Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award winner Roberto Angotti celebrates Italian Americans in Baseball in new documentary

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Filmmaker Roberto Angotti at the second annual Italian American Baseball Foundation Dinner supporting Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) at Carmine & Sons Restaurant in Brooklyn, New York on December 7, 2017 (Photo by Chris Herder)

Of the more than four million Italians who left home between 1880 and 1920 with dreams of a better life, nobody could have imagined their children fulfilling the American dream by playing a game that was as foreign to them as the English language. Examining the experiences of baseball pioneers, current players and coaches, fans, and historians, filmmaker Roberto Angotti captures the story of how Italian Americans assimilated into popular culture through America’s favorite pastime in his new hour-long Italian American Baseball Family documentary. The film also explores how Italian Americans have circled back to Italy to help grow the game abroad by playing for Team Italy in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. Although brothers Vince, Joe, and Dom DiMaggio may be the premier Italian American Baseball Family, the Colabellos from Milford, Massachusetts are a perfect example of the modern day Italian American Baseball Family. Father Lou Colabello was the starting pitcher for Team Italy against host Team USA at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics while his son Chris Colabello later played baseball in Italy as a youth and, like his father, eventually went on to represent Team Italy in the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classics.

The Italian American Baseball Family traverses the U.S. cultural landscape and documents an ethnic group’s rise from adversity by celebrating its triumphs in breaking into a sport originally dominated by English, Irish and German immigrants. The 2017 Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning movie showcases both the hardships and accomplishments of legendary Italian American baseball players.

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While on the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum panel discussion at the NIAF 42nd Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C. on November 4, 2017, Roberto Angotti spoke about his new documentary (Photo by Andy Del Giudice).

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States declared war and began targeting those of German, Italian, or Japanese descent. The Italians were the largest immigrant group in the U.S. at the time and about 600,000 of the country’s five million Italian immigrants who had not yet naturalized were forced to register as enemy aliens. Baseball came ashore to Italy in 1944 when allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Nettuno and nearby Anzio en route to freeing Rome from its Nazi occupiers. American troops brought baseball gear and taught Italians how to play. Baseball countered the negative immigrant identity as an outsider. The game bridged the gap so that Italians could integrate into the American way of life.

The Italian American Baseball Family brings home the message that baseball allowed Italian Americans to assimilate into popular culture. The documentary honors the Italian American baseball ambassadors who have etched their names into U.S. sports history. The film pays tribute to their invaluable contributions and acknowledges those players who have left their unique imprint on the game.

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Filmmaker Roberto Angotti and baseball historian Professor Lawrence Baldassaro with the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award at the NIAF 42nd Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C. on November 4, 2017.

Filmmaker Roberto Angotti said, “It was an exhilarating experience and so rewarding to interview mentor and renowned historian Lawrence Baldassaro, author of Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago as well as National Baseball Hall of Fame legend Tommy Lasorda. Getting to speak with MLB past and present players Frank ViolaNick Punto, Francisco Cervelli, Chris ColabelloBrandon Nimmo, and Gavin Cecchini for the Italian American Baseball Family was also a privilege and an honor.”

Roberto was fascinated by the game of baseball since he was a child and played Little League. He witnessed Tommy Lasorda lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to two World Series titles in the 1980s. In high school, he played American Legion baseball. As a Film Studies student at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), Angotti did play-by-play broadcasts for Pomona-Pitzer Baseball while program director at KSPC 88.7 FM. His education at CMC was the foundation for him to catapult into the entertainment industry. Roberto was recently the subject of a CMC alumni profile. To access the article, click on this link: https://www.cmc.edu/news/filmmaker-roberto-angotti-traces-roots-of-italian-american-baseball. Throughout his professional radio career at KNAC 105.5 FM (Long Beach), KROQ 106.7 FM (Pasadena/Los Angeles) as well as 91X and 92.5 FM (San Diego), he integrated music, sports, and popular culture to become one of the most listened to on-air personalities in Southern California.

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Director of Photography Peter McEvilley accompanied filmmaker Roberto Angotti, who received the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award at the NIAF 42nd Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C. on November 4, 2017.

