Team Italia battles Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico in 2017 World Baseball Classic

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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.

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Team Italia’s Tiago Da Silva pitched 3.1 innings of relief against Mexico in the 2013 WBC. The Brazilian-born 31-year-old kept hitters off-balance and allowed only one run.

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.

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Team Italia lefty Luis Lugo would like nothing more than play in the 2017 WBC and help the Azzurri pitching staff diffuse a lethal Venezuela lineup loaded with powerful dynamite.

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.

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Team Italia starter Alex Maestri threw 4.1 scoreless innings versus Puerto Rico in the 2013 WBC.

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.jal

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Roberto Clemente facts most don’t know: Part 2–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Vic Power

Victor "Vic Power" Pellot
Victor “Vic Power” Pellot was the 1962 Twins MVP.
The Great One “El Magnifico” Roberto Clemente was both black and Latino, one who sought equality despite the disparity between Puerto Rico’s easygoing acceptance of all and America’s hardline segregation regarding race, language and culture during the 50’s. The first black Puerto Rican to play in the American League was Clemente’s friend “El Gran Senor” Vic Power, the flashy-fielding Kansas City Athletics outfielder–who was dragged off the team bus one spring by the local authorities for buying a Coke from a whites-only gas station. Roberto despised the humiliation, internalizing it as if it were his own. Power tried to calm Clemente down with his wit and humor by recalling a conversation he had with a server at a Jim Crow-esque restaurant. “We don’t serve Negroes,” said the waitress. Power was relieved and replied, “That’s okay. I don’t eat Negroes. I just want rice and beans.”Vic Power A's
Pittsburgh Pirate Roberto Clemente
“El Magnifico” Roberto Clemente was elected posthumously into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1973.
As a Spanish-speaking black man from Puerto Rico, Clemente battled against discrimination from day one
in America and was outspoken about the inequities
he faced. During his first seven years at Pirates Spring Training in Florida, he was not afforded the comfortable amenities a downtown hotel offered. Instead, Clemente was confined to living with a black family in the Dunbar Heights section of Fort Myers. When the Pirates held its annual spring golf tournament at the local country club, Roberto and the other black teammates were excluded.
As if that was not enough disrespect, while his white teammates dined at roadside restaurants on Grapefruit League road trips, Clemente would have to remain on
the team bus. Fed up with such atrocities, he finally coerced the Pittsburgh Pirates front office management
to allow the black players to travel in their own station wagon. Clemente said that enduring the unjust racial divide during spring training was like being in prison.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Inter-American University in San Germán, Puerto Rico in February 1962.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico in February 1962.
1961 National League All-Stars Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron pose for a post-game photo.
1961 National League All-Stars Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron celebrate their victory
after Clemente was named Most Valuable Player.
Roberto Clemente’s admiration for
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his participation in the civil rights movement was spurred by the racism he experienced in the United States. During his professional career from 1954 to 1972, he saw significant change in both Major League Baseball and American society. Clemente was an intelligent and politically-charged activist who marched in the street protests of the 60’s and spent time with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. when the civil rights leader visited him at his farm in Puerto Rico. He
had a strong connection to King as
the humanitarian witnessed firsthand the black freedom struggle from the Montgomery Bus Boycotts to the urban ghetto rebellions and from Rosa Parks to the Black Panthers. ClementePortrait_1000pxWhen Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star Roberto Clemente was devastated by the news. However, out of respect for the slain leader, he gathered up his teammates for a meeting to prevent the Pirates and Astros from opening their season on April 8th–the day before King’s burial. He convinced his fellow Pirates, which included 11 African-Americans, to stand with him in unity. As a result of his extraordinary call to action in honoring his fallen hero, Pirates 1968 Opening Day was postponed and moved back to April 10th in observance of King’s memorial service. Like Dr. King, Clemente was a passionate believer of social and economic justice. Clemente once said, “If you have the chance to make things better for people coming behind you and you don’t, you are wasting your time on earth.”clemente_quote
David Maraniss quotes Clemente about being warned before speaking out on American injustice in his 2005 biography of the Hall of Fame outfielder: “They say, ‘Roberto, you better keep your mouth shut because they will ship you back.’ [But] this is something
from the first day I said to myself: I am in the minority group. I am from the poor people.
I represent the poor people. I represent the common people of America. So I am going
to be treated like a human being. I don’t want to be treated like a Puerto Rican, or a black, or nothing like that. I want to be treated like any person.” Clemente had a profound social conscience and drive for justice. Toward the end of his career, Clemente felt he had made some headway against prejudice. “My greatest satisfaction comes from helping to erase
the old opinion about Latin Americans and blacks,” he said.On April 3, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech saying, “I would like to live a
long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight,
that we as a people will get to the promised land.” Clemente shared Dr. King’s personal fatalism and always believed that he would die before his time. His widow Vera remembered, “He always said he would die young that this was his fate.” Born on August 18, 1934 in Puerto Rico just outside of Carolina’s sugar cane fields–where today nearby stands a 30-foot-long cenotaph which encapsulates the life and death of the Puerto Rican legendary hero–Roberto Clemente boarded an ill-fated overweight DC-7 aircraft attempting to fly from San Juan to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua with relief supplies and died when the humanitarian mission flight went plunging into the sea shortly after take off on New Year’s Eve, 1972.
Roberto Clemente is regarded with the reverence of a saint, a perspective reflected by the 30-foot-long cenotaph in Carolina, Puerto Rico.  The center panel portrays Clemente holding a lamb.
Roberto Clemente is regarded with the reverence of a saint, a perspective reflected by the 30-foot-long cenotaph in Carolina, Puerto Rico. The center panel portrays Clemente holding a lamb.
Clemente’s body was never found so the cenotaph designed by José Buscaglia is a heartfelt tribute to the Puerto Rican hero. Traditionally, cenotaphs are funerary monuments dedicated to heroes whose bodies are not recovered from the field of battle. So the very genre of Buscaglia’s work honors Clemente as one who gave all for his country. In the center panel, the lamb in Roberto’s arms is the lamb from the Puerto Rican coat of arms. In his life and death, Roberto lifted Puerto Rican identity to a new level in the world. The monument’s inscription reads “Son of Carolina, Exemplary Citizen, Athlete, Philanthropist, Teacher, Hero of the Americas and the World. Believing the promised land was more than a vision, both Clemente and King sacrificed everything to help set into motion a righteous path toward peace, equality and justice for oppressed people throughout the world. On the door of the room Clemente used during Pirates Spring Training is a plaque that reads Roberto’s final wish: “I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give.” Indeed, not only would that quote suffice as an appropriate epitaph but also accurately depicted the consummate good samaritan that Clemente was in being of service to all. Clemente

