One should never underestimate the power of prayer. Saint Anthony has miraculously helped believers find lost things and people when all else has failed. So when the Texas Rangers selected 6-foot-7 right-hander Anthony Ranaudo out of New Jersey’s Saint Rose High School in the 11th round of the 2007 draft and failed to sign the promising Italian American pitcher, they looked to Saint Anthony to bring him to Arlington. After eight years of intensive prayer, the Rangers acquired Ranaudo in January from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for lefty pitcher Robbie Ross. The miracle worker Saint Anthony was once again called upon over two years ago when prayers went out for divine intervention for Team Italy prior to the start of the 2013 World Baseball Classic. When hitting coach Mike Piazza had successfully recruited Cubs’ slugger Anthony Rizzo to join la squadra azzurri, it was time to pray to the great Saint Anthony to find the “missing” Anthonys to complete the Italian roster.
A simple tweet exchange two years ago could very well be a blessing to Team Italy from Saint Anthony should Major League Baseball allow franchise players to participate in the 2015 Premier 12 Tournament in Japan and Taiwan. With Ranaudo’s positive response echoing his desire to pitch for underdog Italy, Italian MLB Academy director and Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg can possibly bolster his pitching arsenal alongside Braves’ All-Star reliever Jason Grilli, Blue Jays prospect Tiago Da Silva, Diamondbacks prospect Tim Crabbe and former Cubs’ minor leaguer Alessandro Maestri. Coach Holmberg deserves credit for Team Italy’s upset victories over Mexico and Canada in the 2013 WBC. By keeping some of MLB’s finest hitters guessing what was coming their way next when calling for a slew of off-speed pitches from the dugout, many big names including Adam Jones (.167), Carlos Beltran (.143), Alex Rios (.125), Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Votto (.000) never felt comfortable at the plate.
Patience has always been a virtue for Ranaudo. Instead of signing with the Rangers out of high school in 2007, he played baseball at Louisiana State University, where he was third in NCAA strikeouts and led the LSU Tigers to become 2009 National Champs. Four years after being chosen by Boston as a supplemental first-round pick in the 2010 draft, he made his MLB debut with the Red Sox last year and won four games with a 4.81 ERA in seven starts. Ranaudo started the 2014 season at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he compiled a 14-4 record and was voted the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher. Anthony is currently competing at Rangers Spring Training Camp in Arizona for an Opening Day roster spot as their number five starter.
But excited about my new team, fans, and opportunity. Let's get it!! @Rangers
After qualifying for the second round of the 2014 European Baseball Championship and placing sixth overall in the 12-nation competition, which was won by the Netherlands after the Dutch defeated two-time defending Euro champion Team Italy 6-3 in the final on September 21st at Draci Ballpark in Brno, Czech Republic, Team France manager Eric Gagne took time out to share his thoughts.
On the Dodgers chances in the playoffs: “They can win it all with their starting pitchers they got. I mean they have got a lot of guys, especially with Kershaw. He goes out there, it’s pretty much lights out every time. You know in the playoffs you need two starters…they have six! They are going to be good. Their bullpen was a little shaky for a while, but they pitched a lot of innings. I think they’ve made some good moves. I think the Dodgers are the favorite team for me. Of course, they are my favorite. I played so many years in the Dodgers minor leagues, and I was only in Boston for four months. I was good in LA and never got a ring. But I was terrible in Boston, and I got a ring. So I can’t complain. I was lucky.”
On Derek Jeter’s retirement: Number 2!!! That’s pretty simple. He’s done everything in the game you can think of. A lot of people were wondering five years ago if he was done. Just to have him around in the clubhouse and having his attitude is amazing. He’s done so much for the game. Everybody knows it. If you go to France, people know Jeter. There’s over 10,000 people playing so it’s really, really good. He’s the Jordan and the Gretzsky of the sport. It’s cool to see a guy like him. It’s not like he just hits home runs. He’s just a winner, and he’s won everywhere he went. It’s good to see him retire on top. It’s awesome to see him go out with the Yankees.”
On growing the game in Europe along with Team Italy coach Mike Piazza: “It’s in our blood. We certainly aren’t doing it for the money…that’s for sure. It’s just fun. It’s fun to watch guys get better, listen and learn. For us that’s what I guarantee Mike loves about it. The kids learn…you can tell and see improvement every day, every single at-bat. It’s very rewarding and for us baseball is our life. For me it is, and I’m sure it is for him too. He’s a catcher. They are aware. They love to control the game and stuff like this. And I love baseball.”
While pitching for Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, lefty Dan Serafini began his 22nd season playing as a pro in America, Canada, Japan, and Mexico. With 104 MLB appearances for the Twins, Cubs, Pirates, Padres, Reds, and Rockies under his belt, the bullpen has always been a second home for the Twins’ first-round draft pick of 1992. So when when it came time for the San Francisco-born Serafini to choose an appropriate name for his new sports bar located close to the family home at 5215 Vista Blvd. in Sparks, Nevada, it was simply a case of serendipity that he call it The Bullpen at Aspen Glen.
Dan Serafini has been one of the Bay Area’s hometown heroes since the early nineties. In his senior year at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, the southpaw pitcher was on every MLB scout’s radar after going nearly perfect (11 wins and 1 loss) and setting a single-season school record of 149 strikeouts. In his two seasons playing varsity for the Padres, he went 20-2 with a 1.70 ERA and 271 strikeouts. Perhaps the most appropriate way to leave a legacy that overshadows the numerous accolades that other notable Serra alumni have achieved during their high school campaign, Serafini was named to every All-Star team conceivable including: AII- WCAL, AII- County, All Peninsula, and All Northern California.
