On Saturday, June 2, 2018, Italian Americans have an opportunity to celebrate their heritage and Chicago’s rich baseball history through a screening of the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning film, Italian American Baseball Family at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. The 2016 American Community Survey reveals that almost 17 million Italians live in the United States. With more than 500,000 Italian Americans living in greater Chicago, the city trails only New York and Philadelphia as the third largest thriving Italian epicenter in America. Chicago boasts a big and loyal baseball following with two professional Major League teams: the Cubs and South Side rivals White Sox. The city has a rich baseball history, of which outsiders may have little or no knowledge.
Chi Town’s first major baseball player of Italian descent was Francesco Pezzolo, known to most as “Ping Bodie.” Francesco was the son of Giuseppe Pezzolo, who emigrated from a small town near Genoa to New York City, and who worked long hours building the Brooklyn Bridge. In 1876 father Giuseppe and mother Rosa moved the family west to a gold-mining settlement in Bodie, California. Francesco Pezzolo was born on October 8, 1887 in San Francisco, and to mask his Italian identity due to racial prejudices and injustices, he changed his professional baseball name to Ping Bodie. After joining the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals in 1908, Ping Bodie soon became a Bay Area fan favorite and was nicknamed “the Fence Buster”. The Chicago White Sox could not help but notice Ping Bodie when he slugged 30 home runs in 1910 and subsequently signed him to a Major League contract. During his rookie season in 1911, Bodie hit .289 with four homers and 97 RBI. He became a Chicago baseball icon during his four years as a solid contributor to the White Sox. His popularity continued in New York later in his career when he became Babe Ruth‘s first Yankee roommate. Ping Bodie was a father figure for many other West Coast Italian American ballplayers and paved the way for those who followed him including Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, and the DiMaggio brothers.
Chicago is not afraid to profess its love for the late and great Ron Santo. According to Lawrence Baladassaro’s brilliant new bookBaseball Italian Style , Ron’s father, Louis Santo, was born in Foggia, Italy, and came to America as a teenager. His son Ron grew up in the heart of “Garlic Gulch,” Seattle’s Italian district. Signed out of high school in 1959, just a year later 20-year-old Ron Santo made his MLB debut on June 26, 1960, when he had three hits and five RBI in a double-header sweep. In his 14 seasons with the Cubs, Santo was named to nine National League All-Star teams and won five consecutive Gold Glove awards (1964-68). He had four seasons with 100 or more RBI and hit 30 or more home runs in four consecutive seasons (1964-67). The 2012 Hall-of-Fame inductee hit 337 home runs and drove in 1,290 runs as a Cub, then played the final season of his career with the White Sox before retiring at age 34. He later became the Cubs radio color commentator in 1990 and held the position until his passing in 2010. A statue of the beloved Cub player and broadcaster was resurrected outside Wrigley Field in 2011 to honor his legacy.
There is one special Chicago Italian who has played for Team Italy in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. That unsung hero’s name is Fabio Milano, a former pitching all-star who played for Team Italy in the 2001 World Cup, 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Milano is also father to a pair of up-and-coming Team Italy softball stars. Maya and Kylie Milano. Another Chicago Italian who deserves a Hollywood Star for helping hundreds develop their craft is Paul Petricca, author of Hitting with Torque: For Softball and Baseball Players. Petricca along with The St. Joseph Club of Italian Americans are proud to present a “Celebration of Italian Baseball and Softball” on Saturday, June 2, 2018 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell Street in Arlington Heights beginning at 11:00 am. The Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning documentary, Italian American Baseball Family, will be shown.
Immediately following the screening of the movie, a Q & A discussion with filmmaker Roberto Angotti and a panel of former Italian baseball players will interact with the audience in an engaging discussion on playing baseball internationally. Panelists scheduled to appear include: Fabio Milano, Joe Mazzuca, former Marlins prospect who played for Team Italy internationally from 2006-2014; Barth Morreale Jr., who began pitching in Bologna in 2006 and led his team to victory in the 2011 European Cup; and Brent Consiglio, who played in baseball in Poviglio after graduating from the University of Chicago in 2004.
Angotti’s film Italian American Baseball Familydocuments the Italian American experience on how Italians assimilated into popular culture through America’s favorite pastime, baseball, and how Italian Americans have circled back to Italy to help grow the game abroad by playing for Team Italy in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. He is excited to bring the movie to Chicago, where University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Professor Emeritus Lawrence Baldassaro (author ofBeyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseballand Baseball Italian Style) was interviewed for the documentary at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and Ron Onesti was filmed at Piazza DiMaggio in Little Italy on Taylor Street. Angotti said, “Chicago has a rich Italian cultural heritage, and as a proud Italian American, I am delighted to share the film with lovers of baseball and history. Whether you are a fan of Ron Santo or Anthony Rizzo, there will be something for everybody during our celebration of Italian baseball and softball at the Metropolis.” Attendees are encouraged to participate in a silent auction featuring premium Chicago Cubs tickets, private pitching and hitting sessions and more. Tickets are available at the door. For more information, please contact Paul Petricca at 847-533-8474.
Commencing its 70th season this past weekend, the 2017 Italian Baseball League (IBL) is the talk of the town in Bologna, Rimini, San Marino, Nettuno, Parma, Padova, Novara and Padule Sesto Fiorentino. Eight Italian teams from those regions are divided into two groups of four and will play games every weekend. The top squads from each division will square off in a best-of-five-game series semi-final and final competitions between August 18 and September 9, 2017. Defending champions UnipolSai Bologna, who claimed their 10th IBL title in 2016, will likely show their winning form again in 2017, while new IBL contender, Padule Sesto Fiorentino, is viewed as an outside long shot. Let’s get a closer look at each team’s roster to understand why everyone is so excited about professional baseball in Italy.