Roberto Clemente facts most don’t know: Part 1–U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Roberto Clemente

Instead of playing winter ball in Puerto Rico during the 1958-59 offseason, Roberto Clemente served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves. He spent six months of his military commitment at Parris Island, South Carolina, and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. While at Parris Island, Clemente received his basic training with Platoon 346 of the 3rd Recruit Battalion. At Camp Lejeune, he was an infantryman. The rigorous training he received helped Clemente physically by gaining ten pounds of muscle and ridding him of long-time back pain. Having served until 1964, Roberto was inducted into the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. Bob Terrell (right) was the training officer for U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Roberto Clemente.

have-we-lost-our-common-sense Bob Terrell’s “Have We Lost Our Common Sense?” is a self-published book by the former Marine lieutenant who grew close to Clemente during the the six months that the baseball legend served on active duty between the 1958 and 1959 seasons. According to the author, their friendship is mentioned briefly in his book because Clemente cared about others regardless of race and always gave his best. Terell said, “He made an impact on my view of civil rights philosophy. I believe we’re all God’s children, and he being an Hispanic, it opened my eyes about the fact that it’s a big world out there. As we became good friends, we kidded each other about my Kentucky drawl, and he about his broken English.” Sharpshooter-qualified Clemente impressed Terrell.
“He absorbed each detail of instruction and was a perfectionist who wouldn’t be satisfied with mediocrity. He practiced and practiced and it didn’t matter how many people glared at him–he maintained his poise.”

