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.

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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Fastball John D’Acquisto returns to Italian American roots for San Diego book signing

fastball-john“Fastball John” by John D’Acquisto and Dave Jordan rivals Mike Piazza’s “Long Shot” as one of baseball’s best books of the decade. “Fastball John” features a prolific foreword by baseball historian Dan Epstein as well as references to a soundtrack of pop culture including: the Everly Brothers, the Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Carpenters, the Temptations, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Donna Summer, Nicolette Larson, Blondie, Dave Mason, Don Henley, the Pretenders and New Order. “Fastball John” D’Acquisto will be signing his new book on September 24th and 25th from 1 to 4 PM at The Pennant, 2893 Mission Blvd. in San Diego’s South Mission Beach. It will be a family reunion of sorts since John Francis D’Acquisto was born in San Diego on December 24, 1951. He would later become a hometown hero while attending St. Augustine High School, where he excelled in both football and baseball.

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Italian American pitcher John D’Acquisto made a personal appearance and speech at the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit in San Diego.
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Celebrating its 70th anniversary on the waterfront, Anthony’s is San Diego’s original Seafood Restaurant.
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As an active member of the MLBPA, John D’Acquisto works in the broadcast booth for various MLB games.

In the 1920’s, most Italian immigrants who settled near downtown San Diego were fishermen from Genoa and Sicily. Many other Italian fishermen and their families moved to San Diego from San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake. Like Joe DiMaggio’s father– who was a fisherman in the Bay Area–John D’Acquisto’s father, Fred D’Acquisto Sr., also depended on the fishing industry to put food on the table. As serendipitous as it may sound, the two sons of Italian immigrant families would meet in 1975 when John was honored by Joe DiMaggio and the Italian-American Society as its “Italian-American of the Year”. John’s father, Fred D’Acquisto Sr., was a local San Diego celebrity for 51 years as he worked for the legendary Anthony’s Fish Grotto Restaurant in the vibrant downtown Little Italy community. Starting out as a young teenager, John’s father worked himself up to dining room manager and would split his time between the original restaurant and their sister location, the Star of the Seas.

A first-round pick in the 1970 amateur draft, John D’Acquisto was selected by the San Francisco Giants. Blessed with a death-defying fastball, “Johnny D” made his MLB debut for the Giants late in the 1973 season. He was named National League Rookie of the Year and National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News in 1974. During the span of his ten season career, John D’Acquisto pitched for the Giants, Cardinals, Padres, Expos, Angels and Athletics from 1973-1982. Read John’s blog and order Fastball John” today by clicking HERE.

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Fastball John D’Acquisto pitched for the San Diego Padres from 1977 to 1980.

 

Why Mike Piazza is Italian American of the Decade

Mike Piazza prior to the start of the 2006 World Baseball Classic in Lakeland, Florida.
After playing for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC,
Mike Piazza became the country’s hitting coach.
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.
Italian MLB Academy Director Bill Holmberg (far right) smiles as Kansas City Royals prospect Marten Gasparini signs his professional baseball contract.
Kansas City Royals prospect Marten Gasparini signs his $1.3 professional baseball contract
while Italian MLB Academy Director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg (far right) looks on.
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MIke Piazza was inducted into the Mets' Hall of Fame on September 29, 2013.
Mike Piazza was inducted into the Mets’ Hall of Fame on September 29, 2013.
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.

18-year-old Chicago Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo during Team Italia's recent visit to Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. (Photo by  )
19-year-old catching prospect Alberto Mineo, who signed for $500,000 with the Chicago Cubs, was under the guidance and direction of mentor Mike Piazza during Team Italia’s 2014 Spring Training Exhibition Series at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. (Photo by Claudio Vecchi)

Tommy Lasorda and Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza (Photo by Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers)
Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza and legend Tommy Lasorda (Photo by Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers)
“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.

