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.

WBC Photo Day: Italy
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.

Drew Butera and Frank Catalanotto
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.

Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto,
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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Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck join Tommy Lasorda in Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball

Bugs Bunny is considered by many insiders including Nomar Garciaparra as baseball’s best all-time player.
Bugs Bunny is considered by many insiders including Nomar Garciaparra as baseball’s best all-time player.(Photo courtesy of Warner Bros./MLB Productions)
There is absolutely nothing looney about recently selected Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame inductee Nomar Garciaparra being Bugs Bunny’s biggest fan. As one of the best shortstops in the game in 1997, Garciaparra won AL Rookie of the Year honors with a 30-homer, 98-RBI season. Nomar was an All-Star in five of his nine seasons in Boston (1996-2004) and was a runner-up for AL MVP in 1998 after hitting .323 with 35 homers and 122 RBI. The Whittier, California native and St. John Bosco High School All-Star standout knew early on that he wanted to be like the talented and versatile rabbit:
Bugs Bunny is the consummate all-star in "Baseball Bugs" (1946).
Bugs Bunny is the star in “Baseball Bugs” (1946).(Baseball Bugs appears courtesy of Warner Bros.)
“Back then, my idol was Bugs Bunny, because I saw a cartoon of him playing ball – you know, the one where he plays every position himself with nobody else on the field but him? Now that I think of it, Bugs is still my idol. You have to love a ballplayer like that…” Nomar is not alone in the Wascally Wabbit Fan Club. Proud Italian American Tommy Lasorda marched with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in a 2008 LA holiday parade and said, “Bugs would be an excellent baseball player. He’s more than just an ordinary steak sauce, a heckuva lot more!”
Baseball Bugs Poster by Kim Reynolds (photo courtesy of Warner Bros.)
Warner Bros. Senior Production Artist Kim Reynolds produced this Baseball Bugs poster.
Bugs Bunnys says: "Watch me paste this pathetic palooka with a powerful paralyzing perfect pachhydermas percussion pitch!" Otherwise known as the "Bugs Bunny Changeup", many MLB pitchers including all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman and current aces Justin Verlander and Johan Santana rely on this pitch in their arsenal.
In the 1946 “Baseball Bugs” cartoon, Bugs Bunnys says: “Watch me paste this pathetic palooka with a powerful paralyzing perfect pachhydermas percussion pitch!” Otherwise known as “the Bugs Bunny Changeup”, many MLB pitchers today including Justin Verlander and Johan Santana rely on this pitch to make hitters look silly while helplessly striking out. (Created by Friz Freleng/Courtesy of Warner Bros.)
Trevor Hoffman was a promising college shortstop who had trouble hitting in Minor League Baseball. Converting to a pitcher, Hoffman was never the same in MLB after shoulder surgery eliminated his 95 mph fastball in 1994 and 1995. He learned the changeup, which was so good it earned the nickname of “Bugs Bunny” because of the cartoonish swings it would induce from hitters. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, “When I think of Trevor Hoffman, I think of his virtually unhittable changeup. They called it the Bugs Bunny changeup. Basically, it stopped at home plate. Guys hadn’t seen a pitch like that, and they couldn’t adjust to it. He pitched so well off his fastball they couldn’t just sit on it every pitch. But even if they did, they hadn’t seen a pitch like that so they didn’t know how to hit it.”
Illustrator Kim Reynolds of Warner Bros.
Artist Kim Reynolds of Warner Bros. has contributed his Lasorda illustration to the Tribute to Italian American Baseball Exhibit.
Despite Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander being compared to Bugs Bunny by MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac, it’s Tiger teammate Austin Jackson who aspires to have the superpower of the Looney Tunes character. The speedy outfielder said, “If I was a cartoon character, I think I’d be Bugs Bunny. I’d be the baseball Bugs Bunny, because I’m kind of sneaky a little bit.” Warner Bros. Management came up with a pretty sneaky idea for a retirement present to Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda in 1996 by giving a little bit of Looney Tunes love from Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck kissing Lasorda in a customized one-of-a-kind illustration. Warner Bros. Senior Production Artist Kim Reynolds said, “Bugs has always been tied into baseball with ‘Baseball Bugs’ released in 1946 so it was only fitting. It has always been a fan favorite. Daffy was added just to finish it. We decided on a newer uniform to give the piece a updated look.”
Daffy Duck, Tommy Lasorda and Bugs Bunny by Kim Reynolds is now on display at the Artists' Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball at Convivio in San Diego (photo courtesy of Warner Bros.).
Kim Reynolds’ Daffy Duck, Tommy Lasorda and Bugs Bunny illustration is on display at the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibition through the end of March at Convivio Center, 2157 India Street in San Diego’s Little Italy (photo courtesy of Warner Bros.).
Legendary Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda in San Diego celebrating his 86th birthday and the grand opening of Artists' Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball.
Legendary Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda in San Diego celebrating his 86th birthday and the Grand Opening of the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit with curator Roberto Angotti on September 21, 2013. (Photo by Donato Resta)
The multi-talented artist Reynolds spoke enthusiastically about Lasorda’s reaction to receiving the retirement gift from Warner Bros. “As far as I know, Lasorda loved it! It’s always fun doing dedication projects, but it was especially fun doing this for Lasorda. I’ve always been a Dodger fan and it was a real pleasure creating this art for him.” Fans can see the piece in the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit at the Convivio Center in San Diego through March 30. The traveling exhibition will soon pass through Orange County and Los Angeles to coincide with the beginning of the 2014 MLB Season. More cities will be announced in the near future.
Due to popular demand, the Artists' Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit has been extended through March 30 in San Diego. Visit www.ConvivioSociety.org for more details.
Due to popular demand, the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit has been extended through March 30 in San Diego. Visit http://www.ConvivioSociety.org for more details.