In 2011 Angotti launched an MLB.com blog which eventually became a Top 10 MLB.com Fan website – www.MLBforLife.com – to showcase up-and-coming Italian and Italian American players. After visiting the Italian Baseball Academy near Pisa, Roberto was invited to the 2013 World Baseball Classic in Phoenix, Arizona, where he got to know Mike Piazza, who served as hitting coach for Team Italy. Piazza inspired him to document the Italian American experience. That same year Angotti curated the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball exhibition at the Convivio Center in San Diego’s Little Italy. The exhibit featured Italian American artists who focused their work on Italian American Baseball Hall of Famers: Tony Lazzeri, Joe DiMaggio, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Ernie Lombardi, Phil Rizzuto, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio, and Mike Piazza.

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Filmmaker Roberto Angotti was also the curator of the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibition from September 25, 2013 to February 1, 2014 at the Convivio Center in San Diego’s Little Italy (Design by Christopher Paluso).

As the English language editor and reporter for Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (www.fibs.it/en), Angotti represented the Italian national teams at three international competitions in 2017: the World Baseball Classic in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico; the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U-19 Junior Women’s World Championship in Clearwater, Florida; and the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.

When Roberto returned from the 2017 World Baseball Classic, he resolved to make a film about Italian Americans and their integral role in baseball. The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, and the Russo Brothers offered the Italian American Film Forum Grant to filmmakers wanting to share the Italian American experience. It was a natural fit so Angotti applied and was chosen as one of seven grant recipients. Later he was selected as one of three finalists invited to the 42nd Anniversary NIAF Gala Weekend in Washington, D.C., where he was proclaimed the winner and presented the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award by Italian Sons and Daughters of America President Basil Russo, National Italian American Foundation President John Viola and FOX Business Network TV Anchor/Global Markets Editor Maria Bartiromo on Saturday, November 4, 2017.

Angotti plans to make a series of Italian American baseball films. He sees his first documentary as a way to educate young Italian Americans and others on the plight of Italian immigrants, using baseball as a focal point. He said, “Italians were once second class citizens in the United States, and invisible in baseball before players like Tony Lazzeri and Joe DiMaggio rose to prominence. Not having an appreciation of your heritage is like an olive tree without roots. Baseball is a part of mine.”

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From left to right, Italian Sons and Daughters of America President Basil Russo, Roberto Angotti, National Italian American Foundation President John Viola and FOX Business Network TV Anchor Maria Bartiromo at the NIAF 42nd Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C. on November 4, 2017 (Photo by Andy Del Giudice)
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Bill Arce: the Legacy behind the Claremont European Baseball Connection

Bill Arce and Tommy Lasorda
Legendary Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags Baseball Coach Bill Arce with Tommy Lasorda
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Claremont McKenna College is located in Claremont, California, at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The top ten-ranked U.S. school is part of the seven-college consortium known as The Claremont Colleges, which includes Scripps College, Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, Claremont Graduate University and Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences.

With majestic Mount Baldy providing the perfect backdrop for the optimal collegiate baseball setting, the late and great Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags Baseball Head Coach Bill Arce fulfilled his promise to empower those who played on the Arce Field of Dreams to attain excellence. Former student athlete Wes Parker, who played under Coach Arce from 1959-1961, enjoyed a career with the LA Dodgers from 1964-1971. Arce once said, “Wes was the hardest worker I ever had. He honed his great natural talent with tremendous work ethic.”

Baseball in Europe

When Internationally-acclaimed broadcast journalist Josh Chetwynd wrote his book “Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History” (2008), he acknowledged the invaluable contribution of legendary Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Baseball Coach Bill Arce. In his introduction, author Josh Chetwynd wrote: Some Americans have made a commitment to the European game for no reason but for the love of the sport. During the Battle of the Bulge, Bill Arce was a member of General George Patton’s Third Army. Injured in the fighting, Arce prayed to God. He promised that if he were to survive, he’d spend his life in a meaningful way. Arce would go on to become a university professor, administrator and baseball coach–and would give to European baseball like no other. Often paying out of his own pocket, he was the first American coach to hold baseball clinics in Sweden (1962), Czechoslolvakia (1969) and Yugoslavia (1979). All told, he worked in fifteen different European countries and was the only person to have coached two different countries–the Netherlands (in 1971) and Italy (in 1975) to a European Baseball Championship. europeIn his first chapter on the Netherlands in “Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History”, Josh Chetwynd retraced the story how Bill Arce became involved in coaching abroad: Bill Arce’s entry into European baseball was mere happenstance. “I was on a plane trip with a professor from Stanford going to a convention in New York,” recalled Arce about his 1960 introduction to the European game. “At the bottom of the sports page, I noticed an item saying Holland had won the European baseball tournament. I commented that would be a great way to spend a leave from college, working with baseball players in a country like Holland.” Sometime after that he received a letter from a friend who was serving as the American consul in Amsterdam saying they were looking for a coach. Arce, who served as athletic director and head coach at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, jumped at the opportunity in 1962.

