San Marino & Rimini battle for 2014 European Cup

T&A San Marino and Rimini will fight for the right to represent Europe in the 2015 Asia Series.
T&A San Marino and Rimini will face off to represent Europe in the 2014 Asia Series.

T&A San Marino GM Mauro Mazzotti is also the manager for Team Spain.
T&A San Marino GM Mauro Mazzotti also serves as the manager for the Spanish national team.

Three-time defending Italian Baseball League champion T&A San Marino is loaded with seasoned MLB players and prospects selected by Orioles’ scout and San Marino GM Mauro Mazzotti, who was named 2012 Coach of the Year by the European Baseball Coaches Association and was instrumental in leading underdog Team Spain to its first-ever appearance at the World Baseball Classic. T&A San Marino features an international all-star cast including starting pitcher Júnior Guerra–a former catcher in the Braves and Mets organizations–and relief pitcher/closer Jesus Delgado–who made his MLB debut for the 2008 Marlins–both of whom are veteran Venezuelan hurlers who bolster the dominant San Marino pitching staff.

T&A San Marino lefty Chris Cooper has pitched for Team Italia since leaving AAA ball in 2009.
T&A San Marino lefty Chris Cooper has pitched for Team Italia since leaving the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate in 2009.

Adding pitching depth to San Marino’s roster is 35-year-old Italian American Chris Cooper, who was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 35th round of the 2001 MLB amateur draft. Cooper, who hails from Pittsburgh, explained that his original family name was Cocchiararo. “It’s alphabet soup,” Cooper said, smiling as he elaborated on the scenario. “They changed my last name when my great-grandfather came over in 1911. They misspelled his name about three times, and the story was, supposedly, he pointed at somebody’s nametag when he was getting his papers here in the U.S. They just said, ‘Okay, we have Cooper.’” Cooper is joined by fellow Italian national team member Lorenzo Avagnina as well as Canadian-born Paul Macaluso. Both San Marino outfielders Avagnina and Macaluso are the unsung heroes of the squad as they emulate general manager Mazzotti’s true grit style of play and “Never Say Die” approach to the Italian Baseball League.

Mike Ekstrom of the Rimini Pirates
Mike Ekstrom of the Rimini Pirates

Standing in the path of T&A San Marino’s path to the European Cup is a very dangerous Rimini Pirates baseball team. Their pitching arsenal is led by MLB veteran/Oregon native Mike Ekstrom and Cuban-born southpaw Enorbel Márquez-Ramírez along with former Mariners’ minor leaguer Jose Escalona serving as Rimini’s closer. Should the Rimini Pirates defeat T&A San Marino in the upcoming Euro Cup, they will be the European representative in the 2014 Asia Series–an international competition featuring the champions of the Australian Baseball League, Korea Baseball Organization, Nippon Pro Baseball in Japan, Chinese Professional Baseball League and the European Cup. Having already earned himself a ticket to the Asia Series as the pitching ace for the 2014 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Champion Perth Heat (5-1, 0.72 ERA, 50.1 IP, 10 BB and 57 K), Ekstrom could potentially have a difficult decision to make on whether to play for the Aussie or Euro Cup Champs. Italian-Australian TradeTeam Italia pitcher Nick Pugliese was faced with similar circumstances when he played for last year’s European Cup Champion Unipol Bologna and the 2013 ABL Champion Canberra Cavalry. Because Pugliese was committed to the Italian team, it opened up a roster spot on the Cavalry pitching staff for Ekstrom. Despite being a member of the Perth Heat, Ekstrom was granted temporary pitching privileges for rival Canberra Cavalry so that Australia could put their league’s best players out on the field in the international spotlight. The strategy paid off big as Ekstrom led the longshot Cavalry to the 2013 Asia Series Championship, and the ABL was subsequently awarded the winner’s $500,000 prize money. Should Rimini win the Euro Cup, let’s hope that Ekstrom chooses to share some amore by bringing home the loot to benefit Italian baseball.

Jack Santora has played for Team Italia since 2006.
Jack Santora has played for Team Italia since 2006.