Chris Felix and the Reid Rizzo Foundation bring a little bit of heaven to Little Italy’s Convivio Center

Reid Rizzo in 2012 playing for the Madisonville Tradewater Pirates
The late and great Italian American Reid Rizzo photographed shortly before his passing in 2012
while playing for the Madisonville Tradewater Pirates.
The San Diego arts and Italian American communities are coming together by supporting the ongoing efforts of the Reid Rizzo Foundation in assisting pediatric heart patients and their families while meeting one of the creative forces behind the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit at the Convivio Center in Little Italy. The annual fundraiser will take place on Saturday, January 4th when San Diego Italian American heart surgeon Dr. John Lamberti is honored for his miraculous work in saving lives and Cincinnati-based artist Chris Felix is recognized for his remarkable talent and valuable contribution to the very popular exhibition at the Convivio Center.
Renowned artist Chris Felix will be at Conivivio on Saturday, January 4th.
Meet artist Chris Felix at Conivivio on January 4th.

In addition to commenting on his illustrations of Phil Rizzuto, Joey Votto and Reid Rizzo, internationally renowned sports artist Chris Felix will deliver a fascinating multimedia presentation on Italian American baseball prospect Reid Rizzo–whose life and promising MLB career were cut short by a heart condition known as cardiomyopathy. As the former basketball and baseball coach for Rizzo, Chris has incredible insight into Reid’s inner strength and determination to live life without fear while defying the odds of competing against his peers.

Chris Felix's depiction of Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto
Chris Felix’s depiction of Reds’ Joey Votto (2012)

Having curated “Rooted Deep In the Soil of Cincinnati…A Passion for Baseball, Art and Inspiration” at Cincinnati’s Art on the Levee Gallery, Ohio native Chris Felix is no stranger to traveling exhibitions. His artwork has been featured at the Annual Art of Baseball Exhibition at the George Krevsky Gallery in San Francisco and has graced the walls of the James Fiorentino and Friends Exhibition at the National Art Museum of Sport in Indianapolis among other places. He has been
a freelance fine artist since 1997.

"Joey Votto 2012" by Chris Felix
Chris Felix captures Cincinnati’s Joey Votto (2007).

Well-known for his acrylic sports paintings, the graduate of the College of Art Advertising in Cincinnati first received recognition for his craft as a sixth grader at
St. William School when his pencil sketch of Johnny Bench won him
a Cincinnati Reds autographed baseball in a department store’s “Draw Your Favorite Reds Player” contest. Felix’s illustrious art career has included being a graphic designer, a scenery painter for major amusement parks, and a commissioned artist for Hasbro, Warner Brothers, the Topps Card Company and the Cincinnati Reds.

