Roberto Angotti interviews MLB European academies consultant and France bench coach Andy Berglund

im_mlbinternational_132x92 On my recent journey to the 2014 European Baseball Championship in Regensberg, Germany, I was fortunate to speak with 37-year-old MLB European academies consultant and 2014 Team France bench coach Andy Berglund. His energy and passion for the game was apparent on and off the field. Serving as France manager Eric Gagne’s right-hand man, Berglund proved to be worth his weight in gold as the French advanced with Italy and Germany to the second round of competition in Brno, Czech Republic.

Andy Burgland led the Czech Republic to its first ever Silver Medal and was nominated as 2011 European Baseball Coaches Association Coach of the Year.
Andy Berglund has been big news since he set foot in Europe. He first gained notoriety after leading the Czech Republic national team to their first ever Silver Medal and being nominated for the 2011 European Baseball Coaches Association (EBCA) Coach of the Year Award. (Photo courtesy of www.Mister-Baseball.com)
Roberto: Let’s start from the beginning. You grew up in Valley City, North Dakota and attended the University of Minnesota, where you graduated magna cum laude in Public Relations in 2001. You played literally every single position, correct?
Andy Berglund: I played outfield and pitched when I was in high school and in college I was a utility player in the leagues I played in. I had two shoulder surgeries during my college years that knocked me out of competition. When I was healthy again I played that utility role over in Europe and Australia. I did catch some games in Europe, so I’ve played every position.

Roberto: Did that help you later as a coach knowing the roles and responsibilities of each position?

Andy Berglund: Absolutely. I think once you’ve played the position, you at least have a feel for what a player goes through. There are some many intangibles (receiving, blocking, throwing, calling a game, being a vocal captain of the infield) to being a solid catcher, for example, that to teach it at a higher level, I think you have to also experience it as well.

Roberto: You actually began coaching youth baseball while still very young, right? What attracted you to this profession?
Andy Berglund: I started coaching youth baseball when I was still around 15, during summers in North Dakota. My father was a high school wrestling, football and baseball coach, so I took after him and saw how much enjoyment he got out of coaching. I started focusing more on coaching as a profession when I realized injuries were going to keep me from reaching the level I wanted to on the field. I didn’t want to be away from the game, and coaching was the next logical step.
Andy Berglund and Mark Melancon
Andy Berglund and Mark Melancon

Roberto: Did you consider playing professionally in America before embarking on your first European adventure playing in Sweden for the Alby Stars and coaching the Eliteserien team in 2002? How were you recruited?
Andy Berglund: To be honest, I was planning on going to law school out of college. After I graduated, an opportunity came about to go to Europe for the summer, and I discovered baseball was developing there. I worked for MLB International that first summer and through meeting other European players, I landed a spot in Sweden. Those first two summers got my foot in the door to the playing and coaching opportunities I’ve had over the last 13 years now in Europe.

Roberto: Knowing European baseball was in its infancy, did you have the patience to grow the game?
Andy Berglund: To me, the game is still in a grass roots phase here, just trying to be mentioned with soccer and hockey, which dominate the European landscape. Your patience is definitely tested at times, but that’s the beauty of the challenge. I’ve met dozens and dozens of people in the same situation in Europe baseball development, who have had their own part in growing this beautiful game on European soil.
Roberto: Was it difficult to play in adverse weather conditions in North Dakota and later in Scandinavia? Please describe the worst care scenario you ever played in.
Andy Berglund: The cold conditions you deal with are part of growing up in the north for sure. I’ve played in games where snow was coming down, actually coached in games in April in Prague where it was snowing and have been “snowed-out” in games up in Sweden. Coaching the Czechs in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in 2012 was brisk. There were parkas everywhere in the stands.
Roberto: You played baseball internationally in England, and Western Australia as well, correct? Exactly where? How did that help your mission?
Andy Berglund: I played for the Melville Braves in Western Australia. They actually won the WA State League title this past year, so I’m very happy for the club. It was a long time coming. The experience in Australia was very helpful in me seeing how aggressive they played the game. The Aussie’s are just flat out tough characters on the field. I truly respected that about them. Part of the mission here in Europe is to make the players tougher and more game-tested, and the experience in Australia was a good reference point. I loved how they played. The game has developed a lot in Australia the past 10 years as well with the ABL coming back and more and more players in the U.S.Roadshow
Roberto: When did you become a Major League Baseball International coach?
Andy Berglund: Working with the MLB Roadshow from 2001-2004 in the UK and Germany. I started as an MLB Envoy in 2009 in Germany and 2010-2011 in the Czech Republic.
Roberto: Your coaching stints for MLB included time in England, Sweden and three years in Germany, correct?
Andy Berglund: Yes, and that’s expanded into the role I have now, which is an MLB Academies Consultant. There are nearly 20 different Academies in 11 different European countries now that MLB supports with coaching, equipment and player development.
Roberto: As the Ambassador for MLB and its development in the UK and Germany, you introduced baseball to over 20,000 children for their first time. Describe that experience. How were you recruited for this position?
Andy BerglundAs part of the MLB Roadshow, we would spend weeks on the road and each week visit new schools in bigger German and UK cities to introduce the game of baseball. The goal of the program was to introduce the sport and get kids excited about playing and joining local clubs and participating in MLB’s Pitch, Hit & Run program as well. I was recruited through a friend named Ian Young and in turn met Jason Holowaty, who I now work directly with on game development in Europe and Africa.