Bill Arce
During his 25-year tenure as head baseball coach and as the founding athletic director of the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps athletic department, Bill Arce developed the program, facilities and staff into one of the top NCAA Division III private college programs in the country.

Flag of Netherlands (5)The book “Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History” elaborated on the significant impact Bill Arce had on baseball abroad: Arce would become not only a tireless teacher for the Dutch but also a master organizer.  As the Dutch Baseball Hall of Famer Han Urbanus put it years later: “Bill Arce became one of the most famous and trusted coaches in our baseball history.” 

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On Arce’s initial trip, he took a leave of absence from his U.S. academic commitments and spent more than a year working with Dutch players. For years after that, he brought college-aged teams to Holland to play and coach. Arce’s players were central figures in improving play in Holland. So much so “that the impact it had on Dutch baseball is still felt there today,” wrote longtime Atlanta Braves scout Bill Clark in 1995. A top-flight coach, he would also lead the Netherlands to a gold medal in the 1971 European Baseball Championship.

Italy flagAfter much success coaching in Holland, international ambassador Bill Arce crossed enemy lines to help Euro rival Italy in developing its baseball program. After managing the Italian national team in the 1973 and 1975 Intercontinental Cups, he ended Italy’s 21-year drought by bringing home the 1975 European Baseball Championship title.

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After being inducted into both the Dutch and Italian Baseball Halls of Fame, Bill Arce’s influence still reigned internationally. Following the conclusion the 2011 American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention, MLB International’s Jason Holowaty said: “For me the highlight was a special dinner hosted by MLB to honor Bill Arce, one of the first U.S. college coaches to start visiting Europe and a central figure in the development of European baseball and MLB International. Through the years he has influenced so many people in international baseball, including myself. EBCA logoIt was great for everyone to get a chance to say thank you to such an important man.” He was also honored when given the European Baseball Coaches Association (EBCA) Career Achievement Award in 2012. Arce launched the EBCA exchange program, an initiative to develop European coaches’ insights in every aspect of the game through collaborative mentoring by experienced American coaches.

PrintThe Stags legend finished his college coaching career with an impressive 606-472-7 record. Prior to his passing in 2016, Bill Arce was inducted into the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletic Coaches and the American Baseball Coaches Halls of Fame as well as received the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Distinguished Service Award.

Arce Field
Bill Arce Field is home to Stags baseball on the campus of Claremont McKenna College.

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

National Italian American Foundation and Jimmy Kimmel praise Baseball Hall of Famer Mike Piazza

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Italian American Mike Piazza will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 24th.

NIAF logo Preserving the Italian American heritage and culture while promoting and inspiring a positive image and legacy of Italian Americans in order to strengthen and empower ties between America and Italy, NIAF and Mike Piazza are second to none. When Piazza was recently voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Joseph Del Raso and John Viola rose to the occasion and spoke on behalf of the National Italian American Foundation’s Board of Directors.

“We congratulate 12-Time MLB All-Star Michael Joseph Piazza on his election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., that honors those who have excelled in playing, managing, and serving the sport. Mike has been a longtime supporter and great friend to NIAF. Over the last decade, he has attended the Foundation’s Anniversary Awards Galas in the nation’s capital, served as the 2012 Master of Ceremonies at our 37th Anniversary Gala, and spoke at conferences and seminars for young Italian Americans during Gala weekends. In 2014, Mike was chosen to light the Empire State Building in Red, White and Green to celebrate NIAF’s mission and educational programs across the country. We are extremely proud of Mike’s accomplishments as a major league catcher, most notably for the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers. His career is distinguished by 12 All-Star selections, 10 Silver Slugger Awards and National League Rookie of the Year honors in 1993. His 427 homers and his on base plus slugging percentage are the highest totals by any catcher in baseball history. We salute Mike as a distinguished Italian American, passionate sports athlete and inspirational role model for all of us to follow. Bravissimo e Auguri Mike!”

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!

Lenny Randle leads Nettuno, Italy’s baseball revolution

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Former MLB All-Star Lenny Randle leads the Italian baseball renaissance in Nettuno.
Lenny Randle became the first American major leaguer to play in Italy in 1983.

