris Colabello… fb.me/1mKQyKO9K
— Jesse Lund (@TwinkieTown) February 16, 2012
First baseman Chris Colabello is one of the reasons I enjoy covering the minors. bit.ly/IlxMtJ
— Kevin Thomas (@ClearTheBases) April 29, 2012
Rock Cats’ Chris Colabello hanging on to his major league dream. cour.at/Paz0tC
— Hartford Courant (@hartfordcourant) July 4, 2012
New Britain’s Chris Colabello, a 28-year-old rookie and refugee of independent league, is having MVP type season. twincities.com/twins/ci_21292…
— Tom Powers (@TomPowersPP) August 12, 2012
— TwinsFanZone (@TwinsFanZone) August 25, 2012
— ACgreyhounds (@acgreyhounds) September 5, 2012
Roberto: The accolades continued to mount as you were a 2012 Eastern League All-Star team selection in addition to being chosen as the Eastern League’s Most Valuable Player runner-up. You must have broken some hearts when your 98 RBI single-season club
record for Double-A New Britain in 2012 surpassed the previous 1998 record set by Doug Mientkiewicz (88). Quite an accomplishment in consideration MLB veterans and former
Rock Cats Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Jacque Jones could not reach the prior plateau during their minor league careers.
Chris Colabello: Yeah (laughter). It was a lot of fun. I think 2012 turned out to be,
I couldn’t have imagined it, just as good if not a better year than 2011. I was on a little bit of a different stage. There was little more riding on it, but it was awesome. I reminded myself about having fun and the game doesn’t change no matter where you are. Once I started having fun, things began to free up for me. In both places early, I ran into some trouble. Again that mental maturity…aging has kind of helped me along the way. It reminded me how to battle back from situations like that so the numbers turned out to be what they were. It was a lot of fun.
Roberto: You have trying to beat the odds in breaking in the big leagues your entire career with the same conviction to succeed despite getting older everyday. What keeps you moving forward in achieving your life-long dream?
Chris Colabello: Ultimately, I think if you are passionate enough about something in life it would be irresponsible not to pursue it to the fullest extent. Baseball is such a big part of my life for so long and obviously a huge part of my family, huge part of my childhood. It’s a part of me. People say baseball doesn’t define who I am. Well in a lot of ways I feel like it does for me. Obviously it doesn’t define the type of person I am, but there’s always a huge part of me that will be in love with this game for the rest of my life. I think I just got really good at not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Every time I heard someone say ‘no’, it kind of made me want it much more and maybe work for it that much more. It allowed me to do things that I could take to that next level. Here we are today. Persistence and not taking ‘no’ for an answer are the way to do it.
Chris Colabello: He’s about passion, persistence, desire. Ultimately, I don’t know what makes us different. I think
we all just have a deep-rooted love for
the game. I can’t imagine my life without the game of baseball. It’s nice to be around someone who has gone through the
same things and thinks the same way.
Roberto: You also have a very strong connection
with Team Italia pitcher Alex Maestri and his father,
Dr. Paolo Maestri. Let me get this straight. You were 14 and playing baseball in Italy when Dr. Maestri was
at the right place at the right time to save your life. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you were lounging on the back of your baseball coach’s car when your coach took off down a hill at 30 mph without seeing you in the rear. You jumped off and landed face-first, resulting in a deep gash near your mouth and severe bleeding to the point where you were choking on your own blood. Dr. Maestri helped you get the blood out so you could breathe again. What a nightmare! Thank God there was a doctor nearby to render first aid and save you.
Chris Colabello: Yeah, it was a pretty unbelievable experience. I’m very, very fortunate to (have) the Maestri family. Without them, I firmly believe that
I would not be here today.
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 8, 2013
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 9, 2013
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 10, 2013
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 10, 2013
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 13, 2013
Thank you to all the fans who supported us and to the group of guys in that clubhouse who made this experience so incredible #TeamItaly
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 14, 2013
Now that Chris Colabello is with us,
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) March 14, 2013
it is time for the call-up to Minnesota and his long-awaited MLB debut at Target Field. Looking ahead at their schedule, it would be ideal to bring Colabello up on May 29th when the Brewers visit the Twin Cities. That way the Italian American slugger will have the chance to share with Milwaukee’s Jeff Bianchi all the special moments that he missed. Unfortunately, the Brewers feared their infielder–who recently returned from the 15-day DL–would be injured if he played for Italia in the World Baseball Classic.
— Bobby Tewksbary (@TewksHitting) May 8, 2013
The sentiment for Denorfia’s return to Team Italy after a remarkable 2009 WBC campaign was echoed by the first Italian-born pitcher signed by MLB, Alessandro Maestri. The former Cubs’ minor leaguer said, “A guy who had an unbelievable WBC tournament was Chris Denorfia. At the tournament, he really gave everything he had. He made some great plays defensively and had some clutch hits so it’s going to be good to see him again.” During Italy’s 6-2 upset over 2009 WBC host Canada, Denorfia led the team in hits by going 4-for-4 with three doubles, a single, a walk, two runs and two RBI.
In their 2013 WBC opener versus Mexico on March 7th at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Team Italy began the ninth inning with odds against them facing the reliever who closed out the 2012 World Championship–San Francisco Giants’ Sergio Romo–and trailing by a score of 5 to 4.
After Romo got a quick out to start the top of the ninth, the enthusiastic Mexican fans in attendance responded with precisely-timed chants of victory and fiesta-like antics. Team Italy leadoff hitter Nick Punto silenced the premature postgame celebration with the crack of his bat for a double.
The small Italian contingency prayed for a miracle with Chris Denorfia up next. The right-hander Romo ignited the crowd once again after throwing back-to-back strikes. Down in the count 0-2, Denorfia exercised extreme plate discipline by taking three pitches just off the plate to work a full count. What happened next was unbelievable as Denorfia fouled off four straight pitches before lining Romo’s 10th pitch of the at-bat for a base hit. Anthony Rizzo endured a similar fate as Denorfia by falling behind 0-2 to Romo with the crowd on its feet. Italy had runners on the corners and one out. Mexico’s infield was set up for a double play to end the scoring threat and win the game. However, left-hand hitting Rizzo was thinking otherwise and drove Romo’s slider on the outside part of the plate deep to the left field warning track. Whether Italian divine intervention or merely a Mexican mishap, the ball miraculously went in and out of the glove of Mexico left fielder Edgar Gonzalez for a two-run double and a 6-5 Team Italy victory.
