Team Italy manager Mike Piazza has given back to countless of his favorite charities over the years, but it is nice to see the National Baseball Hall of Famer being recognized as the Viscardi Center’s Sportsman of the Year on May 20, 2021. In its 54th year, the Viscardi Center’s Celebrity Sports Night continues to be one of the premier fundraising events in the New York Metropolitan area. The event raises funds to enrich the lives of children and adults with all types of disabilities and acute medical needs. Attended by several hundred community leaders, philanthropic individuals, celebrities and pro athletes, the Viscardi Center’s 54th Annual Celebrity Sports Night is not to be missed. To learn more on how you can participate in this year’s virtual event, click HERE.
Mike Piazza has also been kind enough to contribute items of interest in the online silent auction. Fans can bid on a Mike Piazza Autographed Framed Photograph of his monumental home run in the first game back after 9/11 with his special inscription “United We Stand.” In addition, baseball aficionados can bid on a Virtual 30-minute VIP Meet and Greet with Mike Piazza for up to 10 people. Everyone will also receive a personally signed baseball by the Team Italy manager. Another interesting silent auction item is an invitation to The Wine 100 hosted by Derek Jeter, who proudly presents a private Wine Tasting party featuring some of the most desirable wines in the world. The exclusive event is limited to 100 couples and is held in Naples, Florida on a Saturday in January 2022. Time and location will be revealed privately to all participants.
The Viscardi Center’s Celebrity Sports Night on Thursday, May 20, 2021 kicks off at 6:30 pm (EDT) with an action-packed online cocktail reception featuring live interactions on Zoom with Italian American baseball favorite Bobby Valentine and others. To join in on the fun, click HERE.
Nick Leto, manager of the Kansas City Royals’ Arizona Operations, is worth his weight in gold for not only signing 17-year-old Italian MLB prospect Marten Gasparini but also for his outstanding work as a minor league affiliate leader. The recent recipient of the organization’s Matt Minker Award after eight years of dedicated service, Leto is critical to the success of the Major League Spring Training in Surprise and the Kansas City’s Rookie League affiliates. It was Leto who recommended Gasparini to the organization after seeing the speedy switch-hitting shortstop in Italy. Having spent much time working at the Italian MLB Academy in Tirrenia in 2006 and 2007, Nick had close connections with former Chicago Cubs’ international scout and FIBS Academy director Bill Holmberg. So when word got out that a very special player was training and developing under Holmberg’s watchful eye, Leto had a distinct Italian famiglia advantage over all MLB suitors.
Marten Gasparini was the first European baseball player to sign a contract in excess of $1 million dollars when the Royals signed him in 2013. Heralded by Baseball America as “quite possibly Europe’s best prospect ever”, he is the real deal. After starting with 2014 Rookie League Burlington, Marten played his final four games with Idaho Falls and went 5-for-11 with a home run and three RBI. With six stolen bases in 23 games, Marten Gasparini is a natural-born athlete. Roberto: You have some Jamaican roots, with your mom being of West Indian descent living in London, and your father being Italian. In both cultures, family is very important and is the foundation for everything.
Marten Gasparini: Yes, it is. I don’t know know much about Jamaica because my mom and I have never been there. But in Italy…absolutely family is the biggest thing, and nothing is more important than family.
Roberto: You began playing stickball when you were eight-years-old and picked up your first baseball bat at age 10, correct?
Marten Gasparini: Yeah, like for fun with my friends. I used to watch baseball movies and read books and newspapers about the game. Everybody loves America, you know. America is famous throughout the whole world. American sports are famous…baseball, basketball, football. They are kind of attractive. I wanted to try it and see how it would turn out.
Roberto: Did you always play shortstop or with the speed you that you possess and are blessed with did you find playing centerfield gave you more versatility? Did FIBS Academy Director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg have a big influence on you while playing for the Italian National team at the various levels?
Marten Gasparini: He has been a positive influence on me and has put me at shortstop because he always thought that was the best position for me to play. I can play in the outfield and that’s where I played my first workout with the Italian National Under 18 team. That was because I was young and they needed players with more experience at that position.
