“Fastball John” by John D’Acquisto and Dave Jordan rivals Mike Piazza’s “Long Shot” as one of baseball’s best books of the decade. “Fastball John”features a prolific foreword by baseball historian Dan Epstein as well as references to a soundtrack of pop culture including: the Everly Brothers, the Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Carpenters, the Temptations, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Donna Summer, Nicolette Larson, Blondie, Dave Mason, Don Henley, the Pretenders and New Order. “Fastball John” D’Acquisto will be signing his new book on September 24th and 25th from 1 to 4 PM at The Pennant, 2893 Mission Blvd. in San Diego’s South Mission Beach. It will be a family reunion of sorts since John Francis D’Acquisto was born in San Diego on December 24, 1951. He would later become a hometown hero while attending St. Augustine High School, where he excelled in both football and baseball.
In the 1920’s, most Italian immigrants who settled near downtown San Diego were fishermen from Genoa and Sicily. Many other Italian fishermen and their families moved to San Diego from San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake. Like Joe DiMaggio’s father– who was a fisherman in the Bay Area–John D’Acquisto’s father, Fred D’Acquisto Sr., also depended on the fishing industry to put food on the table. As serendipitous as it may sound, the two sons of Italian immigrant families would meet in 1975 when John was honored by Joe DiMaggio and the Italian-American Society as its “Italian-American of the Year”. John’s father, Fred D’Acquisto Sr., was a local San Diego celebrity for 51 years as he worked for the legendary Anthony’s Fish Grotto Restaurant in the vibrant downtown Little Italy community. Starting out as a young teenager, John’s father worked himself up to dining room manager and would split his time between the original restaurant and their sister location, the Star of the Seas.
A first-round pick in the 1970 amateur draft, John D’Acquisto was selected by the San Francisco Giants. Blessed with a death-defying fastball, “Johnny D” made his MLB debut for the Giants late in the 1973 season. He was named National League Rookie of the Year and National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News in 1974. During the span of his ten season career, John D’Acquisto pitched for the Giants, Cardinals, Padres, Expos, Angels and Athletics from 1973-1982. Read John’s blog and order “Fastball John” today by clicking HERE.
The San Diego arts and Italian American communities are coming together by supporting the ongoing efforts of the Reid Rizzo Foundation in assisting pediatric heart patients and their families while meeting one of the creative forces behind the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit at the Convivio Center in Little Italy. The annual fundraiser will take place on Saturday, January 4th when San Diego Italian American heart surgeon Dr. John Lamberti is honored for his miraculous work in saving lives and Cincinnati-based artist Chris Felix is recognized for his remarkable talent and valuable contribution to the very popular exhibition at the Convivio Center.
In addition to commenting on his illustrations of Phil Rizzuto, Joey Votto and Reid Rizzo, internationally renowned sports artist Chris Felix will deliver a fascinating multimedia presentation on Italian American baseball prospect Reid Rizzo–whose life and promising MLB career were cut short by a heart condition known as cardiomyopathy. As the former basketball and baseball coach for Rizzo, Chris has incredible insight into Reid’s inner strength and determination to live life without fear while defying the odds of competing against his peers.
Having curated “Rooted Deep In the Soil of Cincinnati…A Passion for Baseball, Art and Inspiration” at Cincinnati’s Art on the Levee Gallery, Ohio native Chris Felix is no stranger to traveling exhibitions. His artwork has been featured at the Annual Art of Baseball Exhibition at the George Krevsky Gallery in San Francisco and has graced the walls of the James Fiorentino and Friends Exhibition at the National Art Museum of Sport in Indianapolis among other places. He has been
a freelance fine artist since 1997.
Well-known for his acrylic sports paintings, the graduate of the College of Art Advertising in Cincinnati first received recognition for his craft as a sixth grader at
St. William School when his pencil sketch of Johnny Bench won him
a Cincinnati Reds autographed baseball in a department store’s “Draw Your Favorite Reds Player” contest. Felix’s illustrious art career has included being a graphic designer, a scenery painter for major amusement parks, and a commissioned artist for Hasbro, Warner Brothers, the Topps Card Company and the Cincinnati Reds. Featured in sportswriter Mike Shannon’s books–“Willie Mays: Art in the Outfield” and “Coming Back to Baseball: Cincinnati Astros and the Joys of Over 30 Play”–Felix’s artwork will be included in the upcoming “Cincinnati Reds Legends” book set for release in 2015. San Diegians will have a rare appearance to meet the gifted artist at the Convivio Center (2157 N. India Street) on Saturday night, January 4th at the Reid Rizzo Foundation’s Project 144 Fundraiser. Admission is free to the public for this special event featuring Chris Felix and Dr. John Lamberti. For more information, please visit http://www.ConvivioSociety.org Those who cannot attend the event are encouraged to visit Convivio anytime during normal operating hours to participate in the Project 144 Fundraiser. In the spirit of giving during the holiday season, guests are encouraged to select an envelope numbered 1-144 and donate the corresponding dollar amount for a most worthy cause. Those living outside Southern California can also give to the Reid Rizzo Foundation by clicking HERE.
If you wish to mail a tax-deductible donation, make your check payable to: Reid Rizzo Foundation, P.O. Box 737, Harrison, Ohio 45030-0737.
