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.
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The Italian American Baseball Family Tree Grows

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The Italian American Baseball Family is on a mission to strengthen Team Italia and its fan base.

In late 1976 Lou Colabello got an invitation he could not refuse from friend Ed Orizzi, who was looking for a pitcher to help Rimini compete in the Italian Baseball League. It didn’t take long for the left-handed ace from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to regain his pitching form last seen in the 1969 College World Series to lead Rimini to three Italian Series A titles from 1977 to 1984. Putting together a stellar 94-25 record with a 2.99 ERA, the owners of the other IBL teams did not want to see Colabello’s dominance any longer. As a result, the president of the league and owner of the team in Parma implemented a rule that barred American-schooled Italians over the age of 26 from pitching.

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Italian American Lou Colabello pitched for Team Italia against USA at Dodger Stadium in the 1984 Olympics.

After meeting the love of his life Silvana in Rimini and getting married to her in 1981, the Italian American Baseball Family Tree grew its first branch with the birth of their son Chris Colabello in 1983. Lou was invited to play for the Italian national team in 1984, when he would pitch against USA’s Barry Larkin, Will Clark, Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell, Mark McGwire, Cory Snyder and B.J. Surhoff at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

american_italian_roots_postcards-r9c2297463d664483b6c6ab48f30d9bd1_vgbaq_8byvr_512 Fast forward to the first pitch of the 2013 World Baseball Classic warm-up game between Team Italia and the Los Angeles Angels. Halos skipper Mike Scioscia looked out at the sea of Azzurri jerseys and said, “I’m proud to be Italian, and I think everyone on that field is proud of their roots and where they come from.” Then Scioscia asked, “Where’s Sal?” He wanted to know where Sal Varriale was. Sal was the first “oriundo” or immigrant with Italian ancestry recruited by Aldo Notari, the former Italian Baseball Federation President from 1985 to 2000. The Brooklyn native enjoyed a successful playing career in Italy and coached Team Italia in the Olympics from 1992 to 2004.

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Sal Varriale (left) was given the Meritorious Service Award and Mike Scioscia (right) was given the Rawlings Honor Award by the American Baseball Coaches Association at the 2012 ABCA Convention.

Today Sal proudly serves as Director of Parma Baseball and as an international scout for the Cincinnati Reds. The Italian American Baseball Family Roots grew during Notari’s tenure governing the Italian Baseball Federation and it continues to prosper with the addition of MLB’s World Baseball Classic under new president Andrea MarconMike Piazza was recruited by former president Riccardo Fraccari to join Team Italia while visiting Italy in 2002. Jason Grilli and Frank Catalanotto also signed up to play for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC.

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After playing in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Hall of Famer Mike Piazza became Team Italia’s hitting coach.

With Mike Piazza signing on as Team Italia hitting coach for the 2009 World Baseball Classic in Toronto, many notable Italian American MLB players contributed to Team Italia’s surprise 6-2 upset over host Canada. Chris Denorfia went 4-for-4 with three doubles, two runs, two RBI and played great defense. Starting pitcher Dan Serafini picked up the win after middle reliever Chris Cooper kept hitters off balance and closer Jason Grilli secured the 3 1/3 inning save. New Italian American Baseball Family members included Nick Punto, Francisco Cervelli, Adam Ottavino, and Mike Costanzo.

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Chris Colabello and Anthony Rizzo celebrate Italian style after Colabello’s three-run homer against the Dominican Republic in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

After Team Italia defeated Mexico and Canada to advance to the second-round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, they would suffer a 5-4 loss to eventual 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic and demonstrate how its mixed roster of Italian-born players like Alex Liddi and Alessandro Maestri and Italian American MLB-affiliated newcomers Anthony Rizzo, Chris Colabello, Drew Butera and Pat Venditte could compete with international baseball’s elite.

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Team Italia catcher Drew Butera and coach Frank Catalanotto at the 2013 World Baseball Classic
Chicago Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo was signed in 2010.
Chicago Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo was signed in 2010.