Andy Berglund and Prince Fielder
Andy Berglund and Prince Fielder
Roberto: You returned to the states to earn your Masters in Communications from North Dakota State University in 2006. How did you balance your love for the game in Europe while missing family back home?
Andy Berglund: The toughest part of working in Europe is being away from family and I try to get back as often as I can. My oldest brother has three young sons, and it’s challenging being away and missing the finer parts of watching them grow up. Still, we find ways to see each other every year and make the most of it.
Roberto: Considering you returned to Northern Europe as a player and coach for the Stockholm Baseball Club in 2008, you must have loved it there. In fact, you led the team to its first ever Swedish Championship. Did that validate your belief that you could instill success into the mindset of other players?
Andy Berglund: Sweden is a beautiful country. That season, I specifically wanted to come back over to coach, play and win a title with Bjorn and Peter Johannessen, who had became friends over the years. I was really welcomed there by the Claesson family, who oversee the club. The dedicated people in the club made it a goal to really put together an action plan to develop the youth programs and build the best club in Sweden. Stockholm has won 5 of the last 7 Swedish championships since then and have a solid youth program with new facilities being built.
Roberto: You later became a member of the Swedish Senior National Team in 2009. At that point, did you know coaching in Europe was your destiny?
Andy Berglund: Not fully, but I knew that there would always be an attraction to coaching baseball in Europe not matter where I was in the world.
Roberto: However, it appeared that the West Coast was tugging at your uniform as you spent time in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point and Carlsbad. What attracted you to Southern California?
Sage Hill H.S. manager Andy Berglund
Sage Hill High School head coach Andy Berglund was named 2008 Academy League High School Coach of the Year for his excellence.

Andy Berglund: I wanted to experience baseball year-round and found a great opportunity to coach at a high school in Newport Beach. It was my first real head coaching position, and I really enjoyed learning what it takes to try and build a championship program.
Roberto: You began as the head coach for Sage Hill High School in Newport Beach in 2008 after the baseball team had endured its third consecutive losing season. You turned things around there after developing a thorough communication program involving the student-athletes and their parents. You were selected as 2008 Academy League High School Coach of the Year. While at Sage, you put together a 51-18 overall record which included two league titles and one second place finish. During this time you were influenced by the likes of Mark McGwire, Wally Joyner, Bruce Hurst, and Lee Smith. You also studied the modern science of pitching with Tom House and Ron Wolforth. Care to comment on your experience coaching in Orange County and working with these former pros?
Andy Berglund: I had seen videos on Ron Wolforth’s Athletic Pitching program and read books on Tom House’s pitching philosophy as a way to learn more as a coach, on arm action and pitching. We were fortunate enough to have Tom House come visit Sage Hill for a practice and he worked brilliantly with our pitchers. I met Ron Wolforth this past year at a conference in Paris. I thanked him for showing me a new way to train and protect young pitchers arms. I met Mark McGwire while doing ProKids Academy camps with his sons back in Southern California and picked up some great hitting tips from him. Joyner, Hurst and Smith, I met later on at our European Elite Academy in Italy. They are all wonderful teachers. You’d have to pinch yourself sometimes, being such a fan of these guys growing up, and then having conversations with them. The past few years the Elite Camp has featured Barry Larkin, Steve Finley, Greg Swindell, Tom Gordon, John McLaren, Art Howe and Dale Murphy, to name a few. It’s an amazing experience to pick these guys’ brains on the game.
Roberto: You left it all behind to become the head coach for the Eagles Praha of the Czech Pro League. In addition, you served as head coach for the Czech Senior and Junior National Teams in 2011 and 2012–leading to the highest finishes in the country’s history (Silver Medal). Did that give you confidence that you could impact a developing nation’s appetite for the game?
Andy Berglund: My time on the field in the Czech Republic was very rewarding. We took the same approach with trying to build on what was already there and fine-tune it into something special. I think you said it correctly, because the appetite for baseball in the Czech is definitely growing and they are really having some success. It’s great to see their young teams go to the Little League World Series, the World Championships and have the success they are having. It proves a small baseball country can achieve big things.
Curtis Granderson (third from the right) and Andy Bergund (far right)
Curtis Granderson (third from the right) and Andy Berglund (far right) on the MLB Roadshow

