Game Over: France manager and former All-Star closer Eric Gagne weighs in on the Dodgers, Derek Jeter, Mike Piazza and European Baseball

MLBblogger Roberto Angotti interviews Team France manager Eric Gagne at the 2014 European Baseball Championship (Photo courtesy of Donato Resta/www.IandI-GoProm.com).
MLBblogger Roberto Angotti interviews Team France manager Eric Gagne at the 2014 European Baseball Championship (Photo courtesy IandI-GoPro.com).
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.”

As part of the Jeter Farewell Tour, the Cleveland Indians gave the Yankees Captain a customized Gibson guitar.
For the Jeter Farewell Tour, the Indians gave the Yankee Captain a customized Gibson guitar.

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.”

Under the guidance and direction of Team France manager Eric Gagne, the French baseball revolution has just begun. (Photo courtesy of IandI-GoPro.com).
Under the guidance and direction of Team France manager and Cy Young winner Eric Gagne,
the French baseball revolution has only just begun. (Photo courtesy of IandI-GoPro.com).

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Buon Compleanno to Team Italia’s Chris Denorfia!

Italy's Chris Denorfia celebrates after batting a double against Puerto Rico during the third inning of a second-round elimination game of the World Baseball Classic in Miami, Wednesday, March 13, 2013.
Italy’s Chris Denorfia celebrates after hitting a double against Puerto Rico in a second-round elimination game of the World Baseball Classic at Miami’s Marlins Stadium on March 13, 2013.
As Chris Denorfia turns 33 on July 15th, the love for “The Norf”–the adorned nickname for one of San Diego’s best–is felt all the way to Italy, where his paternal grandmother Michelina lived. The East Coast native first linked up with his Italian roots as a teenager while visiting relatives in Italy and returned again for more Italian family amore in 2002 after graduating from Wheaton College during a Euro backpack adventure. Having represented Team Italy in the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics, Denorfia has a strong international following. Along with Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza, both serve as mentors for young athletes abroad now interested in the game after Italy’s strong showing in the WBC.
San Diego Padres’ Chris Denorfia was recently a guest on MLB Network’s “Intentional Talk”.

"The Norf" by the Friarhood's writer and renowned artist Jeremy Nash
“The Norf” by critically-acclaimed artist Jeremy Nash, writer for the Friarhood (Getty Image 147167820 by Andy Hayt)
The Friarhood is a great website for San Diego baseball fans who want the latest Padres coverage with updated news and analysis. Writer Jeremy Nash not only provides the congregation with his uplifting “Five Good Things” column, but also showcases inspirational traditional and digital art featuring unsung hero Chris Denorfia. Successfully bridging the gap between the Padres’ faithful and lovers of modern art, the Friarhood’s Nash is just as much a rock star as Team Italia’s “Deno” in our book. However, Denorfia possesses superhero power equipped with lethal doses of kryptonite to demolish left-handed pitching. One of his favorite targets is MLB All-Star pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the LA Dodgers. Deno has hit three home runs in his career 31 plate appearances against Kershaw. Kershaw’s losing 0-3 record and inflated 4.67 ERA against the 2013 Padres has a lot to do to Deno’s appetite for Dodger pitching (.342 BA, three home runs, two doubles and eight RBI in 11 games to date).
Join us for Little Italy Night at Petco Park on Saturday, September 21st.
Join us for Little Italy Night when the Dodgers play the Padres at Petco Park on Saturday, September 21.

The Southern California North and South baseball rivalry will be in full effect with playoff hopes when the Dodgers visit Petco Park and battle the Padres on Little Italy Night on Saturday, September 21 at 5:40 pm. A pre-game ceremony honoring the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibition at the Convivio Center (2157 India Street in San Diego’s Little Italy) will take place behind home plate prior to the first pitch. Longtime San Diego Little Italy resident and Padre alumni John D’Acquisto will be our honored guest at Petco Park.
Padres' Chris Denorfia is congratulated by Orioles' Alex Liddi in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Padres’ Chris Denorfia is congratulated by Orioles’ Alex Liddi in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Roberto Clemente Award honors MLB players’ contributions off the field in the community

