2017 WBC Team Italy players in MLB

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Team Italy catcher Francisco Cervelli is showing some pop this year in MLB.

Azzurri catcher Francisco Cervelli (Pittsburgh Pirates) has already belted two home runs and six doubles so far since April 3, 2017. With a career high of seven homers and 17 doubles during his first year with the Bucs in 2015, Cervelli is on pace to set career best stats in home runs and extra-base hits in 2017. Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli takes pride in his Italian heritage. Born in Valencia, Venezuela to an Italian father and Venezuelan mother, Cervelli left home at 15 to pursue a life in baseball. He signed with the New York Yankees as an international free agent in 2003. Prior to playing for Team Italy in the 2009 WBC, Cervelli was not yet an established Major Leaguer as he had only played in three games for the 2008 Yankees. Despite the odds, he managed to guide Team Italy’s pitching staff to an impressive 6-2 victory over host Canada, thereby eliminating the Canadians at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. Cervelli spent an additional six years in New York in a limited backup capacity before being traded on November 12, 2014 to Pittsburgh, where he is adored as the Bucs’ full-time catcher. The Pirates recognized Cervelli before their game against the Atlanta Braves on April 8, 2017, when the first 20,000 fans in attendance at PNC Park received Francisco Cervelli “That’s Amore” Singing Bobbleheads. The bobblehead featured Cervelli in his patented Love Doctor robe with rose petals at his feet singing “That’s Amore”. Catching all four games for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC, Francisco proved to be an offensive weapon as well with two of his four hits being for extra-bases. 

