Not only do both former MLB All-Stars share a common first name, but coincidentally they have published two new must-read books at the same time. 2013 National League All-Star / Pittsburgh Pirates’ closer Jason Grilli and seasoned veteran catcher Jason Kendall are best-known for their delivery on the mound and calling the game behind home plate. However, let the world know that they also possess a knack for writing good stories. Initially, Grilli was reluctant to share with fans his personal journal which eventually turned into a book. Grilli said, “I kind of was keeping it for them when I thought my career was over in 2010 when I ruptured my quad tendon and thought I would never play baseball again. So I just started writing. It was therapeutic, and I didn’t want to forget things—the good things, the bad things. My career had flashed before my eyes so I just started writing. Here we are three years later writing a book… I didn’t finish college, and I promised my mom that I would. At least I wrote a book so she will be happy.” Asked what readers can expect to get out of his book, Grilli responded: “I think overall there are a lot of flashbacks: the good, the bad and the indifferent. If there is anything to take from it, it’s a feel good
story. It’s more about, if you quit then you lose.” Without a doubt, this 215-page book is quite an accomplishment. Grilli discounted the praise and said: “They are short pages, double-spaced. You know all the tricks to make your 10-page paper longer. Maybe that is what it is…a lot of insert pictures in the middle. If you don’t want to read the book, at least look at the pictures.” Just My Game chronicles Grilli’s love of the game of baseball and highlights his incredible and trusting relationship with his best friend and father, former MLB pitcher, Steve Grilli. Just My Gametakes readers through the highs and lows of the Team Italia pitcher’s career including his 18 strikeout performance as a junior at Seton Hall, his selection as the #4 first-round pick in the 1997 draft, life in the minor leagues, and his recovery from several near career-ending injuries leading up to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ remarkable 2013 playoff run. Jason Grilli will be making several book signing appearances in the coming months in support of the launch of his long-awaited autobiography. Be the first to purchase Just My Game before it goes on sale to the public by visiting Jason Grilli’s Facebook. Readers will be pleasantly surprised to find the eloquent foreword to Grilli’s book written by 2013 National League Manager of the Year and Pirates’ skipper Clint Hurdle. Known to be a proponent of the power of positive thinking, Hurdle is the perfect setup man for Grilli’s autobiography.
Hurdle has been busy of late reading Jason Kendall’s Throwback, which was co-written by sportswriter Lee Judge.
When asked if fans should buy Jason Kendall and Lee Judge’s Throwback, Hurdle responded: “Give this book a read. I’ve known Lee Judge for over 20 years. He has an unquenchable thirst for ‘Why’ questions and a passion for the game. He doesn’t just want the answers. He wants understanding. I’ve spent time with him in Minor League and Major League cities and clubhouses, and we are still friends! There is a sincere effort and old school way this book has been put together, and it is deserving of your time. You will laugh. You will learn. You will leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for the game we love.” America’s favorite pastime has always left fans and amateur players alike yearning for the answers to questions about how pros play the game. Have you ever wondered about pre-game rituals, what is being said at home plate, the signs a catcher uses to communicate with the pitcher, how a team silently communicates and the right way to hit a batter or what goes on behind closed clubhouse doors? All-Star catcher Jason Kendall is more than qualified to shed some light on the subject using his 15-years playing behind home plate with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, and Kansas City Royals as a true testament. Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons summed it up nicely when he characterized Kendall and his new book as winners. Gibby said, “Jason Kendall is the ultimate competitor, a modern-day gladiator. If you had nine Jason Kendalls, you could never lose.” Undoubtedly, Throwback provides readers an opportunity to gain an insider’s view of the game from a true-grit player’s perspective. Coupled with Jason Grilli’s new offering of Just My Game, baseball fanatics now have a winning combination of required reading guaranteed to bring hours of enjoyment and a fonder appreciation of what makes these players truly inspirational.
As the old adage goes: “If you first don’t succeed,
try, try again…” Perhaps appropriate to sum up the life story of 29-year-old Italian American MLB hopeful Chris Colabello, the best is yet to come for this Massachusetts native. The slugger is poised to make his presence felt on the big league level this year when the Twins call him up from AAA Rochester. Colabello’s strong performance in the World Baseball Classic catapulted Team Italy into the second round of play this year. At Chase Field in Phoenix, he went 4-for-5 with a home run, four RBI and three runs scored against Canada to help Italy clinch a spot to move on to Miami and become the Chevrolet Player of the Game. While at Marlins Park, the Italians nearly posted an upset over 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic when Colabello clubbed a three-run bomb that rivaled any one of Giancarlo Stanton’s many web gems. The Team Italy clean-up hitter lived up to his title by finishing the WBC with a .333 BA, seven RBI and a 1.035 OPS in 18 at-bats.Colabello made a strong case to be on the 2013 Twins Opening Day Roster after hitting .294 with three RBI in
nine spring games for Minnesota. He received words of encouragement from Twins stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau despite being sent down to Triple-A ball to begin the season. Manager Ron Gardenhire had nothing but
praise for Colabello. “He did fine,” said the Twins skipper.
“He played great for Team Italy and really well for us. First base is a place where we don’t have a ton of depth. We have Morneau and then ad-libbing from there. So if he’s down there (AAA) swing the bat good, he could go right into the big leagues after all that time (seven years) in Independent ball. So it’s a good story.” After spending seven seasons in the Can-Am Independent League, Chris Colabello was signed by the Twins and spent last season at Double-A New Britain, where he put together a .284 BA with 19 home runs and 98 RBI. In 46 games this season at Triple-A Rochester, Colabello commands a .360 BA and leads the Red Wings in hits (63), doubles (17), runs (29), home runs (12) and RBI (42).
