There was no better way to celebrate Phil Rizzuto’s birthday than in the company of San Diego’s finest news crew at CBS Channel 8 and renowned sports artist Christopher Paluso. On September 25th, CBS News Anchor Carlo Cecchetto hosted the grand opening evening celebration of the new exhibition Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball after news reporter Shawn Styles enticed viewers to join him for local favorite Tarantino Sausages and Peroni beer during two live remote broadcasts from the Convivio Center in San Diego’s Little Italy earlier in the day.
The capacity crowd was treated to a live performance by 11-year-old Italian American singing sensation, Isabella Shiff, who recently traveled to Italy to represent her country at the Zecchino d’Oro (Golden Sequin) International Festival of Children’s Song broadcast on Italian TV and won the solo vocalist competition in her age category. Internationally-acclaimed sports artist Christopher Paluso, whose legendary art has graced the walls of the Italian American Sports Museum in Chicago and the San Diego Hall of Champions, mesmerized the audience with nostalgic baseball stories centered around his personal interactions with Joe DiMaggio and other Italian American icons. Attendees read text panels detailing the Italian diaspora and assimilation into American society through baseball before viewing artwork from Christopher Paluso, James Fiorentino, Chris Felix, Vincent Scilla, John Giarizzo, Rob Monte, Zack D’Ulisse, Tom Richmond and Jeremy Nash in addition to photos from Tom DiPace, Rob Cuni and Robb Long.
The exhibit on artist’s tribute to italian american in baseball opened in San Diego. Watch the video http://t.co/o0HkfqJpKW
Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball features Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Tony Lazzeri, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Ernie Lombardi,
Ron Santo, Tommy Lasorda, Tony Conigliaro, Joe Garagiola, Craig Biggio, Tony La Russa, John D’Acquisto, John Montefusco, Ken Caminiti, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto, Frank Menechino, Jason Giambi, Joey Votto, Jason Grilli, Anthony Rizzo, Nick Punto, Chris Denorfia, Drew Butera, Dan Serafini, Alex Liddi, Chris Colabello, Brian Sweeney, Mike Costanzo, and Reid Rizzo. Throughout the exhibit’s exclusive engagement at Convivio, monthly birthday celebrations will feature movies and guest speakers to honor the careers of players and coaches of Italian descent including: Lou Colabello (10/10), Chris Colabello and Sal Varriale (10/24), Nick Punto (11/8), Jason Grilli (11/11), Roy Campanella (11/19), Joe DiMaggio (11/25), Mike Scioscia (11/27), Dave Righetti (11/28), Tony Lazzeri (12/6), Mauro Mazzotti (12/12), Craig Biggio (12/14), Marco Mazzieri (12/20), John D’Aquisto (12/24), Tony Conigliaro (1/7), Jason Giambi (1/8), Kurt Bevacqua (1/23) and Dan Serafini (1/25).
Christopher Paluso is the official artist for the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum and the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago. His work has included many Italian American baseball players (including DiMaggio, Berra, Lasorda and Piazza) and has appeared on magazine covers, limited edition lithographs, collector plates, baseballs and in museums. Visit http://paluso4art.blogspot.com for a glimpse of his legendary artwork.
Support from Italian Ambassador to the U.S. Claudio Bisogniero, FIBS, Team Italia coach Mike Piazza and CBS News has given Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball a great start in San Diego. A special thank you goes out to all who have made this monumental exhibition possible and free to the public.
Congrats to Italia! Under 18 European Champions! Forza Italia!
Although San Diego can lay claim to Team Italy’s lead off hitter/LA Dodgers infielder Nick Punto as their own born-and-raised MLB hero, Sanremo–a popular Italian Riviera resort town between Genoa and the French border–is the proud home of WBC teammate/Seattle Mariners third baseman Alex Liddi. Alex was literally weaned on baseball by his father, Agostino, and his mother, Flavia. Agostino’s parents left Italy shortly after World War II to work as tailors in America.
While attending Beverly Hills High School, Agostino Liddi played baseball before repatriating to Italy after graduation. It was there that he met his future wife, Flavia, who played softball competitively in Italy.
