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.
PITCHERS: Team Italy switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, who has proved himself worthy of playing in Major League Baseball after stints with the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in late November with an invite to 2018 Spring Training. The 32-year-old fan favorite was lights out in Arizona, where he appeared in more games than any Dodger pitcher (nine), threw more innings than any other Dodger reliever (10.1), and posted the lowest ERA (1.74) of any reliever who pitched more than eight innings this spring. The Omaha, Nebraska native allowed only two earned runs on seven hits, while walking three and striking out 13. Despite his remarkable statistics and stellar performance, Pat Venditte will have to wait patiently and pitch for the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers before he makes his debut at Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles.
MLB veteran Tommy Layne made 19 appearances out of the New York Yankees bullpen in 2017. The lefty reliever specialist signed a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox in February and appeared in eight 2018 Spring Training games. He pitched seven inning in relief and picked up one save with a 2.57 ERA and six strikeouts. The 33-year-old seasoned professional will start out the 2018 season playing for Triple-A affiliate Pawtucket Red Sox with hopes of being brought back to Boston, where he spent most of his MLB career from 2014-2016.
In 2017 Sam Gaviglio made 12 appearances (11 starts) with the Seattle Mariners before being claimed off waivers by the Kansas City Royals, where he made another four appearances which included two starts. Overall, he went 4-5 with a 4.36 ERA. The Pacific Northwest right-hander was recently traded to the Toronto Blue Jays and assigned to Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons. It won’t be long before Sam Gaviglio makes his debut at Rogers Centre to give the Blue Jays added pitching depth.
Blue Jays prospect Jordan Romano was named 2017 MiLB Organizational All-Star after pitching for the Single-A Advanced DunedinBlue Jays and playing with future MLB stars Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He amassed 138 strikeouts in 138 innings of pitching during the 2017 season, which included 26 starts (7-5, 3.39 ERA). Jordan Romano was invited to 2018 Blue Jays Spring Training, where he appeared in three games and pitched 2.2 inning of relief with a 3.38 ERA. Although he was assigned to Double-A affiliate New Hampshire Fisher Cats, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to see Jordan Romano join fellow Team Italy pitcher Sam Gaviglio in Buffalo en route to Toronto in 2018.
After spending seven years in the Cleveland Indians organization and pitching for Double-A affiliate Akron RubberDucks in 2017, Luis Lugo signed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles in December. The crafty 24-year-old Team Italy left-hander, who was born in Venezuela, went 8-7 in 25 starts with a 4.35 ERA in 2017. He will be forwardly placed in the Orioles minor league system in anticipation of a breakout season to catapult him into MLB.
Philadelphia Phillies pitching prospect Nick Fanti was outstanding during his 2017 season with Single-A affiliate Lakewood BlueClaws, where he was involved in two no-hitters. The former 31st-round 2015 Phillies draft pick threw a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts on July 17, 2017, just two months after he pitched 8.2 hitless innings with nine strikeouts on May 6, 2017.The 21-year-old Baseball America Low Class A All-Star ended his 2017 campaign with an outstanding 9-2 record with 2.54 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 120.1 innings of work. In 2018 expect Nick Fanti to make his way from the Single-A Advanced Clearwater Threshers up the ladder to MLB.
CATCHERS: Team Italy is led by a dynamic duo of MLB veteran catchers, Francisco Cervelli of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Drew Butera of the Kansas CityRoyals, both known for being winners after calling quality games and coming through in the clutch. Francisco Cervelli was the hero on Pirates opening day at Detroit’s Comerica Park on March 30, 2018. Home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo called Tigers’ Nicholas Castellanos safe in a close play at the plate for a walk-off win in the 10th inning. While his fellow Pirates headed straight to dugout with their heads down conceding defeat in extra-innings, Francisco Cervelli knew he had tagged the runner out before Castellanos had touched the plate so he appealed to the umpires for a “courtesy review”. In what became MLB’s first controversial ruling of the 2018 regular season, the call was reversed and the game resumed. Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire went nuts, kicking dirt and getting ejected from his first game as Tigers skipper. Cervelli kept his cool and said, “In the past, we used to celebrate. Now, you’ve got to wait, especially on plays like that. It’s tough because they were celebrating. But I won, again.” The marathon contest lasted a Pirates opening day-record 5 hours and 27 minutes before Pittsburgh eventually beat the Tigers 13-10 in 13 innings. Francisco Cervelli orchestrated the barrage of pitchers from behind the plate while going 2-for-6 with 3 RBI. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle praised the Italian-Venezuelan catcher and said, “We’re a better team with Cervelli in the lineup and behind the plate. Truthfully, you have a pitching coach on the field. He and Yadier Molina are the two best I’ve seen. They have a good touch and feel for the pitchers, and they also have a Plan B or Plan C they can go to when Plan A doesn’t show up.”