UnipolSai Fortituto Bologna manager Lele Frignani has put together a well-balanced roster of seasoned veterans and up-and-coming stars. The always dependable Roberto Corradini mentors a strong Bologna pitching staff which includes former Boston Red Sox prospect Nicolo Clemente, former Team Italy WBC pitchers Filippo Crepaldi, Luca Panerati and Nick Pugliese, Venezuelan newcomer Raul Garcia Junior, and the American-born duo of Justin Cicatello and Rudy Owens. Azzurri catcher Marco Sabbatani shares the catching duties with veteran Venezuelan backstop, Osman Marval. Bologna boasts a quality infield featuring a pair of Azzurri favorites in first baseman Alex Sambucci and second baseman Alessandro Vaglio as well as two outstanding imports: Venezuelan shortstop Jose Flores, and Dominican third baseman Robel Garcia. Center fielder Paolino Ambrosino, who was the first Italian-born player to participate in the Nicaraguan Professional Baseball League while playing for the 2016-17 Tigres de Chinandega, joins fellow Italians Alessandro Grimaudo and Alex Russo as well as the San Francisco-born Nick Nosti to round out the Bologna outfield.
2016 IBL runner-up Rimini seeks revenge against Bologna this season under the leadership of manager Paolo Ceccaroli. Former LA Dodger prospect Federico Celli teams up with Italian American Nico Garbella, Cuban All-Star Maikel Caseres and Venezuelan Carlos Duran to make up what some believe to be the best outfield in the IBL. Azzurri pitchers Jose Escalona, Carlos Richetti, and Carlos Teran give Rimini depth on the hill. Dominican hurler Jose Rosario and former Marlins Venezuelan prospect Ricardo Hernandez add even more appeal to the Pirates pitching staff. Shortstop Juan Carlos Infante, a name many may recall seeing on the 2013 Team Italy WBC roster, leads a talented crew of infielders including first baseman Daniele Malengo, second basemen Lino Zappone and Freddy Noguera in addition to third baseman Lorenzo Di Fabio. Catchers Gionni Luciani and Antonio Giovannini complement the Rimini roster.
T&A San Marino GM Mauro Mazzotti has faith that team manager Marco Nanni can bring an IBL championship title to the “most serene republic” sooner than later with a slew of tried and tested athletes hungry for success. Loyal Azzurri players include DH Mario Chiarini, outfielders Sebastiano Poma, Lorenzo Avagnini, and Mattia Reginato as well as pitchers Nick Morreale, Frailyn Florian and Junior Oberto. Former Houston Astros prospect Carlos Quevedo, Andres Perez and Yoimer Camacho are a trio of dangerous Venezuelan pitchers that will try to keep opponents off balance and off the bases. Tomasso Cherubini and Ludovico Coveri complete the San Marino pitching staff. Shortstop Erick Epifano, who played four seasons in the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues as a former MLB prospect, heads up the San Marino infield with the assistance of first basemen Gabriele Ermini and Francesco Imperiali, second basemen Riccardo Babini and Luca Pulzetti in addition to third basemen Leonardo Ferrini. Simone Albanese, Daniele Cenni and Pierangelo Cit divvy up the catching for T&A San Marino.
Angel Service Nettuno Baseball City manager Alberto D’Auria will try to get his team of spirited players into the IBL playoffs for the second consecutive season. Former LA Dodgers prospect Federico Giordani joins fellow Italian teammates Ennio Retrosi and Stefano Giannetti as well as Venezuelan Ronald Bermudez and Italian American Nick Davenport in the Nettuno outfield. Shortstop and former Atlanta Braves prospect Mattia Mercuri complements the Nettuno infield along with Dominican-born Omar Luna, Argentine-born Sebastian Fontana and Renato Imperiali at first base, Andrea Sellaroli at second base, and Giuseppe Mazzanti and Leonardo Colagrossi at third base. 25-year-old American import pitcher Ethan Carnes, who pitched three years in the NY Yankees minor league system, makes Angel Service Nettuno an intriguing IBL entry. Other pitchers on the squad include Milvio Andreozzi, Matteo Modica, Yuri Morellini, Valerio Simone, Paolo Taschini, and Venzuelan Ronald Uviedo. Catchers Mario Trinci, Angelo Taurelli and Vinicio Sparagna add strength to the Nettuno roster.
Parma Clima advisor Sal Varriale takes pride in his important role and his invaluable contribution to Italian baseball for the past four decades. Honored by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) with the 2012 ABCA Meritorious Service Award, Varriale was recently acknowledged in Parma when he was awarded The Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Ordine al merito della Repubblica Italiana) and the title of Knight of the Republic (Cavaliere della Repubblica). Entrusting former Team Italy coach and current Parma manager Gilberto Gerali to assemble a competitive squad capable of winning the 2017 IBL Championship title, Varriale is confident the team chemistry in Parma will yield remarkable results on the diamond. Starting with Azzurri faithful Stefano Desimoni in the outfield and Yomel Rivera on the mound, Parma Clima can do no wrong. Recruiting four Venezuelan standouts: former MLB pitcher Eduardo Sanchez (St. Louis Cardinals/Chicago Cubs), shortstop and former LA Dodgers prospect Leon Mirabal, third baseman and former Colorado Rockies/Boston Red Sox prospect Mario Martinez as well as closer Gumercindo Gonzalez plus one Columbian All-Star in third baseman Adolfo Gomez, is no easy task. Combine this international arsenal with the prowess of local players like pitcher Michele Pompani, second baseman Manuel Piazza, third baseman Luca Scalera and outfielder Leonardo Zileri, Parma is destined to be the team to beat in the 2017 IBL playoffs.
