It appears that the 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals want to return to their winning ways by bringing Italy’s finest exports, Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini, back together again. Alex Liddi, the first Italian-born and developed player to make to it to Major League Baseball (Seattle Mariners, 2011), recently re-signed with the Kansas City Royals organization after spending the last two years playing in Mexico. Marten Gasparini, who signed for $1.3 million with the Kansas City Royals in 2013, is the player insiders believe will follow in Liddi’s footsteps as the second Italian-born and developed player in the Big Leagues. Gasparini is still heralded as Europe’s top MLB prospect and is progressing every day up the ladder in Minor League Baseball. Nick Leto, Manager of Arizona Operations for the Kansas City Royals, said, “We’re very happy to be reuniting the Italians again.”
After being signed the first time by the Kansas City Royals on December 28, 2014, Liddi was named 2015 Texas League Mid-Season All-Star while playing for Double-A affiliate Northwest Arkansas but never got the opportunity to join fellow Team Italy comrade Drew Butera on the 2015 World Champion Royals. Later he signed with 2015 Mexican Baseball League Champion Tigres de Quintana Roo in 2016. Hitting a respectable .281 in 110 games played, Alex led the Tigres in doubles (28), triples (4), home runs (23), RBI (91), total bases (220) and slugging percentage (.538). He was crowned 2016 Mexican All-Star Home Run Derby Champion by launching 12 homers that cleared the outfield fences with ease.
The Mexican baseball accolades continued for Alex as he later became the first Italian to play in the Caribbean Series when joining 2016 Mexican Champion Venados de Mazatlán. Better known as Serie del Caribe or the Caribbean World Series, it is Latin America’s highest competitive baseball tournament at the club level featuring the respective champions from Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. In his final four games playing for Mexico’s Venados de Mazatlán, Liddi went 4-for-17 with a triple and a double to help the Mexicans become 2016 Caribbean Series Champion. After playing for Team Italy in the 2016 European Baseball Championship, Alex underwent left knee surgery. He rebounded triumphantly and returned to his winning form by powering Toros de Tijuana to the 2017 Mexican League Championship with 17 home runs during the regular season.
The great American author Charles Dickens once wrote: “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.” The old adage is appropriate in the case of Alex Liddi and his recent re-signing by the Kansas City Royals. Leto said, “Alex made a great impression on the Royals when we had him. We have scouts that keep up with the league in Mexico. He’s someone that we checked on from time to time, and he almost came back into the organization last summer. The draw to Alex is his power, professionalism and makeup. He’s a winner. Experience isn’t everything, but Alex has played in a lot professional minor league games. He has major league experience, big time world tourney experience and foreign league experience. Alex has been through a lot of ups and downs while being around a lot of players. He knows what success and failure look like. Alex is a people person, who likes to be in the clubhouse. He is a run producer and an excellent teammate. Alex has been invited to minor league mini-camp so he’ll be in position to play in some major league spring training games.”
Alex Liddi is the face of Italian baseball. The first player from Italy to play in the Major Leagues since 1954, Liddi was honored by World Baseball Softball Federation president Riccardo Fraccari, who called him “a real ambassador of Italian baseball.” With the opportunity to spur the growth of baseball in Europe by competing at the sport’s highest level, Alex Liddi has inspired young Italian athletes like Royals’ prospect Marten Gasparini to believe that playing Major League Baseball is a reality.
Gasparini is still a work-in-progress, and according to MLB.com, the 20-year-old is the Royals 19th-ranked prospect. Adapting to his new position in the outfield from shortstop, the switch-hitting Gasparini played for Single-A affiliate Lexington in 2017. Leto, who was instrumental in the Royals’ signing of Marten, spoke confidently about Gasparini. He said, “There’s great belief in Marten’s ability. It’s a process. All players develop differently. There’s no question about Marten ability, it’s just time and reps. Switch-hitting is a really difficult skill to develop. Marten has experienced a lot of things for the first time since signing a professional contract. His intelligence, maturity, and awareness are going to allow these lessons to stick and be applied. There’s no doubt Marten will be a major league player, not a just a player, a special major league player, a championship player.”
