Erik Hamren, Tesoro’s first MLB star, on a Mission to return to the show at San Diego’s PETCO Park

2005 Tesoro High School graduate Erik Hamren
went on to beat the odds in becoming a professional baseball player in MLB for the 2011 San Diego Padres.
Since starting a baseball program from scratch over a decade ago when Southern California’s Capo Unified School District opened the doors of Tesoro High School in Las Flores, Varsity Baseball Manager Rick Brail has successfully prepared athletes with dreams and aspirations of playing professionally in Major League Baseball. When 2005 Tesoro graduate Erik Hamren made his MLB debut for the San Diego Padres in 2011, Coach Brail was so proud of his protégé that the school retired Hamren’s jersey #25 at a ceremony during half-time of a Tesoro basketball game in January.
For becoming its first MLB player, Erik Hamren's #25 jersey was retired by Tesoro High School.

Former San Clemente High School baseball star and veteran Tesoro Manager Rick Brail said, “Erik was in the first four-year class at Tesoro High School. He and his family have not only been a part of a baseball program from day one but also a big part of the school’s establishment. Retiring his jersey was a great thing to do because he has and always will be a part of our Tesoro family. It also felt great to recognize a player who was one of hardest workers and always put the team and school before himself. Our school, the community, and baseball program could not be more proud of Erik’s accomplishments on the field and the man he has become out in society.” Having earned three letters in both varsity baseball and football, Hamren perfected his game with every year of experience. He tipped off his athleticism and talent early on in his Tesoro Titan baseball career when he was named to the 2003 North Orange Country Classic All-Tournament Team. The Coto de Caza native followed it up in 2004 with a roster spot on the Southern Cal Cup II – Orange County All-Stars. Hamren finished the 2005 season with three home runs and a .452 batting average, which earned him the Pacific Coast League Co-MVP with Tesoro teammate Nick Nelson. Erik Hamren was a rising star and was heavily recruited to play college ball. He decided to stay in California and attend University of the Pacific.

Erik Hamren at the University of Pacific
Coach Brail added, “Erik always had a ton of talent on the baseball field, but it wasn’t until his senior year that he finally put it all together. He fully committed himself to baseball, (his studies) in the classroom, and physical fitness. After that the game came easy for him, and he was named MVP of our league his senior year as an outfielder and part-time pitcher. His transition to a full-time pitcher happened in college like many players. He was struggling at the plate and decided to convert to a full-time pitcher. It was seamless because he could throw 90 mph plus. It was just a matter of gaining confidence and experience.” After only nine at-bats at Pacific in his first year, Hamren returned home to pitch for Saddleback College and lend a helping hand to Coach Brail’s elite Tesoro Titans baseball team.
Erik Hamren made only 10 pitching appearances for the Saddleback College Gauchos before
the Chicago Cubs gave him a tryout and was subsequently selected in the 2008 Amateur Draft.
Despite holding out for as long
as he could while pitching for
the Northwoods League Mankato MoonDogs, Erik Hamren could
not resist the temptation of all
the bonuses affiliated with a pro baseball contract and signed
with the Chicago Cubs in 2008.
A converted pitcher who had been picked up in the 37th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Chicago Cubs after the team liked what it saw during a tryout, Hamren didn’t sign his first professional contract until after making 15 pitching appearances in the Northwoods League for the Mankato MoonDogs during the summer of 2008. With one win, six saves and a
2.04 ERA in 17 2/3 innings of work under his belt, he then opted to sign with the Cubs. Hamren made three stops in the Chicago Cubs farm system in 2008 and 2009. Hamren had less than two full seasons of pitching experience when he was released by the Cubbies after the 2009 season with Single-A Midwest League Peoria, where he had a 5.98 ERA in 38 games. Determined not to give up on his dream of making it in the Bigs, Erik chose to play in the Independent League to develop his craft in 2010. He pitched in the Indy Northern League in 2010 and put together an 0-2 record with a 3.39 ERA in 44 games playing for the Kansas City T-Bones and Joliet JackHammers. Joliet acquired Hamren in late August for the stretch run in a trade with the Kansas City T-Bones. The right-hander was dominant in seven games for the 2010 JackHammers by posting a 0.84 ERA in 10.2 innings of work, striking out 16 and holding opponents to a .262 batting average. Hamren appeared to have finally felt comfortable pitching and was ready for redemption.
MLB veteran pitcher Tom House
turned things around for Erik Hamren and gave him pitching confidence.

