On Saturday, June 2, 2018, Italian Americans have an opportunity to celebrate their heritage and Chicago’s rich baseball history through a screening of the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning film, Italian American Baseball Family at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. The 2016 American Community Survey reveals that almost 17 million Italians live in the United States. With more than 500,000 Italian Americans living in greater Chicago, the city trails only New York and Philadelphia as the third largest thriving Italian epicenter in America. Chicago boasts a big and loyal baseball following with two professional Major League teams: the Cubs and South Side rivals White Sox. The city has a rich baseball history, of which outsiders may have little or no knowledge.
Chi Town’s first major baseball player of Italian descent was Francesco Pezzolo, known to most as “Ping Bodie.” Francesco was the son of Giuseppe Pezzolo, who emigrated from a small town near Genoa to New York City, and who worked long hours building the Brooklyn Bridge. In 1876 father Giuseppe and mother Rosa moved the family west to a gold-mining settlement in Bodie, California. Francesco Pezzolo was born on October 8, 1887 in San Francisco, and to mask his Italian identity due to racial prejudices and injustices, he changed his professional baseball name to Ping Bodie. After joining the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals in 1908, Ping Bodie soon became a Bay Area fan favorite and was nicknamed “the Fence Buster”. The Chicago White Sox could not help but notice Ping Bodie when he slugged 30 home runs in 1910 and subsequently signed him to a Major League contract. During his rookie season in 1911, Bodie hit .289 with four homers and 97 RBI. He became a Chicago baseball icon during his four years as a solid contributor to the White Sox. His popularity continued in New York later in his career when he became Babe Ruth‘s first Yankee roommate. Ping Bodie was a father figure for many other West Coast Italian American ballplayers and paved the way for those who followed him including Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, and the DiMaggio brothers.
Chicago is not afraid to profess its love for the late and great Ron Santo. According to Lawrence Baladassaro’s brilliant new bookBaseball Italian Style , Ron’s father, Louis Santo, was born in Foggia, Italy, and came to America as a teenager. His son Ron grew up in the heart of “Garlic Gulch,” Seattle’s Italian district. Signed out of high school in 1959, just a year later 20-year-old Ron Santo made his MLB debut on June 26, 1960, when he had three hits and five RBI in a double-header sweep. In his 14 seasons with the Cubs, Santo was named to nine National League All-Star teams and won five consecutive Gold Glove awards (1964-68). He had four seasons with 100 or more RBI and hit 30 or more home runs in four consecutive seasons (1964-67). The 2012 Hall-of-Fame inductee hit 337 home runs and drove in 1,290 runs as a Cub, then played the final season of his career with the White Sox before retiring at age 34. He later became the Cubs radio color commentator in 1990 and held the position until his passing in 2010. A statue of the beloved Cub player and broadcaster was resurrected outside Wrigley Field in 2011 to honor his legacy.
There is one special Chicago Italian who has played for Team Italy in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. That unsung hero’s name is Fabio Milano, a former pitching all-star who played for Team Italy in the 2001 World Cup, 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Milano is also father to a pair of up-and-coming Team Italy softball stars. Maya and Kylie Milano. Another Chicago Italian who deserves a Hollywood Star for helping hundreds develop their craft is Paul Petricca, author of Hitting with Torque: For Softball and Baseball Players. Petricca along with The St. Joseph Club of Italian Americans are proud to present a “Celebration of Italian Baseball and Softball” on Saturday, June 2, 2018 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell Street in Arlington Heights beginning at 11:00 am. The Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning documentary, Italian American Baseball Family, will be shown.
Immediately following the screening of the movie, a Q & A discussion with filmmaker Roberto Angotti and a panel of former Italian baseball players will interact with the audience in an engaging discussion on playing baseball internationally. Panelists scheduled to appear include: Fabio Milano, Joe Mazzuca, former Marlins prospect who played for Team Italy internationally from 2006-2014; Barth Morreale Jr., who began pitching in Bologna in 2006 and led his team to victory in the 2011 European Cup; and Brent Consiglio, who played in baseball in Poviglio after graduating from the University of Chicago in 2004.