He was the 1992 WCAL, County and Peninsula Co-Player of the Year in addition to being named the San Mateo Times County Athlete of the Year.
Roberto: San Mateo’s Junipero Serra High School has been known to produce their share of athletes including Barry Bonds and many sports legends. While covering the Australian Baseball League, I learned that Brisbane Bandits’ Chuck Lofgren pitched at Serra High School. Having also played there, how does it feel being surrounded by a strong Bay Area professional athlete fraternity at Serra? Dan Serafini: Serra High School is a great baseball facility and just a great school to go to. We had a lot of great players: Jim Fregosi, Dan Frisella…even some football players: Lynn Swann, Tom Brady. We have quite an athletic history. Some really good baseball players like Gregg Jeffries have come out of my school.
Roberto: Team Italy slugger Chris Colabello followed the same minor league path to MLB playing for Double-A New Britain RockCats. While you played there, you were named to the 1995 Eastern League All-Star team after going 12-9 with a 3.37 ERA. Dan Serafini: That was a long time ago. I can barely even remember that. At New Britain, Chris got to play in the new stadium. I played in the old Beehive Stadium, which was more like a high school stadium with a trailer park locker room. I had a good year that year, and it got me a call up to Triple-A before the season was over.Roberto: You made your MLB debut on June 25, 1996 in Minnesota against the New York Yankees. Dan Serafini: It was not an easy team to pitch against for my first time playing in the big leagues, but it was a great memory. It was kind of funny.
The Twins wouldn’t let me into the locker room before the game. They didn’t want any animosity in the locker room because they hadn’t sent anyone down (to Triple-A) yet. I had to stay in a hotel and then on game day I got to show up right before the game started so that I could get ready to play. It wasn’t the greatest experience, but it was still a good experience. I got to the big leagues! Roberto: At least it was a home game when you had to face the intimidating New York Yankees. Dan Serafini: Although it was a home game in Minnesota, it was still intimidating. It was the New York Yankees—no matter where you are playing them, they are intimidating. Crowd factor definitely helped. I had the crowd on my side. I loved Minnesota. It was very supportive. I had a great time.
Roberto: You also had some more playing time with the Twins in 1997 and 1998. Was it rewarding for you? Dan Serafini: It was. I got a very brief opportunity with the Twins. You know, going back from starting to the bullpen and starting and bullpen. I was never really able to fill my niche with the Twins. It was fun. It was rewarding. I’m a Major League Baseball player. There is nothing more rewarding than that. Roberto: The Chicago Cubs bought your contract from the Twins on March 31, 1999. You made four starts for the Cubbies and put together a 3-2 record in 42 appearances with a 6.93 ERA. Dan Serafini: The ERA was kind of high, but in my defense I actually pitched really well until the all-star break. I think I only had a 3 or 3.50 ERA up until the all-star break. Then my big league pitching coach, Marty DeMerritt, wanted me to become a left-handed specialist and drop down sidearm and start pitching sidearm only. So I did that, and it completely screwed up the whole rest of my season. I was walking everybody, giving up all kinds of hits and just all kind of happened. I can’t blame him. He was just trying to help me out, but to change your pitching mechanics in the middle of the season… It’s really hard to make an adjustment to big league hitters. It hurt me pretty good.
Roberto: In the 1999 offseason you were traded to the San Diego Padres and pitched in three games in 2000. How did it feel to come back to your native California to play pro ball? Dan Serafini: I was there for a long time. I didn’t get many opportunities.
I was mostly like a chess pawn. I just kind of sat in the dugout. I’d go a week straight without pitching in a game.
I didn’t get as many opportunities as
I would have liked to become a better player than I am today. San Diego is beautiful, and I’m from California–even though it’s Northern California where I’m from. Southern California is a beautiful place. I guess I had more fun there off the field than on the field.
Roberto: After being traded to Pittsburgh and playing for the Nashville Sound, you had a 4-3 record with a 2.60 ERA before the call up to the Pirates on August 5, 2000 to make 11 starts. Dan Serafini: After getting traded from San Diego, I had a really good month or so in Nashville before getting called up.
I made my first start against the San Francisco Giants and won. That could have been probably my favorite time in the big leagues–to be going back home to my hometown and beating San Francisco in San Francisco. I had a pretty good season with Pittsburgh. They were struggling and in last place. I threw well for Pittsburgh. I just didn’t fit in their books. Roberto: Signing with San Francisco must have been a dream come true? Dan Serafini: I didn’t get to stay with San Francisco too long. They signed me as a big league player, but they didn’t have a roster spot. I went to Triple-A for a little bit. I was making a substantial amount of money for a Triple-A player so when they couldn’t find a spot for me I got released about a month after
I signed. So I really didn’t get much of an opportunity with San Francisco. Roberto: You quickly signed with the Mets and played for the 2001 Triple-A Norfolk Tides, where you posted 5-2 record with a 3.31 ERA in 31 games. Dan Serafini: I didn’t waste anytime—maybe two days later signed with the Mets. Went to Triple-A and played there a little bit. I pitched pretty well, but got into an altercation with the GM. I ended up getting released and walking on over to the other clubhouse and signed up with Milwaukee that same day. Roberto: You finished off the 2001 season pitching for the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis Indians and posted a 2-2 record with a 5.96 ERA. However,
you chose to move on from Milwaukee
and were granted free agency in October, 2001. This opened the door for other opportunities, and you ended up signing a minor league deal with the Anaheim Angels. Was that another short-term engagement by design or a matter of being released? Please clear up all the misconceptions and incorrect information the media has picked up on to make you have to stand up for yourself and clarify. Dan Serafini: Well you know the thing is…the media–they always say you were released, you were released, you were released. But for a lot of those teams I’ve actually picked the option for my release.
