Kansas City Royals reunite Team Italy’s Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini

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Team Italy’s Marten Gasparini and Alex Liddi at 2015 Kansas City Royals Spring Training Camp in Surprise, Arizona (Photo by Roberto Angotti)

It appears that the 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals want to return to their winning ways by bringing Italy’s finest exports, Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini, back together again. Alex Liddi, the first Italian-born and developed player to make to it to Major League Baseball (Seattle Mariners, 2011), recently re-signed with the Kansas City Royals organization after spending the last two years playing in Mexico. Marten Gasparini, who signed for $1.3 million with the Kansas City Royals in 2013, is the player insiders believe will follow in Liddi’s footsteps as the second Italian-born and developed player in the Big Leagues. Gasparini is still heralded as Europe’s top MLB prospect and is progressing every day up the ladder in Minor League Baseball. Nick Leto, Manager of Arizona Operations for the Kansas City Royals, said, “We’re very happy to be reuniting the Italians again.”

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Alex Liddi takes batting practice prior to the 2013 Italy/Mexico World Baseball Classic game at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona.

After being signed the first time by the Kansas City Royals on December 28, 2014, Liddi was named 2015 Texas League Mid-Season All-Star while playing for Double-A affiliate Northwest Arkansas but never got the opportunity to join fellow Team Italy comrade Drew Butera on the 2015 World Champion Royals. Later he signed with 2015 Mexican Baseball League Champion Tigres de Quintana Roo in 2016. Hitting a respectable .281 in 110 games played, Alex led the Tigres in doubles (28), triples (4), home runs (23), RBI (91), total bases (220) and slugging percentage (.538). He was crowned 2016 Mexican All-Star Home Run Derby Champion by launching 12 homers that cleared the outfield fences with ease.

The Mexican baseball accolades continued for Alex as he later became the first Italian to play in the Caribbean Series when joining 2016 Mexican Champion Venados de Mazatlán. Better known as Serie del Caribe or the Caribbean World Series, it is Latin America’s highest competitive baseball tournament at the club level featuring the respective champions from Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. In his final four games playing for Mexico’s Venados de Mazatlán, Liddi went 4-for-17 with a triple and a double to help the Mexicans become 2016 Caribbean Series Champion. After playing for Team Italy in the 2016 European Baseball Championship, Alex underwent left knee surgery. He rebounded triumphantly and returned to his winning form by powering Toros de Tijuana to the 2017 Mexican League Championship with 17 home runs during the regular season.

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Team Italy third baseman Alex Liddi

The great American author Charles Dickens once wrote: “The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.” The old adage is appropriate in the case of Alex Liddi and his recent re-signing by the Kansas City Royals. Leto said, “Alex made a great impression on the Royals when we had him. We have scouts that keep up with the league in Mexico. He’s someone that we checked on from time to time, and he almost came back into the organization last summer. The draw to Alex is his power, professionalism and makeup. He’s a winner. Experience isn’t everything, but Alex has played in a lot professional minor league games. He has major league experience, big time world tourney experience and foreign league experience. Alex has been through a lot of ups and downs while being around a lot of players. He knows what success and failure look like. Alex is a people person, who likes to be in the clubhouse. He is a run producer and an excellent teammate. Alex has been invited to minor league mini-camp so he’ll be in position to play in some major league spring training games.”

Alex Liddi is the face of Italian baseball. The first player from Italy to play in the Major Leagues since 1954, Liddi was honored by World Baseball Softball Federation president Riccardo Fraccari, who called him “a real ambassador of Italian baseball.” With the opportunity to spur the growth of baseball in Europe by competing at the sport’s highest level, Alex Liddi has inspired young Italian athletes like Royals’ prospect Marten Gasparini to believe that playing Major League Baseball is a reality.

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KC Royals prospect Marten Gasparini

Gasparini is still a work-in-progress, and according to MLB.com, the 20-year-old is the Royals 19th-ranked prospect. Adapting to his new position in the outfield from shortstop, the switch-hitting Gasparini played for Single-A affiliate Lexington in 2017. Leto, who was instrumental in the Royals’ signing of Marten, spoke confidently about Gasparini. He said, “There’s great belief in Marten’s ability. It’s a process. All players develop differently. There’s no question about Marten ability, it’s just time and reps. Switch-hitting is a really difficult skill to develop. Marten has experienced a lot of things for the first time since signing a professional contract. His intelligence, maturity, and awareness are going to allow these lessons to stick and be applied. There’s no doubt Marten will be a major league player, not a just a player, a special major league player, a championship player.”