Roberto: How did it feel being nominated as the EBCA Coach of the Year in 2011 and speaking at the Coaches Convention?
Andy Berglund: I was very fortunate to be considered and very happy for Brian Farley when he won. I thought the Dutch’s 2011 World Championship really helped put European baseball on the map in ways it had never been before. Now the Dutch and Italians are beating traditional baseball powerhouses in the World Baseball Classic and it is great for the exposure and development of the game overseas.
Roberto: Did you start up the Czech MLB Baseball Academy?
Andy Berglund: No, Martin Smidt started the Prague Academy and David Winkler started the Brno Baseball Academy. I help with their development on behalf of MLB. The Brno Academy has really developed into a solid program and a lot of those players are representing the Czech U15, U18 and U21 teams that are winning medals at the European Championships.
Czech Republic manager Andy Berglund visits pitcher Alex Sogard in the 2012 World Baseball Classic Qualifier.
Czech Republic lefty Alex Sogard listens to manager Andy Berglund in the 2012 WBC Qualifier.

Roberto: Did you enjoy serving as the bench coach for Team France in the 2014 European Baseball Championship?
Andy Berglund: Yes. A lot of work was put into getting France back on the right track by the federation, so it was good to be a part of.
Roberto: You have been a strong advocate for baseball in both France and Czech Republic. Both teams made strong showing in the Euros and their numbers have jumped up considerably in the International Baseball Rankings. Do you think that your coaching has catapulted these countries into becoming up-and-coming powerhouses?
Andy Berglund: I would say the success in France and the Czech Republic has been result of the good people in the federation that are willing to push the envelope for development working well with the best coaches in the country. It takes getting into a room, getting to the bottom line, discussing the resources you have, putting together a blueprint and attacking the goal you all want to achieve. Throw away the politics. Get down to business. For me, wherever I have coached, my goal was never to finish anywhere but the top. Once the players embrace that vision, you truly have something powerful and dangerous anytime you step on the field.
Roberto: Do you believe MLB will embrace European baseball as they have in other parts of the world and invest there beyond the MLB academies?
Andy Berglund: I do. I know they are looking into having an opening MLB series being played in Europe, much like they did in Australia this past year. I know it is an intriguing market for MLB, especially with the success the NFL has had hosting games in London and the NHL has had hosting games in Europe.
Roberto: What is your personal opinion on the future of baseball in Europe?
Andy Berglund: It’s going to continue to grow. You are going to continue to see more players signed out of Europe and Africa. Hopefully soon, you’ll see more of them playing in the Big Leagues. The process is just going to take time. The level of play here has definitely increased; the domestic leagues have become stronger, as have the national teams. There are some more established countries here in Europe that have strong ambitions to take the game to another level, numbers wise, exposure wise and game development wise. They will be leading the charge to see where the game is over the next 5-10 years.
Team France at the 2014 European Baseball Championship was led by bench coach Andy Berglund (fifth from right) and manager Eric Gagne (far right).
Led by bench coach Andy Berglund (fifth from the right) and manager Eric Gagne (far right),
France placed sixth in the 2014 European Baseball Championship in Brno, Czech Republic.

