2017 Italian Baseball League Team Profiles

logoIBL_bordoCommencing its 70th season this past weekend, the 2017 Italian Baseball League (IBL) is the talk of the town in Bologna, Rimini, San Marino, Nettuno, Parma, Padova, Novara and Padule Sesto Fiorentino. Eight Italian teams from those regions are divided into two groups of four and will play games every weekend. The top squads from each division will square off in a best-of-five-game series semi-final and final competitions between August 18 and September 9, 2017. Defending champions UnipolSai Bologna, who claimed their 10th IBL title in 2016, will likely show their winning form again in 2017, while new IBL contender, Padule Sesto Fiorentino, is viewed as an outside long shot. Let’s get a closer look at each team’s roster to understand why everyone is so excited about professional baseball in Italy. effeblunews_400x400

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UnipolSai Fortituto Bologna pitcher Nick Pugliese (Photo by Donato Resta/IandI-GoPro.com)

UnipolSai Fortituto Bologna manager Lele Frignani has put together a well-balanced roster of seasoned veterans and up-and-coming stars. The always dependable Roberto Corradini mentors a strong Bologna pitching staff which includes former Boston Red Sox prospect Nicolo Clemente, former Team Italy WBC pitchers Filippo Crepaldi, Luca Panerati and Nick Pugliese, Venezuelan newcomer Raul Garcia Junior, and the American-born duo of Justin Cicatello and Rudy Owens. Azzurri catcher Marco Sabbatani shares the catching duties with veteran Venezuelan backstop, Osman Marval. Bologna boasts a quality infield featuring a pair of Azzurri favorites in first baseman Alex Sambucci and second baseman Alessandro Vaglio as well as two outstanding imports: Venezuelan shortstop Jose Flores, and Dominican third baseman Robel Garcia. Center fielder Paolino Ambrosino, who was the first Italian-born player to participate in the Nicaraguan Professional Baseball League while playing for the 2016-17 Tigres de Chinandega, joins fellow Italians Alessandro Grimaudo and Alex Russo as well as the San Francisco-born Nick Nosti to round out the Bologna outfield.

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UnipolSai Fortitudo Bologna catcher Marco Sabbatani (Photo by Donato Resta/IandI-GoPro.com)

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2016 IBL runner-up Rimini seeks revenge against Bologna this season under the leadership of manager Paolo Ceccaroli. Former LA Dodger prospect Federico Celli teams up with Italian American Nico Garbella, Cuban All-Star Maikel Caseres and Venezuelan Carlos Duran to make up what some believe to be the best outfield in the IBL. Azzurri pitchers Jose Escalona, Carlos Richetti, and Carlos Teran give Rimini depth on the hill. Dominican hurler Jose Rosario and former Marlins Venezuelan prospect Ricardo Hernandez add even more appeal to the Pirates pitching staff. Shortstop Juan Carlos Infante, a name many may recall seeing on the 2013 Team Italy WBC roster, leads a talented crew of infielders including first baseman Daniele Malengo, second basemen Lino Zappone and Freddy Noguera in addition to third baseman Lorenzo Di Fabio. Catchers Gionni Luciani and Antonio Giovannini complement the Rimini roster.

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Rimini shortstop Juan Carlos Infante (Photo by Donato Resta/IandI-GoPro.com)

 

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T&A San Marino GM Mauro Mazzotti has faith that team manager Marco Nanni can bring an IBL championship title to the “most serene republic” sooner than later with a slew of tried and tested athletes hungry for success. Loyal Azzurri players include DH Mario Chiarini, outfielders Sebastiano Poma, Lorenzo Avagnini, and Mattia Reginato as well as pitchers Nick Morreale, Frailyn Florian and Junior Oberto. Former Houston Astros prospect Carlos Quevedo, Andres Perez and Yoimer Camacho are a trio of dangerous Venezuelan pitchers that will try to keep opponents off balance and off the bases. Tomasso Cherubini and Ludovico Coveri complete the San Marino pitching staff. Shortstop Erick Epifano, who played four seasons in the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues as a former MLB prospect, heads up the San Marino infield with the assistance of first basemen Gabriele Ermini and Francesco Imperiali, second basemen Riccardo Babini and Luca Pulzetti in addition to third basemen Leonardo Ferrini. Simone Albanese, Daniele Cenni and Pierangelo Cit divvy up the catching for T&A San Marino.