Team Italia captain Mario Chairini accepts the 2012 European Cup after the Italians beat the Netherlands.
Team Italia captain Mario Chairini accepts the 2012 Euro Championship trophy after Italy beat Holland.
Based on what he has been written in his blog “Baseball Round The World”, Ekstrom has nothing but love for Italia. How could he not when Italian American teammate Jack Santora, a 19th round Arizona Diamondbacks draft pick in 1999, has shown him the ropes after having spent the last eight years playing the infields of the Italian Baseball League. The Monterey, California native Santora, along with Rimini hometown hero and Italian national team captain Mario Chiarini–who played for the 2000 Arizona League Mariners and competed in the 2004 Summer Olympics–are the elder statesmen of the squad. These veterans have been both critical to Rimini’s success and inspirational to newcomers to the team like Ekstrom. However, nothing means more to the players right now than the EU Champions Cup and the right to represent European baseball in the 2014 Asia Series.

Rimini and San Marino are only minutes apart.
Rimini and San Marino are merely minutes apart.

San Marino and "Monte Titano" were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008.
San Marino and “Monte Titano” were added to the exclusive UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008.

Although the battlegrounds for the European Champions Cup Finals will take place nearby, Rimini and San Marino had to travel great distances to play the other EU Championship teams and win their respective Qualifier Champions Cup bracket to get here. Rimini defeated the best from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Ukraine and host Brno, Czech Republic, while T&A San Marino beat a similar group of international squads which included Italy’s Nettuno and home team Vaessen in the Netherlands. Italian Baseball League favorite T&A San Marino may have the edge over Rimini, but the Pirates are not to be underestimated. Rimini outfielder Leonardo Zileri‘s hitting frenzy in the European Champions Cup Qualifier garnered him a .591 batting average (13-for-22) and awards for MVP and Best Hitter in the tourney. T&A San Marino will counteract with Venezuelan slugger Jairo Ramos, whose performance in the European Champions Cup Qualifier (.500 BA, 2-2B, 2-HR, 9 RBI) yielded similar MVP and Best Hitter accolades in the competition.san-marino-rimini-baseball

logo fibs 20 x20(1)With the much anticipated best of three-game series between T&A San Marino and Rimini for the 2014 European Champions Cup taking place beginning August 7th, baseball fever is at its all-time high in Italy. The Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) website will provide up-to-date details and links to the live internet streaming broadcasts. More than a local rivalry between San Marino and Rimini, the ramifications of winning the European Champions Cup extend internationally as the EU representative in the 2014 Asia Series. May the best team win and go on to turn heads in Taiwan. Lord knows an injection of winners’ prize money earned abroad would help nurture the growth of the game in Europe.

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MLBforLife.com named #8 MLB.com Fan Website

The March 2012 results are in for the MLB.com Top 50 Fan Sites, and MLBblogger was named the number eight website. We believe this is a result of our continued coverage of baseball worldwide, and our international readers quest for accurate information on their favorite players. In the last six months, MLBblogger has produced original and engaging stories on the Asia Series, Taiwan All-Star Series, Australian Baseball League All-Star Game, Arizona Fall League, Chinese Professional Baseball League, Korea Baseball Organization, Nippon Professional Baseball League, Australian Baseball League, Italian Baseball League, Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball, Major League Baseball, MLB Italian Baseball Academy, MLB Fan Cave, Minor League Baseball, College Baseball, High School Baseball, Cactus League Spring Training and the Japan Opening Series. Thanks for the support!

Milwaukee Brewers' #8 Ryan Braun was just as happy to hear of the positive MLB.com results!
Melbourne Aces' #8 Brad Harman, who played for the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies, destroyed the single-season Australian Baseball League home run record in 2012 with 15 bombs.

Feeling so blessed to be associated with the great number eight and knowing that baseball is a game of numbers and statistics, we thought that it would be of great interest to dig a little deeper into the number’s historical and cultural significance. The Chinese view the number eight (ba 八) as the most auspicious number because its pronunciation, particularly in southern dialects, is very similar to “prosper” or “wealth” (fa cai 发财). Based on a #8 Hong Kong license plate fetching a handsome $640,000 recently and home street addresses containing multiple number eights still in high feng shui demand, one would believe that property with the number eight is valued greatly in China. It’s no coincidence that the opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics began promptly at 8:08:08 p.m. For many people, eight is the symbol of harmony and balance. The number symbolizes the ability to make decisions as well as abundance and power. The Pythagoreans called the number eight “Ogdoad” and considered it the “little holy number”. Jews consider eight symbolic of an entity that is one step above the natural order and its limitation, which is why Chanukah lasts eight days.

