Team Italy’s Chris Colabello is ready to join the Twins and kiss Minor League Baseball goodbye

It's MiLB graduation time for Team Italia's DH/1B Chris Colabello
It’s Minor League Baseball graduation time for Team Italia/Minnesota Twins’ Chris Colabello.
Italy's clean-up hitter Chris Colabello came up big in WBC.
Italy’s clean-up hitter Chris Colabello came up big in the 2013 WBC tourney.
As the old adage goes: “If you first don’t succeed,
try, try again…” Perhaps appropriate to sum up the life story of 29-year-old Italian American MLB hopeful Chris Colabello, the best is yet to come for this Massachusetts native. The slugger is poised to make his presence felt on the big league level this year when the Twins call him up from AAA Rochester. Colabello’s strong performance in the World Baseball Classic catapulted Team Italy into the second round of play this year. At Chase Field in Phoenix, he went 4-for-5 with a home run, four RBI and three runs scored against Canada to help Italy clinch a spot to move on to Miami and become the Chevrolet Player of the Game. While at Marlins Park, the Italians nearly posted an upset over 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic when Colabello clubbed a three-run bomb that rivaled any one of Giancarlo Stanton’s many web gems. The Team Italy clean-up hitter lived up to his title by finishing the WBC with a .333 BA, seven RBI and a 1.035 OPS in 18 at-bats.
Team Italia's Anthony Rizzo, Chris Colabello and Chris Denorfia
Team Italia’s #2 hitter Chris Denorfia (R), #3 hitter Anthony Rizzo (L) and Chris Colabello
italy-wbc-kiss
Chris Colabello at Twins Spring Training in Ft. Myers, FL
Chris Colabello at Twins 2013 Spring Training in Ft. Myers, FL
Colabello made a strong case to be on the 2013 Twins Opening Day Roster after hitting .294 with three RBI in
nine spring games for Minnesota. He received words of encouragement from Twins stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau despite being sent down to Triple-A ball to begin the season. Manager Ron Gardenhire had nothing but
praise for Colabello. “He did fine,” said the Twins skipper.
“He played great for Team Italy and really well for us. First base is a place where we don’t have a ton of depth. We have Morneau and then ad-libbing from there. So if he’s down there (AAA) swing the bat good, he could go right into the big leagues after all that time (seven years) in Independent ball. So it’s a good story.” After spending seven seasons in the Can-Am Independent League, Chris Colabello was signed by the Twins and spent last season at Double-A New Britain, where he put together a .284 BA with 19 home runs and 98 RBI. In 46 games this season at Triple-A Rochester, Colabello commands a .360 BA and leads the Red Wings in hits (63), doubles (17), runs (29), home runs (12) and RBI (42).
Chris Colabello gets creamed after being named Chevrolet Player of the Game against Canada.
Italia’s Chris Colabello got creamed
in the Canada post-game celebration.
Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg has known how special of player Chris Colabello is for nearly two decades. The former Chicago Cubs European scout and current Italian MLB Academy director Holmberg said, “I’ve known Chris for maybe 20 years because he used to come over to Italy with his dad. His dad pitched in the Italian Baseball League. His mom is Italian. Chris is just a great kid. He loves to come over and play for us. We enjoy having him. We like him. He’s a very energetic, tremendous kid.” A star player in Italy for eight years who also pitched for the Italian national team in the 1984 Olympics at Dodger Stadium, Lou Colabello brought along his family during his international baseball career while playing and managing abroad. As a result, Chris spent several of his formative years overseas and even played with Team Italia teammate Alessandro Maestri as a youth. Like a fine Italian wine, Chris Colabello gets better with age. Let’s hear his story:

Roberto: Having shadowed Justin Morneau in Twins Spring Training and having torn the leather off the ball with your hot bat, you really made a statement playing against your Canadian colleague in a Team Italia uniform during the World Baseball Classic by beating Team Canada 14-4 in a mercy rule victory.