Having suffered a minor Grade 1 strain of his left oblique after the 2017 WBC and during spring training, Team Italy DH Drew Butera (Kansas City Royals) has played in only eight games and has had 16 at-bats to date. Following in father Sal Butera’s footsteps, Drew aspired to make it professionally in MLB. He was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 48th round of the 2002 MLB draft, but instead chose to play college ball at the University of Central Florida. A fifth-round pick by the Mets in the 2005 MLB draft, Butera listened to Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti in the clubhouse before games as a Mets’ Minor Leaguer. After being named 2007 Florida State League All-Star and sent to play Double-A ball, Butera was traded to Minnesota and subsequently added to the Twins 40-man roster in 2008. Known best for his excellent defensive prowess and as a pitcher’s catcher calling games behind the plate, catcher Drew Butera kept Twins’ lefty Francisco Liriano focused on every pitch which resulted in a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, 2011. Three years later while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 25, 2014, Butera caught Josh Beckett’s no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies and became only the fifth catcher in Major League Baseball history to catch a no-hitter in both leagues. Drew was traded to the LA Angels on December 9, 2014 and again on May 15, 2015 to the Kansas City Royals. Butera once again made the history book box scores when he caught the game-winning strike from Royals closer Wade Davis to clinch the 2015 World Series Championship for Kansas City. Drew has been a solid contributor to Team Italy since 2013, when he was a big hit for the Azzurri in the WBC. Delivering a two-run home run that helped defeat Mexico and a two-run double that buried Canada, Drew was instrumental in each of Team Italy’s victories to earn the Azzurri the right to advance with Team USA to the second round of play. Butera continued his power hitting ways with two home runs in the 2017 WBC while serving as the Team Italy DH. 
Another player nursing an injury with a hamstring strain and a bruised hand is Team Italy center fielder Brandon Nimmo (New York Mets). The Azzurri leadoff hitter is coming off the 10-day DL soon to make his 2017 debut for the Mets. The spiritually driven Brandon Nimmo, selected by the Mets in the first-round of the 2011 MLB draft, has never given up the faith in playing professional baseball at the highest level. The 23-year-old spends time every day praying and reading the bible. It is an essential part of his preparation for the game he loves and his approach to all aspects of his life.
The Wyoming native had a breakout year in 2016 when he was named a Sterling Minor League Organizational Co-Player of the Year after finishing second in the Pacific Coast League in hitting with a .352 clip while playing for Triple-A Las Vegas. It was the second time Nimmo was awarded a Sterling after winning his first one in 2014 when he played for the St. Lucie Mets. He made his MLB debut for the Mets on June 26, 2016. Prior to injuring his hamstring as the Team Italy center fielder and leadoff hitter in the 2017 WBC, Nimmo demonstrated some power at the plate when he slammed a homer to the deepest part of the field off Venezuela reliever Bruce Rondon. The multi-talented Nimmo is undoubtedly one of MLB’s brightest young stars.  
Team Italy second baseman Daniel Descalso (Arizona Diamondbacks) has been a true blessing since signing a one-year free agent deal with the D-backs on February 7, 2017. “Every good team needs a player like Daniel Descalso,” said Diamondbacks’ first-year manager Torey Lovullo. Utility players like Descalso are invaluable to a manager as they can play multiple positions and be called upon for just about anything at a moment’s notice. In the case of priceless Descalso, he is a clutch hitter, great fielder and excellent baserunner. During this young 2017 season, Descalso has already played first base, second base, third base and left field. “Every team is built around a core group of players,” D-backs skipper Lovullo said. “But with the role players or the situational players such as Daniel Descalso, they give you such a great opportunity to give guys days off that you can just plug them in and your team still can excel. Those are extremely valuable players for me because when he’s in the game, my heart rate is the same as if the starting player was in the game and I know his teammates feel the same way.”The proud Italian American’s ascent to MLB was on a road less traveled. After hitting a team-best .397 during his junior year at UC Davis in 2007 with 22 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 53 runs scored and 44 RBI, MLB scouts traveled to this small school in Northern California to see for themselves what a ballplayer Daniel Descalso was. Selected shortly thereafter by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third-round of the 2007 MLB draft, Daniel Descalso remained in the Cards farm system until his MLB debut on September 20, 2010. After five successful seasons–including one he will never forget–he earned a World Series ring in 2011 by bringing a World Series title to St. Louis. Daniel signed with the Colorado Rockies on December 16, 2014. The versatile seven-year Major League veteran hit .264 with a career-best eight home runs and 38 RBI in 99 games for Colorado in 2016, while also posting career bests in slugging and on-base percentages (.424/.329). In the 2017 WBC, Descalso led all Team Italy starters in batting average (.333) and slugging percentage (.842). After making his MLB debut last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Rob Segedin started 2017 with Triple-A affiliate Oklahoma City, where he led the Minor Leagues in slugging percentage (.598) and ranked second in OPS (.989) last season. But you can’t keep a good man down! Segedin hit .324 with two doubles, two home runs and five RBI in nine games for the 2017 Oklahoma City Dodgers. After hitting safely in all but two games and recording five multi-hit games, the Los Angeles Dodgers recalled Rob Segedin and started him at first base on April 17, 2017. In his second game after being called up to the big leagues, Segedin was placed on the 10-day DL for a big right toe strain. His long journey to MLB was not an easy one. He was selected by the New York Yankees in the third-round of the 2010 MLB draft out of Tulane University. The New Jersey native worked his way up the ladder in the New York Minor Leagues to play Triple-A ball in 2014 before being traded to the LA Dodgers after the 2015 season.Following 2016 Dodgers’ Spring Training, Segedin was assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. He was selected to both the Pacific Coast League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star rosters after having the best season of his Minor League career. Segedin set a LA Dodgers franchise record four RBI in his MLB debut on August 7, 2016 against the Boston Red Sox. On that magical night at Chavez Ravine, Rob’s bases-loaded double against Boston ace David Price helped the Dodgers win 8-5 over the Red Sox. As the cleanup hitter for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC,  Segedin went 3-for-13 (.231) with a home run, a double and three walks in four games facing MLB pitchers Yovani Gallardo, Carlos Torres, Sergio Romo, Martin Perez, Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Berrios, Deolis Guerra and Jose Alvarez . “It was a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m grateful the Dodgers gave me an opportunity to go and play for Team Italy,” Segedin said. “It was truly one of the best experiences I’ve had in all of baseball.”
Meanwhile back east, Team Italy Azzurri left-handed reliever specialist Tommy Layne (New York Yankees) is a significant piece of the Yanks bullpen with stablemates Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman. He has already made eight appearances in 2017. The St. Louis, Missouri native graduated in 2007 from nearby Mount Olive College, where he was named an All-American and Carolina-Virginia Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year. Selected by the Diamondbacks in the 26th round for the 2007 MLB draft, Layne remained in Arizona’s Minor Leagues until he was acquired by the Padres on May 3, 2012. He made his MLB debut for San Diego on August 14, 2012 in Atlanta by striking out Braves’ Brian McCann, Dan Uggla and Tyler Pastornicky. That same season Layne earned his first MLB win in relief, striking out Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, and Hanley Ramirez in extra innings at Dodger Stadium on September 4, 2012. The Boston Red Sox signed Layne to a Minor League deal on November 10, 2013. He would later emerge as one of the game’s finest lefty-on-lefty matchup relievers out of the Boston bullpen for the next three seasons. Within three days of being released by the Red Sox, the Yankees inked a deal with Layne on August 9, 2016. Pitching out of the Team Italy bullpen in three relief appearances during the 2017 WBC, Layne worked 3.1 scoreless innings and struck out four batters. While WBC Italian-born-and-developed players Alex Liddi and Alessandro Maestri are doing well in the Mexican Baseball League, WBC Team Italy players Chris Colabello, Drew MaggiGavin Cecchini, John Andreoli, Jordan Romano, Luis Lugo, Nick Fanti, Pat Venditte, Sam Gaviglio and Trey Nielsen are making forward progress in Minor League Baseball so that they can join their fellow Azzurri brothers in MLB. Stand by for more details…   mlb

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Team Italia catcher Drew Butera having career-best year for defending champion KC Royals

Drew Butera
Team Italia catcher Drew Butera is ready for the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

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Royals catcher Drew Butera caught the final strike thrown by reliever Wade Davis to capture the 2015 World Series crown.
Known best for his excellent defensive prowess and as a pitcher’s catcher calling games behind the plate, Drew Butera has been experiencing an offensive renaissance for the 2016 Kansas City Royals. Making the most of his 47 at-bats, the 32-year-old Italian American is hitting .298 with six doubles, two homers, four walks and eight RBI. Royals manager Ned Yost has rewarded Butera with more playing time this season by putting regular backstop Salvador Perez in as DH. The Florida-native is the son of Sal Butera—a journeyman catcher who played 359 MLB games for the Blue Jays, Twins, Reds, Expos and Tigers from 1980-1988. Drew was selected by the Blue Jays in the 2002 MLB Draft but instead opted to play at the University of Central Florida. After throwing out 48% of potential base-stealers and hitting .325 in his last season at UCF, Butera was a 2005 fifth-round draft pick by the NY Mets.

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Drew Butera was a strong source of power for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
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Drew Butera played in LA for both the Dodgers (2013-14) and Angels (2015).

