UC Davis alums Biagini, Descalso, LaTorre and Grifantini are proud Italian Americans

biaginiThe writing is on the wall just as it was in 2012 when former UC Davis Aggie pitcher Marco Grifantini and catcher Tyler LaTorre helped Team Italia capture its second consecutive European Baseball Championship by defeating a talented Kingdom of the Netherlands squad and again in 2013 when both California natives played in the World Baseball Classic. With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, two additional UC Davis alums–Toronto Blue Jays reliever Joe Biagini and free agent infielder Daniel Descalso–could potentially give manager Marco Mazzieri a boost if the Italian American players are added to the Team Italia roster. One could make a strong case for Biagini’s participation should fellow Jays bullpen paisan Jason Grilli be playing in his fourth consecutive World Baseball Classic for Team Italia. Joseph Carlo Biagini‘s Italian family bloodlines run deep with relatives in Lucca. His Italian great uncle, Carlo Biagini, was a merchant marine there. Joe’s father, Rob Biagini–who spent time playing ball in the Giants organization from 1981 to 1982–also played abroad in Italy with former teammate Chris Colabello’s father, Lou Colabello. However, it might take an executive order from new Canadian-born Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) president Andrea Marcon to get Biagini onboard with Team Italia in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

After redshirting and playing one year at the College of San Mateo, right-handed pitcher Joe Biagini transferred to UC Davis, where he made 13 appearances out of the Aggies bullpen and went 3-1. He was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 26th round of the 2011 MLB draft after his redshirt sophomore season. On December 10, 2015, Biagini was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays from the San Francisco Giants in the 2015 Rule 5 draft. On April 8, 2016, Joe made his MLB debut when he pitched a perfect ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox and posted his first career strikeout facing David Ortiz. In his six appearances during the 2016 postseason against Baltimore, Texas and Cleveland, Biagini threw 7.1 scoreless innings with six strikeouts. He was the unanimous choice for rookie of the year at the recent annual Blue Jays player awards. The 26-year-old reliever was the only Jays rookie to go wire-to-wire with the team, a major accomplishment for a Rule 5 draftee. Starting out the season as a middle-relief fixture for manager John Gibbons, Joe gained the trust of the veteran skipper who later assigned him to late-inning duty. Biagini has since been the center of attention in the media as a result of being in the audience at a taping of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. During the show, Fallon passed Biagini in the audience and attempted to high-five him along with other audience members, but the popular celebrity TV host missed Biagini’s hand. During the November 18th episode, Fallon stated that he had taken criticism on Twitter for botching the high-five and brought Biagini out on stage briefly to complete their high-five.

Daniel Descalso was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third round of the 2007 MLB draft following his junior season at UC Davis. Descalso made his MLB debut with the Cardinals on September 20, 2010.  Despite the 30-year-old Italian American utility man only having a .242 career average, Descalso is much more important on the field as he has played every position but catcher and center field. After five successful seasons–including a 2011 World Series title–in St. Louis,  Descalso signed with the Colorado Rockies on December 16, 2014. Rockies manager Walt Weiss recently said, “Daniel has a great pedigree, he’s played in the postseason, played in the World Series. And that goes a long way in that clubhouse. Guys understand how hard it is to get there. He’s a winning player, he’s got a winning attitude, he’s a leader… so, his value goes way beyond the stat sheet.” When asked if Descalso might make a good coach or manager in the future, Weiss replied: “Yeah, absolutely. I think he’s definitely cut from that mold. He’s one of those guys that has obviously been a student of the game. He’s a smart player. He played at a small school, UC Davis, and has probably always had to prove himself and overachieve to some degree but he’s put together a nice Major League career.” Descalso was the second UC Davis Aggie player to ever reach MLB in 2010 and the first to win a World Series ring in 2011. Before becoming the Aggies’ second-highest MLB draft pick, Daniel hit a team-best .397 as a junior in 2007, with 22 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 53 runs scored and 44 RBI. With infielder Nick Punto now retired and serving as the Team Italia third base coach, the versatile Daniel Descalso could prove to be a valuable defensive replacement and offensive spark plug in the World Baseball Classic.