You could say that Alex was a truly a baseball baby since it was reported that Flavia played first base for the first three months of her pregnancy carrying Alex. When Alex was old enough to play, his mother coached his baseball teams. As a teenager, his father drove him long distances to compete in games throughout Italy. With the addition of their two sons, Thomas and Alex, the couple shared their love of the game to transform the Liddi’s into the archetypal Italian baseball family. Alex Liddi was honored last year by the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) for his valuable contributions to the game. FIBS president Riccardo Fraccari called
Liddi “the real ambassador of Italian baseball” after he became the first player from Italy to play in the Major Leagues since 1954 and the first-ever Italian-developed player in MLB. Liddi, the face of European baseball, has the opportunity to spur the growth of baseball back home by playing at the sport’s highest level. By watching Liddi on MLB.tv and reading the nightly box scores, young Italian athletes are now inspired to think that playing Major League Baseball is a viable option. Currently at Triple-A Tacoma with Team Italia pitcher Brian Sweeney, Alex Liddi is playing with conviction
in anticipation of his return to the Mariners for his third consecutive season. Now leading the Rainiers in home runs (8), runs (34), and RBI (32), the sheer power of Italian
24-year-old Liddi will be a welcome addition to the Seattle lineup when MLB rosters expand to 40 players in September. The European baseball ambassador was kind enough to sit down for an interview at the 2013 World Baseball Classic in Phoenix.
Roberto: You were signed in 2005 by Mariners’ scout Wayne Norton and current WBC Team Spain manager Mauro Mazzotti. Isn’t that a good sign for Italian baseball when two Italian managers, Italy’s Marco Mazzieri and Spain’s Mauro Mazzotti, are leading two of Europe’s finest ballplayers in the WBC?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, I’m happy for him that he is able to participate in the World Baseball Classic with another team. I wish him the best.
Roberto: Has the journey with the Seattle Mariners organization been a good experience so far?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, I enjoy my time in Seattle and in the minor league system. I think that it’s a pretty good system. I’ve enjoyed my years playing with them. I’ve got to thank them for giving me a chance to play in the big leagues. So I’m really thankful.
Roberto: You began your professional career in 2006 with the Peoria Mariners and then were then promoted to Single-A Wisconsin. You remained there until 2008 at which time you were batting .313 and enjoyed an eight-game hitting streak when you nearly hit .500! That must have been memorable?
Alex Liddi: Yeah. At every level you go, you try to make adjustments. I was trying to show them that I could play in the states.
Roberto: In 2009 playing for Single-A Advanced High Desert, you led the California League with a .345 batting average, 23 home runs, and 104 RBI. You were selected as a Cal League All-Star. In addition, you were awarded the Cal League MVP, Topps Cal League Player of the Year, Mariners Minor League Player of the Year and MLB.com Mariners Organization Player of the Year. What an accomplishment!
Alex Liddi: Yeah, it we kind of my break out year. We had a good team that year so it was a little easier for me to put out good numbers plus it was a good hitter-friendly park. But that gave me the confidence, and it gave me the chance to keep going for the rest of that year. All these things combined made me have a really good year.
Roberto: How did it feel playing on Team Canada at the Toronto’s Rogers Centre in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and beating the home team on their own turf?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, it was a good time for me. It was probably one of the biggest memories of my life, of my career. I had the chance to beat Canada at the highest level of competition. It will always be something that I will bring with me. I am happy that I was there.
Roberto: In 2011 you were invited to your first Spring Training camp with the Seattle Mariners. It was special because you hit back-to-back grand slams in consecutive games and produced impressive numbers: .385 batting average and a .429 on-base percentage. Your stellar 2011 campaign at Triple-A Tacoma (30 home runs, 104 RBI, 121 runs scored, 32 doubles and 61 walks) led you to your MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners on September 7. 2011. When you got to the big leagues, you hit three home runs and drove in six RBI in 40 at-bats while playing 15 games as a September call-up. Did you ever have to pinch yourself to make sure you were not dreaming anymore and come to the realization
that you were actually a big leaguer?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, for sure. I remember that I had a good spring, but I was still young.
So I had to go back down to Triple-A and develop myself a little more. But then it was getting really close to when the roster expanded to 40 in September, and I was getting really pumped. I maybe had the chance to get called up. Somebody would say ‘yes’
that I was going to get called up and somebody else would say ‘no’. Until they called
me and told me that I was getting called up. It was kind of like all the dreams came true, and it was a big day for me.