I didn’t get released. They would option me down to Triple-A, and I felt that I didn’t deserve to go to Triple-A. So for a lot of those assignments I chose not to go. Roberto: After opting out of your contract with the Angels, you tried to make a comeback in late 2002 when you signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. You began at Triple-A Memphis, but then on April 21, 2003 you were released. Dan Serafini: I knew what was going to happen because during the offseason I signed for such a high contract to go to Triple-A. I knew they were using me to fill a spot. So I knew as soon as no one came down from the big leagues or something that I was going to get released.
Roberto: So you expected it? Dan Serafini: I had signed for a substantial amount of money to go and play in Triple-A. Within the first month when Kevin Ohme was sent down from St. Louis, they got rid of me the next day. I pitched okay there, but it was really hard because I have always been a starter my whole career and I kept bouncing back and forth. I was going from bullpen to starting to bullpen and starting and never got into a rhythm. So for all these teams I played for, I had really a tough time coming out of the bullpen and learning my routine and learning to play. Unfortunately, I didn’t really prove myself that well as well. Roberto: It sounds like the experiment on the big league level of being a sidearm specialist coming out of the bullpen went terribly wrong. It was not exactly the best training ground for trying something new. Dan Serafini: No. The only chance I had to experiment was on the big stage, which is really difficult if you are not physically or mentally prepared for those things. I wasn’t…I was only 21 or 22 at the time. It was a difficult road for me–that’s for sure! Roberto: Did being disillusioned with American pro ball inspire you to head south to Mexico? Dan Serafini: Yes, I played my first year in 2002. It was winter ball for Mazatlan. I had a great manager and a really fun time there. And they said if I ever had a problem in summer that I was more than welcome to play in Mexico. So after that St. Louis series, I went in 2003 to go play summer ball in Mexico. Roberto: The Cincinnati Reds noticed and purchased your contract on August 25, 2003. Dan Serafini: I ended up winning the ERA title. I set the record for the most wins in a row that season. I was a starter. I got back in the my swing of things. I got my mechanics back and pitched really well. I got called up and went straight to the big leagues in Cincinnati.
Roberto: On August 26, 2003, you started against the Milwaukee Brewers. Dan Serafini: I believe I also started in a game versus St. Louis. Then I went back to the bullpen after I told the GM
I wouldn’t go to the bullpen and that I would only start. Because I had already 130 innings pitched in Mexico, I was tired and said I didn’t want to get up and down every day out of the bullpen. After I said I only wanted to start, the GM said that was exactly what I was summoned there to do–to start for Danny Graves because he got hurt. So I went there, got two starts and they stuck me in the bullpen. It was a disappointment. I know it’s a business, and I just need to man up and do it. It was just hard. I talked to Bobby Valentine in 2004, and he asked me to go down to Vegas and throw a bullpen for somebody to try out for the team he managed in Japan. I went out there and tried out for the Chiba Lotte Marines. I was hurt at the time. I had a broken collar bone because
I crashed on a motorcycle messing around with my friends. Despite being injured, I still got a good enough report from the try out to go to Japan.
Julio Zuleta charged Dan Serafini on the mound after a ball nearly hit him in Japan in 2004 .
Roberto:: After being granted free agency and playing for Bobby Valentine’s Chiba Lotte Marines in 2004 and 2005 as well as the Orix Buffaloes in 2006 and 2007, were you treated with a little bit more respect in Japan? Dan Serafini: It was really rewarding because I actually got treated like a player that I was. Japan did nothing but give me the highest respect. Bobby Valentine did nothing but give me the highest respect. He kept me on a routine for the full season, and I had a really good career in Japan. I still talk to Bobby off and on the internet. I was happy to see him as an Ambassador for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Bobby Valentine throws out the first pitch of the 2013 WBC game between China and Japan.
Roberto: Did you follow all the drama that surrounded Bobby Valentine last year when he managed the Boston Red Sox? Dan Serafini: I did. In fact, before the season began I called him and asked him for a job to see if I could get a Triple-A job or a coaching/ player job. His hands were tied. He said that he couldn’t make any moves. But I followed him and saw all the disappointing articles about him and stuff from players that couldn’t handle his attitude. I thought it was ridiculous. He’s the smartest guy in baseball–hands down. He may want a little more attention than he deserves, but that’s his character.
If people don’t like it, they try to crucify him. He’s a very good man!
Roberto: It’s too bad he was the scapegoat for the Red Sox. Dan Serafini: It really was. I know he’s done some things in his past that has rubbed people the wrong way–and we all have. It’s just the way different personalities go–especially when you have a bunch of superstars in the one locker room. It’s almost like you have to walk on eggshells around these people because they’re more sensitive than most people that are not superstars. Roberto: When a player digs into the batter’s box and gives you a long grimacing stare, is your best response and message to the hitter simply the delivery of your next pitch? Dan Serafini: Yes, definitely–without a doubt. There’s got to be respect both ways. For me, I’ve always been tired of being called a cheater or having a dismal career by what some reporters have said. I feel like I have fought the longest just like Bobby Valentine did to get my career to where it is right now. Roberto: You signed a deal with the Colorado Rockies in 2007 and pitched on September 7th against the San Francisco Giants. Dan Serafini: It was a great feeling. I was excited. It was tough because I had just come back from Japan. I broke my hand in Japan, and they decided to release me at the last quarter of the season just because they were not going to use me anymore and had no chance of the playoffs. So they sent me home, and
I signed with Colorado. I got called up to the big leagues a couple weeks later and after four years of not having seen a major league game got to pitch to my first batter–Barry Bonds!