Slugger+Minnesota+Twins+v+Kansas+City+Royals+Nkp9WTMdt8wlWith the support of the Kansas City Royals organization, both Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini are destined for success. Despite a nine-year age difference between them, both players share the same intensity, tenacity and desire to play Major League Baseball. With a plethora of adoring fans from Europe, North America and south of the border cheering him on, international baseball ambassador Alex Liddi believes he is ready for his return to MLB. Marten Gasparini would like nothing more to join his mentor on the Kansas City Royals. Nick Leto would also like that very much. He said, “Who knows, maybe they’ll both get to Kansas City together…”

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UC Davis alums Biagini, Descalso, LaTorre and Grifantini are proud Italian Americans

biaginiThe writing is on the wall just as it was in 2012 when former UC Davis Aggie pitcher Marco Grifantini and catcher Tyler LaTorre helped Team Italia capture its second consecutive European Baseball Championship by defeating a talented Kingdom of the Netherlands squad and again in 2013 when both California natives played in the World Baseball Classic. With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, two additional UC Davis alums–Toronto Blue Jays reliever Joe Biagini and free agent infielder Daniel Descalso–could potentially give manager Marco Mazzieri a boost if the Italian American players are added to the Team Italia roster. One could make a strong case for Biagini’s participation should fellow Jays bullpen paisan Jason Grilli be playing in his fourth consecutive World Baseball Classic for Team Italia. Joseph Carlo Biagini‘s Italian family bloodlines run deep with relatives in Lucca. His Italian great uncle, Carlo Biagini, was a merchant marine there. Joe’s father, Rob Biagini–who spent time playing ball in the Giants organization from 1981 to 1982–also played abroad in Italy with former teammate Chris Colabello’s father, Lou Colabello. However, it might take an executive order from new Canadian-born Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) president Andrea Marcon to get Biagini onboard with Team Italia in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

After redshirting and playing one year at the College of San Mateo, right-handed pitcher Joe Biagini transferred to UC Davis, where he made 13 appearances out of the Aggies bullpen and went 3-1. He was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 26th round of the 2011 MLB draft after his redshirt sophomore season. On December 10, 2015, Biagini was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays from the San Francisco Giants in the 2015 Rule 5 draft. On April 8, 2016, Joe made his MLB debut when he pitched a perfect ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox and posted his first career strikeout facing David Ortiz. In his six appearances during the 2016 postseason against Baltimore, Texas and Cleveland, Biagini threw 7.1 scoreless innings with six strikeouts. He was the unanimous choice for rookie of the year at the recent annual Blue Jays player awards. The 26-year-old reliever was the only Jays rookie to go wire-to-wire with the team, a major accomplishment for a Rule 5 draftee. Starting out the season as a middle-relief fixture for manager John Gibbons, Joe gained the trust of the veteran skipper who later assigned him to late-inning duty. Biagini has since been the center of attention in the media as a result of being in the audience at a taping of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. During the show, Fallon passed Biagini in the audience and attempted to high-five him along with other audience members, but the popular celebrity TV host missed Biagini’s hand. During the November 18th episode, Fallon stated that he had taken criticism on Twitter for botching the high-five and brought Biagini out on stage briefly to complete their high-five.