Angotti’s film Italian American Baseball Familydocuments the Italian American experience on how Italians assimilated into popular culture through America’s favorite pastime, baseball, and how Italian Americans have circled back to Italy to help grow the game abroad by playing for Team Italy in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. He is excited to bring the movie to Chicago, where University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Professor Emeritus Lawrence Baldassaro (author ofBeyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseballand Baseball Italian Style) was interviewed for the documentary at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and Ron Onesti was filmed at Piazza DiMaggio in Little Italy on Taylor Street. Angotti said, “Chicago has a rich Italian cultural heritage, and as a proud Italian American, I am delighted to share the film with lovers of baseball and history. Whether you are a fan of Ron Santo or Anthony Rizzo, there will be something for everybody during our celebration of Italian baseball and softball at the Metropolis.” Attendees are encouraged to participate in a silent auction featuring premium Chicago Cubs tickets, private pitching and hitting sessions and more. Tickets are available at the door. For more information, please contact Paul Petricca at 847-533-8474.
In late 1976 Lou Colabello got an invitation he could not refuse from friend Ed Orizzi, who was looking for a pitcher to help Rimini compete in the Italian Baseball League. It didn’t take long for the left-handed ace from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to regain his pitching form last seen in the 1969 College World Series to lead Rimini to three Italian Series A titles from 1977 to 1984. Putting together a stellar 94-25 record with a 2.99 ERA, the owners of the other IBL teams did not want to see Colabello’s dominance any longer. As a result, the president of the league and owner of the team in Parma implemented a rule that barred American-schooled Italians over the age of 26 from pitching.
After meeting the love of his life Silvana in Rimini and getting married to her in 1981, the Italian American Baseball Family Tree grew its first branch with the birth of their son Chris Colabello in 1983. Lou was invited to play for the Italian national team in 1984, when he would pitch against USA’s Barry Larkin, Will Clark, Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell, Mark McGwire, Cory Snyder and B.J. Surhoff at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Fast forward to the first pitch of the 2013 World Baseball Classic warm-up game between Team Italia and the Los Angeles Angels. Halos skipper Mike Scioscia looked out at the sea of Azzurri jerseys and said, “I’m proud to be Italian, and I think everyone on that field is proud of their roots and where they come from.” Then Scioscia asked, “Where’s Sal?” He wanted to know where Sal Varriale was. Sal was the first “oriundo” or immigrant with Italian ancestry recruited by Aldo Notari, the former Italian Baseball Federation President from 1985 to 2000. The Brooklyn native enjoyed a successful playing career in Italy and coached Team Italia in the Olympics from 1992 to 2004.
Today Sal proudly serves as Director of Parma Baseball and as an international scout for the Cincinnati Reds. The Italian American Baseball Family Roots grew during Notari’s tenure governing the Italian Baseball Federation and it continues to prosper with the addition of MLB’s World Baseball Classic under new president Andrea Marcon. Mike Piazza was recruited by former president Riccardo Fraccari to join Team Italia while visiting Italy in 2002. Jason Grilliand Frank Catalanotto also signed up to play for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC.
With Mike Piazza signing on as Team Italia hitting coach for the 2009 World Baseball Classic in Toronto, many notable Italian American MLB players contributed to Team Italia’s surprise 6-2 upset over host Canada. Chris Denorfia went 4-for-4 with three doubles, two runs, two RBI and played great defense. Starting pitcher Dan Serafini picked up the win after middle reliever Chris Cooper kept hitters off balance and closer Jason Grilli secured the 3 1/3 inning save. New Italian American Baseball Family members included Nick Punto, Francisco Cervelli, Adam Ottavino, and Mike Costanzo.
After Team Italia defeated Mexico and Canada to advance to the second-round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, they would suffer a 5-4 loss to eventual 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic and demonstrate how its mixed roster of Italian-born players like Alex Liddi and Alessandro Maestri and Italian American MLB-affiliated newcomers Anthony Rizzo, Chris Colabello, Drew Buteraand Pat Vendittecould compete with international baseball’s elite.
