Roberto Angotti interviews Kansas City Royals’ Italian Ambassador and MLB prospect Marten Gasparini

kansas-city-royals-logo-11-wall-poster-rp1377 Nick Leto, manager of the Kansas City Royals’ Arizona Operations, is worth his weight in gold for not only signing 17-year-old Italian MLB prospect Marten Gasparini but also for his outstanding work as a minor league affiliate leader. The recent recipient of the organization’s Matt Minker Award after eight years of dedicated service, Leto is critical to the success of the Major League Spring Training in Surprise and the Kansas City’s Rookie League affiliates. It was Leto who recommended Gasparini to the organization after seeing the speedy switch-hitting shortstop in Italy. Having spent much time working at the Italian MLB Academy in Tirrenia in 2006 and 2007, Nick had close connections with former Chicago Cubs’ international scout and FIBS Academy director Bill Holmberg. So when word got out that a very special player was training and developing under Holmberg’s watchful eye, Leto had a distinct Italian famiglia advantage over all MLB suitors.

Italian MLB Academy director Bill Holmberg (far right) smiles as Marten Gasaparini inks his $1.3 million dollar signing bonus contract with the Kansas City Royals
Italian MLB Academy director Bill Holmberg (far right) smiles as Marten Gasparini inks his $1.3 million dollar signing bonus contract with the Kansas City Royals.

Marten Gasparini was the first European baseball player to sign a contract in excess of $1 million dollars when the Royals signed him in 2013. Heralded by Baseball America as “quite possibly Europe’s best prospect ever”, he is the real deal. After starting with 2014 Rookie League Burlington, Marten played his final four games with Idaho Falls and went 5-for-11 with a home run and three RBI. With six stolen bases in 23 games, Marten Gasparini is a natural-born athlete. marten-transport-ltd-logo
Roberto: You have some Jamaican roots, with your mom being of West Indian descent living in London, and your father being Italian. In both cultures, family is very important and is the foundation for everything.

Marten Gasparini: Yes, it is. I don’t know know much about Jamaica because my mom and I have never been there. But in Italy…absolutely family is the biggest thing, and nothing is more important than family.

Roberto: You began playing stickball when you were eight-years-old and picked up your first baseball bat at age 10, correct?

Marten Gasparini: Yeah, like for fun with my friends. I used to watch baseball movies and read books and newspapers about the game. Everybody loves America, you know. America is famous throughout the whole world. American sports are famous…baseball, basketball, football. They are kind of attractive. I wanted to try it and see how it would turn out.

Roberto: Did you always play shortstop or with the speed you that you possess and are blessed with did you find playing centerfield gave you more versatility? Did FIBS Academy Director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg have a big influence on you while playing for the Italian National team at the various levels?

Marten Gasparini: He has been a positive influence on me and has put me at shortstop because he always thought that was the best position for me to play. I can play in the outfield and that’s where I played my first workout with the Italian National Under 18 team. That was because I was young and they needed players with more experience at that position.

Marten Gasparini in 2012 at the 18 and Under Baseball World Championship in Seoul
Marten Gasparini in 2012 photo at the 18 and Under Baseball World Championship in Seoul.

Roberto: Playing with the Italian National team in Seoul, South Korea and Chihuahua, Mexico must have impacted you personally and professionally as you became a more confident and mature ballplayer.

Marten Gasparini: It was nice. It’s always nice to see different cultures, meet different people from other countries and see how life is over there. It was fun and interesting for me to get to see all these countries. It’s obviously been helpful for me to be a part of these international tournaments.

Roberto: The spotlights were on you.

Marten Gasparini: Exactly. It was exciting and a very important experience for me.

Roberto: Having been on that international stage, has that prepared you now ay you ascend up in the minor leagues with desire to become a major league ballplayer?

Marten Gasparini: I think it is different because when you play for your national team it just because of the pride you have got for the team. You want your team to win when you want your country to have success in these types of tournaments. But here (in Arizona) it’s obviously a game but you have to do if for a job. Any you look forward (to the future). It’s like a project. It’s a path you have to go into. It’s not that important to play hard now if you keep healthy, but maybe in some international tournaments you have to give all you got in a short period of time. I think this is the biggest difference.