Reid Rizzo was a baseball player at La Salle High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was born with a heart condition known as cardiomyopathy. His father Tim Rizzo said, “He really lived life and played sports without fear. He dealt with this heart condition in life and it never slowed him down. He never made excuses. He just went after his goals and lived his life to the fullest.” Two years ago after Reid reported to his collegiate baseball summer league team in Western Kentucky, he passed away in his sleep at the age of 21. His parents agreed to allow former La Salle baseball coach Chris Booth establish the Reid Rizzo Foundation to teach kids the game that their son loved most. Booth said, “He wasn’t the tallest and he wasn’t the biggest guy but I tell you what, people say he had the biggest heart. He played the game the right way.” In addition to helping families in need, the Reid Rizzo Foundation raises money for student scholarships at La Salle and cardiomyopathy research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Over 2200 miles west of Cincinnati, another believer of Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”) by the name of MacKenzie Kline inspired young women athletes around the world with her miraculous story courtesy of Dr. Lamberti. “She was born with a heart defect that 30 years ago, we didn’t have good treatment for,” said Dr. Lamberti, surgeon at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. Born with heterotaxy syndrome–meaning MacKenzie’s heart has one ventricle instead of two, without a spleen, and a transverse liver, Dr. Lamberti was her best chance of survival. He performed the first of three open heart surgeries on her when she was 11 weeks old with a follow-up at 23 months old and a third procedure as a teenager.
It appears that the MacKenzie Kline story is just a tip of the iceberg for all of the families deeply indebted to Dr. Lamberti. On August 4, 2013, Luanna Kent McDowell wrote: “My daughter had an enlarged heart, and her aorta valve was barely working. She went into cardiac arrest and was rushed to San Diego Children’s Hospital on September 12, 1985. Four days later, Dr. Lamberti saved her life by doing a ‘NEW’ surgery called ‘the flap’ creating her a new aorta. He was a bit of a risk taker and saved her life. My daughter has not ever had another surgery because he used a new technique (28 years ago). She is now a teacher and has brought joy to all of the lives she has touched. No words can ever describe the gratitude I feel toward Dr. Lamberti. I thanked him then and thank him everyday as I pray for my daughter.”
Here is yet another true life testimonial on Dr. Lamberti. On May 23, 2013, Andrew Bayron wrote: “Dr. Lamberti saved my son’s life. Dr. Lamberti performed heart surgery that included addressing a hole in the heart and rebuilding it using cadaver donated heart tissue. My son was three months old and is presently running around my office at six years old. A modern miracle worker I can’t give better praise to such a man. Forever in his debt.”
Dr. Lamberti leads Rady Children’s Combined Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Program, serving as the Eugene and Joyce Klein Director of the Heart Institute, as well as the Director of the combined Division of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery for Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego, Children’s Specialists of San Diego, and the University of California, San Diego. With over four decades of experience, Dr. Lamberti has often been referred to as ‘A True Life Savior’ as he was on April 16, 2012, when a patient’s father wrote: “Fantastic doctor and a fantastic human being. He has always cared for my daughter over the past 11 years and she has done great ever since. He has performed open heart surgery on her twice, and she has always done fantastic.”
Perhaps the most moving story comes from a patient’s mother who acted on behalf of her husband’s wishes to honor the great Dr. John Lamberti. When Marcy Ohrnstein’s husband Matthew passed away at 57 on April 30, 2013, she wrote: “In lieu of flowers, we ask that you make a donation to Rady Children’s Hospital https://www.helpsdkids.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=208. In the designation section, please choose ‘Heart Institute’ and in
the comments section indicate ‘at the discretion of Dr. Lamberti.’ Dr. Lamberti is the surgeon who conducted our son Steven’s five heart surgeries. The kids and I agreed this is what Matthew would have wanted.” Patient Steven Ohrnstein, a graduate of San Diego State University, graciously offered his personal experience with Dr. John Lamberti. “It is a honor to even be thought of out of the tens of thousands of lives Dr. Lamberti has impacted. For it not for him–operating on me five out of five surgeries ranging from one day old to 21 years old–I most assuredly would not be here today. I’m a big advocate of Dr. Lamberti, Rady Children’s Hospital and helping other families get through what seems to be impossible.”
Two cities–Cincinnati and San Diego–have come together to raise awareness of pediatric heart disease while raising funds for patients and their families to combat the financial hardship of medical care so that recipients can live long and healthy lives while reaching their full potential. The traveling Cincinnati contingency includes Reid Rizzo’s parents, members of the Reid Rizzo Foundation, Dr. Michael Leadbetter, sports artist Chris Felix, and social media pro Lisa Siegal. The San Diego Italian American and Medical Professional Communities will host and honor the contributions of Dr. John Lamberti on this evening of fact, faith and hope at Convivio (2157 N. India Street in Little Italy) with the extraordinary Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit providing an inspirational backdrop on Saturday, January 4, 2014. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://www.ConvivioSociety.org.
While pitching for Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, lefty Dan Serafini began his 22nd season playing as a pro in America, Canada, Japan, and Mexico. With 104 MLB appearances for the Twins, Cubs, Pirates, Padres, Reds, and Rockies under his belt, the bullpen has always been a second home for the Twins’ first-round draft pick of 1992. So when when it came time for the San Francisco-born Serafini to choose an appropriate name for his new sports bar located close to the family home at 5215 Vista Blvd. in Sparks, Nevada, it was simply a case of serendipity that he call it The Bullpen at Aspen Glen.
Dan Serafini has been one of the Bay Area’s hometown heroes since the early nineties. In his senior year at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, the southpaw pitcher was on every MLB scout’s radar after going nearly perfect (11 wins and 1 loss) and setting a single-season school record of 149 strikeouts. In his two seasons playing varsity for the Padres, he went 20-2 with a 1.70 ERA and 271 strikeouts. Perhaps the most appropriate way to leave a legacy that overshadows the numerous accolades that other notable Serra alumni have achieved during their high school campaign, Serafini was named to every All-Star team conceivable including: AII- WCAL, AII- County, All Peninsula, and All Northern California.