Artist Chris Felix at work
Artist Chris Felix at work
Featured in sportswriter Mike Shannon’s books–“Willie Mays: Art in the Outfield” and “Coming Back to Baseball: Cincinnati Astros and the Joys of Over 30 Play”–Felix’s artwork will be included in the upcoming “Cincinnati Reds Legends” book set for release in 2015. San Diegians will have a rare appearance to meet the gifted artist at the Convivio Center (2157 N. India Street) on Saturday night, January 4th at the Reid Rizzo Foundation’s Project 144 Fundraiser. Admission is free to the public for this special event featuring Chris Felix and Dr. John Lamberti. For more information, please visit http://www.ConvivioSociety.org
By choosing an envelope at Convivio during the holidays, you support the Reid Rizzo Foundation's efforts to help heart patients and their families.
Visit Convivio during the holidays and help heart patients and their families with your donation.
Reid Rizzo had Philippians 4:13 tattooed on his bicep, which his family did not realize till after his passing and found great comfort in the passage.
Reid Rizzo had Philippians 4:13 tattooed on his bicep, which his family did not realize until after his passing. His father Tim found great comfort in the passage.
Those who cannot attend the event are encouraged to visit Convivio anytime during normal operating hours to participate in the Project 144 Fundraiser. In the spirit of giving during the holiday season, guests are encouraged to select an envelope numbered 1-144 and donate the corresponding dollar amount for a most worthy cause. Those living outside Southern California can also give to the Reid Rizzo Foundation by clicking HERE.
If you wish to mail a tax-deductible donation, make your check payable to: Reid Rizzo Foundation, P.O. Box 737, Harrison, Ohio 45030-0737.reid shadow

Dr. Lamberti goes to bat for Reid Rizzo Foundation at Convivio’s Tribute to Italian American Baseball

San Diego Heart Surgeon John Lamberti
Italian American Dr. John Lamberti joins the Reid Rizzo Foundation for
a celebration of life at San Diego’s Convivio Center on January 4, 2014.
Reid Rizzo was a baseball player at La Salle High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was born with a heart condition known as cardiomyopathy. His father Tim Rizzo said, “He really lived life and played sports without fear. He dealt with this heart condition in life and it never slowed him down. He never made excuses. He just went after his goals and lived his life to the fullest.” Two years ago after Reid reported to his collegiate baseball summer league team in Western Kentucky, he passed away in his sleep at the age of 21. His parents agreed to allow former La Salle baseball coach Chris Booth establish the Reid Rizzo Foundation to teach kids the game that their son loved most. Booth said, “He wasn’t the tallest and he wasn’t the biggest guy but I tell you what, people say he had the biggest heart. He played the game the right way.” In addition to helping families in need, the Reid Rizzo Foundation raises money for student scholarships at La Salle and cardiomyopathy research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
"No Fear"--Artists' Tribute to Italian American baseball player Reid Rizzo by Chris Felix
On display at Convivio Center’s Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibition,
“Reid Rizzo: Without Fear” is truly a masterpiece by renowned Cincinnati sports artist Chris Felix.
Defying the odds, former LPGA golfer MacKinzie Kline pursued her dreams with the help of heart surgeon Dr. John Lamberti.
Defying the odds, former LPGA player Mac Kline pursued her dreams because of savior Dr. Lamberti.
Over 2200 miles west of Cincinnati, another believer of Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”) by the name of MacKenzie Kline inspired young women athletes around the world with her miraculous story courtesy of Dr. Lamberti. “She was born with a heart defect that 30 years ago, we didn’t have good treatment for,” said Dr. Lamberti, surgeon at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. Born with heterotaxy syndrome–meaning MacKenzie’s heart has one ventricle instead of two, without a spleen, and a transverse liver, Dr. Lamberti was her best chance of survival. He performed the first of three open heart surgeries on her when she was 11 weeks old with a follow-up at 23 months old and a third procedure as a teenager.
Reid Rizzo Foundation Phillipians 4:13 bracelets
Bracelets from the Reid Rizzo Foundation
It appears that the MacKenzie Kline story is just a tip of the iceberg for all of the families deeply indebted to Dr. Lamberti. On August 4, 2013, Luanna Kent McDowell wrote: “My daughter had an enlarged heart, and her aorta valve was barely working. She went into cardiac arrest and was rushed to San Diego Children’s Hospital on September 12, 1985. Four days later, Dr. Lamberti saved her life by doing a ‘NEW’ surgery called ‘the flap’ creating her a new aorta. He was a bit of a risk taker and saved her life. My daughter has not ever had another surgery because he used a new technique (28 years ago). She is now a teacher and has brought joy to all of the lives she has touched. No words can ever describe the gratitude I feel toward Dr. Lamberti. I thanked him then and thank him everyday as I pray for my daughter.”

rrfoundationHere is yet another true life testimonial on Dr. Lamberti. On May 23, 2013, Andrew Bayron wrote: “Dr. Lamberti saved my son’s life. Dr. Lamberti performed heart surgery that included addressing a hole in the heart and rebuilding it using cadaver donated heart tissue. My son was three months old and is presently running around my office at six years old. A modern miracle worker I can’t give better praise to such a man. Forever in his debt.”