Major League veteran pitcher Tom House was critical in Erik’s transformation and revamping his approach prior to pitching at a MLB tryout camp in November 2010. After seeing the renaissance man in action, the San Diego Padres signed Erik to a minor league contract. Hamren believes it was a full season of independent baseball and working with former Major Leaguer Tom House that helped him reach MLB. Erik said, “Indy ball was the best thing that could have happened to me. It put things in perspective. You have it, and then you lose it. But I got innings, and I got to work. It’s kind of hard to grasp what has happened.” Hamren admitted that he struggled with his command during the first half of the 2010 season, but a ‘House call’ visit with the pro at the All-Star break made all the difference. “House synched me up,” Hamren said. “He kept me really focused and made me really confident. The first half of the season, there were still command issues. Strikes would come and go. But I worked with him and got a little confidence off that.”
Reliever Erik Hamren got the save Wednesday for the Padres Double-A affiliate San Antonio Missions.
Coach Brail commented, “Erik was blessed with a ton of baseball ability. He had all five of the major baseball tools. It was just a matter of maturity and trusting himself on the field. Once he learned to relax and focus on the things he had control over, the game got easier for him. I’m a Erik Hamren believer and fan. He has overcome adversity his whole career and with his tremendous work ethic. I know nobody will out work him, and he is only going to get better.” Coach Brail knows that it will be an uphill battle for Hamren to return back to the Big Leagues from his current post at San Diego Padres Double-A affiliate San Antonio Missions. It’s the same place where he was when he received a Big League call-up at 1:30 in the morning on July 31, 2011 after the Padres traded relief pitcher Mike Adams to the Texas Rangers. Hamren made his splash into Major League Baseball at PETCO Park the next day on August 1st against Southern California National League West rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

Erik Hamren congratulated by his catcher after a job well done for the Padres in 2011.
The six-foot-one, 195-pound righty pitched a scoreless
ninth inning in San Diego’s 6-2 loss but also ended his
MLB debut memorably by striking out Dodger speedster
Dee Gordon. The Orange County homegrown hero deserved the opportunity after being named 2011 Texas League
Mid-Season All-Star and compiling a stellar 5-0 record with
a 0.98 ERA in 48 games with the Lake Elsinore Storm and San Antonio Missions. During his shortened 2011 minor league campaign in 65 2/3 innings of work, Hamren was relentless. He surrendered a mere 46 hits, while walking
14 and striking out 69. The 25-year-old posted a 4.38 ERA
in 12 1/3 MLB innings last season with the Padres pitching middle relief. “He’s a great story,” said Jason McLeod, the Padres’ vice president and assistant general manager. “He
has a low-90s boring fastball with a swing-and-miss slider.”

San Diego rookie reliever Erik Hamren shouldering a backpack featuring R2-D2 of “Star Wars”.
Hamren had high hopes that a successful run at 2012 Padres Spring Training would warrant a slot in the San Diego opening day bullpen. Unfortunately, he was designated for assignment on April 5th by the Padres.
To the delight of Southern California Friar faithful in keeping Hamren a Padre, Hamren cleared waivers and was assigned to Double-A San Antonio. So far in his 13 innings pitched out of the Mission bullpen (0-1, 2.08 ERA with one save and four holds), Erik has surrendered only 6 hits while striking out 19 and holding opponents to a .154 batting average. With continued success in the minor leagues, it is just a matter of time for the South Orange County pitcher to return to PETCO Park.

Hamren’s journey to Major League Baseball was relatively short, especially considering that he
was pitching in the Independent League in 2010. He possesses what it takes to become a solid contributer to the Padres bullpen and is itching to remain a staple on the San Diego roster. Should the Padres use closer Huston Street as a half-season rental AKA trade bait before the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, then Hamren will be right on schedule for his annual pilgrimage to PETCO. However, one would expect that at the very latest Erik will rejoin the Padres when active rosters increase from 25 to 40 on September 1st. In the meantime, the trek from Mission San Juan Capistrano to the San Antonio Missions will have to suffice. Just as the swallows return every year to this legendary South Orange County landmark, fireman Erik Hamren will faithfully make his miraculous comeback to MLB in San Diego.