“The win over Mexico really got us going,” said Denorfia. “I think we surprised everyone in that game. We didn’t want to be that also-ran, the token team that everybody beat up on, and everyone responded. We had instant chemistry. The whole thing was amazing. It was like we were the road team the entire tournament. Some of crowds were a bit hostile to us. It seemed like every game we played, the crowd was against us — Mexico, Canada and the United States in Phoenix and then against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in Miami. I’m there any time they’d like me to represent Italy. It was one of my best experiences in the game.” Chris Denorfia went 8-for-21 (.381) with two doubles, five runs scored and an RBI in five games for Team Italy.In the process of making Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza very proud, Chris Denorfia currently leads the Padres’ everyday players in batting average (.395), on-base percentage (.465) and on-base percentage plus slugging (.965). Affectionately called “Deno” by his teammates and colleagues, the agile and versatile 32-year-old San Diego outfielder is poised to have his best season of his major league career. Leading off for the Friars in Tuesday’s game at Chavez Ravine against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Denorfia racked up a season-high three hits in his six at-bats with a double, a stolen base and two runs scored. On Wednesday Deno homered against Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw and the tweets began:
— San Diego Padres (@Padres) April 18, 2013
Chris Denorfia is awesome.
— Zach Palmer (@OrlTankCommandr) April 18, 2013
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) April 17, 2013
When are people in San Diego going to start respecting Chris Denorfia?#Deno
— Brad Hering (@bradhering) April 17, 2013
@lobshots Chris Denorfia, Yonder Alonso, Mark Kotsay and Chris Denorfia.
— UTKevinAcee (@UTKevinAcee) April 16, 2013
Chris Denorfia is one of my favorite ballplayers. The man never complains, always hustles, and contributes in every way possible.
— Jason Ki Joon Byun (@jvl101993) April 17, 2013
chris denorfia will be an all star this year
— Alex Kirkwood (@kirkwood24) April 17, 2013
— Anthony Sannipoli (@AntwonSannipoli) April 17, 2013
Chris Denorfia is our new Angel Pagan. #Dodgers
— Logan Post (@LoganPost) April 17, 2013
Nick hundley and Chris Denorfia are seeing the ball well.
— IG: MJDUZIT (@MJDUZIT) April 17, 2013
It’s sad that we’re 12 games in and the only reasons to watch the Padres are Chris Denorfia and the Fox Sports San Diego girls.
— Charlie Madruga (@Charles_XM) April 14, 2013
Chris Denorfia with a 8 game hitting streak. #Padres
— Mickey Koke (@mickeykoke) April 13, 2013
— Mickey Koke (@mickeykoke) April 11, 2013
Chris Denorfia would have had that.
— Mo Egger (@MoEgger1530) April 10, 2013
Oh, and now Denorfia has scored the Padres’ first run of the year on a single by Carlos Quentin. So far, so good. #denostar
— UTKevinAcee (@UTKevinAcee) April 1, 2013
With Opening Day comes my renewed campaign to get Chris Denorfia to the All-Star game. All I’m gonna say is he is 1-for-1 with a walk so far
— UTKevinAcee (@UTKevinAcee) April 1, 2013
And we’re underway. Leadoff single for Chris Denorfia off Jon Niese. First pitch.
— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) April 1, 2013
There’s another home run for Chris Denorfia. Two home runs today. Went the other way, looked like it wasn’t even on sweet spot. #285Feet
— Corey Brock (@FollowThePadres) March 30, 2013
Chris Denorfia has a lot to offer any team in MLB. Having already spent two year stints with the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics, the seasoned Italian American is now in his fourth season with the Padres. Should Chris Denorfia be given the opportunity to become an everyday player in the San Diego lineup, he
— MLB en Español (@MLBespanol) February 22, 2013
has the tools not only to become a National League All-Star but also a 2013 Gold Glove Award winner.
by MLB is experiencing a renaissance. The two-time MiLB All-Star spent five seasons in the Chicago Cubs system. Alex Maestri later ventured Down Under, where he would be named 2011 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Team World All-Star and given the inaugural ABL Fan Choice Award. When I first met the 27-year-old right-hander at the Italian MLB Academy near Pisa last year, he told me that the Kagawa Olive Guyners wanted him to pitch in Japan. He took on the the role of the team’s closer and was a knock out from day one. In each of the two months he played for Kagawa in 2012, he was named the indy league’s pitcher of the month. On July 9, 2012, Maestri’s contract was purchased by the Orix Buffaloes of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) League. He worked diligently to advance from the farm team to the top-ranked league in Japan. In his NPB debut for the Orix Buffaloes, the international baseball ambassador from Italy pitched 6.1 innings to earn his first victory while allowing just one run with four hits and striking out five. He went on to dominate in the NPB and made seven more starts for the 2012 Orix Buffaloes. Posting a 4-3 record with a 2.17 ERA,
Alex Maestri averaged nearly one strikeout per inning
(49.2 innings/40 K). He was equally impressive during his 2011/12 ABL campaign. The Brisbane Bandits pitcher finished third in the ABL in innings pitched (63.2) and strikeouts (53), fourth in WHIP (1.16) and sixth in ERA (3.25). In Round Eight of the regular season, he earned Australian Baseball League Pitcher of the Week honors after throwing a stellar complete game two-hitter against the Canberra Cavalry. Team Italy starting pitcher Alex Maestri faces Team Puerto Rico today at 7pm (EST) in a win-or-go-home showdown televised live on the MLB Network from Marlins Park in Miami. He and his fellow Italian teammates are ready to show the world that the defending European Champions are loaded with talent ready to lock and load in the competitive 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: Welcome back to the USA!