Team Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg has known how special of player Chris Colabello is for nearly two decades. The former Chicago Cubs European scout and current Italian MLB Academy director Holmberg said, “I’ve known Chris for maybe 20 years because he used to come over to Italy with his dad. His dad pitched in the Italian Baseball League. His mom is Italian. Chris is just a great kid. He loves to come over and play for us. We enjoy having him. We like him. He’s a very energetic, tremendous kid.” A star player in Italy for eight years who also pitched for the Italian national team in the 1984 Olympics at Dodger Stadium, Lou Colabello brought along his family during his international baseball career while playing and managing abroad. As a result, Chris spent several of his formative years overseas and even played with Team Italia teammate Alessandro Maestri as a youth. Like a fine Italian wine, Chris Colabello gets better with age. Let’s hear his story:
The happiest man in baseball? Chris Colabello. Twins infielder, Mass. native, Team Italy for WBC. Story: bit.ly/15AYt6a @mlbonfox
Roberto: Having shadowed Justin Morneau in Twins Spring Training and having torn the leather off the ball with your hot bat, you really made a statement playing against your Canadian colleague in a Team Italia uniform during the World Baseball Classic by beating Team Canada 14-4 in a mercy rule victory.
Chris Colabello: Yeah. It’s been a pretty interesting journey to get where we are right now. Especially for me personally coming from independent ball and all that stuff. But it’s been great. I’ve been trying to take everything one moment at a time and just try to embrace it to the best of my ability. I think that when I was younger I would probably let moments that this speed up on me, and it would have been a little overwhelming. But I think with maturity comes the ability to just kind of embrace it. It’s great. I got to talk with Justin a bunch when we played him. I don’t think he’s too happy with us because of the final score that day. But it’s pretty neat and obviously a great experience for the Italian team.
Roberto: Showing up to Twins camp and finding out you would be rubbing shoulders with former American League MVPs Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer as a result of being assigned
a locker next to two Minnesota baseball icons must have given you goosebumps?
Chris Colabello: Yeah, for sure. I really did think my locker was in the wrong place (laughter) or they had forgotten me or something like that. It’s been really neat and obviously I’m so thankful for the organization for giving me the opportunity to get in the door last year, to be in big league camp this year and the opportunity to play up here in the WBC. In terms of stars in the Minnesota Twins for the past 15 years, you can’t really think of a guy or two that are bigger than Joe and Justin. They are just tremendous people, tremendous players. They’ve made it an easy transition for me and kind of made it a little
bit less nerve-racking than I thought it would be.
Roberto: You also have Twins’ Drew Butera watching your back. He was outstanding in
the WBC with his two-run homer against Team Mexico. The chemistry in the Team Italia clubhouse was uncharted because at the end of the day the other team’s big league names on a lineup card didn’t translate in the game-ending box scores. Team Italia’s spirit, desire, passion, drive, and commitment to win games day-by-day under the leadership of manager Marco Mazzieri along with the coaching staff of Tom Trebelhorn, Bill Holmberg, Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto, Alberto D’Auria, Gilberto Gerali and Claudio Vecchi.
Chris Colabello: Yeah. It’s a testament to the staff and the organization. You know, being able to put together a group of guys that first and foremost would mesh well together. There was not a single ego in that clubhouse. It’s pretty unbelievable. We kind of embraced the role of underdog that everybody pinned on us. We certainly didn’t believe we were the underdog coming in. I think we obviously proved that to people playing strong baseball games in a row against some really good teams. Drew and I started talking when camp just opened. Every day we’d see each other at spring training. ‘Paisans’, you know, it’s kind of like that comradery came with it. Having played the European Cup last year, I saw what a great group of guys it was. It’s truly amazing to bring a guys from a big league camp and have them join with IBL (Italian Baseball League) guys and some guys from other walks of life and to have us all feel like we’ve been playing together for years is pretty amazing.
Roberto: You could not have had a better guidance than Italian MLB Academy Director and Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg as well as Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza.
Chris Colabello: Yeah, for sure. Even on that end, you’ve got a guy who in my opinion
is a Hall of Famer in Mike Piazza, and a guy like Bill Holmberg–who is probably more prepared than any coach I have ever met in my entire life in terms of being able to scout, gather information and help guys out. Obviously, Marco is the leader of that group. It’s pretty amazing stuff because I think a line I remember hearing is ‘Attitude reflects leadership’ so it’s obviously a testament to them and the ability they go about teaching the game and helping guide us who we are.
Roberto: How did you make the transition from Independent baseball to MLB-affiliated ball and what were the expectations that went along with it?
Chris Colabello: It was all new to me at that point. Obviously not being drafted initially kind of hurt a little bit, and I really didn’t know where the road was going to lead. Baseball is a big part of my life. Worcester was probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my career. The manager I played for, Rich Gedman and the people I was around, some of my best friends for the rest of my life are some of the guys I played with in Worcester. After that 2005 season, we had a great experience. It was our first year. The city was really excited about it. I got a real taste of how the best minor league places are run because we were certainly treated like royalty. I had the opportunity to sign with Detroit (in 2006).