Erik Hamren held the Dodgers scoreless in his MLB debut at PETCO Park on August 1, 2011.

Mineo: legendary historical landmark of Sicily or Italy’s finest catch exported to the Chicago Cubs?

A panoramic view of the archaeological site of Rocchicella di Mineo, ancient Palikè, the location
of the most important sanctuary of Sicily's indigenous Sikel people in the eastern part of the
island with Mount Etna, Europe's largest active volcano, towering over Catania seen far away
The Siculi (Sikeloi; Sicels; Sikels) were the native inhabitants of the eastern regions (including Mineo) of Sicily south of the Italian Peninsula over 10,000 years ago. The island of Sicily takes its name from the indigenous Siculi people. With its strategic location at the center of the Mediterranean, Sicily is rich in its history of conquest and empire. It is a melting pot of cultures with over a dozen ethnic groups whose warriors and merchants walked her shores. Although the other two indigenous societies of the Sicanians and Elymians assimilated easily with the Greeks, the Sicels constituted a highly developed society that the Greeks respected profoundly. Despite conflict and its desire to remain autonomous, it took several centuries for the Sicels to completely assimilate and amalgamate with their Greek neighbors. Except for the Romans, the Sicels were the only predominantly Italic people to settle in Sicily in large numbers as colonists.
Italy leads all European countries in its number of immigrants to America. Beginning in the late 1800’s, poverty and natural disasters drove Italians out–especially in Il Mezzogiorno, the southern and poorest provinces of Italy. As late as 1900, the illiteracy rate in southern Italy was 70 percent. The Italian government was dominated by northerners, and southerners were hurt by high taxes and unfair tariffs on the north’s industrial goods. Southerners suffered from exploitation by people of the same nationality and religion.
Piazza DiMaggio commemorated the legendary son of an Italian immigant, Joe DiMaggio, who lived the American Dream of playing baseball and the tens of thousands of Italian immigrants who came to America through the Taylor St. U.S. port of entry seeking a new life in the heart of Chicago's Little Italy during the early part of the Twentieth Century.

Self-reliant on only themselves for mere survival, southerners had an allegiance to la famiglia (the family) and l’ordine della famiglia (the rules of family behavior and responsibility). Suffering from a scarcity of cultivatable land, soil erosion and deforestation as well as a lack of coal and iron ore needed by industry, life in the South was difficult. Southern Italy was ravaged in the early 20th century when Mount Vesuvius and Mount Etna erupted and buried towns nearby. In 1908 an earthquake and tidal wave that swept through the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the Italian mainland killed more than 100,000 people in the city of Messina alone. For many Italian immigrants, fleeing to the United States was not to be interpreted as a rejection of their homeland. Instead, it defended the Italian way of life because the money sent home helped to preserve the traditional order. Rather than seeking permanent homes, they desired an opportunity to work for a living and aspired to save enough money to return to a better life in the country of their birth. Unable to earn enough to support their families in their native Italy, they were migratory laborers. The majority were young men–aged 18 to 25–who planned to work, save their money and return home. Hoping their absence would not be too long, they left behind their parents, young wives and kids.
Fast forward a century later and native Italian athletes are still clinging to their roots and culture despite being lured by U.S. professional sports to homogenize into the American lifestyle. The first Italian-born baseball player awarded a MLB contract was pitcher Alessandro Maestri. Signed by Chicago Cubs scout Bill Holmberg, Maestri never pitched at Wrigley Field–even though he was a Minor Leaguer with a wicked Major League slider. However, the Cubs struck gold in 2010 when Holmberg signed then 16-year-old Italian catching prospect Alberto Mineo to a contract.
Chicago Cubs Italian catching prospect Alberto Mineo at 2012 Spring Training in Mesa, Arizona
Catcher Alberto Mineo calms his pitcher down and discusses strategy to get the next batter out.
Now ranked 58th behind #1 Cubbie Starling Castro in the Chicago Cubs Top Players Under 25 Organizational List, catcher Alberto Mineo has his eyes set on making it all the way to Wrigley. The defensive standout with excellent catch-and-throw skills said, “The part that I like most about being a catcher is throwing runners out at second.” The 5-foot-11, 170 pounder has strong hands and forearms which assist his receiving skills and defensive instincts. Blessed with outstanding arm strength and a quick ball transfer exchange, Mineo looks comfortable behind the plate. Exuding confidence as a first-rate catcher, opponents will need to exercise caution on the bases.
Left-handed hitting slugger Alberto Mineo
played for Team Italia at the 18 Under Junior World Championship in Thunder Bay, Canada