Roberto: You have some personal favorite players in Derek Jeter, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. What do these players have that has resonated in your heart to make you desire to be at their level?

Marten Gasparini: Derek Jeter is such a professional player and he is a legend. He became a legend for a team like the Yankees coming from the bottom. He was raised by them, and he became their captain. That’s something that everybody would like to be for their organization. I like the excitement that Kemp and Puig can bring to the table when they play. They are very athletic and explosive players. I like the way they play the game.

Roberto: After visiting the Italian MLB Academy and watching you play with some of the best European prospects, I came to realize the potential of baseball outside of the U.S. Do you think Italy cam be one of the best emerging markets for the game?

Marten Gasparini: We’ve been working a lot to make things possible. I think there are more players to come. There have already been some players that have been signed by professional teams, and I think that I can be a big part of it.

Roberto: Watching Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic must have been inspirational to you. Did you wear your pride on your sleeve during the competition?

Marten Gasparini: Yes. We were at the Italian Academy in Tirrenia watching the games. We were all watching the TV and not missing a minute or a pitch. We were all super excited when the games ended in our favor over Mexico and Canada. It was one of the most amazing feelings I have ever had.

Roberto: While working out at the Italian Academy, you had frequent visits from Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza.

Marten Gasparini: I didn’t really get to know him well. Just having him there with Bill Holmberg was amazing. I know that they are very close friends. Just having a person like him coming down to watch us play is an honor for me.

Roberto: Mike Piazza wants to give back to the game in Italy in honor of his heritage.

Marten Gasparini: He has pride in his origins and this is a good thing that everybody should have.

Roberto: What are your personal goals now that you have reached the professional level with the Kansas City Royals?

Marten Gasparini: It was my expectation and in my plan to go pro since I started playing baseball to be this type of player and achieve these results. I’m very happy to be here. I’m blessed to be here. Now I just have to keep working.

2014 Burlington Royals shortstop Marten Gasparini, center, is tended to by trainer Saburo Hagihara and manager Tommy Shields after he was struck in the face by a thrown ball which nearly broke his nose.
2014 Burlington Royals shortstop Marten Gasparini is examined by trainer Saburo Hagihara and manager Tommy Shields after being struck in the face by a thrown ball which nearly broke his nose and put him on the disabled list.

Roberto: What does it mean to be a part of the Kansas City Royals family with the rich history of great all-stars that have come out of the franchise?

Marten Gasparini: I think the Royals are one of the greatest organizations in all of sports. I’m very happy to be a part of it. I think I’m with the greatest group of people that I could choose. Of course, their history speaks for itself just by saying the name George Brett and the kind of player he was. He has been a very important part of the baseball game history.

Roberto: Coincidentally, the Royals and Team Italia share the same color uniforms. You couldn’t have predicted a better outcome.

Marten Gasparini: Maybe a coincidence?

Roberto: Or more like by design..

Marten Gasparini: Yes!

Roberto: Showing up at the Royals Instructional Camp in Arizona. You must have met a melting pot of cultures from the Caribbean and South America who share the same passion for baseball.

Marten Gasparini: There is even a Korean player. I think the Royals have always been doing a great job of signing international players. We have here a great group of international players that have pride and passion for the game.

Alex Liddi, the first Italian-born-and-developed player to make it to MLB, is currently competing for a Kansas City Royals organization.
Alex Liddi recently played for Team Italia in the 2014 European Baseball Championship and is competing for a Kansas City Royals roster spot.

Roberto: Do you hope to become a role model for Italian baseball players wo have the same dream to play professionally as Alex Liddi did by being the first Italian-born-and-developed player to make it to the Big Leagues? What do you and Alex Liddi have in common?

Marten Gasparini: He already achieved the feat to become a Major League baseball player. I still have to work my way to get there. But if I can say something. We both might be good examples for young players in Italy to believe in their dreams and believe in themselves. Just for them to work hard and be what they want to be.

