Everybody has heard about Chicago Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo and Washington Nationals President Mike Rizzo, but it’s never too late to learn about the legacy of Italian American Reid Rizzo. If it had not been for renowned sports artist Chris Felix, most baseball lovers would have never have known about the impact that Reid Rizzo had on so many lives. Having been commissioned by the Topps Card Company to do 10 paintings for the 2010 National Chicle Baseball Card set, which included the Cincinnati-based artist’s illustration of New York Yankees legend Phil Rizzuto, the similarities between “Scooter” and Reid Rizzo were evident. Both shortstops overcame their small physical attributes to become extraordinary athletes. When Chris Felix was asked to contribute his classic Rizzuto painting to the Artists’ Tribute to Italian American Baseball Exhibit at Convivio Center in San Diego, he suggested that Rizzo–a player who refused to give
up on his major league dreams–be included as well.
Southern California baseball fans attending the grand opening and Phil Rizzuto birthday celebration on September 25th at Convivio will be pleasantly surprised that the Chris Felix collection includes Phil Rizzuto, Joey Votto and Reid Rizzo. Felix knew Rizzo was something special early on since he been Reid’s baseball coach for nearly for a decade. As a three-month-old infant, Rizzo’s parents received catastrophic news that their newborn son had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a life-threatening heart condition. Despite doctors telling the Rizzo family that he would never be able to run, ride a bike, or play sports, Reid defied the odds by playing baseball, football, basketball and hockey. As a freshman at La Salle High School in Cincinnati, he became one of the youngest players in history to earn a starting position on the varsity baseball team. College scouts recruited one of La Salle’s all-time athletic heroes, and Rizzo received a baseball scholarship to Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio. Just one month after completing a stellar sophomore campaign as the Storm’s starting shortstop and beginning Summer League play with the Madisonville Tradewater Pirates, Reid peacefully passed away in his sleep. Rizzo was an organ donor so his heart was donated to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Heart Institute for medical research. Reid accomplished all of his success without anyone outside of his family knowing that he was living with cardiomyopathy. Lake Erie College coach Brian McGee eulogized: “Reid lived life and played the game the right way. No matter what pitches life threw at Reid, he took his hacks, no matter how much pressure he faced in a day, he always came through in the clutch, no matter how dominating the situation was, he never feared
failure, never backed down from the opposition, and persevered through any challenge in life. He lived with tenacity, passion, confidence, toughness, and compassion. That is remarkable about his life. He carried all emotions with him and wore them on his sleeve. He didn’t care what others thought. He did what he felt in his heart was right. He did things for himself and his loved ones. He never tried to live his life for the acceptance of others. He lived his life so he could accept himself. He lived with such a passion for life, never letting the day go by without taking advantage of its opportunities.” Artist and family friend Chris Felix said, “He was more concerned about his family’s well-being than his own. He never let his family nor anyone else feel sorry for what he had to endure during his 21 years of life. Reid’s dream was to play Major League Baseball and coach one day. He is remembered for his uncanny ability to make everyone feel special. Reid’s spirit lives on in each of those who knew him and in those who believe that all things are possible through Christ. Reid’s tattoos inspire many to live their lives to the fullest. His belief in family and his desire to be a positive role model for his younger sister and others exemplify who Reid was as a human being. Those who knew him believe his story to be inspirational.” Shortly after Reid’s passing, a few of his former coaches at La Salle High School decided to form a committee and hold a baseball tournament in Reid’s honor.
The idea blossomed into the creation of the Reid Rizzo Foundation. Since then, there have been
many successful fundraising events including an annual Reid Rizzo Day at the Reds’ Great American Ballpark. The Reid Rizzo Foundation was established to remember and honor the character, courage, strength, and vigor of Reid Rizzo.
The nonprofit’s goals include: provide financial assistance to those seeking to enhance their primary or secondary educational experience; enhance education, awareness and research relative to medical conditions that affect the cardiovascular system; and support athletic organizations wishing to enhance the support structure provided for the athletes they service. By clicking HERE, you can make a tax-deductible donation to the Reid Rizzo Foundation.
