After leading Team Italy in runs (5), hits (11), home runs (2), RBI (17), batting average (.423), slugging percentage (.654), on-base percentage (.531), on-base plus slugging (1.185), walks (6), and stolen bases (2), Azzurri first baseman and Cincinnati Reds prospect Leonardo “Grande Leo” Seminati was named and honored as a member of the 2017 WBSC U-18 All-World Team during the closing ceremonies of the 12-country international tournament at Port Arthur Stadium in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. A sold-out stadium of fans and supporters–including 19 of his Azzurri teammates, Team Italy U-18 manager John Cortese along with coaches Rolando Cretis, Stefano Cappuccini, Gianluca Marenghi, Daniele Santolupo as well as FIBS delegation manager Fabrizio De Robbio, trainer Graziano Abbate, physician Guido Squarcia and FIBS media representative Marco Landi–cheered enthusiastically as Seminati stood proudly on the podium next to fellow players selected to the 2017 U-18 All-World Team.
Following the memorable night of glory under the lights at Thunder Bay’s Port Arthur Stadium, Leonardo Seminati packed his bags and headed in a different direction than Team Italy. Unlike most traveling back to Rome, Grande Leo flew to Goodyear, Arizona to report to Cincinnati Reds instructional league camp. Impressed by the way the Team Italy captain and MLB prospect carried himself and his Italian squad in the 2017 WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup, the Reds wasted no time in getting Seminati on their home turf to begin the process of molding this European all-star into a world-class ballplayer. Leonardo Seminati is a breath of fresh air as baseball media and fans alike will soon find out as he embarks on his minor league journey with sights of a career in the Big Leagues. Grande Leo conducts himself professionally on and off the field. His coaches, teammates and family have nothing but praise for the outstanding 17-year-old slugger. He is one of the most approachable, responsible and intelligent young competitors one will ever meet in the game today. Like promising 20-year-old Italian Kansas City Royals prospect Marten Gasparini, Cincinnati Reds prospect Leonardo Seminati has a bright future ahead of him in Major League Baseball. Thanks to the efforts of 29-year-old Alex Liddi, who was the first Italian-born-and-raised player to make it to MLB, the table has been set for Marten Gasparini and Leonardo Seminati to represent Italy as a viable breeding ground for up-and-coming baseball talent on the global stage. Forza ragazzi! Forza Italia!!!
FIBS media representative Roberto Angotti with Team Italy’s Leonardo Seminati at the 2017 WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup in Thunder Bay (Photo by Azzurri coach Stefano Cappuccini)
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.
Having suffered a minor Grade 1 strain of his left oblique after the 2017 WBC and during spring training, Team Italy DH Drew Butera (Kansas City Royals) has played in only eight games and has had 16 at-bats to date. Following in father Sal Butera’s footsteps, Drew aspired to make it professionally in MLB. He was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 48th round of the 2002 MLB draft, but instead chose to play college ball at the University of Central Florida. A fifth-round pick by the Mets in the 2005 MLB draft, Butera listened to Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti in the clubhouse before games as a Mets’ Minor Leaguer. After being named 2007 Florida State League All-Star and sent to play Double-A ball, Butera was traded to Minnesota and subsequently added to the Twins 40-man roster in 2008. Known best for his excellent defensive prowess and as a pitcher’s catcher calling games behind the plate, catcher Drew Butera kept Twins’ lefty Francisco Liriano focused on every pitch which resulted in a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, 2011. Three years later while playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 25, 2014, Butera caught Josh Beckett’s no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies and became only the fifth catcher in Major League Baseball history to catch a no-hitter in both leagues. Drew was traded to the LA Angels on December 9, 2014 and again on May 15, 2015 to the Kansas City Royals. Butera once again made the history book box scores when he caught the game-winning strike from Royals closer Wade Davis to clinch the 2015 World Series Championship for Kansas City. Drew has been a solid contributor to Team Italy since 2013, when he was a big hit for the Azzurri in the WBC. Delivering a two-run home run that helped defeat Mexico and a two-run double that buried Canada, Drew was instrumental in each of Team Italy’s victories to earn the Azzurri the right to advance with Team USA to the second round of play. Butera continued his power hitting ways with two home runs in the 2017 WBC while serving as the Team Italy DH.
Another player nursing an injury with a hamstring strain and a bruised hand is Team Italy center fielder Brandon Nimmo (New York Mets). The Azzurri leadoff hitter is coming off the 10-day DL soon to make his 2017 debut for the Mets. The spiritually driven Brandon Nimmo, selected by the Mets in the first-round of the 2011 MLB draft, has never given up the faith in playing professional baseball at the highest level. The 23-year-old spends time every day praying and reading the bible. It is an essential part of his preparation for the game he loves and his approach to all aspects of his life.