I really didn’t know what to expect. It was all new to me. I had never been to Spring Training camp. I was really excited. I didn’t know how many guys there would be. Coming in as a free agent signing, I think at some point you have got to stand out. Again, I had mentioned before, when I was younger I used to let things speed up on me a little bit.
I think that was probably part of what happened in camp unfortunately. I thought I had done a pretty good job performance wise and in terms of work ethic. And I think I had some good reviews from coaches before I had left, but things didn’t work out for whatever reason it was and back to Worcester it was.
2011 Independent Leagues Player Of The Year: Chris Colabello: Chris Colabello is the 2011 Independent Leagues Pl… bit.ly/vwXlKo
Roberto: At age 27 during your 2011 season with the Worcester Tornadoes, you put up impressive offensive numbers which earned you Can-Am League Most Valuable Player and Baseball America magazine’s Independent Baseball Player of the Year honors. How could the Minnesota Twins not take notice? They saw something special in you and shortly thereafter offered a minor league contract.
Chris Colabello: Yeah. It was kind of a whirlwind. I finished the 2010 season on a tough note. I broke my hand. I got hit with a fastball and missed the final two weeks of the season. I think I was really, really hungry at that point. So I started working a lot earlier than I normally would, especially in the cage with a good friend of mine, Bobby Tewksbary–
who is one of my best friends in the world. We‘d start getting after it in the cage…talking about timing and rhythm things, swing stuff that really changed my life (laughter). It allowed me to free myself up as a hitter a little bit which turned things around in my 2011 season. It was pretty magical in terms of finish. And of course all those nice accolades I was able to receive…I think helped me kind of break into affiliated baseball. I couldn’t be more thankful to the Twins organization for giving me that chance.
Roberto: The accolades continued to mount as you were a 2012 Eastern League All-Star team selection in addition to being chosen as the Eastern League’s Most Valuable Player runner-up. You must have broken some hearts when your 98 RBI single-season club
record for Double-A New Britain in 2012 surpassed the previous 1998 record set by Doug Mientkiewicz (88). Quite an accomplishment in consideration MLB veterans and former
Rock Cats Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Jacque Jones could not reach the prior plateau during their minor league careers.
Chris Colabello: Yeah (laughter). It was a lot of fun. I think 2012 turned out to be,
I couldn’t have imagined it, just as good if not a better year than 2011. I was on a little bit of a different stage. There was little more riding on it, but it was awesome. I reminded myself about having fun and the game doesn’t change no matter where you are. Once I started having fun, things began to free up for me. In both places early, I ran into some trouble. Again that mental maturity…aging has kind of helped me along the way. It reminded me how to battle back from situations like that so the numbers turned out to be what they were. It was a lot of fun.
Roberto: You have trying to beat the odds in breaking in the big leagues your entire career with the same conviction to succeed despite getting older everyday. What keeps you moving forward in achieving your life-long dream?
Chris Colabello: Ultimately, I think if you are passionate enough about something in life it would be irresponsible not to pursue it to the fullest extent. Baseball is such a big part of my life for so long and obviously a huge part of my family, huge part of my childhood. It’s a part of me. People say baseball doesn’t define who I am. Well in a lot of ways I feel like it does for me. Obviously it doesn’t define the type of person I am, but there’s always a huge part of me that will be in love with this game for the rest of my life. I think I just got really good at not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Every time I heard someone say ‘no’, it kind of made me want it much more and maybe work for it that much more. It allowed me to do things that I could take to that next level. Here we are today. Persistence and not taking ‘no’ for an answer are the way to do it. Roberto: You have a lot in common with Team Italia teammate and former Twins 1992 first-round draft pick Dan Serafini, another player who has seen the inside of more bus terminals than clubhouses. How are you so alike yet different ballplayers?
Chris Colabello: He’s about passion, persistence, desire. Ultimately, I don’t know what makes us different. I think
we all just have a deep-rooted love for
the game. I can’t imagine my life without the game of baseball. It’s nice to be around someone who has gone through the
same things and thinks the same way.
Roberto: You also have a very strong connection
with Team Italia pitcher Alex Maestri and his father,
Dr. Paolo Maestri. Let me get this straight. You were 14 and playing baseball in Italy when Dr. Maestri was
at the right place at the right time to save your life. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you were lounging on the back of your baseball coach’s car when your coach took off down a hill at 30 mph without seeing you in the rear. You jumped off and landed face-first, resulting in a deep gash near your mouth and severe bleeding to the point where you were choking on your own blood. Dr. Maestri helped you get the blood out so you could breathe again. What a nightmare! Thank God there was a doctor nearby to render first aid and save you.
Chris Colabello: Yeah, it was a pretty unbelievable experience. I’m very, very fortunate to (have) the Maestri family. Without them, I firmly believe that
I would not be here today.
Now that Chris Colabello is with us,
it is time for the call-up to Minnesota and his long-awaited MLB debut at Target Field. Looking ahead at their schedule, it would be ideal to bring Colabello up on May 29th when the Brewers visit the Twin Cities. That way the Italian American slugger will have the chance to share with Milwaukee’s Jeff Bianchi all the special moments that he missed. Unfortunately, the Brewers feared their infielder–who recently returned from the 15-day DL–would be injured if he played for Italia in the World Baseball Classic.
