Commencing 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.
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.
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.
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.
Angel 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.
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.
In the IBL for its third year, Tommasin Padova manager Francesco Aluffi’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.
Renny 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.
Polisportiva 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 Nazzareno 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.