With the support of the Kansas City Royals organization, both Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini are destined for success. Despite a nine-year age difference between them, both players share the same intensity, tenacity and desire to play Major League Baseball. With a plethora of adoring fans from Europe, North America and south of the border cheering him on, international baseball ambassador Alex Liddi believes he is ready for his return to MLB. Marten Gasparini would like nothing more to join his mentor on the Kansas City Royals. Nick Leto would also like that very much. He said, “Who knows, maybe they’ll both get to Kansas City together…”
With majestic Mount Baldy providing the perfect backdrop for the optimal collegiate baseball setting, the late and great Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags Baseball Head Coach Bill Arce fulfilled his promise to empower those who played on the Arce Field of Dreams to attain excellence. Former student athlete Wes Parker, who played under Coach Arce from 1959-1961, enjoyed a career with the LA Dodgers from 1964-1971. Arce once said, “Wes was the hardest worker I ever had. He honed his great natural talent with tremendous work ethic.”
When Internationally-acclaimed broadcast journalist Josh Chetwynd wrote his book “Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History” (2008), he acknowledged the invaluable contribution of legendary Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Baseball Coach Bill Arce. In his introduction, author Josh Chetwynd wrote: Some Americans have made a commitment to the European game for no reason but for the love of the sport. During the Battle of the Bulge, Bill Arce was a member of General George Patton’s Third Army. Injured in the fighting, Arce prayed to God. He promised that if he were to survive, he’d spend his life in a meaningful way. Arce would go on to become a university professor, administrator and baseball coach–and would give to European baseball like no other. Often paying out of his own pocket, he was the first American coach to hold baseball clinics in Sweden (1962), Czechoslolvakia (1969) and Yugoslavia (1979). All told, he worked in fifteen different European countries and was the only person to have coached two different countries–the Netherlands (in 1971) and Italy (in 1975) to a European Baseball Championship. In his first chapter on the Netherlands in “Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History”, Josh Chetwynd retraced the story how Bill Arce became involved in coaching abroad: Bill Arce’s entry into European baseball was mere happenstance. “I was on a plane trip with a professor from Stanford going to a convention in New York,” recalled Arce about his 1960 introduction to the European game. “At the bottom of the sports page, I noticed an item saying Holland had won the European baseball tournament. I commented that would be a great way to spend a leave from college, working with baseball players in a country like Holland.” Sometime after that he received a letter from a friend who was serving as the American consul in Amsterdam saying they were looking for a coach. Arce, who served as athletic director and head coach at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, jumped at the opportunity in 1962.
The book “Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History” elaborated on the significant impact Bill Arce had on baseball abroad: Arce would become not only a tireless teacher for the Dutch but also a master organizer. As the Dutch Baseball Hall of Famer Han Urbanus put it years later: “Bill Arce became one of the most famous and trusted coaches in our baseball history.”
On Arce’s initial trip, he took a leave of absence from his U.S. academic commitments and spent more than a year working with Dutch players. For years after that, he brought college-aged teams to Holland to play and coach. Arce’s players were central figures in improving play in Holland. So much so “that the impact it had on Dutch baseball is still felt there today,” wrote longtime Atlanta Braves scout Bill Clark in 1995. A top-flight coach, he would also lead the Netherlands to a gold medal in the 1971 European Baseball Championship.
After much success coaching in Holland, international ambassador Bill Arce crossed enemy lines to help Euro rival Italy in developing its baseball program. After managing the Italian national team in the 1973 and 1975 Intercontinental Cups, he ended Italy’s 21-year drought by bringing home the 1975 European Baseball Championship title.
After being inducted into both the Dutch and Italian Baseball Halls of Fame, Bill Arce’s influence still reigned internationally. Following the conclusion the 2011 American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention, MLB International’s Jason Holowaty said: “For me the highlight was a special dinner hosted by MLB to honor Bill Arce, one of the first U.S. college coaches to start visiting Europe and a central figure in the development of European baseball and MLB International. Through the years he has influenced so many people in international baseball, including myself. It was great for everyone to get a chance to say thank you to such an important man.” He was also honored when given the European Baseball Coaches Association (EBCA) Career Achievement Award in 2012. Arce launched the EBCA exchange program, an initiative to develop European coaches’ insights in every aspect of the game through collaborative mentoring by experienced American coaches.
The Stags legend finished his college coaching career with an impressive 606-472-7 record. Prior to his passing in 2016, Bill Arce was inducted into the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletic Coaches and the American Baseball Coaches Halls of Fame as well as received the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Distinguished Service Award.