Chris Colabello: Yeah. It’s been a pretty interesting journey to get where we are right now. Especially for me personally coming from independent ball and all that stuff. But it’s been great. I’ve been trying to take everything one moment at a time and just try to embrace it to the best of my ability. I think that when I was younger I would probably let moments that this speed up on me, and it would have been a little overwhelming. But I think with maturity comes the ability to just kind of embrace it. It’s great. I got to talk with Justin a bunch when we played him. I don’t think he’s too happy with us because of the final score that day. But it’s pretty neat and obviously a great experience for the Italian team.

Roberto: Showing up to Twins camp and finding out you would be rubbing shoulders with former American League MVPs Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer as a result of being assigned
a locker next to two Minnesota baseball icons must have given you goosebumps?

Chris Colabello: Yeah, for sure. I really did think my locker was in the wrong place (laughter) or they had forgotten me or something like that. It’s been really neat and obviously I’m so thankful for the organization for giving me the opportunity to get in the door last year, to be in big league camp this year and the opportunity to play up here in the WBC. In terms of stars in the Minnesota Twins for the past 15 years, you can’t really think of a guy or two that are bigger than Joe and Justin. They are just tremendous people, tremendous players. They’ve made it an easy transition for me and kind of made it a little
bit less nerve-racking than I thought it would be.

Roberto: You also have Twins’ Drew Butera watching your back. He was outstanding in
the WBC with his two-run homer against Team Mexico. The chemistry in the Team Italia clubhouse was uncharted because at the end of the day the other team’s big league names on a lineup card didn’t translate in the game-ending box scores. Team Italia’s spirit, desire, passion, drive, and commitment to win games day-by-day under the leadership of manager Marco Mazzieri along with the coaching staff of Tom Trebelhorn, Bill Holmberg, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto, Alberto D’Auria, Gilberto Gerali and Claudio Vecchi.

Chris Colabello: Yeah. It’s a testament to the staff and the organization. You know, being able to put together a group of guys that first and foremost would mesh well together. There was not a single ego in that clubhouse. It’s pretty unbelievable. We kind of embraced the role of underdog that everybody pinned on us. We certainly didn’t believe we were the underdog coming in. I think we obviously proved that to people playing strong baseball games in a row against some really good teams. Drew and I started talking when camp just opened. Every day we’d see each other at spring training. ‘Paisans’, you know, it’s kind of like that comradery came with it. Having played the European Cup last year, I saw what a great group of guys it was. It’s truly amazing to bring a guys from a big league camp and have them join with IBL (Italian Baseball League) guys and some guys from other walks of life and to have us all feel like we’ve been playing together for years is pretty amazing.

Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg and hitting coach Mike Piazza (MG-Oldmanagency / FIBS)
Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg and hitting coach Mike Piazza (MG-Oldmanagency / FIBS)

Roberto: You could not have had a better guidance than Italian MLB Academy Director and Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg as well as Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza.

Chris Colabello: Yeah, for sure. Even on that end, you’ve got a guy who in my opinion
is a Hall of Famer in Mike Piazza, and a guy like Bill Holmberg–who is probably more prepared than any coach I have ever met in my entire life in terms of being able to scout, gather information and help guys out. Obviously, Marco is the leader of that group. It’s pretty amazing stuff because I think a line I remember hearing is ‘Attitude reflects leadership’ so it’s obviously a testament to them and the ability they go about teaching the game and helping guide us who we are.

Roberto: How did you make the transition from Independent baseball to MLB-affiliated ball and what were the expectations that went along with it?

Chris Colabello: It was all new to me at that point. Obviously not being drafted initially kind of hurt a little bit, and I really didn’t know where the road was going to lead. Baseball is a big part of my life. Worcester was probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my career. The manager I played for, Rich Gedman and the people I was around, some of my best friends for the rest of my life are some of the guys I played with in Worcester. After that 2005 season, we had a great experience. It was our first year. The city was really excited about it. I got a real taste of how the best minor league places are run because we were certainly treated like royalty. I had the opportunity to sign with Detroit (in 2006).
I really didn’t know what to expect. It was all new to me. I had never been to Spring Training camp. I was really excited. I didn’t know how many guys there would be. Coming in as a free agent signing, I think at some point you have got to stand out. Again, I had mentioned before, when I was younger I used to let things speed up on me a little bit.
I think that was probably part of what happened in camp unfortunately. I thought I had done a pretty good job performance wise and in terms of work ethic. And I think I had some good reviews from coaches before I had left, but things didn’t work out for whatever reason it was and back to Worcester it was.