Aussie Brad Harman with the 2008 Phillies.
Baseball Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Cal Ripken, Jr., Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Stargell, Joe Morgan, and Gary Carter wore the number eight. It’s quite possible that a couple 2012 MLB players donning the #8 silks will soon join these legends–including: Ryan Braun (Brewers), Shane Victorino (Phillies), Jason Bartlett (Padres), Yorvit Torrealba (Rangers), Kurt Suzuki (A’s), David Ross (Braves), Kendrys Morales (Angels), Gerardo Parra (D-Backs), Chris Coghlan (Marlins), Danny Espinosa (Nationals), Desmond Jennings (Rays), Ben Francisco (Jays), Mike Moustakas (Royals), and Jamey Carroll (Twins).
"The Flying Hawaiian" #8 Shane Victorino joins the 2008 World Series Championship dogpile.

So who will win the 2012 Major League Baseball World Series?
If you like the number eight, then there are three possible live candidates. Last month’s Vegas.com future odds to win it all had the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at 8-to-1 odds. Then again you could spend all your money on a license plate… Good luck wherever you invest!

Aces boss Phil Dale holds the wild cards in the ABL

Managers Phil Dale and Kevin Boles exchange line-up cards prior to the Australian Baseball League Melbourne Aces/Sydney Blue Sox game(photo courtesy of Joe Vella/SMP Images/ABL)

In his second year as boss for the Melbourne Aces, manager Phil Dale is no newcomer to the game. Already heralded as a legendary Australian baseball icon for being the first Aussie ever to be awarded a full-ride scholarship to play ball in the U.S., Dale has just begun to create a new chapter in his own legacy. Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cincinnati Reds in 1985, he pitched his way up the minor leagues for four seasons but never made it to the Bigs as a player. However, the Major League Baseball (MLB) curse did not stop the Melbourne native from becoming a hero for the Australian national team and a MVP of the Australian Baseball League (ABL) in its infancy and pre-MLB affiliation days.

Australia Coach Phil Dale

Drawing from his own experience as a professional minor league player, Dale’s source of inspiration was a higher calling to mentor his fellow aspiring countrymen to the ranks of baseball’s elite. He began his coaching career in the minor leagues for the Reds and Atlanta Braves before repatriating back to Australia, where he would work with Aussie’s finest for the nation’s biggest feat ever in the 2004 Athens Olympics. In just one of his many accolades of coaching greatness, Dale led the Australian national team to a monumental silver medal honor after a stunning 1-0 upset over heavily favored Japan.

Ex-MLB lefty Travis Blackley returns to Aces in 2012

Wild Card #1: Prior to Travis Blackley signing to Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) KIA Tigers in December 2010, the 29-year-old Australian national team hurler pitched in the New York Mets and Oakland A’s-affiliated minor leagues. Snagged by the Seattle Mariners as an amateur free agent in 2000, Blackley made his Major Baseball League debut on July 1, 2004. An injury setback prohibited him from returning to MLB action until 2007 with the San Francisco Giants. Blackley is currently in great shape.

Recently signed LA Dodgers pitcher Shane Lindsay (photo courtesy of Joe Vella / SMP Images / ABL)

Wild Card #2: Shane Lindsay made his Major League Baseball pitching debut on September 2nd against the 2011 AL Central Division Champion Detroit Tigers. The Aces manager praised Lindsay for his strength and his boost to the team. “He’s what you call a power arm,” said Dale. “It’s like a Brett Lee in bowling. He’s one of the fast bowlers, but what the baseballers call power pitchers.” The 26-year-old express train will be joining fellow Aussie MLB success story Trent Oeltjen at 2012 Dodgers Spring Camp.