With MLB All-Star Salvador Perez on the disabled list for four-to-six weeks, Drew Butera was in the 2018 opening day lineup as the primary catcher for the Kansas City Royals. He went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored in the Royals 14-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox on March 29. 2018. Nick Leto, Manager of Arizona Operations for the Kansas City Royals is a believer in Team Italy catcher Drew Butera.He said, “I think he is great. I am a big Butera fan. I think he helps us win on a nightly basis.” A proven winner with a 2015 World Series ring to his credit, 34-year-old Drew Butera has caught two no-hitters in his career so far. Being able to handle pitches with grace rarely seen at the Major League level while producing a calming effect on his pitching staff, catcher Drew Butera kept lefty Francisco Liriano focused on every pitch which led him to a no-hitter while playing for the Minnesota Twins against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, 2011. Three years later as the Los Angeles Dodgers backup catcher Butera caught Josh Beckett’s no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 25, 2014. As a result of the monumental accomplishments, he became only the fifth catcher in Major League Baseball history to catch a no-hitter in both leagues.
Italian-born and developed catcher Alberto Mineo was claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays (Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons) in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft from the Chicago Cubs (Single-A affiliate South Bend Cubs) on December 14, 2017. The Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy graduate played in a Chicago Cubs Spring Training game against Team Italy at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona on March 7, 2017. He entered the contest in the fifth inning as a pinch-runner for Kyle Schwarber and made one plate appearance later in the game for the Cubs. Alberto Mineo was assigned to Single-A Advanced affiliate Dunedin Blue Jays on April 1, 2018.
Cesarre Astorri, a 19-year-old FIBS Academy graduate, signed a minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics on January 8, 2018. The Italian catcher from Parma was assigned to the Arizona Rookie League Athletics. With two MLB veteran catchers and two up-and-coming MLB prospects on the horizon prepared to go to battle for Team Italy in the 2020 Olympics, the Azzurri have the potential to make an impact in Tokyo. Let’s wish Francisco Cervelli, Drew Butera, Alberto Mineo and Cesarre Astorri the best so that they remain healthy and committed to the future of the game abroad.
INFIELDERS: Sending a pitch from Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw over the swimming pool in right field at Chase Field in Phoenix, Team Italy infielder Daniel Descalso gave the Arizona Diamondbacks an early 1-0 lead with his homer in the second inning on April 3, 2018. The D-backs went on to beat the 2017 National League Champions 6-1, and 31-year-old second baseman Daniel Descalso could not have been happier to have taken the three-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher deep. “I think lefties are still allowed to get hits off him,” said Descalso. Last year in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) at Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, infielder Daniel Descalso was also an early catalyst for the Team Italy offense as he drove in each of the Italians’ first three runs against Venezuela on March 11, 2017. Two days later in the WBC tiebreaker rematch game against Venezuela, Daniel Descalso was once again responsible for Team Italy‘s go-ahead run with his RBI single in the first inning. Having been on the same 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals team that Team Italy coach Nick Punto played on under the leadership of Italian American manager Tony La Russa, Daniel Descalso is a proven winner and a consistent run producer. He can be effective off the bench as a pinch-hitter under pressure and come through in the clutch. In 35 pinch-hit plate appearances during the 2017 season, Daniel Descalso hit .231 (6-for-26)/.429 OBP/.462 SLG with two home runs and nine RBI, ranking fifth in the National League in on-base percentage and sixth in OPS (.890). At Chase Field, he hit .271 (49-for-181)/.371 OBP/.453 SLG with 7 home runs and 29 RBI in 69 games. Daniel Descalso had 2 walk-off hits, including his first career game-ending homer against his former team the Colorado Rockies on April 30, 2017. He also logged his first career inside-the-park home run against eventual World Series Champion Houston Astros on August 17, 2017. The nine-year MLB veteran is a tough out for pitchers in do-or-die situations because he is able to keep his at-bats alive by being patient at the plate until he gets a pitch he can do some damage with. As a dependable utility position player with versatility, Daniel Descalso can be put in the starting lineup as a second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, or left fielder. He can even be called upon for mop-up duty as a relief pitcher when a game is out of reach, and the team wants to rest its bullpen. During the course of his three career appearances on the mound, Daniel Descalso has retired all seven MLB hitters he has faced. In fact, he is about to set the record for the most career batters faced without allowing a baserunner. Only four other pitchers in major league history have faced more batters without allowing a hit or walk than Daniel Descalso.With a career 0.000 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), he needs one more out to tie the record and two more outs to become the most perfect pitcher in baseball history.
Opting to get a major league baseball contract instead of returning to the minor leagues, Team Italy first baseman Chris Colabello remains an unsigned free agent. After being invited by the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers for pro ball try outs, 34-year-old slugger Chris Colabello joined the 2018 Major League Baseball Players Association Free Agent Spring Training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The proud Italian American has since authored a new book with hitting instructor Bobby Tewksbary entitled Be A Hitter. Should Chris Colabello not sign a major league contract in the near future, he will reunite with Team Italy pitcher Alessandro Maestri and play for T&A San Marino. Both players spent their formative years competing against each other in the Emilia-Romagna region. While Chris Colabello returned to his native Massachusetts to play high school baseball, Alessandro Maestri remained in Italy to attend the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy and later became the first Italian-born and developed pitcher to sign a professional contract with the Chicago Cubs in 2006. Although Alessandro Maestri never pitched in the major leagues, Chris Colabello made his MLB debut (Minnesota Twins, 2013) and two years later led the Toronto Blue Jays to the 2015 American League postseason.