Dr. Lamberti
Dr. Lamberti
Dr. Lamberti leads Rady Children’s Combined Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Program, serving as the Eugene and Joyce Klein Director of the Heart Institute, as well as the Director of the combined Division of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery for Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego, Children’s Specialists of San Diego, and the University of California, San Diego. With over four decades of experience, Dr. Lamberti has often been referred to as ‘A True Life Savior’ as he was on April 16, 2012, when a patient’s father wrote: “Fantastic doctor and a fantastic human being. He has always cared for my daughter over the past 11 years and she has done great ever since. He has performed open heart surgery on her twice, and she has always done fantastic.”

carsaleradyPerhaps the most moving story comes from a patient’s mother who acted on behalf of her husband’s wishes to honor the great Dr. John Lamberti. When Marcy Ohrnstein’s husband Matthew passed away at 57 on April 30, 2013, she wrote: “In lieu of flowers, we ask that you make a donation to Rady Children’s Hospital https://www.helpsdkids.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=208. In the designation section, please choose ‘Heart Institute’ and in
the comments section indicate ‘at the discretion of Dr. Lamberti.’

Steven Ohrnstein
Steven Ohrnstein
Dr. Lamberti is the surgeon who conducted our son Steven’s five heart surgeries. The kids and I agreed this is what Matthew would have wanted.” Patient Steven Ohrnstein, a graduate of San Diego State University, graciously offered his personal experience with Dr. John Lamberti. “It is a honor to even be thought of out of the tens of thousands of lives Dr. Lamberti has impacted. For it not for him–operating on me five out of five surgeries ranging from one day old to 21 years old–I most assuredly would not be here today. I’m a big advocate of Dr. Lamberti, Rady Children’s Hospital and helping other families get through what seems to be impossible.”

ExhibitBannerSm3RGB Two cities–Cincinnati and San Diego–have come together to raise awareness of pediatric heart disease while raising funds for patients and their families to combat the financial hardship of medical care so that recipients can live long and healthy lives while reaching their full potential. The traveling Cincinnati contingency includes Reid Rizzo’s parents, members of the Reid Rizzo Foundation, Dr. Michael Leadbetter, sports artist Chris Felix, and social media pro Lisa Siegal. The San Diego Italian American and Medical Professional Communities will host and honor the contributions of Dr. John Lamberti on this evening of fact, faith and hope at Convivio (2157 N. India Street in Little Italy) with the extraordinary Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit providing an inspirational backdrop on Saturday, January 4, 2014. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://www.ConvivioSociety.org.

CBS News welcomes Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball to San Diego’s Little Italy

CBS News Anchor Carlo Cecchetto and curator Roberto Angotti discuss baseball.
CBS News Anchor Carlo Cecchetto and exhibit curator Roberto Angotti discuss Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball. (Photo: Donato Resta)
There was no better way to celebrate Phil Rizzuto’s birthday than in the company of San Diego’s finest news crew at CBS Channel 8 and renowned sports artist Christopher Paluso. On September 25th, CBS News Anchor Carlo Cecchetto hosted the grand opening evening celebration of the new exhibition Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball after news reporter Shawn Styles enticed viewers to join him for local favorite Tarantino Sausages and Peroni beer during two live remote broadcasts from the Convivio Center in San Diego’s Little Italy earlier in the day.
Christopher Paluso's illustration of Joe DiMaggio is on display at San Diego's Convivio  Center.
Christopher Paluso’s illustration of Joe DiMaggio is on display through February 1st at the Convivio Center.
The capacity crowd was treated to a live performance by 11-year-old Italian American singing sensation, Isabella Shiff, who recently traveled to Italy to represent her country at the Zecchino d’Oro (Golden Sequin) International Festival of Children’s Song broadcast on Italian TV and won the solo vocalist competition in her age category. Internationally-acclaimed sports artist Christopher Paluso, whose legendary art has graced the walls of the Italian American Sports Museum in Chicago and the San Diego Hall of Champions, mesmerized the audience with nostalgic baseball stories centered around his personal interactions with Joe DiMaggio and other Italian American icons. Attendees read text panels detailing the Italian diaspora and assimilation into American society through baseball before viewing artwork from Christopher Paluso, James Fiorentino, Chris Felix, Vincent Scilla, John Giarizzo, Rob Monte, Zack D’Ulisse, Tom Richmond and Jeremy Nash in addition to photos from Tom DiPace, Rob Cuni and Robb Long.

