One should never underestimate the power of prayer. Saint Anthony has miraculously helped believers find lost things and people when all else has failed. So when the Texas Rangers selected 6-foot-7 right-hander Anthony Ranaudo out of New Jersey’s Saint Rose High School in the 11th round of the 2007 draft and failed to sign the promising Italian American pitcher, they looked to Saint Anthony to bring him to Arlington. After eight years of intensive prayer, the Rangers acquired Ranaudo in January from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for lefty pitcher Robbie Ross. The miracle worker Saint Anthony was once again called upon over two years ago when prayers went out for divine intervention for Team Italy prior to the start of the 2013 World Baseball Classic. When hitting coach Mike Piazza had successfully recruited Cubs’ slugger Anthony Rizzo to join la squadra azzurri, it was time to pray to the great Saint Anthony to find the “missing” Anthonys to complete the Italian roster.
A simple tweet exchange two years ago could very well be a blessing to Team Italy from Saint Anthony should Major League Baseball allow franchise players to participate in the 2015 Premier 12 Tournament in Japan and Taiwan. With Ranaudo’s positive response echoing his desire to pitch for underdog Italy, Italian MLB Academy director and Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg can possibly bolster his pitching arsenal alongside Braves’ All-Star reliever Jason Grilli, Blue Jays prospect Tiago Da Silva, Diamondbacks prospect Tim Crabbe and former Cubs’ minor leaguer Alessandro Maestri. Coach Holmberg deserves credit for Team Italy’s upset victories over Mexico and Canada in the 2013 WBC. By keeping some of MLB’s finest hitters guessing what was coming their way next when calling for a slew of off-speed pitches from the dugout, many big names including Adam Jones (.167), Carlos Beltran (.143), Alex Rios (.125), Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Votto (.000) never felt comfortable at the plate.
Patience has always been a virtue for Ranaudo. Instead of signing with the Rangers out of high school in 2007, he played baseball at Louisiana State University, where he was third in NCAA strikeouts and led the LSU Tigers to become 2009 National Champs. Four years after being chosen by Boston as a supplemental first-round pick in the 2010 draft, he made his MLB debut with the Red Sox last year and won four games with a 4.81 ERA in seven starts. Ranaudo started the 2014 season at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he compiled a 14-4 record and was voted the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher. Anthony is currently competing at Rangers Spring Training Camp in Arizona for an Opening Day roster spot as their number five starter.
But excited about my new team, fans, and opportunity. Let's get it!! @Rangers
As the old adage goes: “If you first don’t succeed,
try, try again…” Perhaps appropriate to sum up the life story of 29-year-old Italian American MLB hopeful Chris Colabello, the best is yet to come for this Massachusetts native. The slugger is poised to make his presence felt on the big league level this year when the Twins call him up from AAA Rochester. Colabello’s strong performance in the World Baseball Classic catapulted Team Italy into the second round of play this year. At Chase Field in Phoenix, he went 4-for-5 with a home run, four RBI and three runs scored against Canada to help Italy clinch a spot to move on to Miami and become the Chevrolet Player of the Game. While at Marlins Park, the Italians nearly posted an upset over 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic when Colabello clubbed a three-run bomb that rivaled any one of Giancarlo Stanton’s many web gems. The Team Italy clean-up hitter lived up to his title by finishing the WBC with a .333 BA, seven RBI and a 1.035 OPS in 18 at-bats.Colabello made a strong case to be on the 2013 Twins Opening Day Roster after hitting .294 with three RBI in
nine spring games for Minnesota. He received words of encouragement from Twins stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau despite being sent down to Triple-A ball to begin the season. Manager Ron Gardenhire had nothing but
praise for Colabello. “He did fine,” said the Twins skipper.
“He played great for Team Italy and really well for us. First base is a place where we don’t have a ton of depth. We have Morneau and then ad-libbing from there. So if he’s down there (AAA) swing the bat good, he could go right into the big leagues after all that time (seven years) in Independent ball. So it’s a good story.” After spending seven seasons in the Can-Am Independent League, Chris Colabello was signed by the Twins and spent last season at Double-A New Britain, where he put together a .284 BA with 19 home runs and 98 RBI. In 46 games this season at Triple-A Rochester, Colabello commands a .360 BA and leads the Red Wings in hits (63), doubles (17), runs (29), home runs (12) and RBI (42).
Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg has known how special of player Chris Colabello is for nearly two decades. The former Chicago Cubs European scout and current Italian MLB Academy director Holmberg said, “I’ve known Chris for maybe 20 years because he used to come over to Italy with his dad. His dad pitched in the Italian Baseball League. His mom is Italian. Chris is just a great kid. He loves to come over and play for us. We enjoy having him. We like him. He’s a very energetic, tremendous kid.” A star player in Italy for eight years who also pitched for the Italian national team in the 1984 Olympics at Dodger Stadium, Lou Colabello brought along his family during his international baseball career while playing and managing abroad. As a result, Chris spent several of his formative years overseas and even played with Team Italia teammate Alessandro Maestri as a youth. Like a fine Italian wine, Chris Colabello gets better with age. Let’s hear his story:
The happiest man in baseball? Chris Colabello. Twins infielder, Mass. native, Team Italy for WBC. Story: bit.ly/15AYt6a @mlbonfox
Roberto: Having shadowed Justin Morneau in Twins Spring Training and having torn the leather off the ball with your hot bat, you really made a statement playing against your Canadian colleague in a Team Italia uniform during the World Baseball Classic by beating Team Canada 14-4 in a mercy rule victory.
Chris Colabello: Yeah. It’s been a pretty interesting journey to get where we are right now. Especially for me personally coming from independent ball and all that stuff. But it’s been great. I’ve been trying to take everything one moment at a time and just try to embrace it to the best of my ability. I think that when I was younger I would probably let moments that this speed up on me, and it would have been a little overwhelming. But I think with maturity comes the ability to just kind of embrace it. It’s great. I got to talk with Justin a bunch when we played him. I don’t think he’s too happy with us because of the final score that day. But it’s pretty neat and obviously a great experience for the Italian team.
Roberto: Showing up to Twins camp and finding out you would be rubbing shoulders with former American League MVPs Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer as a result of being assigned
a locker next to two Minnesota baseball icons must have given you goosebumps?
Chris Colabello: Yeah, for sure. I really did think my locker was in the wrong place (laughter) or they had forgotten me or something like that. It’s been really neat and obviously I’m so thankful for the organization for giving me the opportunity to get in the door last year, to be in big league camp this year and the opportunity to play up here in the WBC. In terms of stars in the Minnesota Twins for the past 15 years, you can’t really think of a guy or two that are bigger than Joe and Justin. They are just tremendous people, tremendous players. They’ve made it an easy transition for me and kind of made it a little
bit less nerve-racking than I thought it would be.
Roberto: You also have Twins’ Drew Butera watching your back. He was outstanding in
the WBC with his two-run homer against Team Mexico. The chemistry in the Team Italia clubhouse was uncharted because at the end of the day the other team’s big league names on a lineup card didn’t translate in the game-ending box scores. Team Italia’s spirit, desire, passion, drive, and commitment to win games day-by-day under the leadership of manager Marco Mazzieri along with the coaching staff of Tom Trebelhorn, Bill Holmberg, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto, Alberto D’Auria, Gilberto Gerali and Claudio Vecchi.
Chris Colabello: Yeah. It’s a testament to the staff and the organization. You know, being able to put together a group of guys that first and foremost would mesh well together. There was not a single ego in that clubhouse. It’s pretty unbelievable. We kind of embraced the role of underdog that everybody pinned on us. We certainly didn’t believe we were the underdog coming in. I think we obviously proved that to people playing strong baseball games in a row against some really good teams. Drew and I started talking when camp just opened. Every day we’d see each other at spring training. ‘Paisans’, you know, it’s kind of like that comradery came with it. Having played the European Cup last year, I saw what a great group of guys it was. It’s truly amazing to bring a guys from a big league camp and have them join with IBL (Italian Baseball League) guys and some guys from other walks of life and to have us all feel like we’ve been playing together for years is pretty amazing.
Roberto: You could not have had a better guidance than Italian MLB Academy Director and Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg as well as Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza.