Holmberg watched Mineo develop into a natural talent from age 10 and knew early on he was special. Alberto was mature enough to accept feedback and listened to Holmberg and Maestri’s sound advice. He commented, “Both of them, they would always say to me ‘Work hard everyday because there is somebody somewhere else that is working hard to get to the Big Leagues’ and I started believing that I could sign with an American team.” Exercising good plate discipline, Mineo is a patient hitter who jumps on a pitcher’s mistake. “I always think as a hitter that I must wait for my pitch until I get two strikes,” Alberto explained. The left-handed hitting Mineo can demolish the ball with his technically sound swing, and once on base he can demonstrate great speed for a catcher.
Cubs prospect Alberto Mineo has speed on the bases and is very quick with his glove defensively.

After being signed by Bill Holmberg–who also is the pitching coach for the Italian National team and operates the Major League Baseball International European Academy at the Olympic Training Center in Tirrenia, Italy–Ronchi dei Legionari New Black Panthers catcher Alberto Mineo began his professional career in the month-long MLB Australian Academy Summer League, where he became friends with Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim promising pitching prospect
Alex DaSilva–who later moved up the competitive ladder to play for the Australian Baseball League (ABL)
2012 Runner-Up Melbourne Aces. Mineo played well in Australia (.270 batting average, 1 HR) as did his Italian mentor Alex Maestri, who was so popular that he won the 2012 ABL Fan Choice Award.
Catcher Alberto Mineo has all the tools to follow fellow MLB International European Academy graduate Alex Liddi of the Seattle Mariners and become the second Italian-born player in the Big Leagues.

The ABL’s first Italian pitcher/catcher combo with Maestri and Mineo could become reality if Alberto has his way. Mineo commented, “I had a nice experience in Australia, where I met a lot of great players that I still remain in contact with via facebook. I would really like to play with Alex in the ABL.” The dynamic duo could possibly make their debut in the near future as members of the Italian National team under the guidance and direction of pitching coach Bill Holmberg and former Major League Baseball All-Star hitting coach Mike Piazza. Mineo has played as a member of several Italian National teams at various levels– including the 18 Under Junior World Championship in Thunder Bay, Canada. Italian National team catcher Francisco Cervelli of the New York Yankees now has Mineo as back-up.
Mineo said, “I don’t feel the pressure to be the next Italian to make it in MLB. I just want to have fun and enjoy this amazing experience that I’m living right now. But it would be really nice to play with Alex Liddi on the Italian National team…”
Lady Liberty of a Cubbie kind stands tall and proud in the city of Chicago.