17-year-old Aussie phenomenon Daniel McGrath (photo courtesy of Joe Vella / SMP images / ABL)

Wild Card #3: Making his debut on Melbourne’s roster as a 16-year-old, Doncaster native pitcher Daniel McGrath has a Big League decision in 2012. Tussling between following his manager’s footsteps by attending an American University or signing a very lucrative professional contract, the six-foot-three prospect is going abroad. Aces skipper and long-time supervisor of the Atlanta Braves Australian and Asian scouting department, Phil Dale knows he has been dealt something special with lefty Daniel McGrath.

ABL Player of the Week (Round 3) Nic Ungs (B. Southall/SMP Images)

Wild Card #4: Named as one of the ABL Players of the Week for round three action, Dubuque, Iowa’s Nic Ungs delivered possibly the best pitching performance in the recently reorganized league’s history against the Brisbane Bandits on November 20th. Coming within two strikes and inches away from throwing the first ever perfect game in ABL history, Ungs now wishes that he could get the pitch back that Brisbane’s Brad Dutton drilled just out of Aces first baseman Justin Huber’s grasp to end his no-hit bid. Postgame the 32-year-old Midwesterner commented, “The perfect game doesn’t come up that often, I’ve thrown a no-hitter before, but it’s just one of those things. Of course I’d like to have the pitch back.” With the four wild card pitchers working in tandem in January, Phil Dale’s Melbourne Aces may indeed be the team that will dethrone defending champions Perth Heat for the 2011-12 ABL Championship title. Ungs said, “It’s going to be great with the guys…to build the team chemistry that we are going to need down the stretch.”

Chinese Professional Baseball League sends out 1997 MLB 1st Rounder Dan Reichert for upset in 2011 Asia Series versus Japan, Australia and Korea

Not only did ESPN Draft Busts columnist David Schoenfield disrespect Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions team-leading 35-year-old starting pitcher Dan Reichert in his 2006 Page 2 article by considering him a Royal flop when ranked #22 in his list of the 100 Worst Draft Picks of All Time, but he added insult to injury when pointing out Kansas City could have opted to choose future all-star slugger Lance Berkman instead of the risky right-handed pitcher Reichert as their first-round pick of the 1997 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft.

KC Royals Dan Reichert in 1999

Analogous to the way America sends it old phones away to China to be recycled in favor of the latest bells and whistles in the world of technological wizardry, MLB literally gave up on the now aging Dan Reichert shortly after making his first start in the Major Leagues against the Milwaukee Brewers on July 16, 1999, when Reichert was yanked out of an agonizing game in which he surrendered seven earned runs and issued four walks in 1.2 innings of work. His last sighting in the MLB was a short-lived stint with the 2003 Toronto Blue Jays. In five seasons as a member of baseball’s elite, Dan Reichert compiled a 21-25 record with a 5.55 ERA and 240 K’s.

Nearly a decade later after leading his Lions to its eighth franchise CPBL Championship title, the reconditioned Chinese Professional Baseball League version of Dan Reichert is a seasoned veteran and mentor for the bright new hopefuls aspiring to attain Big League status. However, the most important task at hand is a strong showing in the 2011 Asia Series which run Friday, November 25 through Tuesday, November 29 in Taiwan’s Taichung City.

A huge underdog in comparison to the heavily favored Fukuoka Softbank Hawks–who were recently crowned champions of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPB)–the Uni Lions have an uphill battle ahead of them. Considered the second-most talented league in the world after MLB, the Nippon Professional Baseball League has produced Japanese teams that have always fared best in the international tournament. The NPB teams have won every year, and once again appear to be poised for a repeat win.

Standing in the way of Japanese winning tradition is defending Australian Baseball League (ABL) champion Perth Heat. Marking the first time Australia will be represented in the 2011 Asia Series against countries where baseball is a national obsession, the Perth Heat possess the ABL’s longest active winning streak in history (11-0) and are currently in excellent form.

One of the first teams in the history of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), the Samsung Lions played in the KBO’s first game ever in 1982. Runner-up to the inaugural Asia Series Japanese team champion in 2005, the Samsung Lions return to the games as the 2011 Korea Baseball Organization’s pride and joy. By beating defending champion SK Wyverns in five games, the Samsung Lions were proclaimed the Korean Series title champs for the fifth time since the club’s inception. Look for the Samsung Lions to come out of the dugout fighting for victory.