Azzurri catcher Francisco Cervelli (Pittsburgh Pirates) has already belted two home runs and six doubles so far since April 3, 2017. With a career high of seven homers and 17 doubles during his first year with the Bucs in 2015, Cervelli is on pace to set career best stats in home runs and extra-base hits in 2017. Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli takes pride in his Italian heritage. Born in Valencia, Venezuela to an Italian father and Venezuelan mother, Cervelli left home at 15 to pursue a life in baseball. He signed with the New York Yankees as an international free agent in 2003. Prior to playing for Team Italy in the 2009 WBC, Cervelli was not yet an established Major Leaguer as he had only played in three games for the 2008 Yankees. Despite the odds, he managed to guide Team Italy’s pitching staff to an impressive 6-2 victory over host Canada, thereby eliminating the Canadians at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. Cervelli spent an additional six years in New York in a limited backup capacity before being traded on November 12, 2014 to Pittsburgh, where he is adored as the Bucs’ full-time catcher. The Pirates recognized Cervelli before their game against the Atlanta Braves on April 8, 2017, when the first 20,000 fans in attendance at PNC Park received Francisco Cervelli “That’s Amore” Singing Bobbleheads. The bobblehead featured Cervelli in his patented Love Doctor robe with rose petals at his feet singing “That’s Amore”. Catching all four games for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC, Francisco proved to be an offensive weapon as well with two of his four hits being for extra-bases.
The writing is on the wall just as it was in 2012 when former UC Davis Aggie pitcher Marco Grifantini and catcher Tyler LaTorre helped Team Italia capture its second consecutive European Baseball Championship by defeating a talented Kingdom of the Netherlands squad and again in 2013 when both California natives played in the World Baseball Classic. With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, two additional UC Davis alums–Toronto Blue Jays reliever Joe Biagini and free agent infielder Daniel Descalso–could potentially give manager Marco Mazzieri a boost if the Italian American players are added to the Team Italia roster. One could make a strong case for Biagini’s participation should fellow Jays bullpen paisan Jason Grilli be playing in his fourth consecutive World Baseball Classic for Team Italia. Joseph Carlo Biagini‘s Italian family bloodlines run deep with relatives in Lucca. His Italian great uncle, Carlo Biagini, was a merchant marine there. Joe’s father, Rob Biagini–who spent time playing ball in the Giants organization from 1981 to 1982–also played abroad in Italy with former teammate Chris Colabello’s father, Lou Colabello. However, it might take an executive order from new Canadian-born Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) president Andrea Marcon to get Biagini onboard with Team Italia in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
— Travis MacKenzie (@TAMacKenzie) December 8, 2016
Kudos to Jays allowing Russell Martin, Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna Jason Grilli Joe Biagini to compete in WBC
— bob elliott (@elliottbaseball) December 9, 2016
After redshirting and playing one year at the College of San Mateo, right-handed pitcher Joe Biagini transferred to UC Davis, where he made 13 appearances out of the Aggies bullpen and went 3-1. He was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 26th round of the 2011 MLB draft after his redshirt sophomore season. On December 10, 2015, Biagini was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays from the San Francisco Giants in the 2015 Rule 5 draft. On April 8, 2016, Joe made his MLB debut when he pitched a perfect ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox and posted his first career strikeout facing David Ortiz. In his six appearances during the 2016 postseason against Baltimore, Texas and Cleveland, Biagini threw 7.1 scoreless innings with six strikeouts. He was the unanimous choice for rookie of the year at the recent annual Blue Jays player awards. The 26-year-old reliever was the only Jays rookie to go wire-to-wire with the team, a major accomplishment for a Rule 5 draftee. Starting out the season as a middle-relief fixture for manager John Gibbons, Joe gained the trust of the veteran skipper who later assigned him to late-inning duty. Biagini has since been the center of attention in the media as a result of being in the audience at a taping of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. During the show, Fallon passed Biagini in the audience and attempted to high-five him along with other audience members, but the popular celebrity TV host missed Biagini’s hand. During the November 18th episode, Fallon stated that he had taken criticism on Twitter for botching the high-five and brought Biagini out on stage briefly to complete their high-five.
— Fallon Tonight (@FallonTonight) November 19, 2016
— Michael Goodell (@MiGoodell) July 28, 2015
Daniel Descalso was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third round of the 2007 MLB draft following his junior season at UC Davis. Descalso made his MLB debut with the Cardinals on September 20, 2010. Despite the 30-year-old Italian American utility man only having a .242 career average, Descalso is much more important on the field as he has played every position but catcher and center field. After five successful seasons–including a 2011 World Series title–in St. Louis, Descalso signed with the Colorado Rockies on December 16, 2014. Rockies manager Walt Weiss recently said, “Daniel has a great pedigree, he’s played in the postseason, played in the World Series. And that goes a long way in that clubhouse. Guys understand how hard it is to get there. He’s a winning player, he’s got a winning attitude, he’s a leader… so, his value goes way beyond the stat sheet.” When asked if Descalso might make a good coach or manager in the future, Weiss replied: “Yeah, absolutely. I think he’s definitely cut from that mold. He’s one of those guys that has obviously been a student of the game. He’s a smart player. He played at a small school, UC Davis, and has probably always had to prove himself and overachieve to some degree but he’s put together a nice Major League career.” Descalso was the second UC Davis Aggie player to ever reach MLB in 2010 and the first to win a World Series ring in 2011. Before becoming the Aggies’ second-highest MLB draft pick, Daniel hit a team-best .397 as a junior in 2007, with 22 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 53 runs scored and 44 RBI. With infielder Nick Punto now retired and serving as the Team Italia third base coach, the versatile Daniel Descalso could prove to be a valuable defensive replacement and offensive spark plug in the World Baseball Classic.