Daniel Descalso was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third round of the 2007 MLB draft following his junior season at UC Davis. Descalso made his MLB debut with the Cardinals on September 20, 2010.  Despite the 30-year-old Italian American utility man only having a .242 career average, Descalso is much more important on the field as he has played every position but catcher and center field. After five successful seasons–including a 2011 World Series title–in St. Louis,  Descalso signed with the Colorado Rockies on December 16, 2014. Rockies manager Walt Weiss recently said, “Daniel has a great pedigree, he’s played in the postseason, played in the World Series. And that goes a long way in that clubhouse. Guys understand how hard it is to get there. He’s a winning player, he’s got a winning attitude, he’s a leader… so, his value goes way beyond the stat sheet.” When asked if Descalso might make a good coach or manager in the future, Weiss replied: “Yeah, absolutely. I think he’s definitely cut from that mold. He’s one of those guys that has obviously been a student of the game. He’s a smart player. He played at a small school, UC Davis, and has probably always had to prove himself and overachieve to some degree but he’s put together a nice Major League career.” Descalso was the second UC Davis Aggie player to ever reach MLB in 2010 and the first to win a World Series ring in 2011. Before becoming the Aggies’ second-highest MLB draft pick, Daniel hit a team-best .397 as a junior in 2007, with 22 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 53 runs scored and 44 RBI. With infielder Nick Punto now retired and serving as the Team Italia third base coach, the versatile Daniel Descalso could prove to be a valuable defensive replacement and offensive spark plug in the World Baseball Classic.

For the past two years, Tyler LaTorre has been working as an assistant baseball coach at  San Francisco State University under head coach Tony Schifano–who spent eight years as the assistant coach at UC Davis, his alma mater. Like Schifano, LaTorre is a former Aggies all-star. Tyler played at UC Davis from 2003-06, earning all-conference honors as a senior when he hit a team-high and career-best .363 with 37 runs and 32 RBI. He drew a team-best 28 walks and led the Aggies with a .451 on-base percentage. LaTorre was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Francisco Giants on May 29, 2006 after a five-year UC Davis career. The former catcher played 10 seasons in the minor leagues–including nine of them in the San Francisco Giants organization–when he caught the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong before signing a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015. During his pro ball career, LaTorre played a total of 452 minor league games during which he posted a .241 career average with 60 doubles, 14 home runs, 131 RBI and 155 runs scored. Yet, some of Tyler’s most memorable games included his time playing for Team Italia in the 2012 European Baseball Championship when he nearly won MVP tourney honors after going 14-for-28. Eight of his 14 hits were for extra bases–including six doubles and two home runs. LaTorre absolutely raked at the plate, knocking in nine RBI and scoring nine times during the international tournament. “We had one goal and that was to repeat as European champions,” said LaTorre. “It was awesome.” He also enjoyed serving as backup for Team Italia catcher Drew Butera in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The 33-year-old Italian American started against Team USA and went 1-for-4 with a walk and one run scored. LaTorre’s Italian roots trace back to his great-grandparents in Italy. It took two and a half years for him to become eligible to play for Team Italia as a dual citizen and Italian passport holder after thorough research, documentation and tedious paperwork authenticating his Italian lineage.

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Team Italia’s Luca Panerati, Tyler LaTorre, Marco Grifantini and Pat Venditte at the 2013 World Baseball Classic
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Team Italia reliever Marco Grifantini pitching in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Having spent his 2007-08 seasons as a reliever in his final two years of college at UC Davis, Marco Grifantini did not register on MLB’s radar and was not drafted. Unfazed by pro baseball’s cold shoulder, Marco’s passion for the game grew stronger and he chose a path less traveled. Upon securing dual citizenship and an Italian passport, Grifantini was given the opportunity to pitch for Cariparma Parma in the Italian Baseball League and Team Italia in the 2009 World Cup. Marco helped his 2010 Parma squad secure its first national title since 1997 after going undefeated all season and pitching four scoreless innings to pick up the save in the decisive game seven of the Italian Baseball League Championship. Later that year pitching for Team Italia, Grifantini notched another important save in relief to allow the Azzurri to dethrone the Dutch and win the 2010 European Baseball Championship. In addition, Marco got the win in games against South Korea and Taiwan in the 2010 IBAF Intercontinental Cup to assure Team Italia a bronze medal. Team Italia won its second consecutive European Baseball Championship in 2012 thanks in part to the relief work of Marco Grifantini. Prior to pitching for Team Italia in 2013 World Baseball Classic, Grifantini made 53 appearances over four seasons for Cariparma Parma in the Italian Baseball League and posted a 19-4 record with a 1.89 ERA. His impressive performance against the Los Angeles Angels in a 2013 pre-WBC exhibition game in Tempe, Arizona led MLB scouts to scratch their heads in disbelief that Grifantini had been undrafted out of UC Davis five years prior. Immediately following the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Grifantini signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. In his only season playing pro ball for the Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays in 2013, Marco started six games and went 3-2 with a 5.21 ERA. The proud 31-year-old Italian American has since returned to his home in Redding, California. Grifantini said, “I am now starting my career in a local hospital as a pharmacy technician, and I plan on getting married in the summer. As for baseball, I have helped train a few youngsters and plan on coaching  locally to give back to a sport that gave me so much.”