The writing is on the wall just as it was in 2012 when former UC Davis Aggie pitcher Marco Grifantini and catcher Tyler LaTorre helped Team Italia capture its second consecutive European Baseball Championship by defeating a talented Kingdom of the Netherlands squad and again in 2013 when both California natives played in the World Baseball Classic. With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, two additional UC Davis alums–Toronto Blue Jays reliever Joe Biagini and free agent infielder Daniel Descalso–could potentially give manager Marco Mazzieri a boost if the Italian American players are added to the Team Italia roster. One could make a strong case for Biagini’s participation should fellow Jays bullpen paisan Jason Grilli be playing in his fourth consecutive World Baseball Classic for Team Italia. Joseph Carlo Biagini‘s Italian family bloodlines run deep with relatives in Lucca. His Italian great uncle, Carlo Biagini, was a merchant marine there. Joe’s father, Rob Biagini–who spent time playing ball in the Giants organization from 1981 to 1982–also played abroad in Italy with former teammate Chris Colabello’s father, Lou Colabello. However, it might take an executive order from new Canadian-born Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) president Andrea Marcon to get Biagini onboard with Team Italia in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
#BlueJays RP Joe Biagini on @FAN590 re whether he’ll play for Italy in WBC: “I’ve got a call with the Italian president right after this.”
After redshirting and playing one year at the College of San Mateo, right-handed pitcher Joe Biagini transferred to UC Davis, where he made 13 appearances out of the Aggies bullpen and went 3-1. He was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 26th round of the 2011 MLB draft after his redshirt sophomore season. On December 10, 2015, Biagini was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays from the San Francisco Giants in the 2015 Rule 5 draft. On April 8, 2016, Joe made his MLB debut when he pitched a perfect ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox and posted his first career strikeout facing David Ortiz. In his six appearances during the 2016 postseason against Baltimore, Texas and Cleveland, Biagini threw 7.1 scoreless innings with six strikeouts. He was the unanimous choice for rookie of the year at the recent annual Blue Jays player awards. The 26-year-old reliever was the only Jays rookie to go wire-to-wire with the team, a major accomplishment for a Rule 5 draftee. Starting out the season as a middle-relief fixture for manager John Gibbons, Joe gained the trust of the veteran skipper who later assigned him to late-inning duty. Biagini has since been the center of attention in the media as a result of being in the audience at a taping of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. During the show, Fallon passed Biagini in the audience and attempted to high-five him along with other audience members, but the popular celebrity TV host missed Biagini’s hand. During the November 18th episode, Fallon stated that he had taken criticism on Twitter for botching the high-five and brought Biagini out on stage briefly to complete their high-five.
Daniel Descalso was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third round of the 2007 MLB draft following his junior season at UC Davis. Descalso made his MLB debut with the Cardinals on September 20, 2010. Despite the 30-year-old Italian American utility man only having a .242 career average, Descalso is much more important on the field as he has played every position but catcher and center field. After five successful seasons–including a 2011 World Series title–in St. Louis, Descalso signed with the Colorado Rockies on December 16, 2014. Rockies manager Walt Weiss recently said, “Daniel has a great pedigree, he’s played in the postseason, played in the World Series. And that goes a long way in that clubhouse. Guys understand how hard it is to get there. He’s a winning player, he’s got a winning attitude, he’s a leader… so, his value goes way beyond the stat sheet.” When asked if Descalso might make a good coach or manager in the future, Weiss replied: “Yeah, absolutely. I think he’s definitely cut from that mold. He’s one of those guys that has obviously been a student of the game. He’s a smart player. He played at a small school, UC Davis, and has probably always had to prove himself and overachieve to some degree but he’s put together a nice Major League career.” Descalso was the second UC Davis Aggie player to ever reach MLB in 2010 and the first to win a World Series ring in 2011. Before becoming the Aggies’ second-highest MLB draft pick, Daniel hit a team-best .397 as a junior in 2007, with 22 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 53 runs scored and 44 RBI. With infielder Nick Punto now retired and serving as the Team Italia third base coach, the versatile Daniel Descalso could prove to be a valuable defensive replacement and offensive spark plug in the World Baseball Classic.