Despite the defending European Champs having traveled the greatest distance to compete in Pool D of the World Baseball Classic (which begins Thursday, March 7th and includes perennial favorite USA, Mexico and Canada) in addition to being the only team required to tax its arsenal of talented pitchers after being scheduled to play five games in five days beginning Tuesday with a pre-WBC exhibition warm-up against American League West Division Champion Oakland A’s, resilient Team Italy will be walking a tightrope in light of reduced WBC pitch limits (65 in the first round, 80 in the second round, and 95 in the semi-finals and finals) to overcome the adverse working conditions reminiscent to the plight of their ancestral forefathers who emigrated to America at the end of the 19th century. Although Team Italy’s exhibition games against the Athletics on Tuesday and Mike Scioscia’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Wednesday will not count in the tournament’s stringent pitch limits, it will have serious repercussions
on the arms of the Italian pitching staff.
Italy manager Marco Mazzieri and pitching coach Bill Holmberg sat down prior to a scrimmage against
a team of spirited Seattle Mariners prospects at the
Peoria Sports Complex in Arizona and provided a very
candid snapshot of their team’s compromised chances
of beating the odds and advancing to the second round
of the highly-touted competition in the following interview.
Roberto: Is Team Italy ready to battle Mexico, Canada and USA in the 2013 World Baseball Classic? Marco Mazzieri: We’ll be ready when the games start. We’re right now just trying to tune up all the guys and waiting for our MLB players to come down and join us. We know they’ll all be excited to go. So we’re pretty excited about this. Bill Holmberg: I like our team a lot.
I think we’re going to have a very solid pitching staff, and our position players
of course are very good. I think we have a very, very good chance to go to the next round. Roberto: Having to listen to a lot of disrespect from the media who consider Italy a novelty and a doormat for other teams, do you enjoy being the underdog and having to endure constant scrutiny? Marco Mazzieri: I think it’s our destiny to be the underdogs all the time. We were the underdogs four years ago against Team Canada, and we beat them. The next thing we know we didn’t have hotel rooms because nobody expected us to win. We had to move to another hotel. I mean last September we were supposed to lose against the Dutch in the European Championship. They were celebrating the 100th anniversary of their federation and it was like 35 years that we had not beat them on their own soil. And we beat them! So I think we got used to being the underdog, but we don’t complain. We’re going to use all of this to get the guys even more excited and more ready to go. I think they will do a good job.
We expect everybody to have no fear. “We can beat anybody. We beat the U.S.
already once in 2007 during the World Cup
in Chinese Taipei. They had Evan Longoria, Colby Ramus, Andy LaRoche, and Brian
Bixler. They had a great pitching staff.
They only lost that one game, but we
were the team that beat them. Again,
we respect everybody a lot, but there’s
going to be no fear at all.”
2013 WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC
ITALY MANAGER MARCO MAZZIERI
Roberto: Former Chicago Cubs minor league pitcher Alessandro Maestri was named as the recipient of the 2011 Australian Baseball League Fan Choice Award after decimating hitters with his wicked slider pitching for the Brisbane Bandits. He has since been having a strong campaign for Japan’s Orix Buffaloes, the same team that recently signed former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Brandon Dickson as well as former outfielder/catcher for the Cleveland Indians/New York Mets/2009 Team Italy Vinny Rottino. Any words on Alex? Bill Holmberg: Alex is a really, really good pitcher. And you know at times he’s great.
He’s shown in the past that he has been able to throw well for us, and we’re looking
forward to having him on the mound real soon during the WBC series.
ROBERTO ANGOTTI — Toronto’s John Mariotti will pitch for Italy in the World Baseball Classic… fb.me/1l3Y9UT5D
Roberto: Former Baltimore Orioles prospect John Mariotti has been stellar for the defending Can-Am League Champion Québec Capitales for the past two years. How did you find this outstanding Canadian Italian pitcher? Bill Holmberg: John has been around and spoke with Marco a couple years ago. He had been talking with the Italian Baseball Federation and Marco for a few years so we’re very lucky to have John. John is a sinkerball pitcher that really helped us at the European Championship, and I imagine he’s going to help us even more during the World Baseball Classic.
@grillcheese49Hey Grill.It’s Cat.Marco Mazzieri would like yuor number.Can you send it to me so I can get it to him. Thanks. Hope ur well
Roberto: Team Italy has the luxury of having one of MLB’s premier closers, Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jason Grilli, ready and willing to do what he does best in shutting teams down with the lead late in any game. You must feel good about that? Bill Holmberg: I’m very happy to have Jason and to be honest with you I’m happy to
have every one of our pitchers. I believe all of them can be situational where they come in and close the door on any team we are going to play. Of course, you are going to have to execute. We’re going to try to scout as well as we can and give them the best possible plan before the game. From there, all they have to do is execute.
Roberto: Matt Torra, a former 2005 first-round draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and current Washington Nationals’ MLB hopeful, is also a very capable pitcher for Team Italy. Bill Holmberg: Matt has thrown well. We’ve had one live batting practice session,
and he’s going to be throwing today. I was extremely happy the way he threw the BP.
He throws strikes. He keeps the ball down. He’s a smart kid. He knows how to pitch.
Honored to represent Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Can’t wait to join the team in Phoenix next week. #WBClassic#TeamItaly
Roberto: The ambidextrous Pat Venditte from the New York Yankees organization is a pitching staff’s best friend and a hitter’s worst nightmare. Although recent surgery on his right shoulder labrum has limited him to throwing as a lefty for the World Baseball Classic,
do you think he will contribute as Team Italy’s secret weapon? Bill Holmberg: Pat threw a short side, and I think he’s going to be extremely nasty. I’ve seen him on youtube, and if that is the same way he throws on the mound during a game then we’re pretty lucky.
