Selected by the Tampa Bays Rays in the 17th round of the 2015 draft out of the University of Pacific Stockton native Brett Sullivan remained in the same organization until late 2021 when he signed a short-lived minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. The veteran minor league catcher and outfielder was traded to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Victor Caratini on April 6, 2022. During the 2022 season, he played Triple-A ball and compiled a .285 batting average with nine home runs and 81 RBI. Although catcher has been his primary position, he has also played third base and left field during seven-year minor league career.
VITO FRESCIA JR.
The catcher/first baseman from New York won the 2015 Power Showcase Home Run Derby at Marlins Park in Miami and enjoyed a successful collegiate career at Hofstra University. Vito Friscia Jr. was selected in the 40th round of the 2019 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. After playing Double-A and Triple-A ball during the 2022 season, he was named MiLB Organization All-Star by the Philadelphia Phillies. Vito made his Team Italy debut at the 2021 European Championship, where the slugger hit three home runs in games against Austria, Croatia and Israel (10-for-19 with 11 RBI). He returned again in 2022 playing for the Azzurri during Haarlem Baseball Week in the Netherlands.
Selected in the 40th round of 2013 draft by the Oakland Athletics and also in the 16th round of the 2016 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, catcher Dominic Miroglio chose not to sign in order to attend college at UCLA and the University of San Francisco. Once again selected in the 20th round of the 2017 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, he signed a minor league contract and quickly became one of the most highly-rated catchers within the D-backs organization. The 2018 Baseball America High-A All-Star made his way to Triple-A last season for 63 games and hit 10 home runs.
Growing up in Gorizia and playing for Ronchi dei Legionari New Black Panthers as a youth, catcher and first baseman Alberto Mineo signed a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs at age 16 on November 20, 2010. He remained in the Cubs organization for seven years before being claimed on the waiver wire by the Toronto Blue Jays on December 14, 2017. He reached as high as Triple-A ball in 2018. Mineo spent 2019 in Double-A before being signing another minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs on February 12, 2020 and later returning to Italy, where he won two straight European Cups in Parma (2021-22). Having made his national senior team debut at the 2015 Premier 12 and subsequently represented Team Italy in all other major international competitions (he has played 50 total games with the national team), he is one of the finest Italian-born and developed players in recent history.
Gibo Gerali brings over three decades of coaching and managerial experience to the IABF All-Stars. The former scout for the Colorado Rockies is respected internationally for his ability to find athletes with raw talent and assist them to reach their full potential so that they may one day become professional ballplayers. After serving as bench coach for Team Italy in the 2007 World Cup, Parma manager GiboGerali led his squad to the 2010 Italian Baseball League Championship title. His winning ways continued as he also helped Team Italy claim the 2010 and 2012 European Baseball Championships.
GiboGerali later assisted Team Europe in finding success in the 2015 Asia Winter League. After serving as bench coach for Team Italy in the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classic, he took over as manager for Marco Mazzieri and later gave way for current Azzurri manager Mike Piazza. A former pitcher for Crocetta, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Astra, and Collecchio during his playing days. Gibo Gerali has since proven himself as a tried-and-tested leader internationally as one of Europe’s most respected managers.
Manager Gibo Gerali has selected nine Italian prospects to participate in the IABF Bay Area Collegiate Baseball Games. Parma Clima pitcher Edoardo Acerbi hopes to lead the IABF All-Stars to victory in the USA. Having compiled a 2-0 record with two saves in 12 appearances last year in Serie A competition while pitching for the reigning European Baseball Champions Cup champion Parma Clima, the strong right-handed pitcher tipped off his talent early on at the youth level when he won the Italian national cadet title in 2014 with Oltretorrenteand represented Europe-Africa with Emilia Romagnain the 2014 Senior League World Series.
Edoardo Acerbi was awarded the Sant’Ilario Prize for Sport by the Parma Sports Veterans Union in 2015, The following year hewon again with Oltretorrentewhen capturing the Italian national U21 championship title and later helped the Team Italy U18 squad take the silver medal in the 2016 European Baseball Championship. Edoardo Acerbi was invited to participate in the 2017 International Stars Showcase in Arizona and as a result received a scholarship to play baseball at IowaState University in 2019. IABF All-Stars manager Gibo Gerali said, “Edoardo Acerbi is a pitcher that has yet to show his true potential. He is a strong pitcher who possesses a fastball that reaches 90 mph in addition to a nasty curveball. With this competition in the San Francisco Bay Area, we will be working on his control and his confidence so that he can develop into an elite international competitor.”
Parma Clima teammate Francesco Pompani is currently beingscouted by severalU.S. colleges. If he performs well with the IABF All-Stars, he is destined to get a scholarship. Having represented Europe-Africa as a member of the Italian team from Emilia Romagna at the 2018 Senior League World Series, Francesco Pompani has already played internationally.