Azzurri third baseman Alex Liddi is the face of Italian baseball. With the opportunity to spur the growth of the game in Europe by competing at the sport’s highest level, he has inspired young Italian players including Marten Gasparini, who begins 2018 with Kansas City Royals Single-A affiliateLexington Legends. Alex Liddi traveled to New England during the offseason to work with Bobby Tewksbary on his swing, and it paid off as the first Italian-born and developed player to play in MLB (Seattle Mariners, 2011). The 29-year-old Italian hero was recently offered a minor league contact with the Kansas City Royals. In five 2018 Royals Spring Training games in Arizona, he hit .333 (2-for-6) with one home run. Alex Liddi will begin at Double-A affiliate Northwest Arkansas Naturals with hopes of returning to the Big Leagues in September when the 40-man roster kicks in.
Versatile Team Italy utility player Rob Segedin can handle first and third base as well as left and right field. Acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers from the New York Yankees in 2016, Rob Segedin performed well for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC. He displayed excellent defense in right field and hit .375 with a double, home run and two RBI in the international competition. Due to injuries which plagued him in 2017, Rob Segedin played in only 27 games between his short time for a quick espresso in Los Angeles and his limited stint with Triple-A affiliate Oklahoma City. He and Team Italy switch-pitcher Pat Venditte will both wear Oklahoma City Dodgers uniforms at the start of the 2018 season as they patiently await for Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to call them up to the major league level.
Team Italy shortstop Gavin Cecchini played second base for the New York Mets during 2018 Mets Spring Training. He also learned how to become a third baseman so that he would be more valuable to the team while working to improve his swing. Based on his two home runs and two extra-base hits at 2018 Spring Training, it appears Gavin Cecchini has added some pop to his stroke. He will continue to make progress under the guidance and supervision of Triple-A affiliate Las Vegas 51s hitting coach Joel Chimelis at the start of the 2018 season. There is no doubt Gavin Cecchini will make his way back into MLB soon and join Team Italy outfielder Brandon Nimmo on the New York Mets roster.
Drew Maggi signed a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians last November and never looked back. Hitting at a remarkable .342 clip (13-for-38) with 11 runs and four RBI during 2018 Indians Spring Training in Arizona, the 28-year-old Team Italy utility player with eight seasons under his belt in the minor leagues made a favorable impression on manager Terry Francona. With a stacked lineup and an all-star cast infield, the Tribe’s skipper has no room on his Big League roster for third baseman Drew Maggi at this time. He was placed on the restricted list for the Triple-A affiliate Columbus Clippers on April 4, 2018.
During a Spring Training minor league game against the Chicago White Sox at the Cincinnati Reds minor league training facility in Goodyear, Arizona on March 17, 2018, Team Italy’s Leonardo Seminati went 2-for-4 with a single and a double, “Grande Leo” Seminati lived up to his name. “He’s going to be big,” said Billy Hamilton when asked about the promising 19-year-old Cincinnati Reds prospect. Fast forward from the moment FIBS Academy graduate Leo Seminati signed a professional contract with the Cincinnati Reds on July 2, 2017, and most would agree that “Grande Leo” has traveled light years ahead of expectations. Just ask MLBPipeline.com reporter Jonathan Mayo, who wrote “Italy’s Seminati exceeding expectations at Reds instructs”. MLB scouts scratched their heads in disbelief when Team Italy first baseman Leonardo Seminati stole the show by hitting several bombs over the Marlins Park wall in the 2016 Power Showcase Home Run Derby. It was not long after his command performance in Miami that scout Sal Varriale made the call to the Cincinnati Reds front office. Baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, who served as MLB International Ambassador and currently works in player development for the Cincinnati Reds, was well aware of Seminati’s power potential and approved of the signing of “Grande Leo”. Working with Cincinnati Reds minor league coach and former MLB first baseman Donald Lutz, Team Italy slugger Leo Seminati looks to become the complete ballplayer offensively and defensively in the 2018 Arizona Rookie League.
OUTFIELDERS: When New York Mets manager Mickey Callaway pulled Team Italy outfielder Brandon Nimmo aside and told him he would be the leadoff man for the Mets on 2018 Opening Day, the 25-year-old Wyoming native could not have been afforded a better opportunity to make a name for himself in Major League Baseball. ”He’s a worker. He’s so prepared, and he works,” said NY Mets skipper Mickey Callaway. ”You get a player like that and the results are going to come. I’m really proud of him for the way he goes about his business. Very impressive. He’s locked in every pitch. Those are the type of players you need to win.” Brandon Nimmo has certainly paid his dues to gain entry to compete with the game’s elite in MLB. Last year he hit .260 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 177 at-bats for the New York Mets. During 2018 Mets Spring Training in Florida, Brandon Nimmo auditioned for the leadoff hitter position and made the strong case for an Opening Day roster spot. Batting .306 with 11 extra-base hits, three home runs and 11 RBI in Grapefruit League play, he earned the right to be the first name listed on the New York Mets lineup card. Brandon Nimmo has not disappointed so far this young 2018 regular season. He is currently htting .375 (3-for-8) with one double, three walks and four runs scored. Brandon Nimmo was a first-round draft pick by the New York Mets in 2011. Scouts admired him for being a very patient hitter at the plate and for rarely swinging outside the strike zone. His selective approach to hitting continues to this day in MLB as witnessed by his 15.3% walk rate and .379 OBP in 2017. The Team Italy outfielder fits the mold of a perfect leadoff hitter candidate, and he should relish in that spot should he be given the chance to play every day.