— Daniel Descalso (@DanielDescalso) November 17, 2016
— Tyler LaTorre (@tylerlatorre) January 9, 2013
For the past two years, Tyler LaTorre has been working as an assistant baseball coach at San Francisco State University under head coach Tony Schifano–who spent eight years as the assistant coach at UC Davis, his alma mater. Like Schifano, LaTorre is a former Aggies all-star. Tyler played at UC Davis from 2003-06, earning all-conference honors as a senior when he hit a team-high and career-best .363 with 37 runs and 32 RBI. He drew a team-best 28 walks and led the Aggies with a .451 on-base percentage. LaTorre was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Francisco Giants on May 29, 2006 after a five-year UC Davis career. The former catcher played 10 seasons in the minor leagues–including nine of them in the San Francisco Giants organization–when he caught the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong before signing a minor league contract with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015. During his pro ball career, LaTorre played a total of 452 minor league games during which he posted a .241 career average with 60 doubles, 14 home runs, 131 RBI and 155 runs scored. Yet, some of Tyler’s most memorable games included his time playing for Team Italia in the 2012 European Baseball Championship when he nearly won MVP tourney honors after going 14-for-28. Eight of his 14 hits were for extra bases–including six doubles and two home runs. LaTorre absolutely raked at the plate, knocking in nine RBI and scoring nine times during the international tournament. “We had one goal and that was to repeat as European champions,” said LaTorre. “It was awesome.” He also enjoyed serving as backup for Team Italia catcher Drew Butera in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The 33-year-old Italian American started against Team USA and went 1-for-4 with a walk and one run scored. LaTorre’s Italian roots trace back to his great-grandparents in Italy. It took two and a half years for him to become eligible to play for Team Italia as a dual citizen and Italian passport holder after thorough research, documentation and tedious paperwork authenticating his Italian lineage.
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) March 11, 2013
Having spent his 2007-08 seasons as a reliever in his final two years of college at UC Davis, Marco Grifantini did not register on MLB’s radar and was not drafted. Unfazed by pro baseball’s cold shoulder, Marco’s passion for the game grew stronger and he chose a path less traveled. Upon securing dual citizenship and an Italian passport, Grifantini was given the opportunity to pitch for Cariparma Parma in the Italian Baseball League and Team Italia in the 2009 World Cup. Marco helped his 2010 Parma squad secure its first national title since 1997 after going undefeated all season and pitching four scoreless innings to pick up the save in the decisive game seven of the Italian Baseball League Championship. Later that year pitching for Team Italia, Grifantini notched another important save in relief to allow the Azzurri to dethrone the Dutch and win the 2010 European Baseball Championship. In addition, Marco got the win in games against South Korea and Taiwan in the 2010 IBAF Intercontinental Cup to assure Team Italia a bronze medal. Team Italia won its second consecutive European Baseball Championship in 2012 thanks in part to the relief work of Marco Grifantini. Prior to pitching for Team Italia in 2013 World Baseball Classic, Grifantini made 53 appearances over four seasons for Cariparma Parma in the Italian Baseball League and posted a 19-4 record with a 1.89 ERA. His impressive performance against the Los Angeles Angels in a 2013 pre-WBC exhibition game in Tempe, Arizona led MLB scouts to scratch their heads in disbelief that Grifantini had been undrafted out of UC Davis five years prior. Immediately following the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Grifantini signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. In his only season playing pro ball for the Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays in 2013, Marco started six games and went 3-2 with a 5.21 ERA. The proud 31-year-old Italian American has since returned to his home in Redding, California. Grifantini said, “I am now starting my career in a local hospital as a pharmacy technician, and I plan on getting married in the summer. As for baseball, I have helped train a few youngsters and plan on coaching locally to give back to a sport that gave me so much.”
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 Grilli and 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 Butera and Pat Venditte could compete with international baseball’s elite.
It was fun to share the enthusiasm of Roberto Angotti visiting our Academy in Tirrenia
— FIBS (@FIBSpress) February 23, 2012
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 Family Launch 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.