Barry Larkin and Andy Berglund
Barry Larkin and Andy Berglund
Roberto: It’s nice to know MLB veterans like France manager Eric Gagne and Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza are on board?
Andy Berglund: Definitely. They bring even more exposure to the sport and raise the interest that much higher. You are talking about two huge names in baseball that only stopped playing in the MLB less than 10 years ago. To have them involved is huge for marketing the sport and also raising the interest back in the U.S. on how and why these guys are getting involved.
Roberto: Any final thoughts to share?
Andy Berglund: The last thing I’ll mention is something I’ve learned from Barry Larkin. His advice to the game is: “Get Better Every Day. Today, be better than you were yesterday. And tomorrow, be better than you were today.” I think that’s the best way to look at what we are all trying to accomplish in baseball, as players, coaches and in development, to keep you humble and to keep you motivated.

Mineo: legendary historical landmark of Sicily or Italy’s finest catch exported to the Chicago Cubs?

A panoramic view of the archaeological site of Rocchicella di Mineo, ancient Palikè, the location
of the most important sanctuary of Sicily's indigenous Sikel people in the eastern part of the
island with Mount Etna, Europe's largest active volcano, towering over Catania seen far away
The Siculi (Sikeloi; Sicels; Sikels) were the native inhabitants of the eastern regions (including Mineo) of Sicily south of the Italian Peninsula over 10,000 years ago. The island of Sicily takes its name from the indigenous Siculi people. With its strategic location at the center of the Mediterranean, Sicily is rich in its history of conquest and empire. It is a melting pot of cultures with over a dozen ethnic groups whose warriors and merchants walked her shores. Although the other two indigenous societies of the Sicanians and Elymians assimilated easily with the Greeks, the Sicels constituted a highly developed society that the Greeks respected profoundly. Despite conflict and its desire to remain autonomous, it took several centuries for the Sicels to completely assimilate and amalgamate with their Greek neighbors. Except for the Romans, the Sicels were the only predominantly Italic people to settle in Sicily in large numbers as colonists.
Italy leads all European countries in its number of immigrants to America. Beginning in the late 1800’s, poverty and natural disasters drove Italians out–especially in Il Mezzogiorno, the southern and poorest provinces of Italy. As late as 1900, the illiteracy rate in southern Italy was 70 percent. The Italian government was dominated by northerners, and southerners were hurt by high taxes and unfair tariffs on the north’s industrial goods. Southerners suffered from exploitation by people of the same nationality and religion.
Piazza DiMaggio commemorated the legendary son of an Italian immigant, Joe DiMaggio, who lived the American Dream of playing baseball and the tens of thousands of Italian immigrants who came to America through the Taylor St. U.S. port of entry seeking a new life in the heart of Chicago's Little Italy during the early part of the Twentieth Century.

Self-reliant on only themselves for mere survival, southerners had an allegiance to la famiglia (the family) and l’ordine della famiglia (the rules of family behavior and responsibility). Suffering from a scarcity of cultivatable land, soil erosion and deforestation as well as a lack of coal and iron ore needed by industry, life in the South was difficult. Southern Italy was ravaged in the early 20th century when Mount Vesuvius and Mount Etna erupted and buried towns nearby. In 1908 an earthquake and tidal wave that swept through the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the Italian mainland killed more than 100,000 people in the city of Messina alone. For many Italian immigrants, fleeing to the United States was not to be interpreted as a rejection of their homeland. Instead, it defended the Italian way of life because the money sent home helped to preserve the traditional order. Rather than seeking permanent homes, they desired an opportunity to work for a living and aspired to save enough money to return to a better life in the country of their birth. Unable to earn enough to support their families in their native Italy, they were migratory laborers. The majority were young men–aged 18 to 25–who planned to work, save their money and return home. Hoping their absence would not be too long, they left behind their parents, young wives and kids.
Fast forward a century later and native Italian athletes are still clinging to their roots and culture despite being lured by U.S. professional sports to homogenize into the American lifestyle. The first Italian-born baseball player awarded a MLB contract was pitcher Alessandro Maestri. Signed by Chicago Cubs scout Bill Holmberg, Maestri never pitched at Wrigley Field–even though he was a Minor Leaguer with a wicked Major League slider. However, the Cubs struck gold in 2010 when Holmberg signed then 16-year-old Italian catching prospect Alberto Mineo to a contract.
Chicago Cubs Italian catching prospect Alberto Mineo at 2012 Spring Training in Mesa, Arizona
Catcher Alberto Mineo calms his pitcher down and discusses strategy to get the next batter out.
Now ranked 58th behind #1 Cubbie Starling Castro in the Chicago Cubs Top Players Under 25 Organizational List, catcher Alberto Mineo has his eyes set on making it all the way to Wrigley. The defensive standout with excellent catch-and-throw skills said, “The part that I like most about being a catcher is throwing runners out at second.” The 5-foot-11, 170 pounder has strong hands and forearms which assist his receiving skills and defensive instincts. Blessed with outstanding arm strength and a quick ball transfer exchange, Mineo looks comfortable behind the plate. Exuding confidence as a first-rate catcher, opponents will need to exercise caution on the bases.
Left-handed hitting slugger Alberto Mineo
played for Team Italia at the 18 Under Junior World Championship in Thunder Bay, Canada