Roberto: What were the odds of you facing one of baseball’s most feared hitters in your MLB comeback attempt? Dan Serafini: It was pretty interesting. I had some butterflies. Roberto: How did you sustain your hand injury overseas? Dan Serafini: That happened at a game in Japan. I was pitching and lost my footing in the bullpen. It was on my glove hand.
I kind of slipped and fell over. I used my hand to stabilize myself from falling over, and I broke my ring finger, pinky and a couple bones in the middle of my hand. Roberto: In Japan you also sustained an achilles injury which required medication to help with the healing process and eventually led to a positive test for MLB banned substances when you signed with the Rockies in 2007. Dan Serafini: I actually got a serious injury and had surgery on my achilles. When I came back from Chiba Lotte, I tore my achilles tendon in the year we won the championship. I signed a two-year contract with the Orix Buffaloes for a substantial amount. My leg with in a cast for four months so they were shooting it up all year long trying to get it balanced back.
After my first year at Orix, I wasn’t throwing very well because my body was so out of balance that it started hurting my shoulder and back. So they told me to just take the rest of the year off and come back for 2007. I was still having problems with my leg and the way my muscles were firing in 2007. So again a doctor was giving me a medication that I didn’t think much of because I passed all of my drug tests and Olympic testing in Japan. So I didn’t even think twice about it. And that’s what it was when I got tested on the last day of the season with Colorado. It was still in my system, and I got busted for it. Roberto: It looks like MLB used you as a scapegoat to fill their 2007 quota and deter players from using banned substances. Dan Serafini: Yes, I think so. I mean because I tried to fight it.
I had to do a lot of things for my defense. I had to get the doctor from Japan to come and fly to New York to testify for me in court. He wanted $500,000 to do it because it would give Japan a bad name since I never failed a test in Japan. So I said, ‘Screw it, I’ll take the 50-game suspension and wear it for now.’ I didn’t think that it would be that bad, but Colorado didn’t sign me back. The GM at the time, Dan O’Dowd, didn’t give me my National League Championship ring. They gave me my playoff share because I was there for a short time, but they didn’t give me a ring because they were disgraced by the fact that I was a cheater and stuff like that. It was just bad. An unnamed journalist tried to say that I was trying to respark my dismal career. My response was like: ‘What’s so dismal about making over 10 million dollars?’ I don’t think that’s too dismal… Roberto: If a man can’t look at me in the eye and share his theory to my face without the facts in hand—and instead choose to hide behind a computer desk in favor of meeting publishing deadlines, then it’s not news worthy in my book. Dan Serafini: Exactly. You know it’s like so many people just wrote stories about me that never even asked me the details or took the details out. Even Tom Verducci and things he wrote in my
article. I said so many things to balance and justify the difference between cheating and other kinds of uses of certain PEDs or whatever. And they don’t want to listen to that, but everybody wants to be negative and listen in to CNN nowadays. Roberto: Not a lot of players want to comment in fear of being blackballed. But you are not afraid to speak your mind and represent Team Italia in the World Baseball Classic. It’s your time to shine and be heard. Dan Serafini: Yes, it is. If people want to call me a jerk, whatever but you know what… I’ve been around this game for 22 years now. And I know that 90% of the people I have played with have said: ‘If I had a chance to use it and make myself better, then I would have too…’ You know, that’s what we’re here for. Roberto: I don’t blame you for having headed south to pitch for the Monterrey Sultanes after all that nonsense. Dan Serafini: They were a great organization. I played with them for a while and just kept bouncing back and forth. I pitched
well in Monterrey, got to the playoffs a few times and then I got traded. Roberto: You spent 2008 and 2009 in Mexico before heading to the East Coast to play for the Bridgeport Bluefish in the Atlantic Independent League. Dan Serafini: Yes, I did that just for a little bit so that I could get a job back in the states. I wanted more people to see me pitch, but nothing came of it. Roberto: Yet Mexico loved you and you represented the country in several Caribbean Series.
Dan Serafini: Yes, I believe I played three Caribbean Series for Mexico–all during winter ball because the Sultanes play during the summer. In the winter I played for Yaquis de Obregón in
the 2008 Caribbean Series and then again in 2010 and 2011
I played for Mexico in the Caribbean Series.
Roberto: What’s the difference between baseball played
abroad and in the U.S.? Dan Serafini: For one, the United States has the best players in the world in the major leagues. So it’s kind of hard to represent the United States because it has so many great players. Mexico and Italy have a lot of great players that have been overlooked by United States. It’s hard. With me representing Mexico, I am one of the better players in Mexico because that’s just where I am playing at the time. With my experience and talent, I can make those teams and play for those teams. I could possibly pitch for Team USA but that team has so many Americans from all over the country to pick from. So it’s really hard to make that team.