Former New York Yankee prospect and current Seattle Mariner secret weapon Pat Venditte will be fondly remembered by the Staten Island Yankees on August 19th when the Yanks Class A Short Season affiliate host Pat Venditte “Switch-Pitcher” Bobblearms Giveaway Night. Venditte made his pro debut for the “Baby Bombers” against the Brooklyn Cyclones on June 19, 2008. With two outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the ninth inning, a switch-hitter came to the plate representing Brooklyn’s last hope. He entered the batters box batting right-handed, so Venditte switched his glove to his left hand. The hitter then decided to bat lefty, so Venditte switched his glove back to his right.
After a prolonged delay switching sides at the plate, the hitter was ordered to bat right-handed. Ambidextrous pitcher Venditte then struck out the batter on four pitches to end the game and secure a Yankees win. Two weeks later on July 2nd after consulting with the Major League Baseball rules committee, the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation announced what has become known as the Venditte Rule: A switch-pitcher has to declare which hand he is going to use first. It ultimately afforded opposing managers the luxury of knowing the pitcher’s hand.
Selected by the New York Yankees in the 20th round of the 2008 draft, the Omaha native spent seven seasons in the Yankees’ farm system before signing a minor-league deal with Oakland. After an impressive 1.55 ERA with 40 strikeouts at AAA Nashville, the proud Italian American made his MLB debut with the A’s on June 5, 2015. He finished the season with a 2-2 record and a 4.40 ERA. Toronto claimed Venditte off waivers during the off-season, and the 31-year-old was traded to Seattle on August 6th.
The first Italian-born pitcher signed
by MLB is experiencing a renaissance. The two-time MiLB All-Star spent five seasons in the Chicago Cubs system. Alex Maestri later ventured Down Under, where he would be named 2011 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Team World All-Star and given the inaugural ABL Fan Choice Award. When I first met the 27-year-old right-hander at the Italian MLB Academy near Pisa last year, he told me that the Kagawa Olive Guyners wanted him to pitch in Japan. He took on the the role of the team’s closer and was a knock out from day one. In each of the two months he played for Kagawa in 2012, he was named the indy league’s pitcher of the month.
On July 9, 2012, Maestri’s contract was purchased by the Orix Buffaloes of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) League. He worked diligently to advance from the farm team to the top-ranked league in Japan. In his NPB debut for the Orix Buffaloes, the international baseball ambassador from Italy pitched 6.1 innings to earn his first victory while allowing just one run with four hits and striking out five. He went on to dominate in the NPB and made seven more starts for the 2012 Orix Buffaloes. Posting a 4-3 record with a 2.17 ERA,
Alex Maestri averaged nearly one strikeout per inning
(49.2 innings/40 K). He was equally impressive during his 2011/12 ABL campaign. The Brisbane Bandits pitcher finished third in the ABL in innings pitched (63.2) and strikeouts (53), fourth in WHIP (1.16) and sixth in ERA (3.25). In Round Eight of the regular season, he earned Australian Baseball League Pitcher of the Week honors after throwing a stellar complete game two-hitter against the Canberra Cavalry. Team Italy starting pitcher Alex Maestri faces Team Puerto Rico today at 7pm (EST) in a win-or-go-home showdown televised live on the MLB Network from Marlins Park in Miami. He and his fellow Italian teammates are ready to show the world that the defending European Champions are loaded with talent ready to lock and load in the competitive 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: Welcome back to the USA!
Alex Maestri: How are doing Roberto? It’s nice to talk to you. I’m feeling good. It’s been a long journey coming here. Everything is good. I’m glad to be with the Italian national team now. I’m looking forward to this WBC tournament and this year coming up.
Roberto: After your successful campaign for the Japan Professional League’s Orix Buffaloes, the team has really stepped up its efforts in recruiting players from overseas.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you know, every year the team signs foreign players. This year we got seven so we’re probably going to have to rotate. That’s stuff that I can’t control, but it’s going to be fun. The team looks very good. We have a lot of Japanese players that are pretty good and young so I think it’s going to be an exciting year.
Roberto: Did you enjoy the food in Japan?
Alex Maestri: The food there is great. It’s so good. I heard good things about Japanese food before I went there, and when I got there I really appreciated it. Their cuisine is not all about sushi like we think. That’s what I thought too before I went there, but they actually have a huge variety of good food. It’s all very, very good.
Roberto: Did you find a good plate of pasta there?
Alex Maestri: Actually, you know what, they are very good at cooking pasta too. They can reproduce everything very well. They are very good at learning about other cultures and making it theirs.
Roberto: The Japanese have the longest life span. So they must be doing something right.
Alex Maestri: They are doing a lot of things right.
— MLB Europe (@MLB_Europe) August 13, 2012
Roberto: Your Japanese YouTube video is amazing. Have you ever been in the spotlight like that before?
Alex Maestri: Not at all. That was like the first time. After the game, the player of the game gets interviewed in front of the fans in the stadium and put on the big screen. My debut was actually a great game. I got to do that right on the field. It was cool. This fan had this Italian flag with him, and he came all the way close to the dugout. He passed the flag to one of the reporters who gave it to me. So it was good, it was good seeing the colors of Italy in Japan.