Curator Roberto Angotti and CBS News reporter Shawn Styles share a laugh after a live interview from Convivio Center
CBS News reporter Shawn Styles and curator Roberto Angotti prepare for a live interview from Convivio. (Photo: Donato Resta)
Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball features Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Tony Lazzeri, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Ernie Lombardi,
Ron Santo, Tommy Lasorda, Tony Conigliaro, Joe Garagiola, Craig Biggio, Tony La Russa, John D’Aquisto, John Montefusco, Ken Caminiti, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto, Frank Menechino, Jason Giambi, Joey Votto, Jason Grilli, Anthony Rizzo, Nick Punto, Chris Denorfia, Drew Butera, Dan Serafini, Alex Liddi, Chris Colabello, Brian Sweeney, Mike Costanzo, and Reid Rizzo. Throughout the exhibit’s exclusive engagement at Convivio, monthly birthday celebrations will feature movies and guest speakers to honor the careers of players and coaches of Italian descent including: Lou Colabello (10/10), Chris Colabello and Sal Varriale (10/24), Nick Punto (11/8), Jason Grilli (11/11), Roy Campanella (11/19), Joe DiMaggio (11/25), Mike Scioscia (11/27), Dave Righetti (11/28), Tony Lazzeri (12/6), Mauro Mazzotti (12/12), Craig Biggio (12/14), Marco Mazzieri (12/20), John D’Aquisto (12/24), Tony Conigliaro (1/7), Jason Giambi (1/8), Kurt Bevacqua (1/23) and Dan Serafini (1/25).
Artist Christopher Paluso and CBS News Anchor Carlo Cecchetto
Christopher Paluso stands next to his Joe Garagiola piece along with CBS News Anchor Carlo Cecchetto.
Christopher Paluso is the official artist for the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum and the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago. His work has included many Italian American baseball players (including DiMaggio, Berra, Lasorda and Piazza) and has appeared on magazine covers, limited edition lithographs, collector plates, baseballs and in museums. Visit http://paluso4art.blogspot.com for a glimpse of his legendary artwork.

Convivio is located at 2157 India St., San Diego
Convivio is located at 2157 India St. in San Diego. http://www.ConvivioSociety.org (619) 573-4140
Support from Italian Ambassador to the U.S. Claudio Bisogniero, FIBS, Team Italia coach Mike Piazza and CBS News has given Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball a great start in San Diego. A special thank you goes out to all who have made this monumental exhibition possible and free to the public.

Dodgers’ Punto and Butera honored in San Diego at Convivio’s Italian American Baseball Exhibition

nedcollettiTried and tested as “Azzurri” teammates on Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, utility infielder Nick Punto and backup catcher Drew Butera quite naturally bleed Dodger blue. Butera was reunited with Team Italy leadoff hitter Nick Punto when he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31, 2013. Destined to get the most from one of MLB’s finest pitching staffs, Drew is a valuable asset to the dream team of Dodger General Manager Ned Colletti. Born on August 9, 1983, 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 Toronto Blue Jays in the 2002 MLB Draft but instead opted to play college ball at the University of Central Florida (UCF). Ironically, father Sal now works as a scout for the only Canadian MLB franchise.fathersonbutera