The Roberto Clemente Award is given annually to a player who demonstrates the values Clemente displayed in his commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others. Each of the 30 MLB clubs nominate a player, and the winner is announced during the World Series. Baseball fans will be automatically registered for a chance to win a grand prize trip for four to the 2012 World Series or $2500 of baseball equipment donated to the their community and an MLB.com gift card when they participate in the process of selecting the national award recipient by clicking HERE
to vote for their favorite 2012 Roberto Clemente Award nominee: Willie Bloomquist (Arizona D-backs), Tim Hudson (Atlanta Braves), Jim Johnson (Baltimore Orioles), Jon Lester (Boston Red Sox), David DeJesus (Chicago Cubs), Jake Peavy (Chicago White Sox), Todd Frazier (Cincinnati Reds), Jason Kipnis (Cleveland Indians), Michael Cuddyer (Colorado Rockies), Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers), Wesley Wright (Houston Astros), Alex Gordon (Kansas City Royals), C.J. Wilson (Los Angeles Angels), Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers), Logan Morrison (Miami Marlins), Rickie Weeks (Milwaukee Brewers), Justin Morneau (Minnesota Twins), Johan Santana (New York Mets), Mark Teixeira (New York Yankees), Brandon McCarthy (Oakland Athletics), Jimmy Rollins (Philadelphia Phillies), Chris Resop (Pittsburgh Pirates), Matt Holliday (St. Louis Cardinals), Luke Gregerson (San Diego Padres), Matt Cain (San Francisco Giants), Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners), David Price (Tampa Bay Rays), Michael Young (Texas Rangers), Ricky Romero (Toronto Blue Jays) and Ryan Zimmerman (Washington Nationals).

2008 Roberto Clemente Award winner Albert Pujols congratulates David Ortiz after being named 2011 Roberto Clemente Award winner before game two of the 2011 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers.
Past Roberto Clemente Award winners have included David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Craig Biggio, Carlos Delgado, John Smoltz, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, Jim Thome, Curt Schilling, Al Leiter, Tony Gwynn, Sammy Sosa, Eric Davis, Kirby Puckett, Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken, Jr., Harold Reynolds, Dave Stewart, Gary Carter, Dale Murphy, Rick Sutcliffe, Garry Maddox, Don Baylor, Ron Guidry, Cecil Cooper, Ken Singleton, Steve Garvey, Phil Niekro, Andre Thornton, Greg Luzinski, Rod Carew, Pete Rose, Lou Brock, Willie Stargell, Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson and Willie Mays.
Willie Mays congratulates Roberto Clemente after hitting his 3000th and final career regular season hit in a game against the Mets in Pittsburgh on September 30, 1972.

Aussie Angel pitching prospect Aaron Sookee throws a heavenly slider destined for Anaheim

One of the most arm demanding pitches in baseball is the slider. The pitch is usually not taught to younger and underdeveloped pitchers unless their arms are physically ready to perfect the pitch. Unfortunately, the slider has caused more elbow injuries than all the other pitches combined. Having said that, when thrown correctly, the slider is one of the most devastating pitches out there. With a new found appreciation for this pitch and the pitchers who throw it, we turn our attention to an Angel pitching prospect that could possibly possess the best slider from his native Australia. Introducing 21-year-old Aaron Sookee

Six-foot-three LA Angel pitching prospect Aaron Sookee was as dominant as ever on the mound as a late-inning reliever for the Australian Baseball League’s Sydney Blue Sox.
The best pitchers in baseball use the slider to their advantage on the field, while their agents successfully utilize it in negotiations to ultimately determine their client’s fame and fortune. It is one of the four pitches that usually dictates a player’s ability to play at a professional level. The slider is very deceptive as the batter sees the ball as a fastball due to its speed and spin, but at the last moment the slider drops in front of home plate–unlike a curve ball which is detected by its spin or the pitching motion of the pitcher. A slider is thrown by grasping the ball with the index finger and middle finger not in the center of the ball, but off a bit to the right. Some of the most notable players to have made the slider one of the most difficult pitches to hit include: Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Bob Gibson, Dennis Eckersley and Steve Carlton; legends Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Sparky Lyle; and pitchers Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Zack Greinke, Johan Santana, Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Joba Chamberlain, Ervin Santana, Aroldis Chapman, Jonny Venters, Daniel Bard and Craig Kimbrel.
Aaron Sookee promises to be an asset to the LA Angels.