Chicago Cubs Italian American manager Joe Maddon knows how special a player Team Italy outfielder John Andreoli truly is. Despite successful campaigns at the upper level of the Chicago Cubs minor leagues from 2013-2017, he was always cut short of making the Big League club as a result of being overshadowed by a star-studded Cubbie outfield and eclipsed by up-and-coming prospects. John Andreoli spent his final three years playing for Triple-A affiliate Iowa, where he hit .258 with 65 doubles, 21 triples, 31 homers, 142 RBI and an incredible 101 stolen bases. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon praised John Andreoli in the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC) after Team Italy scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat host Mexico, 10-9, at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco. John Andreoli was the difference in the game as he drove in the winning run with a walk-off single and hit a home run earlier in the first inning. Maddon said, “I’m so happy for him, he’s such a good kid. He works so hard, he cares so much. A few days before the WBC I saw him bear down in front of one of our video computers looking at pitchers he might face in the tournament. So I give him a lot of credit. It’s absolutely great.” Playing for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC, John Andreoli went 6-for-16 with five runs, seven RBI and three home runs. With little chance of making the MLB roster in the Cubs organization, the 2011 Chicago Cubs 17th-round draft pick elected free agency on November 6, 2017. Despite having to leave the team that drafted him out of the University of Connecticut, John Andreoli enjoyed his time talking with veterans Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo about hitting with two strikes and playing with the likes of Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell. Cubs manager Joe Maddon told the team’s TV broadcasters that John Andreoli “plays with his hair on fire.” No doubt the Chicago skipper hated to see him leave the organization, but in the end it was the best thing for the Italian American grinder. In January the Seattle Mariners signed John Andreoli to a minor league contract with an invite to 2018 Spring Training. He played in 19 Cactus League games before being assigned to Triple-A affiliate Tacoma Rainiers. John Andreoli was the leadoff hitter in his first game playing for the Tacoma Rainiers on April 5, 2018. The 27-year-old prospect stands to have a chance for a promotion to the Seattle Mariners for his MLB debut when the 40-man roster takes effect on September 1, 2018.
Team Italy switch-hitter Marten Gasparini, who signed for $1.3 million with the Kansas City Royals in 2013, is the key player baseball insiders believe will follow in Alex Liddi’s footsteps as the second Italian-born and developed player in the Big Leagues. He is still heralded as Europe’s top MLB prospect and is progressing every day up the ladder in the minor leagues. Nick Leto, Manager of Arizona Operations for the Kansas City Royals, was instrumental in the Royals’ signing of Marten Gasparini. Leto said, “There’s great belief in Marten’s ability. It’s a process. All players develop differently. There’s no question about Marten’s ability, it’s just time and reps. Switch-hitting is a really difficult skill to develop. Marten has experienced a lot of things for the first time since signing a professional contract. His intelligence, maturity, and awareness are going to allow these lessons to stick and be applied. There’s no doubt Marten will be a major league player, not a just a player, a special major league player, a championship player.” Adapting to his new position in the outfield from shortstop, Marten Gasparini played for Single-A affiliate Lexington Legends in 2017. He got a taste of the Big Leagues when he made two appearances in 2018 Royals Spring Training games alongside Team Italy slugger Alex Liddi, who homered against the San Francisco Giants on March 23, 2018. Marten Gasparini began the 2018 season playing Single-A ball in Lexington, where he was sandwiched between Kansas City Royals top prospects Michael Gigliotti and Nick Pratto in the lineup on April 5, 2018. As the team’s designated hitter in the two-hole, Marten Gasparini went 1-for-4 with a triple. Look for big things to come for the talented and promising Team Italy outfielder.
It appears that the 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals want to return to their winning ways by bringing Italy’s finest exports, Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini, back together again. Alex Liddi, the first Italian-born and developed player to make to it to Major League Baseball (Seattle Mariners, 2011), recently re-signed with the Kansas City Royals organization after spending the last two years playing in Mexico. Marten Gasparini, who signed for $1.3 million with the Kansas City Royals in 2013, is the player insiders believe will follow in Liddi’s footsteps as the second Italian-born and developed player in the Big Leagues. Gasparini is still heralded as Europe’s top MLB prospect and is progressing every day up the ladder in Minor League Baseball. Nick Leto, Manager of Arizona Operations for the Kansas City Royals, said, “We’re very happy to be reuniting the Italians again.”