With Ronald Reagan serving as America’s leader and the final episode of M*A*S*H* airing on television in 1983, Lenny Randle embarked on an Italian baseball adventure that lasted almost a decade before nearly making a miraculous MLB comeback at age 46 with the 1995 Angels. Not afraid of climbing into the stands to talk, sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans, Lenny Randle is a fan favorite both on and off the field. Infamous for teaching future ballplayers Italian phrases and encouraging them to get their college degree so they have something to fall back on, Randle practices what he preaches having received his Masters Degree in Education and started his own baseball school after retirement. Learning the game from the best, Lenny broke into the big leagues with the Washington Senators in 1971 under manager Ted Williams and was mentored by the likes of Billy Martin, Don Drysdale, and Tommy Lasorda during his illustrious 12-year career.

Locandina-Lenny-Randles-Day During the span of his 1,138 MLB games played with the Washington Senators, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners, Randle’s best season was in 1974 with the Texas Rangers when he hit .302 (7th overall in American League) and stole 26 bases. In 1983, the versatile player ventured to Nettuno at age 34. In his first season in the Italian Baseball League, he won the batting title handily just shy of a .500 clip. He later went on to lead the league in stolen bases with 32. The Southern California native found his power stroke in Italy during his 200-game career and hit 47 home runs. In a 1995 interview with the Tampa Tribune, Randle summed up his experience abroad by saying: “Playing baseball in Italy was like finding the fountain of youth. Guys over there relax and enjoy the game. It’s easy because there’s no stress.”

Stadio Steno Borghese is home of Nettuno baseball.
Stadio Steno Borghese is home of Nettuno baseball.

Fast forward two decades and Nettuno Baseball Club’s all-time favorite, Lenny “Cappuccino” Randle, is now the team’s new general manager and co-owner. If anyone can start the Italian baseball revolution and transform Nettuno’s historical World War II U.S. battlefield site into baseball’s next field of dreams, it’s Lenny Randle. Supported by a first-class coaching staff of seasoned MLB vets including Chris Bando, Félix Millán, and Rudy Law, Randle is ready to turn Nettuno into European baseball’s biggest epicenter.

Lights, camera, action...the stage is set for Lenny Randle in Nettuno.
Lights, camera, action in Nettuno, Italy–where Lenny Randle’s baseball revolution is taking place.
Joe DiMaggio poses during his visit to Nettuno in 1953.
Joe DiMaggio poses during his visit to Nettuno in 1953.

36,000 American soldiers landed at Nettuno in 1944 and brought along an arsenal of baseballs, bats, and gloves to keep their sanity during wartime. While the U.S. Army maintained its beachhead at Nettuno for five months, Italians were introduced to America’s favorite pastime. Baseball reached the masses when the Italian press learned of Joe DiMaggio’s visit to the game’s birthplace in Nettuno after his retirement in 1957. Randle’s Nettuno Baseball Club will pay tribute to the Italian American icon at Stadio Steno Borghese in 2015.

Lenny Randle and Nettuno Baseball Club President Piero Fortini
Lenny Randle and Nettuno Baseball Club President Piero Fortini lead the Italian baseball revolution.

The Nettuno Baseball Club looks to inspire a whole new generation of baseball fans and players while upholding the legacy and traditions of the game in Italy. Under the leadership of General Manager Lenny Randle and President Piero Fortino, the Nettuno Baseball Club is building international alliances with corporate sponsors interested in expanding its reach through innovative marketing and interactive fan engagement.

Nettuno Baseball Club Sponsorship Levels include Home Run ($20,000), Batter Up ($10,000), Double Play ($5,000) and Line Drive ($2,000)
Nettuno Baseball Club Sponsorship Levels include the exclusive Home Run Club ($20,000), Batter Up Club($10,000), Double Play Club ($5,000) and Line Drive Club ($2,000). All levels of sponsorship receive great benefits and maximum exposure for corporate branding internationally while helping the Nettuno Baseball Club expand its reach in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Sponsorship members of the exclusive Nettuno Baseball Club Home Run Club pledge $20,000 and receive a plethora of benefits including: roundtrip airfare to Nettuno/all ground transportation, two nights accommodation at a luxury hotel, private meet and greet with players and coaches, gourmet lunch and five-course dinner at beachside restaurant, VIP Season Tickets/baseball game box seats at stadium, guided tour of local attractions and destinations including World War II Monument and Rome, radio/tv mentions, announcements on game days, a permanent banner at stadium, corporate logo on all printed materials/online media presence and link from the Nettuno website.377490_untitled Until the Asian and American monopoly on baseball’s culture and resources eases up and Major League Baseball and its corporate partners invest in youth and professional leagues in Europe, the fate of the game’s future is dependent on the involvement of former MLB vets like Lenny Randle and Mike Piazza. Finding and developing players is one of Nettuno Baseball Club’s strengths. Both 20-year-old Atlanta Braves prospect Mattia Mercuri and 17-year-old LA Dodgers prospect Federico Giordani ascended up the ranks through Nettuno Baseball Club.