Roberto: How were you recruited to pitch for Team Italia? Dan Serafini: Actually they called me in 2009 and found out
that I was Italian through my agent. After they got the background information about my Italian ancestry, they said that they would love for me to come and try out. I came down, tried out and they said that they could definitely use me as a starter or reliever because of ‘my good arm.’ So the rest is history as far as that. Roberto: It must have a been a major personal victory for you when Team Italia upset Mexico in the 2013 WBC. Dan Serafini: Almost everyone on Team Mexico I either played with them or against them. Team Italy asked me to write a
scouting report on the whole team, which I did and gave to the coaches. They watched a few of their games during their exhibition games and said it was ‘spot on’ as far as the scouting report. That’s what we used, and it actually came out well. We pitched well against them. We played great defense against them, and we came out victors. Roberto: Once Team Italia’s manager Marco Mazzieri gave me his cell phone number, I felt compelled to do the same and gave him a scouting report on Team Canada. We all had to do our part. Dan Serafini: Well, that’s it…exactly! We’re here to win. Right
now, I’m not an American. I’m an Italian, and I’m here to beat Team USA today. I was there to beat Canada yesterday, and I was there the day before to beat Mexico. Granted I have friends from every team from all over the world, but right now I’m just Italian. I’m here to walk all over every other team. Roberto: How proud are you to be Italian? Dan Serafini: I am very proud to be Italian. It’s unfortunate because I have always had a strong Italian family growing up, but Italian heritage or history was never really taught. I never learned Italian even though my father speaks Italian and both of my grandparents only spoke Italian. I just wasn’t brought up that way. Now doing more research about Italy and possibly thinking later in my career to maybe going to play in Italy for a little bit. I’m really interested in the Italian culture and to visit all around Europe. I’m looking forward to it. Italians are a well-educated culture to begin with. Everyone on our team speaks perfect English and perfect Italian. Some speak Spanish, Italian and English. I think they are just educated people. Unfortunately
when you move to another country and are unable to speak their language fluently, you tend to get away from your native language.
I know when I played in Mexico my whole team spoke English. I didn’t have a chance to learn Spanish because people talked to me in English. So it’s not as diverse as you think. It’s a lot harder, even my wife can tell you it’s a lot harder to go there and learn a language because everyone is polite to you and tries to talk to you in your language to make you feel more comfortable. So we have a tendency to get lazy
and not try. But right now I listen to Italian tapes every night because
I want to try to learn Italian. Roberto: That’s because everyone is trying to be hospitable
and speak your native tongue? Dan Serafini: Yes. I mean the Italians come right over here, and they all speak English right out of the gate. They don’t even try to speak Italian. They’re like: ‘No, we’re in America now–we’re speaking English.’ That’s what they do. Roberto: How does having a coaching staff that includes future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza affect your approach to the game? Dan Serafini: Mike is a great guy. Look at his story–coming from the 62nd round as a favor to his godfather Tommy Lasorda! Something ridiculous like that and becoming the best
offensive catcher of all time…whatever his statistics are.
Being blessed enough to play against him and talk to him,
it’s a great experience. Just because we have one more
person with a ton of experience on our team. He has been
in the spotlight for what…16 seasons! You know, I’ve been
in the spotlight for seven. Grilli has been the spotlight for
eight. So it’s like we have plenty of experience. It’s nice to
have someone of that magnitude on our team helping us out. Roberto: Mike Piazza could be doing something else with his time,
but his heart and soul are committed to Team Italia. Dan Serafini: You’re right. It is…and we appreciate that! He could
be doing anything with his time, and a lot of us could be but we’re all here together to represent Italy. We’re going to represent the right way this time. Roberto: Thank you for your time today. I’m sure this story will be continued next time we get together to talk. Dan Serafini: Yes, definitely…I’m looking forward to continuing it. I will answer any question that needs to be answered. It’s nice to be able to explain myself for a change, and hopefully one day people will look at me differently.
It might have been a long shot last November at the Italian American Sports Museum in Chicago when Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza and Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo spoke about joining forces to help the Italians in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. With both Italian Americans tracing their ancestral roots to Sicily, residing in the Miami area and sharing a passion for baseball, it was apparent the more they talked that the more they found out about their commonalities. But what instantaneously brought these two even closer together as kindred spirits was their unconditional love for family and their admirable respect for their Italian heritage. Ultimately inspiring both to sport “Italia” across the chest and to give back to the game by participating in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, coach Piazza and slugger Rizzo are the true international baseball ambassadors who may one day share yet another common thread in Cooperstown
and quite possibly Rome as members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in both America and Italy.
Although Rizzo may have a long road ahead to attain the internationally recognized status that Piazza has already garnered, it isn’t the first time that the 23-year-old has had to beat the odds. While a prospect in
the Red Sox organization during early 2008, Rizzo was diagnosed with limited state classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The Boston front office as well as Red Sox pitching ace
Jon Lester, a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, were supportive of Rizzo in his battle against cancer. By beating this life-threatening disease, the sky was the limit
for this young man’s future. Now a cancer survivor himself, Rizzo is an inspirational role model who helps cancer patients and their families through the ongoing efforts of the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation.
Initially interested in playing for Team USA but eclipsed by the stacked MLB All-Star calibre roster, Anthony Rizzo was intrigued by Mike Piazza’s guarantee for a prime time slot in the lineup as Team Italia’s slugger. “He’s just a great kid, and I think it’s just wonderful he chose to play with our team,” said Piazza. “As soon as we saw him walk through the door at spring training we exhaled.” However, if the opportunity arose to play for Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Rizzo has publicly stated that he doesn’t know which jersey he would wear–which is an encouraging sign for all believers. Piazza, who in many ways serves as his Sicilian baseball mentor, prays that he will stick with his roots and play for Italy. “It is important to have an impact guy like that with not only huge size, but status to play for Italy,” Piazza said. “If he’s finally able to reign in and stay healthy and maintain discipline and hit to all fields in Chicago, there’s no doubt he’s going to be a very productive major league hitter. I think he’s going to be big time for many years to come.”