He was the 1992 WCAL, County and Peninsula Co-Player of the Year in addition to being named the San Mateo Times County Athlete of the Year.
Roberto: San Mateo’s Junipero Serra High School has been known to produce their share of athletes including Barry Bonds and many sports legends. While covering the Australian Baseball League, I learned that Brisbane Bandits’ Chuck Lofgren pitched at Serra High School. Having also played there, how does it feel being surrounded by a strong Bay Area professional athlete fraternity at Serra? Dan Serafini: Serra High School is a great baseball facility and just a great school to go to. We had a lot of great players: Jim Fregosi, Dan Frisella…even some football players: Lynn Swann, Tom Brady. We have quite an athletic history. Some really good baseball players like Gregg Jeffries have come out of my school.
Roberto: Team Italy slugger Chris Colabello followed the same minor league path to MLB playing for Double-A New Britain RockCats. While you played there, you were named to the 1995 Eastern League All-Star team after going 12-9 with a 3.37 ERA. Dan Serafini: That was a long time ago. I can barely even remember that. At New Britain, Chris got to play in the new stadium. I played in the old Beehive Stadium, which was more like a high school stadium with a trailer park locker room. I had a good year that year, and it got me a call up to Triple-A before the season was over.Roberto: You made your MLB debut on June 25, 1996 in Minnesota against the New York Yankees. Dan Serafini: It was not an easy team to pitch against for my first time playing in the big leagues, but it was a great memory. It was kind of funny.
The Twins wouldn’t let me into the locker room before the game. They didn’t want any animosity in the locker room because they hadn’t sent anyone down (to Triple-A) yet. I had to stay in a hotel and then on game day I got to show up right before the game started so that I could get ready to play. It wasn’t the greatest experience, but it was still a good experience. I got to the big leagues! Roberto: At least it was a home game when you had to face the intimidating New York Yankees. Dan Serafini: Although it was a home game in Minnesota, it was still intimidating. It was the New York Yankees—no matter where you are playing them, they are intimidating. Crowd factor definitely helped. I had the crowd on my side. I loved Minnesota. It was very supportive. I had a great time.
Roberto: You also had some more playing time with the Twins in 1997 and 1998. Was it rewarding for you? Dan Serafini: It was. I got a very brief opportunity with the Twins. You know, going back from starting to the bullpen and starting and bullpen. I was never really able to fill my niche with the Twins. It was fun. It was rewarding. I’m a Major League Baseball player. There is nothing more rewarding than that. Roberto: The Chicago Cubs bought your contract from the Twins on March 31, 1999. You made four starts for the Cubbies and put together a 3-2 record in 42 appearances with a 6.93 ERA. Dan Serafini: The ERA was kind of high, but in my defense I actually pitched really well until the all-star break. I think I only had a 3 or 3.50 ERA up until the all-star break. Then my big league pitching coach, Marty DeMerritt, wanted me to become a left-handed specialist and drop down sidearm and start pitching sidearm only. So I did that, and it completely screwed up the whole rest of my season. I was walking everybody, giving up all kinds of hits and just all kind of happened. I can’t blame him. He was just trying to help me out, but to change your pitching mechanics in the middle of the season… It’s really hard to make an adjustment to big league hitters. It hurt me pretty good.
Roberto: In the 1999 offseason you were traded to the San Diego Padres and pitched in three games in 2000. How did it feel to come back to your native California to play pro ball? Dan Serafini: I was there for a long time. I didn’t get many opportunities.
I was mostly like a chess pawn. I just kind of sat in the dugout. I’d go a week straight without pitching in a game.
I didn’t get as many opportunities as
I would have liked to become a better player than I am today. San Diego is beautiful, and I’m from California–even though it’s Northern California where I’m from. Southern California is a beautiful place. I guess I had more fun there off the field than on the field.
Roberto: After being traded to Pittsburgh and playing for the Nashville Sound, you had a 4-3 record with a 2.60 ERA before the call up to the Pirates on August 5, 2000 to make 11 starts. Dan Serafini: After getting traded from San Diego, I had a really good month or so in Nashville before getting called up.
I made my first start against the San Francisco Giants and won. That could have been probably my favorite time in the big leagues–to be going back home to my hometown and beating San Francisco in San Francisco. I had a pretty good season with Pittsburgh. They were struggling and in last place. I threw well for Pittsburgh. I just didn’t fit in their books. Roberto: Signing with San Francisco must have been a dream come true? Dan Serafini: I didn’t get to stay with San Francisco too long. They signed me as a big league player, but they didn’t have a roster spot. I went to Triple-A for a little bit. I was making a substantial amount of money for a Triple-A player so when they couldn’t find a spot for me I got released about a month after
I signed. So I really didn’t get much of an opportunity with San Francisco. Roberto: You quickly signed with the Mets and played for the 2001 Triple-A Norfolk Tides, where you posted 5-2 record with a 3.31 ERA in 31 games. Dan Serafini: I didn’t waste anytime—maybe two days later signed with the Mets. Went to Triple-A and played there a little bit. I pitched pretty well, but got into an altercation with the GM. I ended up getting released and walking on over to the other clubhouse and signed up with Milwaukee that same day. Roberto: You finished off the 2001 season pitching for the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis Indians and posted a 2-2 record with a 5.96 ERA. However,
you chose to move on from Milwaukee
and were granted free agency in October, 2001. This opened the door for other opportunities, and you ended up signing a minor league deal with the Anaheim Angels. Was that another short-term engagement by design or a matter of being released? Please clear up all the misconceptions and incorrect information the media has picked up on to make you have to stand up for yourself and clarify. Dan Serafini: Well you know the thing is…the media–they always say you were released, you were released, you were released. But for a lot of those teams I’ve actually picked the option for my release.