The Wyoming native had a breakout year in 2016 when he was named a Sterling Minor League Organizational Co-Player of the Year after finishing second in the Pacific Coast League in hitting with a .352 clip while playing for Triple-A Las Vegas. It was the second time Nimmo was awarded a Sterling after winning his first one in 2014 when he played for the St. Lucie Mets. He made his MLB debut for the Mets on June 26, 2016. Prior to injuring his hamstring as the Team Italy center fielder and leadoff hitter in the 2017 WBC, Nimmo demonstrated some power at the plate when he slammed a homer to the deepest part of the field off Venezuela reliever Bruce Rondon. The multi-talented Nimmo is undoubtedly one of MLB’s brightest young stars.
Team Italy second baseman Daniel Descalso (Arizona Diamondbacks) has been a true blessing since signing a one-year free agent deal with the D-backs on February 7, 2017. “Every good team needs a player like Daniel Descalso,” said Diamondbacks’ first-year manager Torey Lovullo. Utility players like Descalso are invaluable to a manager as they can play multiple positions and be called upon for just about anything at a moment’s notice. In the case of priceless Descalso, he is a clutch hitter, great fielder and excellent baserunner. During this young 2017 season, Descalso has already played first base, second base, third base and left field. “Every team is built around a core group of players,” D-backs skipper Lovullo said. “But with the role players or the situational players such as Daniel Descalso, they give you such a great opportunity to give guys days off that you can just plug them in and your team still can excel. Those are extremely valuable players for me because when he’s in the game, my heart rate is the same as if the starting player was in the game and I know his teammates feel the same way.”The proud Italian American’s ascent to MLB was on a road less traveled. After hitting a team-best .397 during his junior year at UC Davis in 2007 with 22 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 53 runs scored and 44 RBI, MLB scouts traveled to this small school in Northern California to see for themselves what a ballplayer Daniel Descalso was. Selected shortly thereafter by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third-round of the 2007 MLB draft, Daniel Descalso remained in the Cards farm system until his MLB debut on September 20, 2010. After five successful seasons–including one he will never forget–he earned a World Series ring in 2011 by bringing a World Series title to St. Louis. Daniel signed with the Colorado Rockies on December 16, 2014. The versatile seven-year Major League veteran hit .264 with a career-best eight home runs and 38 RBI in 99 games for Colorado in 2016, while also posting career bests in slugging and on-base percentages (.424/.329). In the 2017 WBC, Descalso led all Team Italy starters in batting average (.333) and slugging percentage (.842). After making his MLB debut last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Rob Segedin started 2017 with Triple-A affiliate Oklahoma City, where he led the Minor Leagues in slugging percentage (.598) and ranked second in OPS (.989) last season. But you can’t keep a good man down! Segedin hit .324 with two doubles, two home runs and five RBI in nine games for the 2017 Oklahoma City Dodgers. After hitting safely in all but two games and recording five multi-hit games, the Los Angeles Dodgers recalled Rob Segedin and started him at first base on April 17, 2017. In his second game after being called up to the big leagues, Segedin was placed on the 10-day DL for a big right toe strain. His long journey to MLB was not an easy one. He was selected by the New York Yankees in the third-round of the 2010 MLB draft out of Tulane University. The New Jersey native worked his way up the ladder in the New York Minor Leagues to play Triple-A ball in 2014 before being traded to the LA Dodgers after the 2015 season.Following 2016 Dodgers’ Spring Training, Segedin was assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. He was selected to both the Pacific Coast League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star rosters after having the best season of his Minor League career. Segedin set a LA Dodgers franchise record four RBI in his MLB debut on August 7, 2016 against the Boston Red Sox. On that magical night at Chavez Ravine, Rob’s bases-loaded double against Boston ace David Price helped the Dodgers win 8-5 over the Red Sox. As the cleanup hitter for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC, Segedin went 3-for-13 (.231) with a home run, a double and three walks in four games facing MLB pitchers Yovani Gallardo, Carlos Torres, Sergio Romo, Martin Perez, Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Berrios, Deolis Guerra and Jose Alvarez . “It was a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m grateful the Dodgers gave me an opportunity to go and play for Team Italy,” Segedin said. “It was truly one of the best experiences I’ve had in all of baseball.”
