Team Italia battles Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico in 2017 World Baseball Classic

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Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri will have his mixed roster of seasoned MLB players and up-and-coming prospects ready for combat in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara will be declared a war zone beginning March 9th when 2017 WBC host Mexico seeks revenge against a ‘never say die’ Italian squad that attacked closer Sergio Romo to pull off a miraculous 6-5 come-from-behind victory in the opening game of the 2013 WBC in Scottsdale, Arizona. Team Mexico will be managed by Edgar Gonzalez, who will be depending on his brother Adrian Gonzalez to lead the Mexican’s offensive charge with the support of sluggers Khris Davis and Danny Espinosa. In the opening battle on March 9th, Team Italia will most likely face starting pitchers Jamie Garcia, Miguel Gonzalez or Oliver Perez. It will be critical for Team Italia to strike first and score runs early because the Mexican bullpen is filled with some of the MLB’s finest relievers including: Roberto Osuna, Sergio Romo, Joakim Soria, Fernando Salas and Carlos Torres.

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Team Italia’s Tiago Da Silva pitched 3.1 innings of relief against Mexico in the 2013 WBC. The Brazilian-born 31-year-old kept hitters off-balance and allowed only one run.

Team Italia will use a day off to strategize and prepare their troops for the March 11th clash versus Venezuela. Not only will this be one of the Team Italia’s biggest challenges of the 2017 WBC, but it is life-or-death for Venezuelan-born catcher Francisco Cervelli–who played for Team Italia when Venezuela eliminated the Italians from the 2009 WBC competition following their devastating 10-1 defeat. Fellow Venezuela native Luis Lugo, a 22-year-old Cleveland Indians pitching prospect who secured a Team Italia roster spot in the 2016 European Championship, would absolutely love the opportunity to get the ball and turn the tables on Venezuela. However, it will not be an easy task for Team Italia as Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel’s roster of MLB All-Stars includes Felix Hernandez, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez, Jose Altuves, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rougned Odor, Martin Prado, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, Ender Inciarte, Odubel Herrera and Sandy Leon.

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Team Italia lefty Luis Lugo would like nothing more than play in the 2017 WBC and help the Azzurri pitching staff diffuse a lethal Venezuela lineup loaded with powerful dynamite.

Team Italia will face Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez’s talented roster on March 12th. Starting pitcher possibilities include Seth Lugo and Hector Santiago. Relievers include Alex Claudio, Edwin Diaz, Joe Jimenez and Joe Colon. Puerto Rico boosts a strong MLB All-Star caliber lineup with the likes of Javier Baez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Yadier Molina, T.J. Rivera and Eddie Rosario. Puerto Rico, the runner-up of the 2013 WBC, eliminated Team Italia in the second round of play when they rallied late in the eight inning from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Azzurri with a 4-3 victory. As with the 2013 WBC, the first round will again be a round-robin format with the top two teams advancing to one of two second-round pools. However, for the first time in the worldwide tournament’s history, a single-elimination tiebreaker game will be played if necessary to determine the second advancing team in both the first and second rounds. In the case of the first round in Guadalajara, the tiebreaker contest would be played on March 13th. The two top teams will then move on to the second round of action slated to begin on March 14th at San Diego’s Petco Park.

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Team Italia starter Alex Maestri threw 4.1 scoreless innings versus Puerto Rico in the 2013 WBC.

Team Italia and host Mexico have a favorable advantage over rivals Venezuela and Puerto Rico due to the scheduling of the round-robin tournament. Both teams have a day off following their head-to-head combat match-up on opening night March 9th. However, when Team Italia returns recharged for a day game against Venezuela on March 11th, the Italians can take advantage of a sleep-deprived and fatigued Venezuela pitching staff that will have been taxed after being used the night before versus Puerto Rico. Team Italia will once again enjoy the same luxury when they play their second consecutive day game against a tired Puerto Rico squad that will have undergone back-to-back night battles versus Venezuela and Mexico. Although Team Italia remains the underdog, manager Marco Mazzieri’s army of blue-collar baseball players will fight to the death to repeat as they did in the 2013 WBC and advance to the second round.jal

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A’s Grant Balfour rages against opposing teams

As it was previously in 2010 and 2011, pitching is once again all the rage now in Major League Baseball. Despite seven no-hitters tossed in 2012 by starting pitchers Homer Bailey, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, Kevin Millwood (with the help of five relievers), Johan Santana, Jered Weaver and Phil Humber, it’s the men in the pen that garner most of the over-the-top baseball fanaticism. Leading the late-inning charge of borderline insanity is Aussie closer Grant Balfour of the Oakland Athletics. Often seen dumping water over his head before leaving the bullpen and talking to himself in-between pitches, Balfour’s on-field antics are undoubtedly the most anticipated sight to see in the 2012 MLB playoffs.

The Oakland Athletics fans’ traditional ritual of raging before closer Grant Balfour enters the
game has resurrected sleepy baseball crowd participation to electric rock concert proportions.

Aussie Grant Balfour is not afraid to express himself.
The raging thunder from ‘Down Under’ was called upon by A’s manager Bob Melvin in five tightly-contested games on five consecutive days to lead Oakland to the American League West Division title. Balfour’s stellar late season hitless pitching insured the A’s sweep of the Mariners and Rangers. The six-foot-two, 34-year-old Sydney native threw an inning per day and retired all 15 batters faced–which extended his streak of putting consecutive batters away to 26. He is just one of two Australian professional players to compete in a World Series as a member of the 2008 American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays and is in a perfect position to get another crack at taking home a World Series ring in 2012 with the A’s.
Grant Balfour sprays Oakland A’s fans after winning the 2012 American League West Division.