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An elated Marco Grifantini signed a minor league contract with the Blue Jays in 2013.

Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri reflects on third-place finish in 2016 European Baseball Championship

new-logo-fibs Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri has been synonymous with Italian baseball since his playing days in the 1980’s. During his ten-year tenure as the leader of the Team Italia coaching staff, Mazzieri has made the Italians proud with European Baseball Championship titles in 2010 and 2012. He has worked closely with FIBS in its mission of strengthening the game in Italy and Europe. Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball(FIBS) has been instrumental in developing its own homegrown pool of talent at the FIBS Baseball Academy under the watchful eye of MLB director and Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg.

Kingdom of the Netherlands manager Steve Janssen and Italia manager Marco Mazzieri exchange lineup cards prior to the start of their game in the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (photo courtesy of Enzio /FIBS)
Netherlands manager Steve Janssen and Italia manager Marco Mazzieri shake and exchange
lineup cards in the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
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Italia manager Marco Mazzieri is also the LA Dodgers’ European scout. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)

In preparation of the 2016 European Baseball Championship, Italian Baseball Week showcased three of Europe’s finest: Italia, Spain and the Czech Republic. Despite losing two of the four exhibition games held in Tirrenia and Firenze, the Italians played solid fundamental baseball and used the competition to narrow down their final roster prior to the start of the Euro championship in the Netherlands. Two additional pitchers, Tiago Da Silva and Luis Lugo, caught up with Team Italia in Hoofddorp to bolster the Italian pitching arsenal and to increase the Azzurri’s chances of reclaiming the European throne from the defending Dutch champions.

Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri (center) with coaches Marco Nanni (left) and Alberto D'Auria (right) at the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
Manager Marco Mazzieri (center) with coaches Marco Nanni (left) and Alberto D’Auria (right) at the 2016 European Baseball Championship in the Netherlands. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
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Alessandro Vaglio in the 2013 World Baseball Classic showed great promise under hitting coach Mike Piazza. (Photo courtesy of Donato Resta-IandI-GoPro.com)

During Team Italia’s first three wins against Greece, France and Belgium in the 2016 European Baseball Championship, the Azzurri offense scored a total of 42 runs. Italia then lost a heartbreaker versus second-place finisher Spain when with the score tied 3-3 in the ninth inning the Spanish rallied to win 9-3. The Italians rebounded with gusto by crushing Croatia 22-4 and shutting out Germany 12-0. Team Italia infielder Alessandro Vaglio led all hitters in the 2016 European Baseball Championship with 17 runs scored, while catcher Mattia Reginato hit for the cycle against Greece and also led the Euros in RBI (12). In fact, Team Italia led the tourney in runs (87), hits (99) and batting average (.355).

Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri talks with slugger Alex Liddi during the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri talks with slugger Alex Liddi prior to game against
Spain during the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
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Pitcher Luca Panerati in the 2016 European Baseball Championship (Photo courtesy of Claudio Vecchi-FIBS)

Crafty left-hander Luca Panerati, a graduate of the Italian Baseball Academy in Tirrenia and a former Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect, gave quality starts against France and Kingdom of the Netherlands. Closer Nicholas Pugliese was one out away from securing a Team Italia win versus the Dutch when a controversial call at the plate forced the game into extra innings. Notable pitching performances included two by southpaw veteran Junior Oberto, starter against Greece and Germany.