I didn’t get released. They would option me down to Triple-A, and I felt that I didn’t deserve to go to Triple-A. So for a lot of those assignments I chose not to go. Roberto: After opting out of your contract with the Angels, you tried to make a comeback in late 2002 when you signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. You began at Triple-A Memphis, but then on April 21, 2003 you were released. Dan Serafini: I knew what was going to happen because during the offseason I signed for such a high contract to go to Triple-A. I knew they were using me to fill a spot. So I knew as soon as no one came down from the big leagues or something that I was going to get released.
Roberto: So you expected it? Dan Serafini: I had signed for a substantial amount of money to go and play in Triple-A. Within the first month when Kevin Ohme was sent down from St. Louis, they got rid of me the next day. I pitched okay there, but it was really hard because I have always been a starter my whole career and I kept bouncing back and forth. I was going from bullpen to starting to bullpen and starting and never got into a rhythm. So for all these teams I played for, I had really a tough time coming out of the bullpen and learning my routine and learning to play. Unfortunately, I didn’t really prove myself that well as well. Roberto: It sounds like the experiment on the big league level of being a sidearm specialist coming out of the bullpen went terribly wrong. It was not exactly the best training ground for trying something new. Dan Serafini: No. The only chance I had to experiment was on the big stage, which is really difficult if you are not physically or mentally prepared for those things. I wasn’t…I was only 21 or 22 at the time. It was a difficult road for me–that’s for sure! Roberto: Did being disillusioned with American pro ball inspire you to head south to Mexico? Dan Serafini: Yes, I played my first year in 2002. It was winter ball for Mazatlan. I had a great manager and a really fun time there. And they said if I ever had a problem in summer that I was more than welcome to play in Mexico. So after that St. Louis series, I went in 2003 to go play summer ball in Mexico. Roberto: The Cincinnati Reds noticed and purchased your contract on August 25, 2003. Dan Serafini: I ended up winning the ERA title. I set the record for the most wins in a row that season. I was a starter. I got back in the my swing of things. I got my mechanics back and pitched really well. I got called up and went straight to the big leagues in Cincinnati.
Roberto: On August 26, 2003, you started against the Milwaukee Brewers. Dan Serafini: I believe I also started in a game versus St. Louis. Then I went back to the bullpen after I told the GM
I wouldn’t go to the bullpen and that I would only start. Because I had already 130 innings pitched in Mexico, I was tired and said I didn’t want to get up and down every day out of the bullpen. After I said I only wanted to start, the GM said that was exactly what I was summoned there to do–to start for Danny Graves because he got hurt. So I went there, got two starts and they stuck me in the bullpen. It was a disappointment. I know it’s a business, and I just need to man up and do it. It was just hard. I talked to Bobby Valentine in 2004, and he asked me to go down to Vegas and throw a bullpen for somebody to try out for the team he managed in Japan. I went out there and tried out for the Chiba Lotte Marines. I was hurt at the time. I had a broken collar bone because
I crashed on a motorcycle messing around with my friends. Despite being injured, I still got a good enough report from the try out to go to Japan.
Julio Zuleta charged Dan Serafini on the mound after a ball nearly hit him in Japan in 2004 .
Roberto:: After being granted free agency and playing for Bobby Valentine’s Chiba Lotte Marines in 2004 and 2005 as well as the Orix Buffaloes in 2006 and 2007, were you treated with a little bit more respect in Japan? Dan Serafini: It was really rewarding because I actually got treated like a player that I was. Japan did nothing but give me the highest respect. Bobby Valentine did nothing but give me the highest respect. He kept me on a routine for the full season, and I had a really good career in Japan. I still talk to Bobby off and on the internet. I was happy to see him as an Ambassador for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Bobby Valentine throws out the first pitch of the 2013 WBC game between China and Japan.
Roberto: Did you follow all the drama that surrounded Bobby Valentine last year when he managed the Boston Red Sox? Dan Serafini: I did. In fact, before the season began I called him and asked him for a job to see if I could get a Triple-A job or a coaching/ player job. His hands were tied. He said that he couldn’t make any moves. But I followed him and saw all the disappointing articles about him and stuff from players that couldn’t handle his attitude. I thought it was ridiculous. He’s the smartest guy in baseball–hands down. He may want a little more attention than he deserves, but that’s his character.
If people don’t like it, they try to crucify him. He’s a very good man!
Roberto: It’s too bad he was the scapegoat for the Red Sox. Dan Serafini: It really was. I know he’s done some things in his past that has rubbed people the wrong way–and we all have. It’s just the way different personalities go–especially when you have a bunch of superstars in the one locker room. It’s almost like you have to walk on eggshells around these people because they’re more sensitive than most people that are not superstars. Roberto: When a player digs into the batter’s box and gives you a long grimacing stare, is your best response and message to the hitter simply the delivery of your next pitch? Dan Serafini: Yes, definitely–without a doubt. There’s got to be respect both ways. For me, I’ve always been tired of being called a cheater or having a dismal career by what some reporters have said. I feel like I have fought the longest just like Bobby Valentine did to get my career to where it is right now. Roberto: You signed a deal with the Colorado Rockies in 2007 and pitched on September 7th against the San Francisco Giants. Dan Serafini: It was a great feeling. I was excited. It was tough because I had just come back from Japan. I broke my hand in Japan, and they decided to release me at the last quarter of the season just because they were not going to use me anymore and had no chance of the playoffs. So they sent me home, and
I signed with Colorado. I got called up to the big leagues a couple weeks later and after four years of not having seen a major league game got to pitch to my first batter–Barry Bonds!