Signed by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim scout Grant Weir in 2009, Aaron Sookee knew early on that it was a match made in heaven when the Southern California team made an offer he could not refuse. The teenager pitcher had dreamed of playing professional baseball for the LA Angels, who had at the time been a favorite among Australian baseball fans because of the famed Aussie pitcher and former Angel/Blue Sox Rich Thompson.

2010 Blue Sox Trent Oeltjen and Rich Thompson

Working as a late-inning reliever for the Sydney Blue Sox this past ABL season, Sookee made his presence felt by averaging more than one strike out per inning, which is just about the same ratio of two-year Angel minor league campaign (61 strike outs in 59 innings). Heading into his third Angels Spring Training camp, Aaron appeared more confident and more determined than ever to break into Major League Baseball. The following interview took place in mid-March at the Angels Spring Training facility in Tempe, AZ.

Aaron Sookee will take the momentum from his strong Sydney Blue Sox campaign into 2012.
Roberto: What inspired you to dream of playing Major League Baseball as a kid in Australia?
Aaron Sookee: I guess growing up we didn’t get a lot of the major league games so you had to look to the local teams in the old ABL. I remember watching Gary White and Dave Nilsson, both catchers but really great players. And then more recently Chris Oxspring and Brad Thomas and just seeing how they go about their business to hopefully make me into a major league pitcher one day.
Roberto: When did the bidding war between MLB teams begin for your seven-year professional baseball contract?
Aaron Sookee: In January 2009 is when it began and a few teams, I think five or six from memory, were competing. But as soon as the Angels made a bid, I knew that I wanted to play for the Angels.
Roberto: Now with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson acquired during the offseason, do you think the Angels have the winning combination?
Aaron Sookee: Most definitely, you know what I mean. They should win close to 100 games this year with them two. It should be pretty exciting to watch.
Roberto: Has playing in the Angels farm system and in the Australian Baseball League during the offseason helped you develop into a confident pitcher?
Aaron Sookee: I have come a long way. I think that’s from playing everyday. There’s a different brand of baseball here because you do play everyday and you have to be ready to grind it out everyday. That’s the main difference between Australian baseball and American baseball.
Roberto: What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Aaron Sookee: I think the first plan or goal of mine is to make the long season team
in the Midwest League for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Then step-by-step hopefully one day I get to play pro ball.
Roberto: While a member of the ABL’s Sydney Blue Sox, you were being mentored by former MLB pitching teammates Dae-Sung Koo (New York Mets), Chris Oxspring
(San Diego Padres) and Brad Thomas (Detroit Tigers). Was that inspirational to you?
Aaron Sookee: It definitely was…just watching how those guys go about their business.
It was an honour playing alongside them. I learned a lot from all three of them, even though that Koo didn’t speak much English. He can translate through baseball language I guess and then Thom-O and Ox really helped me grow this offseason.Roberto: Why did you choose to become a pitcher instead of another position?
Aaron Sookee: Because I couldn’t hit. That’s basically it…couldn’t hit! (Laughter)
Roberto: There’s hope thanks to the designated hitter.
Aaron Sookee: Yeah right, it came in for a reason. (Laughter)
Roberto: Your pitching arsenal has improved dramatically with the addition of a wicked
slider, which has successfully ended a lot of innings for you. When did you add that pitch
to your repertoire?
Aaron Sookee: (Laughter) It’s come a long way during the offseason…maybe the last calendar year. I’ve been working really hard on it. I just can’t wait to use it this season.
Roberto: With that pitch, are you the Australian version of the Italian slider expert Alessandro Maestri of the Brisbane Bandits?
Aaron Sookee: Yeah, I guess so (laughter). Maestri has carved Sydney a few times…
He’s a true professional in every aspect of the word. Roberto: Does it feel good when fans ask for your autograph?
Aaron Sookee: It’s very humbling to see that fans appreciate what you do and all the
hard work that you put in because it translates to performance on the field. Yeah, it’s good.
Roberto: Any advice for the youth back home that are considering playing baseball?
Aaron Sookee: Just stick with it. Every time you can throw a ball, throw it and don’t hold back. Don’t leave any stone left unturned and just go after it. Don’t be afraid to play.
That’s the main thing I think.
Roberto: Thanks for taking time out to talk today.
Aaron Sookee: Thank you. It’s been a honour. Thanks for having me.