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T&A San Marino pitcher Junior Oberto (Photo by Donato Resta/IandI-GoPro.com)

NettunoAngel Service Nettuno Baseball City manager Alberto D’Auria will try to get his team of spirited players into the IBL playoffs for the second consecutive season. Former LA Dodgers prospect Federico Giordani joins fellow Italian teammates Ennio Retrosi and Stefano Giannetti as well as Venezuelan Ronald Bermudez and Italian American Nick Davenport in the Nettuno outfield. Shortstop and former Atlanta Braves prospect Mattia Mercuri complements the Nettuno infield along with Dominican-born Omar Luna, Argentine-born Sebastian Fontana and Renato Imperiali at first base, Andrea Sellaroli at second base, and Giuseppe Mazzanti and Leonardo Colagrossi at third base. 25-year-old American import pitcher Ethan Carnes, who pitched three years in the NY Yankees minor league system, makes Angel Service Nettuno an intriguing IBL entry. Other pitchers on the squad include Milvio Andreozzi, Matteo Modica, Yuri Morellini, Valerio Simone, Paolo Taschini, and Venzuelan Ronald Uviedo. Catchers Mario Trinci, Angelo Taurelli and Vinicio Sparagna add strength to the Nettuno roster.

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Nettuno third baseman Giuseppe Mazzanti (Photo by Donato Resta/IandI-GoPro.com

 

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Parma Clima advisor Sal Varriale takes pride in his important role and his invaluable contribution to Italian baseball for the past four decades. Honored by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) with the 2012 ABCA Meritorious Service Award, Varriale was recently acknowledged in Parma when he was awarded The Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Ordine al merito della Repubblica Italiana) and the title of Knight of the Republic (Cavaliere della Repubblica). Entrusting former Team Italy coach and current Parma manager Gilberto Gerali to assemble a competitive squad capable of winning the 2017 IBL Championship title, Varriale is confident the team chemistry in Parma will yield remarkable results on the diamond. Starting with Azzurri faithful Stefano Desimoni in the outfield and Yomel Rivera on the mound, Parma Clima can do no wrong. Recruiting four Venezuelan standouts: former MLB pitcher Eduardo Sanchez (St. Louis Cardinals/Chicago Cubs), shortstop and former LA Dodgers prospect Leon Mirabal, third baseman and former Colorado Rockies/Boston Red Sox prospect Mario Martinez as well as closer Gumercindo Gonzalez plus one Columbian All-Star in third baseman Adolfo Gomez, is no easy task. Combine this international arsenal with the prowess of local players like pitcher Michele Pompani, second baseman Manuel Piazza, third baseman Luca Scalera and outfielder Leonardo Zileri, Parma is destined to be the team to beat in the 2017 IBL playoffs.

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Parma Clima outfielder Stefano Desimoni (Photo by Donato Resta/IandI-GoPro.com)

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In the IBL for its third year, Tommasin Padova manager Francesco Aluff’s team is getting better with age. Perhaps the biggest acquisition since Lenny Randle joined the IBL, Padova recruited former MLB veteran Mark Teahen to come out of retirement to play during the 2017 IBL Season. While vacationing in Italy and working out in Bologna three years ago, the left-handed-hitting utility player expressed interest in playing baseball in the IBL. During his seven-year MLB career, Teahen had 759 hits, including 67 homers, while playing for the Kansas City Royals, the Chicago White Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. Other Padova imports include Venezuelans Roberto Canache, who pitched in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, and infielder Carlos Perdomo as well as Dominican left-handed pitcher Yunior Novoa, who has quality spent time in the minor and independent leagues before landing in Italy. The synergy between Azzurri pitcher Enrico Crepaldi and catcher Elia Marinig provides Padova with an edge over opposing hitters, while Andrea Berini offers extra protection in the outfield with his speed and agility.

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Padova BP pitcher Roberto Tommasin (center) in 2015

novara baseball-2Renny Duarte, who European baseball fans will recall served as the long-time pitching coach for Spain, takes over the managerial duties for Novara. Joining Duarte in the IBL is Team Spain shortstop Oscar Angulo, whose offensive excellence was key to the team’s silver medal finish in the 2016 European Baseball Championship. Led by Azzurri veterans Jairo Ramos and Yovani D’Amico, Novara has an international pitching syndicate featuring Jonathan Aristil from the Dominican Republic and Raul Ruiz from Venezuela in addition to Brent Buffa and Jeremy Castro from the USA. Other players of interest include local pitching favorites Nicolas Loardi and Pietro Paolo Cadoni plus Venezuelan catcher Luis Alvarez and Italian Dominican infielder Nathanael De Jesus. Novara should not be taken lightly as the new skipper Duarte plays to win and his players will follow his lead.