Roberto: What were the odds of you facing one of baseball’s most feared hitters in your MLB comeback attempt? Dan Serafini: It was pretty interesting. I had some butterflies. Roberto: How did you sustain your hand injury overseas? Dan Serafini: That happened at a game in Japan. I was pitching and lost my footing in the bullpen. It was on my glove hand.
I kind of slipped and fell over. I used my hand to stabilize myself from falling over, and I broke my ring finger, pinky and a couple bones in the middle of my hand. Roberto: In Japan you also sustained an achilles injury which required medication to help with the healing process and eventually led to a positive test for MLB banned substances when you signed with the Rockies in 2007. Dan Serafini: I actually got a serious injury and had surgery on my achilles. When I came back from Chiba Lotte, I tore my achilles tendon in the year we won the championship. I signed a two-year contract with the Orix Buffaloes for a substantial amount. My leg with in a cast for four months so they were shooting it up all year long trying to get it balanced back.
After my first year at Orix, I wasn’t throwing very well because my body was so out of balance that it started hurting my shoulder and back. So they told me to just take the rest of the year off and come back for 2007. I was still having problems with my leg and the way my muscles were firing in 2007. So again a doctor was giving me a medication that I didn’t think much of because I passed all of my drug tests and Olympic testing in Japan. So I didn’t even think twice about it. And that’s what it was when I got tested on the last day of the season with Colorado. It was still in my system, and I got busted for it. Roberto: It looks like MLB used you as a scapegoat to fill their 2007 quota and deter players from using banned substances. Dan Serafini: Yes, I think so. I mean because I tried to fight it.
I had to do a lot of things for my defense. I had to get the doctor from Japan to come and fly to New York to testify for me in court. He wanted $500,000 to do it because it would give Japan a bad name since I never failed a test in Japan. So I said, ‘Screw it, I’ll take the 50-game suspension and wear it for now.’ I didn’t think that it would be that bad, but Colorado didn’t sign me back. The GM at the time, Dan O’Dowd, didn’t give me my National League Championship ring. They gave me my playoff share because I was there for a short time, but they didn’t give me a ring because they were disgraced by the fact that I was a cheater and stuff like that. It was just bad. An unnamed journalist tried to say that I was trying to respark my dismal career. My response was like: ‘What’s so dismal about making over 10 million dollars?’ I don’t think that’s too dismal… Roberto: If a man can’t look at me in the eye and share his theory to my face without the facts in hand—and instead choose to hide behind a computer desk in favor of meeting publishing deadlines, then it’s not news worthy in my book. Dan Serafini: Exactly. You know it’s like so many people just wrote stories about me that never even asked me the details or took the details out. Even Tom Verducci and things he wrote in my
article. I said so many things to balance and justify the difference between cheating and other kinds of uses of certain PEDs or whatever. And they don’t want to listen to that, but everybody wants to be negative and listen in to CNN nowadays. Roberto: Not a lot of players want to comment in fear of being blackballed. But you are not afraid to speak your mind and represent Team Italia in the World Baseball Classic. It’s your time to shine and be heard. Dan Serafini: Yes, it is. If people want to call me a jerk, whatever but you know what… I’ve been around this game for 22 years now. And I know that 90% of the people I have played with have said: ‘If I had a chance to use it and make myself better, then I would have too…’ You know, that’s what we’re here for. Roberto: I don’t blame you for having headed south to pitch for the Monterrey Sultanes after all that nonsense. Dan Serafini: They were a great organization. I played with them for a while and just kept bouncing back and forth. I pitched
well in Monterrey, got to the playoffs a few times and then I got traded. Roberto: You spent 2008 and 2009 in Mexico before heading to the East Coast to play for the Bridgeport Bluefish in the Atlantic Independent League. Dan Serafini: Yes, I did that just for a little bit so that I could get a job back in the states. I wanted more people to see me pitch, but nothing came of it. Roberto: Yet Mexico loved you and you represented the country in several Caribbean Series.
Dan Serafini: Yes, I believe I played three Caribbean Series for Mexico–all during winter ball because the Sultanes play during the summer. In the winter I played for Yaquis de Obregón in
the 2008 Caribbean Series and then again in 2010 and 2011
I played for Mexico in the Caribbean Series.
Roberto: What’s the difference between baseball played
abroad and in the U.S.? Dan Serafini: For one, the United States has the best players in the world in the major leagues. So it’s kind of hard to represent the United States because it has so many great players. Mexico and Italy have a lot of great players that have been overlooked by United States. It’s hard. With me representing Mexico, I am one of the better players in Mexico because that’s just where I am playing at the time. With my experience and talent, I can make those teams and play for those teams. I could possibly pitch for Team USA but that team has so many Americans from all over the country to pick from. So it’s really hard to make that team.