Roberto: Any thoughts on San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A catcher Tyler LaTorre and Minnesota Twin’s backstop Drew Buter? Marco Mazzieri: We’re very happy with our catchers as well. Tyler LaTorre has been
with us in the European Championship. He did a terrific job handling the pitching staff.
Drew Butera is so excited. I talked with him last night, and he can’t wait to be here.
He’s going to give us a pretty experienced catcher. With the pitchers that we have,
we are looking forward to it.
@tylerlatorre thanks again La Torre!! Def appreciate ur help!!
Roberto: Tyler LaTorre has caught San Francisco Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo. Vogey is reportedly scheduled to pitch for Team USA against Italy, and Romo will be the closer for Team Mexico. Did you know that you have a built-in scouting report on your roster? Bill Holmberg: I didn’t know that. We’re getting information from everywhere. We’re getting information from guys that are playing in the Mexican Leagues. Of course, John Mariotti is Canadian so we’re trying to get as much information as we possibly can.
We’ll take it from anywhere. So Roberto if you have some information to give us, I’d be happy to accept it. Roberto: If you put a Team Italia jersey on my back, I will happily sit in the dugout and scout on your behalf (laughter)…
@bigace22 that’s great news! I’ll be training with Team Italy at the Dodgers facility. Going in as a reserve in case they need a guy
Roberto: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim prospect Alexander Burkard is a reserve pitcher from Caracas, Venezuela. He is in your back pocket if you need him in a pinch. Bill Holmberg: He’s a great kid, a terrific kid. He’s six-foot-eight, just a terrific kid. He threw the other day. He didn’t do as well as we’d hoped, but I’m sure with a little bit of work in the bullpen as we did today he’s going to be a lot better next time out. Roberto: Bill, how does it feel being a contributing member of this eclectic Team Italy coaching staff? Bill Holmberg: I love the guys who are on this staff. To be honest with you, I’m very privileged to be on Marco’s staff. We have a great group of guys, and we just get along very well. It’s tremendous to come out here. This is not work. This is coming out here and having a good time. We laugh a little bit. We work real hard, and at the end of the day we’re happy with what we do.
Roberto: When you heard that Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo was playing for Team Italy,
you must have felt like your chances to advance in the WBC had increased. Marco Mazzieri: That was good because at one point it looked like the USA team was going to call him up. So we were kind of afraid that we couldn’t get him. We’re happy to have him. We’re looking forward to it. But we have another guy that we really like a lot–Chris Colabello. He’s in Big League camp with the Twins along with Alex Liddi (Mariners) and Chris Denorfia (Padres). I think we have a pretty good heart of the lineup.
@bbrentz7 I’m good homie… I’m over in Holland playing in the European Cup for Italy… Way to go get you a ship!
Roberto: Chris Colabello has been shadowing Minnesota Twins four-time all-star first baseman Justin Morneau and tearing the leather off the ball in Spring Training. His father Lou played for Italy in the 1984 Olympics. Bill Holmberg: I’ve known Chris for maybe 20 years because he used to come over to Italy with his dad. His dad pitched in the Italian Baseball League. His mom is Italian. Chris is just
a great kid. He loves to come over and play for us. We enjoy having him. We like him. He’s
a very energetic, tremendous kid.
Roberto: Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Nick Punto has a World Series ring after having played under Tony La Russa for the St. Louis Cardinals. How has his energy helped Team Italy? Marco Mazzieri: Nick is a terrific guy. We met him four years ago for the World Baseball Classic. We didn’t know him. We’ve been in touch with him throughout the years, and he can’t wait to be here as well. Again, here’s a guy with tremendous experience. A big clubhouse guy trying to keep everybody up and ready. But overall honestly I don’t like to talk much about individual single players, single names. I think we have tremendous chemistry in the clubhouse. That’s what we’re about. It’s important. As we showed four years ago, these guys played as a team from day one. It’s not going to be like an all-star team where everybody is kind of like showcasing themselves. This is going to be about winning ballgames and be together and doing the little things. We’re going to do that.
Roberto: Any feedback on the lesser-known Milwaukee Brewers/Italy shortstop Jeff Bianchi? Bill Holmberg: I don’t know him as well as Marco does. I know he’s in the Big Leagues
and he can’t be that bad. So hopefully he’ll come to play. I know he was a high draft choice with the Royals. We also have another infielder who played with us in Holland during the European Championship–Tony Granato. He’s extremely solid, a great team player guy.
He plays his ass off every time he goes out. Roberto: Anthony Granato is the heart and soul of Team Italy. He represents La Squadra Azzurri’s “Never Say Die” approach to the game.
After an eventless first at bat for the Greek, Italy takes the lead on an RBI-single by Anthony Granato, who… fb.me/28qHVrJEW
Marco Mazzieri: Very much so. I think he really made a difference on our team since he joined us three years ago. As a matter of fact, we won two European Championships. We went to Chinese Taipei in 2010 and claimed the Bronze Medal. And he really made a huge difference for this team. Not only for his play, but he is a leader out on the field. And he shows it. He’s not the type of guy who’s going to talk a lot. He’s going to show it by example and lead by example in the way he goes about his business.
Roberto: Italians are gaining massive respect in Europe as witnessed by Team Spain’s decision to hire Italian manager Mauro Mazzotti. Could you imagine seeing two Italian managed European teams playing head-to-head after advancing to the second round? Marco Mazzieri: It would be nice, but let me tell you that we’re thinking about ourselves right now. It might be a little selfish. If they make it, we’re happy for them. But at this time we’re just mission focused, and we want to be the team that advances for sure. We’re going to do everything possible to be there.