After being signed the first time by the Kansas City Royals on December 28, 2014, Liddi was named 2015 Texas League Mid-Season All-Star while playing for Double-A affiliate Northwest Arkansas but never got the opportunity to join fellow Team Italy comrade Drew Butera on the 2015 World Champion Royals. Later he signed with 2015 Mexican Baseball League Champion Tigres de Quintana Roo in 2016. Hitting a respectable .281 in 110 games played, Alex led the Tigres in doubles (28), triples (4), home runs (23), RBI (91), total bases (220) and slugging percentage (.538). He was crowned 2016 Mexican All-Star Home Run Derby Champion by launching 12 homers that cleared the outfield fences with ease.
The Mexican baseball accolades continued for Alex as he later became the first Italian to play in the Caribbean Series when joining 2016 Mexican Champion Venados de Mazatlán. Better known as Serie del Caribe or the Caribbean World Series, it is Latin America’s highest competitive baseball tournament at the club level featuring the respective champions from Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. In his final four games playing for Mexico’s Venados de Mazatlán, Liddi went 4-for-17 with a triple and a double to help the Mexicans become 2016 Caribbean Series Champion. After playing for Team Italy in the 2016 European Baseball Championship, Alex underwent left knee surgery. He rebounded triumphantly and returned to his winning form by powering Toros de Tijuana to the 2017 Mexican League Championship with 17 home runs during the regular season.
The great American author Charles Dickens once wrote: “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.” The old adage is appropriate in the case of Alex Liddi and his recent re-signing by the Kansas City Royals. Leto said, “Alex made a great impression on the Royals when we had him. We have scouts that keep up with the league in Mexico. He’s someone that we checked on from time to time, and he almost came back into the organization last summer. The draw to Alex is his power, professionalism and makeup. He’s a winner. Experience isn’t everything, but Alex has played in a lot professional minor league games. He has major league experience, big time world tourney experience and foreign league experience. Alex has been through a lot of ups and downs while being around a lot of players. He knows what success and failure look like. Alex is a people person, who likes to be in the clubhouse. He is a run producer and an excellent teammate. Alex has been invited to minor league mini-camp so he’ll be in position to play in some major league spring training games.”
Alex Liddi is the face of Italian baseball. The first player from Italy to play in the Major Leagues since 1954, Liddi was honored by World Baseball Softball Federation president Riccardo Fraccari, who called him “a real ambassador of Italian baseball.” With the opportunity to spur the growth of baseball in Europe by competing at the sport’s highest level, Alex Liddi has inspired young Italian athletes like Royals’ prospect Marten Gasparini to believe that playing Major League Baseball is a reality.
Gasparini is still a work-in-progress, and according to MLB.com, the 20-year-old is the Royals 19th-ranked prospect. Adapting to his new position in the outfield from shortstop, the switch-hitting Gasparini played for Single-A affiliate Lexington in 2017. Leto, who was instrumental in the Royals’ signing of Marten, spoke confidently about Gasparini. He said, “There’s great belief in Marten’s ability. It’s a process. All players develop differently. There’s no question about Marten ability, it’s just time and reps. Switch-hitting is a really difficult skill to develop. Marten has experienced a lot of things for the first time since signing a professional contract. His intelligence, maturity, and awareness are going to allow these lessons to stick and be applied. There’s no doubt Marten will be a major league player, not a just a player, a special major league player, a championship player.”
With the support of the Kansas City Royals organization, both Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini are destined for success. Despite a nine-year age difference between them, both players share the same intensity, tenacity and desire to play Major League Baseball. With a plethora of adoring fans from Europe, North America and south of the border cheering him on, international baseball ambassador Alex Liddi believes he is ready for his return to MLB. Marten Gasparini would like nothing more to join his mentor on the Kansas City Royals. Nick Leto would also like that very much. He said, “Who knows, maybe they’ll both get to Kansas City together…”
Milford High School in Milford, Massachusetts has produced its share of professional athletes including NFL greats Howie Long and Jim Pyne as well as Italian American baseball ambassador Chris Colabello. So it is truly serendipitous that the hour-long documentary Italian American Baseball Family, which recently won the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award at the National Italian American Foundation 42nd Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C. and features Milford hometown hero Chris Colabello, makes its worldwide premiere on the campus of Milford High School on Saturday, January 27, 2018 at 4 pm. Immediately following the conclusion of the screening of the movie, filmmaker Roberto Angotti will be joined by Chris Colabello and his father, Lou Colabello, for a Q and A panel discussion.