A big opera fan who used to listen to Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti in the clubhouse before games while in the Mets’ minor league system, Drew was named Florida League All-Star and subsequently promoted to AA in 2007 before being traded to the Twins—where Butera family history was made as Sal and Drew became the first father-son combination to play for Minnesota when he made his MLB debut on April 9, 2010. Being able to handle pitches with grace rarely seen at the Major League level while producing a calming effect on his pitching staff, Drew Butera kept lefty Francisco Liriano focused on every pitch which led him to a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, 2011. While playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 25, 2014, Butera caught Josh Beckett’s no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies and became only the fifth catcher in Major League Baseball history to catch a no-hitter in both leagues.

baseball-ItaliaButera was a big hit for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Delivering a two-run home run that helped defeat Mexico and a two-run double that buried Canada, Drew was instrumental in each of Team Italia’s victories to earn la squadra Azzurri the right to advance with Team USA to the second round of play.

world-baseball-classicDrew Butera cannot wait to suit up for Team Italia in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He spoke enthusiastically about playing for manager Marco Mazzieri’s eclectic mix of talented Italian-born players and MLB-affiliated Italian American passport holders. Butera said, “It was a great experience for me personally. To experience it for myself, there’s really no word that could describe it: the intensity, the passion of the games, just the amount of fun that we had. It was really great.”

2011 Flashback: MLB Network profiles Alex Liddi

Alex Liddi takes batting practice prior to the 2013 Italy/Mexico World Baseball Classic game at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Alex Liddi takes batting practice prior to the 2013 World Baseball Classic game between Italy and Mexico at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona.
It was a hot California summer night four years ago on September 7, 2011 when a twinkle of Disney magic lingered over nearby Angel Stadium. The European baseball kingdom glowed when news flashed that ambassador Alex Liddi had made his MLB debut and had become the first born-and-developed Italian player to reach the major leagues. Yet after his 2005 signing and eight subsequent seasons of developing into a promising prospect, the Seattle Mariners cut bait on Liddi in 2013. Having since traveled through revolving doors between the Orioles, White Sox and Dodgers organizations, the Kansas City Royals signed the infielder to a minor league contract this year. Citing the virtually untapped potential of this powerful weapon, the Royals are committed to making sure Liddi reaches his peak to help their major league club. Moving his wife and newborn daughter close to the Royals Spring Training Facility in Surprise, Arizona during the offseason, the 27-year-old slugger worked with coaches and trainers so that he may reemerge in MLB as advertised as the face of European baseball.

Kansas City Royals double down with Italian amore for Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini

In his three 2015 Royals Spring Training game appearances, Alex Liddi hit .500 with a double,  two RBI and a stolen base.
Prior to being assigned to the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Alex Liddi hit .500 with a double, two RBI and a stolen base in his three 2015 KC Royals Spring Training game appearances.
Royals prospect Marten Gasparini and Nick Leto
Royals prospect Marten Gasparini and Arizona operations manager Nick Leto

Signing Europe’s top prospect Marten Gasparini for a record $1.3 million bonus just two years ago was only the beginning for the Kansas City Royals. During this past off-season, the 2014 World Series runner-up was once again at work acquiring the first Italian-born and developed player to make the Bigs–Alex Liddi. Known for his power stroke at-bat and defensive prowess on the diamond, the 26-year-old slugger is on the cusp of a comeback after making his initial MLB splash for the Seattle Mariners in 2011. Nick Leto, manager of Arizona operations for the Kansas City Royals, is largely responsible for why both Gasparini and Liddi now wear similar colors to their native blue Italia jerseys. The trio could not be happier working together with the same goal of making an impact on the the major league level. Prior to Opening Day, Nick Leto gave an exclusive interview and some invaluable insight as to where the Italians fit in the Italian family.

Roberto: How are you feeling today here at the Kansas City Royals Spring Training camp in Surprise, Arizona?
Nick Leto: Excellent. It’s been a long haul here in Spring Training. We’re cruising along pretty well now.
Roberto: With 17-year-old shortstop prospect Marten Gasparini and proven MLB success story Alex Liddi in the Royals organization, you have two of the finest Italian baseball players in history. How do you feel about leading the Italian baseball revolution?
Nick Leto: I think it is great, and I think it’s great for the Royals to have those two guys here. I think it is good for our brand to have two of the best players out of Europe and Italy. Alex is a man, and Marten is kind of still a kid growing up. But they are excellent ambassadors for European baseball and excellent ambassadors for Italy in the way they go about their business. They are two very professional hard-working players that really represent really well. And they are excellent players too.
Roberto: When the Royals clinch their division and the 40-man roster opens up, it would be a dream come true to bring Alex Liddi and Marten Gasparini up to the major league level together. I know it is a little premature for Marten to ascend up to the Bigs, but the time is now for Alex Liddi to return to Major League Baseball.
Nick Leto: There is no doubt. You know Alex has a special gift–a right-handed power gift. I think his makeup fits what we try to do around here. You know the skies the limit. He is still developing. You know players like that…guys out of Europe and different countries like Brazil and other places in the world. He may be 26 or in his mid-20’s, but he is still developing. He hasn’t reached his ceiling as a player, and we’re going to keep trying to push him to the higher levels. That is why we brought him in. I think he can help our major league team. That’s why he’s here…he has a gift of power. You know he is here to potentially impact our major league team…that’s what we’re hoping for.

Having made his MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners in 2012, Alex Liddi can play both first and third base.
After making his MLB debut with the Mariners in 2011, Alex Liddi has played first and third base.