Alberto had an exceptional Cubs 2011 Arizona Instructional League four-game campaign with a
.500 batting average, .556 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage. “The Cubs Instructional League was an awesome experience. I really like
to practice with Casey Kopitzke, the catching coordinator. I think he’s really good,” Mineo said.
“So far Cubs Spring Training is going very well. I like to work hard on the field and in the gym. It’s the best place you can go if you love this sport. A couple days ago Kerry Wood, Ryan Dempster and Rodrigo Lopez came to the complex to talk to us about the right way to get to the Big Leagues, but my favorite Cubs player is still Marlon Byrd. Inspired to play baseball at age five by his father and become a catcher three years later, Alberto followed American baseball religiously. “My favorite player has always been Derek Jeter. Now it is Joe Mauer. I really like how he plays, and I also think that he’s a very professional guy,” Mineo said.
Wrigley Field, National Historic Landmark and home of the Chicago Cubs since 1916, is the second oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues and the oldest standing National League ballpark.
Although there had been a long-time association of Italians being die-hard Cubbie fans,
the connection got even stronger when the late and great Hall of Fame Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray–whose real Italian last name was Carabina–signed on to the super station WGN Network in 1982. Although he passed on to baseball heaven in 1998, his legacy is still alive and well today as the legendary Caray’s Italian Steakhouse remains a Chicago restaurant icon. Now with Alberto Mineo in the Cubs organization, Italians in Chicago and beyond should rejoice and be thankful for their ancestors’ sacrifices years ago for the opportunities bestowed upon us in 2012. In the case of the young catching prospect Mineo–not only does he possess the natural skills necessary to become a professional ballplayer–
but he has the unconditional love and support of a dedicated team of international coaches, players, fans and family to be a true Italian baseball ambassador worldwide. Forza Italia!

Italian Cubbie fans of all shapes and sizes await Alberto Mineo's imminent arrival at Wrigley Field.

Italian coaching, cuisine, and culture make Italy world-class for MLB hopefuls and European scouts

Baseball in Italy received a Major League surprise last month when an unannounced MLB manager graced the 436 registered attendees with his presence at the Italian Coaches Convention Dinner at Castelnuovo de Garda (Verona). Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, a first-generation Italian-American whose father was born in Italy, was overjoyed by the warm reception received at the gala dinner which pays tribute to the coaches that make a difference in the internationalization of baseball in Italy. Madden exclaimed, “I feel at home here, because in the small city in Pennsylvania where I live there is a big Italian community.”

Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon embraces his Italian roots.

His grandparents original surname was Madonnini, but after emigrating from the Region of Abruzzo to America
their last name was shortened. Maddon continued, “It is always a pleasure for me to visit Italy. I am proud of my heritage.” The Rays were very well represented in Italy as Maddon brought along members of his coaching staff to lead instructional clinics for the delegation of Europe’s best coaches.

Italian National team coach Mike Piazza (shown here as coach of Team U.S.A.) and Seattle Mariners Alex Liddi (shown here playing for Team World) in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game
Alex Liddi became Italy’s first successful export to MLB and the Seattle Mariners on September 7, 2011.

Riccardo Fraccari, president of the Federation of Italian Baseball and Softball (FIBS), spoke of Alex Liddi becoming the first Italian-born and developed player to play Major League Baseball and its great significance to baseball in Italy. He said, “Alex’s story is really the tip of the iceberg, and we really need to take into account the daily work of the coaches in Italy who are the base of the movement.” Liddi was signed by the Seattle Mariners after being selected to attend the inaugural MLB International European Academy in 2005 and in September 2011 became the first graduate of the MLB International European Academy to play in the Major Leagues.

Italian National team coach Bill Holmberg encourages New York Yankee catcher Francisco Cervelli sitting next to Alex Liddi during the World Baseball Classic.
Like a fine Italian wine, MLB / FIBS Italian Academy Director and Field Coordinator Bill Holmberg has been getting better with age by improving the quality of Italian baseball and coaching Europe’s finest players since landing in Italy in 1989.

Bill Holmberg is one such coach that FIBS President Fraccari was referring to in his compelling speech. Holmberg has been living under the radar since 1989, when he came to Italy to serve as manager and technical director of the Godo baseball club for 12 years. He later became the pitching coach for San Marino as well as the Italian Junior and Senior National teams. Coach Holmberg was named Director and Field Coordinator of the MLB Italian Academy nearly a decade ago and has been instrumental in signing the best homegrown talent as a former international scout for the Chicago Cubs. Everyday he tirelessly trains the cream of the crop at an elite sports academy in the quaint beach community of Tirrenia near the Italian cultural iconic city of Pisa. Alessandro Maestri, the former Chicago Cub minor leaguer and recent Brisbane Bandit / 2012 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Fan Favorite Award recipient, was signed by Holmerg in 2006, when he became the first Italian-born pitcher ever signed by a Major League Baseball team.