LA's newest addition, catcher Drew Butera
Los Angeles Dodgers’ recent acquisition, star backup catcher Drew Butera will prove to be worth his weight in gold during the postseason run to the World Series.
After throwing out 48% of potential base-stealers and hitting .325 in his last season at UCF, the right-handed catcher was a fifth round pick by the New York Mets in the 2005 MLB Draft.
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 later promoted to Double-A ball 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. Known for being able
Nick Punto, Carl Pavano and Drew Butera in 2010.
Nick Punto, Carl Pavano and Drew Butera in 2010.
to handle pitches with grace rarely seen at the major league level, he became the exclusive catcher for Carl Pavano. Having a producing a calming effect on his pitching staff while calling a great game from behind the plate, Butera kept Francisco Liriano focused on every pitch which garnered the lefty a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, 2011. Known as a pitcher’s catcher, Drew even went as far as taking the mound to throw a scoreless inning (including a strike out) against the Brewers in 2012.
Team Italy catcher Drew Butera and coach Frank Catalanotto
Team Italy catcher Drew Butera and coach Frank Catalanotto at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona.
Drew Butera was a big hit for Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Delivering a two-run home run that helped defeat Mexico and a two-run double that buried Canada. Butera was instrumental in each of Team Italy’s victories to earn the team the right to advance with Team USA to the next round of play in Miami. Dodger teammate Nick Punto was just as important in the WBC. Punto led off in every one of Team Italy’s five games and raked at the plate (.421 batting average, 8-for-19, two doubles, two walks and five runs scored). Both players along with Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Tony Lazzeri, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Ernie Lombardi, Ron Santo, Tommy Lasorda, Tony Conigliaro, Craig Biggio, Tony La Russa, John D’Aquisto, Ken Caminiti, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto, Joey Votto, Jason Grilli, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Denorfia, Dan Serafini, Alex Liddi, Chris Colabello, Brian Sweeney, Mike Costanzo and Reid Rizzo are featured in the Artists’ Tribute to Italian American Baseball Exhibit at Convivio, 2157 India Street in San Diego. Artists’ Tribute to Italian American Baseball showcases original artwork, photographs, uniforms, articles, and other related artifacts related to baseball players of Italian descent and those with strong ties to San Diego. Works by nenowned Italian American artists Christopher Paluso, James Fiorentino, Vincent Scilla, Professor John Giarrizzo, Warren Reed, Zack D’Ulisse, and Rob Monte will be on display alongside sports artists Chris Felix, Vernon Wells, Jr., and Jeremy Nash at the Little Italy Heritage Museum at Convivio Center. For more information on the exhibit and special events–including player and artist appearances, visit www.ConvivioSociety.org or phone 619-573-4140.
Drew Butera has been known to surprise pitchers with his pop at the plate.
LA Dodgers’ catcher Drew Butera has been known to surprise pitchers with his pop at the plate.

Artists’ Tribute to Italian American Baseball Exhibit in San Diego’s Little Italy remembers Reid Rizzo

