Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri will have his mixed roster of seasoned MLB players and up-and-coming prospects ready for combat in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara will be declared a war zone beginning March 9th when 2017 WBC host Mexico seeks revenge against a ‘never say die’ Italian squad that attacked closer Sergio Romo to pull off a miraculous 6-5 come-from-behind victory in the opening game of the 2013 WBC in Scottsdale, Arizona. Team Mexico will be managed by Edgar Gonzalez, who will be depending on his brother Adrian Gonzalez to lead the Mexican’s offensive charge with the support of sluggers Khris Davis and Danny Espinosa. In the opening battle on March 9th, Team Italia will most likely face starting pitchers Jamie Garcia, Miguel Gonzalez or Oliver Perez. It will be critical for Team Italia to strike first and score runs early because the Mexican bullpen is filled with some of the MLB’s finest relievers including: Roberto Osuna, Sergio Romo, Joakim Soria, Fernando Salas and Carlos Torres.
Team Italia will use a day off to strategize and prepare their troops for the March 11th clash versus Venezuela. Not only will this be one of the Team Italia’s biggest challenges of the 2017 WBC, but it is life-or-death for Venezuelan-born catcher Francisco Cervelli–who played for Team Italia when Venezuela eliminated the Italians from the 2009 WBC competition following their devastating 10-1 defeat. Fellow Venezuela native Luis Lugo, a 22-year-old Cleveland Indians pitching prospect who secured a Team Italia roster spot in the 2016 European Championship, would absolutely love the opportunity to get the ball and turn the tables on Venezuela. However, it will not be an easy task for Team Italia as Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel’s roster of MLB All-Stars includes Felix Hernandez, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez, Jose Altuves, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rougned Odor, Martin Prado, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, Ender Inciarte, Odubel Herrera and Sandy Leon.
Team Italia will face Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez’s talented roster on March 12th. Starting pitcher possibilities include Seth Lugo and Hector Santiago. Relievers include Alex Claudio, Edwin Diaz, Joe Jimenez and Joe Colon. Puerto Rico boosts a strong MLB All-Star caliber lineup with the likes of Javier Baez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Yadier Molina, T.J. Rivera and Eddie Rosario. Puerto Rico, the runner-up of the 2013 WBC, eliminated Team Italia in the second round of play when they rallied late in the eight inning from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Azzurri with a 4-3 victory. As with the 2013 WBC, the first round will again be a round-robin format with the top two teams advancing to one of two second-round pools. However, for the first time in the worldwide tournament’s history, a single-elimination tiebreaker game will be played if necessary to determine the second advancing team in both the first and second rounds. In the case of the first round in Guadalajara, the tiebreaker contest would be played on March 13th. The two top teams will then move on to the second round of action slated to begin on March 14th at San Diego’s Petco Park.
Team Italia and host Mexico have a favorable advantage over rivals Venezuela and Puerto Rico due to the scheduling of the round-robin tournament. Both teams have a day off following their head-to-head combat match-up on opening night March 9th. However, when Team Italia returns recharged for a day game against Venezuela on March 11th, the Italians can take advantage of a sleep-deprived and fatigued Venezuela pitching staff that will have been taxed after being used the night before versus Puerto Rico. Team Italia will once again enjoy the same luxury when they play their second consecutive day game against a tired Puerto Rico squad that will have undergone back-to-back night battles versus Venezuela and Mexico. Although Team Italia remains the underdog, manager Marco Mazzieri’s army of blue-collar baseball players will fight to the death to repeat as they did in the 2013 WBC and advance to the second round.
Nostradamus could have predicted the end of the Melbourne Aces season when Perth sidearm specialist Jacob Clem went head-to-head against fellow American and MLB veteran Jason Hirsh on November 13th. For nine innings the Aces were blindsided and shell shocked by the six-foot-four Burlington, Washington native, who threw a complete game in which he allowed only six hits and one earned run. Up until the final week of the regular ABL season, Clem (2-1, 3.91 ERA) was used sparingly when he was needed most. Former MLB World Series reliever and current Perth Heat Pitching Coach Graeme Lloyd knew exactly what he was doing when Clem was inserted in the ninth inning of a tied game against the Sydney Blue Sox on January 20th. Not only would this outing serve as a final tune-up entering the postseason for Clem, but also reestablish his critical role as the defending champion Heat’s saving grace in battles of long relief. He pitched seven stellar innings on the mound and gave up just two hits. Clem eventually earned the win after 2011-12 ABL MVP Tim Kennelly hit a walk-off home run in the 15th inning. History would repeat itself in the Heat’s most critical moment of the season in the deciding game three
of the Australian Baseball League Championship Series against the Melbourne Aces last Sunday at
Perth’s Babagallo Ballpark. At the end of the day, two members of last season’s Washington Husky baseball senior class–Geoff Brown and Jacob Clem—along with Heat relievers Brenden Wise and Jack Frawley would ultimately determine if the ABL defending champions would repeat in the final do-or-die contest that would last 13 innings and turn out to be an enduring manager’s no holds barred strategic tug-of-war chess match.