Roberto: Didn’t Mazzotti sign Alex Liddi? Bill, why didn’t you sign him like you did for the Italian-born Alberto Mineo as the Chicago Cubs international scout? Bill Holmberg: I wish I would have signed him back then. Mauro Mazzotti had a hand in that, but Wayne Norton was also involved. I know that. I would have liked to have signed Alex. If he had come to our Italian Academy to work with Marco for at least a year, I think he would have gotten a lot more money. Hindsight is always 20/20. He’s done well for himself in the meantime.
Roberto: San Diego Padres’ Chris Denorfia is a diamond in the rough. What a score for Italy! Marco Mazzieri: Again like Nick Punto four years ago, he came along and showed tremendous leadership. Won’t give up. We’re very proud and happy to have him back
again for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He’s a great guy. He works hard and he’ll be playing a good center field. Along with those other guys, it’s going to a solid lineup. Roberto: Have you decided on the WBC pitching rotation for Team Italy? Marco Mazzieri: We’re going to decide after we play these four scrimmage games until March 3rd and then we’re going to decide who’s the hottest guy. Pretty much if I am allowed to say is that we are the only team in this bracket that is scheduled to play five games in a row with two exhibition games. It’s not to complain, but I don’t think it’s fair on our pitching staff…honestly. With all the pitching limitations and everything, why are we the only team with five games in a row? Everybody else is getting a day off in the middle, and we’re not. Again, we’re going to use our weakness as our strength at this point. We just want to go out and prove everybody wrong.Roberto: What makes Team Italy so resilient? Bill Holmberg: We’re a hard hat, lunch pail type of team. We’re blue collar from the beginning to the end. No obstacle is too great for us. We are not afraid. We fear no one. Bottom line is like what Marco said before…whatever comes, comes. We’re going to play
our cards as they are dealt. And that’s it, and we’re going to be happy doing it. Roberto: Let’s beat Mexico, Canada and USA so that we can advance to round two in Miami. Bill Holmberg: That’s our plan. Roberto: Thanks for your time gentlemen. Buona fortuna!
Italians have often been criticized for using their
hands when they speak, but 2009 Team Italy coach Tom Trebelhorn (who is of German descent) has
been chastised by Cubbie fans for speaking his mind. To the dismay of the Chicago faithful, the former
MLB manager was awarded the #1 quote in Bleacher Report‘s “Best Baseball Quotes of All Time” (which includes memorable quotes from Italian American Baseball Hall of Fame Legends Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto). However, Trebelhorn would much
prefer being remembered in baseball history for
his invaluable contribution in preparing the Italian team for the 2009 World Baseball Classic. “I think
the global aspect of baseball is very exciting,” said
the seasoned 65-year-old baseball veteran. He loves the international platform that the World Baseball Classic provides. Trebelhorn commented, “It gives
the game terrific exposure. To be able to hopefully
help the Italian Baseball Federation in their attempts
to enrich baseball as a sport in Italy is intriguing.”Every minute with the Italians in the 2009 World Baseball Classic at Rogers Centre was special for Trebelhorn. “A great experience. The team played with a lot of passion and heart,”
he said in retrospect to Italy’s 6-2 upset and elimination of
host Canada. “That was an embarrassment to them.” Named 1986 Manager of the Year by Baseball America after posting
an impressive 91-71 in his first season as the Milwaukee Brewers’ skipper, Trebelhorn managed the Brew Crew through 1991. After managing the 1994 Chicago Cubs, he signed on as coach for the Baltimore Orioles and remained with the franchise for 12 years. An unlikely alliance between the O’s and the Italian League’s Grosseto Baseball Club began after Baltimore County and the Italian Province of Grosseto became Sister Counties. The late and great Orioles vice president of operations
Syd Thrift announced in 2001 that Grosseto Baseball
Club manager Marco Mazzieri and several of his players were invited to Orioles’ Spring Training to observe team workout and training methods. He said, “We believe
this will help advance the game of baseball in Italy and throughout Europe. I’ve been to Grosseto and have
seen the enthusiasm they have for the game of baseball.” Italian manager Mazzieri and O’s coach Trebelhorn were two sound baseball minds from different sides of the Atlantic, and their common love for the game brought them together around the same time every year. They became close friends in no time and looked forward to their annual reunion. Trebelhorn said, “I used to have
him come to spring training and work with us in Florida.” When Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) President Riccardo Fraccari revealed that Mazzieri would be manager for Team Italy in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, the Italian baseball icon knew he needed some reinforcement with extensive MLB experience behind him. Upon hearing
of his appointment Mazzieri said, “I am really happy and not overconfident.
I am aware of the fact that I need to rely on the experience of a coach who has spent time in the Big Leagues.” Mazzieri summoned Trebelhorn. “He got the job as the head guy and asked if I would help him out,” said Trebelhorn nonchalantly. As the saying goes: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
Prior to joining the Brisbane Bandits, the closest lefty pitcher Chuck Lofgren ever came to Australia was in 2010 when Aussie teammate Trent Oeltjen from the Nashville Sounds, Triple-A affiliate for the Milwaukee Brewers, introduced him to Vegemite. It was during this time period that the Wild Wild West California Country boy, who always wears boots on days that he pitches, got a chance to meet his idol Garth Brooks at the superstar’s Teammates for Kids Foundation Fundraiser at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Brooks later summoned Lofgren from his sixth row seat at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater to join the band onstage.