It was fun to share the enthusiasm of Roberto Angotti visiting our Academy in Tirrenia
Los Angeles radio deejay and journalist Roberto Angotti could see the writing on the wall and knew something special was happening when he was invited to the Italian Baseball Academy in Tirrenia while visiting family nearby in 2012. Since the day Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy director and Chicago Cubs scout Bill Holmberg signed Italian Baseball Academy graduate Alberto Mineo to the Cubbies in 2010, MLB scouts have scattered around the FIBS-sponsored Baseball Academy like flies hunting down the scent of the next big European prospect. Germany’s most successful player to date–Max Kepler, a product of a similar European Baseball Academy that MLB’s Bill Holmberg frequents in Regensburg and recipient of the Minnesota Twins’ $800,000 signing bonus in 2009, proved to be worth his weight in gold based on his 17 homers and 63 RBI during the 2016 MLB season.
San Remo native Alex Liddi, who signed to the Seattle Mariners in 2005 and made his MLB debut in 2011, was inspirational for young Italian ballplayers like Marten Gasparini who dreamed of playing in the Big Leagues. Heralded as the best 5-tool player ever out of Europe, FIBS Academy graduate and MLB prospect Marten Gasparini received a $1.3 million dollar signing bonus from the Kansas City Royals in 2013. The 19-year-old shortstop credits Italian Baseball Academy director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg for his success.
Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri has been synonymous with Italian baseball since his playing days in the 1980’s. During his ten-year tenure as the leader of the Team Italia coaching staff, Mazzieri has made the Italians proud with European Baseball Championship titles in 2010 and 2012. The LA Dodgers recruited Mazzieri to become their scout in 2013. Mazzieri went right to work and wasted no time in signing FIBS Academy graduates Federico Celli and Federico Giordani.
Growing up in Los Angeles as a first generation Italian American Dodgers fan, Roberto Angotti understood the strong connection between Tommy Lasorda and Mike Piazza. From the moment Piazza decided to play for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC, Angotti enlisted to become a soldier on the frontline of the Italian baseball revolution. Roberto became friends with Mike during the two weeks Team Italia spent in Phoenix preparing for the 2013 WBC. When Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda dropped in on Team Italia’s practice at Dodgers’ Spring Training Camp in Glendale to address the team, Angotti pledged his support and worked tirelessy behind-the-scenes to provide daily journals of the team’s activities. Lasorda’s emotionally-driven speech coupled with Piazza’s serious commitment inspired Angotti to share the experience with others through a traveling exhibit paying tribute to Italian American baseball entitled Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball. The exhibition featured sports artists of Italian descent–including James Fiorentino–and paid homage to Team Italia.
Featured in the New York Times as well as on ESPN, MSG, and FOX, James Fiorentino is considered one of the world’s best sports artists. Fiorentino became the youngest artist to ever be featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame at age 15 with his portrait of Reggie Jackson. Art seen at JamesFiorentino.com grace the walls of the National Basketball and Cycling Hall of Fames, Ted Williams and Roberto Clemente Museums, National Art Museum of Sport and the Sports Museum of America.
The Italian American Baseball Family grew organically when Mint Pros founder Joe Quagliano reached out to Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri and offered his expertise as a pro sports event promoter to raise funds for baseball development in Italy. With the support of FIBS executives Riccardo Fraccari, Marinella Mojoli, Massimo Fochi, Marco Landi and Riccardo Schiroli, Quagliano represented the Italian Baseball Federation with Marco Mazzieri at the National Italian American Foundation 41st Anniversary Gala and joined Mike Piazza at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame 39th Annual Induction & Awards Gala.
Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto, Joe Quagliano, James Fiorentino and Roberto Angotti have teamed up for the Italian American Baseball FamilyLaunch and Dinner, the first of many fundraisers to assist in the development of youth baseball in Italy by building and maintaining ball fields, purchasing uniforms and equipment, organizing clinics and supporting FIBS. Like branches on a tree, we grow in different directions yet our Italian family roots remain the same.
Among other memorable moments, the family of Yogi Berra will be presented with the late Italian American’s retired number 8 Italia coaches jersey from 2008, and internationally acclaimed artist James Fiorentino will honor Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazza by revealing his commissioned portrait of the 2016 National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee during the dinner ceremonies. All fundraising dinner proceeds will support youth baseball in Italy by building and maintaining ball fields, purchase uniforms and equipment, organize clinics and other youth baseball programs under FIBS’ guidance.