Roberto: Let’s predict the 2017 Team Italia WBC lineup and say that both you and Liddi play the infield next to each at shortstop and third base. That must be on your mind.

Marten Gasparini: It is absolutely… I’m looking forward to it. It will be a great honor for me to play in that tournament with Alex Liddi and Mike Piazza on the coaching staff. But like I said I have to work hard and to focus to get there.

Roberto: Have you ever thought of how it have been for you had you would have been invited to play shortstop for Team Italia in the 2013 WBC?

Marten Gasparini: I don’t think I would have been ready to go there. I have respect for the shortstop that played for Team Italia. It wasn’t easy for anybody to play in that kind of tournament. It was the first-time for many of the Italian players who had no international or major league experience. That is just something that happens. I don’t know how I would have dealt the emotions and everything. I still think that Italy has done a great job in the World Baseball Classic. It’s just the first of years to come. I think we will have a very good team in the next World Baseball Classic.

Roberto: Enough respect to Team Italia shortstop Anthony Granado. We love you like pasta. It was commendable for him to step up in the WBC.

Marten Gasparini: I think that he was a great player.

Roberto: It’s just how the game goes. Baseball is a game of chance and strategy. Where the ball bounces, nobody knows… Despite many of the players just meeting for the first-time in the WBC, Team Italia played like a family as if they had been playing together for years.

Marten Gasparini: That shows the pride that these players have for their origins. It’s nice to know that people have respect for Italia.

Roberto: You were raised in a part of Italy near the Slovenian border. What was that like?

Marten Gasparini: It really didn’t influence my life. I’m pretty far from it. But I’m still in a region that also has multi-cultural roots. It is near Slovenia and Austria so you can see and hear people talking in German, Slovenian and Italian as well. So it’s kind of a multi-cultural region.

Roberto: You spent a lot of time in London with family as well.

Marten Gasparini: Yes, with my mother’s mother and her brothers and sisters.
291603__bob-marley_tRoberto: So you must have had some Jamaican reggae music influence?

Marten Gasparini: Yes. I like reggae music. I’m not really a good dancer, but we could see the Jamaican roots.

Roberto: As Bob Marley did in promoting reggae internationally, you are doing the same thing for baseball in Italy and Europe.

Marten Gasparini: I’m honored to have the opportunity to do that and represent my country in that way.

Roberto: What kind of music are you listening to now in America?

Marten Gasparini: Maybe some rap or some deejays with electronic music. It’s very popular here so I just get into the mood and listen to the beat.

Roberto: Did you learn about Italian American icon Joe DiMaggio growing up?

Marten Gasparini: Joe DiMaggio was more popular in Italy for his marriage to Marilyn Monroe than a baseball player. But obviously baseball wise he’s one of main parts of Italian baseball history. We’re very proud of having him. He’s just one of many Italian American players that made this sport so great.

Roberto: And his visit to Nettuno only confirmed how big of an impact Americans had on baseball’s growth in Italy.

Marten Gasparini: Obviously Nettuno was the biggest thing for baseball in Italy when the Americans introduced the game during World War II. But also near where I live in Trieste the Americans were there too teaching baseball to us Italians.

Roberto: Are you learning any other languages so that you can continue to teach others the game?

Marten Gasparini: I have translated for American coaches coming over to talk to Italian teams. Right now I’m learning how to speak Spanish so that I can help some of the Latin players. A lot of the players here have been friendly and have asked me to help them learn some words in Italian and how to speak the language. It’s very hard for them to understand it, but I’m trying to do my best.

Marten Gasparini went 3-for-3 with a three-run homer in the Rookie League Idaho Falls Chukars' 2014 finale.
Marten Gasparini slides safely into third base after going 3-for-3 with a three-run homer
for the Kansas City Royals Rookie League affiliate Idaho Falls Chukars in their 2014 finale.

Roberto: You are blessed with speed. Have you have always been gifted to be the leader of the pack?

Marten Gasparini: Yes. Since I have been in school, I have always been one of the fastest in my class. I had fun showing off my speed by playing games and playing soccer. I have always had fun running fast.