Alex Maestri: How are doing Roberto? It’s nice to talk to you. I’m feeling good. It’s been a long journey coming here. Everything is good. I’m glad to be with the Italian national team now. I’m looking forward to this WBC tournament and this year coming up.
Roberto: After your successful campaign for the Japan Professional League’s Orix Buffaloes, the team has really stepped up its efforts in recruiting players from overseas.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you know, every year the team signs foreign players. This year we got seven so we’re probably going to have to rotate. That’s stuff that I can’t control, but it’s going to be fun. The team looks very good. We have a lot of Japanese players that are pretty good and young so I think it’s going to be an exciting year.
Roberto: Did you enjoy the food in Japan?
Alex Maestri: The food there is great. It’s so good. I heard good things about Japanese food before I went there, and when I got there I really appreciated it. Their cuisine is not all about sushi like we think. That’s what I thought too before I went there, but they actually have a huge variety of good food. It’s all very, very good.
Roberto: Did you find a good plate of pasta there?
Alex Maestri: Actually, you know what, they are very good at cooking pasta too. They can reproduce everything very well. They are very good at learning about other cultures and making it theirs.
Roberto: The Japanese have the longest life span. So they must be doing something right.
Alex Maestri: They are doing a lot of things right.
— MLB Europe (@MLB_Europe) August 13, 2012
Roberto: Your Japanese YouTube video is amazing. Have you ever been in the spotlight like that before?
Alex Maestri: Not at all. That was like the first time. After the game, the player of the game gets interviewed in front of the fans in the stadium and put on the big screen. My debut was actually a great game. I got to do that right on the field. It was cool. This fan had this Italian flag with him, and he came all the way close to the dugout. He passed the flag to one of the reporters who gave it to me. So it was good, it was good seeing the colors of Italy in Japan.
I was very proud too to represent those colors in a good way.
Roberto: It almost had an Olympic feel to it.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you see those gold medal runners walking around the track with their flags. I was just standing around though. It was a really a weird day. I really didn’t feel uncomfortable. I really didn’t know what was going on.
Roberto: It must have been an adrenalin rush.
Alex Maestri: It was during the game. Afterwards, I was just relaxed and happy. I was done pitching, and we won the game.Roberto: Tell me about what you remember most about playing Minor League Baseball.
Alex Maestri: I was here in the states for six years, and five of those six years were with the Cubs. I have a lot of great memories with that team. The game that I remember the most was a Cubs Spring Training game, and I was with the big league team against the A’s. They gave me one inning, and it was pretty good.
Roberto: And you got to face Italian American Jason “Giambino” Giambi.
Alex Maestri: Actually Giambi is the only one who actually got a hit off me. I faced four guys, and three (Orlando Cabrera, Matt Holliday and Eric Chavez) of the four were strikeouts.
Roberto: Since he is Italian, were you giving him a free pass to first base?
Alex Maestri: (Laughing) Yeah, I guess so.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I mean in Italy we have a lot of good players. It’s a shame that there is not much money supporting baseball so it’s not easy to develop guys. But we have the Italian MLB Academy now, and you know it’s doing very good. There are some young players that are doing some really nice work. And there’s more and more scouts going down there to look at them. It’s a pleasure for me to represent the country all over the world. And even if I just play for myself on the team that I play with, I always play for my colors, I’m always proud of that. Roberto: Forza Italia! Forza Azzurri!
Alex Maestri: Yeah, per sempre Forza Azzurri!
Roberto: You don’t take any prisoners when you pitch, and you proudly wear your colors on your sleeve. It shows that you pour your heart and soul every time you step on the mount to throw.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I think that’s what you have to do on the mound. You’re not always going to succeed. But that’s the attitude you’ve got to have to pitch.
Roberto: Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg has changed the mindsets of many on this staff for the better.
Alex Maestri: Bill has been my pitching coach forever. He has known me since I was a kid And you know I started working with him when I was 18-year-old and started to go to the Italian MLB Academy. But even before that he was working with me. He’s my main pitching coach. I always try to go the Academy during the offseason and have a few workouts with him. I really like the way he teaches pitching. I think everybody, all the pitchers that get to work with him, they appreciate his work.
Roberto: He was the one who wrote your name on a scouting report for the Chicago Cubs, and the next thing you know you were signed to MLB.
Alex Maestri: At the time he was an international scout for the Chicago Cubs, and you know I was doing pretty good. I was young and I was doing good for my team. And he said that he was going to take a chance and sign me. He said that I could make the Big Leagues. He really believed in me. He gave me a great opportunity to come over and gave me a chance to play in the states.
Alex Maestri: We really love that. It’s great to have him around in the dugout. He’s like doing this for fun. He enjoys working with us… That’s why we appreciate it so much. I think he is positively influencing the program that we have. The fact that the team is winning and improving proves it. So that’s why he keeps coming back.
Roberto: Coach Piazza helps pitchers as well, right?
Alex Maestri: Oh definitely. We always have meetings in the morning.. He comes in with Bill and always says his opinion on our pitching. He was one of the best catchers in the game so he obviously knows a lot about pitching too. It’s just great having him around.
Roberto: Being the underdog, Team Italy plays like there is no tomorrow.
Alex Maestri: I guess it’s kind of normal since baseball is not so developed in Italy. People don’t really respect Italian baseball, but you know it’s kind of like the fun part of playing. Nobody really thinks that we are strong. But I think we are a very good team actually, and we should again surprise a lot of people around the world.
Roberto: It this also an opportunity to play on the world’s stage to show MLB what they missed out on?
Alex Maestri: I don’t think I have to have any sort of revenge, I just want to play good for myself and my country. I was here in the states, and they gave me a great opportunity to play here. I had a lot of great experiences here so it’s not like I’m mad at anybody. Things just went that way. I had a tough year in 2010 so it’s normal that I got released. You know I’m still playing baseball. I’ve got a great opportunity now in Japan. I just love what I do so like I said before I am just going to play for my country and not for anybody else.