Click HERE to see his live performance. “Besides being drafted, that was the best thing I ever did,” said Lofgren, who plays a Seagull six-string guitar in a Country music cover band. “When you’re playing tiny mom and pop shops and dive bars, it’s a lot different than getting up there with him.” It’s been a long road for the former 2004 Cleveland Indians fourth round draft pick, who was heralded in the Baseball America 2006 Handbook “as one of the top lefthanders in the minors.” The Baseball America 2008 edition speculated that Lofgren “could make his big league debut later in the year.” However, his MLB debut eluded him after an extended stay at Triple-A Columbus did not warrant a call-up.
When the Cleveland Indians left Lofgren exposed in the Rule 5 draft, the Brewers claimed him in 2009. After a 2010 season-long Nashville audition, which included his unrehearsed performance with Garth Brooks at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Milwaukee set him free.
The South Bay native grew up watching his favorite player, Will “The Thrill” Clark, play at nearby Candlestick Park, and it was always a childhood dream to play for the San Francisco Giants. It was a family affair for Lofgren as his father was a 35-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department and worked on-field security near the dugout during Giants games. He signed as a minor league free agent with the Giants’ organization in 2010. Lofgren pitched in 2011 at Single-A San Jose, Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Fresno–posting a 5-3 record with a 4.31 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 6.8 K/9 rate, and 5.2 BB/9 rate. The Giants were looking for more from their local cowboy so Lofgren dug deep to his baseball roots when he was a successful two-way player and made the transition from lefty pitcher to first baseman and outfielder with his bat.
As a teenager, he was named to the AFLAC All-American High School Baseball Classic in 2003 for his precise pitching and consistent hitting after three consecutive years as a two-way player for the USA Baseball team in Mexico (Gold Medal Winners), Venezuela and Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. When Lofgren was drafted by Cleveland in 2004, he was so good offensively that his contract allowed him to pitch and hit. Unfortunately, a home plate collision quickly ended his hitting career as the Tribe did not want their star pitching prospect getting hurt. Yet, after eight years of pitching in the minor leagues Lofgren was willing to lay it all on the line as a hitter for the San Francisco Giants when he re-signed as a minor league free agent for the 2012 season. If current free agent Rick Ankiel had successfully made the transition from pitcher to hitter in MLB, why couldn’t Lofgren do the same? The six-foot-four, 220 pounder was encouraged by the support of the Giants’ front office–especially Vice President Bobby Evans, who reportedly liked Lofgren’s swing and wanted to work with him. The Giants had the lowest 2011 run total in the National League and as a result had little patience for Lofgren’s offensive transformation. On March 12th
San Francisco trimmed down its roster in preparation of 2012 Spring Training and had to part ways with
the once-heralded baseball prospect. In a classy response to his release, Chuck Lofgren (@chuckylof) tweeted: “Got released today by the Giants always thankful for the opportunity from the team that I grew up watching and loving. One door closes…” Although not a Major League Baseball club, American Association of Independent Professional Baseball’s Amarillo Sox happily opened the door for the multi-talented player. Since it is a rarity in baseball to find a starting pitcher who can serve as the team’s designated hitter on most pitching off days, Lofgren was a welcome addition to the 2012 Amarillo Sox roster. In his 200 at-bats, Lofgren compiled a .245 batting average with eight doubles, two triples, three homers, 32 walks and 25 RBI. Making 20 starts and working 119.2 innings, the veteran pitcher compiled a 4-6 record with a 4.36 ERA.
2012-13 Brisbane Bandits pitcher Chuck Lofgren (4-3, 3.05 ERA) appears to have found his groove again playing in the Australian Baseball League. His most impressive
start on December 7th against the Perth Heat yielded 11 strikeouts
and was by far his best outing yet. Lofgren said, “Coming out you always want to face Perth. You hear that they’re the team to beat.” The 26-year-old American import went 6.2 innings and limited the reigning ABL champion Heat to just one earned run, seven hits and one walk. Lofgren may just have to sing Garth Brooks’ “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” again for MLB as a reminder that he still has a lot of game left in him despite being written-off prematurely.
A cattle rancher with properties outside Houston and also in his hometown of Aguadulce, Panama, MLB free agent Carlos Lee may not know where he is headed to play for the 2013 season. Yet he does know that home is where the heart is, and right now Panama is his immediate destination for the upcoming World Baseball Classic Qualifier at Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City beginning with host Panama’s opening game against Brazil on November 15th and culminating with the live
MLB Network televised WBC Qualifier Final on November 19th at 5 PM (PST). Home Sweet Home Panama will be Lee’s final outpost when he decides to gracefully retire at the end of his celebrated Major League Baseball career. “When I’m finished, I’m planning to go back home,” Lee said. “I’m from Panama. It’s pretty safe and nice there.”
Although 36-year-old Carlos Lee was last seen wearing a Miami Marlins uniform after a 2012 midseason trade, he has always been a fan favorite from early on in his career while playing for Chicago White Sox (1999-2004), Milwaukee Brewers (2005-2006), Texas Rangers (2006) and Houston Astros (2007-2012). White Sox TV announcer Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson–who witnessed firsthand Lee’s 2004 28-game hitting streak, which broke the franchise record and surpassed Rod Carew’s 25-game record for a Panamanian player–knew that the three-time MLB All-Star (2005-2007) and two-time Silver Slugger (2005 & 2007) was a special player and coined him “El Caballo”.