One of 17 Italian prospects invited to the MLB Elite European Development Tournament in conjunction with the 2019 London Series, Francesco Pompani has been on the radar of international MLB scouts for some time. He has played for Team Italy on several occasions and will remain a member of the Azzurri squad for years to come. Gibo Gerali said, “Francesco Pomponi is in his first year as a full-time pitcher for Parma Clima. He will work out of the bullpen as a reliever. His fastball, slider and changeup have opened up some eyes in Italy. He also is a very good middle infielder with soft hands.”
A familiar name on Team Italy, Riccardo Flisi played in the 2014 U15 Baseball World Cup and the 2017 U18 Baseball World Cup, Most recently, he helped the Azzurri win the bronze medal in the 2021 U23 European Baseball Championship by going 4-for-14 (.286 batting average) with two RBI. Riccardo Flisi was one of the best hitters of the 2021 Collecchio squad with a .363 batting average. Gibo Gerali said, “Riccardo Flisi is a speedy outfielder that grew up as a catcher but a hip injury slowed down his development. He is fun to watch and has a good arm.”
Sebastiano Catellani represented Europe-Africa playing for Emilia Romagna at tthe Junior League World Series (2018). Most recently he was instrumental in Oltretorrente winning the Italian U18 national title when hitting .286 overall through the regular season and pitching five scoreless innings with six strikeouts against Academy of Nettuno in the Final Four playoffs on October 2, 2021. Sebastiano Catellani will be a key component of the Team Italy U18 pitching staff. Gibo Gerali said, “Sebastiano Catellani is a left-handed pitcher and outfielder. He made a vast improvement last year when he had a big part in winning the U18 national title. Sebastiano will benefit from the USA trip because he needs more experience playing games in order to gain the necessary composure to be dominant.”
Representing Team Italy in the U18 World Cup, Andrea Pasotto demonstrated his versatility in the outfield or coming off the bench as a pinch hitter. He has since produced good offensive numbers in Serie A playing for Collecchio. In 2020 he hit .255, while he put together a .293 batting average in 2021. Gibo Gerali said, “Andrea Pasotto is a solid outfielder who is ranked among the best prospects in Italy. He has spent the last two seasons in the top Italian league and has showed he belongs.”
Catcher Marco Ragionieri had a breakout year in 2021 playing for Oltetorrente (.269 batting average) and Parma Clima. Currently a member of the Team Italy U18 squad, he might very well follow in the footsteps of Alberto Mineo behind the plate and land a professional baseball contract. Gibo Gerali said, “Marco Ragionieri is a young catcher who is very well built. He really needs these games in America so that he can get more innings under his belt. Marco has huge potential and has already been tracked by several MLB organizations.”
Tommaso Nani was a member of the Team Italy U18 squad in the 2021 European Baseball Championship in Macerata and Montegranaro. He comes off a strong season playing for Codogno with a .328 batting average. Gibo Gerali said, “Tommaso Nani is the only player on this trip to America that is not from Parma. He is a versatile infielder who has been part of the last Team Italy U18 squad. With an excellent work ethic, Tommaso is improving his baseball skills every single day.”
Pitcher Riccardo Bigliardi has made a name for himself in Italy. He went 4-0 with two saves and an impressive 0.00 ERA in 24 innings of work during the 2020 season for Crocetta. Riccardo Bigliardi returned last year with more success sporting a 2-1 record with four saves and a 2.36 ERA.
Having represented Europe-Africa playing for Emilia Romagna in the 2018 Senior League World Series, he has showed the world his talent. Riccardo Bigliardi pitched for Team Italy in the U18 European Baseball Championship and been invited to workouts with the Azzurri U23 squad. Gibo Gerali said, “Riccardo Bigliardi is a lean and mean lefty with huge room for improvement. He is very competitive and has become a promising pitching prospect.”
Tommaso Adorni has represented Europe-Africa playing for Emilia Romagna at the Little League World Series (2016), the Junior League World Series (2018) and the Senior League World Series (2019). Baseball Factory commented that he had plus bat speed, used the whole field and swung with authority. He was one of 17 Italian prospects invited to the MLB Elite European Development Tournament in conjunction with the 2019 London Series.
After representing Team Italy in the 2021 U18 European Baseball Championship, Tommaso Adorni showed some speed and power at the plate with seven extra-base hits (four doubles, one triple and two home runs) playing for Collecchio. Gibo Gerali said, “Tommaso Adorni is a very talented outfielder despite his young age. He has had the chance to participate at several international tournaments. Tommaso is among the top three prospects in Italy…”
The IABF San Francisco Bay Area Collegiate Games begin on April 20, 2022 and continue through April 27, 2022. The IABF All-Stars will compete against Holy Names University, San Jose State University, Sonoma State University, San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. For a complete schedule with game times and locations, click HERE.
IABF All-Star manager Gibo Gerali will be assisted by American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Noce, who coached more than 365 baseball players at College of San Mateo (CSM) from 1962-1995. With a 772-412 (. 652) record at CSM over 31 seasons, John Noce retired having sent 72 players into professional baseball and eight to MLB. The IABF All-Stars will practice at the College of San Mateo in preparation for the IABF Bay Area Collegiate Games. Pitching coach Rob Biagini, father of MLB pitcher Joe Biagini and coaching coordinator Matt Brown will round out the IABF All-Stars coaching staff.
