The Italian American Baseball Family Tree Grows

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The Italian American Baseball Family is on a mission to strengthen Team Italia and its fan base.

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.

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Italian American Lou Colabello pitched for Team Italia against USA at Dodger Stadium in the 1984 Olympics.

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.

american_italian_roots_postcards-r9c2297463d664483b6c6ab48f30d9bd1_vgbaq_8byvr_512 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.

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Sal Varriale (left) was given the Meritorious Service Award and Mike Scioscia (right) was given the Rawlings Honor Award by the American Baseball Coaches Association at the 2012 ABCA Convention.

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 MarconMike Piazza was recruited by former president Riccardo Fraccari to join Team Italia while visiting Italy in 2002. Jason Grilli and Frank Catalanotto also signed up to play for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC.

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After playing in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Hall of Famer Mike Piazza became Team Italia’s hitting coach.

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.

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Chris Colabello and Anthony Rizzo celebrate Italian style after Colabello’s three-run homer against the Dominican Republic in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

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 Butera and Pat Venditte could compete with international baseball’s elite.

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Team Italia catcher Drew Butera and coach Frank Catalanotto at the 2013 World Baseball Classic
Chicago Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo was signed in 2010.
Chicago Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo was signed in 2010.

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.

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Italian MLB Academy Director Bill Holmberg (far right) smiles as prospect Marten Gasparini signs a pro baseball contract with the Kansas City Royals in 2013.

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.

Manager Marco Mazzieri led underdog Team Italia to the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Manager Marco Mazzieri led underdog Team Italia to the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

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.

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Courtesy of Italian American Family member/artist Christopher Paluso 

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.

MLB Executive VP of Baseball Operations Joe Torre and James Fiorentino
MLB Executive VP of Baseball Operations Joe Torre and Italian American Baseball Family’s James Fiorentino

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.

Italian American Baseball Family's Joe Quagliano and Mike Piazza hold James Fiorentino's portrait of the Hall of Famer.
Italian American Baseball Family’s Joe Quagliano presents Mike Piazza a portrait commemorating his induction to the National Baseball of Hall of Fame by world-renowed artist James Fiorentino.

new-logo-fibs 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.

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The first annual IBAF/FIBS fundraising event sold out in no time upon its initial announcement.
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The Italian American Baseball Family’s mission includes providing scholarships for athletes at FIBS Academy, a residential program in Italy.

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Joe Quagliano, James Fiorentino and Roberto Angotti have teamed up for the Italian American Baseball Family Launch 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.

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Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri reflects on third-place finish in 2016 European Baseball Championship

new-logo-fibs Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri has been synonymous with Italian baseball since his playing days in the 1980’s. During his ten-year tenure as the leader of the Team Italia coaching staff, Mazzieri has made the Italians proud with European Baseball Championship titles in 2010 and 2012. He has worked closely with FIBS in its mission of strengthening the game in Italy and Europe. Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball(FIBS) has been instrumental in developing its own homegrown pool of talent at the FIBS Baseball Academy under the watchful eye of MLB director and Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg.

Kingdom of the Netherlands manager Steve Janssen and Italia manager Marco Mazzieri exchange lineup cards prior to the start of their game in the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (photo courtesy of Enzio /FIBS)
Netherlands manager Steve Janssen and Italia manager Marco Mazzieri shake and exchange
lineup cards in the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
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Italia manager Marco Mazzieri is also the LA Dodgers’ European scout. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)

In preparation of the 2016 European Baseball Championship, Italian Baseball Week showcased three of Europe’s finest: Italia, Spain and the Czech Republic. Despite losing two of the four exhibition games held in Tirrenia and Firenze, the Italians played solid fundamental baseball and used the competition to narrow down their final roster prior to the start of the Euro championship in the Netherlands. Two additional pitchers, Tiago Da Silva and Luis Lugo, caught up with Team Italia in Hoofddorp to bolster the Italian pitching arsenal and to increase the Azzurri’s chances of reclaiming the European throne from the defending Dutch champions.

Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri (center) with coaches Marco Nanni (left) and Alberto D'Auria (right) at the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
Manager Marco Mazzieri (center) with coaches Marco Nanni (left) and Alberto D’Auria (right) at the 2016 European Baseball Championship in the Netherlands. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
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Alessandro Vaglio in the 2013 World Baseball Classic showed great promise under hitting coach Mike Piazza. (Photo courtesy of Donato Resta-IandI-GoPro.com)

During Team Italia’s first three wins against Greece, France and Belgium in the 2016 European Baseball Championship, the Azzurri offense scored a total of 42 runs. Italia then lost a heartbreaker versus second-place finisher Spain when with the score tied 3-3 in the ninth inning the Spanish rallied to win 9-3. The Italians rebounded with gusto by crushing Croatia 22-4 and shutting out Germany 12-0. Team Italia infielder Alessandro Vaglio led all hitters in the 2016 European Baseball Championship with 17 runs scored, while catcher Mattia Reginato hit for the cycle against Greece and also led the Euros in RBI (12). In fact, Team Italia led the tourney in runs (87), hits (99) and batting average (.355).

Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri talks with slugger Alex Liddi during the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri talks with slugger Alex Liddi prior to game against
Spain during the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
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Pitcher Luca Panerati in the 2016 European Baseball Championship (Photo courtesy of Claudio Vecchi-FIBS)

Crafty left-hander Luca Panerati, a graduate of the Italian Baseball Academy in Tirrenia and a former Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect, gave quality starts against France and Kingdom of the Netherlands. Closer Nicholas Pugliese was one out away from securing a Team Italia win versus the Dutch when a controversial call at the plate forced the game into extra innings. Notable pitching performances included two by southpaw veteran Junior Oberto, starter against Greece and Germany.

italia-thx-teaser-002 Despite losing 6-5 to Kingdom of the Netherlands in a late night ten inning contest, Team Italia returned less than 12 hours later to defeat the Czech Republic 3-2 in their final game of the 2016 European Baseball Championship. Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri shared his final thoughts with MLBforLife.com at the conclusion of the international competition. Mazzieri said, “We’re very happy the way the players performed throughout the tournament. We battled against each and every team. We played some very good baseball. We only committed two errors in all our games, which is incredible at this level. The guys gave it their all. We lost a heartbreaker to the Netherlands. The way we lost and the ways we battled. I think we deserved to win that game. We only slept a couple hours before our next game because nobody could sleep after that loss. I really don’t know where these guys get the energy to get back in these games and actually win the way we did. They showed a lot to me… Nobody but us expected to see Team Italia with that will, commitment, effort and great attitude throughout the whole game against the Netherlands. We scored two and we were up by two runs in the 8th (inning). The Netherlands came back and tied the score. We were able to find the strength and the energy to get back to score two runs. Sometimes in baseball a bad bounce or a bad call can cost you a game. That’s what happened to us. You are going to win and lose games, but the way you act and the way you perform on the field by what you do in terms of will and approach…it’s something that’s there! So we cannot complain about that… We are very proud and happy that we have this group of guys. I’m proud of a great group of coaches and players that made this journey incredible.”forza-azzurri

Team Italia catcher Drew Butera having career-best year for defending champion KC Royals

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Team Italia catcher Drew Butera is ready for the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

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Royals catcher Drew Butera caught the final strike thrown by reliever Wade Davis to capture the 2015 World Series crown.
Known best for his excellent defensive prowess and as a pitcher’s catcher calling games behind the plate, Drew Butera has been experiencing an offensive renaissance for the 2016 Kansas City Royals. Making the most of his 47 at-bats, the 32-year-old Italian American is hitting .298 with six doubles, two homers, four walks and eight RBI. Royals manager Ned Yost has rewarded Butera with more playing time this season by putting regular backstop Salvador Perez in as DH. The Florida-native is the son of Sal Butera—a journeyman catcher who played 359 MLB games for the Blue Jays, Twins, Reds, Expos and Tigers from 1980-1988. Drew was selected by the Blue Jays in the 2002 MLB Draft but instead opted to play at the University of Central Florida. After throwing out 48% of potential base-stealers and hitting .325 in his last season at UCF, Butera was a 2005 fifth-round draft pick by the NY Mets.

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Drew Butera was a strong source of power for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
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Drew Butera played in LA for both the Dodgers (2013-14) and Angels (2015).