italia-thx-teaser-002 Despite losing 6-5 to Kingdom of the Netherlands in a late night ten inning contest, Team Italia returned less than 12 hours later to defeat the Czech Republic 3-2 in their final game of the 2016 European Baseball Championship. Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri shared his final thoughts with MLBforLife.com at the conclusion of the international competition. Mazzieri said, “We’re very happy the way the players performed throughout the tournament. We battled against each and every team. We played some very good baseball. We only committed two errors in all our games, which is incredible at this level. The guys gave it their all. We lost a heartbreaker to the Netherlands. The way we lost and the ways we battled. I think we deserved to win that game. We only slept a couple hours before our next game because nobody could sleep after that loss. I really don’t know where these guys get the energy to get back in these games and actually win the way we did. They showed a lot to me… Nobody but us expected to see Team Italia with that will, commitment, effort and great attitude throughout the whole game against the Netherlands. We scored two and we were up by two runs in the 8th (inning). The Netherlands came back and tied the score. We were able to find the strength and the energy to get back to score two runs. Sometimes in baseball a bad bounce or a bad call can cost you a game. That’s what happened to us. You are going to win and lose games, but the way you act and the way you perform on the field by what you do in terms of will and approach…it’s something that’s there! So we cannot complain about that… We are very proud and happy that we have this group of guys. I’m proud of a great group of coaches and players that made this journey incredible.”forza-azzurri

Team Italia in 2016 Euro Baseball Championship

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Hoofddorp, Netherlands is host to the 2016 European Baseball Championship beginning September 9th.

Marco Mazzieri’s Team Italia will need to dethrone host and 2014 Euro Champ Holland to reclaim the Gold Medal in the upcoming September 9-18 tournament which also features talented teams from Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic, France, Belgium, Russia, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Sweden and Greece. In the 33-year history of the competition, the Dutch lead with 21 Gold Medals while Italia follows with 10. Hoofddorp’s state-of-the-art complex in the tourist-friendly Haarlemmermeer municipality just outside Amsterdam opened in 2014 after satisfying all stringent field requirements set by Major League Baseball in an ongoing effort to bring MLB games to Europe.

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Visit the new and improved FIBS/Team Italia website.

Team Italia play their opener on September 9th against 2014 tenth place finisher Greece, a much improved team now under the management of Mauro Mazzotti. The Azzurri return the following day on September 10th to face France, led by manager Eric Gagné, whose leadership nearly landed the French a Bronze after a loss to third place Spain in 2014. The Italians are under the lights on September 11th when battling 2014 seventh place finisher Belgium. Then Team Italia quickly come back for a day game on September 12th against Spain. They close out their Pool B action with an afternoon game versus 2014 twelfth place finisher Croatia on September 13th. Italia must dominate Pool B for a rematch against reigning champ Holland. Forza Italia!

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Visit the official European Baseball Championship website for tickets and more information.

Italia manager Marco Mazzieri chats with Roberto Angotti at the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship

After two consecutive  European Baseball Championship titles in 2010 and 2012, Team Italia had to settle for the Silver Medal in 2014.
After two consecutive European Baseball Championship titles in 2010 and 2012, Italia placed second after a heartbreaking 6-3 loss to 2014 Euro Champion the Netherlands.
Roberto Angotti interviews Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri at the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship (Photo courtesy of IandI-GoPro.com).
Roberto Angotti interviews Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri at the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship (Photo courtesy of IandI-GoPro.com).

Roberto: It’s a pleasure seeing you again after over a year. It’s quite an honor to be with you at the 2014 European Baseball Championship. Thank you for taking time out to talk.

Marco Mazzieri: Thank you. We enjoyed our last experience in the World Baseball Classic with you so that’s why it was no problem doing this.

Roberto: Did you feel confident or did you have butterflies in your stomach when you faced your strongest opponent, the Netherlands, for the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship?

Marco Mazzieri: Well I think you always have butterflies in your stomach when you face competition like this and most of all when you wear the Italia jersey on your chest. With that being said, we knew it was going to be a very, very tough European Championship because all the teams got a lot better than in the past. We knew that this bracket was going to be tough so we came prepared. With good preparation after 10 days in Verona, where we played Italian Baseball Week against Spain and the Czech Republic, we are very happy with the guys we put together even though we are playing with younger players than in the past. As you can probably see, we have a lot of our products of our Italian Baseball Academy on this team.
Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri (second from left) with bench coach Marco Nanni (far left) prior to the Netherlands game on September 20, 2014 at Draci Ballpark in Brno, Czech Republic (Photo courtesy of Mister-Baseball.com).
Italia manager Marco Mazzieri (second from left) with bench coach Marco Nanni (far left)
prior to the Netherlands game on September 20th during the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship
held at Draci Ballpark in Brno, Czech Republic (Photo courtesy of Mister-Baseball.com).
Most of Team Italia's  players are graduates of the Italian Baseball Academy.
Most of Team Italia’s young players are graduates of the Italian Baseball Academy in Tirrenia, which is under the watchful eye of MLB director Bill Holmberg.