The IABF will honor the IABF All-Stars, their coaching staff and prominent Bay Area Italian American college baseball coaches Brad San Filippo(San Jose State University), Tony Ragusa (Sonoma State University), Tony Schifano (San Francisco State University) and Craig Gianinno (University of San Francisco) at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club on Sunday, April 24, 2022 beginning at 6 pm with complimentary Italian appetizers followed by an exclusive Meet-and-Greet with the visiting Italian players, former Team Italy and MLB players and current Italian American Bay Area coaches. For tickets to this special event, click HERE.
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.
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.
The European Baseball Coaches Association recently recognized Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg for his excellence by honoring him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Having grown the game abroad for over ten years as the MLB director and coach in residence at the FIBS Italian Academy in Tirrenia, Italy, Holmberg has been instrumental in the advancement and development of baseball in Europe. The fruits of his labor in Italy have blossomed from the Youth to the National Team levels as witnessed by the Azzurri’s ascent from #11 to #9 in the WBSC March 2016 World Rankings. A former Chicago Cubs scout who knows what it takes to be competitive in MLB, Holmberg helped Alessandro Maestri, Alex Liddi, Alberto Mineo and Marten Gasparini launch professional baseball careers worldwide.
MLB.com Blogs Central has announced its July 2015 Latest Leaders, and MLBforLife.com has ranked seventh as the most visited MLB.com Fan Website. Providing a global perspective where baseball meets history and pop culture, DJ and blogger Roberto Angotti has written nearly 150 articles to date since 2011. MLBforLife.com prides itself for giving readers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at high profile events such as the Asia Series, the European Baseball Championship, the World Baseball Classic and the upcoming Premier 12 in Japan and Taiwan. Working closely with Team Italia manager and LA Dodgers international scout Marco Mazzieri, MLBforLife.com is dedicated to everything Italian. Inspired by Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball author and former Team Italia interpreter Lawrence Baldassaro, MLBforLife.com strives to continue documenting the Italian American Baseball experience. From former Twin and current Blue Jay Chris Colabello‘s dream to become a major leaguer to Cubs’ slugger Anthony Rizzo‘s battle to beat cancer, MLBforLife.com supports the plight of the underdog–especially the efforts of Team Italia and its nurturing coaching staff (including Marco Mazzieri, Bill Holmberg, Tom Trebelhorn and Mike Piazza). Products of FIBS Italian MLB Academy in Tirrenia, Italian-born and developed players Alex Maestri and Alex Liddi have paved the way for MLB prospects Marten Gasparini (Royals) and Alberto Mineo(Cubs). MLBforLife.com pledges to support them and future prospects with Italian blood unconditionally.
Italian national team manager Marco Mazzieri, named 2014 Coach of the Year by the Italian Coaches Convention in Treviso, knows it will be an uphill battle for Team Italia in the European Baseball Championship. He said, “Defending our title will not be an easy thing to do. We’re going to have to contend with not only the likes of Holland, but Spain and Germany are also expected to make a splash in this year’s tourney. Having won the last two EU Championships, we’re the team to beat. We have a target on our backs, and we’ve got our work cut out for us this year if we want to bring home a third consecutive title.”
2014 Euro Baseball Championship co-host Germany, ranked 19th by IBAF, will benefit greatly should German fans rally round the home team and Minnesota Twins’ highly-prized prospect Max Kepler–recipient of an $800,000 signing bonus in 2009–represent his country. Kepler said, “Baseball is growing in every German city I go to. They’ve opened two boarding schools in Germany, so there are opportunities for kids to step up the baseball game if they want to. I hope baseball is on the same level as soccer one day in Germany.”
17-year-old Kansas City Royals’ prospect Marten Gasparini, who received a $1.3 signing bonus in 2013, has plenty of experience playing for Italia internationally in the Under-15 World Cup in Mexico and in the Under-18 World Cup in South Korea. Having recently been hit in the face by a ball while playing shortstop for the Rookie League Burlington Royals, let’s pray the young Italian who has been heralded by many scouts as the best European 5-tool player ever is able to participate in the EU Baseball Championship.
Alberto Mineo è stato convocato per un’amichevole dei Cubs di Chicago. Ex Accademia, Mineo giocare nelle Minors pic.twitter.com/EBFCLtIZ8H
20-year-old catching prospect Alberto Mineo, who was signed by former Chicago Cubs scout and current Italian Baseball Academy director Bill Holmberg for $500,000 in 2009, was under the guidance and direction of mentor Mike Piazza during Team Italia’s 2014 Spring Training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. Catcher Mineo and 19-year-old Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Davide Anselmi worked together there in preparation of the European Baseball Championship.
Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza is committed to the growth of Italian baseball. The future MLB Hall of Famer said, “I truly believe in the marketability of baseball in Europe, in Italy specifically. I’m here completely focused on this ballclub to get the most out of our players here and hopefully help them along in their individual careers. But also we’re just trying to bring attention as well to baseball in Italy. And we think that‑‑at least in my personal opinion–that we can produce players and there’s a future there.”