Sharp Shooter Roberto Clemente narrowly missed Expert status in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“Sharpshooter” Roberto Clemente narrowly missed “Expert” ranking in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Roberto Clemente _ Nicaragua Clemente shared with the former military training officer his three goals in life. “The first goal was to be on a World Series Championship team.
His second was to win a batting championship. And his third goal was to build a recreation center in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico,” said Terrell. Until his tragic death in a plane crash on December 31, 1972, during a humanitarian mission to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua, Clemente won the National League batting title four times. He won 12 Gold Glove Awards, was named to the NL All-Star team 15 times, named the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1966, and got over 3,000 hits. “The Great One” led the Pittsburgh Pirates to two World Series Championships in 1960 and 1971. With the efforts of Clemente’s widow, Vera Zabala, and the government of Puerto Rico, the construction of the Roberto Clemente Sports City complex fulfilled the wishes of the Puerto Rican iconic hero by providing athletic opportunities and life lessons for young people. Ciudad Deportiva Roberto Clemente occupies 304 acres
in Carolina, just outside the city of San Juan, consisting of baseball, football and soccer fields, a swimming pool, tennis courts, training facilities and meeting rooms. For his efforts on and off the field, Clemente was elected posthumously into the 1973 Major League Baseball Hall
of Fame. Terrell said, “We live in a time when people think more of themselves than of others. My friend died helping strangers. He was a compassionate person. And he was a great ambassador to baseball, and to humanity. I just don’t want people to forget how he lived and how he died. Roberto Clemente was no ordinary player. And no ordinary man.”clemente 2

3,000 means a lot more than another oil change

It’s been 40 years since Roberto Clemente joined MLB’s elite 3000 hit club on September 30, 1972 after hitting a double off Mets’ lefty Jon Matlack at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA.

Baseball Hall of Fame Legend and Latino Hero Roberto Clemente reaches out for his 3000th hit.
1972 National League Rookie of the Year Pitcher Jon Matlack
Just one year prior to dishing out Roberto Clemente’s monumental 3000th hit in 1972, the young Mets prospect and the seven other American players on the
San Juan Senadores Winter League team were personally invited to visit Clemente at his home in Puerto Rico. Currently working as a Houston Astros Minor League pitching coordinator, Matlack recalled when Clemente gathered everyone in his trophy room to talk baseball: “I thought that was pretty classy on his part. He was very personable, showed us his trophy room and memorabilia and spent
a lot of time talking about hitting. Every part of me
was awe-struck.”Matlack reminisced: “This bat was leaning in a corner. Somebody asked about hitting, and he picked up the bat to demonstrate. I remember thinking, ‘That’s a big bat,’ and
I asked about it. He said it had the maximum dimensions. He set it back down, and when everybody sort of moved on, I grabbed hold of it. I could barely pick it up. It led me to believe how strong this guy really was.” Clemente’s strength was tested when Matlack faced “The Great One” six times prior to their final reunion in the fourth inning on September 30, 1972. Clemente was hitless off him with one walk in previous matchups. Matlack’s strategy this at-bat was to avoid a mistake on the inner half, while hoping Clemente would take a quality strike on the outside corner. On a 2-2 pitch, the lefty spun a curveball on the outside.
Umpire Doug Harvey hands Roberto Clemente the game ball after he doubled off the Mets’ Jon Matlack for his 3,000th career hit on September 30, 1972.