Roberto: Alex is an exciting player to watch. Having just stepped off the plane after playing his last minor league game for the Dodgers organization, a sleepless Liddi flew over the Atlantic to join Team Italia in the midst of the 2014 European Baseball Championship in Germany. Considering that he had not slept for a couple days and then hit three home runs against England, it was quite an impressive display of athleticism.
Nick Leto: He is a guy I have known of for a long time, and I have kind of admired him from afar. But being in camp with us and really getting to see how he goes about his business day-in and day-out, he truly is a special kid. He goes about his business very professionally.  He is in here early. He is getting his extra swings in. I mean he does everything the right way. He works hard in the weight room. He is very disciplined in his approach, and he is a very hard worker. He is everything you want in a player for sure.
Roberto: He is a consummate professional.
Nick Leto: There is no doubt about it. You know he is great with his teammates. He has fun playing the game. He jokes around out there, but when it comes time to get to work he is all business. He is locked in, he is focused and he is concentrating. His makeup is excellent. There’s no doubt about that.
Roberto: Once he was no longer part of the LA Dodgers organization, who as responsible for signing him with the Kansas City Royals?
Nick Leto: Everything around here is kind of a collective effort.  You know he’s had a good run with Seattle and coming up.  He has had some excellent years in the minor leagues. So we’ve had some scouts that have had the opportunity to watch him as he has gone through the system and see him at different levels.  So we had reports in. He is a player that we have sought before. We have tried to get him earlier, and unfortunately we were unable to acquire him.  And it just felt right this off-season to get him here into camp.  We are very happy to get him, and we are very excited to have him here in our system.
Roberto: He doesn’t have the added pressure to travel with the Royals on a daily basis because he’s taking care of business in developing. Did he have an invite to Royals Spring Training camp?
Nick Leto: He did not have an invitation to Major League Spring Training camp. But he was in here early, and he’s been working out with that group quite a bit. I don’t know if I could speak for him on this, but I think he’s kind of happy to be here with us. Last year was kind of a tough year for him. I think he is trying to bounce back. Fortunately, he lives here in the area and so he was able to spend a big chunk of this off-season coming here to the facility. He was in here every day working out with our coaches, building relationships with our staff. He was able to work with our strength and conditioning staff and all of our coaches here. He went out with the major league team as backup player for a couple of games, but was on a regular routine of playing basically just about every day for our Triple-A team. He filled in for the major league club. He got a few good at-bats here before the end of the spring. He will continue to make an impression and show the organization, the coaches and everybody else what we know he’s capable of doing.

Infielder Alex Liddi possesses all the mental and physical attributes to become successful in MLB.
Infielder Alex Liddi possesses all the mental and physical attributes to become successful in MLB.

Roberto: This organization has really come along way from the Cinderella story to the 2014 World Series and the expectation that you’ll bring home a World Championship title to Kansas City this year.
Nick Leto: It’s really special and it really starts at the top and we have a very. very special world class leader in GM Dayton Moore, and it’s kind of been his vision. And he stuck with it and never wavered.  There was a lot of criticism, and a lot of people talking about him early on. It was hard, and there were a lot of points where he had to see it through. Yesterday was a culmination of a lot of work from a lot of different people. It is a family. It is a cliché, but it is true around here. It is a family organization around here, and we are all together. Watching the team perform nationally, there was a lot of surprise. A lot of people didn’t see it coming, but the cool thing for us was it was exactly what we thought our players could do. It was exactly what the plan was. It was fun.  It really wasn’t a surprise, but we were very proud. It was a vision. It was exactly what it set out to be. It really just came together. It was beautiful.
Roberto: You do have a long-range vision for Marten Gasparini. What have you noticed about his maturity as an individual and a player since signing him two years ago?
Nick Leto: You know Marten is a very special kid. There is no way to overrate how intelligent, how mature he is. He is a very, very smart kid. It is a very hard transition going from Italian baseball, European baseball.  Any 16 or 17-year-old kid trying to transition into the United States, you know not only culturally and everything else, trying to play baseball and every single day…it’s tough. Going from kind of a game or kind of a hobby and transition over to a career or a profession is a very difficult thing. It is very fast-paced. Marten handled it well. I mean it was up-and-down. It was a little bit of a roller coaster at certain points with some highs and some lows, but he really managed it really well. We are hoping this year he is a little more comfortable and a little easier for him. We are really trying. It is cliché, but for Marten it is every day. It is staying healthy, not trying to get ahead, not trying to get ahead, not trying to think about level jumping, not getting worried about this or that, what kind of prospect he is, when he is going to get into the Bigs, or those types of things. He has all the ability in the world. He is an excellent athlete, and it is just going through the process. It is every day coming out here with the same mindset, working hard, trusting the coaches, trusting the people around here, doing his work in the weight room and in the training room. It is really just a process every day, being healthy and being able to get his at-bats. And you know we think he is going to take off at a point when he gets settled, gets comfortable and gets enough time in. We think he is going to explode.

Roberto: It was encouraging last season to see Marten step it up from Burlington to Idaho Falls, where he got his first home run.  That must have been pretty exciting for you to watch and see him develop on different levels.
Nick Leto: Yeah, there is no question. Getting a chance to go to Idaho at the end of the season, I really think it was beneficial. I don’t know where he was at with his confidence. But he had a tough August and giving him the opportunity to finish up in Idaho Falls and finish on a strong note really kind of had catapulted him into our fall camp, our instructional league last year. He came into instructional league with a little more confidence than maybe what he maybe would have had. It allowed him to have a good fall, and we have been able to build off of that week or so he had in Idaho Falls. He is doing just fine. Marten wants things to come a little quicker, but the organization is very happy with him. We think that he is an excellent player. He is going to have a very, very bright future and a very good career. There is no doubt.
Roberto: I congratulate you on picking Marten out from the slew of players in Europe and landing in here at Royals camp in Arizona. I think you’ve done a great job nurturing him. I have seen him grow and develop naturally. You have not pressured him to turn into superstar status overnight. However, you have supported him in achieving his goals and expectations.
Nick Leto: There is a lot of failure and a lot of things to deal in baseball. Our goal for Marten is just to get him to his ceiling. We can do whatever we can do, give him all the tools and resources necessary to get Marten to his ceiling and create a great man. His parents have already molded him into a great human being, and it is our job to continue what he what they started. You know, we want to develop him fully as a man. Someday he is going to be a husband and all those things. We want to make him not only a great baseball player, but round him out and give him all the tools he needs for the rest of his life.
Roberto: I think he couldn’t have landed in a better spot right here with you. I commend you and thank you for giving us the opportunity to get front and center with Marten again. I wish you, Marten, Alex and the entire Kansas City Royals organization all the best now and in the future.
Nick Leto: Thank you very much. And we are going to try to finish the deal this time, bring home the World Series and be World Champs!
Roberto: Thank you Nick!