Just spent amazing week at Dodgertown with @FIBSpress Italian National team preparing to defend European title. Thank you @Mets for tix 2day
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.
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.”
Despite the defending European Champs having traveled the greatest distance to compete in Pool D of the World Baseball Classic (which begins Thursday, March 7th and includes perennial favorite USA, Mexico and Canada) in addition to being the only team required to tax its arsenal of talented pitchers after being scheduled to play five games in five days beginning Tuesday with a pre-WBC exhibition warm-up against American League West Division Champion Oakland A’s, resilient Team Italy will be walking a tightrope in light of reduced WBC pitch limits (65 in the first round, 80 in the second round, and 95 in the semi-finals and finals) to overcome the adverse working conditions reminiscent to the plight of their ancestral forefathers who emigrated to America at the end of the 19th century. Although Team Italy’s exhibition games against the Athletics on Tuesday and Mike Scioscia’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Wednesday will not count in the tournament’s stringent pitch limits, it will have serious repercussions
on the arms of the Italian pitching staff.
Italy manager Marco Mazzieri and pitching coach Bill Holmberg sat down prior to a scrimmage against
a team of spirited Seattle Mariners prospects at the
Peoria Sports Complex in Arizona and provided a very
candid snapshot of their team’s compromised chances
of beating the odds and advancing to the second round
of the highly-touted competition in the following interview.
Roberto: Is Team Italy ready to battle Mexico, Canada and USA in the 2013 World Baseball Classic? Marco Mazzieri: We’ll be ready when the games start. We’re right now just trying to tune up all the guys and waiting for our MLB players to come down and join us. We know they’ll all be excited to go. So we’re pretty excited about this. Bill Holmberg: I like our team a lot.
I think we’re going to have a very solid pitching staff, and our position players
of course are very good. I think we have a very, very good chance to go to the next round. Roberto: Having to listen to a lot of disrespect from the media who consider Italy a novelty and a doormat for other teams, do you enjoy being the underdog and having to endure constant scrutiny? Marco Mazzieri: I think it’s our destiny to be the underdogs all the time. We were the underdogs four years ago against Team Canada, and we beat them. The next thing we know we didn’t have hotel rooms because nobody expected us to win. We had to move to another hotel. I mean last September we were supposed to lose against the Dutch in the European Championship. They were celebrating the 100th anniversary of their federation and it was like 35 years that we had not beat them on their own soil. And we beat them! So I think we got used to being the underdog, but we don’t complain. We’re going to use all of this to get the guys even more excited and more ready to go. I think they will do a good job.
We expect everybody to have no fear. “We can beat anybody. We beat the U.S.
already once in 2007 during the World Cup
in Chinese Taipei. They had Evan Longoria, Colby Ramus, Andy LaRoche, and Brian
Bixler. They had a great pitching staff.
They only lost that one game, but we
were the team that beat them. Again,
we respect everybody a lot, but there’s
going to be no fear at all.”
2013 WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC
ITALY MANAGER MARCO MAZZIERI
Roberto: Former Chicago Cubs minor league pitcher Alessandro Maestri was named as the recipient of the 2011 Australian Baseball League Fan Choice Award after decimating hitters with his wicked slider pitching for the Brisbane Bandits. He has since been having a strong campaign for Japan’s Orix Buffaloes, the same team that recently signed former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Brandon Dickson as well as former outfielder/catcher for the Cleveland Indians/New York Mets/2009 Team Italy Vinny Rottino. Any words on Alex? Bill Holmberg: Alex is a really, really good pitcher. And you know at times he’s great.
He’s shown in the past that he has been able to throw well for us, and we’re looking
forward to having him on the mound real soon during the WBC series.
ROBERTO ANGOTTI — Toronto’s John Mariotti will pitch for Italy in the World Baseball Classic… fb.me/1l3Y9UT5D
Roberto: Former Baltimore Orioles prospect John Mariotti has been stellar for the defending Can-Am League Champion Québec Capitales for the past two years. How did you find this outstanding Canadian Italian pitcher? Bill Holmberg: John has been around and spoke with Marco a couple years ago. He had been talking with the Italian Baseball Federation and Marco for a few years so we’re very lucky to have John. John is a sinkerball pitcher that really helped us at the European Championship, and I imagine he’s going to help us even more during the World Baseball Classic.
@grillcheese49Hey Grill.It’s Cat.Marco Mazzieri would like yuor number.Can you send it to me so I can get it to him. Thanks. Hope ur well
Roberto: Team Italy has the luxury of having one of MLB’s premier closers, Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jason Grilli, ready and willing to do what he does best in shutting teams down with the lead late in any game. You must feel good about that? Bill Holmberg: I’m very happy to have Jason and to be honest with you I’m happy to
have every one of our pitchers. I believe all of them can be situational where they come in and close the door on any team we are going to play. Of course, you are going to have to execute. We’re going to try to scout as well as we can and give them the best possible plan before the game. From there, all they have to do is execute.