Roberto: You also played in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game. That must have been an
eye-opener playing in the front of the MLB media under the watchful eye of a worldwide televised audience.
Alex Liddi: It was a real honor. I would have never expected that to have come to me.
I was really happy to go there. It was really fun.Roberto: You have a special bond with Alessandro Maestri, the first Italian-born-and-raised pitcher to be signed by MLB. He also waves the Italian baseball flag internationally just as you do. Let’s talk about your friendship and what makes him a competitor.
Alex Liddi: First of all, I have a lot of respect for him
as a person and as a player. He’s a really good friend
of mine and probably one of my best friends. He’s one
of those guys who always works hard and fights for everything. He never got anything easy in his life and always had to fight for it. That’s why I give him a lot of respect as a person. Plus he’s a really good pitcher with really good stuff. It was a shame when he got released by the Cubs, but at the same time I remember when I called him to tell him to keep his head up. I thought he could have pitched in the big leagues for sure, and I
still think he can. And then he got a chance to pitch in Japan and make it to the big leagues there. I’m really proud of him. Hopefully, he will have a long career.
Roberto: He actually was selected as the inaugural Fan Choice Award in the Australian Baseball League when he pitched for the Brisbane Bandits in 2011. Wherever he decides
to play, he always makes a major impact.
Alex Liddi: He has charisma. He has a really good attitude on and off the field that makes him a complete player. Good tools, good person, good teammate…so all these things combined together make him a really good player.
Roberto: What is different about Team Italia in the 2013 WBC from the previous team in 2009. What is different in the chemistry which makes the team such a dominant player in this year’s World Baseball Classic?
Alex Liddi: Last time in the World Baseball Classic we had a good team, but this time we have been playing together more. I mean we already know Chris Denorfia, Nick Punto, Anthony Rizzo–I’ve known Rizzo for a couple years now. He’s been a friend of mine since I have been playing against him for a long time. The other guys have been playing together for a while now so the team is really together now. Instead of the other teams, they might bigger names but they have never played together like we do.
Roberto: You could have a bunch of big names on a lineup card, but at the end of the day you look at the box score and the team with the biggest desire to win the game will actually succeed.
Alex Liddi: I think we showed them already that we came here to win. We’re not joking and you can see it on our face…our enthusiasm on the field. We’re playing hard right now. We’re playing real baseball so everybody has to be careful.
Roberto: You are going out there playing nine one-inning games every contest, opponents should not take Team Italia lightly.
Alex Liddi: We’re playing as a team. Everybody can come up with the big hit. Nobody has got to do too much. Everybody’s got other people’s back, you know. We keep playing like this, and we’ll do a lot of damage.
Roberto: Having a stellar coaching staff which includes future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto, it must have a tremendous impact on your entire approach to baseball.
Alex Liddi: For sure. I mean when you have a chance to have coaches like Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto—guys who have been in the big leagues for a long time—it makes it fun just to be around those guys. You’re able to ask them questions and learn from them so that’s another big part of the team right there too. Roberto: How proud are you being an Italian playing Major League Baseball and providing hope for Italian athletes that they too can play baseball professionally?
Alex Liddi: I’m really proud to have accomplished being the first Italian-born-and-raised player in the big leagues. It was something that I was always looking forward to coming up through the minors. That was my goal ever since getting signed. Getting closer to it, I could actually understand what it meant. As I got closer, and I was really excited about it. There was no pressure for me. It’s something I’m happy about that happened to me–getting to the big leagues. I’m really thankful to everybody for giving me the opportunity.
Roberto: I love what you represent to Team Italia, your family, friends and fans.