Holmberg watched Mineo develop into a natural talent from age 10 and knew early on he was special. Alberto was mature enough to accept feedback and listened to Holmberg and Maestri’s sound advice. He commented, “Both of them, they would always say to me ‘Work hard everyday because there is somebody somewhere else that is working hard to get to the Big Leagues’ and I started believing that I could sign with an American team.” Exercising good plate discipline, Mineo is a patient hitter who jumps on a pitcher’s mistake. “I always think as a hitter that I must wait for my pitch until I get two strikes,” Alberto explained. The left-handed hitting Mineo can demolish the ball with his technically sound swing, and once on base he can demonstrate great speed for a catcher.
Cubs prospect Alberto Mineo has speed on the bases and is very quick with his glove defensively.

After being signed by Bill Holmberg–who also is the pitching coach for the Italian National team and operates the Major League Baseball International European Academy at the Olympic Training Center in Tirrenia, Italy–Ronchi dei Legionari New Black Panthers catcher Alberto Mineo began his professional career in the month-long MLB Australian Academy Summer League, where he became friends with Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim promising pitching prospect
Alex DaSilva–who later moved up the competitive ladder to play for the Australian Baseball League (ABL)
2012 Runner-Up Melbourne Aces. Mineo played well in Australia (.270 batting average, 1 HR) as did his Italian mentor Alex Maestri, who was so popular that he won the 2012 ABL Fan Choice Award.
Catcher Alberto Mineo has all the tools to follow fellow MLB International European Academy graduate Alex Liddi of the Seattle Mariners and become the second Italian-born player in the Big Leagues.

The ABL’s first Italian pitcher/catcher combo with Maestri and Mineo could become reality if Alberto has his way. Mineo commented, “I had a nice experience in Australia, where I met a lot of great players that I still remain in contact with via facebook. I would really like to play with Alex in the ABL.” The dynamic duo could possibly make their debut in the near future as members of the Italian National team under the guidance and direction of pitching coach Bill Holmberg and former Major League Baseball All-Star hitting coach Mike Piazza. Mineo has played as a member of several Italian National teams at various levels– including the 18 Under Junior World Championship in Thunder Bay, Canada. Italian National team catcher Francisco Cervelli of the New York Yankees now has Mineo as back-up.
Mineo said, “I don’t feel the pressure to be the next Italian to make it in MLB. I just want to have fun and enjoy this amazing experience that I’m living right now. But it would be really nice to play with Alex Liddi on the Italian National team…”
Lady Liberty of a Cubbie kind stands tall and proud in the city of Chicago.