I was very proud too to represent those colors in a good way.
Roberto: It almost had an Olympic feel to it.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you see those gold medal runners walking around the track with their flags. I was just standing around though. It was a really a weird day. I really didn’t feel uncomfortable. I really didn’t know what was going on.
Roberto: It must have been an adrenalin rush.
Alex Maestri: It was during the game. Afterwards, I was just relaxed and happy. I was done pitching, and we won the game.Roberto: Tell me about what you remember most about playing Minor League Baseball.
Alex Maestri: I was here in the states for six years, and five of those six years were with the Cubs. I have a lot of great memories with that team. The game that I remember the most was a Cubs Spring Training game, and I was with the big league team against the A’s. They gave me one inning, and it was pretty good.
Roberto: And you got to face Italian American Jason “Giambino” Giambi.
Alex Maestri: Actually Giambi is the only one who actually got a hit off me. I faced four guys, and three (Orlando Cabrera, Matt Holliday and Eric Chavez) of the four were strikeouts.
Roberto: Since he is Italian, were you giving him a free pass to first base?
Alex Maestri: (Laughing) Yeah, I guess so. Roberto: Let’s talk about the development of baseball in Italy. Is playing on Team Italia like serving in the Italian military and serving your country?
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I mean in Italy we have a lot of good players. It’s a shame that there is not much money supporting baseball so it’s not easy to develop guys. But we have the Italian MLB Academy now, and you know it’s doing very good. There are some young players that are doing some really nice work. And there’s more and more scouts going down there to look at them. It’s a pleasure for me to represent the country all over the world. And even if I just play for myself on the team that I play with, I always play for my colors, I’m always proud of that.Roberto: Forza Italia! Forza Azzurri!
Alex Maestri: Yeah, per sempre Forza Azzurri!
Roberto: You don’t take any prisoners when you pitch, and you proudly wear your colors on your sleeve. It shows that you pour your heart and soul every time you step on the mount to throw.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I think that’s what you have to do on the mound. You’re not always going to succeed. But that’s the attitude you’ve got to have to pitch.
Roberto: Italy pitching coach Bill Holmberg has changed the mindsets of many on this staff for the better.
Alex Maestri: Bill has been my pitching coach forever. He has known me since I was a kid And you know I started working with him when I was 18-year-old and started to go to the Italian MLB Academy. But even before that he was working with me. He’s my main pitching coach. I always try to go the Academy during the offseason and have a few workouts with him. I really like the way he teaches pitching. I think everybody, all the pitchers that get to work with him, they appreciate his work.
Roberto: He was the one who wrote your name on a scouting report for the Chicago Cubs, and the next thing you know you were signed to MLB.
Alex Maestri: At the time he was an international scout for the Chicago Cubs, and you know I was doing pretty good. I was young and I was doing good for my team. And he said that he was going to take a chance and sign me. He said that I could make the Big Leagues. He really believed in me. He gave me a great opportunity to come over and gave me a chance to play in the states. Roberto: Mike Piazza could be doing else, but instead he chooses to with you as the hitting coach for Team Italy.
Alex Maestri: We really love that. 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.
Roberto: Coach Piazza helps pitchers as well, right?
Alex Maestri: Oh definitely. We always have meetings in the morning.. He comes in with Bill and always says his opinion on our pitching. He was one of the best catchers in the game so he obviously knows a lot about pitching too. It’s just great having him around.
Roberto: Being the underdog, Team Italy plays like there is no tomorrow.
Alex Maestri: I guess it’s kind of normal since baseball is not so developed in Italy. People don’t really respect Italian baseball, but you know it’s kind of like the fun part of playing. Nobody really thinks that we are strong. But I think we are a very good team actually, and we should again surprise a lot of people around the world.
Roberto: It this also an opportunity to play on the world’s stage to show MLB what they missed out on?
Alex Maestri: I don’t think I have to have any sort of revenge, I just want to play good for myself and my country. I was here in the states, and they gave me a great opportunity to play here. I had a lot of great experiences here so it’s not like I’m mad at anybody. Things just went that way. I had a tough year in 2010 so it’s normal that I got released. You know I’m still playing baseball. I’ve got a great opportunity now in Japan. I just love what I do so like I said before I am just going to play for my country and not for anybody else.
Roberto: You look healthy and happy. With this Italian team playing to win, I know you are going to give it your all.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I think a few years back, the Italian national team just went out playing a few tournaments to kind of like participate. But now with manager Marco Mazzieri, you have a very good attitude and it rubs off on all the players. Now you have a very strong group that won two European Championships back-to-back. And now everybody is starting to feel confident about themselves. And in baseball that’s what is about—confidence. You know we got ability so we need to be confident and just go out there and play baseball.Roberto: You have a wicked slider which was once regarded as one of the best in the entire Chicago Cubs organization.
Alex: I’ve got my pitches like everybody else. I just got to keep working on them and make them as confusing as I can for hitters.