The proud Italian American slugger credits many influential people for his success including: his father, Lou Colabello; his Milford High School coach, Charlie Stand; his Milford American Legion manager, Rich Piergustavo; his Assumption College coach, Jamie Pinzino; and his Worcester Tornadoes manager, Rich Gedman, who garnered much respect in MLB for being a two-time American League all-star Boston Red Sox catcher. His former Indy ball skipper was always impressed with Colabello’s work ethic and tenacity in never giving up on making it to the Big Leagues. After hitting .300 in seven straight seasons and being named Independent League Player of the Year by Baseball America, Gedman wrote an impressive scouting report on his 28-year-old slugger. Like a fine Italian wine, Colabello got better with age and agent Brian Charles knew the time had come for Chris to get one more crack at making his MLB dreams come true. Charles attached Gedman’s promising scouting report to his emails in search for a Minor League deal to all 30 MLB organizations. Unfortunately, 27 of the clubs replied “No Thanks” while two others did not even offer a response. However, the Minnesota Twins were looking for a first baseman to play for Double-A New Britain. A January 2012 tryout led to a Minor League contract for Chris Colabello, who made his MLB debut for the Minnesota Twins at age 29 on May 22, 2013.
After signing a minor-league contract this past July with the Milwaukee Brewers, the Milford native corner-infielder enjoyed much success with Triple-A affiliate Colorado Springs Sky Sox and led the team to its first postseason appearance in 20 years. Chris Colabello did not disappoint at the plate when it mattered most in the clutch as the cleanup hitter registered an impressive .429 batting average and .500 on-base percentage in the Pacific Coast League playoffs. During his last month of play for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, Chris Colabello went 35-for-104 (.337 BA) with five doubles, one triple, two homers and 19 RBI. Opposing teams pitched around the tried-and-tested MLB player and issued 19 walks to limit the collateral damage from the hot-hitting Chris Colabello.
In search of his 2015 Blue Jays glory days when he hit .321 with 15 HR and 54 RBI in 101 games to help Toronto win the 2015 AL East title for the first time in over two decades, Chris Colabello ventured down to Guadalajara to get his groove back in the Mexican Winter League with Charros de Jalisco. He hopes to carry the momentum of a successful campaign south of the border into 2018 by securing an MLB Opening Day roster spot for a team in need of an everyday first baseman. Should Colabello be granted the opportunity to return to the Big Leagues, he will have the unconditional love from endearing fans in Italy, Mexico, Canada and America. The Italian American Baseball Family documentary makes its world premiere at Milford High School in Milford, Massachusetts on Saturday, January 27, 2018.
The Milford High School Global Citizenship Program presents a celebration of Italian American Baseball at the David I. Davoren Auditorium on the campus of Milford High School beginning at 4 pm on January 27, 2018. In addition to the world premiere of the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning documentary Italian American Baseball Family, a Q & A discussion featuring Chris Colabello and his father, Lou Colabello, as well as filmmaker Roberto Angotti will take place immediately following the screening of the hour-long movie. This free, family-friendly event will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for members of the greater Boston community to rally round former Milford High School All-Star Chris Colabello, who has established a Student Athlete Scholarship Award for Milford High School graduates. Attendees are encouraged to participate in the silent auction which includes signed MLB bats from José Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki, a signed MLB baseball from Terry Francona, a signed NFL football from Rob Gronkowski, a Rich Gedman autographed baseball, a Tim Wakefield autographed picture, and a Chris Colabello autographed bat and ball. It will truly be an experience like no other as the Milford High School Music program will kick off the festivities with the playing of the American and Italian National Anthems. Milford High School is located at 31 West Fountain Street in Milford, Massachusetts. Visit www.MilfordPublicSchools.com to register for free tickets. All proceeds of the auction and donations collected will fund a Colabello Family Scholarship for Milford High School grads.
Of the more than four million Italians who left home between 1880 and 1920 with dreams of a better life, nobody could have imagined their children fulfilling the American dream by playing a game that was as foreign to them as the English language. Examining the experiences of baseball pioneers, current players and coaches, fans, and historians, filmmaker Roberto Angotti captures the story of how Italian Americans assimilated into popular culture through America’s favorite pastime in his new hour-long Italian American Baseball Familydocumentary. The film also explores 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. Although brothers Vince, Joe, and Dom DiMaggio may be the premier Italian American Baseball Family, the Colabellos from Milford, Massachusetts are a perfect example of the modern day Italian American Baseball Family. Father Lou Colabello was the starting pitcher for Team Italy against host Team USA at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics while his son Chris Colabello later played baseball in Italy as a youth and, like his father, eventually went on to represent Team Italy in the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classics.
The Italian American Baseball Family traverses the U.S. cultural landscape and documents an ethnic group’s rise from adversity by celebrating its triumphs in breaking into a sport originally dominated by English, Irish and German immigrants. The 2017 Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning movie showcases both the hardships and accomplishments of legendary Italian American baseball players.
After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States declared war and began targeting those of German, Italian, or Japanese descent. The Italians were the largest immigrant group in the U.S. at the time and about 600,000 of the country’s five million Italian immigrants who had not yet naturalized were forced to register as enemy aliens. Baseball came ashore to Italy in 1944 when allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Nettuno and nearby Anzio en route to freeing Rome from its Nazi occupiers. American troops brought baseball gear and taught Italians how to play. Baseball countered the negative immigrant identity as an outsider. The game bridged the gap so that Italians could integrate into the American way of life.