In the IBL for its third year, Tommasin Padova manager Francesco Aluffi’s team is getting better with age. Perhaps the biggest acquisition since Lenny Randle joined the IBL, Padova recruited former MLB veteran Mark Teahen to come out of retirement to play during the 2017 IBL Season. While vacationing in Italy and working out in Bologna three years ago, the left-handed-hitting utility player expressed interest in playing baseball in the IBL. During his seven-year MLB career, Teahen had 759 hits, including 67 homers, while playing for the Kansas City Royals, the Chicago White Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. Other Padova imports include Venezuelans Roberto Canache, who pitched in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, and infielder Carlos Perdomo as well as Dominican left-handed pitcher Yunior Novoa, who has quality spent time in the minor and independent leagues before landing in Italy. The synergy between Azzurri pitcher Enrico Crepaldi and catcher Elia Marinig provides Padova with an edge over opposing hitters, while Andrea Berini offers extra protection in the outfield with his speed and agility.
Renny Duarte, who European baseball fans will recall served as the long-time pitching coach for Spain, takes over the managerial duties for Novara. Joining Duarte in the IBL is Team Spain shortstop Oscar Angulo, whose offensive excellence was key to the team’s silver medal finish in the 2016 European Baseball Championship. Led by Azzurri veterans Jairo Ramos and Yovani D’Amico, Novara has an international pitching syndicate featuring Jonathan Aristil from the Dominican Republic and Raul Ruiz from Venezuela in addition to Brent Buffa and Jeremy Castro from the USA. Other players of interest include local pitching favorites Nicolas Loardi and Pietro Paolo Cadoni plus Venezuelan catcher Luis Alvarez and Italian Dominican infielder Nathanael De Jesus. Novara should not be taken lightly as the new skipper Duarte plays to win and his players will follow his lead.
Polisportiva Padule Sesto Fiorentino manager Paolo Minozzi knows he has a big job ahead as the leader for the newest addition to the IBL. Former Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Jesus Parra and former Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Carlos Rodriguez, a pair of strong arms from Venezuela, make their IBL debut for Padule Sesto Fiorentino. Minozzi recruited some of the best Italian pitchers available including: Alessandro Ularetti, Marco Costantini, Massimiliano “The Rocket” Geri, Filippo Gandolfi and Matthias Zotti. The catching quartet of Fabio Origlia, Davide Tomaello and Valdemaro Faticanti and Marco Valsecchi will get their fair share of time behind the plate. With first base being anchored by Emiliano Lumini and Samy Ramirez, infielders Marco Labardi, Samuele Reggioli, Manuel Ricci and Livinston Santaniello split the second baseman and shortstop duties. Cubans Yordany Alarcon and Yordany Scull stake their claim to third base and center field respectively, while Nazzareno Neri and Rojelio Maldonado round out the Padule outfield. There is no doubt the new kids on the block will experience growing pains throughout season; however, Padule Sesto Fiorentino is a welcome addition to the IBL.
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.”
In late 1976 Lou Colabello got an invitation he could not refuse from friend Ed Orizzi, who was looking for a pitcher to help Rimini compete in the Italian Baseball League. It didn’t take long for the left-handed ace from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to regain his pitching form last seen in the 1969 College World Series to lead Rimini to three Italian Series A titles from 1977 to 1984. Putting together a stellar 94-25 record with a 2.99 ERA, the owners of the other IBL teams did not want to see Colabello’s dominance any longer. As a result, the president of the league and owner of the team in Parma implemented a rule that barred American-schooled Italians over the age of 26 from pitching.
After meeting the love of his life Silvana in Rimini and getting married to her in 1981, the Italian American Baseball Family Tree grew its first branch with the birth of their son Chris Colabello in 1983. Lou was invited to play for the Italian national team in 1984, when he would pitch against USA’s Barry Larkin, Will Clark, Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell, Mark McGwire, Cory Snyder and B.J. Surhoff at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Fast forward to the first pitch of the 2013 World Baseball Classic warm-up game between Team Italia and the Los Angeles Angels. Halos skipper Mike Scioscia looked out at the sea of Azzurri jerseys and said, “I’m proud to be Italian, and I think everyone on that field is proud of their roots and where they come from.” Then Scioscia asked, “Where’s Sal?” He wanted to know where Sal Varriale was. Sal was the first “oriundo” or immigrant with Italian ancestry recruited by Aldo Notari, the former Italian Baseball Federation President from 1985 to 2000. The Brooklyn native enjoyed a successful playing career in Italy and coached Team Italia in the Olympics from 1992 to 2004.
Today Sal proudly serves as Director of Parma Baseball and as an international scout for the Cincinnati Reds. The Italian American Baseball Family Roots grew during Notari’s tenure governing the Italian Baseball Federation and it continues to prosper with the addition of MLB’s World Baseball Classic under new president Andrea Marcon. Mike Piazza was recruited by former president Riccardo Fraccari to join Team Italia while visiting Italy in 2002. Jason Grilliand Frank Catalanotto also signed up to play for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC.
With Mike Piazza signing on as Team Italia hitting coach for the 2009 World Baseball Classic in Toronto, many notable Italian American MLB players contributed to Team Italia’s surprise 6-2 upset over host Canada. Chris Denorfia went 4-for-4 with three doubles, two runs, two RBI and played great defense. Starting pitcher Dan Serafini picked up the win after middle reliever Chris Cooper kept hitters off balance and closer Jason Grilli secured the 3 1/3 inning save. New Italian American Baseball Family members included Nick Punto, Francisco Cervelli, Adam Ottavino, and Mike Costanzo.
After Team Italia defeated Mexico and Canada to advance to the second-round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, they would suffer a 5-4 loss to eventual 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic and demonstrate how its mixed roster of Italian-born players like Alex Liddi and Alessandro Maestri and Italian American MLB-affiliated newcomers Anthony Rizzo, Chris Colabello, Drew Buteraand Pat Vendittecould compete with international baseball’s elite.