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Novara shortstop Oscar Angulo is powerful at the plate. (Photo by Ezio Ratti/FIBS)

fb-logoPolisportiva Padule Sesto Fiorentino manager Paolo Minozzi knows he has a big job ahead as the leader for the newest addition to the IBL. Former Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Jesus Parra and former Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Carlos Rodriguez, a pair of strong arms from Venezuela, make their IBL debut for Padule Sesto Fiorentino. Minozzi recruited some of the best Italian pitchers available including: Alessandro Ularetti, Marco Costantini, Massimiliano “The Rocket” Geri, Filippo Gandolfi and Matthias Zotti. The catching quartet of Fabio Origlia, Davide Tomaello and Valdemaro Faticanti and Marco Valsecchi will get their fair share of time behind the plate. With first base being anchored by Emiliano Lumini and Samy Ramirez, infielders Marco Labardi, Samuele Reggioli, Manuel Ricci and Livinston Santaniello split the second baseman and shortstop duties. Cubans Yordany Alarcon and Yordany Scull stake their claim to third base and center field respectively, while Nazareno Neri and Rojelio Maldonado round out the Padule outfield. There is no doubt the new kids on the block will experience growing pains throughout season; however, Padule Sesto Fiorentino is a welcome addition to the IBL.

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Pitcher Massimiliano “The Rocket” Geri gives Padule Sesto Fiorentino a boost in the 2017 IBL.

 

 

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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.

Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri reflects on third-place finish in 2016 European Baseball Championship

new-logo-fibs 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. He has worked closely with FIBS in its mission of strengthening the game in Italy and Europe. Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball(FIBS) has been instrumental in developing its own homegrown pool of talent at the FIBS Baseball Academy under the watchful eye of MLB director and Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg.

Kingdom of the Netherlands manager Steve Janssen and Italia manager Marco Mazzieri exchange lineup cards prior to the start of their game in the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (photo courtesy of Enzio /FIBS)
Netherlands manager Steve Janssen and Italia manager Marco Mazzieri shake and exchange
lineup cards in the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
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Italia manager Marco Mazzieri is also the LA Dodgers’ European scout. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)

In preparation of the 2016 European Baseball Championship, Italian Baseball Week showcased three of Europe’s finest: Italia, Spain and the Czech Republic. Despite losing two of the four exhibition games held in Tirrenia and Firenze, the Italians played solid fundamental baseball and used the competition to narrow down their final roster prior to the start of the Euro championship in the Netherlands. Two additional pitchers, Tiago Da Silva and Luis Lugo, caught up with Team Italia in Hoofddorp to bolster the Italian pitching arsenal and to increase the Azzurri’s chances of reclaiming the European throne from the defending Dutch champions.

Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri (center) with coaches Marco Nanni (left) and Alberto D'Auria (right) at the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
Manager Marco Mazzieri (center) with coaches Marco Nanni (left) and Alberto D’Auria (right) at the 2016 European Baseball Championship in the Netherlands. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
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Alessandro Vaglio in the 2013 World Baseball Classic showed great promise under hitting coach Mike Piazza. (Photo courtesy of Donato Resta-IandI-GoPro.com)

During Team Italia’s first three wins against Greece, France and Belgium in the 2016 European Baseball Championship, the Azzurri offense scored a total of 42 runs. Italia then lost a heartbreaker versus second-place finisher Spain when with the score tied 3-3 in the ninth inning the Spanish rallied to win 9-3. The Italians rebounded with gusto by crushing Croatia 22-4 and shutting out Germany 12-0. Team Italia infielder Alessandro Vaglio led all hitters in the 2016 European Baseball Championship with 17 runs scored, while catcher Mattia Reginato hit for the cycle against Greece and also led the Euros in RBI (12). In fact, Team Italia led the tourney in runs (87), hits (99) and batting average (.355).

Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri talks with slugger Alex Liddi during the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri talks with slugger Alex Liddi prior to game against
Spain during the 2016 European Baseball Championship. (Photo courtesy of Ezio Ratti-FIBS)
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Pitcher Luca Panerati in the 2016 European Baseball Championship (Photo courtesy of Claudio Vecchi-FIBS)

Crafty left-hander Luca Panerati, a graduate of the Italian Baseball Academy in Tirrenia and a former Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect, gave quality starts against France and Kingdom of the Netherlands. Closer Nicholas Pugliese was one out away from securing a Team Italia win versus the Dutch when a controversial call at the plate forced the game into extra innings. Notable pitching performances included two by southpaw veteran Junior Oberto, starter against Greece and Germany.