In 2006 Chicago Cub European Scout Bill Holmberg signed Cesena’s Alessandro Maestri,
the first Italian-born pitcher signed to a MLB contract. (Scott Powick / SMP Images / ABL)
Italian National team pitcher Alessandro Maestri showed the world that he could compete against baseball’s elite in the World Baseball Classic.

Chicago Cub scout Holmberg knew early on that Alessandro was something special when he saw the young Italian play baseball for the first time. Holmberg said, “Alex can do whatever he wants to. He’s got the temperament and composure. He’s hit 95 mph, and his slider is at 86 or 87. He competes as hard as anyone out there.” Maestri still to this day works under the guidance and direction of Coach Holmberg. The Cesena, Italy
native made World Baseball Classic headlines in 2006 when his first offering to the Dominican Republic’s Moises Alou was rocketed out of the park for a home run. Despite the rocky start, he would not allow another earned run in his 4.2 combined innings in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.

Alessandro Maestri as a Cub minor leaguer

Maestri demonstrated great promise in the Midwest and Florida State leagues as a two-time All-Star. As as starter and relief pitcher in the Chicago Cubs minor league system for five seasons, he racked up a 24-17 record with a 3.75 ERA and 19 saves. The right hand throwing pitcher put away hitters with his evasive slider–which was once voted as the best slider thrown by anyone in the entire franchise. Maestri made his preseason MLB debut against the Oakland A’s during Cubs Spring Training in Phoenix on April 1, 2009 when Cub manager Lou Pinella summoned him out of the bullpen. Maestri struck out Orlando Cabrera and then he sized up against slugger Jason Giambi–who was lucky to squeak out a single through the hole. MLB All-Star

Closer Alessandro Maestri was not afraid to show his winning Italian spirit by striking out Jayson Nix to beat Team U.S.A. for the first time in 21 years on November 9, 2007 during the 2007 Baseball World Cup.

Matt Holliday was caught looking at a third strike slider for the second out, and Eric Chavez went down swinging at his Italian slider in the dirt to end Maestri’s almost perfect outing. Nearly three years later, Alessandro is still as dominant as ever as witnessed by his numbers in the most recent 2011-12 ABL season. As the workhorse and ace of the Brisbane Bandit pitching staff, Maestri led his team in wins (4) and proved to be one of the best pitchers in the league. He finished third in the ABL in innings pitched (63.2) and in strikeouts (53), fourth in the ABL in WHIP (1.16) and sixth in the ABL in ERA (3.25). In Round Eight of the regular season, he earned the Pitcher of the Week award after pitching a stellar complete game two-hitter against the Canberra Cavalry. Based on his most recent form, Maestri is worthy of a second look by international scouts to make his long-awaited MLB debut. He will always be a competitor who lives on the edge to bail his team out of pressure situations.

MLB / FIBS Academy Director
Bill Holmberg is committed to producing Italy’s finest athletes.

Of the frequent MLB-sponsored instructional clinics throughout Europe, none has had the impact of MLB / FIBS Academy host Coach Holmberg’s annual three and a half week summer invitational Major League Baseball International European Academy at the Olympic Training Center in Tirrenia. Designed to provide promising junior teenage players with both the environment and the instruction to reach their full potential, the European Academy brings together around 50 or more of the brightest young playing talent in Europe and Africa with the best in Major League coaching and instruction. The Academy seeks to provide a path for elite players from this region to improve their skills in preparation for the rigors of professional and international baseball. In addition to helping these bright young stars develop their skills, the Academy enables MLB Clubs to scout the best future talent. Holmberg explained, “It’s a pretty good place to see all the best players in Europe at one time. We’ve had between 18 and 20 scouts that have watched the games this past year.”
The Tirrenia baseball camp, which began in 2005, has much to do with MLB’s accelerated rate of signing the European elite to professional contracts based on the fact that the numbers have more than tripled from 2005 (2.33 average) to 2011 (9.0 average). So far 49 Academy graduates from ten countries (45 players from Europe and 4 players from Africa) have signed professional contracts with 19 different Major League Baseball franchises. Holmberg commented, “We’re not the Dominican Republic yet, but I think we might be sneaking up on Australia.”