Artists’ Tribute to Italian American Baseballshowcases original artwork, photographs, articles, uniforms, and other autographed one-of-a-kind artifacts. The exhibit officially opens to the public on Phil Rizzuto’s birthday, Wednesday, September 25th with a special 7 pm screening on Convivio’s big screen of Yankeeography, Volume Two featuring Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto. In addition to birthday cake being served to all attendees, baseball fans will have their first opportunity to see Chris Felix’s masterfully-crafted depiction of Phil Rizzuto as well as that of MLB All-Star Joey Votto and never-to-be-forgotten Reid Rizzo. Other notable artists participating in the exhibition include James Fiorentino, Vincent Scilla, John Giarrizzo, Vernon Wells Jr., Tom Richmond, Jeremy Nash, Rob Monte, and Zack D’Ulisse. The Convivio Center is located at 2157 India Street in San Diego. Call (619) 573-4140 for more information or click HERE for an updated calendar.
Although San Diego can lay claim to Team Italy’s lead off hitter/LA Dodgers infielder Nick Punto as their own born-and-raised MLB hero, Sanremo–a popular Italian Riviera resort town between Genoa and the French border–is the proud home of WBC teammate/Seattle Mariners third baseman Alex Liddi. Alex was literally weaned on baseball by his father, Agostino, and his mother, Flavia. Agostino’s parents left Italy shortly after World War II to work as tailors in America.
While attending Beverly Hills High School, Agostino Liddi played baseball before repatriating to Italy after graduation. It was there that he met his future wife, Flavia, who played softball competitively in Italy.
You could say that Alex was a truly a baseball baby since it was reported that Flavia played first base for the first three months of her pregnancy carrying Alex. When Alex was old enough to play, his mother coached his baseball teams. As a teenager, his father drove him long distances to compete in games throughout Italy. With the addition of their two sons, Thomas and Alex, the couple shared their love of the game to transform the Liddi’s into the archetypal Italian baseball family. Alex Liddi was honored last year by the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) for his valuable contributions to the game. FIBS president Riccardo Fraccari called
Liddi “the real ambassador of Italian baseball” after he became the first player from Italy to play in the Major Leagues since 1954 and the first-ever Italian-developed player in MLB. Liddi, the face of European baseball, has the opportunity to spur the growth of baseball back home by playing at the sport’s highest level. By watching Liddi on MLB.tv and reading the nightly box scores, young Italian athletes are now inspired to think that playing Major League Baseball is a viable option. Currently at Triple-A Tacoma with Team Italia pitcher Brian Sweeney, Alex Liddi is playing with conviction
in anticipation of his return to the Mariners for his third consecutive season. Now leading the Rainiers in home runs (8), runs (34), and RBI (32), the sheer power of Italian
24-year-old Liddi will be a welcome addition to the Seattle lineup when MLB rosters expand to 40 players in September. The European baseball ambassador was kind enough to sit down for an interview at the 2013 World Baseball Classic in Phoenix.
Roberto: You were signed in 2005 by Mariners’ scout Wayne Norton and current WBC Team Spain manager Mauro Mazzotti. Isn’t that a good sign for Italian baseball when two Italian managers, Italy’s Marco Mazzieri and Spain’s Mauro Mazzotti, are leading two of Europe’s finest ballplayers in the WBC?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, I’m happy for him that he is able to participate in the World Baseball Classic with another team. I wish him the best.
Roberto: Has the journey with the Seattle Mariners organization been a good experience so far?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, I enjoy my time in Seattle and in the minor league system. I think that it’s a pretty good system. I’ve enjoyed my years playing with them. I’ve got to thank them for giving me a chance to play in the big leagues. So I’m really thankful.