Roberto: You look healthy and happy. With this Italian team playing to win, I know you are going to give it your all.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I think a few years back, the Italian national team just went out playing a few tournaments to kind of like participate. But now with manager Marco Mazzieri, you have a very good attitude and it rubs off on all the players. Now you have a very strong group that won two European Championships back-to-back. And now everybody is starting to feel confident about themselves. And in baseball that’s what is about—confidence. You know we got ability so we need to be confident and just go out there and play baseball.
Alex: I’ve got my pitches like everybody else. I just got to keep working on them and make them as confusing as I can for hitters.
Roberto: In prior in WBC competitions, you have been stellar. I hope that you will continue to shine in the upcoming 2013 WBC.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you know, that’s the plan. We always try to do our best. And that’s what I’m trying to do this time around. Right now I’m getting ready and going day-by-day. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely give my best effort.
Roberto: Are there any players in the WBC that you know from you days in MiLB?
Alex Maestri: The only guys that I remember is catcher Chris Robinson from Canada. We were in the same organization. We never really played together. I have played against many of the USA players like Mike (Giancarlo) Stanton and Jonathan Lucroy. It’s cool facing them again in the World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: Every pitch has to count with the WBC pitch limits in place.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, that’s kind of like the plan every time you go out. You know it’s a team sport so everybody is going to have do his own thing. I know that I will do my part with my pitching, but once I’m done with my pitches then there is someone else coming in to take over. We just all have to do this together, and it’s going to be touch. We’re playing the best teams in the world, and it’s going to be hard work. So we’re going to have to be really focused.
Roberto: You have to execute.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you’ve got to be able to execute and if you don’t you just lose games. That’s why we play this game. You know, we enjoy that part of it.
Roberto: What does it mean to be an Italian playing baseball?
Alex Maestri: I just started to play baseball because of my brother. At the time I wasn’t really watching any baseball on TV. I started doing that later on, but it was cool seeing all those guys with Italian names written on the back of their jerseys. I just grew up hoping that one day that I would be able to take their place.
Roberto: With the influx of MLB players now joining Team Italy, how will it change the personality of La Squadra Azzurri.
Alex Maestri: I think it’s going to be the same. We have a good personality now. Those players are going to definitely improve the level. Because obviously they are Big League players and they have more experience than we do. It’s going to make the team better, but I don’t think it will change the personality of the team.
Roberto: You are representing Italy on all corners of the earth wherever you compete.
Alex Maestri: I feel like it. I always travel the world and play baseball in different countries. But my roots are always with me so I feel very proud of that. I’m sure all the other guys feel proud of that too—even the Big League players that are going to play for us. We already had a bunch of them in the World Baseball Classic, and they play as hard as we do. They want to win, and it’s just going to be great to do it all together.
Roberto: Any favorites? Has the Dodgers’ Nick Punto lived up to his name as the shredder by tearing the jersey off walk-off heroes after Team Italy victories?
Alex Maestri: I don’t know about Punto, but another guy who had an unbelievable WBC tournament was Chris Denorfia. At the tournament, he really gave everything he had. He made some great plays defensively and had some clutch hits so it’s going to be good to see him again. Jason Grilli has been with us for the first two World Baseball Classics. He’s just a great guy. He loves to come and play for us. Alex Liddi, of course, is one of my best friends.
I haven’t seen him in a long time. I saw him the other day, and it was just great seeing him again. He’s really family. I feel like his brother. And all the other guys that are going to come are going to be very welcome.
Roberto: You will be in the capable hands of catchers Drew Butera from the Minnesota Twins and Tyler LaTorre from the San Francisco Giants. Have you ever worked with them before?
Alex Maestri: Actually not. I haven’t had the pleasure to work with them yet. It’s going to happen in the WBC.Roberto: Since you were in the same organization as the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, it will be sort of a Cubbie reunion with two Italians on the same team.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I heard really a lot of good things about him. We both played for the same organization so it will be good.
Roberto: Anything else you would like to say before we sign off?
Alex Maestri: I’d like to say hi to everybody. I would like to thank the great people all over the world. I really enjoy what I’m doing now. I might not be enjoying this for the past seven years if it had not been for them. Thanks!
Roberto: I really enjoyed meeting you at the Italian MLB Academy and talking with you today here in Arizona prior to the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Thanks for your time!
Alex: Thank you very much, and thank you for the work you do for Team Italy. It’s good to have somebody who really cares about this team and tries to promote the team as much as you do. Thank you for doing that.
Roberto: Thank you. It’s my pleasure. I believe in you and Italian baseball. God bless Italia!
on the arms of the Italian pitching staff.
Italy manager Marco Mazzieri and pitching coach
Bill Holmberg sat down prior to a scrimmage against
a team of spirited Seattle Mariners prospects at the
Peoria Sports Complex in Arizona and provided a very
candid snapshot of their team’s compromised chances
of beating the odds and advancing to the second round
of the highly-touted competition in the following interview.
Roberto: Is Team Italy ready to battle Mexico, Canada and USA in the 2013 World Baseball Classic?
Marco Mazzieri: We’ll be ready when the games start. We’re right now just trying to tune up all the guys and waiting for our MLB players to come down and join us. We know they’ll all be excited to go. So we’re pretty excited about this.
Bill Holmberg: I like our team a lot.
I think we’re going to have a very solid pitching staff, and our position players
of course are very good. I think we have a very, very good chance to go to the next round.
Roberto: Having to listen to a lot of disrespect from the media who consider Italy a novelty and a doormat for other teams, do you enjoy being the underdog and having to endure constant scrutiny?
Marco Mazzieri: I think it’s our destiny to be the underdogs all the time. We were the underdogs four years ago against Team Canada, and we beat them. The next thing we know we didn’t have hotel rooms because nobody expected us to win. We had to move to another hotel. I mean last September we were supposed to lose against the Dutch in the European Championship. They were celebrating the 100th anniversary of their federation and it was like 35 years that we had not beat them on their own soil. And we beat them! So I think we got used to being the underdog, but we don’t complain. We’re going to use all of this to get the guys even more excited and more ready to go. I think they will do a good job.