Chris Colabello: Yeah, for sure. Even on that end, you’ve got a guy who in my opinion
is a Hall of Famer in Mike Piazza, and a guy like Bill Holmberg–who is probably more prepared than any coach I have ever met in my entire life in terms of being able to scout, gather information and help guys out. Obviously, Marco is the leader of that group. It’s pretty amazing stuff because I think a line I remember hearing is ‘Attitude reflects leadership’ so it’s obviously a testament to them and the ability they go about teaching the game and helping guide us who we are.
Roberto: How did you make the transition from Independent baseball to MLB-affiliated ball and what were the expectations that went along with it?
Chris Colabello: It was all new to me at that point. Obviously not being drafted initially kind of hurt a little bit, and I really didn’t know where the road was going to lead. Baseball is a big part of my life. Worcester was probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my career. The manager I played for, Rich Gedman and the people I was around, some of my best friends for the rest of my life are some of the guys I played with in Worcester. After that 2005 season, we had a great experience. It was our first year. The city was really excited about it. I got a real taste of how the best minor league places are run because we were certainly treated like royalty. I had the opportunity to sign with Detroit (in 2006).
I really didn’t know what to expect. It was all new to me. I had never been to Spring Training camp. I was really excited. I didn’t know how many guys there would be. Coming in as a free agent signing, I think at some point you have got to stand out. Again, I had mentioned before, when I was younger I used to let things speed up on me a little bit.
I think that was probably part of what happened in camp unfortunately. I thought I had done a pretty good job performance wise and in terms of work ethic. And I think I had some good reviews from coaches before I had left, but things didn’t work out for whatever reason it was and back to Worcester it was.
2011 Independent Leagues Player Of The Year: Chris Colabello: Chris Colabello is the 2011 Independent Leagues Pl… bit.ly/vwXlKo
Roberto: At age 27 during your 2011 season with the Worcester Tornadoes, you put up impressive offensive numbers which earned you Can-Am League Most Valuable Player and Baseball America magazine’s Independent Baseball Player of the Year honors. How could the Minnesota Twins not take notice? They saw something special in you and shortly thereafter offered a minor league contract.
Chris Colabello: Yeah. It was kind of a whirlwind. I finished the 2010 season on a tough note. I broke my hand. I got hit with a fastball and missed the final two weeks of the season. I think I was really, really hungry at that point. So I started working a lot earlier than I normally would, especially in the cage with a good friend of mine, Bobby Tewksbary–
who is one of my best friends in the world. We‘d start getting after it in the cage…talking about timing and rhythm things, swing stuff that really changed my life (laughter). It allowed me to free myself up as a hitter a little bit which turned things around in my 2011 season. It was pretty magical in terms of finish. And of course all those nice accolades I was able to receive…I think helped me kind of break into affiliated baseball. I couldn’t be more thankful to the Twins organization for giving me that chance.
Roberto: The accolades continued to mount as you were a 2012 Eastern League All-Star team selection in addition to being chosen as the Eastern League’s Most Valuable Player runner-up. You must have broken some hearts when your 98 RBI single-season club
record for Double-A New Britain in 2012 surpassed the previous 1998 record set by Doug Mientkiewicz (88). Quite an accomplishment in consideration MLB veterans and former
Rock Cats Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Jacque Jones could not reach the prior plateau during their minor league careers.
Chris Colabello: Yeah (laughter). It was a lot of fun. I think 2012 turned out to be,
I couldn’t have imagined it, just as good if not a better year than 2011. I was on a little bit of a different stage. There was little more riding on it, but it was awesome. I reminded myself about having fun and the game doesn’t change no matter where you are. Once I started having fun, things began to free up for me. In both places early, I ran into some trouble. Again that mental maturity…aging has kind of helped me along the way. It reminded me how to battle back from situations like that so the numbers turned out to be what they were. It was a lot of fun.
Roberto: You have trying to beat the odds in breaking in the big leagues your entire career with the same conviction to succeed despite getting older everyday. What keeps you moving forward in achieving your life-long dream?