Matlack said, “As it left my hand,
I was a little upset, because I realized this thing’s not going to make the strike zone. But he took that long stride, kept himself back and pulled it off the left-center-field wall for a double.” Matlack did not recognize what had happened until the second-base umpire, Doug Harvey, presented the ball to Clemente. Jim Fregosi, the Mets’ shortstop who retrieved it, remembered Clemente’s rather nonchalant reaction. He raised his helmet briefly to the fans. Fregosi said, “He was pretty cool about everything he did. That’s how he was.” Fregosi believed Clemente understood the importance of #3000.

Trout, Harper, Brown, Jennings, Revere, Fuentes…

Although half of MLB.com Jonathan Mayo’s 2011 Top 10 Outfield Prospects have made their splash into Major League Baseball, the remaining five prospects–including former Boston Red Sox 2009 first-round draft pick and current Padres AA-affiliate San Antonio Missions leadoff hitter Reymond Fuentes–have yet to make their grandiose MLB debut despite possessing the five-tools necessary to become successful in the big leagues.

Reymond Fuentes was the Boston Red Sox 2009 first-round draft pick who was traded with Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Eric Patterson to the San Diego Padres organization
in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez.
Considered the “other” prospect San Diego received packaged with right-handed pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and a player to be named later (Eric Patterson) in exchange for trading Adrian Gonzalez to Boston in December 2010, the speedy 21-year-old Reymond Fuentes has the genetic makeup to break into the Bigs. Just ask his cousin, seven-time MLB All-Star/Puerto Rican philanthropist and baseball advocate Carlos Beltran. “I’m very proud of him,” Beltran said. “I believe he’s going to make it to the big leagues. I told him, ‘As hard as you’ve worked so far, you’re going to have to work double to get where you want to go.'” Upon hearing the news of Reymond being shipped out west, Beltran was concerned about his cousin’s reaction and called him immediately. He said, “Sometimes when you’re young and a team trades you, they think they don’t like him. So I told him, ‘Man, the best thing that happened to you was being able to get traded to San Diego because that organization is an organization that doesn’t have players on long-term deals. And if you put up a good year, you play hard, you can play in the big leagues as soon as possible.’”
Reymond Fuentes scored twice in Puerto Rico’s 8-4 victory over U.S.A in the 2011 World Cup.

Chosen to represent San Diego as a member of the World Team at the 2011 All-Star Futures Game as well as lead off for the Puerto Rican national team in the 2011 World Cup and Pan American Games, six-foot Reymond Fuentes is looked up to by many aspiring Caribbean ballplayers with the same dream. Having built the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in his native Puerto Rico to educate and nurture young athletes, cousin Carlos Beltran in the spirit of legend Roberto Clemente gives back generously to his people–especially when it comes to family. Carlos said, “I’m going to do everything I can to help him out. I work out with him in Puerto Rico, and I invite him to my house, and he’s there way early–so he’s hungry. For being so young, that really impressed me the most–more than his talent. Hopefully he lives up to that, and I can watch him play in the big leagues and maybe play against him one day.”
Puerto Rico’s Reymond Fuentes steals a bag in the 2011 Juegos Panamericanos against Cuba.
Fuentes at the 2011 Futures Game
Part of Team World’s outfield with current MLB players Dayan Viciedo (Chicago White Sox) and Starling Marte (Pittsburgh Pirates) in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game, Reymond Fuentes was one of two prospects selected from the San Diego Padres organization. Named the Friar’s #13 prospect by MLB.com and rated the franchise’s best baserunner by Baseball America following a successful 2011 at Single-A Advanced Lake Elsinore with 41 stolen bases, Fuentes has been the spark plug for the 2012 AA San Antonio Missions.

We caught up with Fuentes recently in San Antonio at Wolff Stadium after the post-game fireworks, which the youthful Reymond kindly requested to watch before conducting the interview.
Roberto: You look good having put on 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason for additional power without compromising your lightning speed. With teammate Dean Anna having a great 2012 season and sometimes leading off, Missions’ manager John Gibbons has switched up the line-up and placed you in different slots. Do you care where you are placed in the line-up?
Fuentes’ speed on the bases and in the outfield led Lake Elsinore to a 2011 Cal League Championship.