Food for thought: Pitcher Alex Maestri–Italy’s first export to MLB imported by ABL’s Brisbane Bandits

When asked about preparations for his Italian squad in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, the best hitting catcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history and Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza replied, “We’ll have the best food.” All joking aside, Pizza commented: “You’ve got talent in Italy, think of Alex Maestri and Alex Liddi… To help talented kids you need to get them to play more games. Look at me, I didn’t really improve until I was given the possibility to play every day.”

Alessandro Maestri was the first Italian-born pitcher signed by Major League Baseball in 2006.

The 26-year-old Alex Maestri made MLB history as the first Italian born pitcher to be signed by a major league club–the Chicago Cubs–in 2006. Three years later another historical milestone in baseball would take place when the Italian prospect would finally compete on the Major League level. Thinking that it was yet another day on the bench or perhaps a really good April Fools prank, April 1, 2009 would go down as a very Big League day for Alessandro Maestri. Upon reporting to a Cubs Spring Training game in Phoenix against the Oakland Athletics, Maestri was informed that he would making his first preseason Major League pitching debut, which many would consider to have been “textbook”
and as good as it could ever be.

The setting was perfect under a pleasant 71 degree warm Arizona sun for Maestri to take over for Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano and Luis Vizcaino in the fifth inning. Little did Maestri know that he would come face-to-face with some of Major League Baseball’s most feared hitters. His first strike out victim was Orlando Cabrera, who was caught looking at a fastball on the outside corner. Next up with slugger Jason Giambi, who managed to squeak out a single through the hole. Following was Matt Holliday, nicknamed “Big Daddy” for his towering six-foot-four stature and his muscular physique. Maestri dug down deep and mesmerized the intimidating Major League All-Star with a called third strike slider for out number two. The selective Eric Chavez worked the count full before swinging and faltering to Maestri’s wicked slider in the dirt for his third strikeout. Upon returning to the dugout, legendary Cubs skipper Lou Pinella congratulated the young Italian hurler.

As as starter and relief pitcher in the Chicago Cubs minor league system for five seasons, Maestri racked up a 24-17 record with a 3.75 ERA and 19 saves. A two-time minor league All-Star, the right hand throwing pitcher put away hitters with his evasive slider–which was once voted as the best slider thrown by anyone in the entire organization. Representing his native Italy in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic (WBC), Maestri dominated hitters. In the 2009 WBC, Maestri held opponents scoreless in his two plus innings–during which he got Miguel Cabrera to ground out on a fielder’s choice and Magglio Ordonez to strike out.

Since joining the Brisbane Bandits in the Australian Baseball League (ABL) this month, Maestri has been brilliant. In his first two ABL victories against the Canberra Calvary and the Sydney Blue Sox, he threw over 10 innings of scoreless ball and struck out 11. Add to that total another 8 K’s he put down on his most recent indecision versus the Melbourne Aces on November 18th, and Maestri has tallied 19 strike outs in just over 17 innings pitched. With the ABL’s fifth lowest ERA (1.56), the five-foot-eleven Italian has dished out almost nothing but zeros across the box scores. Look for Maestri to battle teammate Yohei Yanagawa–Japan’s 2011 Nippon Professional Baseball League Champion Fukuoka Southbank Hawks reliever, who has struck out 20 as a Bandits starter in over 16 innings–and Canberra Cavalry’s Michael McGuire–a six-foot-seven, 240 pound 2008 First-Year Player Draftee by the Cleveland Indians from the University of Delaware and currently a Philadelphia Phillies minor league starting pitcher, who now leads the ABL with 21 strike outs in 13 plus innings of work–to battle it out until the end for the title of 2011-12 ABL Strike Out King.

When the ABL season concludes in late January, Alex Maestri is scheduled to head to O’Flallon, Missouri to pitch for the 2010 Frontier League Champion River City Rascals after being acquired in a trade last month with the Lincoln Saltdogs–2009 American Association of Independent Professional Baseball Champions. Heralded as the premier Italian born baseball champion of Major League Baseball, Maestri has fast become a favorite in the Australian Baseball League’s appetite for imports as a leader of the Brisbane Bandits.