For the past two years, Tyler LaTorre has been working as an assistant baseball coach at  San Francisco State University under head coach Tony Schifano–who spent eight years as the assistant coach at UC Davis, his alma mater. Like Schifano, LaTorre is a former Aggies all-star. Tyler played at UC Davis from 2003-06, earning all-conference honors as a senior when he hit a team-high and career-best .363 with 37 runs and 32 RBI. He drew a team-best 28 walks and led the Aggies with a .451 on-base percentage. LaTorre was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Francisco Giants on May 29, 2006 after a five-year UC Davis career. The former catcher played 10 seasons in the minor leagues–including nine of them in the San Francisco Giants organization–when he caught the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong before signing a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015. During his pro ball career, LaTorre played a total of 452 minor league games during which he posted a .241 career average with 60 doubles, 14 home runs, 131 RBI and 155 runs scored. Yet, some of Tyler’s most memorable games included his time playing for Team Italia in the 2012 European Baseball Championship when he nearly won MVP tourney honors after going 14-for-28. Eight of his 14 hits were for extra bases–including six doubles and two home runs. LaTorre absolutely raked at the plate, knocking in nine RBI and scoring nine times during the international tournament. “We had one goal and that was to repeat as European champions,” said LaTorre. “It was awesome.” He also enjoyed serving as backup for Team Italia catcher Drew Butera in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The 33-year-old Italian American started against Team USA and went 1-for-4 with a walk and one run scored. LaTorre’s Italian roots trace back to his great-grandparents in Italy. It took two and a half years for him to become eligible to play for Team Italia as a dual citizen and Italian passport holder after thorough research, documentation and tedious paperwork authenticating his Italian lineage.

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Team Italia’s Luca Panerati, Tyler LaTorre, Marco Grifantini and Pat Venditte at the 2013 World Baseball Classic
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Team Italia reliever Marco Grifantini pitching in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Having spent his 2007-08 seasons as a reliever in his final two years of college at UC Davis, Marco Grifantini did not register on MLB’s radar and was not drafted. Unfazed by pro baseball’s cold shoulder, Marco’s passion for the game grew stronger and he chose a path less traveled. Upon securing dual citizenship and an Italian passport, Grifantini was given the opportunity to pitch for Cariparma Parma in the Italian Baseball League and Team Italia in the 2009 World Cup. Marco helped his 2010 Parma squad secure its first national title since 1997 after going undefeated all season and pitching four scoreless innings to pick up the save in the decisive game seven of the Italian Baseball League Championship. Later that year pitching for Team Italia, Grifantini notched another important save in relief to allow the Azzurri to dethrone the Dutch and win the 2010 European Baseball Championship. In addition, Marco got the win in games against South Korea and Taiwan in the 2010 IBAF Intercontinental Cup to assure Team Italia a bronze medal. Team Italia won its second consecutive European Baseball Championship in 2012 thanks in part to the relief work of Marco Grifantini. Prior to pitching for Team Italia in 2013 World Baseball Classic, Grifantini made 53 appearances over four seasons for Cariparma Parma in the Italian Baseball League and posted a 19-4 record with a 1.89 ERA. His impressive performance against the Los Angeles Angels in a 2013 pre-WBC exhibition game in Tempe, Arizona led MLB scouts to scratch their heads in disbelief that Grifantini had been undrafted out of UC Davis five years prior. Immediately following the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Grifantini signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. In his only season playing pro ball for the Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays in 2013, Marco started six games and went 3-2 with a 5.21 ERA. The proud 31-year-old Italian American has since returned to his home in Redding, California. Grifantini said, “I am now starting my career in a local hospital as a pharmacy technician, and I plan on getting married in the summer. As for baseball, I have helped train a few youngsters and plan on coaching  locally to give back to a sport that gave me so much.”

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An elated Marco Grifantini signed a minor league contract with the Blue Jays in 2013.
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The Italian American Baseball Family Tree Grows

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The Italian American Baseball Family is on a mission to strengthen Team Italia and its fan base.

In late 1976 Lou Colabello got an invitation he could not refuse from friend Ed Orizzi, who was looking for a pitcher to help Rimini compete in the Italian Baseball League. It didn’t take long for the left-handed ace from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to regain his pitching form last seen in the 1969 College World Series to lead Rimini to three Italian Series A titles from 1977 to 1984. Putting together a stellar 94-25 record with a 2.99 ERA, the owners of the other IBL teams did not want to see Colabello’s dominance any longer. As a result, the president of the league and owner of the team in Parma implemented a rule that barred American-schooled Italians over the age of 26 from pitching.