Roberto: In baseball your mind has to be in the present one pitch at a time rather than daydreaming about the future.

Marten Gasparini: That’s the mindset that every player has to have if you want to have success. You have to work. Like I have been told it’s a grind, and it’s not easy for anybody. But you have to keep working and keep your mind focused on what you have to do in order to have success.

Roberto: What advice do you have for all the young players aspiring to become professional ballplayers?

Marten Gasparini: You just got to have fun. Keep in mind your dreams and remember to be professional by playing the game in a professional way. Most importantly enjoy…

Roberto: Any words for Bill Holmberg, director of the Italian Academy and the people behind the scenes at FIBS?

Marten Gasparini: Thank you very much for all the things you have done for me. I appreciate it a lot. I will always keep you in my thoughts, especially all the things that you have taught me. It’s still a big part of my mindset every day.

Italia manager Marco Mazzieri chats with Roberto Angotti at the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship

After two consecutive  European Baseball Championship titles in 2010 and 2012, Team Italia had to settle for the Silver Medal in 2014.
After two consecutive European Baseball Championship titles in 2010 and 2012, Italia placed second after a heartbreaking 6-3 loss to 2014 Euro Champion the Netherlands.
Roberto Angotti interviews Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri at the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship (Photo courtesy of IandI-GoPro.com).
Roberto Angotti interviews Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri at the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship (Photo courtesy of IandI-GoPro.com).

Roberto: It’s a pleasure seeing you again after over a year. It’s quite an honor to be with you at the 2014 European Baseball Championship. Thank you for taking time out to talk.

Marco Mazzieri: Thank you. We enjoyed our last experience in the World Baseball Classic with you so that’s why it was no problem doing this.

Roberto: Did you feel confident or did you have butterflies in your stomach when you faced your strongest opponent, the Netherlands, for the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship?

Marco Mazzieri: Well I think you always have butterflies in your stomach when you face competition like this and most of all when you wear the Italia jersey on your chest. With that being said, we knew it was going to be a very, very tough European Championship because all the teams got a lot better than in the past. We knew that this bracket was going to be tough so we came prepared. With good preparation after 10 days in Verona, where we played Italian Baseball Week against Spain and the Czech Republic, we are very happy with the guys we put together even though we are playing with younger players than in the past. As you can probably see, we have a lot of our products of our Italian Baseball Academy on this team.
Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri (second from left) with bench coach Marco Nanni (far left) prior to the Netherlands game on September 20, 2014 at Draci Ballpark in Brno, Czech Republic (Photo courtesy of Mister-Baseball.com).
Italia manager Marco Mazzieri (second from left) with bench coach Marco Nanni (far left)
prior to the Netherlands game on September 20th during the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship
held at Draci Ballpark in Brno, Czech Republic (Photo courtesy of Mister-Baseball.com).
Most of Team Italia's  players are graduates of the Italian Baseball Academy.
Most of Team Italia’s young players are graduates of the Italian Baseball Academy in Tirrenia, which is under the watchful eye of MLB director Bill Holmberg.

Roberto: And you are very proud of all of them after they have spent so much time under your guidance and that of Italian Baseball Academy director Bill Holmberg. Considering these players are a work-in-progress, it must be rewarding to see them perform in pressure situations.

Marco Mazzieri: I believe a player is never a finished product, so for these kids to be here is a tremendous experience. Hopefully they will pick it up a couple notches. They need to start walking with their own feet now. By playing competitive games, it will help them get to the next level.

Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg visits with Roberto Angotti in the dugout (Photo courtesy of IandI-GoPro.com).
Bill Holmberg, Team Italia pitching coach and Italian Academy MLB director, visits with Roberto Angotti in the dugout (Photo courtesy of IandI-GoPro.com).

Roberto: You must also be proud of the Italian Baseball Academy graduates who are now representing Team Italia.