Alberto had an exceptional Cubs 2011 Arizona Instructional League four-game campaign with a
.500 batting average, .556 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage. “The Cubs Instructional League was an awesome experience. I really like
to practice with Casey Kopitzke, the catching coordinator. I think he’s really good,” Mineo said.
“So far Cubs Spring Training is going very well. I like to work hard on the field and in the gym. It’s the best place you can go if you love this sport. A couple days ago Kerry Wood, Ryan Dempster and Rodrigo Lopez came to the complex to talk to us about the right way to get to the Big Leagues, but my favorite Cubs player is still Marlon Byrd. Inspired to play baseball at age five by his father and become a catcher three years later, Alberto followed American baseball religiously. “My favorite player has always been Derek Jeter. Now it is Joe Mauer. I really like how he plays, and I also think that he’s a very professional guy,” Mineo said.
Wrigley Field, National Historic Landmark and home of the Chicago Cubs since 1916, is the second oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues and the oldest standing National League ballpark.
Although there had been a long-time association of Italians being die-hard Cubbie fans,
the connection got even stronger when the late and great Hall of Fame Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray–whose real Italian last name was Carabina–signed on to the super station WGN Network in 1982. Although he passed on to baseball heaven in 1998, his legacy is still alive and well today as the legendary Caray’s Italian Steakhouse remains a Chicago restaurant icon. Now with Alberto Mineo in the Cubs organization, Italians in Chicago and beyond should rejoice and be thankful for their ancestors’ sacrifices years ago for the opportunities bestowed upon us in 2012. In the case of the young catching prospect Mineo–not only does he possess the natural skills necessary to become a professional ballplayer–
but he has the unconditional love and support of a dedicated team of international coaches, players, fans and family to be a true Italian baseball ambassador worldwide. Forza Italia!

Italian Cubbie fans of all shapes and sizes await Alberto Mineo's imminent arrival at Wrigley Field.

Italian coaching, cuisine, and culture make Italy world-class for MLB hopefuls and European scouts

Baseball in Italy received a Major League surprise last month when an unannounced MLB manager graced the 436 registered attendees with his presence at the Italian Coaches Convention Dinner at Castelnuovo de Garda (Verona). Tampa Bay manager Joe Madden, a first-generation Italian-American whose father was born in Italy, was overjoyed by the warm reception received at the gala dinner which pays tribute to the coaches that make a difference in the internationalization of baseball in Italy. Madden exclaimed, “I feel at home here, because in the small city in Pennsylvania where I live there is a big Italian community.”

Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Madden embraces his Italian roots.
His grandparents original surname was Madonnini, but after emigrating from the Region of Abruzzo to America
their last name was shortened. Maddon continued, “It is always a pleasure for me to visit Italy. I am proud of my heritage.” The Rays were very well represented in Italy as Maddon brought along members of his coaching staff to lead instructional clinics for the delegation of Europe’s best coaches.
Italian National team coach Mike Piazza (shown here as coach of Team U.S.A.) and Seattle Mariners Alex Liddi (shown here playing for Team World) in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game
Alex Liddi became Italy's first successful export to MLB and the Seattle Mariners on September 7, 2011.
Riccardo Fraccari, president of the Federation of Italian Baseball and Softball (FIBS), spoke of Alex Liddi becoming the first Italian-born and developed player to play Major League Baseball and its great significance to baseball in Italy. He said, “Alex’s story is really the tip of the iceberg, and we really need to take into account the daily work of the coaches in Italy who are the base of the movement.” Liddi was signed by the Seattle Mariners after being selected to attend the inaugural MLB International European Academy in 2005 and in September 2011 became the first graduate of the MLB International European Academy to play in the Major Leagues.
Italian National team coach Bill Holmberg encourages New York Yankee catcher Francisco Cervelli sitting next to Alex Liddi during the World Baseball Classic.
Like a fine Italian wine, MLB / FIBS Italian Academy Director and Field Coordinator Bill Holmberg has been getting better with age by improving the quality of Italian baseball and coaching Europe's finest players since landing in Italy in 1989.
Bill Holmberg is one such coach that FIBS President Fraccari was referring to in his compelling speech. Holmberg has been living under the radar since 1989, when he came to Italy to serve as manager and technical director of the Godo baseball club for 12 years. He later became the pitching coach for San Marino as well as the Italian Junior and Senior National teams. Coach Holmberg was named Director and Field Coordinator of the MLB Italian Academy nearly a decade ago and has been instrumental in signing the best homegrown talent as a former international scout for the Chicago Cubs. Everyday he tirelessly trains the cream of the crop at an elite sports academy in the quaint beach community of Tirrenia near the Italian cultural iconic city of Pisa. Alessandro Maestri, the former Chicago Cub minor leaguer and recent Brisbane Bandit / 2012 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Fan Favorite Award recipient, was signed by Holmerg in 2006, when he became the first Italian-born pitcher ever signed by a Major League Baseball team.
In 2006 Chicago Cub European Scout Bill Holmberg signed Cesena's Alessandro Maestri,
the first Italian-born pitcher signed to a MLB contract. (Scott Powick / SMP Images / ABL)
Italian National team pitcher Alessandro Maestri showed the world that he could compete against baseball's elite in the World Baseball Classic.
Chicago Cub scout Holmberg knew early on that Alessandro was something special when he saw the young Italian play baseball for the first time. Holmberg said, “Alex can do whatever he wants to. He’s got the temperament and composure. He’s hit 95 mph, and his slider is at 86 or 87. He competes as hard as anyone out there.” Maestri still to this day works under the guidance and direction of Coach Holmberg. The Cesena, Italy
native made World Baseball Classic headlines in 2006 when his first offering to the Dominican Republic’s Moises Alou was rocketed out of the park for a home run. Despite the rocky start, he would not allow another earned run in his 4.2 combined innings in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.
Alessandro Maestri as a Cub minor leaguer
Maestri demonstrated great promise in the Midwest and Florida State leagues as a two-time All-Star. As as starter and relief pitcher in the Chicago Cubs minor league system for five seasons, he racked up a 24-17 record with a 3.75 ERA and 19 saves. The right hand throwing pitcher put away hitters with his evasive slider–which was once voted as the best slider thrown by anyone in the entire franchise. Maestri made his preseason MLB debut against the Oakland A’s during Cubs Spring Training in Phoenix on April 1, 2009 when Cub manager Lou Pinella summoned him out of the bullpen. Maestri struck out Orlando Cabrera and then he sized up against slugger Jason Giambi–who was lucky to squeak out a single through the hole. MLB All-Star
Closer Alessandro Maestri was not afraid to show his winning Italian spirit by striking out Jayson Nix to beat Team U.S.A. for the first time in 21 years on November 9, 2007 during the 2007 Baseball World Cup.