Italian Americans Sal Varriale and Mike Piazza at the 29th Annual Italian Coaches Convention in January 2014.
Italian Americans Sal Varriale and Mike Piazza at the 29th Annual Italian Coaches Convention
Mike Piazza’s “Science of Hitting” was a highlight at
the 29th Annual Coaches Convention in Veneto, Italy.
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.” fibs_logo 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.”
Team Italia pitcher Alessandro Maestri had much success playing in Japan.
After reaching Double-A ball in the Chicago Cubs organization, Team Italia pitcher Alessandro Maestri ventured abroad and had great success in Australia and Japan.
Alex Liddi carrying the Italian flag while ascending up the MLB ranks in 2008
Alex Liddi has carried the Italian flag from the minute he signed with the Mariners in 2005 until now playing for the White Sox.
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.
Former Team Italia catcher Francisco Cervelli and manager Marco Mazzieri at Dodgertown in 2014,
Former Team Italia catcher Francisco Cervelli visits with manager Marco Mazzieri at Dodgertown during 2014 Spring Training (Photo by Claudio Vechi)

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.”

Bill Holmberg, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto and Jason Grilli
Team Italia coaches Bill Holmberg, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto with closer Jason Grilli
niashofExhibitBannerSm3RGB 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.”

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.

Artists Vincent Scilla and Christopher Paluso make rare appearance at Convivio in San Diego on 1/12

