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.”
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.”
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.
Alberto Mineo è stato convocato per un’amichevole dei Cubs di Chicago. Ex Accademia, Mineo giocare nelle Minors pic.twitter.com/EBFCLtIZ8H
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.
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.”
Just spent amazing week at Dodgertown with @FIBSpress Italian National team preparing to defend European title. Thank you @Mets for tix 2day
For 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.
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. 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.” 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.
I just wanna thank all my family, friends,coaches all over the world for everything they have done for me! This is a special day 🙂 #happy
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.” 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. 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.
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?”
“I told the cab driver, just rolling up over the Clemente Bridge and going around the corner, I said, this is my office space,” said Pittsburgh’s new closer Jason Grilli after signing his two-year, $6.75 million contract through 2014 with the Pirates. “This is how I do my best work. There’s sometimes not enough money that can be a good tradeoff to being comfortable and to know what to expect.” Despite leaving money on the table and taking far less than the free agent market offered to stay in Pittsburgh–much to the disliking of Italian Finance Minister Vittorio Grilli, 36-year-old pitcher Jason Grilli remains a Pirate. However, Jason Grilli has earned the right to pitch wherever he chooses after picking up the win in Team Italia’s 10-0 shutout of Australia in the 2006 World Baseball Classic (WBC) and a save in Italy’s 6-2 upset over heavily-favored Canada in the 2009 WBC competition. It goes without saying that the sight of Jason Grilli wearing an Azzurri jersey brings more joy and glory to the near-bankrupt European nation than any Italian politician could ever produce. Yet, politics somehow infiltrated into Italian baseball during the 1996 Olympics. After being invited by the the Italian Baseball Federation to join the country’s Olympic team while playing college ball at Seton Hall, Grilli stood proud and was honored with a parade in his hometown of Syracuse, New York. When joining the team with another Italian American pitcher, they did not receive a warm reception. The other players on the Italian squad that qualified for the Olympics without the two imports threatened a boycott.
Facing an ‘us or them’ ultimatum, the pitchers were dismissed. “I was in tears the whole way home,”
Grilli said. “The good part of it was I got to see Italy, but the worst part of it was it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I didn’t get to play.” Grilli traces his family heritage roots to Florence and Naples. He said, “I’m 75 percent Italian. My last name is every bit as Italian as you can get. The name on the front of the jersey is always more important than the name on the back, but in this case, the two go hand-in-hand.
I wouldn’t have ‘Italia’ on the front if I didn’t have ‘Grilli’ on the back. Obviously, I love the United States. But I’m also proud of my lineage.” “You know, they say the more you hang around Italians, the more Italian you become,”
said Grilli. “And that’s what I am. I’m an Italian,” said the Italian right-hander (il Italiano adopera la mano destra) who reminisced about his experience playing for Team Italia in
the World Baseball Classic. “One day Tommy Lasorda came in to talk to us. It was one of
the greatest speeches I’d ever heard. I wish I’d memorized or recorded it. He talked about the pride that comes with being Italian, with such feeling. It was a great experience.”
Having been invited to attend the 28th Annual Italian Coach Convention in Parma, Italy, Grilli is seriously considering a coaching career in Italy after he retires from Major League Baseball. “I know (former MLB All-Star and Team Italia coach) Mike Piazza has a house
(in Italy), and he goes over for a couple months every year,” Grilli said. “It‘s intriguing.”Selected by the San Francisco Giants in the first round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft (fourth pick overall), Grilli made his MLB debut with the Florida Marlins in 2000 and has made 330 career appearances during his 10 seasons in the big leagues. The Pirates signed Grilli as a free agent on July 21, 2011, and he has posted a 2.76 ERA with 127 strikeouts in 92 appearances over the last two seasons. He hinted at comfort and a heightened sense of excitement for Pittsburgh’s resurgence to Clemente-era dominance as top reasons for re-signing. “I’ve been on 10 different teams,” Grilli said. “The grass is never always greener. It’s really all the same. There’s just something fitting here. It’s just a baseball town and it bugs me as much as it bugs everybody else in this city. They want this so bad.” In 2012 Grilli limited opponents to just one run in 15 of his 64 appearances and struck out at least one hitter in 56 of the 64 games. He set a franchise record for relievers by striking out at least one batter in each of his first 19 appearances in 2012. Although a bull in the pen on the mound, Jason is quite the gentlemen to members of the press. The local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America recently voted Grilli as the winner of the Chuck Tanner Award–an award that recognizes the player who is most cooperative with the media. Jason Grilli wants to bring back the World Series glory days to Pittsburgh. As a proud Italian, he supports MLB’s initiative to foster baseball’s popularity in Italy through the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS)-sponsored MLB Italian Academy and international games like the World Baseball Classic. Grilli said, “I’m in the books in Italian baseball, and that’s good. Major League Baseball wants the game to grow globally, and I’m happy to be a part of that.”
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.
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.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.
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.
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 Pantherscatcher 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.
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…”
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. 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!
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 Maddon, 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”