After Team Italy defeated Mexico and Canada to advance from WBC Pool D play in Phoenix with Team USA to the next round at Marlins Park in Miami, Rizzo spoke proudly in defense of his team and chastised those who didn’t believe Italy would compete in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He said,
“No one scripted us to be where we are. But we had a lead in every game we played in this tournament. Every-one has written us off–we shouldn’t be here, this and that. I think we’ve earned the respect that we didn’t get at all in this tournament.” Rizzo conceded that he didn’t have the greatest of expectations for Team Italy, nor did he have any idea that his experience playing for Italia would be the most cherished of his career. “To be honest, I got over here, played the first couple exhibition games and thought, ‘We have good hitters, decent lineup, guys who do their job,’ and Mexico was the game of my life that I’ve ever played. It was so much fun and energetic. It was crazy.” The drama began in the ninth inning when Rizzo hit a two-run double off Mexico’s closer Sergio Romo to give Italy a 6-5 lead and ended when Italy’s closer Jason Grilli got Jorge Cantu to ground out to second with bases loaded.
Not only was Team Italy victorious on more than one occasion with their come-from-behind 6-5 thriller over Mexico and their Mercy rule 14-4 clobbering of Canada, but the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation were also big winners. Many of the Cubs personnel pledged $500 each to the nonprofit if Italy won at least one game. Chicago manager Dale Sveum joked with Rizzo saying that it was only $50, but the team has the morning meeting and friendly wager on video. All winning proceeds collected by the young Cubbie went to the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. “I made sure to text everyone with dollar signs to get their checkbooks ready,” Rizzo said. Once again Rizzo had beat the odds, but this time it benefited his charitable organization and the many families of cancer patients it serves. There was greater good than a game of baseball here. The lives affected by the good fortune of Rizzo and Team Italy far exceeded the box scores. The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation’s race for a cure to combat this deadly disease coupled with the genetic makeup and clubhouse chemistry among Italian players and coaches made for a winning combination second to none as Team Italy moved on to round two of WBC play along with Team USA at Marlins Park in Miami.
Italy took an early 4-0 lead against the 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic. Rizzo contributed offensively with a walk and run scored, but the Italians fell short in a heartbreaking
5-4 loss. Facing elimination versus WBC runner-up Puerto Rico, the left-handed slugger drove a three-run double into the right center field gap to put the Italians up 3-0 in the fifth inning, but Puerto Rico came back to lead 4-3. Rizzo walked in the top of the ninth to represent the game-tying run, but he would be left stranded. Team Italy made Italian baseball history by advancing to the World Baseball Classic second round where they nearly upset the 2013 WBC Champion and Runner-Up. Baseball fans and family in Italy could not be more proud of Team Italia’s performance in front of an international audience. The Rizzo family is originally from Ciminna, which about 30 miles southeast of the capital of Palermo in Sicily. Anthony Rizzo’s great grandfather, Vito, came over from Italy in 1905 on
the Prince Albert and went through Ellis Island. Rizzo’s father, John, remained in contact with his brother’s brother-in-law in Sicily throughout the WBC tourney. John Rizzo said, “They have a small core of baseball fans. It’s like a cult thing.” It won’t be a cult for long as baseball continues to be gain popularity among Italy’s youth. Having won back-to-back European Baseball Championships, the Italian national team has attracted the country’s finest athletes. Analogous to Chinese hero Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin’s contributions to the growth of basketball in China, Italian-born Alex Liddi and Anthony Rizzo are now baseball icons in Europe.
With every Team Italy win came its fanaticism. It was no coincidence that the merchandise booths at Phoenix’s Chase Field had sold out of of t-shirts and jerseys before Italy’s game against Team USA. The onslaught of Italian youth sporting RIZZO proudly on their back has only begun. Just as he has become of the face of the Chicago Cubs franchise, Anthony Rizzo has become the backbone of the Italian baseball revolution supported by Mike Piazza. When the 12-time MLB All-Star catcher becomes the first Italian American to be inducted into both the American and Italian Baseball Hall of Fame, the stakes for Anthony Rizzo to repeat history will set the tone for a Team Italia reunion.
The Australian Baseball League’s 2012-13 season did not disappoint the sleep-deprived stateside fans and families of American ballplayers who stayed up all hours of the night to watch a slew of talent with MLB potential. MLBblogger salutes the many American volunteers that worked tirelessly behind the scenes long before the start of the ABL season so that Aussie baseball could prosper.
In addition to showcasing last season’sTop 20 Americans in the ABL, we have previously announced many of the 2012-13 Top 40 Americans in the ABL. Click on the highlighted player’s name to access the Top 40 American in the ABL feature article: #40 Dustin Loggins, RHP Canberra Cavalry; #39 Caleb Cuevas, RHP Sydney Blue Sox; #38 Greg Van Sickler, RHP Perth Heat; #37 Chuck Lofgren, LHP Brisbane Bandits; #36 Kevin Reese, RHP Melbourne Aces; #35 Gabriel Suarez, OF/INF Adelaide Bite;#34 Chris Motta, RHP Canberra Cavalry.
#33 Jack Frawley of the Perth Heat was the winning pitcher in last year’s 13-inning marathon ABL Championship title victory over the Melbourne Aces. He hopes to help the Heat go down in Aussie baseball history with a never seen before three-peat in the ABL Championship Series against the top-seeded Canberra Cavalry. The 27-year-old once again came through in the clutch on the regular season’s final day to clinch the Heat’s third straight ABL postseason berth. Making his first start and fifth overall appearance this season (3-1, 1.21 ERA), the Cleveland-born right-hander earned ABL Round 13 Pitcher of the Week honors by throwing eight shutout innings and limiting the Melbourne Aces to just three hits.