San Diegans are in for a Merry Christmas with Vincent Scilla and Christopher Paluso coming to town.
San Diegans were given a Christmas present with artists Vincent Scilla and Christopher Paluso in town.
The holidays may be over but San Diego is still celebrating since two of the most influential artists behind the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibition are speaking this weekend in America’s finest city. Traveling all the way from New York’s Greenwich Village is internationally-renowned sports artist Vincent Scilla. San Diego Hall of Champions resident artist and local favorite educator Christopher Paluso will host the visiting East Coast cultural icon on Sunday, January 12th at the Convivio Center in Little Italy.
Vincent Scilla's critically-acclaimed book "BASEBALL" was published by MQ Publications of London.
Vincent Scilla’s critically-acclaimed book “BASEBALL” was published by London’s MQ Publications.
Vincent Scilla will be speaking on the Italian American Experience on Sunday, January 12 in San Diego.
Artist Vincent Scilla speaks on the Italian American Experience on Sunday, January 12, 2014 at Convivio, 2157 India Street in San Diego’s charming Little Italy. He will be joined by San Diego Hall of Champions resident artist Christopher Paluso. Admission is free.
As a multi-talented painter, filmmaker, and photographer, Vincent Scilla has come a long way since graduating from college at the University of Michigan. During his illustrious four decade career, he has garnered countless accolades, grants, and honors for his fine craft. Beginning as a photographer, Scilla’s works were first showcased at the Detroit Institute of Art in 1969 as part of the prestigious Michigan Artists show. His images have graced the pages of the New York Times and the Village Voice. The experimental filmmaker and director of “Thunder in the Afternoon” and “Flyin’ No-Low Altitude” received numerous awards and noteworthy praise at popular film venues including the Collective Living for Cinema and the Ann Arbor Film Festival.
Vincent Scilla's "Pizza Lombardi" pays tribute to Italian American legend Ernie Lomabardi.
Vincent Scilla’s “Pizza Lombardi” pays tribute to Baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi and America’s first full-fledged pizzeria–Lombardi’s–which was established in New York in 1905.
Vincent Scila's "Pope" is featured in the Artists' Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit.
Vincent Scilla’s “Pope Sun-Ripened Tomatoes” was painted in 1990. Industrial and agrarian meet as the country boy leaves the farm and comes to town.
Despite being a prolific artist in multimedia formats, Scilla’s artwork–particularly his baseball paintings–has received the most amount of notoriety. Measuring at 8.4″ x 10″ and printed using archival inkjet print on somerset velvet paper, Vincent’s baseball paintings highlight his subjects by utilizing popular advertisements to serve as the backdrop with a true vintage feeling. Ads from popular brands such as Krispy Kreme, Mercury Paint, Cracker Jack, Mobil Oil, White’s Dairy Bar and Ragu are included and used for various backdrops in some of the most unique baseball art anywhere.
Vincent Scilla's "Rocco Loved Ragu" was painted in 1989. All eyes are on the player in this Italian opera as the catcher circles under a pop-fly at center stage.
Vincent Scilla’s “Rocco Loved Ragu” was painted in 1989. All eyes are on the player in this Italian opera as the catcher circles under a pop-fly at center stage.
Although Vincent Scilla often fuses commercial advertising and baseball in his artwork, he has some strong feelings on the branding of our national pastime. In his personal blog, Scilla wrote: “Contrary to what MLB thinks, baseball does not belong to them. It’s not their property. It is the property of generations of Americans dating back nearly 200 years. It’s our mythology and legends. I don’t need Mastercard telling me that.” Having his work displayed in the pages of various books– including “Diamonds Are Forever”, “Treasury of Baseball”, “Baseball Postcard Box”, and “Top of the Ninth”–as well as at some of the best galleries and ballparks in America, the great Italian American artist Vincent Scilla is undoubtedly in a league of his own. See for yourself at Convivio.
Christopher Paluso created the official banner for the Artists' Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball
Christopher Paluso designed the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball banner.
Christopher Paluso is a proud Italian American artist.
Christopher Paluso is a proud Italian American.
Christopher Paluso is a native San Diegan, an internationally recognized sports artist, illustrator and educator. Entrusted to create the images of their honored members, he is the Official Artist of the San Diego Hall of Champions’ Brietbard Hall of Fame, the San Diego Holiday Bowl Hall of Fame, the Hawthorne Race Course Jockey Hall of Fame, the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame, and the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. Known for his ability to capture a strong real life likeness of his prized subjects, he has gained a massive amount of respect within the world of sports as well as kudos from insiders within the aerospace and entertainment industries.
Legends Magazine cover featuring Joe DiMaggio and Don Mattingingly by Christopher Paluso
Legends Magazine cover featuring Joe DiMaggio and Don Mattingingly by Christopher Paluso
Paluso’s artworks of Muhammed Ali, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Jordan are among his most sought-after pieces. His art has been seen on everything from magazine covers to limited edition collector plates and lithographs. In addition to being one of top Italian American artists of our time, Paluso shares his craft with San Diego youth and adults working as an instructor teaching art at area public schools and the Convivio Center. Paluso’s love for his Italian heritage is apparent in his illustrations in the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball exhibition.
Christopher Paluso and CBS News Anchor Carlo Cecchetto at the Grand Opening of Artists' Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball
Christopher Paluso poses with CBS News Anchor Carlo Cecchetto at the Grand Opening of the
Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball at the Convivio Center on September 25, 2013.
Perhaps one of Christopher Paluso’s most memorable moments took place when he was privately commissioned to create a painting of Joe DiMaggio for a lithograph project in 1992. Paluso consulted with DiMaggio to get his vision depicting him as the complete ballplayer that he had been known and loved for. Just before the great Joe D passed away, he saw the image on the cover of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame magazine “Red, White & Green”. According to those close to DiMaggio, it was reported that he was very pleased with the design.
Christopher Paluso designed this cover of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame magazine “Red, White & Green”
Christopher Paluso designed this cover for the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.
Convivio serves as the home for lovers of all things Italian in San Diego.
The Convivio Center serves as the home for lovers of all things Italian in San Diego.
Paluso is offering an eight-week “Drawing Italian Style” class at the Convivio Center beginning Monday, January 6th at 7 pm. Borrowing from Italian Renaissance masters da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, students will learn about art history while discovering their individual creativity and unleashing the Italian in all of us. In addition to drawing shapes, using the value scale, proportions, and experimenting with one- and two-point perspective drawing, the very popular artist and illustrator will provide step-by-step instruction in the foundations of drawing, elements and principles of design as well as in the creation of classic-style drawings. For more information on the drawing class and the Vincent Scilla/Christopher Paluso meet-and-greet on Sunday, January 12th at 6:30 pm, visit http://www.ConvivioSociety.org or phone 619-573-4140.ConvivioEventsRGB-1

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.