Roberto: Playing with the Italian National team in Seoul, South Korea and Chihuahua, Mexico must have impacted you personally and professionally as you became a more confident and mature ballplayer.
Marten Gasparini: It was nice. It’s always nice to see different cultures, meet different people from other countries and see how life is over there. It was fun and interesting for me to get to see all these countries. It’s obviously been helpful for me to be a part of these international tournaments.
Roberto: The spotlights were on you.
Marten Gasparini: Exactly. It was exciting and a very important experience for me.
Roberto: Having been on that international stage, has that prepared you now ay you ascend up in the minor leagues with desire to become a major league ballplayer?
Marten Gasparini: I think it is different because when you play for your national team it just because of the pride you have got for the team. You want your team to win when you want your country to have success in these types of tournaments. But here (in Arizona) it’s obviously a game but you have to do if for a job. Any you look forward (to the future). It’s like a project. It’s a path you have to go into. It’s not that important to play hard now if you keep healthy, but maybe in some international tournaments you have to give all you got in a short period of time. I think this is the biggest difference.
Roberto: You have some personal favorite players in Derek Jeter, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. What do these players have that has resonated in your heart to make you desire to be at their level?
Marten Gasparini: Derek Jeter is such a professional player and he is a legend. He became a legend for a team like the Yankees coming from the bottom. He was raised by them, and he became their captain. That’s something that everybody would like to be for their organization. I like the excitement that Kemp and Puig can bring to the table when they play. They are very athletic and explosive players. I like the way they play the game.
Roberto: After visiting the Italian MLB Academy and watching you play with some of the best European prospects, I came to realize the potential of baseball outside of the U.S. Do you think Italy cam be one of the best emerging markets for the game?
Marten Gasparini: We’ve been working a lot to make things possible. I think there are more players to come. There have already been some players that have been signed by professional teams, and I think that I can be a big part of it.
Roberto: Watching Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic must have been inspirational to you. Did you wear your pride on your sleeve during the competition?
Marten Gasparini: Yes. We were at the Italian Academy in Tirrenia watching the games. We were all watching the TV and not missing a minute or a pitch. We were all super excited when the games ended in our favor over Mexico and Canada. It was one of the most amazing feelings I have ever had.
Roberto: While working out at the Italian Academy, you had frequent visits from Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza.
Marten Gasparini: I didn’t really get to know him well. Just having him there with Bill Holmberg was amazing. I know that they are very close friends. Just having a person like him coming down to watch us play is an honor for me.
Roberto: Mike Piazza wants to give back to the game in Italy in honor of his heritage.
Marten Gasparini: He has pride in his origins and this is a good thing that everybody should have.
Roberto: What are your personal goals now that you have reached the professional level with the Kansas City Royals?
Marten Gasparini: It was my expectation and in my plan to go pro since I started playing baseball to be this type of player and achieve these results. I’m very happy to be here. I’m blessed to be here. Now I just have to keep working.
Roberto: What does it mean to be a part of the Kansas City Royals family with the rich history of great all-stars that have come out of the franchise?
Marten Gasparini: I think the Royals are one of the greatest organizations in all of sports. I’m very happy to be a part of it. I think I’m with the greatest group of people that I could choose. Of course, their history speaks for itself just by saying the name George Brett and the kind of player he was. He has been a very important part of the baseball game history.
Roberto: Coincidentally, the Royals and Team Italia share the same color uniforms. You couldn’t have predicted a better outcome.
Marten Gasparini: Maybe a coincidence?
Roberto: Or more like by design..
Marten Gasparini: Yes!
Roberto: Showing up at the Royals Instructional Camp in Arizona. You must have met a melting pot of cultures from the Caribbean and South America who share the same passion for baseball.
Marten Gasparini: There is even a Korean player. I think the Royals have always been doing a great job of signing international players. We have here a great group of international players that have pride and passion for the game.
Great to see Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini in @Royals camp today. KC is the favorite baseball team of Italy. Great colors too. #Azzurri
Roberto: Do you hope to become a role model for Italian baseball players wo have the same dream to play professionally as Alex Liddi did by being the first Italian-born-and-developed player to make it to the Big Leagues? What do you and Alex Liddi have in common?