italia-thx-teaser-002 Despite losing 6-5 to Kingdom of the Netherlands in a late night ten inning contest, Team Italia returned less than 12 hours later to defeat the Czech Republic 3-2 in their final game of the 2016 European Baseball Championship. Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri shared his final thoughts with MLBforLife.com at the conclusion of the international competition. Mazzieri said, “We’re very happy the way the players performed throughout the tournament. We battled against each and every team. We played some very good baseball. We only committed two errors in all our games, which is incredible at this level. The guys gave it their all. We lost a heartbreaker to the Netherlands. The way we lost and the ways we battled. I think we deserved to win that game. We only slept a couple hours before our next game because nobody could sleep after that loss. I really don’t know where these guys get the energy to get back in these games and actually win the way we did. They showed a lot to me… Nobody but us expected to see Team Italia with that will, commitment, effort and great attitude throughout the whole game against the Netherlands. We scored two and we were up by two runs in the 8th (inning). The Netherlands came back and tied the score. We were able to find the strength and the energy to get back to score two runs. Sometimes in baseball a bad bounce or a bad call can cost you a game. That’s what happened to us. You are going to win and lose games, but the way you act and the way you perform on the field by what you do in terms of will and approach…it’s something that’s there! So we cannot complain about that… We are very proud and happy that we have this group of guys. I’m proud of a great group of coaches and players that made this journey incredible.”forza-azzurri

Mike Scioscia and Sal Varriale are Italian legends

Sal Varriale and Mike Scioscia were honored for their contributions at the 2012 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Anaheim
Sal Varriale and Mike Scioscia were honored for their great contributions
at the 2012 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Anaheim.
Not even umpires mess with Scioscia.
Even umpires fear Mike Scioscia.
It was a beautiful reunion when Angels’ skipper Mike Scioscia welcomed Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza to Tempe’s Diablo Stadium hours before the start of Italy’s WBC warm-up exhibition game against the LA Angels. Scioscia exclaimed, “Where’s Sal Varriale?” Anyone in the Team Italy circle, especially Piazza, would know if Varriale was in the WBC traveling party since both are synonymous with Italian baseball. The impromptu Italian American coaches reunion would take on even more significance if Sal was in the house since it had been over a year since Scioscia had seen Varriale. The American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) honored Varriale with the Meritorious Service Award and Scioscia with the Rawlings Honor Award at the 2012 ABCA convention in Anaheim. After a hugely successful campaign as a player in Italy, Sal Varriale coached the Italian national team in the 1992-2004 Olympics. He now serves as Director of Parma Baseball and an international scout for the Cincinnati Reds.
Sal Varriale left a job as a Wall Street accountant to become the first  "oriundo" or Italian American to play ball in Italy in 1972.
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1948, Salvatore Varriale left a job as a Wall Street accountant
to become the first “oriundo” or Italian American to play baseball in Italy for Parma in 1972.
american_italian_roots Despite not finding Sal Varriale on this warm March day in Arizona, Scioscia was happy to share his views on the numerous Italian American MLB players on Team Italy and his own Italian family bloodlines. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Italian American, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican or you’re from Georgia,” said Scioscia. “Just like anybody in the game of baseball,
you’re always proud of your heritage and where you’re from and what it represents. I’m proud to be Italian, and I think everyone on that field is proud of their roots and where they come from. I’m just happy I’m in a country where you have a chance to play a game that you’re passionate about like baseball. That doesn’t happen everywhere.”
Cincinnati Reds' scout Sal Varriale originally signed 2009 and 2013 WBC Team Italy pitcher Luca Panerati, who now plays for Japan's Toyama Thunderbirds.
In 2008 Cincinnati Reds scout Sal Varriale signed Team Italy left-handed pitcher Luca Panerati, who played in the 2009 and 2013 WBC but now pitches in Japan for the Toyama Thunderbirds.
Sal Virrale recently signed right-handed pitcher Davide Anselmi, who has been under the watchful eye of Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg at the Italian MLB Academy.
Right-handed pitcher Davide Anselmi, who has been under the watchful eye of Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg at the Italian MLB Academy in Tirrenia, was signed by Cincinnati Reds scout Sal Varriale.
Who could blame Scioscia for thinking Sal Varriale would be nearby since Luca Panerati, originally signed by the Cincinnati Reds Italian scout, was making his second WBC appearance for Team Italy. It seems everyone wants to rub shoulders and be around the MLB talent magnet Varriale, who has been credited with the recent Reds’ acquisitions of Italian RHP Davide Anselmi and Slovakian LHP Jakub Izold after showcasing their talents early on while playing at the MLB European Academy in Tirrenia, Italy. The Cincinnati Reds, the true titans in the European baseball scouting world, received their greatest compliment when the first German-developed MLB player–Donald Lutz–made his big league debut against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 29, 2013.Lutz-Twitter