The Italian American Baseball Family brings home the message that baseball allowed Italian Americans to assimilate into popular culture. The documentary honors the Italian American baseball ambassadors who have etched their names into U.S. sports history. The film pays tribute to their invaluable contributions and acknowledges those players who have left their unique imprint on the game.
Filmmaker Roberto Angotti said, “It was an exhilarating experience and so rewarding to interview mentor and renowned historian Lawrence Baldassaro, author of Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago as well as National Baseball Hall of Fame legend Tommy Lasorda. Getting to speak with MLB past and present players Frank Viola, Nick Punto, Francisco Cervelli, Chris Colabello, Brandon Nimmo, and Gavin Cecchini for the Italian American Baseball Family was also a privilege and an honor.”
Roberto was fascinated by the game of baseball since he was a child and played Little League. He witnessed Tommy Lasorda lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to two World Series titles in the 1980s. In high school, he played American Legion baseball. As a Film Studies student at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), Angotti did play-by-play broadcasts for Pomona-Pitzer Baseball while program director at KSPC 88.7 FM. His education at CMC was the foundation for him to catapult into the entertainment industry. Roberto was recently the subject of a CMC alumni profile. To access the article, click on this link: https://www.cmc.edu/news/filmmaker-roberto-angotti-traces-roots-of-italian-american-baseball. Throughout his professional radio career at KNAC 105.5 FM (Long Beach), KROQ 106.7 FM (Pasadena/Los Angeles) as well as 91X and 92.5 FM (San Diego), he integrated music, sports, and popular culture to become one of the most listened to on-air personalities in Southern California.
In 2011 Angotti launched an MLB.com blog which eventually became a Top 10 MLB.com Fan website – www.MLBforLife.com – to showcase up-and-coming Italian and Italian American players. After visiting the Italian Baseball Academy near Pisa, Roberto was invited to the 2013 World Baseball Classic in Phoenix, Arizona, where he got to know Mike Piazza, who served as hitting coach for Team Italy. Piazza inspired him to document the Italian American experience. That same year Angotti curated the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball exhibition at the Convivio Center in San Diego’s Little Italy. The exhibit featured Italian American artists who focused their work on Italian American Baseball Hall of Famers: Tony Lazzeri, Joe DiMaggio, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Ernie Lombardi, Phil Rizzuto, Tommy Lasorda, Ron Santo, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio, and Mike Piazza.
As the English language editor and reporter for Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (www.fibs.it/en), Angotti represented the Italian national teams at three international competitions in 2017: the World Baseball Classic in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico; the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U-19 Junior Women’s World Championship in Clearwater, Florida; and the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
When Roberto returned from the 2017 World Baseball Classic, he resolved to make a film about Italian Americans and their integral role in baseball. The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, and the Russo Brothers offered the Italian American Film Forum Grant to filmmakers wanting to share the Italian American experience. It was a natural fit so Angotti applied and was chosen as one of seven grant recipients. Later he was selected as one of three finalists invited to the 42nd Anniversary NIAF Gala Weekend in Washington, D.C., where he was proclaimed the winner and presented the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award by Italian Sons and Daughters of America President Basil Russo, National Italian American Foundation President John Viola and FOX Business Network TV Anchor/Global Markets Editor Maria Bartiromo on Saturday, November 4, 2017.
Angotti plans to make a series of Italian American baseball films. He sees his first documentary as a way to educate young Italian Americans and others on the plight of Italian immigrants, using baseball as a focal point. He said, “Italians were once second class citizens in the United States, and invisible in baseball before players like Tony Lazzeri and Joe DiMaggio rose to prominence. Not having an appreciation of your heritage is like an olive tree without roots. Baseball is a part of mine.”
With majestic Mount Baldy providing the perfect backdrop for the optimal collegiate baseball setting, the late and great Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags Baseball Head Coach Bill Arce fulfilled his promise to empower those who played on the Arce Field of Dreams to attain excellence. Former student athlete Wes Parker, who played under Coach Arce from 1959-1961, enjoyed a career with the LA Dodgers from 1964-1971. Arce once said, “Wes was the hardest worker I ever had. He honed his great natural talent with tremendous work ethic.”
When Internationally-acclaimed broadcast journalist Josh Chetwynd wrote his book “Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History” (2008), he acknowledged the invaluable contribution of legendary Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Baseball Coach Bill Arce. In his introduction, author Josh Chetwynd wrote: Some Americans have made a commitment to the European game for no reason but for the love of the sport. During the Battle of the Bulge, Bill Arce was a member of General George Patton’s Third Army. Injured in the fighting, Arce prayed to God. He promised that if he were to survive, he’d spend his life in a meaningful way. Arce would go on to become a university professor, administrator and baseball coach–and would give to European baseball like no other. Often paying out of his own pocket, he was the first American coach to hold baseball clinics in Sweden (1962), Czechoslolvakia (1969) and Yugoslavia (1979). All told, he worked in fifteen different European countries and was the only person to have coached two different countries–the Netherlands (in 1971) and Italy (in 1975) to a European Baseball Championship. In his first chapter on the Netherlands in “Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History”, Josh Chetwynd retraced the story how Bill Arce became involved in coaching abroad: Bill Arce’s entry into European baseball was mere happenstance. “I was on a plane trip with a professor from Stanford going to a convention in New York,” recalled Arce about his 1960 introduction to the European game. “At the bottom of the sports page, I noticed an item saying Holland had won the European baseball tournament. I commented that would be a great way to spend a leave from college, working with baseball players in a country like Holland.” Sometime after that he received a letter from a friend who was serving as the American consul in Amsterdam saying they were looking for a coach. Arce, who served as athletic director and head coach at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, jumped at the opportunity in 1962.