We expect everybody to have no fear.
already once in 2007 during the World Cup
in Chinese Taipei. They had Evan Longoria, Colby Ramus, Andy LaRoche, and Brian
Bixler. They had a great pitching staff.
They only lost that one game, but we
were the team that beat them. Again,
we respect everybody a lot, but there’s
going to be no fear at all.”
2013 WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC
ITALY MANAGER MARCO MAZZIERI
— MLB Europe (@MLB_Europe) August 13, 2012
Roberto: Former Chicago Cubs minor league pitcher Alessandro Maestri was named as the recipient of the 2011 Australian Baseball League Fan Choice Award after decimating hitters with his wicked slider pitching for the Brisbane Bandits. He has since been having a strong campaign for Japan’s Orix Buffaloes, the same team that recently signed former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Brandon Dickson as well as former outfielder/catcher for the Cleveland Indians/New York Mets/2009 Team Italy Vinny Rottino. Any words on Alex?
Bill Holmberg: Alex is a really, really good pitcher. And you know at times he’s great.
He’s shown in the past that he has been able to throw well for us, and we’re looking
forward to having him on the mound real soon during the WBC series.
ROBERTO ANGOTTI — Toronto’s John Mariotti will pitch for Italy in the World Baseball Classic… fb.me/1l3Y9UT5D
— Canadian Baseball (@CDNbaseball) January 23, 2013
Roberto: Former Baltimore Orioles prospect John Mariotti has been stellar for the defending Can-Am League Champion Québec Capitales for the past two years. How did you find this outstanding Canadian Italian pitcher?
Bill Holmberg: John has been around and spoke with Marco a couple years ago. He had been talking with the Italian Baseball Federation and Marco for a few years so we’re very lucky to have John. John is a sinkerball pitcher that really helped us at the European Championship, and I imagine he’s going to help us even more during the World Baseball Classic.
@grillcheese49Hey Grill.It’s Cat.Marco Mazzieri would like yuor number.Can you send it to me so I can get it to him. Thanks. Hope ur well
— frank catalanotto (@fcat27) June 30, 2011
Fun fact while researching WBC: Jason Grilli’s 0.00 ERA in ’06 WBC tied … Erik Bedard for best in the tourney.
— Bill Brink (@BrinkPG) February 28, 2013
Roberto: Team Italy has the luxury of having one of MLB’s premier closers, Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jason Grilli, ready and willing to do what he does best in shutting teams down with the lead late in any game. You must feel good about that?
Bill Holmberg: I’m very happy to have Jason and to be honest with you I’m happy to
have every one of our pitchers. I believe all of them can be situational where they come in and close the door on any team we are going to play. Of course, you are going to have to execute. We’re going to try to scout as well as we can and give them the best possible plan before the game. From there, all they have to do is execute.
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) January 23, 2013
— Matt Torra (@TheContractor31) February 25, 2013
Roberto: Matt Torra, a former 2005 first-round draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and current Washington Nationals’ MLB hopeful, is also a very capable pitcher for Team Italy.
Bill Holmberg: Matt has thrown well. We’ve had one live batting practice session,
and he’s going to be throwing today. I was extremely happy the way he threw the BP.
He throws strikes. He keeps the ball down. He’s a smart kid. He knows how to pitch.
— Pat Venditte (@PatVenditte) February 22, 2013
— Pat Venditte (@PatVenditte) February 25, 2013
Roberto: The ambidextrous Pat Venditte from the New York Yankees organization is a pitching staff’s best friend and a hitter’s worst nightmare. Although recent surgery on his right shoulder labrum has limited him to throwing as a lefty for the World Baseball Classic,
do you think he will contribute as Team Italy’s secret weapon?
Bill Holmberg: Pat threw a short side, and I think he’s going to be extremely nasty. I’ve seen him on youtube, and if that is the same way he throws on the mound during a game then we’re pretty lucky.
— Tyler LaTorre (@tylerlatorre) January 9, 2013
Just signed my new contract for 2013. Resigning with the 2012 World Series Champions San Francisco Giants. twitter.com/tylerlatorre/s…
— Tyler LaTorre (@tylerlatorre) November 25, 2012
— Tyler LaTorre (@tylerlatorre) February 15, 2013
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) February 14, 2013
— Drew Butera (@drewbutera) February 22, 2013
We’re proud to announce our new website drewnews.blog.com There’s a free contest for a Drew autograph waiting for you there!
— Drew Butera Fan Club (@DButeraFanClub) August 22, 2012
Roberto: Any thoughts on San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A catcher Tyler LaTorre and Minnesota Twin’s backstop Drew Buter?
Marco Mazzieri: We’re very happy with our catchers as well. Tyler LaTorre has been
with us in the European Championship. He did a terrific job handling the pitching staff.
Drew Butera is so excited. I talked with him last night, and he can’t wait to be here.
He’s going to give us a pretty experienced catcher. With the pitchers that we have,
we are looking forward to it.
@tylerlatorre thanks again La Torre!! Def appreciate ur help!!
— Sergio Romo (@SergioRomo54) February 7, 2013
Roberto: Tyler LaTorre has caught San Francisco Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo. Vogey is reportedly scheduled to pitch for Team USA against Italy, and Romo will be the closer for Team Mexico. Did you know that you have a built-in scouting report on your roster?
Bill Holmberg: I didn’t know that. We’re getting information from everywhere. We’re getting information from guys that are playing in the Mexican Leagues. Of course, John Mariotti is Canadian so we’re trying to get as much information as we possibly can.
We’ll take it from anywhere. So Roberto if you have some information to give us, I’d be happy to accept it.
Roberto: If you put a Team Italia jersey on my back, I will happily sit in the dugout and scout on your behalf (laughter)…
@bigace22 that’s great news! I’ll be training with Team Italy at the Dodgers facility. Going in as a reserve in case they need a guy
— Alexander Burkard (@burky23) February 8, 2013
Got my Italian Passport! Now I’m ready to report with Team Italia in AZ for pre-tournament practices #WBClassic
— Alexander Burkard (@burky23) February 18, 2013
— Alexander Burkard (@burky23) March 1, 2013
Tommy Lasorda visit twitter.com/burky23/status…
— Alexander Burkard (@burky23) March 1, 2013
Roberto: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim prospect Alexander Burkard is a reserve pitcher from Caracas, Venezuela. He is in your back pocket if you need him in a pinch.