A 24th-round draftee by the Colorado Rockies in 2005, #32 Sean Toler was signed by Canberra after playing with Cavalry teammates Steven Kent, Brian Grening and Dustin Loggins on the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball’s Kansas City T-Bones in 2012. The Missouri State baseball star was one of seven Cavalry players represented in the 2012 ABL All-Star game. Recently voted iiNet relief pitcher of the year, the 26-year-old Canberra closer was also named ABL Pitcher of the Week for Round Six play. Toler (2-0, 2.84 ERA) was second in the ABL with 11 saves. The six-foot-five hurler loves closing games out for a team he believes could be the next ABL champion. ”Yeah, I think we can (win the title),” Toler said with confidence.
#31 Ryan Khoury of the Perth Heat spent two seasons playing shortstop for AAA Pawtucket in the Boston Red Sox organization before being released at the age of 27. Allowing Canadian Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Carter Bell to move over to his usual third base position, Khoury rounds out an experienced Heat infield which includes MLB’s Luke Hughes. Showing signs of life after Major League Baseball with 37 stolen bases and only 12 errors committed at shortstop through 103 games for the Indy American Association’s Wichita Wingnuts last year, the 2006 Red Sox 12th-round draft pick still possesses plenty of speed and athleticism. The Utah native has made the most of his limited action in the ABL (19 games, 67 AB, .224 BA)–including a towering right field home run blast in his first Heat plate appearance. While contributing at the bottom of the line-up, the 28-year-old also solidified Perth’s defense.
Last day in Perth. Thanks to @perthheat fans and especially my teammates for welcoming me to Australia. Gonna miss my Aussie family.
Although half of MLB.com Jonathan Mayo’s 2011 Top 10 Outfield Prospects have made their splash into Major League Baseball, the remaining five prospects–including former Boston Red Sox 2009 first-round draft pick and current Padres AA-affiliate San Antonio Missions leadoff hitter Reymond Fuentes–have yet to make their grandiose MLB debut despite possessing the five-tools necessary to become successful in the big leagues. Considered the “other” prospect San Diego received packaged with right-handed pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and a player to be named later (Eric Patterson) in exchange for trading Adrian Gonzalez to Boston in December 2010, the speedy 21-year-old Reymond Fuentes has the genetic makeup to break into the Bigs. Just ask his cousin, seven-time MLB All-Star/Puerto Rican philanthropist and baseball advocate Carlos Beltran. “I’m very proud of him,” Beltran said. “I believe he’s going to make it to the big leagues. I told him, ‘As hard as you’ve worked so far, you’re going to have to work double to get where you want to go.'” Upon hearing the news of Reymond being shipped out west, Beltran was concerned about his cousin’s reaction and called him immediately. He said, “Sometimes when you’re young and a team trades you, they think they don’t like him. So I told him, ‘Man, the best thing that happened to you was being able to get traded to San Diego because that organization is an organization that doesn’t have players on long-term deals. And if you put up a good year, you play hard, you can play in the big leagues as soon as possible.’”
Chosen to represent San Diego as a member of the World Team at the 2011 All-Star Futures Game as well as lead off for the Puerto Rican national team in the 2011 World Cup and Pan American Games, six-foot Reymond Fuentes is looked up to by many aspiring Caribbean ballplayers with the same dream. Having built the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in his native Puerto Rico to educate and nurture young athletes, cousin Carlos Beltran in the spirit of legend Roberto Clemente gives back generously to his people–especially when it comes to family. Carlos said, “I’m going to do everything I can to help him out. I work out with him in Puerto Rico, and I invite him to my house, and he’s there way early–so he’s hungry. For being so young, that really impressed me the most–more than his talent. Hopefully he lives up to that, and I can watch him play in the big leagues and maybe play against him one day.”
Part of Team World’s outfield with current MLB players Dayan Viciedo (Chicago White Sox) and Starling Marte (Pittsburgh Pirates) in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game, Reymond Fuentes was one of two prospects selected from the San Diego Padres organization. Named the Friar’s #13 prospect by MLB.com and rated the franchise’s best baserunner by Baseball America following a successful 2011 at Single-A Advanced Lake Elsinore with 41 stolen bases, Fuentes has been the spark plug for the 2012 AA San Antonio Missions. We caught up with Fuentes recently in San Antonio at Wolff Stadium after the post-game fireworks, which the youthful Reymond kindly requested to watch before conducting the interview. Roberto: You look good having put on 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason for additional power without compromising your lightning speed. With teammate Dean Anna having a great 2012 season and sometimes leading off, Missions’ manager John Gibbons has switched up the line-up and placed you in different slots. Do you care where you are placed in the line-up? Reymond Fuentes: Anything that
can help with the team win–I will just
do it. Just follow orders from my manager and just play the game that I love and know how to do. Roberto: As the Missions’ team leader for stolen bases on par for 30-plus in 2012, do you enjoy making the opposing pitcher worry about you when you are on the base paths? Reymond Fuentes: Why not?
I mean I do my role then they have
to do their role.