Roberto Angotti interviews Kansas City Royals’ Italian Ambassador and MLB prospect Marten Gasparini

kansas-city-royals-logo-11-wall-poster-rp1377 Nick Leto, manager of the Kansas City Royals’ Arizona Operations, is worth his weight in gold for not only signing 17-year-old Italian MLB prospect Marten Gasparini but also for his outstanding work as a minor league affiliate leader. The recent recipient of the organization’s Matt Minker Award after eight years of dedicated service, Leto is critical to the success of the Major League Spring Training in Surprise and the Kansas City’s Rookie League affiliates. It was Leto who recommended Gasparini to the organization after seeing the speedy switch-hitting shortstop in Italy. Having spent much time working at the Italian MLB Academy in Tirrenia in 2006 and 2007, Nick had close connections with former Chicago Cubs’ international scout and FIBS Academy director Bill Holmberg. So when word got out that a very special player was training and developing under Holmberg’s watchful eye, Leto had a distinct Italian famiglia advantage over all MLB suitors.

Italian MLB Academy director Bill Holmberg (far right) smiles as Marten Gasaparini inks his $1.3 million dollar signing bonus contract with the Kansas City Royals
Italian MLB Academy director Bill Holmberg (far right) smiles as Marten Gasparini inks his $1.3 million dollar signing bonus contract with the Kansas City Royals.

Marten Gasparini was the first European baseball player to sign a contract in excess of $1 million dollars when the Royals signed him in 2013. Heralded by Baseball America as “quite possibly Europe’s best prospect ever”, he is the real deal. After starting with 2014 Rookie League Burlington, Marten played his final four games with Idaho Falls and went 5-for-11 with a home run and three RBI. With six stolen bases in 23 games, Marten Gasparini is a natural-born athlete. marten-transport-ltd-logo
Roberto: You have some Jamaican roots, with your mom being of West Indian descent living in London, and your father being Italian. In both cultures, family is very important and is the foundation for everything.

Marten Gasparini: Yes, it is. I don’t know know much about Jamaica because my mom and I have never been there. But in Italy…absolutely family is the biggest thing, and nothing is more important than family.

Roberto: You began playing stickball when you were eight-years-old and picked up your first baseball bat at age 10, correct?

Marten Gasparini: Yeah, like for fun with my friends. I used to watch baseball movies and read books and newspapers about the game. Everybody loves America, you know. America is famous throughout the whole world. American sports are famous…baseball, basketball, football. They are kind of attractive. I wanted to try it and see how it would turn out.

Roberto: Did you always play shortstop or with the speed you that you possess and are blessed with did you find playing centerfield gave you more versatility? Did FIBS Academy Director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg have a big influence on you while playing for the Italian National team at the various levels?

Marten Gasparini: He has been a positive influence on me and has put me at shortstop because he always thought that was the best position for me to play. I can play in the outfield and that’s where I played my first workout with the Italian National Under 18 team. That was because I was young and they needed players with more experience at that position.

Marten Gasparini in 2012 at the 18 and Under Baseball World Championship in Seoul
Marten Gasparini in 2012 photo at the 18 and Under Baseball World Championship in Seoul.

Roberto: Playing with the Italian National team in Seoul, South Korea and Chihuahua, Mexico must have impacted you personally and professionally as you became a more confident and mature ballplayer.

Marten Gasparini: It was nice. It’s always nice to see different cultures, meet different people from other countries and see how life is over there. It was fun and interesting for me to get to see all these countries. It’s obviously been helpful for me to be a part of these international tournaments.

Roberto: The spotlights were on you.

Marten Gasparini: Exactly. It was exciting and a very important experience for me.

Roberto: Having been on that international stage, has that prepared you now ay you ascend up in the minor leagues with desire to become a major league ballplayer?

Marten Gasparini: I think it is different because when you play for your national team it just because of the pride you have got for the team. You want your team to win when you want your country to have success in these types of tournaments. But here (in Arizona) it’s obviously a game but you have to do if for a job. Any you look forward (to the future). It’s like a project. It’s a path you have to go into. It’s not that important to play hard now if you keep healthy, but maybe in some international tournaments you have to give all you got in a short period of time. I think this is the biggest difference.

Roberto: You have some personal favorite players in Derek Jeter, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. What do these players have that has resonated in your heart to make you desire to be at their level?

Marten Gasparini: Derek Jeter is such a professional player and he is a legend. He became a legend for a team like the Yankees coming from the bottom. He was raised by them, and he became their captain. That’s something that everybody would like to be for their organization. I like the excitement that Kemp and Puig can bring to the table when they play. They are very athletic and explosive players. I like the way they play the game.