Italian managers Mike Scioscia and Bobby Valentine
Italian managers Mike Scioscia and Bobby Valentine are big proponents of baseball’s international reach.
Asked before the Angels exhibition game if he would join Italy’s WBC coaching staff in the future, Scioscia responded favorably. “I’d be happy to. Let’s see how this game turns out today. I don’t want to get my butt kicked, and then join the team that beat us (laughter). I would love it.
I went over there and did clinics in Italy. The passion is there, and hopefully the resources will catch up. A guy like (Alex) Liddi comes over and plays in the major leagues. That’s a huge boost for international baseball, European baseball and in particular Italian baseball.”
Everyone in the Mariners' clubhouse watched as Alex Liddi went  2-for-3 with a double, a two-run home run and 3 RBI against the Angels on March 5, 2013.
Everyone in the Mariners’ clubhouse watched Alex Liddi have a big day against Mike Scioscia’s
Angels in Tempe. The first Italian-born-and-developed MLB player went 2-for-3 with a double,
a two-run home run and 3 RBI in the WBC warm-up exhibition game for Italy on March 6, 2013.
Just as Sal Varriale proudly wore the Italia jersey early in his coaching career, the time is right for Mike Sciscia to follow his lead.
Just as Sal Varriale proudly wore the Italia jersey during his coaching career, the time is right for Angels’ skipper Mike Scioscia to follow his lead.
With the Angels’ 12-6 victory over Team Italy in the WBC exhibition game, Mike Scioscia need not worry about coaching the team that beat him in 2013 Spring Training. At the conclusion of the post-season when the Angels come out on top, he can approach owner Arte Moreno with a clear conscience and ask permission to join the Team Italy coaching staff for the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Now in his 14th season as the Angels’ manager and under contract through 2018, Scioscia is the longest tenured manager in Major League Baseball. His stature would not only instill confidence in Team Italy to become a baseball superpower, but also propel MLB International to give Europe the necessary tools to become fertile ground for a slew of top international prospects like Italian Marten Gasparini.
Marten Gasparini is expected to receive a million dollar signing bonus from interested MLB teams.
Marten Gasparini is expected to receive a million dollar signing bonus from a MLB team.
Although the Dominican Republic and Venezuela are favored by MLB international scouts, 16-year-old switch-hitting shortstop Marten Gasparini–Europe’s top amateur prospect from the Italian MLB Academy–is making scouting officials think twice about the emerging baseball market in Italy. The last European prospect to garner as much interest from MLB teams was Max Kepler, a German outfielder who signed with Minnesota in 2009 for a European-record $800,000 and entered 2013 as the Twins’ #10 prospect. Considered by many scouting officials to be one of the best international prospects and possibly the finest European prospect ever, Gasparini is projected to receive a $1 million plus signing bonus when the 2013-14 international signing period opens in July.
Donato Resta and Sal Varriale at a recent Parma baseball game
Donato Resta and Sal Varriale take in the view from the VIP section at a recent IBL Parma Baseball game.

Without Aldo Notari, the former Italian Baseball Federation President (from 1985-2000) who recruited the first “oriundo”, there would not be a place in the European baseball history books for Sal Varriale. It was the Parma-born Notari’s persistence of not accepting “no” for an answer from the Brooklyn native Varriale that changed the face of Italian baseball forever. Now it’s time to apply the pressure on another great Italian American baseball mind from the East Coast and ask for the benefit of the game that he coach Italy in the 2017 WBC. It won’t be long before Sal Varriale begins to ask: “Where’s Mike Scioscia?”logoIBL_bordo

Italy calls on pitcher Alex Maestri in 2013 World Baseball Classic win-or-go-home showdown

Pitcher Alex Maestri is representing Team Italy for the fourth time in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Starting pitcher Alex Maestri is representing Italy
for the fourth time in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
The first Italian-born pitcher signed
by MLB is experiencing a renaissance. The two-time MiLB All-Star spent five seasons in the Chicago Cubs system. Alex Maestri later ventured Down Under, where he would be named 2011 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Team World All-Star and given the inaugural ABL Fan Choice Award. When I first met the 27-year-old right-hander at the Italian MLB Academy near Pisa last year, he told me that the Kagawa Olive Guyners wanted him to pitch in Japan. He took on the the role of the team’s closer and was a knock out from day one. In each of the two months he played for Kagawa in 2012, he was named the indy league’s pitcher of the month.