Bill Holmberg: He’s a great kid, a terrific kid. He’s six-foot-eight, just a terrific kid. He threw the other day. He didn’t do as well as we’d hoped, but I’m sure with a little bit of work in the bullpen as we did today he’s going to be a lot better next time out.
Roberto: Bill, how does it feel being a contributing member of this eclectic Team Italy coaching staff?
Bill Holmberg: I love the guys who are on this staff. To be honest with you, I’m very privileged to be on Marco’s staff. We have a great group of guys, and we just get along very well. It’s tremendous to come out here. This is not work. This is coming out here and having a good time. We laugh a little bit. We work real hard, and at the end of the day we’re happy with what we do.
Anthony Rizzo primed to play for Team Italy in WBC.trib.in/X90HGX
— Paul Sullivan (@PWSullivan) February 26, 2013
Roberto: When you heard that Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo was playing for Team Italy,
you must have felt like your chances to advance in the WBC had increased.
Marco Mazzieri: That was good because at one point it looked like the USA team was going to call him up. So we were kind of afraid that we couldn’t get him. We’re happy to have him. We’re looking forward to it. But we have another guy that we really like a lot–Chris Colabello. He’s in Big League camp with the Twins along with Alex Liddi (Mariners) and Chris Denorfia (Padres). I think we have a pretty good heart of the lineup.
@bbrentz7 I’m good homie… I’m over in Holland playing in the European Cup for Italy… Way to go get you a ship!
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) September 15, 2012
Pizza italiana e’ piu’ buona #italianpizzaisbetter
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) January 12, 2013
Roberto: Chris Colabello has been shadowing Minnesota Twins four-time all-star first baseman Justin Morneau and tearing the leather off the ball in Spring Training. His father Lou played for Italy in the 1984 Olympics.
Bill Holmberg: I’ve known Chris for maybe 20 years because he used to come over to Italy with his dad. His dad pitched in the Italian Baseball League. His mom is Italian. Chris is just
a great kid. He loves to come over and play for us. We enjoy having him. We like him. He’s
a very energetic, tremendous kid.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) November 19, 2012
Roberto: Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Nick Punto has a World Series ring after having played under Tony La Russa for the St. Louis Cardinals. How has his energy helped Team Italy?
Marco Mazzieri: Nick is a terrific guy. We met him four years ago for the World Baseball Classic. We didn’t know him. We’ve been in touch with him throughout the years, and he can’t wait to be here as well. Again, here’s a guy with tremendous experience. A big clubhouse guy trying to keep everybody up and ready. But overall honestly I don’t like to talk much about individual single players, single names. I think we have tremendous chemistry in the clubhouse. That’s what we’re about. It’s important. As we showed four years ago, these guys played as a team from day one. It’s not going to be like an all-star team where everybody is kind of like showcasing themselves. This is going to be about winning ballgames and be together and doing the little things. We’re going to do that.
— Mike Vassallo (@MikeVassallo13) February 17, 2013
Roberto: Any feedback on the lesser-known Milwaukee Brewers/Italy shortstop Jeff Bianchi?
Bill Holmberg: I don’t know him as well as Marco does. I know he’s in the Big Leagues
and he can’t be that bad. So hopefully he’ll come to play. I know he was a high draft choice with the Royals. We also have another infielder who played with us in Holland during the European Championship–Tony Granato. He’s extremely solid, a great team player guy.
He plays his ass off every time he goes out.
Roberto: Anthony Granato is the heart and soul of Team Italy. He represents La Squadra Azzurri’s “Never Say Die” approach to the game.
After an eventless first at bat for the Greek, Italy takes the lead on an RBI-single by Anthony Granato, who… fb.me/28qHVrJEW
— Nederland op WBC ’13 (@NederlandopWBC) September 10, 2012
Marco Mazzieri: Very much so. I think he really made a difference on our team since he joined us three years ago. As a matter of fact, we won two European Championships. We went to Chinese Taipei in 2010 and claimed the Bronze Medal. And he really made a huge difference for this team. Not only for his play, but he is a leader out on the field. And he shows it. He’s not the type of guy who’s going to talk a lot. He’s going to show it by example and lead by example in the way he goes about his business.
— Baseball Spain (@BaseballSpain) January 25, 2013
El manager de Spain es italiano.. Mauro Mazzotti
— LigaDom.com (@LigaDomcom) February 26, 2013
Roberto: Italians are gaining massive respect in Europe as witnessed by Team Spain’s decision to hire Italian manager Mauro Mazzotti. Could you imagine seeing two Italian managed European teams playing head-to-head after advancing to the second round?
Marco Mazzieri: It would be nice, but let me tell you that we’re thinking about ourselves right now. It might be a little selfish. If they make it, we’re happy for them. But at this time we’re just mission focused, and we want to be the team that advances for sure. We’re going to do everything possible to be there.
How Alex Liddi can help conquer Europe es.pn/YYtGd2
— ESPN.com’s SweetSpot (@espn_sweet_spot) February 27, 2013
Roberto: Didn’t Mazzotti sign Alex Liddi? Bill, why didn’t you sign him like you did for the Italian-born Alberto Mineo as the Chicago Cubs international scout?
Bill Holmberg: I wish I would have signed him back then. Mauro Mazzotti had a hand in that, but Wayne Norton was also involved. I know that. I would have liked to have signed Alex. If he had come to our Italian Academy to work with Marco for at least a year, I think he would have gotten a lot more money. Hindsight is always 20/20. He’s done well for himself in the meantime.
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) February 22, 2013
Roberto: San Diego Padres’ Chris Denorfia is a diamond in the rough. What a score for Italy!
Marco Mazzieri: Again like Nick Punto four years ago, he came along and showed tremendous leadership. Won’t give up. We’re very proud and happy to have him back
again for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He’s a great guy. He works hard and he’ll be playing a good center field. Along with those other guys, it’s going to a solid lineup.