Roberto: Matt Torra, a former 2005 first-round draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and current Washington Nationals’ MLB hopeful, is also a very capable pitcher for Team Italy. Bill Holmberg: Matt has thrown well. We’ve had one live batting practice session,
and he’s going to be throwing today. I was extremely happy the way he threw the BP.
He throws strikes. He keeps the ball down. He’s a smart kid. He knows how to pitch.
Honored to represent Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Can’t wait to join the team in Phoenix next week. #WBClassic#TeamItaly
Roberto: The ambidextrous Pat Venditte from the New York Yankees organization is a pitching staff’s best friend and a hitter’s worst nightmare. Although recent surgery on his right shoulder labrum has limited him to throwing as a lefty for the World Baseball Classic,
do you think he will contribute as Team Italy’s secret weapon? Bill Holmberg: Pat threw a short side, and I think he’s going to be extremely nasty. I’ve seen him on youtube, and if that is the same way he throws on the mound during a game then we’re pretty lucky.
Roberto: Any thoughts on San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A catcher Tyler LaTorre and Minnesota Twin’s backstop Drew Buter? Marco Mazzieri: We’re very happy with our catchers as well. Tyler LaTorre has been
with us in the European Championship. He did a terrific job handling the pitching staff.
Drew Butera is so excited. I talked with him last night, and he can’t wait to be here.
He’s going to give us a pretty experienced catcher. With the pitchers that we have,
we are looking forward to it.
@tylerlatorre thanks again La Torre!! Def appreciate ur help!!
Roberto: Tyler LaTorre has caught San Francisco Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo. Vogey is reportedly scheduled to pitch for Team USA against Italy, and Romo will be the closer for Team Mexico. Did you know that you have a built-in scouting report on your roster? Bill Holmberg: I didn’t know that. We’re getting information from everywhere. We’re getting information from guys that are playing in the Mexican Leagues. Of course, John Mariotti is Canadian so we’re trying to get as much information as we possibly can.
We’ll take it from anywhere. So Roberto if you have some information to give us, I’d be happy to accept it. Roberto: If you put a Team Italia jersey on my back, I will happily sit in the dugout and scout on your behalf (laughter)…
@bigace22 that’s great news! I’ll be training with Team Italy at the Dodgers facility. Going in as a reserve in case they need a guy
Roberto: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim prospect Alexander Burkard is a reserve pitcher from Caracas, Venezuela. He is in your back pocket if you need him in a pinch. Bill Holmberg: He’s a great kid, a terrific kid. He’s six-foot-eight, just a terrific kid. He threw the other day. He didn’t do as well as we’d hoped, but I’m sure with a little bit of work in the bullpen as we did today he’s going to be a lot better next time out. Roberto: Bill, how does it feel being a contributing member of this eclectic Team Italy coaching staff? Bill Holmberg: I love the guys who are on this staff. To be honest with you, I’m very privileged to be on Marco’s staff. We have a great group of guys, and we just get along very well. It’s tremendous to come out here. This is not work. This is coming out here and having a good time. We laugh a little bit. We work real hard, and at the end of the day we’re happy with what we do.
Roberto: When you heard that Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo was playing for Team Italy,
you must have felt like your chances to advance in the WBC had increased. Marco Mazzieri: That was good because at one point it looked like the USA team was going to call him up. So we were kind of afraid that we couldn’t get him. We’re happy to have him. We’re looking forward to it. But we have another guy that we really like a lot–Chris Colabello. He’s in Big League camp with the Twins along with Alex Liddi (Mariners) and Chris Denorfia (Padres). I think we have a pretty good heart of the lineup.
@bbrentz7 I’m good homie… I’m over in Holland playing in the European Cup for Italy… Way to go get you a ship!
Roberto: Chris Colabello has been shadowing Minnesota Twins four-time all-star first baseman Justin Morneau and tearing the leather off the ball in Spring Training. His father Lou played for Italy in the 1984 Olympics. Bill Holmberg: I’ve known Chris for maybe 20 years because he used to come over to Italy with his dad. His dad pitched in the Italian Baseball League. His mom is Italian. Chris is just
a great kid. He loves to come over and play for us. We enjoy having him. We like him. He’s
a very energetic, tremendous kid.
Roberto: Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Nick Punto has a World Series ring after having played under Tony La Russa for the St. Louis Cardinals. How has his energy helped Team Italy? Marco Mazzieri: Nick is a terrific guy. We met him four years ago for the World Baseball Classic. We didn’t know him. We’ve been in touch with him throughout the years, and he can’t wait to be here as well. Again, here’s a guy with tremendous experience. A big clubhouse guy trying to keep everybody up and ready. But overall honestly I don’t like to talk much about individual single players, single names. I think we have tremendous chemistry in the clubhouse. That’s what we’re about. It’s important. As we showed four years ago, these guys played as a team from day one. It’s not going to be like an all-star team where everybody is kind of like showcasing themselves. This is going to be about winning ballgames and be together and doing the little things. We’re going to do that.
