Results tagged ‘ WBC ’

Rizzo lifts spirits of believers in beating the odds

Anthony Rizzo lifts Alex Liddi after Team Italy upset Mexico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic on March 7th at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Anthony Rizzo lifts a jubilant Alex Liddi with Alessandro Vaglio nearby after Italy upset Mexico in the World Baseball Classic at Salt River Fields in Arizona on March 7th.

It might have been a long shot last November at the Italian American Sports Museum in Chicago when Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza and Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo spoke about joining forces to help the Italians in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. With both Italian Americans tracing their ancestral roots to Sicily, residing in the Miami area and sharing a passion for baseball, it was apparent the more they talked that the more they found out about their commonalities. But what instantaneously brought these two even closer together as kindred spirits was their unconditional love for family and their admirable respect for their Italian heritage. Ultimately inspiring both to sport “Italia” across the chest and to give back to the game by participating in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, coach Piazza and slugger Rizzo are the true international baseball ambassadors who may one day share yet another common thread in Cooperstown
and quite possibly Rome as members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in both America and Italy.
Team Italy slugger Anthony Rizzo

2013 WBC Team Italy slugger Anthony Rizzo raised $90,000 during his family foundation’s annual “Walk Off For Cancer” event in 2012.

Although Rizzo may have a long road ahead to attain the internationally recognized status that Piazza has already garnered, it isn’t the first time that the 23-year-old has had to beat the odds. While a prospect in
the Red Sox organization during early 2008, Rizzo was diagnosed with limited state classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The Boston front office as well as Red Sox pitching ace
Jon Lester, a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, were supportive of Rizzo in his battle against cancer. By beating this life-threatening disease, the sky was the limit
for this young man’s future. Now a cancer survivor himself, Rizzo is an inspirational role model who helps cancer patients and their families through the ongoing efforts of
the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation.

Anthony Rizzo gives the Team Italia trademark "Baci" to teammates in the dugout.

Anthony Rizzo gives the Team Italia trademark “Baci” to his Italian teammates in the dugout.

Anthony Rizzo launches a deep fly ballagainst Puerto Rico.

Anthony Rizzo drives a double into the right center field gap to clear the bases and give Italy a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning against 2013 WBC runner-up Puerto Rico.

Initially interested in playing for Team USA but eclipsed by the stacked MLB All-Star calibre roster, Anthony Rizzo was intrigued by Mike Piazza’s guarantee for a prime time slot in the lineup as Team Italia’s slugger. “He’s just a great kid, and I think it’s just wonderful he chose to play with our team,” said Piazza. “As soon as we saw him walk through the door at spring training we exhaled.” However, if the opportunity arose to play for Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Rizzo has publicly stated that he doesn’t know which jersey he would wear–which is an encouraging sign for all believers. Piazza, who in many ways serves as his Sicilian baseball mentor, prays that he will stick with his roots and play for Italy. “It is important to have an impact guy like that with not only huge size, but status to play for Italy,” Piazza said. “If he’s finally able to reign in and stay healthy and maintain discipline and hit to all fields in Chicago, there’s no doubt he’s going to be a very productive major league hitter. I think he’s going to be big time for many years to come.”
Anthony Rizzo slides into Team USA's Brandon Phillips to break up a double play attempt.

Anthony Rizzo slides into USA’s Brandon Phillips
and successfully breaks up a double play attempt.

After Team Italy defeated Mexico and Canada to advance from WBC Pool D play in Phoenix with Team USA to the next round at Marlins Park in Miami, Rizzo spoke proudly in defense of his team and chastised those who didn’t believe Italy would compete in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He said,
“No one scripted us to be where we are. But we had a lead in every game we played in this tournament. Every-one has written us off–we shouldn’t be here, this and that. I think we’ve earned the respect that we didn’t get at all in this tournament.”
Anthony Rizzo anxiously awaits his at-bat against Mexico's closer Sergio Romo with his team behind 5-4 in the ninth inning.

Anthony Rizzo anxiously awaits what may be very well his finest at-bat in his career when he was down 0-2 against closer Sergio Romo and delivered a two-run double.

Anthony Rizzo makes contact in an exhibition game against the Oakland A's at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on March 5th.

Anthony Rizzo hit his first homer of Spring 2013
in an exhibition game against the Oakland Athletics off pitcher Fernando Rodriguez while playing for
Italia at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on March 5th.