Mike Piazza met FIBS president Riccardo Fraccari in 2002 while visiting Italy on a MLB International mission to help grow the game in Europe. Fraccari asked Piazza if he would be interested in representing Italy in international competition, and the proud Italian American responded that it would be privilege to play for the Italian national team in honor of his Sicilian ancestry. University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee professor emeritus of Italian Lawrence Baldassaro-who served as the interpreter for Team Italia at the 2006 WBC–said, “Of all the younger Major League players I interviewed for my book, Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball, none was more in touch with, and interested in, his Italian heritage than Mike Piazza. And his commitment to baseball in Italy is unmatched among those his age.” In response Mike Piazza replied, “We just want to continue to draw attention to the fact that we believe baseball is marketable in Italy. We think it’s viable. We think there’s a lot of upward growth. We can produce players over there. I’m convinced of it.”
Carmine Gangone has been slinging pizza at his family’s Williamsburg restaurant in Brooklyn since he was 7 years old. Carmine’s Pizzeria was opened nearly four decades ago by his hard-working Italian immigrant father from Salerno. Carmine’s Restaurant and Sports Bar has since become a favorite New York Yankees enclave with its enormous display of Brooklyn Bombers memorabilia, which most notably includes Italian American baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. Carmine’s Restaurant and Sports Bar plays host to the Italian American Baseball Family Launch and Fundraiser Dinner on December 8th. Team Italia coaches Mike Piazzaand Frank Catalanotto, Team Italia players Jason Grilliand Francisco Cervelli aswell as other MLB players including Mike Napoli are expected. For tickets and more information about this special event, click HERE.
1 ticket to the Team Italia event
1 giclee signed by sports artist James Fiorentino
Your name displayed in our event program
2 tickets to the Team Italia fundraising event,
1 Mike Piazza – 16 x 20 giclees signed by sports artist James Fiorentino
Your company’s ¼ page ad displayed in ours event program.
Pre event meeting with the celebrities
4 tickets to the Team Italia fundraising event,
2 Mike Piazza – 16 x 20 giclees signed by sports artist James Fiorentino
Your company’s ½ page ad displayed in ours event program.
Pre event meeting with the celebrities
2 Field passes for batting practice and 2 field level seats for a 2016 or 2017 NY Mets game
10 tickets to the Team Italia fundraising event,
10 Mike Piazza – 16 x 20 giclees signed by sports artist James Fiorentino
Your company’s full page ad in our event program.
Pre event meeting with the celebrities
4 Field passes for batting practice and 4 field level seats for a 2016 or 2017 NY Mets game
15 tickets to the Team Italia fundraising event,
15 Mike Piazza – 16 x 20 giclees signed by sports artist James Fiorentino
Your company’s name displayed on the back page of ours event program.
Pre event meeting with the celebrities
6 Field passes for batting practice and 6 field level seats for a 2016 or 2017 NY Mets game
Just ask former Jays manager Cito Gaston about the current team’s roster, which now boasts veteran Italian American pitcher Jason Grillias their reliable setup man. Just two games out of first in the American League East Division, the Blue Jays would like nothing more than ending the 23-year-old drought by bringing a World Series title back home to Toronto. Gaston said, “I think they have the team to win it. It’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be fun for this city to watch.” Since being traded on May 31st from the Atlanta Braves, Jason Grilli has provided the necessary leadership to propel current Toronto Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons’ team to the top.
The trade that brought Grilli north of the border probably would have never taken place without a little help from Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin, who encouraged the front office to take action and served as catcher for Grilli while with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013 when Jason earned a nod to the National League All-Star squad. Like a fine Italian wine getting better with time, Grilli saved 33 games and posted a 2.70 ERA with 74 strikeouts to just 13 walks for the Pirates that year. His accolades grew larger in 2014 when the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame honored Pirates closer Jason Grilli as the “Man of the Year”. Jays General Manager Ross Atkins cited Martin’s endorsement of Grilli as being a factor in bringing him to Toronto.
Martin admitted Grilli is now getting by more on craft and guile than power. “His arm is still electric. There’s still some bullets in that thing,” Russell said. “He’s got that fastball that guys like to swing at when it’s up in the zone. He knows how to disrupt timing with the slide-step, how to elevate the fastball. And he’s got a really tight slider — one of the best that I’ve caught.” Jason has made fifteen appearances for Toronto, tossing 13.2 innings, allowing ten hits and six walks while striking out 23. Grilli has also notched four holds since joining the Blue Jays.