Meanwhile back east, Team Italy Azzurri left-handed reliever specialist Tommy Layne (New York Yankees) is a significant piece of the Yanks bullpen with stablemates Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman. He has already made eight appearances in 2017. The St. Louis, Missouri native graduated in 2007 from nearby Mount Olive College, where he was named an All-American and Carolina-Virginia Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year. Selected by the Diamondbacks in the 26th round for the 2007 MLB draft, Layne remained in Arizona’s Minor Leagues until he was acquired by the Padres on May 3, 2012. He made his MLB debut for San Diego on August 14, 2012 in Atlanta by striking out Braves’ Brian McCann, Dan Uggla and Tyler Pastornicky. That same season Layne earned his first MLB win in relief, striking out Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, and Hanley Ramirez in extra innings at Dodger Stadium on September 4, 2012. The Boston Red Sox signed Layne to a Minor League deal on November 10, 2013. He would later emerge as one of the game’s finest lefty-on-lefty matchup relievers out of the Boston bullpen for the next three seasons. Within three days of being released by the Red Sox, the Yankees inked a deal with Layne on August 9, 2016. Pitching out of the Team Italy bullpen in three relief appearances during the 2017 WBC, Layne worked 3.1 scoreless innings and struck out four batters. While WBC Italian-born-and-developed players Alex Liddi and Alessandro Maestri are doing well in the Mexican Baseball League, WBC Team Italy players Chris Colabello, Drew Maggi, Gavin Cecchini, John Andreoli, Jordan Romano, Luis Lugo, Nick Fanti, Pat Venditte, Sam Gaviglio and Trey Nielsen are making forward progress in Minor League Baseball so that they can join their fellow Azzurri brothers in MLB. Stand by for more details…
Commencing its 70th season this past weekend, the 2017 Italian Baseball League (IBL) is the talk of the town in Bologna, Rimini, San Marino, Nettuno, Parma, Padova, Novara and Padule Sesto Fiorentino. Eight Italian teams from those regions are divided into two groups of four and will play games every weekend. The top squads from each division will square off in a best-of-five-game series semi-final and final competitions between August 18 and September 9, 2017. Defending champions UnipolSai Bologna, who claimed their 10th IBL title in 2016, will likely show their winning form again in 2017, while new IBL contender, Padule Sesto Fiorentino, is viewed as an outside long shot. Let’s get a closer look at each team’s roster to understand why everyone is so excited about professional baseball in Italy.
UnipolSai Fortituto Bologna manager Lele Frignani has put together a well-balanced roster of seasoned veterans and up-and-coming stars. The always dependable Roberto Corradini mentors a strong Bologna pitching staff which includes former Boston Red Sox prospect Nicolo Clemente, former Team Italy WBC pitchers Filippo Crepaldi, Luca Panerati and Nick Pugliese, Venezuelan newcomer Raul Garcia Junior, and the American-born duo of Justin Cicatello and Rudy Owens. Azzurri catcher Marco Sabbatani shares the catching duties with veteran Venezuelan backstop, Osman Marval. Bologna boasts a quality infield featuring a pair of Azzurri favorites in first baseman Alex Sambucci and second baseman Alessandro Vaglio as well as two outstanding imports: Venezuelan shortstop Jose Flores, and Dominican third baseman Robel Garcia. Center fielder Paolino Ambrosino, who was the first Italian-born player to participate in the Nicaraguan Professional Baseball League while playing for the 2016-17 Tigres de Chinandega, joins fellow Italians Alessandro Grimaudo and Alex Russo as well as the San Francisco-born Nick Nosti to round out the Bologna outfield.
2016 IBL runner-up Rimini seeks revenge against Bologna this season under the leadership of manager Paolo Ceccaroli. Former LA Dodger prospect Federico Celli teams up with Italian American Nico Garbella, Cuban All-Star Maikel Caseres and Venezuelan Carlos Duran to make up what some believe to be the best outfield in the IBL. Azzurri pitchers Jose Escalona, Carlos Richetti, and Carlos Teran give Rimini depth on the hill. Dominican hurler Jose Rosario and former Marlins Venezuelan prospect Ricardo Hernandez add even more appeal to the Pirates pitching staff. Shortstop Juan Carlos Infante, a name many may recall seeing on the 2013 Team Italy WBC roster, leads a talented crew of infielders including first baseman Daniele Malengo, second basemen Lino Zappone and Freddy Noguera in addition to third baseman Lorenzo Di Fabio. Catchers Gionni Luciani and Antonio Giovannini complement the Rimini roster.