Closer Alessandro Maestri was not afraid to show his winning Italian spirit by striking out Jayson Nix to beat Team U.S.A. for the first time in 21 years during the 2007 Baseball World Cup on November 9, 2007.
Closer Alessandro Maestri was not afraid to show his Italian winning spirit by striking out Jayson Nix to beat Team USA for the first time in 21 years during the 2007 Baseball World Cup hosted by Chinese Taipei.
On July 9, 2012, Maestri’s contract was purchased by the Orix Buffaloes of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) League. He worked diligently to advance from the farm team to the top-ranked league in Japan. In his NPB debut for the Orix Buffaloes, the international baseball ambassador from Italy pitched 6.1 innings to earn his first victory while allowing just one run with four hits and striking out five. He went on to dominate in the NPB and made seven more starts for the 2012 Orix Buffaloes. Posting a 4-3 record with a 2.17 ERA,
Alex Maestri averaged nearly one strikeout per inning
(49.2 innings/40 K). He was equally impressive during his 2011/12 ABL campaign. The Brisbane Bandits pitcher finished third in the ABL in innings pitched (63.2) and strikeouts (53), fourth in WHIP (1.16) and sixth in ERA (3.25). In Round Eight of the regular season, he earned Australian Baseball League Pitcher of the Week honors after throwing a stellar complete game two-hitter against the Canberra Cavalry.
Alex Maestri pitched for the Brisbane Bandits during the 2011/12 ABL season.
Alex Maestri pitched for the Brisbane Bandits during the 2011/12 ABL season.
wbc_logo Team Italy starting pitcher Alex Maestri faces Team Puerto Rico today at 7pm (EST) in a win-or-go-home showdown televised live on the MLB Network from Marlins Park in Miami. He and his fellow Italian teammates are ready to show the world that the defending European Champions are loaded with talent ready to lock and load in the competitive 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Roberto: Welcome back to the USA!
Alex Maestri: How are doing Roberto? It’s nice to talk to you. I’m feeling good. It’s been a long journey coming here. Everything is good. I’m glad to be with the Italian national team now. I’m looking forward to this WBC tournament and this year coming up.

Roberto: After your successful campaign for the Japan Professional League’s Orix Buffaloes, the team has really stepped up its efforts in recruiting players from overseas.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you know, every year the team signs foreign players. This year we got seven so we’re probably going to have to rotate. That’s stuff that I can’t control, but it’s going to be fun. The team looks very good. We have a lot of Japanese players that are pretty good and young so I think it’s going to be an exciting year.

Roberto: Did you enjoy the food in Japan?
Alex Maestri: The food there is great. It’s so good. I heard good things about Japanese food before I went there, and when I got there I really appreciated it. Their cuisine is not all about sushi like we think. That’s what I thought too before I went there, but they actually have a huge variety of good food. It’s all very, very good.

Roberto: Did you find a good plate of pasta there?
Alex Maestri: Actually, you know what, they are very good at cooking pasta too. They can reproduce everything very well. They are very good at learning about other cultures and making it theirs.

Roberto: The Japanese have the longest life span. So they must be doing something right.
Alex Maestri: They are doing a lot of things right.

Roberto: Your Japanese YouTube video is amazing. Have you ever been in the spotlight like that before?
Alex Maestri: Not at all. That was like the first time. After the game, the player of the game gets interviewed in front of the fans in the stadium and put on the big screen. My debut was actually a great game. I got to do that right on the field. It was cool. This fan had this Italian flag with him, and he came all the way close to the dugout. He passed the flag to one of the reporters who gave it to me. So it was good, it was good seeing the colors of Italy in Japan.
I was very proud too to represent those colors in a good way.

Roberto: It almost had an Olympic feel to it.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you see those gold medal runners walking around the track with their flags. I was just standing around though. It was a really a weird day. I really didn’t feel uncomfortable. I really didn’t know what was going on.

Roberto: It must have been an adrenalin rush.
Alex Maestri: It was during the game. Afterwards, I was just relaxed and happy. I was done pitching, and we won the game.milbRoberto: Tell me about what you remember most about playing Minor League Baseball.
Alex Maestri: I was here in the states for six years, and five of those six years were with the Cubs. I have a lot of great memories with that team. The game that I remember the most was a Cubs Spring Training game, and I was with the big league team against the A’s. They gave me one inning, and it was pretty good.
Roberto: And you got to face Italian American Jason “Giambino” Giambi.
Alex Maestri: Actually Giambi is the only one who actually got a hit off me. I faced four guys, and three (Orlando Cabrera, Matt Holliday and Eric Chavez) of the four were strikeouts.
Roberto: Since he is Italian, were you giving him a free pass to first base?
Alex Maestri: (Laughing) Yeah, I guess so.