Reymond Fuentes: Anything that
can help with the team win–I will just
do it. Just follow orders from my manager and just play the game that I love and know how to do.
Roberto: As the Missions’ team leader for stolen bases on par for 30-plus in 2012, do you enjoy making the opposing pitcher worry about you when you are on the base paths?
Reymond Fuentes: Why not?
I mean I do my role then they have
to do their role.

Roberto: Having an eagle eye vantage point of all the action on the field, do you like playing center field?
Reymond Fuentes: Center field is awesome. My speed and my range help me a lot. It’s fun just to run down balls and get those hits off the other team. And get them angry a little bit…you know what I mean. It’s a lot of fun tracking balls and making those diving catches is the best! So I love center field, and I wouldn’t change it for anything else.

Roberto: After being involved in the trade that allowed Boston to acquire Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego, was there any love lost when you had to say goodbye to Fenway?
Reymond Fuentes: You know it
was really tough not to see my old teammates from Boston, but I mean being traded for Adrian is a huge step for me. I mean Adrian is an All-Star. He’s a great player. I think it’s a real honor to get traded for him and just join this team, play the game with the same attitude and effort in Boston here.

Roberto: Please tell me about your deep family connections to Major League Baseball.
Reymond Fuentes: Carlos Beltran is my mom’s cousin. We work out in the offseason everyday–hitting, fielding, throwing, catching. He’s a great guy. He taught me a lot on the field and off the field. He’s taught me a lot of stuff about life so I have to thank him. My dad used to play too. He’s been there since I was four years old. He was the first one who gave a bat to me and saw me swing. So I have to thank my dad for staying with me all this time and help me get where I am right now.


Roberto: How influential was the legendary Roberto Clemente growing up in Puerto Rico?
Reymond Fuentes: Roberto Clemente, God rest his soul, was a terrific, all-time I don’t even know how to describe…he was a great player! A lot of little kids including me looked up to him because the way he played ball, the love he had for the game. It was unexplainable. I love to read his articles because I didn’t get to see him play. But everything I read about him is awesome, and he’s the best of Puerto Rico right now. I used to wear (Clemente’s) number 21 when I was a little kid. Then I couldn’t use it because of some rules in Puerto Rico when they retired his number. So I just decided to go with (number) 15 that Carlos used to wear. So I’m staying right there and just keeping everything within family, you know.

Roberto: With reggaeton blowing up in Puerto Rico, I was surprised that you have a different genre represented in your walk-up song.
Reymond Fuentes: Reggaeton is big in Puerto Rico, but right now I have a salsa—that’s old school music in Puerto Rico. I got this walk-up song from my dad. It’s my dad’s favorite song, and I’m using it right now. I think I’m going back to reggaeton because I mean it makes me move walking up to the plate and just makes me happy.
Roberto: It be long before you make your MLB debut for the SD Padres.
Reymond Fuentes: Thank you. That would be awesome. I’m looking forward to that every single day.

Roberto: Would you like to be called up to MLB next month when the roster expands to 40?
Reymond Fuentes: I would love that. I mean that’s my dream ever since I was a little kid.
I just can’t do anything else, but play my best ball here and just wait for that call.
Roberto: Are you looking forward to facing cousin Carlos Beltran and the St. Louis Cardinals?
Reymond Fuentes: You know what? If I face Carlos, I just want to rob two hits out of him with diving catches in center field. I would just call him the next day and say ‘Hey, you can’t hit it over there.’
Roberto: Thanks for taking time out for us today. Let’s chat again at PETCO in San Diego.
Reymond Fuentes: Absolutely, I mean. It’s a great pleasure to speak with MLBforLife.com and I’ll do it anytime when I can.