Los Angeles radio deejay and journalist Roberto Angotti could see the writing on the wall and knew something special was happening when he was invited to the Italian Baseball Academy in Tirrenia while visiting family nearby in 2012. Since the day Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy director and Chicago Cubs scout Bill Holmberg signed Italian Baseball Academy graduate Alberto Mineo to the Cubbies in 2010, MLB scouts have scattered around the FIBS-sponsored Baseball Academy like flies hunting down the scent of the next big European prospect. Germany’s most successful player to date–Max Kepler, a product of a similar European Baseball Academy that MLB’s Bill Holmberg frequents in Regensburg and recipient of the Minnesota Twins’ $800,000 signing bonus in 2009, proved to be worth his weight in gold based on his 17 homers and 63 RBI during the 2016 MLB season.

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Italian MLB Academy Director Bill Holmberg (far right) smiles as prospect Marten Gasparini signs a pro baseball contract with the Kansas City Royals in 2013.

San Remo native Alex Liddi, who signed to the Seattle Mariners in 2005 and made his MLB debut in 2011, was inspirational for young Italian ballplayers like Marten Gasparini who dreamed of playing in the Big Leagues. Heralded as the best 5-tool player ever out of Europe, FIBS Academy graduate and MLB prospect Marten Gasparini received a $1.3 million dollar signing bonus from the Kansas City Royals in 2013. The 19-year-old shortstop credits Italian Baseball Academy director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg for his success.

Manager Marco Mazzieri led underdog Team Italia to the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Manager Marco Mazzieri led underdog Team Italia to the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

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. The LA Dodgers recruited Mazzieri to become their scout in 2013. Mazzieri went right to work and wasted no time in signing FIBS Academy graduates Federico Celli and Federico Giordani.

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Courtesy of Italian American Family member/artist Christopher Paluso 

Growing up in Los Angeles as a first generation Italian American Dodgers fan, Roberto Angotti understood the strong connection between Tommy Lasorda and Mike Piazza. From the moment Piazza decided to play for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC, Angotti enlisted to become a soldier on the frontline of the Italian baseball revolution. Roberto became friends with Mike during the two weeks Team Italia spent in Phoenix preparing for the 2013 WBC. When Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda dropped in on Team Italia’s practice at Dodgers’ Spring Training Camp in Glendale to address the team, Angotti pledged his support and worked tirelessy behind-the-scenes to provide daily journals of the team’s activities. Lasorda’s emotionally-driven speech coupled with Piazza’s serious commitment inspired Angotti to share the experience with others through a traveling exhibit paying tribute to Italian American baseball entitled Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball. The exhibition featured sports artists of Italian descent–including James Fiorentino–and paid homage to Team Italia.

MLB Executive VP of Baseball Operations Joe Torre and James Fiorentino
MLB Executive VP of Baseball Operations Joe Torre and Italian American Baseball Family’s James Fiorentino

Featured in the New York Times as well as on ESPN, MSG, and FOX, James Fiorentino is considered one of the world’s best sports artists. Fiorentino became the youngest artist to ever be featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame at age 15 with his portrait of Reggie Jackson. Art seen at JamesFiorentino.com grace the walls of the National Basketball and Cycling Hall of Fames, Ted Williams and Roberto Clemente Museums, National Art Museum of Sport and the Sports Museum of America.

Italian American Baseball Family's Joe Quagliano and Mike Piazza hold James Fiorentino's portrait of the Hall of Famer.
Italian American Baseball Family’s Joe Quagliano presents Mike Piazza a portrait commemorating his induction to the National Baseball of Hall of Fame by world-renowed artist James Fiorentino.

new-logo-fibs The Italian American Baseball Family grew organically when Mint Pros founder Joe Quagliano reached out to Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri and offered his expertise as a pro sports event promoter to raise funds for baseball development in Italy. With the support of FIBS executives Riccardo Fraccari, Marinella Mojoli, Massimo Fochi, Marco Landi and Riccardo Schiroli, Quagliano represented the Italian Baseball Federation with Marco Mazzieri at the National Italian American Foundation 41st Anniversary Gala and joined Mike Piazza at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame 39th Annual Induction & Awards Gala.

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The first annual IBAF/FIBS fundraising event sold out in no time upon its initial announcement.
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The Italian American Baseball Family’s mission includes providing scholarships for athletes at FIBS Academy, a residential program in Italy.

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Joe Quagliano, James Fiorentino and Roberto Angotti have teamed up for the Italian American Baseball Family Launch and Dinner, the first of many fundraisers to assist in the development of youth baseball in Italy by building and maintaining ball fields, purchasing uniforms and equipment, organizing clinics and supporting FIBS. Like branches on a tree, we grow in different directions yet our Italian family roots remain the same.