It was fun to share the enthusiasm of Roberto Angotti visiting our Academy in Tirrenia
Los Angeles radio deejay and journalist Roberto Angotti could see the writing on the wall and knew something special was happening when he was invited to the Italian Baseball Academy in Tirrenia while visiting family nearby in 2012. Since the day Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy director and Chicago Cubs scout Bill Holmberg signed Italian Baseball Academy graduate Alberto Mineo to the Cubbies in 2010, MLB scouts have scattered around the FIBS-sponsored Baseball Academy like flies hunting down the scent of the next big European prospect. Germany’s most successful player to date–Max Kepler, a product of a similar European Baseball Academy that MLB’s Bill Holmberg frequents in Regensburg and recipient of the Minnesota Twins’ $800,000 signing bonus in 2009, proved to be worth his weight in gold based on his 17 homers and 63 RBI during the 2016 MLB season.
San Remo native Alex Liddi, who signed to the Seattle Mariners in 2005 and made his MLB debut in 2011, was inspirational for young Italian ballplayers like Marten Gasparini who dreamed of playing in the Big Leagues. Heralded as the best 5-tool player ever out of Europe, FIBS Academy graduate and MLB prospect Marten Gasparini received a $1.3 million dollar signing bonus from the Kansas City Royals in 2013. The 19-year-old shortstop credits Italian Baseball Academy director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg for his success.
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. The LA Dodgers recruited Mazzieri to become their scout in 2013. Mazzieri went right to work and wasted no time in signing FIBS Academy graduates Federico Celli and Federico Giordani.
Growing up in Los Angeles as a first generation Italian American Dodgers fan, Roberto Angotti understood the strong connection between Tommy Lasorda and Mike Piazza. From the moment Piazza decided to play for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC, Angotti enlisted to become a soldier on the frontline of the Italian baseball revolution. Roberto became friends with Mike during the two weeks Team Italia spent in Phoenix preparing for the 2013 WBC. When Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda dropped in on Team Italia’s practice at Dodgers’ Spring Training Camp in Glendale to address the team, Angotti pledged his support and worked tirelessy behind-the-scenes to provide daily journals of the team’s activities. Lasorda’s emotionally-driven speech coupled with Piazza’s serious commitment inspired Angotti to share the experience with others through a traveling exhibit paying tribute to Italian American baseball entitled Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball. The exhibition featured sports artists of Italian descent–including James Fiorentino–and paid homage to Team Italia.
Featured in the New York Times as well as on ESPN, MSG, and FOX, James Fiorentino is considered one of the world’s best sports artists. Fiorentino became the youngest artist to ever be featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame at age 15 with his portrait of Reggie Jackson. Art seen at JamesFiorentino.com grace the walls of the National Basketball and Cycling Hall of Fames, Ted Williams and Roberto Clemente Museums, National Art Museum of Sport and the Sports Museum of America.
The Italian American Baseball Family grew organically when Mint Pros founder Joe Quagliano reached out to Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri and offered his expertise as a pro sports event promoter to raise funds for baseball development in Italy. With the support of FIBS executives Riccardo Fraccari, Marinella Mojoli, Massimo Fochi, Marco Landi and Riccardo Schiroli, Quagliano represented the Italian Baseball Federation with Marco Mazzieri at the National Italian American Foundation 41st Anniversary Gala and joined Mike Piazza at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame 39th Annual Induction & Awards Gala.
Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto, Joe Quagliano, James Fiorentino and Roberto Angotti have teamed up for the Italian American Baseball FamilyLaunch and Dinner, the first of many fundraisers to assist in the development of youth baseball in Italy by building and maintaining ball fields, purchasing uniforms and equipment, organizing clinics and supporting FIBS. Like branches on a tree, we grow in different directions yet our Italian family roots remain the same.
Only second to Santa in holiday appearances, National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame spokesman Mike Piazza began early before Thanksgiving when he emceed NIASHF’s 37th Annual Awards Celebration and inducted John Andretti, Babe Parilli, Scott Pioli, Angelo Pizzo and Frank Zamboni at the InterContinental Hotel in Chicago.
International baseball ambassador and Italian National team hitting coach Mike Piazza got a jump start on Babbo Natale, otherwise known as Father Christmas, when he traveled to Veneto, Italy last January to speak to an enthusiastic audience at the 29th Annual Coaches Convention. Piazza said, “We all overteach and overanalyze hitting. Everyone has their own opinion, but in actuality–just as Ted Williams explained in his book–The Science of Hitting–the number one rule is to get a good ball to hit. Gaining an understanding of the strike zone and what you can and can’t hit is the key. Simply spoken, you can’t hit what you can’t see.” Borrowing a page straight out of Ted Williams’ book, Rudolph the red nose reindeer leads Cometa, Ballerina, Fulmine, Donnola, Freccia, Saltarello, Donato, and Cupido so that Babbo Natale is able to see which homes to hit and deliver presents to millions of Italian children every year. However, La Befana, the elderly woman who delivers gifts on Epiphany Eve (January 5th), is a cultural folklore tradition favorite and reigns as the undisputed Italian holiday champion.
La Befana is a nice old woman who some believe takes flight on her broom stick every year in the middle of the night in preparation of the arrival of Epiphany day on January 6th. She showers children with gifts to reward them for their good behavior. La Befana’s big sack on her back and basket is usually full of sweets and chocolates, which will make their way into the stockings of kids who have behaved on the day of the Epiphany. However, those children who didn’t do what they were asked by their parents and were naughty throughout the year will end up with a stocking full of lumps of coal. Yet, everyone loves La Befana. She is sometimes portrayed as having white or black hair with a long crooked nose, broken shoes and a patched dress. Unlike in America where children generally leave milk and cookies for Santa Claus, it is customary to have a nice glass of red wine waiting for La Befana upon her arrival to your house considering the long overnight journey she had to endure getting there.