Roberto: In prior in WBC competitions, you have been stellar. I hope that you will continue to shine in the upcoming 2013 WBC.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you know, that’s the plan. We always try to do our best. And that’s what I’m trying to do this time around. Right now I’m getting ready and going day-by-day. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely give my best effort.
Roberto: Are there any players in the WBC that you know from you days in MiLB?
Alex Maestri: The only guys that I remember is catcher Chris Robinson from Canada. We were in the same organization. We never really played together. I have played against many of the USA players like Mike (Giancarlo) Stanton and Jonathan Lucroy. It’s cool facing them again in the World Baseball Classic.
Roberto: Every pitch has to count with the WBC pitch limits in place.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, that’s kind of like the plan every time you go out. You know it’s a team sport so everybody is going to have do his own thing. I know that I will do my part with my pitching, but once I’m done with my pitches then there is someone else coming in to take over. We just all have to do this together, and it’s going to be touch. We’re playing the best teams in the world, and it’s going to be hard work. So we’re going to have to be really focused.
Roberto: You have to execute.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, you’ve got to be able to execute and if you don’t you just lose games. That’s why we play this game. You know, we enjoy that part of it.
Roberto: What does it mean to be an Italian playing baseball?
Alex Maestri: I just started to play baseball because of my brother. At the time I wasn’t really watching any baseball on TV. I started doing that later on, but it was cool seeing all those guys with Italian names written on the back of their jerseys. I just grew up hoping that one day that I would be able to take their place.
Roberto: With the influx of MLB players now joining Team Italy, how will it change the personality of La Squadra Azzurri.
Alex Maestri: I think it’s going to be the same. We have a good personality now. Those players are going to definitely improve the level. Because obviously they are Big League players and they have more experience than we do. It’s going to make the team better, but I don’t think it will change the personality of the team.
Roberto: You are representing Italy on all corners of the earth wherever you compete.
Alex Maestri: I feel like it. I always travel the world and play baseball in different countries. But my roots are always with me so I feel very proud of that. I’m sure all the other guys feel proud of that too—even the Big League players that are going to play for us. We already had a bunch of them in the World Baseball Classic, and they play as hard as we do. They want to win, and it’s just going to be great to do it all together.
Roberto: Any favorites? Has the Dodgers’ Nick Punto lived up to his name as the shredder by tearing the jersey off walk-off heroes after Team Italy victories?
Alex Maestri: I don’t know about Punto, but another guy who had an unbelievable WBC tournament was Chris Denorfia. At the tournament, he really gave everything he had. He made some great plays defensively and had some clutch hits so it’s going to be good to see him again. Jason Grilli has been with us for the first two World Baseball Classics. He’s just a great guy. He loves to come and play for us. Alex Liddi, of course, is one of my best friends.
I haven’t seen him in a long time. I saw him the other day, and it was just great seeing him again. He’s really family. I feel like his brother. And all the other guys that are going to come are going to be very welcome.
Roberto: You will be in the capable hands of catchers Drew Butera from the Minnesota Twins and Tyler LaTorre from the San Francisco Giants. Have you ever worked with them before?
Alex Maestri: Actually not. I haven’t had the pleasure to work with them yet. It’s going to happen in the WBC.Roberto: Since you were in the same organization as the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, it will be sort of a Cubbie reunion with two Italians on the same team.
Alex Maestri: Yeah, I heard really a lot of good things about him. We both played for the same organization so it will be good.
Roberto: Anything else you would like to say before we sign off?
Alex Maestri: I’d like to say hi to everybody. I would like to thank the great people all over the world. I really enjoy what I’m doing now. I might not be enjoying this for the past seven years if it had not been for them. Thanks!
Roberto: I really enjoyed meeting you at the Italian MLB Academy and talking with you today here in Arizona prior to the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Thanks for your time!
Alex: Thank you very much, and thank you for the work you do for Team Italy. It’s good to have somebody who really cares about this team and tries to promote the team as much as you do. Thank you for doing that.
Roberto: Thank you. It’s my pleasure. I believe in you and Italian baseball. God bless Italia!
Despite the defending European Champs having traveled the greatest distance to compete in Pool D of the World Baseball Classic (which begins Thursday, March 7th and includes perennial favorite USA, Mexico and Canada) in addition to being the only team required to tax its arsenal of talented pitchers after being scheduled to play five games in five days beginning Tuesday with a pre-WBC exhibition warm-up against American League West Division Champion Oakland A’s, resilient Team Italy will be walking a tightrope in light of reduced WBC pitch limits (65 in the first round, 80 in the second round, and 95 in the semi-finals and finals) to overcome the adverse working conditions reminiscent to the plight of their ancestral forefathers who emigrated to America at the end of the 19th century. Although Team Italy’s exhibition games against the Athletics on Tuesday and Mike Scioscia’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Wednesday will not count in the tournament’s stringent pitch limits, it will have serious repercussions
on the arms of the Italian pitching staff.