A’s Derek Norris and Grant Balfour
Since August 11th, Grant Balfour has converted all 17 of his save opportunities while posting a 2.18 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 26/6 K/BB ratio over 20 2/3 innings. After a three-year stint in Tampa Bay, Balfour signed a two-year contract worth 8.1 million dollars with the Oakland Athletics in January 2011. In his 62 innings of relief for the A’s during 2011, the hard-throwing right-handed hurler struck out 59 hitters and racked up five wins for the third-place Athletics. Acquired by the Rays in July 2007 from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade sending pitcher Seth McClung to Miller Field, Grant Balfour did not make Tampa Bay’s 2008 Opening Day roster. However, after turning heads at Triple-A Durham and closer Troy Percival being placed on the disabled list early into the season, the Rays sent Ben Zobrist to Durham in exchange for Balfour. Assuming the role of Rays closer for the ailing Troy Percival until mid-July, Balfour ended his regular season campaign with an impressive 6-2 record and a 1.54 ERA.
Fellow Aussie Travis Blackley joins Grant Balfour and the A’s post-game celebration.
A’s closer Grant Balfour is in the prime of his career.
Grant Balfour made his MLB debut back in 2001 for the Minnesota Twins. Having now passed former MLB star Graeme Lloyd on the career strikeout list for Australian-born pitchers, he is the quintessential Aussie baseball patriarch. A’s pitchers Grant Balfour and Travis Blackley have already made baseball history by becoming the first pair of Australian Major League players to compete in the MLB post-season on the same team.
Grant Balfour had 24 regular season saves in a career-high 75 games during the 2012 season.
The pitching duo of Balfour and Blackley have another opportunity to imprint their names in Aussie baseball history by becoming only the second and third Australians to win a World Series ring. A fairytale ending for Oakland’s Australian connection would be most appropriate as they both have played a major role in the A’s miraculous run to the American League West title and the post-season. Like a fine wine getting better with age, Sydney’s Grant Balfour and Melbourne’s Travis Blackley are at the pinnacle of their careers and are in line to catapult the underdog to a world championship.

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.

Branch Rickey Award nominees are humanitarians in baseball who personify ‘Service Above Self’

2011 Branch Rickey Award recipient Shane Victorino
Shane Victorino, star center fielder of the Los Angeles Dodgers and winner of the 2011 Branch Rickey Award,
was inducted as the 20th member of the Baseball Humanitarians Hall of Fame last November. Created by the Rotary Club of Denver in 1991, the Branch Rickey Award honors MLB personnel who contribute unselfishly to their communities and who are positive role models for young people. All 30 Major League teams nominate
a player, coach or executive–either active or retired–who personify Rotary International’s motto of “Service Above Self” for this nationally-acclaimed award named in honor of the late baseball executive Branch Rickey–best known as “Mr. Baseball” for breaking baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson and hiring the first Latin American to be selected to the Hall of Fame, Roberto Clemente.

2012 Branch Rickey Award recipient R.A. Dickey
It was announced recently that the National Selection Committee–comprised of 300 members of the sports media, past award winners, baseball executives and Rotary district governors–had chosen R.A. Dickey, star pitcher of the New York Mets, as the winner of the 2012 Branch Rickey Award and the 21st member of the Baseball Humanitarians Hall of Fame. Dickey was recognized for his charity work distributing baseball equipment and medical supplies internationally
as well as raising money for an organization rescuing young women from forced prostitution in India.

Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey at contract signing
Other 2012 Branch Rickey Award nominees included: Joe Saunders,
Tim Hudson, Adam Jones, David Ortiz, Tony Campana, Jake Peavy, Jay Bruce, Vinnie Pestano, Jeremy Guthrie, Justin Verlander, Bud Norris, Alex Gordon, Jered Weaver, Don Newcombe, Emilio Bonifacio, Rickie Weeks, Justin Morneau, David Robertson, Kurt Suzuki, Ryan Howard, Chris Resop, Matt Holiday, Orlando Hudson, Matt Cain, Felix Hernandez, Joe Maddon, Michael Young, Ricky Romero, and Ryan Zimmerman. In years past,
Past Branch Rickey Award recipient and Baseball Humanitarians Hall of Fame Inductee Torii Hunter’s positive impact on youth in need is felt worldwide.
Branch Rickey Award winners have included: Dave Winfield, Toronto Blue Jays; Kirby Puckett, Minnesota Twins; Ozzie Smith, St. Louis Cardinals;
Tony Gwynn, San Diego Padres; Brett Butler, Los Angeles Dodgers; Craig Biggio, Houston Astros; Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins; Al Leiter, New York Mets; Todd Stottlemyre, Arizona Diamondbacks; Curt Schilling, Arizona Diamondbacks; Bobby Valentine, New York Mets; Roland Hemond, Chicago White Sox; Jamie Moyer, Seattle Mariners; Tommy Lasorda, Los Angeles Dodgers; John Smoltz, Atlanta Braves; Trevor Hoffman, San Diego Padres; Torii Hunter, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; Vernon Wells, Toronto Blue Jays; and Shane Victorino, Philadelphia Phillies.