Roberto: Have you decided on the WBC pitching rotation for Team Italy?
Marco Mazzieri: We’re going to decide after we play these four scrimmage games until March 3rd and then we’re going to decide who’s the hottest guy. Pretty much if I am allowed to say is that we are the only team in this bracket that is scheduled to play five games in a row with two exhibition games. It’s not to complain, but I don’t think it’s fair on our pitching staff…honestly. With all the pitching limitations and everything, why are we the only team with five games in a row? Everybody else is getting a day off in the middle, and we’re not. Again, we’re going to use our weakness as our strength at this point. We just want to go out and prove everybody wrong.Roberto: What makes Team Italy so resilient?
Bill Holmberg: We’re a hard hat, lunch pail type of team. We’re blue collar from the beginning to the end. No obstacle is too great for us. We are not afraid. We fear no one. Bottom line is like what Marco said before…whatever comes, comes. We’re going to play
our cards as they are dealt. And that’s it, and we’re going to be happy doing it.
Roberto: Let’s beat Mexico, Canada and USA so that we can advance to round two in Miami.
Bill Holmberg: That’s our plan.
Roberto: Thanks for your time gentlemen. Buona fortuna!
One of the most arm demanding pitches in baseball is the slider. The pitch is usually not taught to younger and underdeveloped pitchers unless their arms are physically ready to perfect the pitch. Unfortunately, the slider has caused more elbow injuries than all the other pitches combined. Having said that, when thrown correctly, the slider is one of the most devastating pitches out there. With a new found appreciation for this pitch and the pitchers who throw it, we turn our attention to an Angel pitching prospect that could possibly possess the best slider from his native Australia. Introducing 21-year-old Aaron SookeeThe best pitchers in baseball use the slider to their advantage on the field, while their agents successfully utilize it in negotiations to ultimately determine their client’s fame and fortune. It is one of the four pitches that usually dictates a player’s ability to play at a professional level. The slider is very deceptive as the batter sees the ball as a fastball due to its speed and spin, but at the last moment the slider drops in front of home plate–unlike a curve ball which is detected by its spin or the pitching motion of the pitcher. A slider is thrown by grasping the ball with the index finger and middle finger not in the center of the ball, but off a bit to the right. Some of the most notable players to have made the slider one of the most difficult pitches to hit include: Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Bob Gibson, Dennis Eckersley and Steve Carlton; legends Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Sparky Lyle; and pitchers Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Zack Greinke, Johan Santana, Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Joba Chamberlain, Ervin Santana, Aroldis Chapman, Jonny Venters, Daniel Bard and Craig Kimbrel.
Signed by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim scout Grant Weir in 2009, Aaron Sookee knew early on that it was a match made in heaven when the Southern California team made an offer he could not refuse. The teenager pitcher had dreamed of playing professional baseball for the LA Angels, who had at the time been a favorite among Australian baseball fans because of the famed Aussie pitcher and former Angel/Blue Sox Rich Thompson.
Working as a late-inning reliever for the Sydney Blue Sox this past ABL season, Sookee made his presence felt by averaging more than one strike out per inning, which is just about the same ratio of two-year Angel minor league campaign (61 strike outs in 59 innings). Heading into his third Angels Spring Training camp, Aaron appeared more confident and more determined than ever to break into Major League Baseball. The following interview took place in mid-March at the Angels Spring Training facility in Tempe, AZ.Roberto: What inspired you to dream of playing Major League Baseball as a kid in Australia?
Aaron Sookee: I guess growing up we didn’t get a lot of the major league games so you had to look to the local teams in the old ABL. I remember watching Gary White and Dave Nilsson, both catchers but really great players. And then more recently Chris Oxspring and Brad Thomas and just seeing how they go about their business to hopefully make me into a major league pitcher one day.
Roberto: When did the bidding war between MLB teams begin for your seven-year professional baseball contract?
Aaron Sookee: In January 2009 is when it began and a few teams, I think five or six from memory, were competing. But as soon as the Angels made a bid, I knew that I wanted to play for the Angels.
Roberto: Now with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson acquired during the offseason, do you think the Angels have the winning combination?
Aaron Sookee: Most definitely, you know what I mean. They should win close to 100 games this year with them two. It should be pretty exciting to watch.
Roberto: Has playing in the Angels farm system and in the Australian Baseball League during the offseason helped you develop into a confident pitcher?
Aaron Sookee: I have come a long way. I think that’s from playing everyday. There’s a different brand of baseball here because you do play everyday and you have to be ready to grind it out everyday. That’s the main difference between Australian baseball and American baseball.
Roberto: What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Aaron Sookee: I think the first plan or goal of mine is to make the long season team
in the Midwest League for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Then step-by-step hopefully one day I get to play pro ball.
Roberto: While a member of the ABL’s Sydney Blue Sox, you were being mentored by former MLB pitching teammates Dae-Sung Koo (New York Mets), Chris Oxspring
(San Diego Padres) and Brad Thomas (Detroit Tigers). Was that inspirational to you?
Aaron Sookee: It definitely was…just watching how those guys go about their business.
It was an honour playing alongside them. I learned a lot from all three of them, even though that Koo didn’t speak much English. He can translate through baseball language I guess and then Thom-O and Ox really helped me grow this offseason.Roberto: Why did you choose to become a pitcher instead of another position?
Aaron Sookee: Because I couldn’t hit. That’s basically it…couldn’t hit! (Laughter)
Roberto: There’s hope thanks to the designated hitter.
Aaron Sookee: Yeah right, it came in for a reason. (Laughter)
Roberto: Your pitching arsenal has improved dramatically with the addition of a wicked
slider, which has successfully ended a lot of innings for you. When did you add that pitch
to your repertoire?
Aaron Sookee: (Laughter) It’s come a long way during the offseason…maybe the last calendar year. I’ve been working really hard on it. I just can’t wait to use it this season.
Roberto: With that pitch, are you the Australian version of the Italian slider expert Alessandro Maestri of the Brisbane Bandits?