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Italian American Lou Colabello pitched for Team Italia against USA at Dodger Stadium in the 1984 Olympics.

After meeting the love of his life Silvana in Rimini and getting married to her in 1981, the Italian American Baseball Family Tree grew its first branch with the birth of their son Chris Colabello in 1983. Lou was invited to play for the Italian national team in 1984, when he would pitch against USA’s Barry Larkin, Will Clark, Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell, Mark McGwire, Cory Snyder and B.J. Surhoff at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

american_italian_roots_postcards-r9c2297463d664483b6c6ab48f30d9bd1_vgbaq_8byvr_512 Fast forward to the first pitch of the 2013 World Baseball Classic warm-up game between Team Italia and the Los Angeles Angels. Halos skipper Mike Scioscia looked out at the sea of Azzurri jerseys and said, “I’m proud to be Italian, and I think everyone on that field is proud of their roots and where they come from.” Then Scioscia asked, “Where’s Sal?” He wanted to know where Sal Varriale was. Sal was the first “oriundo” or immigrant with Italian ancestry recruited by Aldo Notari, the former Italian Baseball Federation President from 1985 to 2000. The Brooklyn native enjoyed a successful playing career in Italy and coached Team Italia in the Olympics from 1992 to 2004.

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Sal Varriale (left) was given the Meritorious Service Award and Mike Scioscia (right) was given the Rawlings Honor Award by the American Baseball Coaches Association at the 2012 ABCA Convention.

Today Sal proudly serves as Director of Parma Baseball and as an international scout for the Cincinnati Reds. The Italian American Baseball Family Roots grew during Notari’s tenure governing the Italian Baseball Federation and it continues to prosper with the addition of MLB’s World Baseball Classic under new president Andrea MarconMike Piazza was recruited by former president Riccardo Fraccari to join Team Italia while visiting Italy in 2002. Jason Grilli and Frank Catalanotto also signed up to play for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC.

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After playing in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Hall of Famer Mike Piazza became Team Italia’s hitting coach.

With Mike Piazza signing on as Team Italia hitting coach for the 2009 World Baseball Classic in Toronto, many notable Italian American MLB players contributed to Team Italia’s surprise 6-2 upset over host Canada. Chris Denorfia went 4-for-4 with three doubles, two runs, two RBI and played great defense. Starting pitcher Dan Serafini picked up the win after middle reliever Chris Cooper kept hitters off balance and closer Jason Grilli secured the 3 1/3 inning save. New Italian American Baseball Family members included Nick Punto, Francisco Cervelli, Adam Ottavino, and Mike Costanzo.

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Chris Colabello and Anthony Rizzo celebrate Italian style after Colabello’s three-run homer against the Dominican Republic in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

After Team Italia defeated Mexico and Canada to advance to the second-round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, they would suffer a 5-4 loss to eventual 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic and demonstrate how its mixed roster of Italian-born players like Alex Liddi and Alessandro Maestri and Italian American MLB-affiliated newcomers Anthony Rizzo, Chris Colabello, Drew Butera and Pat Venditte could compete with international baseball’s elite.

Drew Butera and Frank Catalanotto
Team Italia catcher Drew Butera and coach Frank Catalanotto at the 2013 World Baseball Classic
Chicago Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo was signed in 2010.
Chicago Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo was signed in 2010.

Los Angeles radio deejay and journalist Roberto Angotti could see the writing on the wall and knew something special was happening when he was invited to the Italian Baseball Academy in Tirrenia while visiting family nearby in 2012. Since the day Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy director and Chicago Cubs scout Bill Holmberg signed Italian Baseball Academy graduate Alberto Mineo to the Cubbies in 2010, MLB scouts have scattered around the FIBS-sponsored Baseball Academy like flies hunting down the scent of the next big European prospect. Germany’s most successful player to date–Max Kepler, a product of a similar European Baseball Academy that MLB’s Bill Holmberg frequents in Regensburg and recipient of the Minnesota Twins’ $800,000 signing bonus in 2009, proved to be worth his weight in gold based on his 17 homers and 63 RBI during the 2016 MLB season.