For the past two years, Tyler LaTorre has been working as an assistant baseball coach at San Francisco State University under head coach Tony Schifano–who spent eight years as the assistant coach at UC Davis, his alma mater. Like Schifano, LaTorre is a former Aggies all-star. Tyler played at UC Davis from 2003-06, earning all-conference honors as a senior when he hit a team-high and career-best .363 with 37 runs and 32 RBI. He drew a team-best 28 walks and led the Aggies with a .451 on-base percentage. LaTorre was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Francisco Giants on May 29, 2006 after a five-year UC Davis career. The former catcher played 10 seasons in the minor leagues–including nine of them in the San Francisco Giants organization–when he caught the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong before signing a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015. During his pro ball career, LaTorre played a total of 452 minor league games during which he posted a .241 career average with 60 doubles, 14 home runs, 131 RBI and 155 runs scored. Yet, some of Tyler’s most memorable games included his time playing for Team Italia in the 2012 European Baseball Championship when he nearly won MVP tourney honors after going 14-for-28. Eight of his 14 hits were for extra bases–including six doubles and two home runs. LaTorre absolutely raked at the plate, knocking in nine RBI and scoring nine times during the international tournament. “We had one goal and that was to repeat as European champions,” said LaTorre. “It was awesome.” He also enjoyed serving as backup for Team Italia catcher Drew Butera in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The 33-year-old Italian American started against Team USA and went 1-for-4 with a walk and one run scored. LaTorre’s Italian roots trace back to his great-grandparents in Italy. It took two and a half years for him to become eligible to play for Team Italia as a dual citizen and Italian passport holder after thorough research, documentation and tedious paperwork authenticating his Italian lineage.
Having spent his 2007-08 seasons as a reliever in his final two years of college at UC Davis, Marco Grifantini did not register on MLB’s radar and was not drafted. Unfazed by pro baseball’s cold shoulder, Marco’s passion for the game grew stronger and he chose a path less traveled. Upon securing dual citizenship and an Italian passport, Grifantini was given the opportunity to pitch for Cariparma Parma in the Italian Baseball League and Team Italia in the 2009 World Cup. Marco helped his 2010 Parma squad secure its first national title since 1997 after going undefeated all season and pitching four scoreless innings to pick up the save in the decisive game seven of the Italian Baseball League Championship. Later that year pitching for Team Italia, Grifantini notched another important save in relief to allow the Azzurri to dethrone the Dutch and win the 2010 European Baseball Championship. In addition, Marco got the win in games against South Korea and Taiwan in the 2010 IBAF Intercontinental Cup to assure Team Italia a bronze medal. Team Italia won its second consecutive European Baseball Championship in 2012 thanks in part to the relief work of Marco Grifantini. Prior to pitching for Team Italia in 2013 World Baseball Classic, Grifantini made 53 appearances over four seasons for Cariparma Parma in the Italian Baseball League and posted a 19-4 record with a 1.89 ERA. His impressive performance against the Los Angeles Angels in a 2013 pre-WBC exhibition game in Tempe, Arizona led MLB scouts to scratch their heads in disbelief that Grifantini had been undrafted out of UC Davis five years prior. Immediately following the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Grifantini signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. In his only season playing pro ball for the Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays in 2013, Marco started six games and went 3-2 with a 5.21 ERA. The proud 31-year-old Italian American has since returned to his home in Redding, California. Grifantini said, “I am now starting my career in a local hospital as a pharmacy technician, and I plan on getting married in the summer. As for baseball, I have helped train a few youngsters and plan on coachinglocally to give back to a sport that gave me so much.”
Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri has been synonymous with Italian baseball since his playing days in the 1980’s. During his ten-year tenure as the leader of the Team Italia coaching staff, Mazzieri has made the Italians proud with European Baseball Championship titles in 2010 and 2012. He has worked closely with FIBS in its mission of strengthening the game in Italy and Europe. Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball(FIBS) has been instrumental in developing its own homegrown pool of talent at the FIBS Baseball Academy under the watchful eye of MLB director and Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg.
In preparation of the 2016 European Baseball Championship, Italian Baseball Week showcased three of Europe’s finest: Italia, Spain and the Czech Republic. Despite losing two of the four exhibition games held in Tirrenia and Firenze, the Italians played solid fundamental baseball and used the competition to narrow down their final roster prior to the start of the Euro championship in the Netherlands. Two additional pitchers, Tiago Da Silva and Luis Lugo, caught up with Team Italia in Hoofddorp to bolster the Italian pitching arsenal and to increase the Azzurri’s chances of reclaiming the European throne from the defending Dutch champions.