Mike Piazza deserves more than just chianti for the seemingly endless journey he has had to experience to become enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Mets Hall of Famer is a fan favorite, and anytime he is affiliated with a night at the ballpark it is an instant hit. The Mike Piazza soccer jersey giveaway at the 2014 Italian Heritage Night at Citi Field was considered to be best Mets promotion of the season.
Commercial endorsements from Philips Norelco as well as special guest interview appearances on Complex News and TMZ Sports are just the tip of the iceberg of mass media that has spotlighted Mike Piazza recently. Expect nothing less than an avalanche of additional coverage in 2015 to follow with Piazza’s support of the National Italian American Foundation and the NIAF 40th Anniversary Gala.
Author and University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Emeritus Professor Lawrence A. Baldassaro summed up why this blogger believes Mike Piazza is Italian American of the Decade when he wrote: “Of all the younger Major League players I interviewed for my book, Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball, none was more in touch with, and interested in, his Italian heritage than Mike Piazza. And his commitment to baseball in Italy is unmatched among those his age.”
With Ronald Reagan serving as America’s leader and the final episode of M*A*S*H* airing on television in 1983, Lenny Randle embarked on an Italian baseball adventure that lasted almost a decade before nearly making a miraculous MLB comeback at age 46 with the 1995 Angels. Not afraid of climbing into the stands to talk, sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans, Lenny Randle is a fan favorite both on and off the field. Infamous for teaching future ballplayers Italian phrases and encouraging them to get their college degree so they have something to fall back on, Randle practices what he preaches having received his Masters Degree in Education and started his own baseball school after retirement. Learning the game from the best, Lenny broke into the big leagues with the Washington Senators in 1971 under manager Ted Williams and was mentored by the likes of Billy Martin, Don Drysdale, and Tommy Lasorda during his illustrious 12-year career.
During the span of his 1,138 MLB games played with the Washington Senators, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners, Randle’s best season was in 1974 with the Texas Rangers when he hit .302 (7th overall in American League) and stole 26 bases. In 1983, the versatile player ventured to Nettuno at age 34. In his first season in the Italian Baseball League, he won the batting title handily just shy of a .500 clip. He later went on to lead the league in stolen bases with 32. The Southern California native found his power stroke in Italy during his 200-game career and hit 47 home runs. In a 1995 interview with the Tampa Tribune, Randle summed up his experience abroad by saying: “Playing baseball in Italy was like finding the fountain of youth. Guys over there relax and enjoy the game. It’s easy because there’s no stress.”
Fast forward two decades and Nettuno Baseball Club’s all-time favorite, Lenny “Cappuccino” Randle, is now the team’s new general manager and co-owner. If anyone can start the Italian baseball revolution and transform Nettuno’s historical World War II U.S. battlefield site into baseball’s next field of dreams, it’s Lenny Randle. Supported by a first-class coaching staff of seasoned MLB vets including Chris Bando, Félix Millán, and Rudy Law, Randle is ready to turn Nettuno into European baseball’s biggest epicenter.
36,000 American soldiers landed at Nettuno in 1944 and brought along an arsenal of baseballs, bats, and gloves to keep their sanity during wartime. While the U.S. Army maintained its beachhead at Nettuno for five months, Italians were introduced to America’s favorite pastime. Baseball reached the masses when the Italian press learned of Joe DiMaggio’s visit to the game’s birthplace in Nettuno after his retirement in 1957. Randle’s Nettuno Baseball Club will pay tribute to the Italian American icon at Stadio Steno Borghese in 2015.
@ABLblogger ROBERTO ,BRING SPONSOR DISPLAY TO STENO BORGHESE STADIUM JOE DIMAGGIO WEEK TRIBUTE MANAGER LENNY RANDLE NETTUNO BASEBALL CLUB
The Nettuno Baseball Club looks to inspire a whole new generation of baseball fans and players while upholding the legacy and traditions of the game in Italy. Under the leadership of General Manager Lenny Randle and President Piero Fortino, the Nettuno Baseball Club is building international alliances with corporate sponsors interested in expanding its reach through innovative marketing and interactive fan engagement.
Sponsorship members of the exclusive Nettuno Baseball Club Home Run Club pledge $20,000 and receive a plethora of benefits including: roundtrip airfare to Nettuno/all ground transportation, two nights accommodation at a luxury hotel, private meet and greet with players and coaches, gourmet lunch and five-course dinner at beachside restaurant, VIP Season Tickets/baseball game box seats at stadium, guided tour of local attractions and destinations including World War II Monument and Rome, radio/tv mentions, announcements on game days, a permanent banner at stadium, corporate logo on all printed materials/online media presence and link from the Nettuno website. Until the Asian and American monopoly on baseball’s culture and resources eases up and Major League Baseball and its corporate partners invest in youth and professional leagues in Europe, the fate of the game’s future is dependent on the involvement of former MLB vets like Lenny Randle and Mike Piazza. Finding and developing players is one of Nettuno Baseball Club’s strengths. Both 20-year-old Atlanta Braves prospect Mattia Mercuri and 17-year-old LA Dodgers prospect Federico Giordani ascended up the ranks through Nettuno Baseball Club.
Cultivating prospects like Nettuno’s Mercuri and Giordani into major league-quality players and using them like missionaries to promote baseball in Europe will make a strong enough impression back home to give young Italian athletes the vote of confidence that playing MLB is a viable option. Every time Major League Baseball has reached out to expand its constituency to new geographic areas, it has been rewarded with tactical and cultural innovation, a broader fan base and a higher quality of play. Why should Europe be any different? Without MLB financing, the Nettuno Baseball Club and Italian Baseball League depend on corporate sponsorship and FIBS. To learn more about the fantastic opportunities afforded to businesses and athletes, please visit Lenny Randle Sports Tours.