Roberto: Having an eagle eye vantage point of all the action on the field, do you like playing center field? Reymond Fuentes: Center field is awesome. My speed and my range help me a lot. It’s fun just to run down balls and get those hits off the other team. And get them angry a little bit…you know what I mean. It’s a lot of fun tracking balls and making those diving catches is the best! So I love center field, and I wouldn’t change it for anything else. Roberto: After being involved in the trade that allowed Boston to acquire Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego, was there any love lost when you had to say goodbye to Fenway? Reymond Fuentes: You know it
was really tough not to see my old teammates from Boston, but I mean being traded for Adrian is a huge step for me. I mean Adrian is an All-Star. He’s a great player. I think it’s a real honor to get traded for him and just join this team, play the game with the same attitude and effort in Boston here. Roberto: Please tell me about your deep family connections to Major League Baseball. Reymond Fuentes: Carlos Beltran is my mom’s cousin. We work out in the offseason everyday–hitting, fielding, throwing, catching. He’s a great guy. He taught me a lot on the field and off the field. He’s taught me a lot of stuff about life so I have to thank him. My dad used to play too. He’s been there since I was four years old. He was the first one who gave a bat to me and saw me swing. So I have to thank my dad for staying with me all this time and help me get where I am right now.
Roberto: How influential was the legendary Roberto Clemente growing up in Puerto Rico? Reymond Fuentes: Roberto Clemente, God rest his soul, was a terrific, all-time I don’t even know how to describe…he was a great player! A lot of little kids including me looked up to him because the way he played ball, the love he had for the game. It was unexplainable. I love to read his articles because I didn’t get to see him play. But everything I read about him is awesome, and he’s the best of Puerto Rico right now. I used to wear (Clemente’s) number 21 when I was a little kid. Then I couldn’t use it because of some rules in Puerto Rico when they retired his number. So I just decided to go with (number) 15 that Carlos used to wear. So I’m staying right there and just keeping everything within family, you know. Roberto: With reggaeton blowing up in Puerto Rico, I was surprised that you have a different genre represented in your walk-up song. Reymond Fuentes: Reggaeton is big in Puerto Rico, but right now I have a salsa—that’s old school music in Puerto Rico. I got this walk-up song from my dad. It’s my dad’s favorite song, and I’m using it right now. I think I’m going back to reggaeton because I mean it makes me move walking up to the plate and just makes me happy. Roberto: It be long before you make your MLB debut for the SD Padres. Reymond Fuentes: Thank you. That would be awesome. I’m looking forward to that every single day. Roberto: Would you like to be called up to MLB next month when the roster expands to 40? Reymond Fuentes: I would love that. I mean that’s my dream ever since I was a little kid.
I just can’t do anything else, but play my best ball here and just wait for that call. Roberto: Are you looking forward to facing cousin Carlos Beltran and the St. Louis Cardinals? Reymond Fuentes: You know what? If I face Carlos, I just want to rob two hits out of him with diving catches in center field. I would just call him the next day and say ‘Hey, you can’t hit it over there.’ Roberto: Thanks for taking time out for us today. Let’s chat again at PETCO in San Diego. Reymond Fuentes: Absolutely, I mean. It’s a great pleasure to speak with MLBforLife.com and I’ll do it anytime when I can.
The March 2012 results are in for the MLB.com Top 50 Fan Sites, and MLBblogger was named the number eight website. We believe this is a result of our continued coverage of baseball worldwide, and our international readers quest for accurate information on their favorite players. In the last six months, MLBblogger has produced original and engaging stories on the Asia Series, Taiwan All-Star Series, Australian Baseball League All-Star Game, Arizona Fall League, Chinese Professional Baseball League, Korea Baseball Organization, Nippon Professional Baseball League, Australian Baseball League, Italian Baseball League, Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball, Major League Baseball, MLB Italian Baseball Academy, MLB Fan Cave, Minor League Baseball, College Baseball, High School Baseball, Cactus League Spring Training and the Japan Opening Series. Thanks for the support!
Feeling so blessed to be associated with the great number eight and knowing that baseball is a game of numbers and statistics, we thought that it would be of great interest to dig a little deeper into the number’s historical and cultural significance. The Chinese view the number eight (ba 八) as the most auspicious number because its pronunciation, particularly in southern dialects, is very similar to “prosper” or “wealth” (fa cai 发财). Based on a #8 Hong Kong license plate fetching a handsome $640,000 recently and home street addresses containing multiple number eights still in high feng shui demand, one would believe that property with the number eight is valued greatly in China. It’s no coincidence that the opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics began promptly at 8:08:08 p.m. For many people, eight is the symbol of harmony and balance. The number symbolizes the ability to make decisions as well as abundance and power. The Pythagoreans called the number eight “Ogdoad” and considered it the “little holy number”. Jews consider eight symbolic of an entity that is one step above the natural order and its limitation, which is why Chanukah lasts eight days.
Baseball Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Cal Ripken, Jr., Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Stargell, Joe Morgan, and Gary Carter wore the number eight. It’s quite possible that a couple 2012 MLB players donning the #8 silks will soon join these legends–including: Ryan Braun (Brewers), Shane Victorino (Phillies), Jason Bartlett (Padres), Yorvit Torrealba (Rangers), Kurt Suzuki (A’s), David Ross (Braves), Kendrys Morales (Angels), Gerardo Parra (D-Backs), Chris Coghlan (Marlins), Danny Espinosa (Nationals), Desmond Jennings (Rays), Ben Francisco (Jays), Mike Moustakas (Royals), and Jamey Carroll (Twins).
So who will win the 2012 Major League Baseball World Series?
If you like the number eight, then there are three possible live candidates. Last month’s Vegas.com future odds to win it all had the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at 8-to-1 odds. Then again you could spend all your money on a license plate… Good luck wherever you invest!