Roberto: How were you recruited to pitch for Team Italia? Dan Serafini: Actually they called me in 2009 and found out
that I was Italian through my agent. After they got the background information about my Italian ancestry, they said that they would love for me to come and try out. I came down, tried out and they said that they could definitely use me as a starter or reliever because of ‘my good arm.’ So the rest is history as far as that. Roberto: It must have a been a major personal victory for you when Team Italia upset Mexico in the 2013 WBC. Dan Serafini: Almost everyone on Team Mexico I either played with them or against them. Team Italy asked me to write a
scouting report on the whole team, which I did and gave to the coaches. They watched a few of their games during their exhibition games and said it was ‘spot on’ as far as the scouting report. That’s what we used, and it actually came out well. We pitched well against them. We played great defense against them, and we came out victors. Roberto: Once Team Italia’s manager Marco Mazzieri gave me his cell phone number, I felt compelled to do the same and gave him a scouting report on Team Canada. We all had to do our part. Dan Serafini: Well, that’s it…exactly! We’re here to win. Right
now, I’m not an American. I’m an Italian, and I’m here to beat Team USA today. I was there to beat Canada yesterday, and I was there the day before to beat Mexico. Granted I have friends from every team from all over the world, but right now I’m just Italian. I’m here to walk all over every other team. Roberto: How proud are you to be Italian? Dan Serafini: I am very proud to be Italian. It’s unfortunate because I have always had a strong Italian family growing up, but Italian heritage or history was never really taught. I never learned Italian even though my father speaks Italian and both of my grandparents only spoke Italian. I just wasn’t brought up that way. Now doing more research about Italy and possibly thinking later in my career to maybe going to play in Italy for a little bit. I’m really interested in the Italian culture and to visit all around Europe. I’m looking forward to it. Italians are a well-educated culture to begin with. Everyone on our team speaks perfect English and perfect Italian. Some speak Spanish, Italian and English. I think they are just educated people. Unfortunately
when you move to another country and are unable to speak their language fluently, you tend to get away from your native language.
I know when I played in Mexico my whole team spoke English. I didn’t have a chance to learn Spanish because people talked to me in English. So it’s not as diverse as you think. It’s a lot harder, even my wife can tell you it’s a lot harder to go there and learn a language because everyone is polite to you and tries to talk to you in your language to make you feel more comfortable. So we have a tendency to get lazy
and not try. But right now I listen to Italian tapes every night because
I want to try to learn Italian. Roberto: That’s because everyone is trying to be hospitable
and speak your native tongue? Dan Serafini: Yes. I mean the Italians come right over here, and they all speak English right out of the gate. They don’t even try to speak Italian. They’re like: ‘No, we’re in America now–we’re speaking English.’ That’s what they do. Roberto: How does having a coaching staff that includes future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza affect your approach to the game? Dan Serafini: Mike is a great guy. Look at his story–coming from the 62nd round as a favor to his godfather Tommy Lasorda! Something ridiculous like that and becoming the best
offensive catcher of all time…whatever his statistics are.
Being blessed enough to play against him and talk to him,
it’s a great experience. Just because we have one more
person with a ton of experience on our team. He has been
in the spotlight for what…16 seasons! You know, I’ve been
in the spotlight for seven. Grilli has been the spotlight for
eight. So it’s like we have plenty of experience. It’s nice to
have someone of that magnitude on our team helping us out. Roberto: Mike Piazza could be doing something else with his time,
but his heart and soul are committed to Team Italia. Dan Serafini: You’re right. It is…and we appreciate that! He could
be doing anything with his time, and a lot of us could be but we’re all here together to represent Italy. We’re going to represent the right way this time. Roberto: Thank you for your time today. I’m sure this story will be continued next time we get together to talk. Dan Serafini: Yes, definitely…I’m looking forward to continuing it. I will answer any question that needs to be answered. It’s nice to be able to explain myself for a change, and hopefully one day people will look at me differently.
If you can’t beat them, join them. After Baseball Western Australia State All-Star Pitcher Greg Van Sickler held Perth scoreless and struck out five in his four innings of perfection in the Heat’s 3-2 loss to the BWA All-Stars in a Spring Training exhibition game on October 20th, the three-time All-American Van Sickler made quite an impression on the two-time reigning Australian Baseball League champions. So much in fact that Perth wasted little time in calling him up from the Carine Cats, member of the 12-team WA State League, to join the Heat.
From Virginia to Australia by way of Belgium, Perth Heat pitcher Greg Van Sickler has ventured on the road less traveled in pursuit of his dream in playing baseball professionally. After a stellar season playing for Belgium’s Premier League Namur Angels of the Ligue Francophone Belge de Baseball et Softball, the Virginia native is now on an Aussie baseball odyssey in Perth. Greg Van Sickler, the first player in the USA South Conference history to be named both the Player and Pitcher of the Year in the same season, was 11-1 on the mound for 2011 Shenandoah University Hornets while batting .390 with seven homers and 46 RBI from the three hole in the batting order to earn first-team accolades at the utility position. The Division III All-American led the team to the NCAA Division III College World Series twice and was named 2010 and 2011 Virginia state Player of the Year by the Virginia State Sports Information Directors Association (VaSID). Van Sickler was a four-time VaSID All-State selection who earned All-America honors during his final three seasons. In both 2010 and 2011, he was a first team All-America honoree by both D3baseball.com and the American Baseball Coaches Association.
The six-foot-two 23-year-old tipped off his talent early on while playing baseball at Winchester, Virginia’s James Wood High School, where he was named team captain and MVP twice as well as 2007 Northwestern District Player of the Year. Over five years later, Greg Van Sickler finds himself nearly 12,000 miles away from home playing for the defending ABL champs Perth Heat. In his 6.2 innings of bullpen relief, the
Top 40 American has been dominant with seven strikeouts and a 1.35 ERA.
Venice Beach’s Lizard King, an alter ego of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, imitated a Native American shaman. Since shamans identified strongly with an animal deity, Morrison chose the lizard because of its ability to reinvent itself by constantly shedding its skin and personified his deity by only wearing leather pants. Native cultures shaman guide followers through sacred ceremonies involving the ingestion of peyote to lead worshippers on a spiritual awakening of higher consciousness in the same way Morrison led his loyal audiences through a journey so that they may never think the same way again. Opting to skip the hallucinogens and make believers of those weak at heart in the Peoria Javelinas bullpen during the 2011 Arizona Fall League, new San Diego Padre relief pitcher Miles Mikolasturned Lizard King chose to square up on clubhouse dues by accepting the $250 dare bet wagered by fellow players and ingesting a Mountain Dew marinated cold-blooded reptile.