Chris Colabello: Ultimately, I think if you are passionate enough about something in life it would be irresponsible not to pursue it to the fullest extent. Baseball is such a big part of my life for so long and obviously a huge part of my family, huge part of my childhood. It’s a part of me. People say baseball doesn’t define who I am. Well in a lot of ways I feel like it does for me. Obviously it doesn’t define the type of person I am, but there’s always a huge part of me that will be in love with this game for the rest of my life. I think I just got really good at not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Every time I heard someone say ‘no’, it kind of made me want it much more and maybe work for it that much more. It allowed me to do things that I could take to that next level. Here we are today. Persistence and not taking ‘no’ for an answer are the way to do it. Roberto: You have a lot in common with Team Italia teammate and former Twins 1992 first-round draft pick Dan Serafini, another player who has seen the inside of more bus terminals than clubhouses. How are you so alike yet different ballplayers?
Chris Colabello: He’s about passion, persistence, desire. Ultimately, I don’t know what makes us different. I think
we all just have a deep-rooted love for
the game. I can’t imagine my life without the game of baseball. It’s nice to be around someone who has gone through the
same things and thinks the same way.
Roberto: You also have a very strong connection
with Team Italia pitcher Alex Maestri and his father,
Dr. Paolo Maestri. Let me get this straight. You were 14 and playing baseball in Italy when Dr. Maestri was
at the right place at the right time to save your life. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you were lounging on the back of your baseball coach’s car when your coach took off down a hill at 30 mph without seeing you in the rear. You jumped off and landed face-first, resulting in a deep gash near your mouth and severe bleeding to the point where you were choking on your own blood. Dr. Maestri helped you get the blood out so you could breathe again. What a nightmare! Thank God there was a doctor nearby to render first aid and save you.
Chris Colabello: Yeah, it was a pretty unbelievable experience. I’m very, very fortunate to (have) the Maestri family. Without them, I firmly believe that
I would not be here today.
Now that Chris Colabello is with us,
it is time for the call-up to Minnesota and his long-awaited MLB debut at Target Field. Looking ahead at their schedule, it would be ideal to bring Colabello up on May 29th when the Brewers visit the Twin Cities. That way the Italian American slugger will have the chance to share with Milwaukee’s Jeff Bianchi all the special moments that he missed. Unfortunately, the Brewers feared their infielder–who recently returned from the 15-day DL–would be injured if he played for Italia in the World Baseball Classic.
The first Italian-born pitcher signed
by MLB is experiencing a renaissance. The two-time MiLB All-Star spent five seasons in the Chicago Cubs system. Alex Maestrilater ventured Down Under, where he would be named 2011 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Team World All-Star and given the inaugural ABL Fan Choice Award. When I first met the 27-year-old right-hander at the Italian MLB Academy near Pisa last year, he told me that the Kagawa Olive Guyners wanted him to pitch in Japan. He took on the the role of the team’s closer and was a knock out from day one. In each of the two months he played for Kagawa in 2012, he was named the indy league’s pitcher of the month.
On July 9, 2012, Maestri’s contract was purchased by the Orix Buffaloes of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) League. He worked diligently to advance from the farm team to the top-ranked league in Japan. In his NPB debut for the Orix Buffaloes, the international baseball ambassador from Italy pitched 6.1 innings to earn his first victory while allowing just one run with four hits and striking out five. He went on to dominate in the NPB and made seven more starts for the 2012 Orix Buffaloes. Posting a 4-3 record with a 2.17 ERA,
Alex Maestri averaged nearly one strikeout per inning
(49.2 innings/40 K). He was equally impressive during his 2011/12 ABL campaign. The Brisbane Bandits pitcher finished third in the ABL in innings pitched (63.2) and strikeouts (53), fourth in WHIP (1.16) and sixth in ERA (3.25). In Round Eight of the regular season, he earned Australian Baseball League Pitcher of the Week honors after throwing a stellar complete game two-hitter against the Canberra Cavalry. Team Italy starting pitcher Alex Maestri faces Team Puerto Rico today at 7pm (EST) in a win-or-go-home showdown televised live on the MLB Network from Marlins Park in Miami. He and his fellow Italian teammates are ready to show the world that the defending European Champions are loaded with talent ready to lock and load in the competitive 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: Welcome back to the USA! Alex Maestri: How are doing Roberto? It’s nice to talk to you. I’m feeling good. It’s been a long journey coming here. Everything is good. I’m glad to be with the Italian national team now. I’m looking forward to this WBC tournament and this year coming up.