Roberto: After visiting the Italian MLB Academy and watching you play with some of the best European prospects, I came to realize the potential of baseball outside of the U.S. Do you think Italy cam be one of the best emerging markets for the game?

Marten Gasparini: We’ve been working a lot to make things possible. I think there are more players to come. There have already been some players that have been signed by professional teams, and I think that I can be a big part of it.

Roberto: Watching Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic must have been inspirational to you. Did you wear your pride on your sleeve during the competition?

Marten Gasparini: Yes. We were at the Italian Academy in Tirrenia watching the games. We were all watching the TV and not missing a minute or a pitch. We were all super excited when the games ended in our favor over Mexico and Canada. It was one of the most amazing feelings I have ever had.

Roberto: While working out at the Italian Academy, you had frequent visits from Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza.

Marten Gasparini: I didn’t really get to know him well. Just having him there with Bill Holmberg was amazing. I know that they are very close friends. Just having a person like him coming down to watch us play is an honor for me.

Roberto: Mike Piazza wants to give back to the game in Italy in honor of his heritage.

Marten Gasparini: He has pride in his origins and this is a good thing that everybody should have.

Roberto: What are your personal goals now that you have reached the professional level with the Kansas City Royals?

Marten Gasparini: It was my expectation and in my plan to go pro since I started playing baseball to be this type of player and achieve these results. I’m very happy to be here. I’m blessed to be here. Now I just have to keep working.

2014 Burlington Royals shortstop Marten Gasparini, center, is tended to by trainer Saburo Hagihara and manager Tommy Shields after he was struck in the face by a thrown ball which nearly broke his nose.
2014 Burlington Royals shortstop Marten Gasparini is examined by trainer Saburo Hagihara and manager Tommy Shields after being struck in the face by a thrown ball which nearly broke his nose and put him on the disabled list.

Roberto: What does it mean to be a part of the Kansas City Royals family with the rich history of great all-stars that have come out of the franchise?

Marten Gasparini: I think the Royals are one of the greatest organizations in all of sports. I’m very happy to be a part of it. I think I’m with the greatest group of people that I could choose. Of course, their history speaks for itself just by saying the name George Brett and the kind of player he was. He has been a very important part of the baseball game history.

Roberto: Coincidentally, the Royals and Team Italia share the same color uniforms. You couldn’t have predicted a better outcome.

Marten Gasparini: Maybe a coincidence?

Roberto: Or more like by design..

Marten Gasparini: Yes!

Roberto: Showing up at the Royals Instructional Camp in Arizona. You must have met a melting pot of cultures from the Caribbean and South America who share the same passion for baseball.

Marten Gasparini: There is even a Korean player. I think the Royals have always been doing a great job of signing international players. We have here a great group of international players that have pride and passion for the game.

Alex Liddi, the first Italian-born-and-developed player to make it to MLB, is currently competing for a Kansas City Royals organization.
Alex Liddi recently played for Team Italia in the 2014 European Baseball Championship and is competing for a Kansas City Royals roster spot.

Roberto: Do you hope to become a role model for Italian baseball players wo have the same dream to play professionally as Alex Liddi did by being the first Italian-born-and-developed player to make it to the Big Leagues? What do you and Alex Liddi have in common?

Marten Gasparini: He already achieved the feat to become a Major League baseball player. I still have to work my way to get there. But if I can say something. We both might be good examples for young players in Italy to believe in their dreams and believe in themselves. Just for them to work hard and be what they want to be.

Roberto: Let’s predict the 2017 Team Italia WBC lineup and say that both you and Liddi play the infield next to each at shortstop and third base. That must be on your mind.

Marten Gasparini: It is absolutely… I’m looking forward to it. It will be a great honor for me to play in that tournament with Alex Liddi and Mike Piazza on the coaching staff. But like I said I have to work hard and to focus to get there.

Roberto: Have you ever thought of how it have been for you had you would have been invited to play shortstop for Team Italia in the 2013 WBC?

Marten Gasparini: I don’t think I would have been ready to go there. I have respect for the shortstop that played for Team Italia. It wasn’t easy for anybody to play in that kind of tournament. It was the first-time for many of the Italian players who had no international or major league experience. That is just something that happens. I don’t know how I would have dealt the emotions and everything. I still think that Italy has done a great job in the World Baseball Classic. It’s just the first of years to come. I think we will have a very good team in the next World Baseball Classic.

Roberto: Enough respect to Team Italia shortstop Anthony Granado. We love you like pasta. It was commendable for him to step up in the WBC.

Marten Gasparini: I think that he was a great player.

Roberto: It’s just how the game goes. Baseball is a game of chance and strategy. Where the ball bounces, nobody knows… Despite many of the players just meeting for the first-time in the WBC, Team Italia played like a family as if they had been playing together for years.

Marten Gasparini: That shows the pride that these players have for their origins. It’s nice to know that people have respect for Italia.

Roberto: You were raised in a part of Italy near the Slovenian border. What was that like?

Marten Gasparini: It really didn’t influence my life. I’m pretty far from it. But I’m still in a region that also has multi-cultural roots. It is near Slovenia and Austria so you can see and hear people talking in German, Slovenian and Italian as well. So it’s kind of a multi-cultural region.

Roberto: You spent a lot of time in London with family as well.

Marten Gasparini: Yes, with my mother’s mother and her brothers and sisters.
291603__bob-marley_tRoberto: So you must have had some Jamaican reggae music influence?

Marten Gasparini: Yes. I like reggae music. I’m not really a good dancer, but we could see the Jamaican roots.

Roberto: As Bob Marley did in promoting reggae internationally, you are doing the same thing for baseball in Italy and Europe.