After Grilli was traded to the Angels from the Pirates in 2014, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said: “I know this about Jason. Every time a new opportunity has come to him, he has been able to find another gear.” Based on his performance for the past six weeks, Jason has indeed found a new lease on life in Toronto–thanks in part to the recruitment efforts of Canadian-born Russell Martin, who would love matching World Series rings. “I thanked him and up down,” Grilli said of Martin. “I told him I knew he had something to do with me being over here.”
Only second to Santa in holiday appearances, National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame spokesman Mike Piazza began early before Thanksgiving when he emceed NIASHF’s 37th Annual Awards Celebration and inducted John Andretti, Babe Parilli, Scott Pioli, Angelo Pizzo and Frank Zamboni at the InterContinental Hotel in Chicago.
International baseball ambassador and Italian National team hitting coach Mike Piazza got a jump start on Babbo Natale, otherwise known as Father Christmas, when he traveled to Veneto, Italy last January to speak to an enthusiastic audience at the 29th Annual Coaches Convention. Piazza said, “We all overteach and overanalyze hitting. Everyone has their own opinion, but in actuality–just as Ted Williams explained in his book–The Science of Hitting–the number one rule is to get a good ball to hit. Gaining an understanding of the strike zone and what you can and can’t hit is the key. Simply spoken, you can’t hit what you can’t see.” Borrowing a page straight out of Ted Williams’ book, Rudolph the red nose reindeer leads Cometa, Ballerina, Fulmine, Donnola, Freccia, Saltarello, Donato, and Cupido so that Babbo Natale is able to see which homes to hit and deliver presents to millions of Italian children every year. However, La Befana, the elderly woman who delivers gifts on Epiphany Eve (January 5th), is a cultural folklore tradition favorite and reigns as the undisputed Italian holiday champion.
La Befana is a nice old woman who some believe takes flight on her broom stick every year in the middle of the night in preparation of the arrival of Epiphany day on January 6th. She showers children with gifts to reward them for their good behavior. La Befana’s big sack on her back and basket is usually full of sweets and chocolates, which will make their way into the stockings of kids who have behaved on the day of the Epiphany. However, those children who didn’t do what they were asked by their parents and were naughty throughout the year will end up with a stocking full of lumps of coal. Yet, everyone loves La Befana. She is sometimes portrayed as having white or black hair with a long crooked nose, broken shoes and a patched dress. Unlike in America where children generally leave milk and cookies for Santa Claus, it is customary to have a nice glass of red wine waiting for La Befana upon her arrival to your house considering the long overnight journey she had to endure getting there.
Mike Piazza deserves more than just chianti for the seemingly endless journey he has had to experience to become enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Mets Hall of Famer is a fan favorite, and anytime he is affiliated with a night at the ballpark it is an instant hit. The Mike Piazza soccer jersey giveaway at the 2014 Italian Heritage Night at Citi Field was considered to be best Mets promotion of the season.
Commercial endorsements from Philips Norelco as well as special guest interview appearances on Complex News and TMZ Sports are just the tip of the iceberg of mass media that has spotlighted Mike Piazza recently. Expect nothing less than an avalanche of additional coverage in 2015 to follow with Piazza’s support of the National Italian American Foundation and the NIAF 40th Anniversary Gala.
Author and University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Emeritus Professor Lawrence A. Baldassaro summed up why this blogger believes Mike Piazza is Italian American of the Decade when he wrote: “Of all the younger Major League players I interviewed for my book, Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball, none was more in touch with, and interested in, his Italian heritage than Mike Piazza. And his commitment to baseball in Italy is unmatched among those his age.”
Born in Martinez, California on November 25, 1914, Giuseppe Paolo DiMaggio was the fourth son and eighth child born to Sicilian immigrants Giuseppe and Rosalie DiMaggio. Joe DiMaggio’s parents immigrated to America in 1898 and left behind their family in Isola delle Femmine outside of Palermo, where the DiMaggios had been fishermen for generations. Joe DiMaggio would discover his roots after retirement and visit Nettuno, the birthplace of baseball in Italy just an hour south of Rome along the Tyrrhenian Sea. Not far from Nettuno is where the historic Battle of Anzio took place, and it was there during World War II that U.S. servicemen taught Italians the game. DiMaggio’s monumental trip is reminisced in City of Baseball.