Roberto: After your successful campaign for the Japan Professional League’s Orix Buffaloes, the team has really stepped up its efforts in recruiting players from overseas. Alex Maestri: Yeah, you know, every year the team signs foreign players. This year we got seven so we’re probably going to have to rotate. That’s stuff that I can’t control, but it’s going to be fun. The team looks very good. We have a lot of Japanese players that are pretty good and young so I think it’s going to be an exciting year.
Roberto: Did you enjoy the food in Japan? Alex Maestri: The food there is great. It’s so good. I heard good things about Japanese food before I went there, and when I got there I really appreciated it. Their cuisine is not all about sushi like we think. That’s what I thought too before I went there, but they actually have a huge variety of good food. It’s all very, very good.
Roberto: Did you find a good plate of pasta there? Alex Maestri: Actually, you know what, they are very good at cooking pasta too. They can reproduce everything very well. They are very good at learning about other cultures and making it theirs.
Roberto: The Japanese have the longest life span. So they must be doing something right. Alex Maestri: They are doing a lot of things right.
Roberto: Your Japanese YouTube video is amazing. Have you ever been in the spotlight like that before? Alex Maestri: Not at all. That was like the first time. After the game, the player of the game gets interviewed in front of the fans in the stadium and put on the big screen. My debut was actually a great game. I got to do that right on the field. It was cool. This fan had this Italian flag with him, and he came all the way close to the dugout. He passed the flag to one of the reporters who gave it to me. So it was good, it was good seeing the colors of Italy in Japan.
I was very proud too to represent those colors in a good way.
Roberto: It almost had an Olympic feel to it. Alex Maestri: Yeah, you see those gold medal runners walking around the track with their flags. I was just standing around though. It was a really a weird day. I really didn’t feel uncomfortable. I really didn’t know what was going on.
Roberto: It must have been an adrenalin rush. Alex Maestri: It was during the game. Afterwards, I was just relaxed and happy. I was done pitching, and we won the game.Roberto: Tell me about what you remember most about playing Minor League Baseball. Alex Maestri: I was here in the states for six years, and five of those six years were with the Cubs. I have a lot of great memories with that team. The game that I remember the most was a Cubs Spring Training game, and I was with the big league team against the A’s. They gave me one inning, and it was pretty good. Roberto: And you got to face Italian American Jason “Giambino” Giambi. Alex Maestri: Actually Giambi is the only one who actually got a hit off me. I faced four guys, and three (Orlando Cabrera, Matt Holliday and Eric Chavez) of the four were strikeouts. Roberto: Since he is Italian, were you giving him a free pass to first base? Alex Maestri: (Laughing) Yeah, I guess so. Roberto: Let’s talk about the development of baseball in Italy. Is playing on Team Italia like serving in the Italian military and serving your country? Alex Maestri: Yeah, I mean in Italy we have a lot of good players. It’s a shame that there is not much money supporting baseball so it’s not easy to develop guys. But we have the Italian MLB Academy now, and you know it’s doing very good. There are some young players that are doing some really nice work. And there’s more and more scouts going down there to look at them. It’s a pleasure for me to represent the country all over the world. And even if I just play for myself on the team that I play with, I always play for my colors, I’m always proud of that.Roberto: Forza Italia! Forza Azzurri! Alex Maestri: Yeah, per sempre Forza Azzurri!
Roberto: You don’t take any prisoners when you pitch, and you proudly wear your colors on your sleeve. It shows that you pour your heart and soul every time you step on the mount to throw. Alex Maestri: Yeah, I think that’s what you have to do on the mound. You’re not always going to succeed. But that’s the attitude you’ve got to have to pitch.
Roberto: Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg has changed the mindsets of many on this staff for the better. Alex Maestri: Bill has been my pitching coach forever. He has known me since I was a kid And you know I started working with him when I was 18-year-old and started to go to the Italian MLB Academy. But even before that he was working with me. He’s my main pitching coach. I always try to go the Academy during the offseason and have a few workouts with him. I really like the way he teaches pitching. I think everybody, all the pitchers that get to work with him, they appreciate his work.