Rizzo conceded that he didn’t have the greatest of expectations for Team Italy, nor did he have any idea that his experience playing for Italia would be the most cherished of his career. “To be honest, I got over here, played the first couple exhibition games and thought, ‘We have good hitters, decent lineup, guys who do their job,’ and Mexico was the game of my life that I’ve ever played. It was so much fun and energetic. It was crazy.” The drama began in the ninth inning when Rizzo hit a two-run double off Mexico’s closer Sergio Romo to give Italy a 6-5 lead and ended when Italy’s closer Jason Grilli got Jorge Cantu to ground out to second with bases loaded.
Anthony Rizzo is congratulated after his two-run double which led to Italy's 6-5 win over Mexico.

Anthony Rizzo is congratulated after his two-run double led to Italy’s 6-5 win over Mexico.

Anthony

Anthony Rizzo was all smiles when Italy was victorious since many Cubs players, coaches and staffers each pledged $500 to the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation if Team Italy won.

Not only was Team Italy victorious on more than one occasion with their come-from-behind 6-5 thriller over Mexico and their Mercy rule 14-4 clobbering of Canada, but the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation were also big winners. Many of the Cubs personnel pledged $500 each to the nonprofit if Italy won at least one game. Chicago manager Dale Sveum joked with Rizzo saying that it was only $50, but the team has the morning meeting and friendly wager on video. All winning proceeds collected by the young Cubbie went to the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. “I made sure to text everyone with dollar signs to get their checkbooks ready,” Rizzo said. Once again Rizzo had beat the odds, but this time it benefited his charitable organization and the many families of cancer patients it serves. There was greater good than a game of baseball here. The lives affected by the good fortune of Rizzo and Team Italy far exceeded the box scores. The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation’s race for a cure to combat this deadly disease coupled with the genetic makeup and clubhouse chemistry among Italian players and coaches made for a winning combination second to none as Team Italy moved on to round two of WBC play along with Team USA at Marlins Park in Miami.
Anthony Rizzo prior to the first pitch of WBC play.

Anthony Rizzo prior to the first pitch of WBC play.


Italy took an early 4-0 lead against the 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic. Rizzo contributed offensively with a walk and run scored, but the Italians fell short in a heartbreaking
5-4 loss. Facing elimination versus WBC runner-up Puerto Rico, the left-handed slugger drove a three-run double into the right center field gap to put the Italians up 3-0 in the fifth inning, but Puerto Rico came back to lead 4-3. Rizzo walked in the top of the ninth to represent the game-tying run, but he would be left stranded.
The Rizzo Family originally hails from Ciminna, Sicily.

Vito Rizzo traveled from Ciminna, Sicily to Ellis Island, NY in 1905.

Team Italy made Italian baseball history by advancing to the World Baseball Classic second round where they nearly upset the 2013 WBC Champion and Runner-Up. Baseball fans and family in Italy could not be more proud of Team Italia’s performance in front of an international audience. The Rizzo family is originally from Ciminna, which about 30 miles southeast of the capital of Palermo in Sicily. Anthony Rizzo’s great grandfather, Vito, came over from Italy in 1905 on
the Prince Albert and went through Ellis Island. Rizzo’s father, John, remained in contact with his brother’s brother-in-law in Sicily throughout the WBC tourney. John Rizzo said, “They have a small core of baseball fans. It’s like a cult thing.” It won’t be a cult for long as baseball continues to be gain popularity among Italy’s youth. Having won back-to-back European Baseball Championships, the Italian national team has attracted the country’s finest athletes. Analogous to Chinese hero Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin’s contributions to the growth of basketball in China, Italian-born Alex Liddi and Anthony Rizzo are now baseball icons in Europe.rizzo wbcWBC_Italy Avatar
With every Team Italy win came its fanaticism. It was no coincidence that the merchandise booths at Phoenix’s Chase Field had sold out of of t-shirts and jerseys before Italy’s game against Team USA. The onslaught of Italian youth sporting RIZZO proudly on their back has only begun. Just as he has become of the face of the Chicago Cubs franchise, Anthony Rizzo has become the backbone of the Italian baseball revolution supported by Mike Piazza. When the 12-time MLB All-Star catcher becomes the first Italian American to be inducted into both the American and Italian Baseball Hall of Fame, the stakes for Anthony Rizzo to repeat history will set the tone for a Team Italia reunion.
Anthony Rizzo congratulates Team Italy DH Chris Colabello after hitting a three-run home run in the first inning against 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic at Marlins Park.

Anthony Rizzo congratulates Team Italy’s Chris Colabello after hitting a three-run home run in the first inning against 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic at Marlins Park on March 12th.