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Italian MLB Academy Director Bill Holmberg (far right) smiles as prospect Marten Gasparini signs a pro baseball contract with the Kansas City Royals in 2013.

San Remo native Alex Liddi, who signed to the Seattle Mariners in 2005 and made his MLB debut in 2011, was inspirational for young Italian ballplayers like Marten Gasparini who dreamed of playing in the Big Leagues. Heralded as the best 5-tool player ever out of Europe, FIBS Academy graduate and MLB prospect Marten Gasparini received a $1.3 million dollar signing bonus from the Kansas City Royals in 2013. The 19-year-old shortstop credits Italian Baseball Academy director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg for his success.

Manager Marco Mazzieri led underdog Team Italia to the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Manager Marco Mazzieri led underdog Team Italia to the second round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri has been synonymous with Italian baseball since his playing days in the 1980’s. During his ten-year tenure as the leader of the Team Italia coaching staff, Mazzieri has made the Italians proud with European Baseball Championship titles in 2010 and 2012. The LA Dodgers recruited Mazzieri to become their scout in 2013. Mazzieri went right to work and wasted no time in signing FIBS Academy graduates Federico Celli and Federico Giordani.

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Courtesy of Italian American Family member/artist Christopher Paluso 

Growing up in Los Angeles as a first generation Italian American Dodgers fan, Roberto Angotti understood the strong connection between Tommy Lasorda and Mike Piazza. From the moment Piazza decided to play for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC, Angotti enlisted to become a soldier on the frontline of the Italian baseball revolution. Roberto became friends with Mike during the two weeks Team Italia spent in Phoenix preparing for the 2013 WBC. When Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda dropped in on Team Italia’s practice at Dodgers’ Spring Training Camp in Glendale to address the team, Angotti pledged his support and worked tirelessy behind-the-scenes to provide daily journals of the team’s activities. Lasorda’s emotionally-driven speech coupled with Piazza’s serious commitment inspired Angotti to share the experience with others through a traveling exhibit paying tribute to Italian American baseball entitled Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball. The exhibition featured sports artists of Italian descent–including James Fiorentino–and paid homage to Team Italia.

MLB Executive VP of Baseball Operations Joe Torre and James Fiorentino
MLB Executive VP of Baseball Operations Joe Torre and Italian American Baseball Family’s James Fiorentino

Featured in the New York Times as well as on ESPN, MSG, and FOX, James Fiorentino is considered one of the world’s best sports artists. Fiorentino became the youngest artist to ever be featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame at age 15 with his portrait of Reggie Jackson. Art seen at JamesFiorentino.com grace the walls of the National Basketball and Cycling Hall of Fames, Ted Williams and Roberto Clemente Museums, National Art Museum of Sport and the Sports Museum of America.

Italian American Baseball Family's Joe Quagliano and Mike Piazza hold James Fiorentino's portrait of the Hall of Famer.
Italian American Baseball Family’s Joe Quagliano presents Mike Piazza a portrait commemorating his induction to the National Baseball of Hall of Fame by world-renowed artist James Fiorentino.

new-logo-fibs The Italian American Baseball Family grew organically when Mint Pros founder Joe Quagliano reached out to Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri and offered his expertise as a pro sports event promoter to raise funds for baseball development in Italy. With the support of FIBS executives Riccardo Fraccari, Marinella Mojoli, Massimo Fochi, Marco Landi and Riccardo Schiroli, Quagliano represented the Italian Baseball Federation with Marco Mazzieri at the National Italian American Foundation 41st Anniversary Gala and joined Mike Piazza at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame 39th Annual Induction & Awards Gala.

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The first annual IBAF/FIBS fundraising event sold out in no time upon its initial announcement.
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The Italian American Baseball Family’s mission includes providing scholarships for athletes at FIBS Academy, a residential program in Italy.

Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto,
Joe Quagliano, James Fiorentino and Roberto Angotti have teamed up for the Italian American Baseball Family Launch and Dinner, the first of many fundraisers to assist in the development of youth baseball in Italy by building and maintaining ball fields, purchasing uniforms and equipment, organizing clinics and supporting FIBS. Like branches on a tree, we grow in different directions yet our Italian family roots remain the same.