Roberto: And you are very proud of all of them after they have spent so much time under your guidance and that of Italian Baseball Academy director Bill Holmberg. Considering these players are a work-in-progress, it must be rewarding to see them perform in pressure situations.

Marco Mazzieri: I believe a player is never a finished product, so for these kids to be here is a tremendous experience. Hopefully they will pick it up a couple notches. They need to start walking with their own feet now. By playing competitive games, it will help them get to the next level.

Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg visits with Roberto Angotti in the dugout (Photo courtesy of IandI-GoPro.com).
Bill Holmberg, Team Italia pitching coach and Italian Academy MLB director, visits with Roberto Angotti in the dugout (Photo courtesy of IandI-GoPro.com).

Roberto: You must also be proud of the Italian Baseball Academy graduates who are now representing Team Italia.

Marco Mazzieri: I am proud of all the guys we have right now. We’re proud of Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo, Royals prospect Marten Gasparini and all those guys we have there in MLB. I think it’s to the Italian Baseball Academy’s credit with all the work Bill Holmberg is putting into this project that we see results. It’s something we’re proud of, and we hope there are more in the future.

Roberto: You also invited Alberto Mineo along with Reds pitching prospect Davide Anselmi to Team Italia Spring Training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida.

Marco Mazzieri: Yes, we did. In fact, Alberto looked very good back at the time in February and now seeing him seven months later he looks even better as you can tell.

Roberto: Having seen Alberto when he first reported to Cubs Spring Training Camp in Arizona a couple years ago as compared to how he is today is remarkable. He has matured immensely and his body physique has filled in.  The confidence that he exudes now at the plate now is impressive. I know you have worked diligently with him to become the player that he is today. You must be like a proud father to him now.

Marco Mazzieri: Well, I think we are all proud of Alberto Mineo and the way he has developed. As you said, he has a tremendous attitude. When he just walks around the field, you see a player. I think this kid has a chance to be really, really good.

Roberto: No doubt MLB European scout Bill Holmberg made a great catch for the Chicago Cubs when he signed catcher Alberto Mineo.

Marco Mazzieri: It was…I hope that he can get some more playing time in the higher levels. It is not my job to say, but I think he could become a lot better player beyond the Rookie League.

Roberto: Earlier in the first round of the competition in Regensburg, Germany, I saw you arrive early at the ballpark to give one-on-one hitting instruction to Alex Liddi in the batting cages. I observed the dynamic between you and Alex, and it was incredible. He listened intently to everything you said and absorbed it in like a sponge. Then he applied what he learned from you an hour later in the game when he was at-bat against Great Britain and hit three consecutive home runs.

Marco Mazzieri: We have been working together since he grew up playing professional baseball. It’s long story with Alex actually. Because we have been together since 2005. He moved up from San Remo to Grosseto, where I live. He was not even 16 at the time when started to work with me on his hitting and with Gianni, our strength and conditioning coach, on his physical side. Since then, we’ve been working together almost every winter offseason working on his hitting. He’s been getting good results and that’s why he listens.

Roberto: Your current roster is probably 75% Italian-born-and-developed players, right?

Marco Mazzieri: Yes, but I think we should all be proud of this group of guys no matter if you have major league guys, rookie league guys or guys who work and play baseball. When they all get together, it’s just one single group.  Of course, you have different personalities but they play and lead as a team. And they like it as a team because I think for me and my coaching staff, which I am very proud to be working with such a great group of coaches, one of the biggest accomplishments through all the success we had through the years. But the fact that this group of people have a tremendous energy when they get together. You can tell actually from the WBC to now in the Euro Baseball Championship– win or lose–it’s just a great group of guys.

Roberto: The energy and chemistry of the Italian National team combined with the MLB-affiliated players made Team Italia one complete family playing together. One can tell that the future is looking bright for Italian baseball.