Roberto: At age 27 during your 2011 season with the Worcester Tornadoes, you put up impressive offensive numbers which earned you Can-Am League Most Valuable Player and Baseball America magazine’s Independent Baseball Player of the Year honors. How could the Minnesota Twins not take notice? They saw something special in you and shortly thereafter offered a minor league contract.

Chris Colabello: Yeah. It was kind of a whirlwind. I finished the 2010 season on a tough note. I broke my hand. I got hit with a fastball and missed the final two weeks of the season. I think I was really, really hungry at that point. So I started working a lot earlier than I normally would, especially in the cage with a good friend of mine, Bobby Tewksbary–
who is one of my best friends in the world. We‘d start getting after it in the cage…talking about timing and rhythm things, swing stuff that really changed my life (laughter). It allowed me to free myself up as a hitter a little bit which turned things around in my 2011 season. It was pretty magical in terms of finish. And of course all those nice accolades I was able to receive…I think helped me kind of break into affiliated baseball. I couldn’t be more thankful to the Twins organization for giving me that chance.

Roberto: The accolades continued to mount as you were a 2012 Eastern League All-Star team selection in addition to being chosen as the Eastern League’s Most Valuable Player runner-up. You must have broken some hearts when your 98 RBI single-season club
record for Double-A New Britain in 2012 surpassed the previous 1998 record set by Doug Mientkiewicz (88). Quite an accomplishment in consideration MLB veterans and former
Rock Cats Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Jacque Jones could not reach the prior plateau during their minor league careers.

Chris Colabello: Yeah (laughter). It was a lot of fun. I think 2012 turned out to be,
I couldn’t have imagined it, just as good if not a better year than 2011. I was on a little bit of a different stage. There was little more riding on it, but it was awesome. I reminded myself about having fun and the game doesn’t change no matter where you are. Once I started having fun, things began to free up for me. In both places early, I ran into some trouble. Again that mental maturity…aging has kind of helped me along the way. It reminded me how to battle back from situations like that so the numbers turned out to be what they were. It was a lot of fun.

Roberto: You have trying to beat the odds in breaking in the big leagues your entire career with the same conviction to succeed despite getting older everyday. What keeps you moving forward in achieving your life-long dream?

Chris Colabello: Ultimately, I think if you are passionate enough about something in life it would be irresponsible not to pursue it to the fullest extent. Baseball is such a big part of my life for so long and obviously a huge part of my family, huge part of my childhood. It’s a part of me. People say baseball doesn’t define who I am. Well in a lot of ways I feel like it does for me. Obviously it doesn’t define the type of person I am, but there’s always a huge part of me that will be in love with this game for the rest of my life. I think I just got really good at not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Every time I heard someone say ‘no’, it kind of made me want it much more and maybe work for it that much more. It allowed me to do things that I could take to that next level. Here we are today. Persistence and not taking ‘no’ for an answer are the way to do it.

Team Italia pitcher Dan Serafini
Team Italia/MLB veteran pitcher Dan Serafini is a kindred spirit to Twins slugger Chris Colabello.
Roberto: You have a lot in common with Team Italia teammate and former Twins 1992 first-round draft pick Dan Serafini, another player who has seen the inside of more bus terminals than clubhouses. How are you so alike yet different ballplayers?

Chris Colabello: He’s about passion, persistence, desire. Ultimately, I don’t know what makes us different. I think
we all just have a deep-rooted love for
the game. I can’t imagine my life without the game of baseball. It’s nice to be around someone who has gone through the
same things and thinks the same way.