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CBS News welcomes Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball to San Diego’s Little Italy

CBS News Anchor Carlo Cecchetto and curator Roberto Angotti discuss baseball.
CBS News Anchor Carlo Cecchetto and exhibit curator Roberto Angotti discuss Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball. (Photo: Donato Resta)

There was no better way to celebrate Phil Rizzuto’s birthday than in the company of San Diego’s finest news crew at CBS Channel 8 and renowned sports artist Christopher Paluso. On September 25th, CBS News Anchor Carlo Cecchetto hosted the grand opening evening celebration of the new exhibition Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball after news reporter Shawn Styles enticed viewers to join him for local favorite Tarantino Sausages and Peroni beer during two live remote broadcasts from the Convivio Center in San Diego’s Little Italy earlier in the day.

Christopher Paluso's illustration of Joe DiMaggio is on display at San Diego's Convivio  Center.
Christopher Paluso’s illustration of Joe DiMaggio is on display through February 1st at the Convivio Center.

The capacity crowd was treated to a live performance by 11-year-old Italian American singing sensation, Isabella Shiff, who recently traveled to Italy to represent her country at the Zecchino d’Oro (Golden Sequin) International Festival of Children’s Song broadcast on Italian TV and won the solo vocalist competition in her age category. Internationally-acclaimed sports artist Christopher Paluso, whose legendary art has graced the walls of the Italian American Sports Museum in Chicago and the San Diego Hall of Champions, mesmerized the audience with nostalgic baseball stories centered around his personal interactions with Joe DiMaggio and other Italian American icons. Attendees read text panels detailing the Italian diaspora and assimilation into American society through baseball before viewing artwork from Christopher Paluso, James Fiorentino, Chris Felix, Vincent Scilla, John Giarizzo, Rob Monte, Zack D’Ulisse, Tom Richmond and Jeremy Nash in addition to photos from Tom DiPace, Rob Cuni and Robb Long.

Curator Roberto Angotti and CBS News reporter Shawn Styles share a laugh after a live interview from Convivio Center
CBS News reporter Shawn Styles and curator Roberto Angotti prepare for a live interview from Convivio. (Photo: Donato Resta)

Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball features Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Tony Lazzeri, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Ernie Lombardi,
Ron Santo, Tommy Lasorda, Tony Conigliaro, Joe Garagiola, Craig Biggio, Tony La Russa, John D’Acquisto, John Montefusco, Ken Caminiti, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto, Frank Menechino, Jason Giambi, Joey Votto, Jason Grilli, Anthony Rizzo, Nick Punto, Chris Denorfia, Drew Butera, Dan Serafini, Alex Liddi, Chris Colabello, Brian Sweeney, Mike Costanzo, and Reid Rizzo. Throughout the exhibit’s exclusive engagement at Convivio, monthly birthday celebrations will feature movies and guest speakers to honor the careers of players and coaches of Italian descent including: Lou Colabello (10/10), Chris Colabello and Sal Varriale (10/24), Nick Punto (11/8), Jason Grilli (11/11), Roy Campanella (11/19), Joe DiMaggio (11/25), Mike Scioscia (11/27), Dave Righetti (11/28), Tony Lazzeri (12/6), Mauro Mazzotti (12/12), Craig Biggio (12/14), Marco Mazzieri (12/20), John D’Aquisto (12/24), Tony Conigliaro (1/7), Jason Giambi (1/8), Kurt Bevacqua (1/23) and Dan Serafini (1/25).

Artist Christopher Paluso and CBS News Anchor Carlo Cecchetto
Christopher Paluso stands next to his Joe Garagiola piece along with CBS News Anchor Carlo Cecchetto.

Christopher Paluso is the official artist for the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum and the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago. His work has included many Italian American baseball players (including DiMaggio, Berra, Lasorda and Piazza) and has appeared on magazine covers, limited edition lithographs, collector plates, baseballs and in museums. Visit http://paluso4art.blogspot.com for a glimpse of his legendary artwork.

Convivio is located at 2157 India St., San Diego
Convivio is located at 2157 India St. in San Diego. http://www.ConvivioSociety.org (619) 573-4140

Support from Italian Ambassador to the U.S. Claudio Bisogniero, FIBS, Team Italia coach Mike Piazza and CBS News has given Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball a great start in San Diego. A special thank you goes out to all who have made this monumental exhibition possible and free to the public.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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