Aaron Sookee: Yeah, I guess so (laughter). Maestri has carved Sydney a few times…
He’s a true professional in every aspect of the word. Roberto: Does it feel good when fans ask for your autograph?
Aaron Sookee: It’s very humbling to see that fans appreciate what you do and all the
hard work that you put in because it translates to performance on the field. Yeah, it’s good.
Roberto: Any advice for the youth back home that are considering playing baseball?
Aaron Sookee: Just stick with it. Every time you can throw a ball, throw it and don’t hold back. Don’t leave any stone left unturned and just go after it. Don’t be afraid to play.
That’s the main thing I think.
Roberto: Thanks for taking time out to talk today.
Aaron Sookee: Thank you. It’s been a honour. Thanks for having me.
George Bush and Condoleezza Rice’s spoof of the classic Abbott and Costello Who’s on First skit, a hilarious chat between Costello–who plays a peanut vendor named Sebastion Dinwiddle, and Abbott–manager Dexter Broadhurt of the mythical St. Louis Wolves, has placed the former White House all-star comedy duo into the eternal Hall of Shame. In honor of the original Abbott and Costello’s tribute to the great game of baseball, let’s make sure everyone knows everyone else’s name on Team World in the Australian Baseball League (ABL) All-Star Game, which will be televised live on Wednesday, December 21st at 4 pm (Perth, AU Time) by Fox Sports Australia as well as ESPN Star Asia and later replayed on MLB Network in the U.S.A. at 1 pm (EST).
Based on the number of players on Team World who have some sort of oddity attached to them, this squad of international all-stars should be called “Team Novelty”. National heros in their respective homeland, Taiwan’s Chin-lung Hu and Korea’s Dae-Sung Koo are well-respected in Asia. Yet in MLB, they are extraterrestrial beings. Whether poking fun at his name Chin-lung Hu or playing on words in Hu’s on First, Hu has received more notoriety for everything but his skills. As shortstop and leadoff hitter for the Adelaide Bite, his very serious .291 batting average is no laughing matter.
Koo’s claim to MLB fame came in the May 2005 Subway Series matchup between the Mets and Yankees at Shea Stadium. The Korean lefty was called from the bullpen mid-game. In his first at bat against Randy Johnson, Koo was so nervous that he initially did not swing the bat. Everyone–including broadcaster Tim McCarver–discounted him as an easy out. Instead, the slugger Koo emerged when least expected and rocketed a shot over the outfielders’ head to the wall for a stand up double. Jose Reyes layed down a sacrifice bunt to advance Koo to third, but seeing nobody covering home plate he continued to run for the score. Sliding head first and beating the tag, the crowd roared “KOO” and later the sold-out stadium gave him a standing ovation. He appeared in 33 games as a Mets middle reliever and posted a 3.93 ERA with 23 strike outs in 23 innings of work in 1995.
Being the first Italian born player signed by MLB in 2006, pitcher Alex Maestri is also considered by many as another one of baseball’s novelties. As as starter and relief pitcher in the Chicago Cubs minor league system for five seasons, Maestri racked up a 24-17 record with a 3.75 ERA and 19 saves. A two-time minor league All-Star, the right hand throwing pitcher put away hitters with his evasive slider–which was once voted as the best slider thrown by anyone in the entire organization. Representing his native Italy in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic (WBC), Maestri dominated hitters. In the 2009 WBC, Maestri held opponents scoreless in his two plus innings–during which he got Miguel Cabrera to ground out on a fielder’s choice and Magglio Ordonez to strike out. His moment of glory came on April 1, 2009, when he made his preseason MLB debut against the Oakland A’s during Cubs Spring Training in Phoenix. Manager Lou Pinella summoned him out of the bullpen. Maestri struck out Orlando Cabrera and then he sized up against slugger Jason Giambi–who managed to squeak out a single through the hole. MLB All-Star Matt Holliday was caught looking at a third strike slider for the second out, and Eric Chavez went down swinging at his Italian slider in the dirt to end Maestri’s almost perfect outing.
Despite the fact that Yohei Yanagawa has fast become a fan favorite Down Under, Aussies will have to bid him Sayonora after charting in the Top 7 pitchers of the Australian Baseball League with a 2.52 ERA in 35.2 innings. Second in the league in strike outs (43), the Japanese reliever turned ABL starter of seven games had great control as demonstrated by his 1.23 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). Stretching out to pitch seven innings this past week, the 25-year-old right-handed hurler struck out nine and issued no walks. After the ABL All-Star Game, Yohei Yanagawa will return to Japan.
Currently in his second ABL season, 23-year-old Rinku Singh has recorded one win and one save with a 1.59 ERA out of the Adelaide Bite bullpen in 11.1 innings–while allowing just seven hits, one walk and striking out ten. Now an international hero for winning the Million Dollar Arm competition, the first-Indian born pitcher to win an American professional baseball game posted a 2.45 ERA for the Pittsburgh Pirates as a minor leaguer in 2011. Now the subject of a upcoming movie produced by Walt Disney Pictures, Singh has gone Hollywood, and the world will soon know of his life story from the slums of India to the MLB diamonds.
The international all-stars will feature a strong artillery of former and future MLB players from the U.S.A. including Jason Hirsh (Houston Astros/Colorado Rockies), Mike McGuire (Philadelphia Phillies), Alex Burg (San Francisco Giants), Brian Burgamy (Philadelphia Phillies/San Diego Padres), Dominic Ramos (Boston Red Sox), Mychal Givens (Baltimore Orioles), Ty Morrison (Tampa Bay Rays), Tyler Collins (Detroit Tigers), Denny Almonte and James McOwen (Seattle Mariners).
The 2011 Team World All-Star roster will also carry many Japanese players from the Nippon Professional Baseball League including Yusei Kikuchi (Seibu Lions), Hiroshi Katayama (Rakuten Eagles), Fumikazu Kimura (Seibu Lions), Yamashita Ayatsugu and Kenta Imamiya (SouthBank Hawks). Remember to mind your manners when cheering on your favorite player, no matter Hu…