Italian American Jason "Giambino" Giambi was the only A's hitter to get on base versus Alex Maestri.
Italian American Jason “Giambino” Giambi was the only A’s hitter to get on base against pitcher Alex Maestri in a 2009 Chicago Cubs Spring Training game under Cubbie manager Lou Pinella.
Roberto: Let’s talk about the development of baseball in Italy. Is playing on Team Italia like serving in the Italian military and serving your country?
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I mean in Italy we have a lot of good players. It’s a shame that there is not much money supporting baseball so it’s not easy to develop guys. But we have the Italian MLB Academy now, and you know it’s doing very good. There are some young players that are doing some really nice work. And there’s more and more scouts going down there to look at them. It’s a pleasure for me to represent the country all over the world. And even if I just play for myself on the team that I play with, I always play for my colors, I’m always proud of that.
Alessandro Maestri with Italian teammates Pat Venditte, Luca Panerati and Alessandro Vaglio.  (Photo by Michele Gallerani/FIBS)
Alessandro Maestri with Italian teammates Pat Venditte, Luca Panerati and Alessandro Vaglio during a break while at Oakland A’s Minor League facility. (Photo by MG-Oldmanagency / FIBS)
Roberto: Forza Italia! Forza Azzurri!
Alex Maestri: Yeah, per sempre Forza Azzurri!

Roberto: You don’t take any prisoners when you pitch, and you proudly wear your colors on your sleeve. It shows that you pour your heart and soul every time you step on the mount to throw.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I think that’s what you have to do on the mound. You’re not always going to succeed. But that’s the attitude you’ve got to have to pitch.

Roberto: Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg has changed the mindsets of many on this staff for the better.
Alex Maestri: Bill has been my pitching coach forever. He has known me since I was a kid And you know I started working with him when I was 18-year-old and started to go to the Italian MLB Academy. But even before that he was working with me. He’s my main pitching coach. I always try to go the Academy during the offseason and have a few workouts with him. I really like the way he teaches pitching. I think everybody, all the pitchers that get to work with him, they appreciate his work.

Roberto: He was the one who wrote your name on a scouting report for the Chicago Cubs, and the next thing you know you were signed to MLB.
Alex Maestri: At the time he was an international scout for the Chicago Cubs, and you know I was doing pretty good. I was young and I was doing good for my team. And he said that he was going to take a chance and sign me. He said that I could make the Big Leagues. He really believed in me. He gave me a great opportunity to come over and gave me a chance to play in the states.

Pitching coach Bill Holmber and hitting coach Mike Piazza (Michele Gallerani / FIBS)
Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg and hitting coach Mike Piazza (MG-Oldmanagency / FIBS)
Roberto: Mike Piazza could be doing else, but instead he chooses to with you as the hitting coach for Team Italy.
Alex Maestri: We really love that. It’s great to have him around in the dugout. He’s like doing this for fun. He enjoys working with us… That’s why we appreciate it so much. I think he is positively influencing the program that we have. The fact that the team is winning and improving proves it. So that’s why he keeps coming back.

Roberto: Coach Piazza helps pitchers as well, right?
Alex Maestri: Oh definitely. We always have meetings in the morning.. He comes in with Bill and always says his opinion on our pitching. He was one of the best catchers in the game so he obviously knows a lot about pitching too. It’s just great having him around.

Roberto: Being the underdog, Team Italy plays like there is no tomorrow.
Alex Maestri: I guess it’s kind of normal since baseball is not so developed in Italy. People don’t really respect Italian baseball, but you know it’s kind of like the fun part of playing. Nobody really thinks that we are strong. But I think we are a very good team actually, and we should again surprise a lot of people around the world.

Roberto: It this also an opportunity to play on the world’s stage to show MLB what they missed out on?
Alex Maestri: I don’t think I have to have any sort of revenge, I just want to play good for myself and my country. I was here in the states, and they gave me a great opportunity to play here. I had a lot of great experiences here so it’s not like I’m mad at anybody. Things just went that way. I had a tough year in 2010 so it’s normal that I got released. You know I’m still playing baseball. I’ve got a great opportunity now in Japan. I just love what I do so like I said before I am just going to play for my country and not for anybody else.

Roberto: You look healthy and happy. With this Italian team playing to win, I know you are going to give it your all.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I think a few years back, the Italian national team just went out playing a few tournaments to kind of like participate. But now with manager Marco Mazzieri, you have a very good attitude and it rubs off on all the players. Now you have a very strong group that won two European Championships back-to-back. And now everybody is starting to feel confident about themselves. And in baseball that’s what is about—confidence. You know we got ability so we need to be confident and just go out there and play baseball.