Team Italia pitcher Alex Maestri has been a close friend to Colabello since their youth baseball days together in Italy.
Team Italia pitcher Alex Maestri

Roberto: You also have a very strong connection
with Team Italia pitcher Alex Maestri and his father,
Dr. Paolo Maestri. Let me get this straight. You were 14 and playing baseball in Italy when Dr. Maestri was
at the right place at the right time to save your life. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you were lounging on the back of your baseball coach’s car when your coach took off down a hill at 30 mph without seeing you in the rear. You jumped off and landed face-first, resulting in a deep gash near your mouth and severe bleeding to the point where you were choking on your own blood. Dr. Maestri helped you get the blood out so you could breathe again. What a nightmare! Thank God there was a doctor nearby to render first aid and save you.

Chris Colabello: Yeah, it was a pretty unbelievable experience. I’m very, very fortunate to (have) the Maestri family. Without them, I firmly believe that
I would not be here today.

Chris Colabello crushed the ball against Team Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Chris Colabello crushed the ball against Team Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

The future home of MLB rookie Chris Colabello
The Twins’ faithful await Chris Colabello’s arrival.
Now that Chris Colabello is with us,
it is time for the call-up to Minnesota and his long-awaited MLB debut at Target Field. Looking ahead at their schedule, it would be ideal to bring Colabello up on May 29th when the Brewers visit the Twin Cities. That way the Italian American slugger will have the chance to share with Milwaukee’s Jeff Bianchi all the special moments that he missed. Unfortunately, the Brewers feared their infielder–who recently returned from the 15-day DL–would be injured if he played for Italia in the World Baseball Classic.

The time is NOW for Minnesota Twins 29-year-old rookie Chris Colabello!
The time is now for Minnesota Twins 29-year-old rookie Chris Colabello to begin raking in MLB.
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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.

Ex-Jays skipper John Gibbons reflects on MLB while managing future stars in Texas League

Ex-Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons now enjoys coaching in San Antonio.
Ex-Blue Jays manager John Gibbons or “Gibby”,
as he is affectionately known as by his players and coaches, lives up to the Urban Dictionary’s slang definition of “being an incredibly awesome person”. The 50-year-old former big league catcher was a first-round selection by the New York Mets in 1980 from MacArthur High School in San Antonio, Texas. Born in Great Falls, Montana and the son of a military veteran who was stationed at Brooks Air Force Base for 13 years, Gibby moved to San Antonio as a third grader and never looked back. As a youth baseball standout noticed by local fans and scouts alike, Gibbons and his father would attend Missions games at V.J. Keefe Stadium to watch Dodger minor leaguers Fernando Valenzuela, Mike Scioscia and Steve Sax. Currently home to the Double-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres and also MiLB’s Minor League Team of the Year in 2011 after winning 94 regular-season games and ultimatelycapturing the Texas League title–the San Antonio Missions now play at Wolff Stadium under first-year manager John Gibbons, who enjoys knowing his middle school son is nearby. Having spent the last three seasons as the Kansas City Royals’ bench coach, Gibbons has interviewed for recent managerial vacancies with the Mariners, Mets and Pirates but in the end remained close to home as the Missions’ skipper. For the one-time MLB manager, a well-traveled baseball mind for more than three decades, the move represented a decision as much about self as sacrifice goes since the San Antonio native and dedicated father need not give up quality family time.

Pitcher Brian Tallet warms up while John Gibbons looks on during during 2008 Jays Spring Training.
Gibby assumed patriarch duties for possibly the best pitching rotations in Toronto history with Roy Halladay,
A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch, while juggling a starting line-up which included the likes of Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Scott Rolen, Aaron Hill, Lyle Overbay and Shannon Stewart. The native Texan led Toronto for four-and-a-half seasons and is credited for putting together the third-highest win total in team history (behind Cito Gaston and Bobby Cox) compiling a 305-305 career record–including an 87-75 campaign in 2006 and a second-place finish in the AL East.