Alex Liddi: I respect this game, and I respect my family. You always got to remember where you come from. So I will always be there for my friends, and a lot of my friends are my fans too. They’re there for me so I got to be there for them. The fans are what make
the game fun. So you have got to be thankful for the fans. I really appreciate the fans. Without the fans, this game would be nothing…
Although we won’t see Alex Liddi play in San Diego this year, we can still enjoy his banner in Little Italy. You will be pleasantly surprised by the number of Italian American baseball players that grace the streets of America’s finest city. You will find Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazzawith 2013 World Baseball Classic players Nick Punto, Chris Denorfia, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Colabello and Jason Grilli in Little Italy. Other Italian American heroes on display include the likes of Jason Giambi, Barry Zito, Craig Biggio, Rich Aurilla, Gary Gaetti, Frank Viola, Rick Botallico, Ron Santo, Sal Bando, Tony Conigliaro, Pete Falcone, Roy Campanella, Rico Petrocelli, Tommy Lasorda, Bart Giamatti, Joe Pepitone, Joe Garagiola, Yogi Berra, Joe Torre, Frank Torre, Joe DiMaggio, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Crosetti, Phil Rizzuto, Nicholas Dallassandro, Charles Strada, Phil Cavaretta, and Babe Pinelli. To learn more about Italian American players in Major League Baseball, pick up a copy of Lawrence Baldassaro’s Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball.
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!
It may be a case of divine intervention to help the young and talented Chinese Taipei national team after suffering three consecutive to Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Stars in the five-game 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series. Enter Taiwanese-born Fu-Te Ni–often referred to by Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) fans as “Tu Di Gong” or “Fu Teh Cheng Shen” because his given name is the same as the formal name for the Chinese God of the Land–taking the mound Saturday, November 5th at Kaohsiung’s Cheng-Ching Lake Stadium to the delight of mortal and deity beings everywhere and restoring balance in these seemingly lopsided exhibition games.
Having pitched for Chinese Taipei in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic, the lefty Fu-Te Ni soon became a fan favorite in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. In 2009 Ni signed a minor league contract with the Toledo Mud Hens, the Triple-A affiliate for the Detroit Tigers. It didn’t take long for Ni to be the first player to transition from the CPBL to MLB when he was called up by the Tigers in June 2009, becoming the sixth Taiwanese player to enter the big leagues.
Ni made his major league debut on June 29, 2009 in relief of Rick Porcello against the Oakland A’s. His first major league match up was no small feat as the once famous Moneyball all-star who got away, Jason Giambi stood sixty feet away. Ni would strike out the left-hand hitting slugger and two other batters in 1.2 innings of relief. Mixing a four-seam fastball with a change-up and slider, Fu-Te Ni kept the hitters off-balance. Offering no free passes to first base with precision pitch control, Ni threw 21 of his 27 pitches for strikes. Later Tigers manager Jim Leyland commented, “He’s not afraid. That’s what I like about him. He’s got a little hitch of giddy-up.” In his first season with Detroit, Fu-Te Ni put away some of MLB’s best including Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, Adam Jones and Aubrey Huff. Opponents batted just .187 against Ni, and he became a reliable left-hander out of the Tigers bullpen. Most impressive, however, was his American League relievers-leading 8.6 percent of inherited runners to score statistic(3-35).
In 2010 hitters began to take advantage of Ni’s troubles in hitting the low-end of the strike zone and locating the breaking ball against left-handed hitters, resulting in a catapulting .290 batting average against the left-hand throwing hurler. He struck out 22 batters over 23 innings, but also gave up 19 walks before being sent down to Triple-A Toledo. Although he had participated in the 2011 Tigers Spring Training Camp, Ni split his time as a starter and reliever in the International League, where he started 12 games and posted a 6-3 record with a 3.24 ERA. In 111 innings pitched, Ni struck out 93 and walked 34.
Equipped with renewed confidence and control of his pitches, Chinese Taipei’s Fu-Te Ni is ready to redeem himself in the eyes of the MLB skeptics in the Taiwan All-Stars Series. Of all the players on the MLB All-Stars roster, only the recently awarded 2011 Silver Slugger winner New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and 2011 Rawlings Gold Glove recipient Los Angeles Angels of Angels Shortstop Erick Aybar have faced Ni in Major League action. As a former 2009 Detroit Tigers teammate of MLB All-Star Curtis Granderson–who was crowned “American League Outstanding Player” in the 2011 Players Choice Awards and also recipient of a 2011 Silver Slugger Award, Fu-Te Ni held Cano hitless. In 2010 Aybar did not fare any better as he struck out in his only at bat against Ni. The writing is on the wall and in the sky for the Chinese God of the Land that “Tu Di Gong” is back with a vengeance to earn his Chinese Taipei national team their first victory against his fellow MLB All-Stars.