With nearly 10,000 hits on YouTube for his fearless antics in the bullpen, the six-foot-five Mikolas has quite a Alice Cooper cult following outside of baseball. Hoping to tone down his rock star status and keep the fear factor limited to hitters facing him on the mound, Mikolas said: “We were joking around in the bullpen and one thing led to another and there was some money on the line so … you know. I’m a little bit fearless. Even eating a lizard won’t turn me away. Hopefully, I can open their eyes a little bit more.” Although he has enjoyed his notoriety outside of the game for having no fear, the phone rang early Saturday morning at 6 am (Texas League time) to see just how much he could intimidate the slew of armed and dangerous hitters found daily on the Miami Marlins line-up card. Heralded as PadresProspects.com’s #25 prospect and not expected to make his MLB debut until late this season, the 23-year-old San Antonio Mission right-handed reliever received his call up from Double-A ball to the major leagues earlier than expected when Padre closer Huston Street was placed on the 15-day DL. Mikolas couldn’t have picked a more powerful slugger, the Paul Bunyan of professional baseball–Giancarlo Stanton–for his very first batter to face in his MLB debut on May 5, 2012 at PETCO Park.
With his hometown of Jupiter, Florida also being the home of the Marlins’ Spring Training, Miles Mikolas was beyond transcendental pitching against the team he cheered for as a youth. Miles said, “It was a great feeling being out there, especially against a team I grew up rooting for in South Florida as a Marlins fan. To be facing them was neat.” The rookie who had gained Lizard King notoriety for his fear factor ways in the bullpen would shed his skin on the mound in the ninth inning with the Padres trailing 3-1. With the count full on Giancarlo Stanton, the six-foot-five reliever served up a fastball he probably wishes that he could take back. Stanton answered by launching a moonshot off the left field third tier of the Western Metal Supply Company to give the Marlins a comfortable 4-1 lead. Mikolas can take solace in knowing he’s not the only pitcher to give up a home run to the 22-year-old Stanton, who has homered six times in the last nine games and is on pace to become the future all-time MLB home run record holder. “It’s good knowing that he is getting a little bit of everybody,” Miles said. “I’m not the only guy getting singled out.”With the top layer of the epidermis peeled off by Giancarlo’s baptism by fire, Mikolas was stripped to the raw core of his confidence and fought back. The remainder of his MLB debut was nearly textbook minus a walk to Gaby Sanchez. John Buck was shell-shocked staring at Mikolas’ Hammer, the epitome of a sharp-breaking curve, for strike three. Then Marlins starting pitcher Mark Buehrle laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Sanchez to second. Mikolas ended the inning on a high note by striking out last year’s National League Batting Champion Jose Reyes looking. Miles reflected and said,
“I settled down and made some really good pitches there toward the end. One bad pitch. Right after Stanton hit the home run I was like, ‘Well, you know, there it is. Welcome to the major leagues.'”
Mikolas made his encore appearance pitching in the Padres’ 6-3 loss to the Marlins on Sunday, when he came in relief during the eighth inning and recorded the final out after issuing a walk. Prior to pitching in the Bigs, Mikolas was 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA in Double-A San Antonio. Padre manager Bud Black commented, “This spring, he threw the ball well.
I think that continued on there in San Antonio. Of all the guys that we looked at, he was the guy that our Minor League people said, ‘He’s the guy.'” The San Diego skipper has liked what he has seen so far from the rookie Mikolas. “That’s a big curveball,” Black said. “His challenge will be to get that in the strike zone. It has good rotation. You can combine that with a low-90s, mid-90s fastball. It’s a nice variation. It’s a nice difference of velocity. But the key is getting the breaking pitch in for a strike, because he’s got enough fastball. There’s no doubt about that.” A few weeks ago, Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard–Mikolas’ roommate at Double-A San Antonio–predicted weeks ago that Miles would be the first member of the Mission pitching staff to break into the Bigs. ‘The Big Dog’ Beard said, “I’m stoked for Miles. It couldn’t happen to a better bloke!” After Jupiter High School baseball, Mikolas played through his junior year at Nova Southeastern University (NSU)–where he ranked fourth all-time with 167 career strikeouts and fifth with 32 games started–before being the seventh round pick by San Diego in the 2009 draft. That year he was one of four NSU players drafted, three of whom have now appeared on a Major League 40-man roster–including Mikolas, J.D. Martinez (Astros) and Mike Fiers (Brewers). After converting from a starter to a reliever, Mikolas quickly moved up the Padres system to the Single-A affilate Fort Wayne TinCaps, where he would become a 2010 Midwest League All-Star after striking out 78 batters in 60 appearances.
The Southern Florida native last season split time between the Single-A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm and the Double-A San Antonio Missions. He went a combined 4-0 with 21 saves and a 1.38 earned run average. Mikolas was dominant on the mound, striking out 69 in 72 innings of relief. Rumor has it that an unnamed Lake Elsinore Storm pitcher was betting everyone he could hit triple digits but could only hit 99 on the radar gun that year. However, the Lizard King of the bullpen has since touched 100 mph with a spike in velocity. The fearless pitcher and part-time shaman will change our way of thinking of the Padres’ winning ways by keeping hitters uneasy and off balance with his unrelentless heat and signature Mikolas Hammer.