Despite his place in the White Sox records book, many think of Lee as a lifetime Texan. As the cleanup hitter for Houston, he drove in 100 or more runs in three of his five Astro seasons, averaged 26 homers and hit over .300 three times. Carlos Lee would rather be known for his comparison to Texas ranching icon Nolan Ryan–not for his seven no-hitters, 27 major league seasons, the all-time strikeout record, or his 324 wins–but rather for Ryan’s 2011 Golden Spur Award, which recognizes leadership and exceptional service to the ranching industry.
“El Caballo” lives up to his nickname as the owner of Slugger Ranch in Texas, where he raises prize-winning Brahman, and nine ranches in his native Panama. Lee instantly won credibility with his 2006 Brahman Grand Champion at the largest Brahman show in the world at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Two years later, he donated $25,000 and over 300 bales of hay to support Texas ranchers whose properties were ravaged by Hurricane Ike.
Growing up around his grandfather’s passion for cattle ranching, Lee is now passing down his love for baseball and cattle breeding to his own son, Carlos Alejandro. Jim Williams of V8 Ranch said of Lee: “Carlos is not only a good baseball player, but he’s also the most progressive breeder in Panama as far as importing top genetics. He probably knows the pedigree and bloodlines of his cattle like a sportscaster would know about statistics.”
Whether it’s the playing of the game of baseball, the breeding of cattle and quarter horses, or the roping of calf, Lee wants to leave behind the family legacy of being among Panama’s best. Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who was born in 1945 on a train in the city of Gatún–in what was then known as the Panama Canal Zone–currently holds the honorary title of Panama’s best all-time hitter. So it’s only appropriate that the country’s best–including “El Caballo” Carlos Lee–will be playing in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier under Panama’s legendary manager Roberto Kelly against Brazil, Colombia and Nicaragua at Panama City’s Rod Carew Stadiumbeginning November 15th. While handicappers are betting on
five days of modified double-elimination competition, insiders will be banking on plenty of horsepower from “El Caballo” Carlos Lee–who plans to lead Panama
from gate-to-wire en route to the WBC Winner’s Circle.
Detroit’s Octavio Dotel usually wrecks havoc on right-handed hitters like Canadian-born Marcus Knecht, but on April Fools in a 2012 Jays Spring Training game Toronto’s 2010 third-round draft pick had the last laugh by blasting his first Grapefruit League home run off the veteran Dominican bullpen specialist. Originally selected in the 23rd round of the 2008 Amateur First-Year Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers after making Langley, British Columbia’s Brett Lawrie their first-round pick, former Brewers scouting director and current Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik thought that a common denominator of Canadian blood would add up to two of the country’s finest prospects crossing the border together as one into Wisconsin. Mathematicians would agree that the strategy was logical since Knecht was Lawrie’s teammate on the Canadian Junior National Team, and the Brewers believed that Lawrie might be able to influence Knecht to sign with Milwaukee. Lawrie signed with the Brewers for a $1.7 million signing bonus before going to play for Team Canada in the 2008 Olympic Summer Games and eventually became a Blue Jay in a late 2010 trade for pitcher Shaun Marcum (who recently became a free agent and expressed interest in returning to the Blue Jays if the team is interested in having him back). Unlike Lawrie, Knecht instead passed on the offer to play professionally in the Brewers organization in favor of perfecting his game in U.S. collegiate ball while continuing to represent his country on Team Canada in international baseball competitions worldwide. After playing on Team Canada in the 2008 World Junior Baseball Championships in Edmonton and being named to the Tournament All-Star Team, Knecht was a major contributing member of the bronze medal- winning 2010 Baseball World Cup team and the gold medal-winning 2011 Pan American Games squad. Transferring from Oklahoma State University, where he struggled to get at-bats as a freshman, to Connors State College was instrumental for Knecht to develop in an everyday role in 2010. The results were off-the-charts as Knecht hit .453 with 23 homers, 20 steals and a .540 on-base percentage. He was selected in the third-round of the 2010 Amateur First-Year Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays after being followed by ex-Jays’ scouting director and current assistant GM Andrew Tinnish.Accepting a $250,000 signing bonus, Knecht signed on-the-spot with Toronto and went straight to work in launching his pro career with Short-Season Single-A affiliate Auburn Doubledays (now affiliated with the Washington Nationals). After being voted the Canadian Baseball Network Player of the Year in 2010, the six-foot-one North York, Toronto native outfielder was promoted in 2011 to Single-A Lansing, where he posted a .273 average with a team-leading 16 home runs and 86 RBI for the Lugnuts. Knecht’s offensive power was noticed early on, and he was named a 2011 Midwest League Eastern Division All-Star. After impressing Jays skipper John Farrell (now with the Boston Red Sox) with his powerful bat and quick feet on the field during 2012 Blue Jays Spring Training, Knecht was assigned to Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays. It was May Day everyday for opposing pitchers who could not stop the red-hot Knecht during the month of May, when he rattled off 28 hits (including 7 doubles, 1 triple, and 6 home runs) accounting for 22 RBI.
The 22-year-old is hoping to continue with his offensive prowess and defensive excellence as a member of the Australian Baseball League’s Canberra Cavalry. Second only to last season’s ABL Champion Perth Heat in team offense and pitching, the Canberra Cavalry narrowly missed the ABL playoffs. With the injection of Knecht’s “Can Do” attitude, Canberra will be charging right out of the gate for a 2013 playoff berth.