During Team Italia’s first three wins against Greece, France and Belgium in the 2016 European Baseball Championship, the Azzurri offense scored a total of 42 runs. Italia then lost a heartbreaker versus second-place finisher Spain when with the score tied 3-3 in the ninth inning the Spanish rallied to win 9-3. The Italians rebounded with gusto by crushing Croatia 22-4 and shutting out Germany 12-0. Team Italia infielder Alessandro Vaglio led all hitters in the 2016 European Baseball Championship with 17 runs scored, while catcher Mattia Reginato hit for the cycle against Greece and also led the Euros in RBI (12). In fact, Team Italia led the tourney in runs (87), hits (99) and batting average (.355).
Crafty left-hander Luca Panerati, a graduate of the Italian Baseball Academy in Tirrenia and a former Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect, gave quality starts against France and Kingdom of the Netherlands. Closer Nicholas Pugliese was one out away from securing a Team Italia win versus the Dutch when a controversial call at the plate forced the game into extra innings. Notable pitching performances included two by southpaw veteran Junior Oberto, starter against Greece and Germany.
Despite losing 6-5 to Kingdom of the Netherlands in a late night ten inning contest, Team Italia returned less than 12 hours later to defeat the Czech Republic 3-2 in their final game of the 2016 European Baseball Championship. Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri shared his final thoughts with MLBforLife.com at the conclusion of the international competition. Mazzieri said, “We’re very happy the way the players performed throughout the tournament. We battled against each and every team. We played some very good baseball. We only committed two errors in all our games, which is incredible at this level. The guys gave it their all. We lost a heartbreaker to the Netherlands. The way we lost and the ways we battled. I think we deserved to win that game. We only slept a couple hours before our next game because nobody could sleep after that loss. I really don’t know where these guys get the energy to get back in these games and actually win the way we did. They showed a lot to me… Nobody but us expected to see Team Italia with that will, commitment, effort and great attitude throughout the whole game against the Netherlands. We scored two and we were up by two runs in the 8th (inning). The Netherlands came back and tied the score. We were able to find the strength and the energy to get back to score two runs. Sometimes in baseball a bad bounce or a bad call can cost you a game. That’s what happened to us. You are going to win and lose games, but the way you act and the way you perform on the field by what you do in terms of will and approach…it’s something that’s there! So we cannot complain about that… We are very proud and happy that we have this group of guys. I’m proud of a great group of coaches and players that made this journey incredible.”
Florence, birthplace of Renaissance artists Donatello and Michelangelo as well as modern fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, hosts a series of exhibition games between Team Italia, Spain and Czech Republic during Italian Baseball Week in preparation of the 2016 European Baseball Championship. Manager Marco Mazzieri gets his last chance to finalize the Azzurri lineup when Team Italia play Spain on September 4th and follow up with Czech Republic on September 6th at Stadio di Baseball Cerreti.
Sponsored in part by FIBS, the City of Firenze and Firenze Viola Super Sport, Italian Baseball Week welcomes back international competition to Cerreti Stadium, where the 2009 Baseball World Cup was held. FIBS vice president Massimo Fochi and Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri were instrumental in the planning of such a monumental event prior to the 2016 Euro Championship in Holland from September 9-18. Mazzieri is only the second manager to lead Team Italia to a championship title in the Netherlands when they defeated Holland in 2012. Skipper Marco Mazzieri and pitching coach Bill Holmberg are up for the challenge to reclaim the Euro throne.
Marco Mazzieri’s Team Italia will need to dethrone host and 2014 Euro Champ Holland to reclaim the Gold Medal in the upcoming September 9-18 tournament which also features talented teams from Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic, France, Belgium, Russia, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Sweden and Greece. In the 33-year history of the competition, the Dutch lead with 21 Gold Medals while Italia follows with 10. Hoofddorp’s state-of-the-art complex in the tourist-friendly Haarlemmermeer municipality just outside Amsterdam opened in 2014 after satisfying all stringent field requirements set by Major League Baseball in an ongoing effort to bring MLB games to Europe.