Italy calls on pitcher Alex Maestri in 2013 World Baseball Classic win-or-go-home showdown

Pitcher Alex Maestri is representing Team Italy for the fourth time in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Starting pitcher Alex Maestri is representing Italy
for the fourth time in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

The first Italian-born pitcher signed
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.

Closer Alessandro Maestri was not afraid to show his winning Italian spirit by striking out Jayson Nix to beat Team U.S.A. for the first time in 21 years during the 2007 Baseball World Cup on November 9, 2007.

Closer Alessandro Maestri was not afraid to show his Italian winning spirit by striking out Jayson Nix to beat Team USA for the first time in 21 years during the 2007 Baseball World Cup hosted by Chinese Taipei.

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.
Alex Maestri pitched for the Brisbane Bandits during the 2011/12 ABL season.

Alex Maestri pitched for the Brisbane Bandits during the 2011/12 ABL season.

wbc_logo 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.

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.milbRoberto: 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.

Italian American Jason "Giambino" Giambi was the only A's hitter to get on base versus Alex Maestri.

Italian American Jason “Giambino” Giambi was the only A’s hitter to get on base against pitcher Alex Maestri in a 2009 Chicago Cubs Spring Training game under Cubbie manager Lou Pinella.

Roberto: Let’s talk about the development of baseball in Italy. Is playing on Team Italia like serving in the Italian military and serving your country?
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.
Alessandro Maestri with Italian teammates Pat Venditte, Luca Panerati and Alessandro Vaglio.  (Photo by Michele Gallerani/FIBS)

Alessandro Maestri with Italian teammates Pat Venditte, Luca Panerati and Alessandro Vaglio during a break while at Oakland A’s Minor League facility. (Photo by MG-Oldmanagency / FIBS)

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.

Pitching coach Bill Holmber and hitting coach Mike Piazza (Michele Gallerani / FIBS)

Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg and hitting coach Mike Piazza (MG-Oldmanagency / FIBS)

Roberto: Mike Piazza could be doing else, but instead he chooses to with you as the hitting coach for Team Italy.
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.

Team Italy pitcher Alex Maestri was once regarded as having the best slider in the Cubs organization.

Alex Maestri had some serious movement on his arsenal of pitches in the 2009 WBC.

Roberto: You have a wicked slider which was once regarded as one of the best in the entire Chicago Cubs organization.
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.

Italia pitcher Alessandro Maestri will face Team Canada in the WBC. (Michele Gallerani / FIBS)

Italia pitcher Alessandro Maestri beat Canada in the 2013 WBC. (MG-Oldmanagency / FIBS)

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.

Alex Liddi and Alex Maestri

Migliori Amici Alex Liddi and Alessandro Maestri

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.RizzoRoberto: 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! italy colors

WBC Exclusive: Q & A with Italy’s ace John Mariotti

John Mariotti was the winning pitcher for Team Italy in their defeat of the Netherlands in the 2012 European Championship Final.

Canadian-born John Mariotti was the winning pitcher for Team Italy in their defeat of the Netherlands in the 2012 European Championship Final to repeat their EU Championship title.

Rarely do you get an opportunity to meet someone like John Mariotti. He is a genuinely nice guy who deserves another long look by MLB. A former farmhand in the Baltimore Orioles organization, the right-handed pitcher for Team Italy will have that opportunity as the MLB Network televises 2013 World Baseball Classic Pool D action (which features Italy, USA, Mexico and Canada). Starting against Team Mexico on Thursday, March 7th at Talking Stick/Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, the sinkerball specialist is ready to shine and put Team Italy in a strategic position to advance to the second round of WBC play next week in Miami. To learn more about pitcher John Mariotti in a recently written article, please click HERE.

Roberto: You have a knack of being a winner and landing on winning teams. Do you truly have a winning spirit and the Midas touch?
John Mariotti: A championship team is made up of a specific group of players. Each player brings something different to the table in order to fit the mold and make up what is to be a championship team. My hard work and dedication toward baseball, I believe, are the traits that Pat Scalabrini (manager of Québec Capitales) and Marco Mazzieri (manager of Team Italy) saw, which made me one significant piece of the puzzle for their team. I am the type of player that never wants to let my teammates down and always striving to be the best.

Under the guidance of Québec Capitales manager Pat Scalabrini, John Mariotti has led the team to two consecutive Can-Am League Championships.

Under the guidance of Québec Capitales manager Pat Scalabrini, pitcher John Mariotti has led the team to two Can-Am League Championships.