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Jays and Team Italia closer Jason Grilli happy together

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Italian American Jason Grilli of the Toronto Blue Jays has pitched for Team Italia since the inception of the MLB sanctioned World Baseball Classic in 2006.

Having pitched 3.2 scoreless innings in the 2016 AL postseason with three strikeouts and just one hit allowed, Blue Jays setup man Jason Grilli was worth his weight his gold. Toronto exercised its option to pick up the 40-year-old Italian American’s $3-million contract option for 2017. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins called the reliever’s option “as near to a no-brainer to pick up as you can get.” After being acquired on May 31, Grilli appeared in 46 games during which he had 58 K’s in 42 innings with two saves and 21 holds.

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Jason Grilli exchanges a warm embrace after Italia’s win over Mexico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Grilli is synonymous with Team Italia since he is the only active player to participate in all three World Baseball Classics since its start in 2006–when he pitched a one-hitter with seven K’s to earn Italia’s first win over Australia. Now serving as Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri’s official closer, Jason is proud of his role and his Italian heritage. “You know, they say the more you hang around Italians, the more Italian you become,” said Grilli. “And that’s what I am. I’m an Italian. I’m a relief pitcher for the Italians.”

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Team Italia closer Jason Grilli earned the save versus Mexico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Italian American Baseball Family goes to bat for FIBS and recent earthquake relief efforts in Italia

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Team Italia catcher Drew Butera and coach Frank Catalanotto at the 2013 WBC in Phoenix.
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Visit the newly improved FIBS/Team Italia website.

Italia coach Frank Catalanotto, Mint Pros‘ Joe Quagliano, and National Baseball Hall of Fame artist James Fiorentino are hosts of a special fundraising event to benefit Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) and Italian earthquake relief as well as honor Team Italia in the 2017 World Baseball Classic on December 8th at Carmine’s Restaurant and Sports Bar in Brooklyn, New York. FIBS president Riccardo Fraccari and Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri are among the honorary guests scheduled to appear. New York Mets announcer and National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame supporter Wayne Randazzo will emcee.

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Italian American icon Yogi Berra and James Fiorentino at age 15

Among other memorable moments, the family of Yogi Berra will be presented with the late Italian American’s retired number 8 Italia coaches jersey from 2008, and internationally acclaimed artist James Fiorentino will honor Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza by revealing his commissioned portrait of the 2016 National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee during the dinner ceremonies. All fundraising dinner proceeds will support youth baseball in Italy by building and maintaining ball fields, purchase uniforms and equipment, organize clinics and other youth baseball programs under FIBS’ guidance.

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James Fiorentino’s “Mike Piazza ‘53” was made in 1999 but shows Piazza as he may have appeared in the 1953 Topps set (incidentally before the NY Mets existed).

Mike Piazza met FIBS president Riccardo Fraccari in 2002 while visiting Italy on a MLB International mission to help grow the game in Europe. Fraccari asked Piazza if he would be interested in representing Italy in international competition, and the proud Italian American responded that it would be privilege to play for the Italian national team in honor of his Sicilian ancestry. University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee professor emeritus of Italian Lawrence Baldassaro-who served as the interpreter for Team Italia at the 2006 WBC–said, “Of all the younger Major League players I interviewed for my book, Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball, none was more in touch with, and interested in, his Italian heritage than Mike Piazza. And his commitment to baseball in Italy is unmatched among those his age.” In response Mike Piazza replied, “We just want to continue to draw attention to the fact that we believe baseball is marketable in Italy. We think it’s viable. We think there’s a lot of upward growth. We can produce players over there. I’m convinced of it.”

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Support the Italian baseball revolution by purchasing a ticket to the fundraising dinner on December 8th at Carmine’s Restaurant and Sports Bar in Brooklyn, NY.