Team Italia play their opener on September 9th against 2014 tenth place finisher Greece, a much improved team now under the management of Mauro Mazzotti. The Azzurri return the following day on September 10th to face France, led by manager Eric Gagné, whose leadership nearly landed the French a Bronze after a loss to third place Spain in 2014. The Italians are under the lights on September 11th when battling 2014 seventh place finisher Belgium. Then Team Italia quickly come back for a day game on September 12th against Spain. They close out their Pool B action with an afternoon game versus 2014 twelfth place finisher Croatia on September 13th. Italia must dominate Pool B for a rematch against reigning champ Holland. Forza Italia!
MLB.com Blogs Central has announced its March 2016 Latest Leaders, and MLBforLife.com has ranked sixth as the most visited MLB.comFan Website. Embracing the motto “where baseball meets history and pop culture”, radio DJ and writer Roberto Angotti has produced over 150 articles to date since 2011. Inspired by the great Roberto Clemente, Roberto spent his youth in the right field pavilion of Dodger Stadium at every Pirates game to get up close to his favorite player. After Clemente’s tragic death in 1972, Roberto set out on his own mission to promote athletes and musicians that gave back. MLBforLife.com prides itself for giving readers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at international events such as the upcoming 2016 European Baseball Championship and the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Supporting Team Italia manager and LA Dodgers international scout Marco Mazzieri, Roberto is dedicated to help grow the game in Europe.
The European Baseball Coaches Association recently recognized Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg for his excellence by honoring him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Having grown the game abroad for over ten years as the MLB director and coach in residence at the FIBS Italian Academy in Tirrenia, Italy, Holmberg has been instrumental in the advancement and development of baseball in Europe. The fruits of his labor in Italy have blossomed from the Youth to the National Team levels as witnessed by the Azzurri’s ascent from #11 to #9 in the WBSC March 2016 World Rankings. A former Chicago Cubs scout who knows what it takes to be competitive in MLB, Holmberg helped Alessandro Maestri, Alex Liddi, Alberto Mineo and Marten Gasparini launch professional baseball careers worldwide.
After Buchbinder Legionäre Regensburg took the first two games of the best-of-five German national baseball championship series by slim one run margins, Heidenheim Heideköpfe came back strong with a 4-0 shutout in game three and a 12-2 blowout to even the series. With German passport in hand, thirty-year-old Luke Sommer flew overseas from America to join his Heidenheim Heideköpfe teammates for the sold-out decisive game five at Armin Wolf Arena in Regensburg, Germany on October 3, 2015. Vying for a second championship in the German Baseball-Bundesliga, Heidenheim Heideköpfe struck first in the second inning and led 1-0 until late in the heated battle. Both starting pitchers, Buchbinder Legionäre Regensburg’s Mike Bolsenbroek and Heidenheim Heideköpfe’s Peter Sikaras, went deep in the game before the offensive onslaught ensued in the top of the seventh inning and Heidenheim Heideköpfe tacked on three insurance runs to lead comfortably 4-0. Buchbinder Legionäre Regensburg wasted no time in fighting back with a five-run rally highlighted by a three-run home run by Philipp Howard to take a 5-4 lead into the eight inning. Heidenheim Heideköpfe’s Simon Guehring answered back with a homer to even the score. Home team Regensburg looked like they were going to run away with the game when they scored twice to take the 7-5 lead. Heidenheim Heideköpfe called for their lefty specialist Luke Sommer from the bullpen to stop the bleeding. The former Chicago Cubs prospect received the win after a remarkable three-run rally by Heidenheim Heideköpfe in the last inning and putting away the final three Regensburg hitters in the bottom of the ninth. With their come-from-behind 8-7 victory, Heidenheim Heideköpfe denied Buchbinder Legionäre Regensburg from registering their sixth German baseball championship title in dramatic fashion.
Signing Europe’s top prospect Marten Gasparini for a record $1.3 million bonus just two years ago was only the beginning for the Kansas City Royals. During this past off-season, the 2014 World Series runner-up was once again at work acquiring the first Italian-born and developed player to make the Bigs–Alex Liddi. Known for his power stroke at-bat and defensive prowess on the diamond, the 26-year-old slugger is on the cusp of a comeback after making his initial MLB splash for the Seattle Mariners in 2011. Nick Leto, manager of Arizona operations for the Kansas City Royals, is largely responsible for why both Gasparini and Liddi now wear similar colors to their native blue Italia jerseys. The trio could not be happier working together with the same goal of making an impact on the the major league level. Prior to Opening Day, Nick Leto gave an exclusive interview and some invaluable insight as to where the Italians fit in the Italian family.