Having won its second straight European Championship in 2012 after defeating the Netherlands, Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri expects nothing less than a third consecutive EU title since the Italian National Baseball Team has captured 10 European titles and placed second fifteen times in 32 overall appearances. The Netherlands–winner of 20 EU Championship titles with nine runner-up finishes–and 12-time Bronze Spain stand in their way.
Before Italia has the opportunity to face the Netherlands and Spain in the semi-final and final games held in Brno, Czech Republic, they must first qualify by defeating Belgium, Sweden, France, Germany and Great Britain in Regensburg, Germany. The Netherlands and Spain can both advance to the final rounds with wins over the Czech Republic, Greece, Croatia and Russia in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Although Team Italia has been dominant of late in European baseball, the Netherlands won four straight EU Championship titles from 1999 to 2007. “This has been a long-time rivalry,” Team Italia skipper Marco Mazzieri said of the showdowns with the Dutch. “I have tremendous respect for their program. With that said, I like to beat them just as much as they like to beat us. Luckily, we’ve been able to beat them the past couple of years in the European Championships.” However, the Dutch have fared better than the Italians in the international competition spotlight. The Netherlands reached the second round of the 2009 World Baseball Classic, won the 2011 World Cup in Panama and went as far as the semi-finals in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Mazzieri admits the Dutch have an advantage when it comes down to recruiting top international talent from the Netherlands Antilles, which are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. “It’s easier for them to get players from the Caribbean,” said Mazzieri.
Considering twenty-eight percent of all players making the 25-man MLB opening day rosters last year were born outside the United States, it should come as no surprise that 241 players from 12 different countries were represented on the diamond. Former New York Yankee Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens, who serves as the Netherlands manager when not coaching for the San Francisco Giants, is from Curaçao. He spoke about Major League Baseball’s effort to grow the game globally. Hensley said, “International competitions give many countries the chance to show people that we can compete with the best team in baseball, Team USA.” With the Netherlands pitching staff led by MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven and the best position players from Curacao and Aruba being mentored by former Yankees infielder Robert Eenhoorn–who heads the Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Association, the Netherlands is now home to six baseball academies and a bonafide professional stadium in Hoofddorp which will host an upcoming MLB Season Opening Series soon.In the 2013 World Baseball Classic, the only player on Spain’s 28-man roster born in the country was pitcher Eric Gonzalez, who grew up in the Canary Islands and whose parents are Venezuelan. Eleven of his teammates were born in Venezuela and six in Cuba. The makeup of Team Spain reflects the changing demographics of the country, where nearly half of the five million legal immigrants are from Latin America. Some members of Team Spain received passports because of their family roots in Spain, while others qualified to play through marriage or long-term residency. Mauro Mazzotti’s team is dangerous because the manager recruits baseball’s secret weapons from former Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and Latin America.Manager Marco Mazzieri hopes to replicate the winning synergy demonstrated by the international Team Italia lineup of MLB-affiliated players in the WBC with a roster of primarily homegrown talent in the European Championship. He said, “I’m really focused on developing our guys and possibly to add good players as we did in the 2013 WBC. We would like to get players from all over the U.S. a little bit more, but we just have to make do with what we have.” Expect the defending Euro Champions Italians to play with intentions of a three-peat.
For further information on the upcoming European Baseball Championship and details on how to obtain tickets for the September 12-16 games in Regensburg, Germany, click HERE. To learn more about the international competition and tickets for the September 12-21 Czech Republic games, click HERE. For an updated schedule of the 2014 European Baseball Championship and complete game box scores, click HERE.
Three-time defending Italian Baseball League champion T&A San Marino is loaded with seasoned MLB players and prospects selected by Orioles’ scout and San Marino GM Mauro Mazzotti, who was named 2012 Coach of the Year by the European Baseball Coaches Association and was instrumental in leading underdog Team Spain to its first-ever appearance at the World Baseball Classic. T&A San Marino features an international all-star cast including starting pitcher Júnior Guerra–a former catcher in the Braves and Mets organizations–and relief pitcher/closer Jesus Delgado–who made his MLB debut for the 2008 Marlins–both of whom are veteran Venezuelan hurlers who bolster the dominant San Marino pitching staff.
Adding pitching depth to San Marino’s roster is 35-year-old Italian American Chris Cooper, who was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 35th round of the 2001 MLB amateur draft. Cooper, who hails from Pittsburgh, explained that his original family name was Cocchiararo. “It’s alphabet soup,” Cooper said, smiling as he elaborated on the scenario. “They changed my last name when my great-grandfather came over in 1911. They misspelled his name about three times, and the story was, supposedly, he pointed at somebody’s nametag when he was getting his papers here in the U.S. They just said, ‘Okay, we have Cooper.’” Cooper is joined by fellow Italian national team member Lorenzo Avagnina as well as Canadian-born Paul Macaluso. Both San Marino outfielders Avagnina and Macaluso are the unsung heroes of the squad as they emulate general manager Mazzotti’s true grit style of play and “Never Say Die” approach to the Italian Baseball League.