Marco Mazzieri: I am proud of all the guys we have right now. We’re proud of Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo, Royals prospect Marten Gasparini and all those guys we have there in MLB. I think it’s to the Italian Baseball Academy’s credit with all the work Bill Holmberg is putting into this project that we see results. It’s something we’re proud of, and we hope there are more in the future.

Roberto: You also invited Alberto Mineo along with Reds pitching prospect Davide Anselmi to Team Italia Spring Training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida.

Marco Mazzieri: Yes, we did. In fact, Alberto looked very good back at the time in February and now seeing him seven months later he looks even better as you can tell.

Roberto: Having seen Alberto when he first reported to Cubs Spring Training Camp in Arizona a couple years ago as compared to how he is today is remarkable. He has matured immensely and his body physique has filled in.  The confidence that he exudes now at the plate now is impressive. I know you have worked diligently with him to become the player that he is today. You must be like a proud father to him now.

Marco Mazzieri: Well, I think we are all proud of Alberto Mineo and the way he has developed. As you said, he has a tremendous attitude. When he just walks around the field, you see a player. I think this kid has a chance to be really, really good.

Roberto: No doubt MLB European scout Bill Holmberg made a great catch for the Chicago Cubs when he signed catcher Alberto Mineo.

Marco Mazzieri: It was…I hope that he can get some more playing time in the higher levels. It is not my job to say, but I think he could become a lot better player beyond the Rookie League.

Roberto: Earlier in the first round of the competition in Regensburg, Germany, I saw you arrive early at the ballpark to give one-on-one hitting instruction to Alex Liddi in the batting cages. I observed the dynamic between you and Alex, and it was incredible. He listened intently to everything you said and absorbed it in like a sponge. Then he applied what he learned from you an hour later in the game when he was at-bat against Great Britain and hit three consecutive home runs.

Marco Mazzieri: We have been working together since he grew up playing professional baseball. It’s long story with Alex actually. Because we have been together since 2005. He moved up from San Remo to Grosseto, where I live. He was not even 16 at the time when started to work with me on his hitting and with Gianni, our strength and conditioning coach, on his physical side. Since then, we’ve been working together almost every winter offseason working on his hitting. He’s been getting good results and that’s why he listens.

Roberto: Your current roster is probably 75% Italian-born-and-developed players, right?

Marco Mazzieri: Yes, but I think we should all be proud of this group of guys no matter if you have major league guys, rookie league guys or guys who work and play baseball. When they all get together, it’s just one single group.  Of course, you have different personalities but they play and lead as a team. And they like it as a team because I think for me and my coaching staff, which I am very proud to be working with such a great group of coaches, one of the biggest accomplishments through all the success we had through the years. But the fact that this group of people have a tremendous energy when they get together. You can tell actually from the WBC to now in the Euro Baseball Championship– win or lose–it’s just a great group of guys.

Roberto: The energy and chemistry of the Italian National team combined with the MLB-affiliated players made Team Italia one complete family playing together. One can tell that the future is looking bright for Italian baseball.

Marco Mazzieri: Well, we hope so. The team chemistry is really crucial for me and my staff. We believe that a group of individuals going towards the same direction can accomplish a lot more than just talented guys who just play for themselves. It has always been my idea, and when we put a group together we try to make the right decision based on the people first and the players second. Because we believe in the chemistry first with everone in the same direction, we try to channel all energies toward one single goal and luckily we have been able to do that.

Roberto: After having spoken to many of the MLB-affiliated players who have played for Team Italia over the years including Jason Grilli, Chris Denorfia, Nick Punto and Drew Butera, they have all cited the experience as being some of the best times of their career.

Marco Mazzieri: Well, by you saying this–and I know it’s true because I have talking to the guys–it just gives me goosebumps when you have those kind of players. All those guys are tight with this team. Every time we see them, and we are together they are part of the family. We shared a common energy that we were able to get for the two World Baseball Classics in 2009 and 2013.  I happy to know that they cherish those times as much as I do.

Roberto: Considering Major League Baseball has injected millions overseas in Asia and Australia, I believe the time is now for MLB to invest in European baseball.