Roberto: Any feedback on the lesser-known Milwaukee Brewers/Italy shortstop Jeff Bianchi? Bill Holmberg: I don’t know him as well as Marco does. I know he’s in the Big Leagues
and he can’t be that bad. So hopefully he’ll come to play. I know he was a high draft choice with the Royals. We also have another infielder who played with us in Holland during the European Championship–Tony Granato. He’s extremely solid, a great team player guy.
He plays his ass off every time he goes out. Roberto: Anthony Granato is the heart and soul of Team Italy. He represents La Squadra Azzurri’s “Never Say Die” approach to the game.
After an eventless first at bat for the Greek, Italy takes the lead on an RBI-single by Anthony Granato, who… fb.me/28qHVrJEW
Marco Mazzieri: Very much so. I think he really made a difference on our team since he joined us three years ago. As a matter of fact, we won two European Championships. We went to Chinese Taipei in 2010 and claimed the Bronze Medal. And he really made a huge difference for this team. Not only for his play, but he is a leader out on the field. And he shows it. He’s not the type of guy who’s going to talk a lot. He’s going to show it by example and lead by example in the way he goes about his business.
Roberto: Italians are gaining massive respect in Europe as witnessed by Team Spain’s decision to hire Italian manager Mauro Mazzotti. Could you imagine seeing two Italian managed European teams playing head-to-head after advancing to the second round? Marco Mazzieri: It would be nice, but let me tell you that we’re thinking about ourselves right now. It might be a little selfish. If they make it, we’re happy for them. But at this time we’re just mission focused, and we want to be the team that advances for sure. We’re going to do everything possible to be there.
Roberto: Didn’t Mazzotti sign Alex Liddi? Bill, why didn’t you sign him like you did for the Italian-born Alberto Mineo as the Chicago Cubs international scout? Bill Holmberg: I wish I would have signed him back then. Mauro Mazzotti had a hand in that, but Wayne Norton was also involved. I know that. I would have liked to have signed Alex. If he had come to our Italian Academy to work with Marco for at least a year, I think he would have gotten a lot more money. Hindsight is always 20/20. He’s done well for himself in the meantime.
Roberto: San Diego Padres’ Chris Denorfia is a diamond in the rough. What a score for Italy! Marco Mazzieri: Again like Nick Punto four years ago, he came along and showed tremendous leadership. Won’t give up. We’re very proud and happy to have him back
again for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He’s a great guy. He works hard and he’ll be playing a good center field. Along with those other guys, it’s going to a solid lineup. Roberto: Have you decided on the WBC pitching rotation for Team Italy? Marco Mazzieri: We’re going to decide after we play these four scrimmage games until March 3rd and then we’re going to decide who’s the hottest guy. Pretty much if I am allowed to say is that we are the only team in this bracket that is scheduled to play five games in a row with two exhibition games. It’s not to complain, but I don’t think it’s fair on our pitching staff…honestly. With all the pitching limitations and everything, why are we the only team with five games in a row? Everybody else is getting a day off in the middle, and we’re not. Again, we’re going to use our weakness as our strength at this point. We just want to go out and prove everybody wrong.Roberto: What makes Team Italy so resilient? Bill Holmberg: We’re a hard hat, lunch pail type of team. We’re blue collar from the beginning to the end. No obstacle is too great for us. We are not afraid. We fear no one. Bottom line is like what Marco said before…whatever comes, comes. We’re going to play
our cards as they are dealt. And that’s it, and we’re going to be happy doing it. Roberto: Let’s beat Mexico, Canada and USA so that we can advance to round two in Miami. Bill Holmberg: That’s our plan. Roberto: Thanks for your time gentlemen. Buona fortuna!
AC/DC, Crowded House, Helen Reddy, Kylie Minogue, Little River Band, and Men At Work are just some of the big names that have sprouted out of Melbourne, Australia. There has never been a drought for world-class talent hailing from the metropolis often referred to as the “cultural capital of Australia” and the world’s most liveable city. Melbourne is the capital and most populous city in the state of Victoria. Four-year-old Michael “Flea” Balzary moved from Melbourne to New York when his father, a customs officer, was transferred in 1967. Shortly after his parents divorced at age seven, his dad returned to Australia, where he now lives on the outskirts of Canberra with his second wife. Flea’s mother later married American jazz musician Walter Urban Jr. and moved the family to Los Angeles in 1972. Flea would often sit in on weekly jam sessions with his stepdad and the constant flow of musicians who visited. While most of the California high school kids were into disco and dance music, Flea listened to jazz legends Louie Armstrong, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. His greatest childhood memory was when he met Gillespie backstage after one of his concerts. Flea’s musical interests diversified when he discovered funk music and Jimi Hendrix became his new idol. He befriended Anthony Kiedis in 1977 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers formed after Flea left Fear and declined an offer to join PiLin 1984.Flea has a strong connection to his Aussie roots. He professed, “I love Australia with my heart and Australian blood coarses through my veins. We are coming to Australia early next year, can’t wait to feel the connection to my birthplace once again.” The bassist owns a beachfront property in the little town of Congo on NSW’s South Coast. Flea said, “Chances are, I’ll end up living there permanently. Without wanting to sound corny, I feel it in my blood when I’m in that part of Australia. I get a lot of power and strength from the land.”