Roberto: How did you end up on undefeated Team Italy in the European Championship?
John Mariotti: I got a call in October of 2011 by Team Italy in regards to playing in the European Championship and WBC. Immediately we began the citizenship process and in August I was on my way to Italy to prepare for the European Championship in Holland.Italy_FlagRoberto: Did you have a choice to play for Team Canada instead of Team Italy?
John Mariotti: I did not have the option to play for Team Canada.

Roberto: Will it be difficult playing against some of the players you grew up with in Canada while pitching for Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic?
John Mariotti: I know a couple of players on Canada’s team, John Axford, Chris Leroux and Jonathan Malo. When I was in college, I hit with Joey Votto for two years when I would come home for Christmas break. It will be an awesome experience to play on the same field as these guys, but I think that it’s understood that when its game time, all feelings are set aside.

Team Italy pitcher John Mariotti will face many of his fellow Canadian baseball buddies including Joey Votto.

Italy pitcher John Mariotti will face his former Canadian baseball buddy Joey Votto in the WBC.

Roberto: Does Team Canada have an edge because they have seen you pitch before or do you have an advantage because you know their Achilles’ heel?
John Mariotti: In baseball, I believe the biggest advantage is experience. Most of the players on Team Canada are or have played in the Big Leagues. Nonetheless, I believe in my talent and so do the Italians and I am going to work hard so that I am able to compete at my best in order to help us win.

Roberto: Who were some of the coaches that have inspired you?
John Mariotti: Murray Marshall (Team Ontario Baseball) was one of the coaches who gave me a shot to play elite baseball. His passion to coach and love for the game was an inspiration not only to me but to all of his players. In college it was both coach Darren Mazeroski (Gulf Coast Community College) and coach Gary Gilmore (Coastal Carolina University) that had a great effect on my career. Battling elbow injuries for two years, both coach “Maz” and “Gilly” believed in my ability and that I was going to perform.” They were two coaches that saw and believed in my talent and gave me every opportunity to succeed.
I owe them a lot.

Pitcher John Mariotti advanced as high as Double-A Bowie in the Baltimore Orioles organization.

Pitcher John Mariotti advanced as high as Double-A Bowie Baysox in the Baltimore Orioles organization.

Team Italy pitcher John Mariotti credits Ron Wolforth's Baseball Ranch for giving him a new lease on life after being injured and ultimately released by the Baltimore Orioles.

Team Italy pitcher John Mariotti credits pitching guru Ron Wolforth’s Baseball Ranch for giving him a new lease on life in his playing career after being injured and ultimately released by the Baltimore Orioles.

Roberto: You were injured and left for dead by MLB before heading to Texas.
John Mariotti: Ron Wolforth at Pitching Central in Houston, Texas, in a nutshell, gave me back what I have left of my baseball career. After suffering an injury that ultimately resulted in being released and what looked like the end of my career, I went to see coach Wolforth in Houston as a last hope. What I didn’t know was that hope wasn’t an option. He was going to get me back to playing, that’s how good he is. He is the pitching guru. Working with coach Wolforth got me back into professional baseball: two Can-Am Championships, one European Championship with Team Italy, a Phillies Spring Training invite and now a chance play in the World Baseball Classic. He is a big reason for my success. Pat Scalabrini was another inspiration in my playing career. After being released by the Winnipeg Goldeyes, coach Scalabrini gave me a shot to prove myself.
I did not disappoint. The two years of winning two championships with Québec was the most fun I’ve had playing ball in a long time. It was the support and belief by coach Scalabrini that really helped me get to this point, and I can’t thank him enough. These coaches were big inspirations for me.

Roberto: What are your best pitches that you have come to depend on?
John Mariotti: I throw a sinker, changeup and slider. My sinker and changeup are my two plus pitches. As a sinkerball pitcher, my job is to keep the ball on the ground and let the defense work. My changeup is a pitch that will keep hitters honest on the sinker and is one of my out pitches in certain situations.

Roberto: How good are the Italians? What are some of the strengths of the team?
John Mariotti: The Italians are very good; we have a lot of talent on our team and a great coaching staff. Aside from that, I believe it is the passion, teamwork and the will to win of the Italians that is going to help us achieve success.

Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg was previously an international  scout for the Chicago Cubs and currently is the director of the Italian MLB Academy. (Photo by Michele Gallerani/FIBS)

Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg was previously an international scout for the Chicago
Cubs and is currently the director of the Italian MLB Academy. (MG-Oldmanagency / FIBS)

Roberto: How has the coaching staff inspired the team? Do you care to comment on MLB Italian Academy Director and Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg?
John Mariotti: Bill is one of the more knowledgeable coaches I’ve had the pleasure of playing for. Bill and I spent a lot of time together over in Europe, and he taught me a lot about pitching. He has totally changed my mentality as far as how I approach hitters. His knowledge and ability to scout teams and prepare the pitching staff with information about our opponent is impressive. He is very passionate about teaching and coaching players.
He is a key component to the coaching staff and the success of the Italians.
Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza watches pitcher John Mariotti throw three scoreless innings against a group of Milwaukee Brewers prospects in a WBC warm-up game at Maryvale Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Michele Gallerani / FIBS)

Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza watches pitcher John Mariotti throw three scoreless innings against a group of Milwaukee Brewers prospects in a WBC warm-up game on March 1st at Maryvale Stadium in Phoenix. (MG-Oldmanagency / FIBS)

Roberto: How about a few words about Team Italy hitting coach and future Baseball Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza? How has he helped you and the pitching staff?
John Mariotti: Mike’s is a very knowledgeable person. His experience and knowledge for the game will definitely be a big factor in helping us succeed. Aside from this, he brings a certain character to the team, one that keeps the atmosphere on the bench very light and pressure free. He is a very knowledgeable person, who’s always thinking. I think Mike has helped us pitchers by preparing the catchers. Mike prepares our catchers for competition both mentally and physically and I think that by doing so, it only helps make the pitchers better.

Roberto: With the injection of more MLB-affiliated players participating in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, can Team Italy compete in Pool D and advance?
John Mariotti: No doubt. The Americans are the favorite in our pool, but as far as the rest of the teams go (Canada and Mexico) I think we have a really good shot at advancing to the second round.

Roberto: Who else would you have liked to see join Italy in the World Baseball Classic?
John Mariotti: One name that came to mind that I thought might be on the team was Mike Napoli. I’m pretty sure he is of Italian decent.Napoli Pizza

Team Italy is thrown a curveball in the 2013 WBC

Although Italian Prime Minister Monti was promised by U.S President Obama that America would help Italy in times of need, the World Baseball Classic scheduling committee has not offered Team Italy any concessions with their unorthodox and unreasonable schedule which no other team in the competition must undergo.

Although ex-Italian Prime Minister Monti was promised by U.S President Obama that America would help Italy in times of need, the World Baseball Classic scheduling committee has not offered Team Italy any concessions with their unorthodox and unreasonable schedule which no other country in the competition must undergo.

Despite the defending European Champs having traveled the greatest distance to compete in Pool D of the World Baseball Classic (which begins Thursday, March 7th and includes perennial favorite USA, Mexico and Canada) in addition to being the only team required to tax its arsenal of talented pitchers after being scheduled to play five games in five days beginning Tuesday with a pre-WBC exhibition warm-up against American League West Division Champion Oakland A’s, resilient Team Italy will be walking a tightrope in light of reduced WBC pitch limits (65 in the first round, 80 in the second round, and 95 in the semi-finals and finals) to overcome the adverse working conditions reminiscent to the plight of their ancestral forefathers who emigrated to America at the end of the 19th century. Although Team Italy’s exhibition games against the Athletics on Tuesday and Mike Scioscia’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Wednesday will not count in the tournament’s stringent pitch limits, it will have serious repercussions
on the arms of the Italian pitching staff. ita_uni_300x300

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.

Team Italy manager Marco Mazzieri has gained the respect of the European baseball community and the Italian people--especially his dedicated players and coaching staff who share in his belief of hard work and fellowship.

Team Italy manager Marco Mazzieri has gained the respect of the European baseball community as well as the Italian people–especially his dedicated players and coaching staff who share in his belief of hard work and fellowship. (Photo courtesy of FIBS)

Team Italy pitching coach and Italian Baseball Academy Director Bill Holmberg

Italy pitching coach and Italian MLB Academy Director Bill Holmberg possesses one of the
most intelligent baseball minds in the game.

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.

Team Italy's motto for the 2013 WBC

Team Italy’s motto for the 2013 WBC

“We can beat anybody. We beat the U.S.
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
Team Italy ace Alex Maestri was a fan favorite in 2011-12 while pitching in the Australian Baseball League.

Former Chicago Cubs minor leaguer and current Team Italy ace Alex Maestri
was a fan favorite in 2011-12 while pitching in the Australian Baseball League.


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: 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.

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: 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.

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.

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.

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)…

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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: 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.hardhatlunchboxRoberto: 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!

Marlins Park will host WBC Second Round, Pool 2 action.

Marlins Park will host WBC Second Round, Pool 2 action from March 12 through March 16, 2013.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,096 other followers