The irony of Jacob Clem in a Perth Heat uniform is still hard to believe. It took an injury to Heat pitcher Ben Moore, last year’s ABL Championship Series MVP and 2011-12 Round One ABL Pitcher of the Week, for Rockingham Rams import Jacob Clem–fresh out of college at the University of Washington–to be called up to the Heat as Moore’s replacement. Who would have guessed that last year’s playoff MVP would be substituted by what many insiders consider to be this year’s ABL Championship Series Most Valuable Performance by 24-year-old Jacob Clem? In the final and decisive game three, it appeared on paper that Perth starting pitcher Geoff Brown–who also happens to be the Huskies’ all-time pitching appearances leader–with his perfect 5-0 record and 1.88 ERA would dominate the pesky Melbourne Aces by himself. However, Brown was chased out of the game only after 1.2 innings. Jacob Clem came firing from the bullpen, despite having little time to warm up and bail his University of Washington Husky college buddy out of a jam and keep the Heat alive.
Once again, the tried and tested Clem–who had previously attacked the Aces’ Achilles heel in a complete game victory in November–would rise to the occasion and successfully hold his vulnerable opponent for 6.1 innings while only allowing one earned run and four hits. Coupled with another five innings of shutout pitching by Heat relievers Brenden Wise and Jack Frawley, the Mount Vernon-born Jacob Clem made the difference between Perth keeping and relinquishing the throne of the ABL Championship. The Heat would prevail at the end of a tightly contested
game that went on for 13 pressure-packed innings until James McOwen scored from third on a wild pitch. Son of Jim Clem—who was the longtime baseball coach for Burlington-Edison High School and is currently the pitching coach for the West Coast League Summer Collegiate Bellingham Bells baseball squad–and younger brother of Zach Clem–who was a two-time All-Pac-10 outfielder playing at the University of Washington for four years from 2003-2006 with the likes of Tim Lincecum, Brent Lillebridge and Sean White as well as a minor leaguer in the Milwaukee Brewers franchise before a series of concussions ended his career,
Jacob was surrounded by baseball fever all of his life. While playing for his father at Burlington-Edison as a high school senior, he was named the Skagit Valley Herald’s 2006 player of the year as well as to the first-team Washington All-State and All-Northwest League after a respectable 7-2 record with a 1.22 ERA and three saves. In 63 innings of work, Clem struck out 70 batters. He was equally impressive at the plate with a .354 batting average, five home runs and 26 RBI. While still in high school, Jacob led his summer league Burlington Sox to the league, district, state and regional titles. He was selected as the MVP of the state American Legion tournament and the American Legion Division I Player of the Year after going 10-1 on the mound, while batting .421 with 22 doubles, five homers and 43 RBI. Clem redshirted his first season at the University of Washington and played summer ball for the Bellingham Bells, a city deeply entrenched in a long baseball tradition along with an eager and loyal following in the Pacific Northwest.
From 1973 through 1976, the Bellingham team was an affiliate for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and later from 1977 through 1994 became the minor league affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. During this time, the squad was called the Bellingham Mariners, or “Baby M’s.” Perhaps the franchise’s most notable claim to fame came in 1987 when Ken Griffey Jr. hit his first professional home run wearing a Bellingham uniform. Other names that have come through Bellingham include Edgar Martinez, Omar Vizquel, Raul Ibanez, Dave Valle, Bud Black, Derek Lowe, Joe Nathan, Russ Ortiz, Mike Scioscia, Rick Sutcliffe and Mark Langston. Bellingham was the San Francisco Giants affiliate in 1995 and 1996 before eventually becoming the permanent home to the West Coast League Summer Collegiate Bellingham Bells with strong ties to Major Leaguers Jamie Moyer and Dave Valle. While playing for the University of Washington, Jacob Clem spent his summers in California with the Palm Springs Power and in Oregon with the Bend Elks. After a season-ending injury in 2008, the right-handed pitcher came back strong during his 2009 campaign. He was named Academic All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention after not allowing an earned run in seven of nine pitching appearances. Clem took it to the next level during his junior year by making 30 relief appearances and earning All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention as a result of stifling Pac-10 opponents to a .211 batting average (second-lowest in the league) and posting a 3.14 ERA (fourth-best in the conference). As a senior, he demonstrated outstanding command by walking only 15 while striking out 45 batters (averaging 5.42 strike outs per nine innings pitched). Jacob graduated in 2011 with a Husky career 3.86 ERA and an 8-10 record. Clem recently signed a professional baseball contract with the Independent Frontier League Traverse City Beach Bums. Director of Baseball Operations Jason Wuerfel is optimistic that his new pitcher will make a major impact in the East Division of the Frontier League. He said, “Clem is a big, strong, versatile righty that could help us in a lot of different roles. He was one of the Pac-10’s top closers his junior season, but also excelled as a starting pitcher his senior year. He went down to Australia this off-season and pitched at their highest level of baseball, facing a lot of current Double-A and Triple-A prospects. With that experience under his belt, he has the chance to be one of the top rookie pitchers…” As a former Minor League pitcher for the New York Mets and Houston Astros organization manager, Beach Bum pitching coach and manager Gregg Langbehn realizes the importance of a strong pitching staff more than most. He has been working particularly hard this off-season with Director of Baseball Operations Jason Wuerfel to sign as many pitchers for spring camp as possible. He may have just found his diamond in the rough with the signing of Jacob Clem. Despite Nostradamus’ dim prediction for 2012, the Washington state native and Perth Heat unheralded hero has aligned himself in a very good position to get the recognition he so wholeheartedly deserves with a future MLB contract.