With Italy trailing by one run in the 2013 World Baseball Classic opener at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Mexico’s Adrian Gonzalez singled in the bottom of the seventh inning. Manager Marco Mazzieri needed Italian American Nick Pugliese to get his team out of a jam to end the inning and keep Italy in the game. The Florida native got Mexico’s Jorge Cantu to ground out and end the scoring threat. The former Angel minor leaguer held Mexico scoreless in the eighth to set the table for closer Jason Grilli, who saved Pugliese’s first WBC win after Italy scored twice on Sergio Romo. During the course of his three other appearances in the 2013 WBC tournament, Nick Pugliese faced an MLB All-Star cast including USA’s Ryan Braun, Dominican Republic’s Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Santana and Puerto Rico’s Yadier Molina. Now the closer for the Italian Baseball League’s Fortitudo Bologna, winner of the 2013
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.