Roberto: He was the one who wrote your name on a scouting report for the Chicago Cubs, and the next thing you know you were signed to MLB. Alex Maestri: At the time he was an international scout for the Chicago Cubs, and you know I was doing pretty good. I was young and I was doing good for my team. And he said that he was going to take a chance and sign me. He said that I could make the Big Leagues. He really believed in me. He gave me a great opportunity to come over and gave me a chance to play in the states. Roberto: Mike Piazza could be doing else, but instead he chooses to with you as the hitting coach for Team Italy. Alex Maestri: We really love that. It’s great to have him around in the dugout. He’s like doing this for fun. He enjoys working with us… That’s why we appreciate it so much. I think he is positively influencing the program that we have. The fact that the team is winning and improving proves it. So that’s why he keeps coming back.
Roberto: Coach Piazza helps pitchers as well, right? Alex Maestri: Oh definitely. We always have meetings in the morning.. He comes in with Bill and always says his opinion on our pitching. He was one of the best catchers in the game so he obviously knows a lot about pitching too. It’s just great having him around.
Roberto: Being the underdog, Team Italy plays like there is no tomorrow. Alex Maestri: I guess it’s kind of normal since baseball is not so developed in Italy. People don’t really respect Italian baseball, but you know it’s kind of like the fun part of playing. Nobody really thinks that we are strong. But I think we are a very good team actually, and we should again surprise a lot of people around the world.
Roberto: It this also an opportunity to play on the world’s stage to show MLB what they missed out on? Alex Maestri: I don’t think I have to have any sort of revenge, I just want to play good for myself and my country. I was here in the states, and they gave me a great opportunity to play here. I had a lot of great experiences here so it’s not like I’m mad at anybody. Things just went that way. I had a tough year in 2010 so it’s normal that I got released. You know I’m still playing baseball. I’ve got a great opportunity now in Japan. I just love what I do so like I said before I am just going to play for my country and not for anybody else.
Roberto: You look healthy and happy. With this Italian team playing to win, I know you are going to give it your all. Alex Maestri: Yeah, I think a few years back, the Italian national team just went out playing a few tournaments to kind of like participate. But now with manager Marco Mazzieri, you have a very good attitude and it rubs off on all the players. Now you have a very strong group that won two European Championships back-to-back. And now everybody is starting to feel confident about themselves. And in baseball that’s what is about—confidence. You know we got ability so we need to be confident and just go out there and play baseball.Roberto: You have a wicked slider which was once regarded as one of the best in the entire Chicago Cubs organization. Alex: I’ve got my pitches like everybody else. I just got to keep working on them and make them as confusing as I can for hitters.
Roberto: In prior in WBC competitions, you have been stellar. I hope that you will continue to shine in the upcoming 2013 WBC. Alex Maestri: Yeah, you know, that’s the plan. We always try to do our best. And that’s what I’m trying to do this time around. Right now I’m getting ready and going day-by-day. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely give my best effort.
Roberto: Are there any players in the WBC that you know from you days in MiLB? Alex Maestri: The only guys that I remember is catcher Chris Robinson from Canada. We were in the same organization. We never really played together. I have played against many of the USA players like Mike (Giancarlo) Stanton and Jonathan Lucroy. It’s cool facing them again in the World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: Every pitch has to count with the WBC pitch limits in place. Alex Maestri: Yeah, that’s kind of like the plan every time you go out. You know it’s a team sport so everybody is going to have do his own thing. I know that I will do my part with my pitching, but once I’m done with my pitches then there is someone else coming in to take over. We just all have to do this together, and it’s going to be touch. We’re playing the best teams in the world, and it’s going to be hard work. So we’re going to have to be really focused.
Roberto: You have to execute. Alex Maestri: Yeah, you’ve got to be able to execute and if you don’t you just lose games. That’s why we play this game. You know, we enjoy that part of it.
Roberto: What does it mean to be an Italian playing baseball? Alex Maestri: I just started to play baseball because of my brother. At the time I wasn’t really watching any baseball on TV. I started doing that later on, but it was cool seeing all those guys with Italian names written on the back of their jerseys. I just grew up hoping that one day that I would be able to take their place.
Roberto: With the influx of MLB players now joining Team Italy, how will it change the personality of La Squadra Azzurri. Alex Maestri: I think it’s going to be the same. We have a good personality now. Those players are going to definitely improve the level. Because obviously they are Big League players and they have more experience than we do. It’s going to make the team better, but I don’t think it will change the personality of the team.