Roberto: You began your professional career in 2006 with the Peoria Mariners and then were then promoted to Single-A Wisconsin. You remained there until 2008 at which time you were batting .313 and enjoyed an eight-game hitting streak when you nearly hit .500! That must have been memorable?
Alex Liddi: Yeah. At every level you go, you try to make adjustments. I was trying to show them that I could play in the states.
Roberto: In 2009 playing for Single-A Advanced High Desert, you led the California League with a .345 batting average, 23 home runs, and 104 RBI. You were selected as a Cal League All-Star. In addition, you were awarded the Cal League MVP, Topps Cal League Player of the Year, Mariners Minor League Player of the Year and MLB.com Mariners Organization Player of the Year. What an accomplishment!
Alex Liddi: Yeah, it we kind of my break out year. We had a good team that year so it was a little easier for me to put out good numbers plus it was a good hitter-friendly park. But that gave me the confidence, and it gave me the chance to keep going for the rest of that year. All these things combined made me have a really good year.
Roberto: How did it feel playing on Team Canada at the Toronto’s Rogers Centre in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and beating the home team on their own turf?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, it was a good time for me. It was probably one of the biggest memories of my life, of my career. I had the chance to beat Canada at the highest level of competition. It will always be something that I will bring with me. I am happy that I was there.
Roberto: In 2011 you were invited to your first Spring Training camp with the Seattle Mariners. It was special because you hit back-to-back grand slams in consecutive games and produced impressive numbers: .385 batting average and a .429 on-base percentage. Your stellar 2011 campaign at Triple-A Tacoma (30 home runs, 104 RBI, 121 runs scored, 32 doubles and 61 walks) led you to your MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners on September 7. 2011. When you got to the big leagues, you hit three home runs and drove in six RBI in 40 at-bats while playing 15 games as a September call-up. Did you ever have to pinch yourself to make sure you were not dreaming anymore and come to the realization
that you were actually a big leaguer?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, for sure. I remember that I had a good spring, but I was still young.
So I had to go back down to Triple-A and develop myself a little more. But then it was getting really close to when the roster expanded to 40 in September, and I was getting really pumped. I maybe had the chance to get called up. Somebody would say ‘yes’
that I was going to get called up and somebody else would say ‘no’. Until they called
me and told me that I was getting called up. It was kind of like all the dreams came true, and it was a big day for me.
Roberto: You also played in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game. That must have been an
eye-opener playing in the front of the MLB media under the watchful eye of a worldwide televised audience.
Alex Liddi: It was a real honor. I would have never expected that to have come to me.
I was really happy to go there. It was really fun.Roberto: You have a special bond with Alessandro Maestri, the first Italian-born-and-raised pitcher to be signed by MLB. He also waves the Italian baseball flag internationally just as you do. Let’s talk about your friendship and what makes him a competitor.
Alex Liddi: First of all, I have a lot of respect for him
as a person and as a player. He’s a really good friend
of mine and probably one of my best friends. He’s one
of those guys who always works hard and fights for everything. He never got anything easy in his life and always had to fight for it. That’s why I give him a lot of respect as a person. Plus he’s a really good pitcher with really good stuff. It was a shame when he got released by the Cubs, but at the same time I remember when I called him to tell him to keep his head up. I thought he could have pitched in the big leagues for sure, and I
still think he can. And then he got a chance to pitch in Japan and make it to the big leagues there. I’m really proud of him. Hopefully, he will have a long career.
Roberto: He actually was selected as the inaugural Fan Choice Award in the Australian Baseball League when he pitched for the Brisbane Bandits in 2011. Wherever he decides
to play, he always makes a major impact.
Alex Liddi: He has charisma. He has a really good attitude on and off the field that makes him a complete player. Good tools, good person, good teammate…so all these things combined together make him a really good player.
Roberto: What is different about Team Italia in the 2013 WBC from the previous team in 2009. What is different in the chemistry which makes the team such a dominant player in this year’s World Baseball Classic?