Marco Mazzieri: I think you are right. They have invested everywhere in the world, and I think sometimes Europe gets underestimated because baseball is not the number one sport. But as we have seen in the past, you can get good players from everywhere. Just getting back to Bill Holmberg and what he is doing for MLB at the Italian Baseball Academy. I have met many, many coaches in my life and in my career, but I have never seen one with that much dedication and who cares more than he does for his pitchers.

Roberto: Team Italia spent Spring Training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida with hitting coach Mike Piazza. I’m sure everyone missed him during the 2014 Euro Baseball Championship.

Marco Mazzieri: We missed Mike. He is a tremendous guy. He is a tremendous hitting coach and former Team Italia player. So we missed him very much and wished he could have made it but he couldn’t.

Passaportoitaliano2006Roberto: How do you react to criticism from the media when they claim that the Team Italia roster includes international players born outside of Italy?

Marco Mazzieri: It’s not the color of the passport that matters, it’s about the passion in the heart. We are on a mission even if we have a younger team.

Roberto: Team Italia and European baseball will soon reap the fruits of your labor of love in developing tomorrow’s stars. Thank you!

Italia is the team to beat in Euro Championship

Italia is on target to win its third consecutive European Championship.
Team Italia is on target to win its third consecutive European Baseball Championship after victories over Mexico and Canada in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Italian national team manager Marco Mazzieri, named 2014 Coach of the Year by the Italian Coaches Convention in Treviso, knows it will be an uphill battle for Team Italia in the European Baseball Championship. He said, “Defending our title will not be an easy thing to do. We’re going to have to contend with not only the likes of Holland, but Spain and Germany are also expected to make a splash in this year’s tourney. Having won the last two EU Championships, we’re the team to beat. We have a target on our backs, and we’ve got our work cut out for us this year if we want to bring home a third consecutive title.”

Twins' prospect Max Kepler played for Germany in the WBC Qualifier in Regensburg.
Team Germany OF/Twins’ prospect Max Kepler slides safely into second at the WBC Qualifier in Regensburg.

2014 Euro Baseball Championship co-host Germany, ranked 19th by IBAF, will benefit greatly should German fans rally round the home team and Minnesota Twins’ highly-prized prospect Max Kepler–recipient of an $800,000 signing bonus in 2009–represent his country. Kepler said, “Baseball is growing in every German city I go to. They’ve opened two boarding schools in Germany, so there are opportunities for kids to step up the baseball game if they want to. I hope baseball is on the same level as soccer one day in Germany.”

Marten Gasparini is a graduate of the Italian Baseball Academy led by Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg.
Royals’ million dollar + prospect Marten Gasparini credits Italian Baseball Academy director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg for his success in pro ball.

17-year-old Kansas City Royals’ prospect Marten Gasparini, who received a $1.3 signing bonus in 2013, has plenty of experience playing for Italia internationally in the Under-15 World Cup in Mexico and in the Under-18 World Cup in South Korea. Having recently been hit in the face by a ball while playing shortstop for the Rookie League Burlington Royals, let’s pray the young Italian who has been heralded by many scouts as the best European 5-tool player ever is able to participate in the EU Baseball Championship.

Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg and hitting coach Mike Piazza (MG-Oldmanagency / FIBS)
Team Italia coaches Bill Holmberg and Mike Piazza (Photo courtesy of M. Gallerani-Oldmanagency/FIBS)
20-year-old catching prospect Alberto Mineo, who was signed by former Chicago Cubs scout and current Italian Baseball Academy director Bill Holmberg for $500,000 in 2009, was under the guidance and direction of mentor Mike Piazza during Team Italia’s 2014 Spring Training at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. Catcher Mineo and 19-year-old Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Davide Anselmi worked together there in preparation of the European Baseball Championship.

Former Team Italia catcher Francisco Cervelli and manager Marco Mazzieri at Dodgertown in 2014.
Former Team Italia catcher Francisco Cervelli and manager Marco Mazzieri at Dodgertown in 2014.
Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza is committed to the growth of Italian baseball. The future MLB Hall of Famer said, “I truly believe in the marketability of baseball in Europe, in Italy specifically. I’m here completely focused on this ballclub to get the most out of our players here and hopefully help them along in their individual careers. But also we’re just trying to bring attention as well to baseball in Italy. And we think that‑‑at least in my personal opinion–that we can produce players and there’s a future there.”