Matt Holliday was caught looking at a third strike slider for the second out, and Eric Chavez went down swinging at his Italian slider in the dirt to end Maestri’s almost perfect outing. Nearly three years later, Alessandro is still as dominant as ever as witnessed by his numbers in the most recent 2011-12 ABL season. As the workhorse and ace of the Brisbane Bandit pitching staff, Maestri led his team in wins (4) and proved to be one of the best pitchers in the league. He finished third in the ABL in innings pitched (63.2) and in strikeouts (53), fourth in the ABL in WHIP (1.16) and sixth in the ABL in ERA (3.25). In Round Eight of the regular season, he earned the Pitcher of the Week award after pitching a stellar complete game two-hitter against the Canberra Cavalry. Based on his most recent form, Maestri is worthy of a second look by international scouts to make his long-awaited MLB debut. He will always be a competitor who lives on the edge to bail his team out of pressure situations.
MLB / FIBS Academy Director
Bill Holmberg is committed to producing Italy's finest athletes.

Of the frequent MLB-sponsored instructional clinics throughout Europe, none has had the impact of MLB / FIBS Academy host Coach Holmberg’s annual three and a half week summer invitational Major League Baseball International European Academy at the Olympic Training Center in Tirrenia. Designed to provide promising junior teenage players with both the environment and the instruction to reach their full potential, the European Academy brings together around 50 or more of the brightest young playing talent in Europe and Africa with the best in Major League coaching and instruction. The Academy seeks to provide a path for elite players from this region to improve their skills in preparation for the rigors of professional and international baseball. In addition to helping these bright young stars develop their skills, the Academy enables MLB Clubs to scout the best future talent. Holmberg explained, “It’s a pretty good place to see all the best players in Europe at one time. We’ve had between 18 and 20 scouts that have watched the games this past year.”
The Tirrenia baseball camp, which began in 2005, has much to do with MLB’s accelerated rate of signing the European elite to professional contracts based on the fact that the numbers have more than tripled from 2005 (2.33 average) to 2011 (9.0 average). So far 49 Academy graduates from ten countries (45 players from Europe and 4 players from Africa) have signed professional contracts with 19 different Major League Baseball franchises. Holmberg commented, “We’re not the Dominican Republic yet, but I think we might be sneaking up on Australia.”