Team Italy pitcher Alex Maestri was once regarded as having the best slider in the Cubs organization.
Alex Maestri had some serious movement on his arsenal of pitches in the 2009 WBC.
Roberto: You have a wicked slider which was once regarded as one of the best in the entire Chicago Cubs organization.
Alex: I’ve got my pitches like everybody else. I just got to keep working on them and make them as confusing as I can for hitters.

Roberto: In prior in WBC competitions, you have been stellar. I hope that you will continue to shine in the upcoming 2013 WBC.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you know, that’s the plan. We always try to do our best. And that’s what I’m trying to do this time around. Right now I’m getting ready and going day-by-day. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely give my best effort.

Roberto: Are there any players in the WBC that you know from you days in MiLB?
Alex Maestri: The only guys that I remember is catcher Chris Robinson from Canada. We were in the same organization. We never really played together. I have played against many of the USA players like Mike (Giancarlo) Stanton and Jonathan Lucroy. It’s cool facing them again in the World Baseball Classic.

Roberto: Every pitch has to count with the WBC pitch limits in place.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, that’s kind of like the plan every time you go out. You know it’s a team sport so everybody is going to have do his own thing. I know that I will do my part with my pitching, but once I’m done with my pitches then there is someone else coming in to take over. We just all have to do this together, and it’s going to be touch. We’re playing the best teams in the world, and it’s going to be hard work. So we’re going to have to be really focused.

Roberto: You have to execute.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you’ve got to be able to execute and if you don’t you just lose games. That’s why we play this game. You know, we enjoy that part of it.

Italia pitcher Alessandro Maestri will face Team Canada in the WBC. (Michele Gallerani / FIBS)
Italia pitcher Alessandro Maestri beat Canada in the 2013 WBC. (MG-Oldmanagency / FIBS)

Roberto: What does it mean to be an Italian playing baseball?
Alex Maestri: I just started to play baseball because of my brother. At the time I wasn’t really watching any baseball on TV. I started doing that later on, but it was cool seeing all those guys with Italian names written on the back of their jerseys. I just grew up hoping that one day that I would be able to take their place.

Roberto: With the influx of MLB players now joining Team Italy, how will it change the personality of La Squadra Azzurri.
Alex Maestri: I think it’s going to be the same. We have a good personality now. Those players are going to definitely improve the level. Because obviously they are Big League players and they have more experience than we do. It’s going to make the team better, but I don’t think it will change the personality of the team.

Roberto: You are representing Italy on all corners of the earth wherever you compete.
Alex Maestri: I feel like it. I always travel the world and play baseball in different countries. But my roots are always with me so I feel very proud of that. I’m sure all the other guys feel proud of that too—even the Big League players that are going to play for us. We already had a bunch of them in the World Baseball Classic, and they play as hard as we do. They want to win, and it’s just going to be great to do it all together.

Alex Liddi and Alex Maestri
Migliori Amici Alex Liddi and Alessandro Maestri

Roberto: Any favorites? Has the Dodgers’ Nick Punto lived up to his name as the shredder by tearing the jersey off walk-off heroes after Team Italy victories?
Alex Maestri: I don’t know about Punto, but another guy who had an unbelievable WBC tournament was Chris Denorfia. At the tournament, he really gave everything he had. He made some great plays defensively and had some clutch hits so it’s going to be good to see him again. Jason Grilli has been with us for the first two World Baseball Classics. He’s just a great guy. He loves to come and play for us. Alex Liddi, of course, is one of my best friends.
I haven’t seen him in a long time. I saw him the other day, and it was just great seeing him again. He’s really family. I feel like his brother. And all the other guys that are going to come are going to be very welcome.

Roberto: You will be in the capable hands of catchers Drew Butera from the Minnesota Twins and Tyler LaTorre from the San Francisco Giants. Have you ever worked with them before?
Alex Maestri: Actually not. I haven’t had the pleasure to work with them yet. It’s going to happen in the WBC.RizzoRoberto: Since you were in the same organization as the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, it will be sort of a Cubbie reunion with two Italians on the same team.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I heard really a lot of good things about him. We both played for the same organization so it will be good.

Roberto: Anything else you would like to say before we sign off?
Alex Maestri: I’d like to say hi to everybody. I would like to thank the great people all over the world. I really enjoy what I’m doing now. I might not be enjoying this for the past seven years if it had not been for them. Thanks!

Roberto: I really enjoyed meeting you at the Italian MLB Academy and talking with you today here in Arizona prior to the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Thanks for your time!
Alex: Thank you very much, and thank you for the work you do for Team Italy. It’s good to have somebody who really cares about this team and tries to promote the team as much as you do. Thank you for doing that.
Roberto: Thank you. It’s my pleasure. I believe in you and Italian baseball. God bless Italia! italy colors