LA Dodgers prospect Federico Giordani played in the youth league for Nettuno Lions before joining  the Nettuno Baseball Club.
LA Dodgers prospect Federico Giordani played youth league ball for the Nettuno Lions before joining the Italian Baseball League’s Nettuno Baseball Club.

Cultivating prospects like Nettuno’s Mercuri and Giordani into major league-quality players and using them like missionaries to promote baseball in Europe will make a strong enough impression back home to give young Italian athletes the vote of confidence that playing MLB is a viable option. Every time Major League Baseball has reached out to expand its constituency to new geographic areas, it has been rewarded with tactical and cultural innovation, a broader fan base and a higher quality of play. Why should Europe be any different? Without MLB financing, the Nettuno Baseball Club and Italian Baseball League depend on corporate sponsorship and FIBS. To learn more about the fantastic opportunities afforded to businesses and athletes, please visit Lenny Randle Sports Tours.
Italian Baseball

Game Over: France manager and former All-Star closer Eric Gagne weighs in on the Dodgers, Derek Jeter, Mike Piazza and European Baseball

MLBblogger Roberto Angotti interviews Team France manager Eric Gagne at the 2014 European Baseball Championship (Photo courtesy of Donato Resta/www.IandI-GoProm.com).
MLBblogger Roberto Angotti interviews Team France manager Eric Gagne at the 2014 European Baseball Championship (Photo courtesy IandI-GoPro.com).
After qualifying for the second round of the 2014 European Baseball Championship and placing sixth overall in the 12-nation competition, which was won by the Netherlands after the Dutch defeated two-time defending Euro champion Team Italy 6-3 in the final on September 21st at Draci Ballpark in Brno, Czech Republic, Team France manager Eric Gagne took time out to share his thoughts.

On the Dodgers chances in the playoffs: “They can win it all with their starting pitchers they got. I mean they have got a lot of guys, especially with Kershaw. He goes out there, it’s pretty much lights out every time. You know in the playoffs you need two starters…they have six! They are going to be good. Their bullpen was a little shaky for a while, but they pitched a lot of innings. I think they’ve made some good moves. I think the Dodgers are the favorite team for me. Of course, they are my favorite. I played so many years in the Dodgers minor leagues, and I was only in Boston for four months. I was good in LA and never got a ring. But I was terrible in Boston, and I got a ring. So I can’t complain. I was lucky.”

As part of the Jeter Farewell Tour, the Cleveland Indians gave the Yankees Captain a customized Gibson guitar.
For the Jeter Farewell Tour, the Indians gave the Yankee Captain a customized Gibson guitar.

On Derek Jeter’s retirement: Number 2!!! That’s pretty simple. He’s done everything in the game you can think of. A lot of people were wondering five years ago if he was done. Just to have him around in the clubhouse and having his attitude is amazing. He’s done so much for the game. Everybody knows it. If you go to France, people know Jeter. There’s over 10,000 people playing so it’s really, really good. He’s the Jordan and the Gretzsky of the sport. It’s cool to see a guy like him. It’s not like he just hits home runs. He’s just a winner, and he’s won everywhere he went. It’s good to see him retire on top. It’s awesome to see him go out with the Yankees.”

On growing the game in Europe along with Team Italy coach Mike Piazza: “It’s in our blood. We certainly aren’t doing it for the money…that’s for sure. It’s just fun. It’s fun to watch guys get better, listen and learn. For us that’s what I guarantee Mike loves about it. The kids learn…you can tell and see improvement every day, every single at-bat. It’s very rewarding and for us baseball is our life. For me it is, and I’m sure it is for him too. He’s a catcher. They are aware. They love to control the game and stuff like this. And I love baseball.”

Under the guidance and direction of Team France manager Eric Gagne, the French baseball revolution has just begun. (Photo courtesy of IandI-GoPro.com).
Under the guidance and direction of Team France manager and Cy Young winner Eric Gagne,
the French baseball revolution has only just begun. (Photo courtesy of IandI-GoPro.com).