Marten Gasparini: He already achieved the feat to become a Major League baseball player. I still have to work my way to get there. But if I can say something. We both might be good examples for young players in Italy to believe in their dreams and believe in themselves. Just for them to work hard and be what they want to be.
Roberto: Let’s predict the 2017 Team Italia WBC lineup and say that both you and Liddi play the infield next to each at shortstop and third base. That must be on your mind.
Marten Gasparini: It is absolutely… I’m looking forward to it. It will be a great honor for me to play in that tournament with Alex Liddi and Mike Piazza on the coaching staff. But like I said I have to work hard and to focus to get there.
Roberto: Have you ever thought of how it have been for you had you would have been invited to play shortstop for Team Italia in the 2013 WBC?
Marten Gasparini: I don’t think I would have been ready to go there. I have respect for the shortstop that played for Team Italia. It wasn’t easy for anybody to play in that kind of tournament. It was the first-time for many of the Italian players who had no international or major league experience. That is just something that happens. I don’t know how I would have dealt the emotions and everything. I still think that Italy has done a great job in the World Baseball Classic. It’s just the first of years to come. I think we will have a very good team in the next World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: Enough respect to Team Italia shortstop Anthony Granado. We love you like pasta. It was commendable for him to step up in the WBC.
Marten Gasparini: I think that he was a great player.
Roberto: It’s just how the game goes. Baseball is a game of chance and strategy. Where the ball bounces, nobody knows… Despite many of the players just meeting for the first-time in the WBC, Team Italia played like a family as if they had been playing together for years.
Marten Gasparini: That shows the pride that these players have for their origins. It’s nice to know that people have respect for Italia.
Roberto: You were raised in a part of Italy near the Slovenian border. What was that like?
Marten Gasparini: It really didn’t influence my life. I’m pretty far from it. But I’m still in a region that also has multi-cultural roots. It is near Slovenia and Austria so you can see and hear people talking in German, Slovenian and Italian as well. So it’s kind of a multi-cultural region.
Roberto: You spent a lot of time in London with family as well.
Marten Gasparini: Yes, with my mother’s mother and her brothers and sisters. Roberto: So you must have had some Jamaican reggae music influence?
Marten Gasparini: Yes. I like reggae music. I’m not really a good dancer, but we could see the Jamaican roots.
Roberto: As Bob Marley did in promoting reggae internationally, you are doing the same thing for baseball in Italy and Europe.
Marten Gasparini: I’m honored to have the opportunity to do that and represent my country in that way.
Roberto: What kind of music are you listening to now in America?
Marten Gasparini: Maybe some rap or some deejays with electronic music. It’s very popular here so I just get into the mood and listen to the beat.
Roberto: Did you learn about Italian American icon Joe DiMaggio growing up?
Marten Gasparini: Joe DiMaggio was more popular in Italy for his marriage to Marilyn Monroe than a baseball player. But obviously baseball wise he’s one of main parts of Italian baseball history. We’re very proud of having him. He’s just one of many Italian American players that made this sport so great.
Roberto: And his visit to Nettuno only confirmed how big of an impact Americans had on baseball’s growth in Italy.
Marten Gasparini: Obviously Nettuno was the biggest thing for baseball in Italy when the Americans introduced the game during World War II. But also near where I live in Trieste the Americans were there too teaching baseball to us Italians.
Roberto: Are you learning any other languages so that you can continue to teach others the game?
Marten Gasparini: I have translated for American coaches coming over to talk to Italian teams. Right now I’m learning how to speak Spanish so that I can help some of the Latin players. A lot of the players here have been friendly and have asked me to help them learn some words in Italian and how to speak the language. It’s very hard for them to understand it, but I’m trying to do my best.
Roberto: You are blessed with speed. Have you have always been gifted to be the leader of the pack?
Marten Gasparini: Yes. Since I have been in school, I have always been one of the fastest in my class. I had fun showing off my speed by playing games and playing soccer. I have always had fun running fast.
Roberto: In baseball your mind has to be in the present one pitch at a time rather than daydreaming about the future.