Great to see Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini in @Royals camp today. KC is the favorite baseball team of Italy. Great colors too. #Azzurri
Roberto: How are you feeling today here at the Kansas City Royals Spring Training camp in Surprise, Arizona? Nick Leto: Excellent. It’s been a long haul here in Spring Training. We’re cruising along pretty well now. Roberto: With 17-year-old shortstop prospect Marten Gasparini and proven MLB success story Alex Liddi in the Royals organization, you have two of the finest Italian baseball players in history. How do you feel about leading the Italian baseball revolution? Nick Leto: I think it is great, and I think it’s great for the Royals to have those two guys here. I think it is good for our brand to have two of the best players out of Europe and Italy. Alex is a man, and Marten is kind of still a kid growing up. But they are excellent ambassadors for European baseball and excellent ambassadors for Italy in the way they go about their business. They are two very professional hard-working players that really represent really well. And they are excellent players too. Roberto: When the Royals clinch their division and the 40-man roster opens up, it would be a dream come true to bring Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini up to the major league level together. I know it is a little premature for Marten to ascend up to the Bigs, but the time is now for Alex Liddi to return to Major League Baseball. Nick Leto: There is no doubt. You know Alex has a special gift–a right-handed power gift. I think his makeup fits what we try to do around here. You know the skies the limit. He is still developing. You know players like that…guys out of Europe and different countries like Brazil and other places in the world. He may be 26 or in his mid-20’s, but he is still developing. He hasn’t reached his ceiling as a player, and we’re going to keep trying to push him to the higher levels. That is why we brought him in. I think he can help our major league team. That’s why he’s here…he has a gift of power. You know he is here to potentially impact our major league team…that’s what we’re hoping for.
Roberto: Alex is an exciting player to watch. Having just stepped off the plane after playing his last minor league game for the Dodgers organization, a sleepless Liddi flew over the Atlantic to join Team Italia in the midst of the 2014 European Baseball Championship in Germany. Considering that he had not slept for a couple days and then hit three home runs against England, it was quite an impressive display of athleticism. Nick Leto: He is a guy I have known of for a long time, and I have kind of admired him from afar. But being in camp with us and really getting to see how he goes about his business day-in and day-out, he truly is a special kid. He goes about his business very professionally. He is in here early. He is getting his extra swings in. I mean he does everything the right way. He works hard in the weight room. He is very disciplined in his approach, and he is a very hard worker. He is everything you want in a player for sure. Roberto: He is a consummate professional. Nick Leto: There is no doubt about it. You know he is great with his teammates. He has fun playing the game. He jokes around out there, but when it comes time to get to work he is all business. He is locked in, he is focused and he is concentrating. His makeup is excellent. There’s no doubt about that. Roberto: Once he was no longer part of the LA Dodgers organization, who as responsible for signing him with the Kansas City Royals? Nick Leto: Everything around here is kind of a collective effort. You know he’s had a good run with Seattle and coming up. He has had some excellent years in the minor leagues. So we’ve had some scouts that have had the opportunity to watch him as he has gone through the system and see him at different levels. So we had reports in. He is a player that we have sought before. We have tried to get him earlier, and unfortunately we were unable to acquire him. And it just felt right this off-season to get him here into camp. We are very happy to get him, and we are very excited to have him here in our system. Roberto: He doesn’t have the added pressure to travel with the Royals on a daily basis because he’s taking care of business in developing. Did he have an invite to Royals Spring Training camp? Nick Leto: He did not have an invitation to Major League Spring Training camp. But he was in here early, and he’s been working out with that group quite a bit. I don’t know if I could speak for him on this, but I think he’s kind of happy to be here with us. Last year was kind of a tough year for him. I think he is trying to bounce back. Fortunately, he lives here in the area and so he was able to spend a big chunk of this off-season coming here to the facility. He was in here every day working out with our coaches, building relationships with our staff. He was able to work with our strength and conditioning staff and all of our coaches here. He went out with the major league team as backup player for a couple of games, but was on a regular routine of playing basically just about every day for our Triple-A team. He filled in for the major league club. He got a few good at-bats here before the end of the spring. He will continue to make an impression and show the organization, the coaches and everybody else what we know he’s capable of doing.