Marco Mazzieri: Well, we hope so. The team chemistry is really crucial for me and my staff. We believe that a group of individuals going towards the same direction can accomplish a lot more than just talented guys who just play for themselves. It has always been my idea, and when we put a group together we try to make the right decision based on the people first and the players second. Because we believe in the chemistry first with everone in the same direction, we try to channel all energies toward one single goal and luckily we have been able to do that.

Roberto: After having spoken to many of the MLB-affiliated players who have played for Team Italia over the years including Jason Grilli, Chris Denorfia, Nick Punto and Drew Butera, they have all cited the experience as being some of the best times of their career.

Marco Mazzieri: Well, by you saying this–and I know it’s true because I have talking to the guys–it just gives me goosebumps when you have those kind of players. All those guys are tight with this team. Every time we see them, and we are together they are part of the family. We shared a common energy that we were able to get for the two World Baseball Classics in 2009 and 2013.  I happy to know that they cherish those times as much as I do.

Roberto: Considering Major League Baseball has injected millions overseas in Asia and Australia, I believe the time is now for MLB to invest in European baseball.

Marco Mazzieri: I think you are right. They have invested everywhere in the world, and I think sometimes Europe gets underestimated because baseball is not the number one sport. But as we have seen in the past, you can get good players from everywhere. Just getting back to Bill Holmberg and what he is doing for MLB at the Italian Baseball Academy. I have met many, many coaches in my life and in my career, but I have never seen one with that much dedication and who cares more than he does for his pitchers.

Roberto: Team Italia spent Spring Training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida with hitting coach Mike Piazza. I’m sure everyone missed him during the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship.

Marco Mazzieri: We missed Mike. He is a tremendous guy. He is a tremendous hitting coach and former Team Italia player. So we missed him very much and wished he could have made it but he couldn’t.

Passaportoitaliano2006Roberto: How do you react to criticism from the media when they claim that the Team Italia roster includes international players born outside of Italy?

Marco Mazzieri: It’s not the color of the passport that matters, it’s about the passion in the heart. We are on a mission even if we have a younger team.

Roberto: Team Italia and European baseball will soon reap the fruits of your labor of love in developing tomorrow’s stars. Thank you!

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).

Alex Liddi’s road less traveled to join Team Italia at the 2014 European Baseball Championship

italy_luggage_stickers-r5ead578a42a148359828c82518a1861f_v9wf3_8byvr_512Shortly after his pinch-hit single for the Dodgers AA-affiliate Chattanooga Lookouts in the fifth inning of the 2014 Southern League Championship game against Miami Marlins top pitching prospect Justin Nicolino of the Jacksonville Suns, Alex Liddi would embark on a marathon travel expedition from Florida not suited for the weak at heart to strengthen Team Italia’s chances of capturing its third consecutive title in the 2014 European Baseball Championship. After defeating Belgium, Sweden, France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, and Czech Republic, Team Italia battles the Netherlands in the final today.

Team Italia 3B Alex Liddi in action against Spain on September 18, 2014 in the 2014 European Baseball Championship.
Team Italia 3B Alex Liddi in action against Spain in the 2014 European Baseball Championship at Draci Brno in Czech Republic (Photo courtesy of Donato Resta for IandI-GoPro.com).

Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri said, “Let me tell you…Alex could not to wait to be here with us. He played his last game in Double-A ball on Friday night, September 12th then rode the bus for eight hours back to Chattanooga before driving to Atlanta on Saturday morning so that he could catch an eight hour flight to Munich. From there he had another two hour ride to Regensburg. When he arrived on Sunday morning, he went to the gym to work out with our strength and conditioning coach Gianni Natale for two hours. Then he ate lunch, and we told him to go to bed and rest but he couldn’t. He had so much adrenaline pumping that he couldn’t sleep after two nights of not sleeping. Then he came in to play and hit a big home run and double. He was just tremendous. I mean Alex is Alex… For us, Italian baseball around the world…it’s Alex along with Alessandro Maestri. Whenever we can, we just love to have them with us.”

A successful career playing in the Japanese Professional League has kept Team Italia pitcher Alessandro Maestri from participating in the 2014 European Baseball Championship.
A successful career playing in the Japanese Professional League has kept Team Italia pitcher
Alessandro Maestri from participating in the 2014 European Baseball Championship.