Marten Gasparini: That’s the mindset that every player has to have if you want to have success. You have to work. Like I have been told it’s a grind, and it’s not easy for anybody. But you have to keep working and keep your mind focused on what you have to do in order to have success.
Roberto: What advice do you have for all the young players aspiring to become professional ballplayers?
Marten Gasparini: You just got to have fun. Keep in mind your dreams and remember to be professional by playing the game in a professional way. Most importantly enjoy…
Roberto: Any words for Bill Holmberg, director of the Italian Academy and the people behind the scenes at FIBS?
Marten Gasparini: Thank you very much for all the things you have done for me. I appreciate it a lot. I will always keep you in my thoughts, especially all the things that you have taught me. It’s still a big part of my mindset every day.
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.”
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).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.
It’s a warm day outside the gate of the players’ entrance to Camelback Ranch.
As the players enter in their SUVs with radios blaring and bling flashing in typical Hollywood style, they simply nod to the semi-retired security guard working the players’ gate entrance prior to driving in one-by-one. However, when Aussie Shane Lindsay approaches, a modest smile and a cordial “g’day” is offered.
After parking his vehicle, the fashionably-conscious Lindsay exudes confidence. Despite not having thrown one pitch for the Dodgers and being reassigned to the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes, Shane remains optimistic that he will be making his debut in a True Blue uniform at Chavez Ravine shortly. The 27-year-old Lindsay made his MLB debut for the Chicago White Sox in September 2011, and the LA Dodgers took notice. Shane Lindsay pitched one inning as a reliever at Comerica Park that night and allowed no hits with a strike out and a walk. The six-foot-one, two hundred five-pounder made three other relief appearances before the end of the 2011 season. Lindsay elected free agency in October 2011, and agent Paul Kinzer reported in November that his client had signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Shane said, “We were in discussions for a while. We had talked to around ten different teams. I sort of left it in the agent’s hands (to choose) the best suitoring situation and what he felt. That’s kind of his job I guess. So far it’s been good, you know. Obviously I haven’t played for them yet or even thrown a pitch, but I like it so far. It’s a bit slow of what I had hoped it to be. I unfortunately suffered a setback–a strained lat muscle right before Spring Training–and it sidelined me for a majority of it so far. So we’ll see how it comes up in the end.” Lindsay has been working hard to be ready for the start of the 2012 Albuquerque Isotopes season and for his eventual call up to the LA Dodgers.
Despite being injured, Lindsay has nothing but praise for the Dodger franchise. “You don’t ever want to be hurt,” Shane continued. “But as far as places to be hurt and the treatment and stuff…I don’t think you can beat this. (They are a) very forward thinking organization and very modern in the way they go about things. So love it so far and hopefully it will be a longtime stay.” With the recent announcement of the group led by Magic Johnsontaking over Dodger ownership, Lindsay remains upbeat. He commented, “It’s an organization with a lot of heritage, a very prestigious organization. I’m just really excited of it all. I’m sure there are big changes on the horizon, and hopefully it’s a very exciting change.” Lindsay joins another Australian in the Dodger organization, Trent Oeltjen. Shane spoke of their friendship and the warm reception he received at Dodger camp in Glendale, Arizona. “We’ve lived together and been mates for a longtime now. (During) a few different Spring Trainings, he has stayed with us. We’ve become close over the years. It’s been very good for the both of us to sort of play together. I think he’s excited as I am…I know his wife is too. So it’s good to have another Aussie, and everybody here has been fantastic–very friendly, very outgoing.” Australia has produced over 330 players who have signed professional contracts with Major League Baseball (MLB) clubs and boasts more MLB contracted players than talent pools from China and its province in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Cuba. Australia set a country-best record in 2011 with nine Aussie major leaguers.