Alex Liddi: Last time in the World Baseball Classic we had a good team, but this time we have been playing together more. I mean we already know Chris Denorfia, Nick Punto, Anthony Rizzo–I’ve known Rizzo for a couple years now. He’s been a friend of mine since I have been playing against him for a long time. The other guys have been playing together for a while now so the team is really together now. Instead of the other teams, they might bigger names but they have never played together like we do.
Roberto: You could have a bunch of big names on a lineup card, but at the end of the day you look at the box score and the team with the biggest desire to win the game will actually succeed.
Alex Liddi: I think we showed them already that we came here to win. We’re not joking and you can see it on our face…our enthusiasm on the field. We’re playing hard right now. We’re playing real baseball so everybody has to be careful.
Roberto: You are going out there playing nine one-inning games every contest, opponents should not take Team Italia lightly.
Alex Liddi: We’re playing as a team. Everybody can come up with the big hit. Nobody has got to do too much. Everybody’s got other people’s back, you know. We keep playing like this, and we’ll do a lot of damage.
Roberto: Having a stellar coaching staff which includes future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto, it must have a tremendous impact on your entire approach to baseball.
Alex Liddi: For sure. I mean when you have a chance to 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 those guys. You’re able to ask them questions and learn from them so that’s another big part of the team right there too. Roberto: How proud are you being an Italian playing Major League Baseball and providing hope for Italian athletes that they too can play baseball professionally?
Alex Liddi: I’m really proud to have accomplished being the first Italian-born-and-raised player in the big leagues. It was something that I was always looking forward to coming up through the minors. That was my goal ever since getting signed. Getting closer to it, I could actually understand what it meant. As I got closer, and I was really excited about it. There was no pressure for me. It’s something I’m happy about that happened to me–getting to the big leagues. I’m really thankful to everybody for giving me the opportunity.
Roberto: I love what you represent to Team Italia, your family, friends and fans.
Alex Liddi: I respect this game, and I respect my family. You always got to remember where you come from. So I will always be there for my friends, and a lot of my friends are my fans too. They’re there for me so I got to be there for them. The fans are what make
the game fun. So you have got to be thankful for the fans. I really appreciate the fans. Without the fans, this game would be nothing…
Although we won’t see Alex Liddi play in San Diego this year, we can still enjoy his banner in Little Italy. You will be pleasantly surprised by the number of Italian American baseball players that grace the streets of America’s finest city. You will find Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazzawith 2013 World Baseball Classic players Nick Punto, Chris Denorfia, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Colabello and Jason Grilli in Little Italy. Other Italian American heroes on display include the likes of Jason Giambi, Barry Zito, Craig Biggio, Rich Aurilla, Gary Gaetti, Frank Viola, Rick Botallico, Ron Santo, Sal Bando, Tony Conigliaro, Pete Falcone, Roy Campanella, Rico Petrocelli, Tommy Lasorda, Bart Giamatti, Joe Pepitone, Joe Garagiola, Yogi Berra, Joe Torre, Frank Torre, Joe DiMaggio, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Crosetti, Phil Rizzuto, Nicholas Dallassandro, Charles Strada, Phil Cavaretta, and Babe Pinelli. To learn more about Italian American players in Major League Baseball, pick up a copy of Lawrence Baldassaro’s Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball.
Who would have guessed that at least 454 Italian
Americans have played baseball in the majors
since 1897? The San Francisco Bay Area produced many of baseball’s pioneers and originated the
sandlot playing field in the 1860s. In fact, the
earliest West Coast games were played downtown
on a sandlot where San Francisco City Hall stands today–nearly a century before the Giants and
Dodgers arrived in 1958. So it’s most appropriate Italian Americans at Bat: From Sand Lots
to the Major Leagues, a lavish documentary
exhibition of baseball memorabilia celebrating
the vast contributions of Italians Americans to
baseball, be on display for FREE in Reno, Nevada
at the magnificent Arte Italia through May 19th.