Roberto: This organization has really come along way from the Cinderella story to the 2014 World Series and the expectation that you’ll bring home a World Championship title to Kansas City this year. Nick Leto: It’s really special and it really starts at the top and we have a very. very special world class leader in GM Dayton Moore, and it’s kind of been his vision. And he stuck with it and never wavered. There was a lot of criticism, and a lot of people talking about him early on. It was hard, and there were a lot of points where he had to see it through. Yesterday was a culmination of a lot of work from a lot of different people. It is a family. It is a cliché, but it is true around here. It is a family organization around here, and we are all together. Watching the team perform nationally, there was a lot of surprise. A lot of people didn’t see it coming, but the cool thing for us was it was exactly what we thought our players could do. It was exactly what the plan was. It was fun. It really wasn’t a surprise, but we were very proud. It was a vision. It was exactly what it set out to be. It really just came together. It was beautiful. Roberto: You do have a long-range vision for Marten Gasparini. What have you noticed about his maturity as an individual and a player since signing him two years ago? Nick Leto: You know Marten is a very special kid. There is no way to overrate how intelligent, how mature he is. He is a very, very smart kid. It is a very hard transition going from Italian baseball, European baseball. Any 16 or 17-year-old kid trying to transition into the United States, you know not only culturally and everything else, trying to play baseball and every single day…it’s tough. Going from kind of a game or kind of a hobby and transition over to a career or a profession is a very difficult thing. It is very fast-paced. Marten handled it well. I mean it was up-and-down. It was a little bit of a roller coaster at certain points with some highs and some lows, but he really managed it really well. We are hoping this year he is a little more comfortable and a little easier for him. We are really trying. It is cliché, but for Marten it is every day. It is staying healthy, not trying to get ahead, not trying to get ahead, not trying to think about level jumping, not getting worried about this or that, what kind of prospect he is, when he is going to get into the Bigs, or those types of things. He has all the ability in the world. He is an excellent athlete, and it is just going through the process. It is every day coming out here with the same mindset, working hard, trusting the coaches, trusting the people around here, doing his work in the weight room and in the training room. It is really just a process every day, being healthy and being able to get his at-bats. And you know we think he is going to take off at a point when he gets settled, gets comfortable and gets enough time in. We think he is going to explode.
Marten Gasparini. Remember the name. Europe will be a baseball factory, and a lot sooner than you might think.
Roberto: It was encouraging last season to see Marten step it up from Burlington to Idaho Falls, where he got his first home run. That must have been pretty exciting for you to watch and see him develop on different levels. Nick Leto: Yeah, there is no question. Getting a chance to go to Idaho at the end of the season, I really think it was beneficial. I don’t know where he was at with his confidence. But he had a tough August and giving him the opportunity to finish up in Idaho Falls and finish on a strong note really kind of had catapulted him into our fall camp, our instructional league last year. He came into instructional league with a little more confidence than maybe what he maybe would have had. It allowed him to have a good fall, and we have been able to build off of that week or so he had in Idaho Falls. He is doing just fine. Marten wants things to come a little quicker, but the organization is very happy with him. We think that he is an excellent player. He is going to have a very, very bright future and a very good career. There is no doubt. Roberto: I congratulate you on picking Marten out from the slew of players in Europe and landing in here at Royals camp in Arizona. I think you’ve done a great job nurturing him. I have seen him grow and develop naturally. You have not pressured him to turn into superstar status overnight. However, you have supported him in achieving his goals and expectations. Nick Leto: There is a lot of failure and a lot of things to deal in baseball. Our goal for Marten is just to get him to his ceiling. We can do whatever we can do, give him all the tools and resources necessary to get Marten to his ceiling and create a great man. His parents have already molded him into a great human being, and it is our job to continue what he what they started. You know, we want to develop him fully as a man. Someday he is going to be a husband and all those things. We want to make him not only a great baseball player, but round him out and give him all the tools he needs for the rest of his life. Roberto: I think he couldn’t have landed in a better spot right here with you. I commend you and thank you for giving us the opportunity to get front and center with Marten again. I wish you, Marten, Alex and the entire Kansas City Royals organization all the best now and in the future. Nick Leto: Thank you very much. And we are going to try to finish the deal this time, bring home the World Series and be World Champs! Roberto: Thank you Nick!