Closer to home in Chicago’s Little Italy at 1431 West Taylor Street, Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio is enshrined at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and the neighboring Piazza DiMaggio. These must-see cultural landmarks are the pride and joy of the close-knit community that resonate the strong sense of Italian American heritage in Chicago, Illinois. Founded by George Randazzo in 1977, the immaculate National Italian American Sports Hall of Fameincludes the Tommy and Jo Lasorda Exhibit Gallery, the Grand Piazza Ballroom, the Salvatore A. Balsamo Rooftop Terrace and the Frank Sinatra Performing Arts Center. Nearby Piazza DiMaggio was built in 1998 as a gift from the City of Chicago to Little Italy and features fountains, elegant columns and a very much beloved Joe DiMaggio statue.
Although most baseball fans read about the success Joe DiMaggio experienced on the field, rarely do they hear about the price his immigrant parents paid for a better life in America. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States declared war and began targeting those of German, Italian or Japanese descent. The Italians were the largest immigrant group in the U.S. at the time and about 600,000 of the country’s five million Italian immigrants who had not yet naturalized were forced to register as enemy aliens. Required to carry photo ID booklets and surrender flashlights, shortwave radios, guns, binoculars, cameras and other “contraband,” Italian enemy aliens were subject to FBI raids and nightly house arrest with a curfew from 8 PM to 6 AM. Noncitizens could not travel more than five miles from home without a permit. 10,000 Italians in California were evacuated, mostly from coastal areas and sites near power plants, dams and military installations. Ironically, the half-million Italian Americans serving in the U.S. Armed Forces at the time of the crackdown were the largest ethnic group in the military. Of the 257 Italians put in internment camps for up to two years, 90 were from California. Fishing boats were seized, and thousands of fishermen lost their jobs. In San Francisco, 1,500 people–including Joe DiMaggio’s parents–were idled.
Between the Great Depression and America’s entry into World World II, people were feeling desperate and ready for a hero who personified positivity and optimism for a better future. That hero came in the form of a rising star from a poor Italian fisherman’s family. Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio became one of the most accomplished, admired and respected ballplayers of all-time as well as a true American icon. Over the course of his legendary 56-game hitting streak, the Yankee Clipper unified the country while symbolizing the potential for greatness we all yearn to see in ourselves. DiMaggio represented the true American Dream and the belief that anyone from anywhere can accomplish anything if they work hard and put their mind to it. Former President Bill Clinton eloquently said, “Joe DiMaggio, the son of Italian immigrants, gave every American something to believe in. He became the very symbol of American grace, power and skill. I have no doubt that when future generations look back at the best of America in the 20th century, they will think of the Yankee Clipper and all that he achieved.”
Future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza has been fueling the fire of the Italian baseball revolution for nearly a decade. Since joining Team Italia in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, the proud Italian American has had a profound effect on the growth and development of baseball in Italy. Working in tandem with Italian MLB Academy Director and Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg, Piazza has helped Italy become the superpower of European baseball in light of the recent KC Royals signing of five-tool Italian-born prospect Marten Gasparini for $1.3 million. One statistic often overlooked in validating Mike Piazza’s rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame is Career Runs Created by a catcher. Based on the 1,378 Runs Created by Piazza–which ties Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk–Team Italia’s hitting coach was the BEST hitting catcher of all-time (Mike Piazza 1,378; Carlton Fisk 1,378; Ted Simmons 1,283; Yogi Berra 1,265; Joe Torre 1,259; Johnny Bench 1,239; Gary Carter 1,184; Bill Dickey 1,164; Gabby Hartnett 1,161 and Jason Kendall 1,112). Defensively Piazza was the BEST catcher of his time in handling his pitchers. In his career behind the plate, pitchers had a 3.80 ERA when he was catching. Checking the stats for all the other catchers who caught the same pitchers in the same year that Piazza did, they allowed a 4.34 ERA. With 12-time MLB All-Star Mike Piazza coaching Italian ballplayers, the BEST has yet to come for Team Italia.
Mike Piazza is a baseball immortal regardless of what a pack of bitter, jealous sports writers think. Everyone knows he was The Man.