John Gibbons calls out for a lefty
in the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen.
Gibbons spent seven seasons with the Blue Jays, serving as their bullpen catcher (2002), first-base coach (2002-04), interim manager (2004) and manager (2005-08). Gibby began his coaching career in 1991 as a roving minor league instructor for the New York Mets and spent a total of 12 seasons in the Mets organization (1991-2001) as an instructor, coach and manager. In his first managerial role in 1995, he guided the Kingsport Mets to the Appalachian League Championship with a 48-18 record and as a result was named 1995 Appalachian League Manager of the Year. Having led his teams to the playoffs four times and winning two championships in 1995 and 1996 with the Florida State League’s St. Lucie Mets, the accolades mounted during his seven-year managerial tenure in the Mets system. He was named the Eastern League Manager of the Year and the winner of the Casey Stengel Award as the Mets’ Minor League Manager of the Year in 1998 with Double-A Binghamton.
Despite being labeled as a controversial manager and sometimes being misunderstood for his zany antics with players and umpires in Toronto, native Texan and new San Antonio Missions Manager John Gibbons coaches with a deep passion and respect for the game of competitive baseball.

Recently named one of the 15 most controversial managers in MLB history, San Diego Padres Vice President of Player Development and International Operations Randy Smith believes hiring Gibbons as the San Antonio Missions Manager was “a no-brainer.” Smith said, “Everyone we talked to gave nothing put positive reviews,”–including positive feedback from one of the players Gibbons scuffled with while in Toronto. Smith declined to provide a name, but said the player “was very complimentary” of Gibbons. Smith commented, “A little fire and passion is not a bad thing. We think we got the right man for the job. It doesn’t hurt that he’s from San Antonio, either. That’s a real plus for the organization, to get someone with his experience. I think that we’re real fortunate to get John to lead that staff.”

John Gibbons takes his experience as a MLB player and manager to the Padres AA San Antonio Missions.

San Diego Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes echoed the sentiment calling Gibbons “a great addition to our organization.” Byrnes said, “You get someone with his resume…it’s a shot in the arm for us. His knowledge, calmness and competitiveness have all proven to be standout qualities. We are lucky to have him.” If anyone could vouch for Gibbons’ temperament, it would have to be his long-time friend J.P. Ricciardi, who roomed with him when both were prospects in the New York Mets system during the early 80’s. After throwing in the towel of his professional baseball playing days, Ricciardi transitioned to the front office.

Mets’ J.P. Ricciardi and Billy Beane
Working as A’s General Manager Billy Beane’s special assistant when Oakland began to implement the “Moneyball” system of using statistical data to unearth hidden gems, Ricciardi was able to parlay his A’s Director of Player Personnel position under Beane into becoming the 2001 Toronto Blue Jays General Manager. He handed over the reigns of the Jays’ managerial job off to John Gibbons midseason in 2004 after Carlos Tosca was fired. Having built quite the reputation as a bulldog manager for his heated confrontations with players and umpires alike, the veteran MLB player and coach has received a bad rap for his aggressive passion for the game. Ricciardi adamantly denied suggestions that Gibbons has rage issues. “Is he a hot-head? No, not at all,” he said. “That’s the furthest thing from the truth.” Currently serving as special assistant to New York Mets General Manager (and former A’s boss pre-Billy Beane) Sandy Alderson–J.P. Ricciardi remains Gibby’s close friend.