Marten Gasparini: I’m honored to have the opportunity to do that and represent my country in that way.

Roberto: What kind of music are you listening to now in America?

Marten Gasparini: Maybe some rap or some deejays with electronic music. It’s very popular here so I just get into the mood and listen to the beat.

Roberto: Did you learn about Italian American icon Joe DiMaggio growing up?

Marten Gasparini: Joe DiMaggio was more popular in Italy for his marriage to Marilyn Monroe than a baseball player. But obviously baseball wise he’s one of main parts of Italian baseball history. We’re very proud of having him. He’s just one of many Italian American players that made this sport so great.

Roberto: And his visit to Nettuno only confirmed how big of an impact Americans had on baseball’s growth in Italy.

Marten Gasparini: Obviously Nettuno was the biggest thing for baseball in Italy when the Americans introduced the game during World War II. But also near where I live in Trieste the Americans were there too teaching baseball to us Italians.

Roberto: Are you learning any other languages so that you can continue to teach others the game?

Marten Gasparini: I have translated for American coaches coming over to talk to Italian teams. Right now I’m learning how to speak Spanish so that I can help some of the Latin players. A lot of the players here have been friendly and have asked me to help them learn some words in Italian and how to speak the language. It’s very hard for them to understand it, but I’m trying to do my best.

Marten Gasparini went 3-for-3 with a three-run homer in the Rookie League Idaho Falls Chukars' 2014 finale.
Marten Gasparini slides safely into third base after going 3-for-3 with a three-run homer
for the Kansas City Royals Rookie League affiliate Idaho Falls Chukars in their 2014 finale.

Roberto: You are blessed with speed. Have you have always been gifted to be the leader of the pack?

Marten Gasparini: Yes. Since I have been in school, I have always been one of the fastest in my class. I had fun showing off my speed by playing games and playing soccer. I have always had fun running fast.

Roberto: In baseball your mind has to be in the present one pitch at a time rather than daydreaming about the future.

Marten Gasparini: That’s the mindset that every player has to have if you want to have success. You have to work. Like I have been told it’s a grind, and it’s not easy for anybody. But you have to keep working and keep your mind focused on what you have to do in order to have success.

Roberto: What advice do you have for all the young players aspiring to become professional ballplayers?

Marten Gasparini: You just got to have fun. Keep in mind your dreams and remember to be professional by playing the game in a professional way. Most importantly enjoy…

Roberto: Any words for Bill Holmberg, director of the Italian Academy and the people behind the scenes at FIBS?

Marten Gasparini: Thank you very much for all the things you have done for me. I appreciate it a lot. I will always keep you in my thoughts, especially all the things that you have taught me. It’s still a big part of my mindset every day.

Italia is the team to beat in Euro Championship

Italia is on target to win its third consecutive European Championship.
Team Italia is on target to win its third consecutive European Baseball Championship after victories over Mexico and Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Italian national team manager Marco Mazzieri, named 2014 Coach of the Year by the Italian Coaches Convention in Treviso, knows it will be an uphill battle for Team Italia in the European Baseball Championship. He said, “Defending our title will not be an easy thing to do. We’re going to have to contend with not only the likes of Holland, but Spain and Germany are also expected to make a splash in this year’s tourney. Having won the last two EU Championships, we’re the team to beat. We have a target on our backs, and we’ve got our work cut out for us this year if we want to bring home a third consecutive title.”

Twins' prospect Max Kepler played for Germany in the WBC Qualifier in Regensburg.
Team Germany OF/Twins’ prospect Max Kepler slides safely into second at the WBC Qualifier in Regensburg.

2014 Euro Baseball Championship co-host Germany, ranked 19th by IBAF, will benefit greatly should German fans rally round the home team and Minnesota Twins’ highly-prized prospect Max Kepler–recipient of an $800,000 signing bonus in 2009–represent his country. Kepler said, “Baseball is growing in every German city I go to. They’ve opened two boarding schools in Germany, so there are opportunities for kids to step up the baseball game if they want to. I hope baseball is on the same level as soccer one day in Germany.”

Marten Gasparini is a graduate of the Italian Baseball Academy led by Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg.
Royals’ million dollar + prospect Marten Gasparini credits Italian Baseball Academy director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg for his success in pro ball.

17-year-old Kansas City Royals’ prospect Marten Gasparini, who received a $1.3 signing bonus in 2013, has plenty of experience playing for Italia internationally in the Under-15 World Cup in Mexico and in the Under-18 World Cup in South Korea. Having recently been hit in the face by a ball while playing shortstop for the Rookie League Burlington Royals, let’s pray the young Italian who has been heralded by many scouts as the best European 5-tool player ever is able to participate in the EU Baseball Championship.

Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg and hitting coach Mike Piazza (MG-Oldmanagency / FIBS)
Team Italia coaches Bill Holmberg and Mike Piazza (Photo courtesy of M. Gallerani-Oldmanagency/FIBS)
20-year-old catching prospect Alberto Mineo, who was signed by former Chicago Cubs scout and current Italian Baseball Academy director Bill Holmberg for $500,000 in 2009, was under the guidance and direction of mentor Mike Piazza during Team Italia’s 2014 Spring Training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. Catcher Mineo and 19-year-old Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Davide Anselmi worked together there in preparation of the European Baseball Championship.

Former Team Italia catcher Francisco Cervelli and manager Marco Mazzieri at Dodgertown in 2014.
Former Team Italia catcher Francisco Cervelli and manager Marco Mazzieri at Dodgertown in 2014.
Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza is committed to the growth of Italian baseball. The future MLB Hall of Famer said, “I truly believe in the marketability of baseball in Europe, in Italy specifically. I’m here completely focused on this ballclub to get the most out of our players here and hopefully help them along in their individual careers. But also we’re just trying to bring attention as well to baseball in Italy. And we think that‑‑at least in my personal opinion–that we can produce players and there’s a future there.”