When Lindsay was asked what Big League goals he has set himself for 2012, he responded confidently: “Establish myself at the major league level and prove to everybody else what I know I can do. I’m just trying to contribute in whatever way I can and help us get towards that World Series Championship. It’s what everybody’s goal is…” Magic Johnson along with new co-owner Mark Walter share the same sentiment as Lindsay and the Dodgers based on what he told the Los Angeles Times back in December while pursing the franchise. Johnson said, “The first thing I asked Walter was, ‘Do you want to win, and do you want to put money in?’ He said, ‘Absolutely’ … He told me three times, ‘All I want to do is get to the World Series.'” Aussie pitcher Shane Lindsay has an uphill battle ahead of him to get a World Series ring. He conceded, “Obviously from a statistical standpoint, the biggest setback is the walks and the issues that we’ve had. But there is a lot more to it. And anybody that sort of knows me I’m trying to take pride in getting it down. We’ve done a lot of work over the last 18 months with mechanics, and I hope to just build on that this year. Being able to repeat my delivery with a very consistent mental approach will yield consistent results on the field too.” Homer Simpson will welcome Shane Lindsay to Isotope country. The team’s name was voted on in an online survey of readers of the Albuquerque Tribune. Officially, there is a tie-in to New Mexico’s history with nuclear energy, but really it’s about the episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer goes on a hunger strike to prevent the Springfield Isotopes from moving to Albuquerque.
However, the Albuquerque Isotopes prevailed in the end, and The Simpsons have found a home there too. Life-sized figures of Homer and Marge grace the main concourse, a mural of Homer haunts the ‘Topes clubhouse and all sorts of other whimsical tributes to America’s favorite cartoon family are discovered throughout the ballpark. The Simpsons have had their share of airtime, but now all eyes are on pitcher Shane Lindsay. He is known as an aggressive reliever with an electric fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and a wild delivery. Throwing with extreme intensity, no pitch delivery is ever the same. Shane Lindsay has a sharp curveball that freezes hitters and results in less than desirable at-bats. Not afraid to throw his fastball inside, Lindsay lives on the edge and provides high drama every outing on the mound.
Shane Lindsay has received a lot of media attention for all the wrong reasons after being labeled “wild”. While outside a California restaurant in late May of 2008, Lindsay and a member of his Colorado Rockies Single-A Advanced Minor League affiliate Modesto Nuts host family were attacked. The end result was a trip to the local hospital, where eight screws and a metal plate were surgically implanted in his left hand. Lindsay reflected, “It’s just was one of those situations where (it was the) wrong place, wrong time. It definitely could have been avoided had I just not been there. I’m not a troublemaker. I don’t instigate. I’m not out there trying to disrespect anybody or anything like that. But unfortunately in this world, things…instances happen. It was a terrible day in my life, and hopefully I learned a lot from that.” Shaking off rumors that he was the Aussie version of Derek Jeter, Shane was asked if their was any validity to him dating Los Angeles party girl Lindsay Lohan. Shane chuckled with laughter then replied: “Definitely not true. I’ve
never met the girl.” But when pressured to find out if he would invite her to the Dodger locker room, he caved in laughing and admitted: “Sure, why not?”
In Jeter-like fashion he added, “Anyone is welcome.”Lindsay has been working diligently during the offseason so that he is granted access to the 2012 Dodger Clubhouse. Pitching for his hometown Melbourne Aces in the Australian Baseball League, Shane was able to stretch out as a starter and solidify his mechanics. Ace manager Phil Dale, who also coaches the Australian National team, praised Lindsay for his strength and his boost to the team. “He’s what you call a power arm,” said Dale. “It’s like a Brett Lee in bowling. He’s one of the fast bowlers, but what the baseballers call power pitchers.” Lindsay enjoyed his time in the ABL. He said, “It was a fantastic opportunity for me personally. It allowed me to go home from the White Sox–where we were really breaking ground on mechanics stuff and approach to the game–and it gave me a platform to work on it. Phil Dale was good enough to allow me to start and get a lot of repetitions in and a lot of different things. I felt like I achieved a lot. My numbers were not fantastic, but at the end of the day we’re trying to achieve certain goals. I think I achieved them, and I can’t wait to show that I have.” Seemingly scripted for the entertainment capital of the world, the timing is perfect for Isotope relief pitcher Shane Lindsay to show his best stuff in Albuquerque so that he is able to steal the Magic show and go prime time in Los Angeles.
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.
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.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.
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.
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 Pantherscatcher 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.
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…”
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. 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!