Power and strength are two attributes commonly referred to when Melbourne Ace and LA Angels pitching prospect Alex Da Silva takes the mound. Signed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim international scout Grant Weir as a free agent on January 10, 2011, the 19-year-old Da Silva has a cannon for an arm. Weir commented, “Alex probably throws harder than anyone in the country. Just his tools are impressive.” Equipped with a 90 plus MPH fastball, curveball, change-up and cutter, Da Silva is committed to working hard everyday to realize his dream of making it to Major League Baseball. This past Australian Baseball League season the six-foot-two Aussie hurler was in good hands pitching under the guidance and supervision of Melbourne Ace manager Phil Dale, a former minor league coach for the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves as well as a national baseball coaching legend for leading the Australian team to its first ever silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics with a 1-0 upset over Japan. We checked in with Alex recently.
Roberto: How are things going for you in Tempe, Arizona? Alex: Feeling pretty good at my first Angels Spring Training camp. It’s pretty good. They are very keen on looking after the players so everything is taken care of. I mean from getting picked up in the morning, breakfast, lunch. It’s just a baseball paradise here, you know. Roberto: It’s everything you expected it to be? Alex: And more… Roberto: Reports from Australia are that you pack some heat with your fastball. Is that true? Alex: It’s a bit more like that back home, but over here I am just another fish in the sea. I’m mean, it’s nothing special, really. That’s where I have to develop. I mean, back home, yeah, There are not many guys that throw that hard. Over here, everybody does. I’m just another number. Roberto: But you’re a hard worker committed to a seven-year contract. Alex: Yeah, seven years but at the moment just (taking it) day-by-day.Roberto: Playing for Melbourne with Travis Blackley and Shane Lindsay must have been inspirational? Alex: You see how they go about their business and whenever they step on the field it’s always 100% business. It gives you something to go off and something to follow. Especially those guys, they are really good examples to follow. They always give you a nudge in the right direction when you need it. They are really good people to have around. Roberto: It must have been tough watching the Australian Baseball League Championship between your Melbourne Aces and the Perth Heat? Alex: At the same time as you’re not playing, you’re still kind of there. You know the guys, especially Darryl George when he was getting up. I grew up with him. I know exactly what is going through his head. I’ve seen him do it since he was like 11-years-old. At the same time, you know they are doing everything they can and hopefully in the years to come I’ll be the guy out there. Roberto: Did you have a case of the butterflies when you took the mound for the first time in the Australian Baseball League? Alex: I played the very first series in Sydney. That was the only series I played. I came on when we were down to a time limit so I was put on to waste a little bit of time. Yeah, the crowd wasn’t too happy so it was a little bit of a new experience for me. You know, the crowd against me. We were trying to do everything we could do to stretch the game a little bit. It’s a tough situation. Roberto: You played with Chicago Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo from Italy at the MLB Australian Academy. What were were impressions of him? Alex: When I first met Alberto, he was one of those really fun guys to be around. Always smilng. His English is actually pretty good, but we still messed around with him a little bit. But he took it in the spirit it was meant to be. In terms of a catcher, I really like the way he went about his business. He took control of the game. There were times when I wanted to throw a pitch that I wanted to throw, but he insisted and pulled me back in line a little bit. In terms of catchers that I like, I just like catchers that get the job done and don’t say too much. I do my job, and they do their job. Roberto: But do you take things personally when catchers are insisting on a pitch, and you are shaking them off for another? Alex: I’m not a big fan of shaking guys off. Every now and then I might feel that I know a hitter pretty well and the pitch I want to throw might be a bit more effective. When they put the same sign down twice, I always think they’re really persistent on this one so I give them this one. I’ll go with what they say. You might have a bit of a joke about it later if they get a hit off you. Go back to him and say that it should have been a curveball instead of a fastball. I usually just trust what they do. Roberto: Baseball is still in its infancy in Australia. With the abundance of more popular sports on your home turf, what lured you into baseball? Alex: Well there is AFL, Australian Rules Football, but I didn’t like running that much so that kind of put me off it. I tried karate for a little while. I guess I really liked the guys who played baseball. I played with some pretty cool guys growing up. There was just something there that kept me going back every year. I really don’t quite know what is was, but something kept luring me back. Roberto: Who was an inspirational figure in your baseball career? Alex: My very first baseball coach, Greg Dawes, he was a bit of a hard ass. Even little things like everytime you go out there to make sure your shirt is tucked in and your socks are tucked up stuck with me until now. In a way, that’s the way the game should be played. That little bit of respect he taught me for the game carried on. Now I enjoy it much more because I got all that basic stuff out of the way. Now it’s off to the fun stuff in just playing, and I don’t have to worry about it. Roberto: What is the most frustrating part of pitching? Alex: The hardest part for me is when you throw a really good pitch, you’ll throw a curveball that snaps off really well, and the