European%20BaseballFor further information on the upcoming European Baseball Championship and details on how to obtain tickets for the September 12-16 games in Regensburg, Germany, click HERE. To learn more about the international competition and tickets for the September 12-21 Czech Republic games, click HERE. For an updated schedule of the 2014 European Baseball Championship and complete game box scores, click HERE.

Jason Grilli pitches new autobiography while Jason Kendall catches on with his own ‘Throwback’ book

Jason Grilli shuts the door and gets the save for Team Italia against Mexico in the 2013 WBC. (Photo courtesy of FIBS)
Jason Grilli shuts the door and gets the save for Team Italia against Mexico in the 2013 WBC.
Jason Grilli's Just My Game is a must-read.
Jason Grilli’s Just My Game, co-written by Todd Civin, is mandatory reading for baseball lovers worldwide.
Not only do both former MLB All-Stars share a common first name, but coincidentally they have published two new must-read books at the same time. 2013 National League All-Star / Pittsburgh Pirates’ closer Jason Grilli and seasoned veteran catcher Jason Kendall are best-known for their delivery on the mound and calling the game behind home plate. However, let the world know that they also possess a knack for writing good stories. Initially, Grilli was reluctant to share with fans his personal journal which eventually turned into a book.
Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wrote the foreword for Jason Grilli's new autobiography.
Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wrote the foreword for Jason Grilli’s new autobiography.
DUlisse_FireUpThe_Grilli-1Grilli said, “I kind of was keeping it for them when I thought my career was over in 2010 when I ruptured my quad tendon and thought I would never play baseball again. So I just started writing. It was therapeutic, and I didn’t want to forget things—the good things, the bad things. My career had flashed before my eyes so I just started writing. Here we are three years later writing a book… I didn’t finish college, and I promised my mom that I would. At least I wrote a book so she will be happy.” Asked what readers can expect to get out of his book, Grilli responded: “I think overall there are a lot of flashbacks: the good, the bad and the indifferent. If there is anything to take from it, it’s a feel good SportsIllustrated
story. It’s more about, if you quit then you lose.” Without a doubt, this 215-page book is quite an accomplishment. Grilli discounted the praise and said: “They are short pages, double-spaced. You know all the tricks to make your 10-page paper longer. Maybe that is what it is…a lot of insert pictures in the middle. If you don’t want to read the book, at least look at the pictures.” Just My Game chronicles Grilli’s love of the game of baseball and highlights his incredible and trusting relationship with his best friend and father, former MLB pitcher, Steve Grilli. Just My Game takes readers through the highs and lows of the Team Italia pitcher’s career including his 18 strikeout performance as a junior at Seton Hall, his selection as the #4 first-round pick in the 1997 draft, life in the minor leagues, and his recovery from several near career-ending injuries leading up to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ remarkable
Jason Grilli and Mike Tyson
Jason Grilli and secret admirer Mike Tyson
2013 playoff run. Jason Grilli will be making several book signing appearances in the coming months in support of the launch of his long-awaited autobiography. Be the first to purchase Just My Game before it goes on sale to the public by visiting Jason Grilli’s Facebook. Readers will be pleasantly surprised to find the eloquent foreword to Grilli’s book written by 2013 National League Manager of the Year and Pirates’ skipper Clint Hurdle. Known to be a proponent of the power of positive thinking, Hurdle is the perfect setup man for Grilli’s autobiography.
Hurdle has been busy of late reading Jason Kendall’s Throwback, which was co-written by sportswriter Lee Judge.
Throwback
Jason Kendall was the Pirates' #1 draft pick in 1992.
Jason Kendall was the Pirates’ #1 draft pick in 1992.
When asked if fans should buy Jason Kendall and Lee Judge’s Throwback, Hurdle responded: “Give this book a read. I’ve known Lee Judge for over 20 years. He has an unquenchable thirst for ‘Why’ questions and a passion for the game. He doesn’t just want the answers. He wants understanding. I’ve spent time with him in Minor League and Major League cities and clubhouses, and we are still friends! There is a sincere effort and old school way this book has been put together, and it is deserving of your time. You will laugh. You will learn. You will leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for the game we love.”
Prince Fielder holds back an emotional Jason Kendall.
Prince Fielder holds back an emotional Jason Kendall.
America’s favorite pastime has always left fans and amateur players alike yearning for the answers to questions about how pros play the game. Have you ever wondered about pre-game rituals, what is being said at home plate, the signs a catcher uses to communicate with the pitcher, how a team silently communicates and the right way to hit a batter or what goes on behind closed clubhouse doors? All-Star catcher Jason Kendall is more than qualified to shed some light on the subject using his 15-years playing behind home plate with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, and Kansas City Royals as a true testament. Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summed it up nicely when he characterized Kendall and his new book as winners.
Vladimir Guerrero collides with catcher  Jason Kendall.
Vladimir Guerrero collides with Jason Kendall.
Gibby said, “Jason Kendall is the ultimate competitor, a modern-day gladiator. If you had nine Jason Kendalls, you could never lose.” Undoubtedly, Throwback provides readers an opportunity to gain an insider’s view of the game from a true-grit player’s perspective. Coupled with Jason Grilli’s new offering of Just My Game, baseball fanatics now have a winning combination of required reading guaranteed to bring hours of enjoyment and a fonder appreciation of what makes these players truly inspirational.