Standing in the path of T&A San Marino’s path to the European Cup is a very dangerous Rimini Pirates baseball team. Their pitching arsenal is led by MLB veteran/Oregon native Mike Ekstrom and Cuban-born southpaw Enorbel Márquez-Ramírez along with former Mariners’ minor leaguer Jose Escalona serving as Rimini’s closer. Should the Rimini Pirates defeat T&A San Marino in the upcoming Euro Cup, they will be the European representative in the 2014 Asia Series–an international competition featuring the champions of the Australian Baseball League, Korea Baseball Organization, Nippon Pro Baseball in Japan, Chinese Professional Baseball League and the European Cup. Having already earned himself a ticket to the Asia Series as the pitching ace for the 2014 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Champion Perth Heat (5-1, 0.72 ERA, 50.1 IP, 10 BB and 57 K), Ekstrom could potentially have a difficult decision to make on whether to play for the Aussie or Euro Cup Champs. Team Italia pitcher Nick Pugliese was faced with similar circumstances when he played for last year’s European Cup Champion Unipol Bologna and the 2013 ABL Champion Canberra Cavalry. Because Pugliese was committed to the Italian team, it opened up a roster spot on the Cavalry pitching staff for Ekstrom. Despite being a member of the Perth Heat, Ekstrom was granted temporary pitching privileges for rival Canberra Cavalry so that Australia could put their league’s best players out on the field in the international spotlight. The strategy paid off big as Ekstrom led the longshot Cavalry to the 2013 Asia Series Championship, and the ABL was subsequently awarded the winner’s $500,000 prize money. Should Rimini win the Euro Cup, let’s hope that Ekstrom chooses to share some amore by bringing home the loot to benefit Italian baseball.
Based on what he has been written in his blog “Baseball Round The World”, Ekstrom has nothing but love for Italia. How could he not when Italian American teammate Jack Santora, a 19th round Arizona Diamondbacks draft pick in 1999, has shown him the ropes after having spent the last eight years playing the infields of the Italian Baseball League. The Monterey, California native Santora, along with Rimini hometown hero and Italian national team captain Mario Chiarini–who played for the 2000 Arizona League Mariners and competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics–are the elder statesmen of the squad. These veterans have been both critical to Rimini’s success and inspirational to newcomers to the team like Ekstrom. However, nothing means more to the players right now than the EU Champions Cup and the right to represent European baseball in the 2014 Asia Series.
Although the battlegrounds for the European Champions Cup Finals will take place nearby, Rimini and San Marino had to travel great distances to play the other EU Championship teams and win their respective Qualifier Champions Cup bracket to get here. Rimini defeated the best from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Ukraine and host Brno, Czech Republic, while T&A San Marino beat a similar group of international squads which included Italy’s Nettuno and home team Vaessen in the Netherlands. Italian Baseball League favorite T&A San Marino may have the edge over Rimini, but the Pirates are not to be underestimated. Rimini outfielder Leonardo Zileri‘s hitting frenzy in the European Champions Cup Qualifier garnered him a .591 batting average (13-for-22) and awards for MVP and Best Hitter in the tourney. T&A San Marino will counteract with Venezuelan slugger Jairo Ramos, whose performance in the European Champions Cup Qualifier (.500 BA, 2-2B, 2-HR, 9 RBI) yielded similar MVP and Best Hitter accolades in the competition.
With the much anticipated best of three-game series between T&A San Marino and Rimini for the 2014 European Champions Cup taking place beginning August 7th, baseball fever is at its all-time high in Italy. The Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS)website will provide up-to-date details and links to the live internet streaming broadcasts. More than a local rivalry between San Marino and Rimini, the ramifications of winning the European Champions Cup extend internationally as the EU representative in the 2014 Asia Series. May the best team win and go on to turn heads in Taiwan. Lord knows an injection of winners’ prize money earned abroad would help nurture the growth of the game in Europe.
Alex Liddi, Major League Baseball’s first Italian-born-and-developed player, has arrived at LA Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque with hopes of joining fellow Team Italia teammate Drew Butera when MLB rosters expand in September. Liddi will be in good company in New Mexico, where the close-knit Italian-American community in Albuquerque will welcome him.
Having a strong presence in Albuquerque since the transcontinental railroad first arrived in the city in 1880, the Italian Americans will now have the opportunity to relish over Italy’s pride and joy and San Remo’s hometown hero as the latest addition to the Isotopes roster this summer. Similar to that of early Italian immigrants’ journey, struggle, and perseverance after leaving their motherland in Italy for better lives in America, Liddi has also endured his own personal and treacherous MLB roller coaster ride up-and-down the ranks in the Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox organizations prior to signing a minor league contract with the LA Dodgers. With most of his Big League experience defensively at first and third, Liddi is a versatile player who can play shortstop and the outfield. Having played in 61 regular season games since making his MLB debut in 2011, the 25-year-old slugger is anxious to prove himself worthy of a trip out west to LA. Alex Liddi has a strong connection to Los Angeles since his father, Agostino (Augustine), graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1970. Agostino’s parents left Italy shortly after World War II to work as tailors in America. While attending Beverly Hills High School, Agostino Liddi played baseball before repatriating to Italy after graduation. It was there that he met his future wife, Flavia, who played softball competitively in Italy. Alex was literally weaned on baseball by his father and mother. You could say that Alex was a truly a baseball baby because it was reported that Flavia played first base for the first three months of her pregnancy carrying Alex. When Alex was old enough to play baseball, his mother coached his teams. As a teenager, his father drove him long distances to compete in games throughout Italy. With sons, Thomas and Alex, the couple shared their love of the game to transform the Liddi’s into Italy’s premier baseball family.
What made Team Italia so heavenly to watch in the WBC was due in part to manager and Dodgers’ European Scout Marco Mazzieri’s faith in Alex Liddi. Mike Scioscia’s Los Angeles Angels became believers in a WBC warm up exhibition game in Tempe prior to the start of the 2013 international competition. Liddi went 2-for-3 with a double, a two-run home run and 3 RBI against the Halos. The Italian cleanup hitter continued his hot-hitting ways and played stellar defense at third base during the first two WBC games against Mexico and Canada. He literally wrecked havoc on opposing pitchers by going 4-for-7 with two walks, three runs and three RBI. The two wins ensured Team Italia’s advancement to the next round of action with USA against WBC Champion Dominican Republic and runner up Puerto Rico. If Liddi can rediscover his offensive prowess while in Albuquerque, then the face of European baseball will be a big name in Little Italy and Chavez Ravine.