Gibbons recently sat down and answered some questions prior to the All-Star break, at which time his San Antonio Missions were struggling and ended the first-half in the cellar of the Texas League South Standings. Since then, the Missions have regained last year’s championship form and are currently second in the division in the second-half.
Roberto: How are you doing as the new manager for the San Antonio Missions?
John Gibbons: Doing good. you know. We haven’t been playing particularly well, but everyday is a new day, and I always enjoy this group of kinds I have here. When you get a chance to come to the ballpark, make a living doing it, things aren’t all bad.
Roberto: As a catcher, you were the New York Mets first-round selection of the June 1980 First-Year Player Draft after playing at San Antonio’s MacArthur High School and earning All-City and All-District honors. You played in 18 major league games between 1984-86 for the Mets and hit .220 (11-for-50) with four doubles, one home run, two RBI and five runs scored. Having Major League Baseball experience, do you believe that your minor league team benefits from your perspective both as manager and former player?
John Gibbons: Well, what it does is you can relate to what these guys are going through.
I got drafted high, it wasn’t an easy career, it didn’t last forever. You know, I got there but I spent many years down in the minor leagues so I have been through everything these guys are going to go through. I always told myself that when I got into coaching to not forget how tough it was. It’s easy for me to relate to these guys. That 1980 year that I was drafted, the Mets had three first round drafts that year. Darryl Strawberry was number one, Billy Beane, the G.M. for the A’s was 23, and I was 24. So one went on to be a good player, the other went on to be a G.M. and the other one is a coach. So you never know where you are going to end up.Roberto: Playing home in Toronto as the manager of the Blue Jays, you were fortunate enough to stand twice as long in other ballparks for the playing of both national anthems.
John Gibbons: Every night you would hear two. I enjoyed that, but it got to be a little bit long to be honest with you. You know, I loved my time in Toronto. Good people, it’s a lot like an American city, big city. They treated me very well, a majority of them… Some of the them thought, “Here’s a dumb Texan.” At the time, George Bush was in office. Up there a lot of them just liked him, so they tied the two of them together—it seemed like. But it was a lot of fun. I got a chance to manage in the major leagues, and it lasted for almost four years. It’s a thrill I will never forget.
Roberto: Did you and your players have to undergo intensive questioning crossing borders?
John Gibbons: One thing about it, if you’re involved in Major League Baseball, they know pretty much everything about you–just to get there. Even though you hear stories, people say that customs might be a nightmare. But it wasn’t that bad. We’d go through our own little building. They’d get us through customs pretty quick, and we’d just hop on our plane. So you know it could be a hassle sometimes. So I think one or two times we had to ever go through the major terminal like everyone else. And I remember it happened when we had to play the Baltimore Orioles, and maybe it was because we were flying so close to DC might have been the reason. But other than that, Toronto is a beautiful city and they really treated their people good.
Roberto: With young MLB players like Ryan Dempster, Joey Votto and Brett Lawrie along with hot prospects James Paxton and Ryan Kellogg hailing from north of the border, are Canadians making an impact on baseball?
John Gibbons: Oh yeah, one thing about those Canadian players that get into baseball—they are really good players! You look at guys like Larry Walker, Justin Morneau, you know what I mean….guys that make it..Jeff Francis, back years ago with Colorado. They’re pretty dog gone good, you know. It’s definitely a proud country. They’re hockey crazed up there… There’s no doubt about it, but they love their Blue Jays. They’re the only team left. They got one team representing the whole country. They’ve been starved for a winner for a while. They’re waiting for another one to come back.Roberto: How have you adapted your managerial style moving from the American to the National League?
John Gibbons: It’s a totally different game. I got so used to it in the American League over there (in Toronto). You know, in the American League with the DH all you’re really worried about is handling the pitching staff. The game, the offense is what it is, you know. In the National League, a lot of things change, and the pitchers need to hit. It’s a different style of game. In the National League the game kind of dictates and forces you to make moves too…depending on the score, whether you have to get this guy out or pinch hit for him or what have you. So it’s definitely a different breed of baseball. I was fortunate enough to be in the American League East, which arguably and probably was the strongest division in baseball with some powerhouses, Yankees and Red Sox. So I have seen some pretty good line-ups.
I know one thing about this business, you know, pitching and defense win but you also have to be able to slug a little bit too. So it makes good fun.
Roberto: As a young baseball player, did you ever imagine managing in MLB?
John Gibbons: No, one thing I thought regardless of how my career was going to turn out I wanted to get into coaching some day–whether it be at the high school level, professional level. But at the beginning I never thought that I would set my sights on a major league managing job. Then I got a chance to go back to my original organization, the Mets, as a coach and was in their minor-leagues for a few years as a catching instructor. Then I got a chance to manage and really enjoyed it. Had some success with it and one thing led to another. An old roommate, teammate of mine, J.P. Ricciardi ended up getting the general manager job up there in Toronto, you know. He brought me on board. I was a roving coach there for a few years and then he made a few changes and he gave me a shot at managing. So it’s funny how things work out sometimes even things you don’t expect.Roberto: During the first-half of the Missions’ season many of your best prospects have been called up because of excellent play and the San Diego Padres’ MLB-leading disabled list. Do you think this may have cost your team the first-half?
John Gibbons: You know, that’s the name of the game: to get these guys to the Big Leagues. Winning’s one thing, but also a lot of these guys are so young that we can’t lose sight of developing. The ultimate goal is to harness their skills so when they get to the big leagues they’re good all-around solid players. So we got to keep that in perspective.
A number of guys have moved up from this ball club this year, and by that happening it has taken it toll on the team here. But the bottom line is our goal of getting these guys out of here up to the next level and eventually on to the big league team.
Roberto: Your reputation of shuffling line-ups in Toronto has followed you in San Antonio. Why have you switched around your leadoff hitters throughout the season?
John Gibbons: Originally we started out the season with Jaff Decker as the leadoff guy because the big league team up in San Diego wanted to see him in that role because they pictured him maybe in the near future fitting that role. So we started that. He was little bit banged up, and he was struggling a little bit so we jumped Reymond Fuentes up there. He did a pretty solid job there, Ideally that’s what type of player he needs to become and eventually we think he will become. But with Dino (Dean) Anna now…Dino, he’s having a heck of year. He’s like second in the league in on-base percentage. He’s hitting over .300, and he’s really one of the tougher outs in the league. So we bumped him up there in that role to set the table for us. By doing that we just move Rey down to the nine spot, and it’s kind of like we have two leadoff hitters. He’s just further away down there at the bottom, but they both can fill that role for us very nicely. Right now Anna is playing so well, and he’s one of the better players in the league so he earns that spot.