Located at 442 Flint Street, Arte Italia is open
Thursday through Sunday from noon to 5 PM
(www.arteitaliausa.com). The chronologically-
arranged exhibition was originally curated by
the Museo Italo Americano, the Italian American Museum of San Francisco, which explains why
there is a strong emphasis on Bay Area teams. However, it plays out perfectly for the climactic
finish to the showcase: an autographed cap
and jersey worn by 2012 World Champion
San Francisco Giants’ lefty starter Barry Zito,
who won the opener of the 2012 World Series.
The exhibit’s co-curator, writer and historian Lawrence DiStasi of Bolinas, has loved the game since rooting for the New York Yankees as a child and playing baseball in the streets of Connecticut. In addition to writing all the text panels for the exhibition, DiStasi weaves together ideas, stories and statistics to depict the Italian American experience. There is a timeline of the years 1845 to 2012, which includes historical points of baseball and Italian immigration into the United States–and most importantly when those two histories intersect. The exhibition highlights several decades: the early days of redefining cultural stereotypes, transcending national barriers in the 30s and 40s, improbable triumphs of the 50s, 60s and 70s, the pride of the modern era, and a dominant presence in the Hall of Fame. Joe DiMaggio is the coveted star of the exhibition, and his 56-game hitting streak in 1941 is accented by DiStasi’s text panels which document each hit recorded in the “Dimag-o-Log” that SF Chronicle ran in the Sporting Green every day. Joe DiMaggio, along with his brothers–
Dom and Vince, Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, Babe Pinelli, Ernie Lombardi, Rugger Ardizoia, Billy Martin and Jim Fregosi are among the celebrated Italian American players with strong baseball roots to the Bay Area.
Undoubtedly Italian Americans have made important contributions to the game, but
perhaps just as poignant is the profound
effect baseball has had on the Americanization of Italians. Faced with Italian-born parents who opposed his participation in pro baseball and regarded the sport as juvenile as well as not the wisest career choice–Ed Abbaticchio, probably the first person with an Italian surname to play professionally in 1897, was offered a hotel by his father if he would stop playing baseball. Despite the temptation, the ballplayer refused the bribe and pursued his passion for the game. However, some could not withstand the pressure and caved in to discriminatory bias and the constant ridicule sports writers bestowed upon Italian names. Among them was Francesco Pezzolo, who chose a California mining town as his name-sake and became Ping Bodie–the big league center fielder who played from 1911 to 1921.
Italian Americans at Bat: From Sand Lots to the Major Leagues traverses the U.S. cultural landscape and documents an ethnic group’s rise from adversity by celebrating its triumphs in breaking into a sport dominated by English, Irish and German immigrants. However, even the game’s greatest stars had to contend with deep-rooted prejudices and stereotypical misnomers. A May 10, 1939 Life magazine cover story on Joe DiMaggio was laced with gross innuendos: “Instead of olive oil or smelly bear grease he keeps his hair
slick with water. He never reeks of garlic and prefers chicken chow mein to spaghetti.”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. Lawrence DiStasi, author of “Una Storia Segreta: The Secret History of Italian American Evacuation and Internment during World War II”, reports that 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. “The opportunity to showcase the adversity and accomplishments of legendary Italian American baseball players is one we welcome and relish,” said Kristen Avansino, President and Executive Director of Arte Italia. “For them, it was a way to integrate into the American way of life,” added Arte Italia Program Director Annie Turner. The exhibition brings home
the message that baseball allowed Italian Americans to assimilate into popular culture:
“This most American of sports became a quick way to counter that negative immigrant identity as an outsider.” Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Rocky Colavito, Roy Campenella, Ron
Santo, Carl Furillo, Joe Caragiola, Sal Maglie, Tony Conigliaro, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Mike Scioscia, Ken Caminiti, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Mike Napoli and