Future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza has been fueling the fire of the Italian baseball revolution for nearly a decade. Since joining Team Italia in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, the proud Italian American has had a profound effect on the growth and development of baseball in Italy. Working in tandem with Italian MLB Academy Director and Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg, Piazza has helped Italy become the superpower of European baseball in light of the recent KC Royals signing of five-tool Italian-born prospect Marten Gasparini for $1.3 million. One statistic often overlooked in validating Mike Piazza’s rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame is Career Runs Created by a catcher. Based on the 1,378 Runs Created by Piazza–which ties Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk–Team Italia’s hitting coach was the BEST hitting catcher of all-time (Mike Piazza 1,378; Carlton Fisk 1,378; Ted Simmons 1,283; Yogi Berra 1,265; Joe Torre 1,259; Johnny Bench 1,239; Gary Carter 1,184; Bill Dickey 1,164; Gabby Hartnett 1,161 and Jason Kendall 1,112). Defensively Piazza was the BEST catcher of his time in handling his pitchers. In his career behind the plate, pitchers had a 3.80 ERA when he was catching. Checking the stats for all the other catchers who caught the same pitchers in the same year that Piazza did, they allowed a 4.34 ERA. With 12-time MLB All-Star Mike Piazza coaching Italian ballplayers, the BEST has yet to come for Team Italia.
Mike Piazza is a baseball immortal regardless of what a pack of bitter, jealous sports writers think. Everyone knows he was The Man.
“We just want to continue to draw attention to the fact that we believe baseball is marketable in Italy. We think it’s viable. We think there’s a lot of upward growth. We can produce players over there. I’m convinced of it,” said Piazza. 17-year-old switch-hitting shortstop Marten Gasparini–compared to a young Derek Jeter–and 19-year-old lefthanded-hitting catcher Alberto Mineo lead the charge of the Italian baseball revolution spurred by Dodgers scout/Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri and coaches Holmberg and Piazza.
Grazie di nuovo @FIBSpress! Had an amazing time in Veneto. Great coaches convention. Forza Italia!
International baseball ambassador Mike Piazza traveled to Veneto, Italy recently to speak to an enthusiastic audience at the 29th Annual Coaches Convention. Piazza said, “We all overteach and overanalyze hitting. Everyone has their own opinion, but in actuality–just as Ted Williams explained in his book The Science of Hitting--the number one rule is to get a good ball to hit. Gaining an understanding of the strike zone and what you can and can’t hit is the key. Simply spoken, you can’t hit what you can’t see.” Twelve years ago in 2002 Piazza met FIBS President Riccardo Fraccari while visiting Italy on a MLB International mission to help the game develop in Europe. Fraccari asked Piazza if he would be interested in representing Italy in international competition, and the proud Italian American responded that it would be privilege to play for the Italian national team in honor of his Sicilian ancestry. During a 2006 World Baseball Classic press conference, Piazza addressed reporters who questioned why he chose to join Team Italia and said, “You may not understand it, but for Italian Americans getting a chance to finally play for Italy is like a duck chick getting close to the water for the first time.” The Italians have since fared well in the World Baseball Classic, nearly upsetting 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic and runner-up Puerto Rico. Piazza’s influence swayed Cubs’ slugger Anthony Rizzo to play for Team Italia alongside other MLB Italian Americans including Padres’ Chris Denorfia, A’s Nick Punto, Twins’ Chris Colabello and Pirates’ Jason Grilli. Piazza’s power of persuasion even impacted the Team Italia coaching staff as former MLB journeyman Frank Catalanotto joined the Italian baseball revolution. Team Italia’s homegrown talent held its own and contributed to the overall chemistry of the squad. Alessandro Maestri–the first Italian-born-and-developed pitcher signed by MLB in 2006 and infielder Alex Liddi–the first Italian-born-and-developed player to make his MLB debut in 2011 have benefitted greatly from Piazza’s guidance and mentorship.
Maestri said, “It’s great to have him around in the dugout. He’s like doing this for fun. He enjoys working with us… That’s why we appreciate it so much. I think he is positively influencing the program that we have. The fact that the team is winning and improving proves it. So that’s why he keeps coming back.” Liddi echoed the sentiment and said, “When you have coaches like Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto—guys who have been in the big leagues for a long time—it makes it fun just to be around them. You’re able to ask them questions and learn from them.”
Piazza has been a proponent of uplifting and preserving his Italian cultural heritage by supporting the efforts of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), George Randazzo–founder of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and Roberto Angotti–curator of the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibition. Piazza befriended Angotti during the two weeks Team Italia spent in Phoenix preparing for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. When Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda dropped in on Team Italia’s practice at Dodgers’ Spring Training Camp in Glendale to address the team, Roberto knew he was on the frontline of the Italian baseball revolution. Lasorda’s emotionally-driven speech coupled with Piazza’s serious commitment inspired Angotti to share the experience with others through a traveling exhibit paying tribute to Italian American baseball.
Piazza said,”This commitment I have with the Italian Federation is something I really care about. I feel a strong tie to Italy, since my heritage is there. My grandfather Rosario came from Sciacca, Sicily, to the United States and my father grew me up following the Italian tradition pretty much. I think it’s in our DNA to strive to work hard and persevere. Most our ancestors came over to the United States with just the clothes on their back. I think that was the case with my grandfather, who had nothing in his pocket to start a life here in the U.S. When we have the strength and pride of the Italian family with the support we can give one another, it builds character and allows us to achieve our true potential. I don’t think there are a lot of Italian American families that don’t have strong support behind them. I do not pretend to say what is not true, I grew up as an American boy. Now, getting older, I understand the value of my heritage and I want to give something back to Italy.”