On Friday afternoon, April 27th, two of South Orange County high school baseball teams went head-to-head during the final weeks of the 2012 season in search of playoff berths. Although home team Tesoro High School may have had the advantage of a few extra fans in the capacity-filled stadium, San Clemente kept those in attendance at the edge of the seats throughout the tightly-contested game. Tesoro senior starting pitcher Evan Cook, a lefty blessed with a twist of deception, was put to the test early and threw under pressure nearly every inning. With bases loaded and two outs in the first inning, the slender Cook caught San Clemente batter Jesus Saldana off-balance when the stocky Triton catcher tapped a comebacker to the mound. Cook fielded the ball cleanly and had plenty of time to throw Saldana out at first to end the inning. Once again in the second with men in scoring position and two out, the crafty left-hander got San Clemente leadoff hitter Trevor Sealy to fly out to center to spoil another Triton scoring threat. San Clemente pitcher Braden Riddle, as he has done most season against opponents, was out to compete and keep Tesoro batters at bay.
San Clemente’s defensive prowess was apparent throughout the game. In the bottom of the second with men on first and second with one out, Triton Head Coach David Gellatly went out to the mound to meet with Riddle and the infield for a roundtable chat. Gellatly recalled, “When I went out to the mound in the bottom of the second, I was making sure our defense knew what we were trying to accomplish with our bunt coverage. Knowing it was probably going to be a one run game, I was making sure that we were not just going to take the out at first base. Instead, we were attempting to get the lead runner at
third, which we successfully accomplished. That was a huge play.”
Exactly as scripted, when Tesoro Titan Brad Justl laid down a sacrifice bunt, Riddle followed his coach’s directive and threw out the runner at third for the force out. Then Tesoro batter Riley Greenlee hit a ball down the left field line just out of reach of the third baseman. With the speedy Brandon VerWayne on second being waved home for the score, San Clemente left fielder Shane Elias-Calles threw a bullet to catcher Jesus Saldana, who applied the tag on the baserunner to end the inning and silence Titan fans.
Gellatly commented, “On the play where Shane threw out the Tesoro runner, again it was a huge play for us. With two outs, Coach Brail had to force our defense to make the play, and we were successful.” Despite being dominant on the hill, San Clemente pitcher Braden Riddle lost control of the game in the bottom of the third when Titan Brett Halasz was hit by a pitch. With a free pass issued to first, Riddle was vulnerable to Tesoro senior Kevin Co, who drilled a drive in the gap between left and center field deep enough for Halasz to score from first and give Tesoro a 1-0 lead. Trying to stretch out a stand up RBI double into a triple and challenge the arm of center fielder Dan Caresio,
Kevin Co fell victim to the promising junior’s on-the-money throw to third.
San Clemente Coach Gellatly was proud of his outstanding juniors’ performances and said, “Outfielders Shane Elias-Calles and Dan Caresio are both very good defensive players with strong arms. They are developing into team leaders both on and off-the-field. I believe they will make huge contributions to our team’s success next year. I really like the idea of Dan and Shane at the top of the line-up next year.” San Clemente looked to take possession of the game in the top of the sixth with men on first and second with no out. After it appeared that Titan pitcher Evan Cook was appearing to get weary, Tesoro Head Coach Rick Brail went out to the mound and had a meeting with his ace starter. Brail said, “I wanted to make sure he was feeling good and we discussed how to pitch to the next hitter. He was very confident.” San Clemente hitter Dillon Fetty put down a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt to advance the runners into scoring position. The pressure was on the Triton’s best hitter, Chad Foster (.389 batting average), to put his team on top. Foster made good contact with a fastball, and the sound off his bat spelled trouble for Tesoro. However, the line drive shot off his bat was right at shortstop Brett Halasz, who caught the ball for out number two. Thinking quickly on his feet and reacting like a pro, Halasz threw the ball to third baseman Riley Greenlee, who tagged out Triton baserunner Julian Perry off the bag for a double play to end San Clemente’s scoring hopes. Tesoro was jubilant after the 1-0 victory over San Clemente. Tesoro Coach Brail explained, “We felt good. San Clemente is a good team, and anytime you can win two out three games against a league opponent….it feels good.” Coach Brail rounded up the team for a post-game discussion after the win and told his players, “Enjoy the moment….and take pride in the fact that all your hard work is paying off. But our season is not over and we’re back to work next week.”
San Clemente Coach Gellatly praised his starting pitcher and said, “Braden Riddle is a four-year letterman who did show great competitiveness and leadership against Tesoro. He has the ability to carry the team on his shoulders from the pitchers’ mound. Unfortunately, we couldn’t score any runs for him.” Despite the loss, Titon skipper Gellatly remained upbeat and commented, “As the season winds down, we have some tough ballgames ahead of us. We still have work to do to qualify for the playoffs. However, if Riddle and Danny Atkinson can continue pitching the way both of them did last week, we should have a great chance of getting in. If we do happen to qualify, you never know what can happen in a single elimination tournament.” With an impressive 1.23 ERA, San Clemente junior standout pitcher Danny Atkinson held Top 5 state ranked South Coast League favorite El Toro to just one run yesterday as the Tritons upset the Chargers 6-1. Improving the team’s overall record to 14-11. San Clemente’s chances of making the playoffs will improve with wins in their three remaining regular season games against El Toro and Capistrano Valley. Tesoro, who are still undefeated at home in 2012, are currently leading the league with an overall 18-8-1 record. San Clemente and Tesoro are currently playing good baseball, and their first-class programs are second to none under the leadership of Coaches Gellatly and Brail. Should both teams qualify for CIF Southern Section playoff berths, they should not be discounted as they will be not give up easily. We wish the squads continued success now and in the future.