Italy manager Marco Mazzieri and pitching coach
Bill Holmberg sat down prior to a scrimmage against
a team of spirited Seattle Mariners prospects at the
Peoria Sports Complex in Arizona and provided a very
candid snapshot of their team’s compromised chances
of beating the odds and advancing to the second round
of the highly-touted competition in the following interview.
Roberto: Is Team Italy ready to battle Mexico, Canada and USA in the 2013 World Baseball Classic?
Marco Mazzieri: We’ll be ready when the games start. We’re right now just trying to tune up all the guys and waiting for our MLB players to come down and join us. We know they’ll all be excited to go. So we’re pretty excited about this.
Bill Holmberg: I like our team a lot.
I think we’re going to have a very solid pitching staff, and our position players
of course are very good. I think we have a very, very good chance to go to the next round.
Roberto: Having to listen to a lot of disrespect from the media who consider Italy a novelty and a doormat for other teams, do you enjoy being the underdog and having to endure constant scrutiny?
Marco Mazzieri: I think it’s our destiny to be the underdogs all the time. We were the underdogs four years ago against Team Canada, and we beat them. The next thing we know we didn’t have hotel rooms because nobody expected us to win. We had to move to another hotel. I mean last September we were supposed to lose against the Dutch in the European Championship. They were celebrating the 100th anniversary of their federation and it was like 35 years that we had not beat them on their own soil. And we beat them! So I think we got used to being the underdog, but we don’t complain. We’re going to use all of this to get the guys even more excited and more ready to go. I think they will do a good job.
We expect everybody to have no fear. “We can beat anybody. We beat the U.S.
already once in 2007 during the World Cup
in Chinese Taipei. They had Evan Longoria, Colby Ramus, Andy LaRoche, and Brian
Bixler. They had a great pitching staff.
They only lost that one game, but we
were the team that beat them. Again,
we respect everybody a lot, but there’s
going to be no fear at all.”
2013 WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC
ITALY MANAGER MARCO MAZZIERI
— MLB Europe (@MLB_Europe) August 13, 2012
Roberto: Former Chicago Cubs minor league pitcher Alessandro Maestri was named as the recipient of the 2011 Australian Baseball League Fan Choice Award after decimating hitters with his wicked slider pitching for the Brisbane Bandits. He has since been having a strong campaign for Japan’s Orix Buffaloes, the same team that recently signed former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Brandon Dickson as well as former outfielder/catcher for the Cleveland Indians/New York Mets/2009 Team Italy Vinny Rottino. Any words on Alex?
Bill Holmberg: Alex is a really, really good pitcher. And you know at times he’s great.
He’s shown in the past that he has been able to throw well for us, and we’re looking
forward to having him on the mound real soon during the WBC series.
ROBERTO ANGOTTI — Toronto’s John Mariotti will pitch for Italy in the World Baseball Classic… fb.me/1l3Y9UT5D
— Canadian Baseball (@CDNbaseball) January 23, 2013
Roberto: Former Baltimore Orioles prospect John Mariotti has been stellar for the defending Can-Am League Champion Québec Capitales for the past two years. How did you find this outstanding Canadian Italian pitcher?
Bill Holmberg: John has been around and spoke with Marco a couple years ago. He had been talking with the Italian Baseball Federation and Marco for a few years so we’re very lucky to have John. John is a sinkerball pitcher that really helped us at the European Championship, and I imagine he’s going to help us even more during the World Baseball Classic.
@grillcheese49Hey Grill.It’s Cat.Marco Mazzieri would like yuor number.Can you send it to me so I can get it to him. Thanks. Hope ur well
— frank catalanotto (@fcat27) June 30, 2011
Fun fact while researching WBC: Jason Grilli’s 0.00 ERA in ’06 WBC tied … Erik Bedard for best in the tourney.
— Bill Brink (@BrinkPG) February 28, 2013
Roberto: Team Italy has the luxury of having one of MLB’s premier closers, Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jason Grilli, ready and willing to do what he does best in shutting teams down with the lead late in any game. You must feel good about that?
Bill Holmberg: I’m very happy to have Jason and to be honest with you I’m happy to
have every one of our pitchers. I believe all of them can be situational where they come in and close the door on any team we are going to play. Of course, you are going to have to execute. We’re going to try to scout as well as we can and give them the best possible plan before the game. From there, all they have to do is execute.
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) January 23, 2013
— Matt Torra (@TheContractor31) February 25, 2013
Roberto: Matt Torra, a former 2005 first-round draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and current Washington Nationals’ MLB hopeful, is also a very capable pitcher for Team Italy.
Bill Holmberg: Matt has thrown well. We’ve had one live batting practice session,
and he’s going to be throwing today. I was extremely happy the way he threw the BP.
He throws strikes. He keeps the ball down. He’s a smart kid. He knows how to pitch.
— Pat Venditte (@PatVenditte) February 22, 2013
— Pat Venditte (@PatVenditte) February 25, 2013
Roberto: The ambidextrous Pat Venditte from the New York Yankees organization is a pitching staff’s best friend and a hitter’s worst nightmare. Although recent surgery on his right shoulder labrum has limited him to throwing as a lefty for the World Baseball Classic,
do you think he will contribute as Team Italy’s secret weapon?