Carmine Gangone has been slinging pizza at his family’s Williamsburg restaurant in Brooklyn since he was 7 years old. Carmine’s Pizzeria was opened nearly four decades ago by his hard-working Italian immigrant father from Salerno. Carmine’s Restaurant and Sports Bar has since become a favorite New York Yankees enclave with its enormous display of Brooklyn Bombers memorabilia, which most notably includes Italian American baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. Carmine’s Restaurant and Sports Bar plays host to the Italian American Baseball Family Launch and Fundraiser Dinner on December 8th. Team Italia coaches Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto, Team Italia players Jason Grilli and Francisco Cervelli as well as other MLB players including Mike Napoli are expected. For tickets and more information about this special event, click HEREMike Piazza Flyer Outlined copy

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SPONSORSHIP LEVELS
SINGLE
1 ticket to the Team Italia event
1 giclee signed by sports artist James Fiorentino
Your name displayed in our event program
$1,000
 
DOUBLE
2 tickets to the Team Italia fundraising event,
1 Mike Piazza – 16 x 20 giclees signed by sports artist James Fiorentino
Your company’s ¼ page ad displayed in ours event program.
Pre event meeting with the celebrities
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TRIPLE
4 tickets to the Team Italia fundraising event,
2 Mike Piazza – 16 x 20 giclees signed by sports artist James Fiorentino
Your company’s ½ page ad displayed in ours event program.
Pre event meeting with the celebrities
2 Field passes for batting practice and 2 field level seats for a 2016 or 2017 NY Mets game
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HOME RUN
10 tickets to the Team Italia fundraising event,
10 Mike Piazza – 16 x 20 giclees signed by sports artist James Fiorentino
Your company’s full page ad in our event program.
Pre event meeting with the celebrities
4 Field passes for batting practice and 4 field level seats for a 2016 or 2017 NY Mets game
$10,000
 
GRAND SLAM
15 tickets to the Team Italia fundraising event,
15 Mike Piazza – 16 x 20 giclees signed by sports artist James Fiorentino
Your company’s name displayed on the back page of ours event program.
Pre event meeting with the celebrities
6 Field passes for batting practice and 6 field level seats for a 2016 or 2017 NY Mets game
$15,000

 

Team Italia closer Jason Grilli integral in bringing 2016 World Series Championship north of border to Toronto

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39-year-old Jason Grilli is better than ever in Toronto.

Just ask former Jays manager Cito Gaston about the current team’s roster, which now boasts veteran Italian American pitcher Jason Grilli as their reliable setup man. Just two games out of first in the American League East Division, the Blue Jays would like nothing more than ending the 23-year-old drought by bringing a World Series title back home to Toronto. Gaston said, “I think they have the team to win it. It’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be fun for this city to watch.” Since being traded on May 31st from the Atlanta Braves, Jason Grilli has provided the necessary leadership to propel current Toronto Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons’ team to the top.

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Proud Italian American and Floridian Jason Grilli

The trade that brought Grilli north of the border probably would have never taken place without a little help from Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin, who encouraged the front office to take action and served as catcher for Grilli while with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013 when Jason earned a nod to the National League All-Star squad. Like a fine Italian wine getting better with time, Grilli saved 33 games and posted a 2.70 ERA with 74 strikeouts to just 13 walks for the Pirates that year. His accolades grew larger in 2014 when the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame honored Pirates closer Jason Grilli as the “Man of the Year”. Jays General Manager Ross Atkins cited Martin’s endorsement of Grilli as being a factor in bringing him to Toronto.

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Pitcher Jason Grilli and catcher Russell Martin have reunited to bring another World Series title to Canada.

Martin admitted Grilli is now getting by more on craft and guile than power. “His arm is still electric. There’s still some bullets in that thing,” Russell said. “He’s got that fastball that guys like to swing at when it’s up in the zone. He knows how to disrupt timing with the slide-step, how to elevate the fastball. And he’s got a really tight slider — one of the best that I’ve caught.” Jason has made fifteen appearances for Toronto, tossing 13.2 innings, allowing ten hits and six walks while striking out 23. Grilli has also notched four holds since joining the Blue Jays.

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The Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and 1993.

After Grilli was traded to the Angels from the Pirates in 2014, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said: “I know this about Jason. Every time a new opportunity has come to him, he has been able to find another gear.” Based on his performance for the past six weeks, Jason has indeed found a new lease on life in Toronto–thanks in part to the recruitment efforts of Canadian-born Russell Martin, who would love matching World Series rings. “I thanked him and up down,” Grilli said of Martin. “I told him I knew he had something to do with me being over here.”

Rangers’ Anthony Ranaudo tweets interest in pitching for Team Italy in response to prayer to Saint Anthony


St Anthony CoverOne 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.
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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. Ranaudo_Pitcher_ofthe_Year_640x360_l51h6tgo_78y4cu7p

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Rangers’ pitcher Anthony Ranaudo

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.preview_black_texas_italy

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!