The book “Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History” elaborated on the significant impact Bill Arce had on baseball abroad: Arce would become not only a tireless teacher for the Dutch but also a master organizer. As the Dutch Baseball Hall of Famer Han Urbanus put it years later: “Bill Arce became one of the most famous and trusted coaches in our baseball history.”
On Arce’s initial trip, he took a leave of absence from his U.S. academic commitments and spent more than a year working with Dutch players. For years after that, he brought college-aged teams to Holland to play and coach. Arce’s players were central figures in improving play in Holland. So much so “that the impact it had on Dutch baseball is still felt there today,” wrote longtime Atlanta Braves scout Bill Clark in 1995. A top-flight coach, he would also lead the Netherlands to a gold medal in the 1971 European Baseball Championship.
After much success coaching in Holland, international ambassador Bill Arce crossed enemy lines to help Euro rival Italy in developing its baseball program. After managing the Italian national team in the 1973 and 1975 Intercontinental Cups, he ended Italy’s 21-year drought by bringing home the 1975 European Baseball Championship title.
After being inducted into both the Dutch and Italian Baseball Halls of Fame, Bill Arce’s influence still reigned internationally. Following the conclusion the 2011 American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention, MLB International’s Jason Holowaty said: “For me the highlight was a special dinner hosted by MLB to honor Bill Arce, one of the first U.S. college coaches to start visiting Europe and a central figure in the development of European baseball and MLB International. Through the years he has influenced so many people in international baseball, including myself. It was great for everyone to get a chance to say thank you to such an important man.” He was also honored when given the European Baseball Coaches Association (EBCA) Career Achievement Award in 2012. Arce launched the EBCA exchange program, an initiative to develop European coaches’ insights in every aspect of the game through collaborative mentoring by experienced American coaches.
The Stags legend finished his college coaching career with an impressive 606-472-7 record. Prior to his passing in 2016, Bill Arce was inducted into the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletic Coaches and the American Baseball Coaches Halls of Fame as well as received the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Distinguished Service Award.
After leading Team Italy in runs (5), hits (11), home runs (2), RBI (17), batting average (.423), slugging percentage (.654), on-base percentage (.531), on-base plus slugging (1.185), walks (6), and stolen bases (2), Azzurri first baseman and Cincinnati Reds prospect Leonardo “Grande Leo” Seminati was named and honored as a member of the 2017 WBSC U-18 All-World Team during the closing ceremonies of the 12-country international tournament at Port Arthur Stadium in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. A sold-out stadium of fans and supporters–including 19 of his Azzurri teammates, Team Italy U-18 manager John Cortese along with coaches Rolando Cretis, Stefano Cappuccini, Gianluca Marenghi, Daniele Santolupo as well as FIBS delegation manager Fabrizio De Robbio, trainer Graziano Abbate, physician Guido Squarcia and FIBS media representative Marco Landi–cheered enthusiastically as Seminati stood proudly on the podium next to fellow players selected to the 2017 U-18 All-World Team.
Following the memorable night of glory under the lights at Thunder Bay’s Port Arthur Stadium, Leonardo Seminati packed his bags and headed in a different direction than Team Italy. Unlike most traveling back to Rome, Grande Leo flew to Goodyear, Arizona to report to Cincinnati Reds instructional league camp. Impressed by the way the Team Italy captain and MLB prospect carried himself and his Italian squad in the 2017 WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup, the Reds wasted no time in getting Seminati on their home turf to begin the process of molding this European all-star into a world-class ballplayer. Leonardo Seminati is a breath of fresh air as baseball media and fans alike will soon find out as he embarks on his minor league journey with sights of a career in the Big Leagues. Grande Leo conducts himself professionally on and off the field. His coaches, teammates and family have nothing but praise for the outstanding 17-year-old slugger. He is one of the most approachable, responsible and intelligent young competitors one will ever meet in the game today. Like promising 20-year-old Italian Kansas City Royals prospect Marten Gasparini, Cincinnati Reds prospect Leonardo Seminati has a bright future ahead of him in Major League Baseball. Thanks to the efforts of 29-year-old Alex Liddi, who was the first Italian-born-and-raised player to make it to MLB, the table has been set for Marten Gasparini and Leonardo Seminati to represent Italy as a viable breeding ground for up-and-coming baseball talent on the global stage. Forza ragazzi! Forza Italia!!!
FIBS media representative Roberto Angotti with Team Italy’s Leonardo Seminati at the 2017 WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup in Thunder Bay (Photo by Azzurri coach Stefano Cappuccini)