Bill Holmberg: Pat threw a short side, and I think he’s going to be extremely nasty. I’ve seen him on youtube, and if that is the same way he throws on the mound during a game then we’re pretty lucky.
— Tyler LaTorre (@tylerlatorre) January 9, 2013
Just signed my new contract for 2013. Resigning with the 2012 World Series Champions San Francisco Giants. twitter.com/tylerlatorre/s…
— Tyler LaTorre (@tylerlatorre) November 25, 2012
— Tyler LaTorre (@tylerlatorre) February 15, 2013
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) February 14, 2013
— Drew Butera (@drewbutera) February 22, 2013
We’re proud to announce our new website drewnews.blog.com There’s a free contest for a Drew autograph waiting for you there!
— Drew Butera Fan Club (@DButeraFanClub) August 22, 2012
Roberto: Any thoughts on San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A catcher Tyler LaTorre and Minnesota Twin’s backstop Drew Buter?
Marco Mazzieri: We’re very happy with our catchers as well. Tyler LaTorre has been
with us in the European Championship. He did a terrific job handling the pitching staff.
Drew Butera is so excited. I talked with him last night, and he can’t wait to be here.
He’s going to give us a pretty experienced catcher. With the pitchers that we have,
we are looking forward to it.
@tylerlatorre thanks again La Torre!! Def appreciate ur help!!
— Sergio Romo (@SergioRomo54) February 7, 2013
Roberto: Tyler LaTorre has caught San Francisco Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo. Vogey is reportedly scheduled to pitch for Team USA against Italy, and Romo will be the closer for Team Mexico. Did you know that you have a built-in scouting report on your roster?
Bill Holmberg: I didn’t know that. We’re getting information from everywhere. We’re getting information from guys that are playing in the Mexican Leagues. Of course, John Mariotti is Canadian so we’re trying to get as much information as we possibly can.
We’ll take it from anywhere. So Roberto if you have some information to give us, I’d be happy to accept it.
Roberto: If you put a Team Italia jersey on my back, I will happily sit in the dugout and scout on your behalf (laughter)…
@bigace22 that’s great news! I’ll be training with Team Italy at the Dodgers facility. Going in as a reserve in case they need a guy
— Alexander Burkard (@burky23) February 8, 2013
Got my Italian Passport! Now I’m ready to report with Team Italia in AZ for pre-tournament practices #WBClassic
— Alexander Burkard (@burky23) February 18, 2013
— Alexander Burkard (@burky23) March 1, 2013
Tommy Lasorda visit twitter.com/burky23/status…
— Alexander Burkard (@burky23) March 1, 2013
Roberto: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim prospect Alexander Burkard is a reserve pitcher from Caracas, Venezuela. He is in your back pocket if you need him in a pinch.
Bill Holmberg: He’s a great kid, a terrific kid. He’s six-foot-eight, just a terrific kid. He threw the other day. He didn’t do as well as we’d hoped, but I’m sure with a little bit of work in the bullpen as we did today he’s going to be a lot better next time out.
Roberto: Bill, how does it feel being a contributing member of this eclectic Team Italy coaching staff?
Bill Holmberg: I love the guys who are on this staff. To be honest with you, I’m very privileged to be on Marco’s staff. We have a great group of guys, and we just get along very well. It’s tremendous to come out here. This is not work. This is coming out here and having a good time. We laugh a little bit. We work real hard, and at the end of the day we’re happy with what we do.
Anthony Rizzo primed to play for Team Italy in WBC.trib.in/X90HGX
— Paul Sullivan (@PWSullivan) February 26, 2013
Roberto: When you heard that Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo was playing for Team Italy,
you must have felt like your chances to advance in the WBC had increased.
Marco Mazzieri: That was good because at one point it looked like the USA team was going to call him up. So we were kind of afraid that we couldn’t get him. We’re happy to have him. We’re looking forward to it. But we have another guy that we really like a lot–Chris Colabello. He’s in Big League camp with the Twins along with Alex Liddi (Mariners) and Chris Denorfia (Padres). I think we have a pretty good heart of the lineup.
@bbrentz7 I’m good homie… I’m over in Holland playing in the European Cup for Italy… Way to go get you a ship!
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) September 15, 2012
Pizza italiana e’ piu’ buona #italianpizzaisbetter
— Chris Colabello (@CC20rake) January 12, 2013
Roberto: Chris Colabello has been shadowing Minnesota Twins four-time all-star first baseman Justin Morneau and tearing the leather off the ball in Spring Training. His father Lou played for Italy in the 1984 Olympics.
Bill Holmberg: I’ve known Chris for maybe 20 years because he used to come over to Italy with his dad. His dad pitched in the Italian Baseball League. His mom is Italian. Chris is just
a great kid. He loves to come over and play for us. We enjoy having him. We like him. He’s
a very energetic, tremendous kid.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) November 19, 2012
Roberto: Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Nick Punto has a World Series ring after having played under Tony La Russa for the St. Louis Cardinals. How has his energy helped Team Italy?