hitter comes up with something. He might get a hit off a curveball that would have bounced before the plate. I mean what things are out of your control are the things that really get to you. So you do your job really well and you hit your spot, but the hitter just does a better job. For me that’s the hardest thing. Or you do your job, you get a guy to roll over and there’s an error in the field. They’re the kind of things that really get me. I mean you’ve done your job, and at the end of the game you’ve got a loss next to your name. They’re the things that really get me. It’s just things that are not in your control is what frustrates me a little bit. Roberto: Is it fun competing with international players abroad? Alex: The two dominant forces here are the Americans and Latins. Americans are very similar to Australians. There is always the language thing. We say ‘mate’. They always make fun of us saying stuff like ‘Hey mate” and things like that. The Latino guys are really cool to be around, they’ll mix in some Spanish. They’ll mess with you a little bit, and you mess with them back. Just the other day we tricked one of the Latino guys into thinking that ‘vamos’ which means ‘let’s go’ meant ‘French toast’. So he is out on the field yelling ‘French toast’ (laughter). There’s really not that much difference culturally. I’ve been told that Tempe, this area, is very similar to Brisbane. It’s like being at home, just a bit drier and not as many hills. Otherwise, it’s very easy to assimilate into this environment. Roberto: Other than the jetlag and the time difference? Alex: Yeah, it was a bit difficult. My flight from Sydney to LA was fourteen hours, and I didn’t sleep a blink. The first couple days were hard. It took me like four days to feel like I was right. That’s going to happen. You’ve got to deal with it. Roberto: It’s part of the game. What’s next for Alex Da Silva? Alex: After spring camp and extended spring, I hope to make a rookie or rookie advanced team from there. I mean, either way,
I don’t really mind so long I am still playing here. That’s the greatest blessing just to be able to come out and play everyday. At this point, it’s spring, extended spring and short-season. Roberto: Is Anaheim in the future? Alex: I just want to get there. It doesn’t matter when. I just want to make the big leagues. That’s why I am here. That’s why I was signed because somebody thought that I could make the big leagues. That’s just what I want to do. Doesn’t matter when, doesn’t matter who for—whether it be Anaheim or New York—it doesn’t matter. I just want to get there. Roberto: Are you looking forward to pitching for the Melbourne Aces in the 2012-13 Australian Baseball League season? Alex: I think by the end of the season, I might want a little break. I might take a couple weeks off, but I would like to play as many series as I can play with them. I would love to go over and play whatever role Melbourne Ace manager Phil Dale puts me into. Really, I would like to play as much baseball as I can.
Roberto: Any words of encourage or advice for up-and-coming baseball players worldwide? Alex: Never give up. There is always setbacks, but you have got to keep going through the setbacks. I have been lucky. I haven’t had many injuries or anything,
I know some guys that have, and they are still where
I am. The thing is every time you have a setback, you just have got to keep going. Get through, get to the next little bit. Set yourself goals, get to the next little section. For me, my next section is to get through spring healthy and hopefully not giving up too many runs. I don’t expect much from myself at this point, but I mean once I get an idea where I am at extended spring camp then I will set myself some good goals. You know, like I may not want to give up more than one hit for every two innings or something like that. You really have got to set specific goals and when you get those goals—reward yourself! Maybe instead of
just running around your block–you’ll go for a run to the beach. You have always got to have those goals, and at the end of those goals you have got to have a goal to look forward to.Roberto: So have some immediate short-term goals leading to long-term goals? Alex: Yeah, for me where I live at the bottom of the hills there is a place called the 1000 steps. Instead of my normal running, you know, it got a little bit boring so after I had a good outing I would go there. If I was starting, I would say that I wanted to get through five innings and only give up two runs or just be in a leading position coming out when I leave the game. If I got that, then I could go up to the 1000 steps and do my running because it’s a beautiful rainforest which is a bit cooler and a really nice place to run. That was my reward. Or just about anything that I looked forward to. Roberto: What about the growth of Aussie baseball with the injection of the MLB-sponsored Australian Baseball League (ABL) and the MLB Australian Baseball Academy? Alex: In terms of the fanbase, with the ABL in place it has just exploded. It still has a long way to go. As far as the MLB Australian Academy, you can look at how many guys have been signed since the program started… My year alone 12 guys were signed and the year before me was even better. Everyone of them has been through the Academy multiple years. It’s getting the results. Roberto: Any words for your friends and family back home? Alex: Missing you guys. I’m doing you proud! Despite Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and redhead Alex Da Silva ending up on opposing sides of LA baseball, their love for Melbourne is skin deep. On game day when LA Angel pitching prospect Da Silva gets ready for a start, he pumps up the volume with some of his favorite jams from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rise Against. When Chili Pepper bassist Flea wants to get fired up before a big concert, he watches Matt Kemp and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Regardless how these two individuals mentally prepare for their performances, both are professionals grounded and undeniably connected by their Australian blood.