“We just want to continue to draw attention to the fact that we believe baseball is marketable in Italy. We think it’s viable. We think there’s a lot of upward growth. We can produce players over there. I’m convinced of it,” said Piazza. 17-year-old switch-hitting shortstop Marten Gasparini–compared to a young Derek Jeter–and 19-year-old lefthanded-hitting catcher Alberto Mineo lead the charge of the Italian baseball revolution spurred by Dodgers scout/Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri and coaches Holmberg and Piazza.
Grazie di nuovo @FIBSpress! Had an amazing time in Veneto. Great coaches convention. Forza Italia!
International baseball ambassador Mike Piazza traveled to Veneto, Italy recently to speak to an enthusiastic audience at the 29th Annual Coaches Convention. Piazza said, “We all overteach and overanalyze hitting. Everyone has their own opinion, but in actuality–just as Ted Williams explained in his book The Science of Hitting--the number one rule is to get a good ball to hit. Gaining an understanding of the strike zone and what you can and can’t hit is the key. Simply spoken, you can’t hit what you can’t see.” Twelve years ago in 2002 Piazza met FIBS President Riccardo Fraccari while visiting Italy on a MLB International mission to help the game develop in Europe. Fraccari asked Piazza if he would be interested in representing Italy in international competition, and the proud Italian American responded that it would be privilege to play for the Italian national team in honor of his Sicilian ancestry. During a 2006 World Baseball Classic press conference, Piazza addressed reporters who questioned why he chose to join Team Italia and said, “You may not understand it, but for Italian Americans getting a chance to finally play for Italy is like a duck chick getting close to the water for the first time.” The Italians have since fared well in the World Baseball Classic, nearly upsetting 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic and runner-up Puerto Rico. Piazza’s influence swayed Cubs’ slugger Anthony Rizzo to play for Team Italia alongside other MLB Italian Americans including Padres’ Chris Denorfia, A’s Nick Punto, Twins’ Chris Colabello and Pirates’ Jason Grilli. Piazza’s power of persuasion even impacted the Team Italia coaching staff as former MLB journeyman Frank Catalanotto joined the Italian baseball revolution. Team Italia’s homegrown talent held its own and contributed to the overall chemistry of the squad. Alessandro Maestri–the first Italian-born-and-developed pitcher signed by MLB in 2006 and infielder Alex Liddi–the first Italian-born-and-developed player to make his MLB debut in 2011 have benefitted greatly from Piazza’s guidance and mentorship.
Maestri said, “It’s great to have him around in the dugout. He’s like doing this for fun. He enjoys working with us… That’s why we appreciate it so much. I think he is positively influencing the program that we have. The fact that the team is winning and improving proves it. So that’s why he keeps coming back.” Liddi echoed the sentiment and said, “When you have coaches like Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto—guys who have been in the big leagues for a long time—it makes it fun just to be around them. You’re able to ask them questions and learn from them.”
Piazza has been a proponent of uplifting and preserving his Italian cultural heritage by supporting the efforts of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), George Randazzo–founder of the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and Roberto Angotti–curator of the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibition. Piazza befriended Angotti during the two weeks Team Italia spent in Phoenix preparing for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. When Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda dropped in on Team Italia’s practice at Dodgers’ Spring Training Camp in Glendale to address the team, Roberto knew he was on the frontline of the Italian baseball revolution. Lasorda’s emotionally-driven speech coupled with Piazza’s serious commitment inspired Angotti to share the experience with others through a traveling exhibit paying tribute to Italian American baseball.
Piazza said,”This commitment I have with the Italian Federation is something I really care about. I feel a strong tie to Italy, since my heritage is there. My grandfather Rosario came from Sciacca, Sicily, to the United States and my father grew me up following the Italian tradition pretty much. I think it’s in our DNA to strive to work hard and persevere. Most our ancestors came over to the United States with just the clothes on their back. I think that was the case with my grandfather, who had nothing in his pocket to start a life here in the U.S. When we have the strength and pride of the Italian family with the support we can give one another, it builds character and allows us to achieve our true potential. I don’t think there are a lot of Italian American families that don’t have strong support behind them. I do not pretend to say what is not true, I grew up as an American boy. Now, getting older, I understand the value of my heritage and I want to give something back to Italy.”