former Commissioner of Major League Baseball Bart Giamatti are just some of the legendary Italian American baseball ambassadors that have etched their names into U.S. sports history forever.Italian Americans at Bat: From Sand Lots to the Major Leaguepays tribute to their contributions, and those of over 400 others who have left their unique imprint
on the game. Currently on display in Arte Italia’s upstairs Michelangelo and Leonardo
da Vinci galleries are vintage jerseys, a plethora of memorabilia–including classic baseball cards and autographed baseballs, press clippings of career milestones, an interactive
touch screen computer database featuring memoirs, stats, and career highlights of
Italian American players and 14 World Series Championship managers as well as
over 200 archival photographs of some of the greatest moments in baseball history. With game one of the WBC Semifinals beginning Sunday evening, March 17 at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, fans have plenty of time to see the Italian Americans at Bat Exhibition at Arte Italia. You might even find Team Italy downstairs eating an inspirational pre-game meal prepared by Master Chef Paolo Sari, who has created three distinct regional menus reflecting the culinary traditions of Joe DiMaggio (Sicilia), Tony Lazzeri (Toscana) and Frank Crosetti (Lombardia). Buon appetito! Forza Italia!! Forza Azzurri…
Italians have often been criticized for using their
hands when they speak, but 2009 Team Italy coach Tom Trebelhorn (who is of German descent) has
been chastised by Cubbie fans for speaking his mind. To the dismay of the Chicago faithful, the former
MLB manager was awarded the #1 quote in Bleacher Report‘s “Best Baseball Quotes of All Time” (which includes memorable quotes from Italian American Baseball Hall of Fame Legends Joe DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto). However, Trebelhorn would much
prefer being remembered in baseball history for
his invaluable contribution in preparing the Italian team for the 2009 World Baseball Classic. “I think
the global aspect of baseball is very exciting,” said
the seasoned 65-year-old baseball veteran. He loves the international platform that the World Baseball Classic provides. Trebelhorn commented, “It gives
the game terrific exposure. To be able to hopefully
help the Italian Baseball Federation in their attempts
to enrich baseball as a sport in Italy is intriguing.”Every minute with the Italians in the 2009 World Baseball Classic at Rogers Centre was special for Trebelhorn. “A great experience. The team played with a lot of passion and heart,”
he said in retrospect to Italy’s 6-2 upset and elimination of
host Canada. “That was an embarrassment to them.” Named 1986 Manager of the Year by Baseball America after posting
an impressive 91-71 in his first season as the Milwaukee Brewers’ skipper, Trebelhorn managed the Brew Crew through 1991. After managing the 1994 Chicago Cubs, he signed on as coach for the Baltimore Orioles and remained with the franchise for 12 years. An unlikely alliance between the O’s and the Italian League’s Grosseto Baseball Club began after Baltimore County and the Italian Province of Grosseto became Sister Counties. The late and great Orioles vice president of operations
Syd Thrift announced in 2001 that Grosseto Baseball
Club manager Marco Mazzieri and several of his players were invited to Orioles’ Spring Training to observe team workout and training methods. He said, “We believe
this will help advance the game of baseball in Italy and throughout Europe. I’ve been to Grosseto and have
seen the enthusiasm they have for the game of baseball.” Italian manager Mazzieri and O’s coach Trebelhorn were two sound baseball minds from different sides of the Atlantic, and their common love for the game brought them together around the same time every year. They became close friends in no time and looked forward to their annual reunion. Trebelhorn said, “I used to have
him come to spring training and work with us in Florida.” When Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) President Riccardo Fraccari revealed that Mazzieri would be manager for Team Italy in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, the Italian baseball icon knew he needed some reinforcement with extensive MLB experience behind him. Upon hearing
of his appointment Mazzieri said, “I am really happy and not overconfident.
I am aware of the fact that I need to rely on the experience of a coach who has spent time in the Big Leagues.” Mazzieri summoned Trebelhorn. “He got the job as the head guy and asked if I would help him out,” said Trebelhorn nonchalantly. As the saying goes: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”