European%20BaseballFor further information on the upcoming European Baseball Championship and details on how to obtain tickets for the September 12-16 games in Regensburg, Germany, click HERE. To learn more about the international competition and tickets for the September 12-21 Czech Republic games, click HERE. For an updated schedule of the 2014 European Baseball Championship and complete game box scores, click HERE.

Why Mike Piazza is Italian American of the Decade

Mike Piazza prior to the start of the 2006 World Baseball Classic in Lakeland, Florida.
After playing for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC,
Mike Piazza became the country’s hitting coach.
Future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza has been fueling the fire of the Italian baseball revolution for nearly a decade. Since joining Team Italia in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, the proud Italian American has had a profound effect on the growth and development of baseball in Italy. Working in tandem with Italian MLB Academy Director and Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg, Piazza has helped Italy become the superpower of European baseball in light of the recent KC Royals signing of five-tool Italian-born prospect Marten Gasparini for $1.3 million.
Italian MLB Academy Director Bill Holmberg (far right) smiles as Kansas City Royals prospect Marten Gasparini signs his professional baseball contract.
Kansas City Royals prospect Marten Gasparini signs his $1.3 professional baseball contract
while Italian MLB Academy Director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg (far right) looks on.
Piazza-Chart1
MIke Piazza was inducted into the Mets' Hall of Fame on September 29, 2013.
Mike Piazza was inducted into the Mets’ Hall of Fame on September 29, 2013.
One statistic often overlooked in validating Mike Piazza’s rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame is Career Runs Created by a catcher. Based on the 1,378 Runs Created by Piazza–which ties Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk–Team Italia’s hitting coach was the BEST hitting catcher of all-time (Mike Piazza 1,378; Carlton Fisk 1,378; Ted Simmons 1,283; Yogi Berra 1,265; Joe Torre 1,259; Johnny Bench 1,239; Gary Carter 1,184; Bill Dickey 1,164; Gabby Hartnett 1,161 and Jason Kendall 1,112). Defensively Piazza was the BEST catcher of his time in handling his pitchers. In his career behind the plate, pitchers had a 3.80 ERA when he was catching. Checking the stats for all the other catchers who caught the same pitchers in the same year that Piazza did, they allowed a 4.34 ERA. With 12-time MLB All-Star Mike Piazza coaching Italian ballplayers, the BEST has yet to come for Team Italia.

18-year-old Chicago Cubs catching prospect Alberto Mineo during Team Italia's recent visit to Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. (Photo by  )
19-year-old catching prospect Alberto Mineo, who signed for $500,000 with the Chicago Cubs, was under the guidance and direction of mentor Mike Piazza during Team Italia’s 2014 Spring Training Exhibition Series at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. (Photo by Claudio Vecchi)

Tommy Lasorda and Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza (Photo by Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers)
Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza and legend Tommy Lasorda (Photo by Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers)
“We just want to continue to draw attention to the fact that we believe baseball is marketable in Italy. We think it’s viable. We think there’s a lot of upward growth. We can produce players over there. I’m convinced of it,” said Piazza. 17-year-old switch-hitting shortstop Marten Gasparini–compared to a young Derek Jeter–and 19-year-old lefthanded-hitting catcher Alberto Mineo lead the charge of the Italian baseball revolution spurred by Dodgers scout/Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri and coaches Holmberg and Piazza.