Marco Mazzieri: Nick is a terrific guy. We met him four years ago for the World Baseball Classic. We didn’t know him. We’ve been in touch with him throughout the years, and he can’t wait to be here as well. Again, here’s a guy with tremendous experience. A big clubhouse guy trying to keep everybody up and ready. But overall honestly I don’t like to talk much about individual single players, single names. I think we have tremendous chemistry in the clubhouse. That’s what we’re about. It’s important. As we showed four years ago, these guys played as a team from day one. It’s not going to be like an all-star team where everybody is kind of like showcasing themselves. This is going to be about winning ballgames and be together and doing the little things. We’re going to do that.
— Mike Vassallo (@MikeVassallo13) February 17, 2013
Roberto: Any feedback on the lesser-known Milwaukee Brewers/Italy shortstop Jeff Bianchi?
Bill Holmberg: I don’t know him as well as Marco does. I know he’s in the Big Leagues
and he can’t be that bad. So hopefully he’ll come to play. I know he was a high draft choice with the Royals. We also have another infielder who played with us in Holland during the European Championship–Tony Granato. He’s extremely solid, a great team player guy.
He plays his ass off every time he goes out.
Roberto: Anthony Granato is the heart and soul of Team Italy. He represents La Squadra Azzurri’s “Never Say Die” approach to the game.
After an eventless first at bat for the Greek, Italy takes the lead on an RBI-single by Anthony Granato, who… fb.me/28qHVrJEW
— Nederland op WBC ’13 (@NederlandopWBC) September 10, 2012
Marco Mazzieri: Very much so. I think he really made a difference on our team since he joined us three years ago. As a matter of fact, we won two European Championships. We went to Chinese Taipei in 2010 and claimed the Bronze Medal. And he really made a huge difference for this team. Not only for his play, but he is a leader out on the field. And he shows it. He’s not the type of guy who’s going to talk a lot. He’s going to show it by example and lead by example in the way he goes about his business.
— Baseball Spain (@BaseballSpain) January 25, 2013
El manager de Spain es italiano.. Mauro Mazzotti
— LigaDom.com (@LigaDomcom) February 26, 2013
Roberto: Italians are gaining massive respect in Europe as witnessed by Team Spain’s decision to hire Italian manager Mauro Mazzotti. Could you imagine seeing two Italian managed European teams playing head-to-head after advancing to the second round?
Marco Mazzieri: It would be nice, but let me tell you that we’re thinking about ourselves right now. It might be a little selfish. If they make it, we’re happy for them. But at this time we’re just mission focused, and we want to be the team that advances for sure. We’re going to do everything possible to be there.
How Alex Liddi can help conquer Europe es.pn/YYtGd2
— ESPN.com’s SweetSpot (@espn_sweet_spot) February 27, 2013
Roberto: Didn’t Mazzotti sign Alex Liddi? Bill, why didn’t you sign him like you did for the Italian-born Alberto Mineo as the Chicago Cubs international scout?
Bill Holmberg: I wish I would have signed him back then. Mauro Mazzotti had a hand in that, but Wayne Norton was also involved. I know that. I would have liked to have signed Alex. If he had come to our Italian Academy to work with Marco for at least a year, I think he would have gotten a lot more money. Hindsight is always 20/20. He’s done well for himself in the meantime.
— Roberto Angotti (@ABLblogger) February 22, 2013
Roberto: San Diego Padres’ Chris Denorfia is a diamond in the rough. What a score for Italy!
Marco Mazzieri: Again like Nick Punto four years ago, he came along and showed tremendous leadership. Won’t give up. We’re very proud and happy to have him back
again for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He’s a great guy. He works hard and he’ll be playing a good center field. Along with those other guys, it’s going to a solid lineup.
Roberto: Have you decided on the WBC pitching rotation for Team Italy?
Marco Mazzieri: We’re going to decide after we play these four scrimmage games until March 3rd and then we’re going to decide who’s the hottest guy. Pretty much if I am allowed to say is that we are the only team in this bracket that is scheduled to play five games in a row with two exhibition games. It’s not to complain, but I don’t think it’s fair on our pitching staff…honestly. With all the pitching limitations and everything, why are we the only team with five games in a row? Everybody else is getting a day off in the middle, and we’re not. Again, we’re going to use our weakness as our strength at this point. We just want to go out and prove everybody wrong.Roberto: What makes Team Italy so resilient?
Bill Holmberg: We’re a hard hat, lunch pail type of team. We’re blue collar from the beginning to the end. No obstacle is too great for us. We are not afraid. We fear no one. Bottom line is like what Marco said before…whatever comes, comes. We’re going to play
our cards as they are dealt. And that’s it, and we’re going to be happy doing it.
Roberto: Let’s beat Mexico, Canada and USA so that we can advance to round two in Miami.
Bill Holmberg: That’s our plan.
Roberto: Thanks for your time gentlemen. Buona fortuna!