Lake Erie's Reid Rizzo in 2012
Lake Erie’s Reid Rizzo in 2012
Everybody has heard about Chicago Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo and Washington Nationals President Mike Rizzo, but it’s never too late to learn about the legacy of Italian American Reid Rizzo. If it had not been for renowned sports artist Chris Felix, most baseball lovers would have never have known about the impact that Reid Rizzo had on so many lives. Having been commissioned by the Topps Card Company to do 10 paintings for the 2010 National Chicle Baseball Card set, which included the Cincinnati-based artist’s illustration of New York Yankees legend Phil Rizzuto, the similarities between “Scooter” and Reid Rizzo were evident. Both shortstops overcame their small physical attributes to become extraordinary athletes. When Chris Felix was asked to contribute his classic Rizzuto painting to the Artists’ Tribute to Italian American Baseball Exhibit at Convivio Center in San Diego, he suggested that Rizzo–a player who refused to give
After his sophomore year at Lake Erie College, Reid Rizzo died peacefully in his sleep.
After setting single-season records as a Lake Erie College sophomore, the life and MLB dreams of 21-year-old Reid Rizzo were tragically cut short from his cardiomyopathy.
up on his major league dreams–be included as well.
Southern California baseball fans attending the grand opening and Phil Rizzuto birthday celebration on September 25th at Convivio will be pleasantly surprised that the Chris Felix collection includes Phil Rizzuto, Joey Votto and Reid Rizzo. Felix knew Rizzo was something special early on since he been Reid’s baseball coach for nearly for a decade. As a three-month-old infant, Rizzo’s parents received catastrophic news that their newborn son had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a life-threatening heart condition. Despite doctors telling the Rizzo family that he would never be able to run, ride a bike, or play sports, Reid defied the odds by playing baseball, football, basketball and hockey. As a freshman at La Salle High School in Cincinnati, he became one of the youngest players in history to earn a starting position on the varsity baseball team.
Artisit Chris Felix (left) at a Reid Rizzo Foundation fundraiser.
Chris Felix (left) signed and donated his original prints to benefit the Reid Rizzo Foundation.
Chris Felix's painting of Reid Rizzo
Chris Felix’s acrylic painting of Reid Rizzo
College scouts recruited one of La Salle’s all-time athletic heroes, and Rizzo received a baseball scholarship to Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio. Just one month after completing a stellar sophomore campaign as the Storm’s starting shortstop and beginning Summer League play with the Madisonville Tradewater Pirates, Reid peacefully passed away in his sleep. Rizzo was an organ donor so his heart was donated to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Heart Institute for medical research. Reid accomplished all of his success without anyone outside of his family knowing that he was living with cardiomyopathy. Lake Erie College coach Brian McGee eulogized: “Reid lived life and played the game the right way. No matter what pitches life threw at Reid, he took his hacks, no matter how much pressure he faced in a day, he always came through in the clutch, no matter how dominating the situation was, he never feared
Reid Rizzo wore #4 while at La Salle.
Reid Rizzo wore #4 while at La Salle.
failure, never backed down from the opposition, and persevered through any challenge in life. He lived with tenacity, passion, confidence, toughness, and compassion. That is remarkable about his life. He carried all emotions with him and wore them on his sleeve. He didn’t care what others thought. He did what he felt in his heart was right. He did things for himself and his loved ones. He never tried to live his life for the acceptance of others. He lived his life so he could accept himself. He lived with such a passion for life, never letting the day go by without taking advantage of its opportunities.” Artist and family friend Chris Felix said, “He was more concerned about his family’s well-being than his own. He never let his family nor anyone else feel sorry for what he had to endure during his 21 years of life. Reid’s dream was to play Major League Baseball and coach one day. He is remembered for his
La Salle All-Star Reid Rizzo
La Salle All-Star shortstop Reid Rizzo
uncanny ability to make everyone feel special. Reid’s spirit lives on in each of those who knew him and in those who believe that all things are possible through Christ. Reid’s tattoos inspire many to live their lives to the fullest. His belief in family and his desire to be a positive role model for his younger sister and others exemplify who Reid was as a human being. Those who knew him believe his story to be inspirational.” Shortly after Reid’s passing, a few of his former coaches at La Salle High School decided to form a committee and hold a baseball tournament in Reid’s honor.
The idea blossomed into the creation of the Reid Rizzo Foundation. Since then, there have been
many successful fundraising events including an annual Reid Rizzo Day at the Reds’ Great American Ballpark. The Reid Rizzo Foundation was established to remember and honor the character, courage, strength, and vigor of Reid Rizzo. rrfoundation
The nonprofit’s goals include: provide financial assistance to those seeking to enhance their primary or secondary educational experience; enhance education, awareness and research relative to medical conditions that affect the cardiovascular system; and support athletic organizations wishing to enhance the support structure provided for the athletes they service. By clicking HERE, you can make a tax-deductible donation to the Reid Rizzo Foundation.

Chris Felix will be featured in the Artists' Tribute to Italian American Baseball Exhibit in San Diego's Little Italy beginning September 25th.
Chris Felix will be featured in the Artists’ Tribute to Italian American Baseball at Convivio Center in San Diego beginning September 25th.
Artists’ Tribute to Italian American Baseball showcases original artwork, photographs, articles, uniforms, and other autographed one-of-a-kind artifacts. The exhibit officially opens to the public on Phil Rizzuto’s birthday, Wednesday, September 25th with a special 7 pm screening on Convivio’s big screen of Yankeeography, Volume Two featuring Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto. In addition to birthday cake being served to all attendees, baseball fans will have their first opportunity to see Chris Felix’s masterfully-crafted depiction of Phil Rizzuto as well as that of MLB All-Star Joey Votto and never-to-be-forgotten Reid Rizzo. Other notable artists participating in the exhibition include James Fiorentino, Vincent Scilla, John Giarrizzo, Vernon Wells Jr., Tom Richmond, Jeremy Nash, Rob Monte, and Zack D’Ulisse. The Convivio Center is located at 2157 India Street in San Diego. Call (619) 573-4140 for more information or click HERE for an updated calendar.LittleItalySD