Italian Americans Sal Varriale and Mike Piazza at the 29th Annual Italian Coaches Convention in January 2014.
Italian Americans Sal Varriale and Mike Piazza at the 29th Annual Italian Coaches Convention
Mike Piazza’s “Science of Hitting” was a highlight at
the 29th Annual Coaches Convention in Veneto, Italy.
International baseball ambassador Mike Piazza traveled to Veneto, Italy recently to speak to an enthusiastic audience at the 29th Annual Coaches Convention. Piazza said, “We all overteach and overanalyze hitting. Everyone has their own opinion, but in actuality–just as Ted Williams explained in his book The Science of Hitting--the number one rule is to get a good ball to hit. Gaining an understanding of the strike zone and what you can and can’t hit is the key. Simply spoken, you can’t hit what you can’t see.” fibs_logo Twelve years ago in 2002 Piazza met FIBS President Riccardo Fraccari while visiting Italy on a MLB International mission to help the game develop in Europe. Fraccari asked Piazza if he would be interested in representing Italy in international competition, and the proud Italian American responded that it would be privilege to play for the Italian national team in honor of his Sicilian ancestry. During a 2006 World Baseball Classic press conference, Piazza addressed reporters who questioned why he chose to join Team Italia and said, “You may not understand it, but for Italian Americans getting a chance to finally play for Italy is like a duck chick getting close to the water for the first time.”
Team Italia pitcher Alessandro Maestri had much success playing in Japan.
After reaching Double-A ball in the Chicago Cubs organization, Team Italia pitcher Alessandro Maestri ventured abroad and had great success in Australia and Japan.
Alex Liddi carrying the Italian flag while ascending up the MLB ranks in 2008
Alex Liddi has carried the Italian flag from the minute he signed with the Mariners in 2005 until now playing for the White Sox.
The Italians have since fared well in the World Baseball Classic, nearly upsetting 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic and runner-up Puerto Rico. Piazza’s influence swayed Cubs’ slugger Anthony Rizzo to play for Team Italia alongside other MLB Italian Americans including Padres’ Chris Denorfia, A’s Nick Punto, Twins’ Chris Colabello and Pirates’ Jason Grilli. Piazza’s power of persuasion even impacted the Team Italia coaching staff as former MLB journeyman Frank Catalanotto joined the Italian baseball revolution. Team Italia’s homegrown talent held its own and contributed to the overall chemistry of the squad. Alessandro Maestri–the first Italian-born-and-developed pitcher signed by MLB in 2006 and infielder Alex Liddi–the first Italian-born-and-developed player to make his MLB debut in 2011 have benefitted greatly from Piazza’s guidance and mentorship.
Former Team Italia catcher Francisco Cervelli and manager Marco Mazzieri at Dodgertown in 2014,
Former Team Italia catcher Francisco Cervelli visits with manager Marco Mazzieri at Dodgertown during 2014 Spring Training (Photo by Claudio Vechi)

Maestri said, “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.” Liddi echoed the sentiment and said, “When you have coaches like Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto—guys who have been in the big leagues for a long time—it makes it fun just to be around them. You’re able to ask them questions and learn from them.”

Bill Holmberg, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto and Jason Grilli
Team Italia coaches Bill Holmberg, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto with closer Jason Grilli
niashofExhibitBannerSm3RGB Piazza has been a proponent of uplifting and preserving his Italian cultural heritage by supporting the efforts of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), George Randazzo–founder of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and Roberto Angotti–curator of the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibition. Piazza befriended Angotti during the two weeks Team Italia spent in Phoenix preparing for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. When Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda dropped in on Team Italia’s practice at Dodgers’ Spring Training Camp in Glendale to address the team, Roberto knew he was on the frontline of the Italian baseball revolution. 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.

Piazza said,”This commitment I have with the Italian Federation is something I really care about. I feel a strong tie to Italy, since my heritage is there. My grandfather Rosario came from Sciacca, Sicily, to the United States and my father grew me up following the Italian tradition pretty much. I think it’s in our DNA to strive to work hard and persevere. Most our ancestors came over to the United States with just the clothes on their back. I think that was the case with my grandfather, who had nothing in his pocket to start a life here in the U.S. When we have the strength and pride of the Italian family with the support we can give one another, it builds character and allows us to achieve our true potential. I don’t think there are a lot of Italian American families that don’t have strong support behind them. I do not pretend to say what is not true, I grew up as an American boy. Now, getting older, I understand the value of my heritage and I want to give something back to Italy.”

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