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.

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Denorfia is a hit in Little Italy and the Big Leagues

Team Italy's Chris Denorfia at the 2009 World Baseball Classic in Toronto.
Team Italy’s Chris Denorfia at the 2009 World Baseball Classic at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.
San Diego's Little Italy at night
San Diego’s Little Italy is home to the Padres’ faithful who rally together before home games at Petco Park.
Coming off stellar performances for Team Italy in both the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics, the love for Padres’ outfielder Chris Denorfia overflows well beyond San Diego’s Little Italy to the motherland where his paternal grandmother Michelina lived. The Connecticut native first connected with his Italian roots as a teenager while visiting relatives in Italy and returned again for more Italian family amore in 2002 after graduating from Wheaton College during a Euro backpack adventure.
Chris Denorfia during the a 2009 WBC Press Conference in Toronto
Team Italy’s Chris Denorfia speaks during a 2009 World Baseball Classic Press Conference in Toronto.
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.
Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza described the two strike at-bat by Chris Denorfia against Mexico's closer Sergio Romo in the 2013 WBC as one of the best at-bats he had ever seen.
Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza described the two strike at-bat by Chris Denorfia against Mexico’s closer Sergio Romo in the 2013 WBC as one of the best at-bats he had ever seen.
Nick Punto and Chris Denorfia led Team Italy's one-two punch in the lineup.
Nick Punto (left) and Chris Denorfia (right) gave Team Italy a lethal one-two punch in the lineup to defeat favorites Mexico and Canada in the 2013 WBC.
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.
Chris Denorfia slides into home safely to score the winning run against Team Mexico in the 2013 WBC.
Chris Denorfia slides safely into home to give Italy
a 6-5 lead over Team Mexico in the top of the ninth at Salt River Fields in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

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.
Chris DeNorfia celebrates with Alex Liddi after scoring the winning run in the ninth inning against Mexico in the 2013 WBC.
Chris Denorfia celebrates with Alex Liddi after scoring the winning run for Italy in their 6-5 stunning upset over Team Mexico in the 2013 WBC.
Chris Denorfia is congratulated after his heroic performance.
Chris Denorfia is congratulated by his teammates after going 2-for-5 and scoring twice against Mexico.
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.
Team Italy outfielder Chris Denorfia
Team Italy and San Diego outfielder Chris Denorfia

“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.
Chris Denorfia was the integral to Team Italy's success in the 2013 WBC.
Chris Denorfia was integral to Team Italy’s success in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
padres-round-logoIn 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:

The San Diego Padres are blessed with Chris Denorfia.
The SD Padres are blessed to have Chris Denorfia.
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
has the tools not only to become a National League All-Star but also a 2013 Gold Glove Award winner.
Padres' Chris Denorfia was a finalist for the 2011 Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA) Heart and Hustle Award.
San Diego Padres’ Chris Denorfia was a finalist for the 2011 Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association Heart and Hustle Award.

Team Italy’s energizer Nick Punto ready to spark Los Angeles Dodgers when called upon for duty

Team Italy's Nick Punto scores on a wild pitch by Team USA's Ryan Vogelsong in the bottom of the first inning in the 2013 World Baseball Classic at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona on March 9th.
Nick Punto gets underdog Team Italy on the board early by scoring on a wild pitch thrown by Team USA
starter Ryan Vogelsong in the bottom of the first inning in 2013 World Baseball Classic Pool D action on
March 9th at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona.
Team Italy manager Marco Mazzieri knew he had a special MLB everyday player in leadoff hitter and spark plug Nick Punto before the 2013 World Baseball Classic began. Having played shortstop for Team Italy in the 2009 WBC at Rogers Centre in Toronto,
the versatile Dodgers infielder (3B/SS/2B) played a solid second base in the 2013 WBC tournament–allowing Seattle Mariners reserve third baseman Alex Liddi (currently at Triple-A Tacoma) and former MiLB farmhand shortstop Anthony Granato to remain at their usual positions. Having beaten Mexico and Canada in Phoenix to advance to the second round in Miami, Punto led off in every one of Team Italy’s five games and raked at the plate (8-for-19, .421 BA, two 2B, two BB and five runs scored).
Team Italy's Nick Punto speaks at WBC Press Conference in Miami.
Team Italy’s Nick Punto speaks at WBC Press Conference in Miami.
Nick Punto is 1-for-1 in stolen base attempts.
LA Dodgers’ Nick Punto is 1-for-1 in stolen bases.
LA Dodgers infielder Nick Punto
made his first start of the season in Sunday’s series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Chavez Ravine. Playing second base and batting second in the lineup, he went 2-for-2 with a walk and two runs scored. Punto also stole a base in a 6-2 victory. The seasoned 35-year-old MLB veteran with a World Series ring (2011 St. Louis Cardinals) is 4-for-7 in limited action during two weeks of play–despite leading the team with his impressive .571 batting average.
Leading off for Team Italy in the 2013 WBC, Nick Punto was always the first player congratulated in the dugout.
Leading off for Team Italy in the 2013 WBC, Nick Punto was always the first player congratulated.
Nick Punto is one of the most acrobatic players in MLB.
Nick Punto is one of MLB’s most acrobatic players.
LA Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly may want take note of WBC Team Italy manager Marco Mazzieri’s unconditional love for Nick Punto
as an everyday player. The recently appointed Dodgers European scout Mazzieri said, “Nick is a terrific guy. Here’s a guy with tremendous experience…a big clubhouse guy trying to keep everybody up and ready.” Former manager Tony La Russa started Punto in the 2011 World Series because he believed
that he made his team better.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly cheers on his team while Nick Punto waits for his next at-bat.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly cheers on his team while Nick Punto patiently awaits his next at-bat.
Now it’s time for Mattingly to follow suit and strongly consider including the Team Italia energizer and World Champion in the his daily lineup card. Not only would Nick Punto ignite the Dodgers offensively, but his natural born athleticism and constant hustle on the field would be documented in web gems for the world to see on nightly highlight reels. Dodgers fans and baseball fanatics alike deserve to see “the great Nicky Punto” in action just as those lucky enough to witness the magic firsthand from his beloved days in Minnesota. Forza Dodgers!
Team Italy's Nick Punto slides hard into second base to break up a double play against Team Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic in Phoenix, Arizona.
Team Italy’s Nick Punto slides hard into second base to break up a double play against Team
Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic on March 8th at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona.