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.

WBC Photo Day: Italy
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.

Drew Butera and Frank Catalanotto
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.

Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto,
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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Roberto Clemente Award honors MLB players’ contributions off the field in the community

The Roberto Clemente Award is given annually to a player who demonstrates the values Clemente displayed in his commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others. Each of the 30 MLB clubs nominate a player, and the winner is announced during the World Series. Baseball fans will be automatically registered for a chance to win a grand prize trip for four to the 2012 World Series or $2500 of baseball equipment donated to the their community and an MLB.com gift card when they participate in the process of selecting the national award recipient by clicking HERE
to vote for their favorite 2012 Roberto Clemente Award nominee: Willie Bloomquist (Arizona D-backs), Tim Hudson (Atlanta Braves), Jim Johnson (Baltimore Orioles), Jon Lester (Boston Red Sox), David DeJesus (Chicago Cubs), Jake Peavy (Chicago White Sox), Todd Frazier (Cincinnati Reds), Jason Kipnis (Cleveland Indians), Michael Cuddyer (Colorado Rockies), Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers), Wesley Wright (Houston Astros), Alex Gordon (Kansas City Royals), C.J. Wilson (Los Angeles Angels), Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers), Logan Morrison (Miami Marlins), Rickie Weeks (Milwaukee Brewers), Justin Morneau (Minnesota Twins), Johan Santana (New York Mets), Mark Teixeira (New York Yankees), Brandon McCarthy (Oakland Athletics), Jimmy Rollins (Philadelphia Phillies), Chris Resop (Pittsburgh Pirates), Matt Holliday (St. Louis Cardinals), Luke Gregerson (San Diego Padres), Matt Cain (San Francisco Giants), Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners), David Price (Tampa Bay Rays), Michael Young (Texas Rangers), Ricky Romero (Toronto Blue Jays) and Ryan Zimmerman (Washington Nationals).

2008 Roberto Clemente Award winner Albert Pujols congratulates David Ortiz after being named 2011 Roberto Clemente Award winner before game two of the 2011 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers.
Past Roberto Clemente Award winners have included David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Craig Biggio, Carlos Delgado, John Smoltz, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer, Jim Thome, Curt Schilling, Al Leiter, Tony Gwynn, Sammy Sosa, Eric Davis, Kirby Puckett, Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken, Jr., Harold Reynolds, Dave Stewart, Gary Carter, Dale Murphy, Rick Sutcliffe, Garry Maddox, Don Baylor, Ron Guidry, Cecil Cooper, Ken Singleton, Steve Garvey, Phil Niekro, Andre Thornton, Greg Luzinski, Rod Carew, Pete Rose, Lou Brock, Willie Stargell, Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson and Willie Mays.
Willie Mays congratulates Roberto Clemente after hitting his 3000th and final career regular season hit in a game against the Mets in Pittsburgh on September 30, 1972.

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

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

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

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

Nick Vincent joins MLB/’08 Long Beach State’s Danny Espinosa, Vance Worley and Bryan Shaw

When the 2008 Dirtbag reliever was called up to join the Padres in MLB in May, Nick Vincent became the 13th former Long Beach State ballplayer in the major leagues this season and the 42nd
in school history. Since the right-handed hurler was summoned, CSULB is once again on top for the most major leaguers from any college–an honor the team has held in 2010 and 2011.

Ramona’s hometown hero Nick Vincent is a solid contributor in the San Diego Padres bullpen.
Pitcher Nick Vincent in 2007
Getting to the big leagues for this determined 26-year-old resident of Ramona, a secluded town of 40,000 inhabitants in the foothills northeast of San Diego was a grind. Inspired by his father–who along with his brother–played catch with him at age five and later instilled a strong work ethic as a youth helping with the family business, Nick became Valley League Pitcher of the Year as a senior at Ramona High School and led the Bulldogs to the CIF San Diego Section Division III semi-finals. Vincent was granted a medical redshirt because of a strained right elbow in the first season of his long three-year commute to Palomar College in San Marcos. He learned the fine intricacies of the game and developed his craft before his journey north to Cal State Long Beach–where he transformed into the Dirtbag Stopper under pitching coach Troy Buckley.

Coach Troy Buckley
With a perfect 4-0 record and a 1.75 ERA over 30.3 innings and 26 appearances in relief, Vincent was instrumental in Long Beach State Dirtbag’s 2008 Big West Championship. The San Diego Padres took notice and selected Nick Vincent in the 18th-round of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft. Vincent spent the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons with Padres’ Single-A Advanced affiliate Lake Elsinore, where his 3.08 ERA in 2009 was nearly cut in half to a 1.59 ERA in 2010. The six footer was promoted in 2011 to Double-A San Antonio, where he appeared in a Missions’ club record 66 games and struck out 89 batters in 79.3 innings during the regular season. He was named to the Texas League All-Star team and led San Antonio to a Texas League Championship.
After posting an 8-2 record with a 2.27 ERA in 66 appearances for Double-A San Antonio and being named mid-season 2011 Texas League All-Star, Vincent was the final player added to the Padres 40-man roster last November to protect him from being exposed to the Rule 5 draft.
Nick Vincent waves to fans at PETCO.
Vincent was stellar in the 2011 playoffs, when he pitched six scoreless innings without giving up a walk and striking out 11. The California native made a strong case to make the Padres 2012 opening day roster after three spring training relief appearances, during which he didn’t allow a hit in three innings and struck out three. Instead, an ankle sprain kept him in Arizona for rehab and extended spring training. We spoke with Nick Vincent shortly after his May 18th call-up to MLB and his reassignment from Triple-A Tucson Padres to Double-A San Antonio, where he decided to abandon throwing out of the windup because it put too much pressure on his ankle. The results were remarkable as he went 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 9.6 innings of relief, ringing up 15 without issuing a walk. Since being called up
a fourth-time to the Padres this year, Vincent has been impressive in the bullpen by providing middle relief with a 2-0 record and a 1.83 ERA.
San Diego Padres Manager and ex-pitcher Bud Black

Padres manager Bud Black said of the reliever. “We like Nick’s stuff and he throws strikes. Nick knows his game. He throws a cutter and fastball to both sides of the plate. His game works. He’s just a little bit more consistent than some of the other guys that have come up. We like how he’s throwing the ball, we like his stuff.
He does a lot of things well.” A cordial and genuinely nice guy, Nick Vincent also has the positive disposition and outlook to make the new ownership of the San Diego Padres proud to see a local boy realize his dream in MLB.

Roberto: How are you feeling after being called up to the major leagues as a Padre?
Nick Vincent: I feel pretty good. It was an unreal experience. I mean the first day I was just in awe. How it happened and all that. And then the second day I actually felt it like ’Wow, you’re in the big leagues. This is what it feels like’ kind of thing. When they told me that I was going back down, I wasn’t too surprised. But that feeling you get in your body from going from Tucson (AAA) to the big leagues is an unreal feeling. I don’t think I have ever felt that feeling before in my life.
Roberto: How important was your college baseball experience in becoming a pro leaguer?
Nick Vincent: I played down at Palomar Junior College down in San Marcos. Played there for three years. I got hurt my first year, and there is where I learned most of my baseball. From high school to that, I learned probably ten times from what I knew about baseball from high school. It was unreal, and then I just carried that on to Long Beach with my numbers and stuff. And just started pitching well out of the bullpen there. The main reason I went to Long Beach is because the pitching coach there: Troy Buckley. I mean he had the best ERA in 2004 or 2005 with (Jered) Weaver, (Neil) Jamison, (Abe) Alvarez…they had all these pitchers. And I talked with one of them, Neil Jameson, because he went to Ramona. He was like: ‘If you want to learn how to pitch, this guy knows his stuff.’ That was the main reason
I went there because I didn’t know if they were going to be a good team or not. I didn’t check into that, but I thought if I wanted to continue pitching then I’m going to go with the best pitching coach.
Roberto: How good can it get to be pitching professionally where you grew up as a kid?
Nick Vincent: I mean San Diego is all the way around probably the best city in California…just because of the weather. There is so much stuff to do. You go two hours, and you’re in the snow. You’re right by the beach. You can go fishing. You can go to the lakes. There is just so much stuff you can do around downtown. I mean you can’t really do that in LA.
Roberto: How did your family react seeing you in a Padres uniform at PETCO on May 18th?
Nick Vincent: My dad had bought like 80 tickets. I think he only gave out 50. But he ended up bringing the other ones back, and they reimbursed him for those tickets he didn’t use–so that was cool of the Padres. When I warmed up in the seventh inning, I got up to throw and the whole section right by the bullpen–that’s where he had bought all the tickets–erupted. Friends, family, from high school, my brother’s friends, other friends..it was pretty cool!
Roberto: How have you coped with the pressures of staying up in the big leagues?
Nick Vincent: I went up there and learned some stuff. I mean when you go up there when the game starts, it’s all business. There’s not too much messing around..none of that! So that was one of the biggest things I felt. Everyone is pretty serious..like every pitch. You’re watching every pitch. Nervousness…no matter what…that first inning you throw–you’re always going to be nervous no matter what. And as soon as you get through all of that…then that’s when everything will start cooling down. I mean I’m excited. I’ve got to get the ball down, keep pitching better. Be smart of what I ‘m throwing and get the ball down. I was up in Tucson (AAA), and I was leaving the ball up a lot so they told me I was coming down here (AA). You don’t pitch (well) there, you get moved down. That’s just how baseball is.
Roberto: Is your cutter your best pitch?
Nick Vincent: Yeah, I can throw my cutter to both sides of the plate. It has good late life.
Roberto: Is it a dream come true getting drafted and playing Major League Baseball?
Nick Vincent: I mean everyone who gets drafted…that’s where they hope their destiny is. But I mean you got to earn it. So for me I’ve got to come down here and throw strikes and get people out. I mean I would hope to get back there, but at the same time they are not going to be bring me back up if I’m not pitching good. So I’ve got to get back doing my thing, get people out and hopefully…I mean that’s where I want to be (in MLB). If I’m pitching good, that’s where I’ll be. But if I’m not pitching good, then I’ll be down here (in AA).Roberto: Have you always been a pitcher way back to your Little League days?
Nick Vincent: In Little League and stuff, I pitched but not to be like good at it. I just did it because no one else could throw strikes. And I played outfield more back then. High school came along. The JV coach wanted me to be a pitcher so I went ‘okay’ and I started pitching then. Junior and senior year came along, and I just pitched. That’s all I did. So after that, pitching was the only thing that I could go to.
Roberto: Is there a different mindset being a reliever than being a starting pitcher?
Nick Vincent: Yeah, it’s a way different thing. You can’t be a reliever and go out there and try to start and have the same mentality because you’re not going to. You can’t go out there and throw an inning as hard you can and expect to be that good the next inning. So starting and relieving are two different things. I mean I started at junior college. I liked it. I started doing relief at Long Beach, and I liked that too. For me I think I would be more successful as a reliever out of the bullpen because you get that adrenaline going. And like for me, I want to go in with guys on base right after a starter and we’re like winning or something. And you just shut those guys down and don’t give in and take the momentum from the other team.
Roberto: What kind of pre-game preparation and research on the opposition are you doing?
Nick Vincent: I’m not really doing much. If you’ve only got two pitches. you’re going to throw those two pitches no matter what. Just because they can’t hit a change-up, you’re not going to start throwing change-ups because your change-up is not the same as everyone else’s change-up. For me I’m just going to go out there, and I just look where they’re at standing at the plate. I’m kind of studying them throughout the series, but
I mean it only takes one game to figure out what these guys can do, what they want to do with the ball. If the guy wants to go opposite field with it, then that’s where he’s going to hit the ball that way the whole time. And then you have to play the whole field. If the wind is blowing in this way, you can throw pitches that way. You got more chance for error. I just go up there, and I learn from where they’re standing in the box. I trust our catchers too. Our catchers are watching the game more than I am. So I trust them with their knowledge.Roberto: Are you paying much attention to baserunners when you are on the mound?
Nick Vincent: Yeah, you’re always taking note that they are on base, but they’re not taking my concentration off the hitter at all. I mean I’m pretty quick to the plate so if they want to steal and take the chance of getting out…I’ll let the catcher do his job. I don’t throw many balls in the dirt. I’m more of a strike guy. If they want to chance it and run for second base, I’ll let them and let the catcher throw them out. I’m not really too worried about the guys on base.
Roberto: How good of a hitter are you with the bat?
Nick Vincent: I’m not good with the bat. I got one AB last year, and I struck out. When you haven’t hit since high school and you try to go out there, it’s coming like a 100 miles an hour. Or least that’s what it feels like.
Roberto: If Bud Black calls on you to sacrifice, can you at least lay down a bunt?
Nick Vincent: If I had to, I could get that down. Bunting off a machine is way different than bunting off a guy in a game. I know that…
Roberto: Do you have any advice for young baseball players trying to make it in MLB?
Nick Vincent: I mean just go out there and work hard. Prove people wrong, that’s what I’ve done my whole life. They always said I wasn’t going to get drafted because I was too small and didn’t throw hard enough and all that. So that just gives you fire kind of deal.
You go out there and let’s say you’re throwing 85, 86 and you’re getting people out—you’re getting people out! Baseball is a numbers game. Sooner or later they’re going to have to give you a chance. That’s all I have to get back to doing and see what happens from there.
Roberto: Who were some the players that had the greatest influence on you as a pitcher?
Nick Vincent: Back in the 90’s when it was Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz, that starting rotation right there. It seemed like they were on TV every night. Watching them…what Maddox could do with ball, and then Smoltz throwing fastballs by people and Glavine had his change-up. That three starting line-up was like unreal. As a starting rotation, those were probably my favorite guys I liked to watch.
Roberto: Thanks for your time today, and we look forward to seeing you back at PETCO!
Nick Vincent: Thank you and have a good day.

Aussie Angel pitching prospect Aaron Sookee throws a heavenly slider destined for Anaheim

One of the most arm demanding pitches in baseball is the slider. The pitch is usually not taught to younger and underdeveloped pitchers unless their arms are physically ready to perfect the pitch. Unfortunately, the slider has caused more elbow injuries than all the other pitches combined. Having said that, when thrown correctly, the slider is one of the most devastating pitches out there. With a new found appreciation for this pitch and the pitchers who throw it, we turn our attention to an Angel pitching prospect that could possibly possess the best slider from his native Australia. Introducing 21-year-old Aaron Sookee

Six-foot-three LA Angel pitching prospect Aaron Sookee was as dominant as ever on the mound as a late-inning reliever for the Australian Baseball League’s Sydney Blue Sox.
The best pitchers in baseball use the slider to their advantage on the field, while their agents successfully utilize it in negotiations to ultimately determine their client’s fame and fortune. It is one of the four pitches that usually dictates a player’s ability to play at a professional level. The slider is very deceptive as the batter sees the ball as a fastball due to its speed and spin, but at the last moment the slider drops in front of home plate–unlike a curve ball which is detected by its spin or the pitching motion of the pitcher. A slider is thrown by grasping the ball with the index finger and middle finger not in the center of the ball, but off a bit to the right. Some of the most notable players to have made the slider one of the most difficult pitches to hit include: Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Bob Gibson, Dennis Eckersley and Steve Carlton; legends Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Sparky Lyle; and pitchers Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Zack Greinke, Johan Santana, Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Joba Chamberlain, Ervin Santana, Aroldis Chapman, Jonny Venters, Daniel Bard and Craig Kimbrel.
Aaron Sookee promises to be an asset to the LA Angels.

Signed by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim scout Grant Weir in 2009, Aaron Sookee knew early on that it was a match made in heaven when the Southern California team made an offer he could not refuse. The teenager pitcher had dreamed of playing professional baseball for the LA Angels, who had at the time been a favorite among Australian baseball fans because of the famed Aussie pitcher and former Angel/Blue Sox Rich Thompson.

2010 Blue Sox Trent Oeltjen and Rich Thompson

Working as a late-inning reliever for the Sydney Blue Sox this past ABL season, Sookee made his presence felt by averaging more than one strike out per inning, which is just about the same ratio of two-year Angel minor league campaign (61 strike outs in 59 innings). Heading into his third Angels Spring Training camp, Aaron appeared more confident and more determined than ever to break into Major League Baseball. The following interview took place in mid-March at the Angels Spring Training facility in Tempe, AZ.

Aaron Sookee will take the momentum from his strong Sydney Blue Sox campaign into 2012.
Roberto: What inspired you to dream of playing Major League Baseball as a kid in Australia?
Aaron Sookee: I guess growing up we didn’t get a lot of the major league games so you had to look to the local teams in the old ABL. I remember watching Gary White and Dave Nilsson, both catchers but really great players. And then more recently Chris Oxspring and Brad Thomas and just seeing how they go about their business to hopefully make me into a major league pitcher one day.
Roberto: When did the bidding war between MLB teams begin for your seven-year professional baseball contract?
Aaron Sookee: In January 2009 is when it began and a few teams, I think five or six from memory, were competing. But as soon as the Angels made a bid, I knew that I wanted to play for the Angels.
Roberto: Now with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson acquired during the offseason, do you think the Angels have the winning combination?
Aaron Sookee: Most definitely, you know what I mean. They should win close to 100 games this year with them two. It should be pretty exciting to watch.
Roberto: Has playing in the Angels farm system and in the Australian Baseball League during the offseason helped you develop into a confident pitcher?
Aaron Sookee: I have come a long way. I think that’s from playing everyday. There’s a different brand of baseball here because you do play everyday and you have to be ready to grind it out everyday. That’s the main difference between Australian baseball and American baseball.
Roberto: What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Aaron Sookee: I think the first plan or goal of mine is to make the long season team
in the Midwest League for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Then step-by-step hopefully one day I get to play pro ball.
Roberto: While a member of the ABL’s Sydney Blue Sox, you were being mentored by former MLB pitching teammates Dae-Sung Koo (New York Mets), Chris Oxspring
(San Diego Padres) and Brad Thomas (Detroit Tigers). Was that inspirational to you?
Aaron Sookee: It definitely was…just watching how those guys go about their business.
It was an honour playing alongside them. I learned a lot from all three of them, even though that Koo didn’t speak much English. He can translate through baseball language I guess and then Thom-O and Ox really helped me grow this offseason.Roberto: Why did you choose to become a pitcher instead of another position?
Aaron Sookee: Because I couldn’t hit. That’s basically it…couldn’t hit! (Laughter)
Roberto: There’s hope thanks to the designated hitter.
Aaron Sookee: Yeah right, it came in for a reason. (Laughter)
Roberto: Your pitching arsenal has improved dramatically with the addition of a wicked
slider, which has successfully ended a lot of innings for you. When did you add that pitch
to your repertoire?
Aaron Sookee: (Laughter) It’s come a long way during the offseason…maybe the last calendar year. I’ve been working really hard on it. I just can’t wait to use it this season.
Roberto: With that pitch, are you the Australian version of the Italian slider expert Alessandro Maestri of the Brisbane Bandits?
Aaron Sookee: Yeah, I guess so (laughter). Maestri has carved Sydney a few times…
He’s a true professional in every aspect of the word. Roberto: Does it feel good when fans ask for your autograph?
Aaron Sookee: It’s very humbling to see that fans appreciate what you do and all the
hard work that you put in because it translates to performance on the field. Yeah, it’s good.
Roberto: Any advice for the youth back home that are considering playing baseball?
Aaron Sookee: Just stick with it. Every time you can throw a ball, throw it and don’t hold back. Don’t leave any stone left unturned and just go after it. Don’t be afraid to play.
That’s the main thing I think.
Roberto: Thanks for taking time out to talk today.
Aaron Sookee: Thank you. It’s been a honour. Thanks for having me.