A big opera fan who used to listen to Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti in the clubhouse before games while in the Mets’ minor league system, Drew was named Florida League All-Star and subsequently promoted to AA in 2007 before being traded to the Twins—where Butera family history was made as Sal and Drew became the first father-son combination to play for Minnesota when he made his MLB debut on April 9, 2010. Being able to handle pitches with grace rarely seen at the Major League level while producing a calming effect on his pitching staff, Drew Butera kept lefty Francisco Liriano focused on every pitch which led him to a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, 2011. While playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 25, 2014, Butera caught Josh Beckett’s no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies and became only the fifth catcher in Major League Baseball history to catch a no-hitter in both leagues.

baseball-ItaliaButera was a big hit for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Delivering a two-run home run that helped defeat Mexico and a two-run double that buried Canada, Drew was instrumental in each of Team Italia’s victories to earn la squadra Azzurri the right to advance with Team USA to the second round of play.

world-baseball-classicDrew Butera cannot wait to suit up for Team Italia in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He spoke enthusiastically about playing for manager Marco Mazzieri’s eclectic mix of talented Italian-born players and MLB-affiliated Italian American passport holders. Butera said, “It was a great experience for me personally. To experience it for myself, there’s really no word that could describe it: the intensity, the passion of the games, just the amount of fun that we had. It was really great.”

Team Italia reaches #9 in World Baseball Rankings

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Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg visits with Roberto Angotti (Photo by IandI-GoPro.com).

9 Numeros Turma da Mônica 9 nove dedinhos Colorir Pintar ImprimirThe 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. 2016 World Rankings

 

Italy’s Alex Liddi celebrates 2016 Caribbean Series victory with his family while playing for Mexico

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Serie del Caribe, also known as the Caribbean World Series, is the highest baseball tournament at the club level in Latin America and features the champions of Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. Having recently signed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles, Alex Liddi became the first Italian to play in the Caribbean Series as a member of the 2016 Champion Venados de Mazatlan from Mexico. In his final four games, Liddi went 4-for-17 with a triple and a double.

Alex Liddi’s wife and daughter helped celebrate with their number one man in the Dominican Republic at the 2016 Caribbean Series. I asked Alex a few questions about his new family.

Roberto: Congratulations on the birth of your daughter, and I see a ring on your finger too so all the female baseball fans are probably crushed now knowing that you are no longer on the market.

Alex Liddi: Yeah, I got married too. Married with a kid. Game over.

Roberto: Well, that’s it, this is everyone’s year. We are all blessed. We have our health and happiness. We have our families. We know how important family is to us. That’s everything to us. We give our left arm in a heartbeat for our families.

Alex Liddi: Yeah, definitely Italian culture is really big on family. It’s definitely the number one spot in my mind and in my life, my family. So I’m really proud of my family, and really proud to be a father and a husband.

Roberto: Yeah, and you have a future softball star that could fall in the shadows of your mom who was a great softball star.

Alex Liddi: Yeah, my mom has been talking about it already, playing softball, but we gotta see. We gotta wait and see.

Roberto: With some baby steps first?

Alex Liddi: Yeah, maybe golf.

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To the disbelief of many adoring female fans, Italian stallion Alex Liddi is officially off the market.

2011 Flashback: MLB Network profiles Alex Liddi

Alex Liddi takes batting practice prior to the 2013 Italy/Mexico World Baseball Classic game at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Alex Liddi takes batting practice prior to the 2013 World Baseball Classic game between Italy and Mexico at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona.
It was a hot California summer night four years ago on September 7, 2011 when a twinkle of Disney magic lingered over nearby Angel Stadium. The European baseball kingdom glowed when news flashed that ambassador Alex Liddi had made his MLB debut and had become the first born-and-developed Italian player to reach the major leagues. Yet after his 2005 signing and eight subsequent seasons of developing into a promising prospect, the Seattle Mariners cut bait on Liddi in 2013. Having since traveled through revolving doors between the Orioles, White Sox and Dodgers organizations, the Kansas City Royals signed the infielder to a minor league contract this year. Citing the virtually untapped potential of this powerful weapon, the Royals are committed to making sure Liddi reaches his peak to help their major league club. Moving his wife and newborn daughter close to the Royals Spring Training Facility in Surprise, Arizona during the offseason, the 27-year-old slugger worked with coaches and trainers so that he may reemerge in MLB as advertised as the face of European baseball.

MLBblogger’s MLBforLife.com ranks #7 among MLB.com Fan Websites

Since 2011 MLBforLife.com has been a Top 10 MLB.com website
MLBblogger Roberto Angotti has been a Top 10 writer since launching his MLBforLife.com website in 2011.

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.Beyond DiMaggio 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.

Astros #7 Italian American Craig Biggio was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 26, 2015.
Italian American Craig Biggio (#7) was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.