Roberto: You are representing Italy on all corners of the earth wherever you compete. Alex Maestri: I feel like it. I always travel the world and play baseball in different countries. But my roots are always with me so I feel very proud of that. I’m sure all the other guys feel proud of that too—even the Big League players that are going to play for us. We already had a bunch of them in the World Baseball Classic, and they play as hard as we do. They want to win, and it’s just going to be great to do it all together.
Roberto: Any favorites? Has the Dodgers’ Nick Punto lived up to his name as the shredder by tearing the jersey off walk-off heroes after Team Italy victories? Alex Maestri: I don’t know about Punto, but another guy who had an unbelievable WBC tournament was Chris Denorfia. At the tournament, he really gave everything he had. He made some great plays defensively and had some clutch hits so it’s going to be good to see him again. Jason Grilli has been with us for the first two World Baseball Classics. He’s just a great guy. He loves to come and play for us. Alex Liddi, of course, is one of my best friends.
I haven’t seen him in a long time. I saw him the other day, and it was just great seeing him again. He’s really family. I feel like his brother. And all the other guys that are going to come are going to be very welcome.
Roberto: You will be in the capable hands of catchers Drew Butera from the Minnesota Twins and Tyler LaTorre from the San Francisco Giants. Have you ever worked with them before? Alex Maestri: Actually not. I haven’t had the pleasure to work with them yet. It’s going to happen in the WBC.Roberto: Since you were in the same organization as the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, it will be sort of a Cubbie reunion with two Italians on the same team. Alex Maestri: Yeah, I heard really a lot of good things about him. We both played for the same organization so it will be good.
Roberto: Anything else you would like to say before we sign off? Alex Maestri: I’d like to say hi to everybody. I would like to thank the great people all over the world. I really enjoy what I’m doing now. I might not be enjoying this for the past seven years if it had not been for them. Thanks!
Roberto: I really enjoyed meeting you at the Italian MLB Academy and talking with you today here in Arizona prior to the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Thanks for your time! Alex: Thank you very much, and thank you for the work you do for Team Italy. It’s good to have somebody who really cares about this team and tries to promote the team as much as you do. Thank you for doing that. Roberto: Thank you. It’s my pleasure. I believe in you and Italian baseball. God bless Italia!
Venice Beach’s Lizard King, an alter ego of Doors lead singer Jim Morrison, imitated a Native American shaman. Since shamans identified strongly with an animal deity, Morrison chose the lizard because of its ability to reinvent itself by constantly shedding its skin and personified his deity by only wearing leather pants. Native cultures shaman guide followers through sacred ceremonies involving the ingestion of peyote to lead worshippers on a spiritual awakening of higher consciousness in the same way Morrison led his loyal audiences through a journey so that they may never think the same way again. Opting to skip the hallucinogens and make believers of those weak at heart in the Peoria Javelinas bullpen during the 2011 Arizona Fall League, new San Diego Padre relief pitcher Miles Mikolasturned Lizard King chose to square up on clubhouse dues by accepting the $250 dare bet wagered by fellow players and ingesting a Mountain Dew marinated cold-blooded reptile.
With nearly 10,000 hits on YouTube for his fearless antics in the bullpen, the six-foot-five Mikolas has quite a Alice Cooper cult following outside of baseball. Hoping to tone down his rock star status and keep the fear factor limited to hitters facing him on the mound, Mikolas said: “We were joking around in the bullpen and one thing led to another and there was some money on the line so … you know. I’m a little bit fearless. Even eating a lizard won’t turn me away. Hopefully, I can open their eyes a little bit more.” Although he has enjoyed his notoriety outside of the game for having no fear, the phone rang early Saturday morning at 6 am (Texas League time) to see just how much he could intimidate the slew of armed and dangerous hitters found daily on the Miami Marlins line-up card. Heralded as PadresProspects.com’s #25 prospect and not expected to make his MLB debut until late this season, the 23-year-old San Antonio Mission right-handed reliever received his call up from Double-A ball to the major leagues earlier than expected when Padre closer Huston Street was placed on the 15-day DL. Mikolas couldn’t have picked a more powerful slugger, the Paul Bunyan of professional baseball–Giancarlo Stanton–for his very first batter to face in his MLB debut on May 5, 2012 at PETCO Park.
With his hometown of Jupiter, Florida also being the home of the Marlins’ Spring Training, Miles Mikolas was beyond transcendental pitching against the team he cheered for as a youth. Miles said, “It was a great feeling being out there, especially against a team I grew up rooting for in South Florida as a Marlins fan. To be facing them was neat.” The rookie who had gained Lizard King notoriety for his fear factor ways in the bullpen would shed his skin on the mound in the ninth inning with the Padres trailing 3-1. With the count full on Giancarlo Stanton, the six-foot-five reliever served up a fastball he probably wishes that he could take back. Stanton answered by launching a moonshot off the left field third tier of the Western Metal Supply Company to give the Marlins a comfortable 4-1 lead. Mikolas can take solace in knowing he’s not the only pitcher to give up a home run to the 22-year-old Stanton, who has homered six times in the last nine games and is on pace to become the future all-time MLB home run record holder. “It’s good knowing that he is getting a little bit of everybody,” Miles said. “I’m not the only guy getting singled out.”With the top layer of the epidermis peeled off by Giancarlo’s baptism by fire, Mikolas was stripped to the raw core of his confidence and fought back. The remainder of his MLB debut was nearly textbook minus a walk to Gaby Sanchez. John Buck was shell-shocked staring at Mikolas’ Hammer, the epitome of a sharp-breaking curve, for strike three. Then Marlins starting pitcher Mark Buehrle laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Sanchez to second. Mikolas ended the inning on a high note by striking out last year’s National League Batting Champion Jose Reyes looking. Miles reflected and said,
“I settled down and made some really good pitches there toward the end. One bad pitch. Right after Stanton hit the home run I was like, ‘Well, you know, there it is. Welcome to the major leagues.'”
Mikolas made his encore appearance pitching in the Padres’ 6-3 loss to the Marlins on Sunday, when he came in relief during the eighth inning and recorded the final out after issuing a walk. Prior to pitching in the Bigs, Mikolas was 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA in Double-A San Antonio. Padre manager Bud Black commented, “This spring, he threw the ball well.
I think that continued on there in San Antonio. Of all the guys that we looked at, he was the guy that our Minor League people said, ‘He’s the guy.'” The San Diego skipper has liked what he has seen so far from the rookie Mikolas. “That’s a big curveball,” Black said. “His challenge will be to get that in the strike zone. It has good rotation. You can combine that with a low-90s, mid-90s fastball. It’s a nice variation. It’s a nice difference of velocity. But the key is getting the breaking pitch in for a strike, because he’s got enough fastball. There’s no doubt about that.” A few weeks ago, Aussie pitcher Hayden Beard–Mikolas’ roommate at Double-A San Antonio–predicted weeks ago that Miles would be the first member of the Mission pitching staff to break into the Bigs. ‘The Big Dog’ Beard said, “I’m stoked for Miles. It couldn’t happen to a better bloke!” After Jupiter High School baseball, Mikolas played through his junior year at Nova Southeastern University (NSU)–where he ranked fourth all-time with 167 career strikeouts and fifth with 32 games started–before being the seventh round pick by San Diego in the 2009 draft. That year he was one of four NSU players drafted, three of whom have now appeared on a Major League 40-man roster–including Mikolas, J.D. Martinez (Astros) and Mike Fiers (Brewers). After converting from a starter to a reliever, Mikolas quickly moved up the Padres system to the Single-A affilate Fort Wayne TinCaps, where he would become a 2010 Midwest League All-Star after striking out 78 batters in 60 appearances.
The Southern Florida native last season split time between the Single-A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm and the Double-A San Antonio Missions. He went a combined 4-0 with 21 saves and a 1.38 earned run average. Mikolas was dominant on the mound, striking out 69 in 72 innings of relief. Rumor has it that an unnamed Lake Elsinore Storm pitcher was betting everyone he could hit triple digits but could only hit 99 on the radar gun that year. However, the Lizard King of the bullpen has since touched 100 mph with a spike in velocity. The fearless pitcher and part-time shaman will change our way of thinking of the Padres’ winning ways by keeping hitters uneasy and off balance with his unrelentless heat and signature Mikolas Hammer.