Texas League All-Star Nate Freiman leads the San Antonio Missions with 23 home runs in 2012.
Roberto: Your six-foot-seven first baseman Nate Freiman is a power-hitting giant en route to a 30-plus home run season. What does the future hold for this young promising prospect?
John Gibbons: I tell you what…this kid he keeps getting better and better and he’s got some kind of power. You know he’s the gentle giant (laughter), if you really want to term him correctly. Nate’s a special guy, and he’s having a tremendous year coming off a big year in (Single) A ball for us last year. It’s kind of refreshing, the kind of the individual he really is. He’s very respectful to individuals, the game. He’s always one of the guys who always does the right thing, you know. I hate to think where we would be right now without him. You know, we see him…he’s just going to get better, better and better. When you got that kind of ability with the bat, there’s no telling how far he’s going to go.
Roberto: Recent Texas League All-Star and Home Run Derby Winner Nate Freiman is an octopus defensively who can handle just about anything hit or thrown in the infield. Have you any idea how many errors he has prevented while playing first base?
John Gibbons: You know, it’s funny…as big as he is and that wingspan he’s got. We tell these infielders all the time: “Don’t bounce the ball over there. Hell, throw it as high as you want…he’s going to catch it. You’re getting your errors by bouncing them,” (laughter) which isn’t very smart—right? No, he really has done a tremendous job for us, you know. One thing about Nate, he shows up to work. He shows up to play everyday, and he’s definitely one of our leaders.
Roberto: Any words of advice for those interested in career as a player or coach in MLB?
John Gibbons: Well one thing you know to get on top of this business you have got to work hard. You have got to outwork the other guy. You got to hope for a break, There’s no doubt about it. It’s a tough road so you have got to be dedicated, and you have got to be willing to put in some years. You know, if you want it bad enough, go for it! As far as the coaching end of it, just do what an organization expects. Always try to do the right thing.
Be fair to your guys. The bottom line is we get the most out of these guys and then if you’re at the right place at the right time you might get a shot to manage in the major leagues. You never know…
San Antonio Missions GM Dave Gasaway introduces John Gibbons as new manager.

Chinese God of the Land AKA Pitcher Fu-Te Ni Summoned to Reclaim Taiwan All-Star Series

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.