T&A San Marino GM Mauro Mazzotti has faith that team manager Marco Nanni can bring an IBL championship title to the “most serene republic” sooner than later with a slew of tried and tested athletes hungry for success. Loyal Azzurri players include DH Mario Chiarini, outfielders Sebastiano Poma, Lorenzo Avagnini, and Mattia Reginato as well as pitchers Nick Morreale, Frailyn Florian and Junior Oberto. Former Houston Astros prospect Carlos Quevedo, Andres Perez and Yoimer Camacho are a trio of dangerous Venezuelan pitchers that will try to keep opponents off balance and off the bases. Tomasso Cherubini and Ludovico Coveri complete the San Marino pitching staff. Shortstop Erick Epifano, who played four seasons in the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues as a former MLB prospect, heads up the San Marino infield with the assistance of first basemen Gabriele Ermini and Francesco Imperiali, second basemen Riccardo Babini and Luca Pulzetti in addition to third basemen Leonardo Ferrini. Simone Albanese, Daniele Cenni and Pierangelo Cit divvy up the catching for T&A San Marino.
Angel Service Nettuno Baseball City manager Alberto D’Auria will try to get his team of spirited players into the IBL playoffs for the second consecutive season. Former LA Dodgers prospect Federico Giordani joins fellow Italian teammates Ennio Retrosi and Stefano Giannetti as well as Venezuelan Ronald Bermudez and Italian American Nick Davenport in the Nettuno outfield. Shortstop and former Atlanta Braves prospect Mattia Mercuri complements the Nettuno infield along with Dominican-born Omar Luna, Argentine-born Sebastian Fontana and Renato Imperiali at first base, Andrea Sellaroli at second base, and Giuseppe Mazzanti and Leonardo Colagrossi at third base. 25-year-old American import pitcher Ethan Carnes, who pitched three years in the NY Yankees minor league system, makes Angel Service Nettuno an intriguing IBL entry. Other pitchers on the squad include Milvio Andreozzi, Matteo Modica, Yuri Morellini, Valerio Simone, Paolo Taschini, and Venzuelan Ronald Uviedo. Catchers Mario Trinci, Angelo Taurelli and Vinicio Sparagna add strength to the Nettuno roster.
Parma Clima advisor Sal Varriale takes pride in his important role and his invaluable contribution to Italian baseball for the past four decades. Honored by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) with the 2012 ABCA Meritorious Service Award, Varriale was recently acknowledged in Parma when he was awarded The Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Ordine al merito della Repubblica Italiana) and the title of Knight of the Republic (Cavaliere della Repubblica). Entrusting former Team Italy coach and current Parma manager Gilberto Gerali to assemble a competitive squad capable of winning the 2017 IBL Championship title, Varriale is confident the team chemistry in Parma will yield remarkable results on the diamond. Starting with Azzurri faithful Stefano Desimoni in the outfield and Yomel Rivera on the mound, Parma Clima can do no wrong. Recruiting four Venezuelan standouts: former MLB pitcher Eduardo Sanchez (St. Louis Cardinals/Chicago Cubs), shortstop and former LA Dodgers prospect Leon Mirabal, third baseman and former Colorado Rockies/Boston Red Sox prospect Mario Martinez as well as closer Gumercindo Gonzalez plus one Columbian All-Star in third baseman Adolfo Gomez, is no easy task. Combine this international arsenal with the prowess of local players like pitcher Michele Pompani, second baseman Manuel Piazza, third baseman Luca Scalera and outfielder Leonardo Zileri, Parma is destined to be the team to beat in the 2017 IBL playoffs.
In the IBL for its third year, Tommasin Padova manager Francesco Aluffi’s team is getting better with age. Perhaps the biggest acquisition since Lenny Randle joined the IBL, Padova recruited former MLB veteran Mark Teahen to come out of retirement to play during the 2017 IBL Season. While vacationing in Italy and working out in Bologna three years ago, the left-handed-hitting utility player expressed interest in playing baseball in the IBL. During his seven-year MLB career, Teahen had 759 hits, including 67 homers, while playing for the Kansas City Royals, the Chicago White Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. Other Padova imports include Venezuelans Roberto Canache, who pitched in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, and infielder Carlos Perdomo as well as Dominican left-handed pitcher Yunior Novoa, who has quality spent time in the minor and independent leagues before landing in Italy. The synergy between Azzurri pitcher Enrico Crepaldi and catcher Elia Marinig provides Padova with an edge over opposing hitters, while Andrea Berini offers extra protection in the outfield with his speed and agility.
Renny Duarte, who European baseball fans will recall served as the long-time pitching coach for Spain, takes over the managerial duties for Novara. Joining Duarte in the IBL is Team Spain shortstop Oscar Angulo, whose offensive excellence was key to the team’s silver medal finish in the 2016 European Baseball Championship. Led by Azzurri veterans Jairo Ramos and Yovani D’Amico, Novara has an international pitching syndicate featuring Jonathan Aristil from the Dominican Republic and Raul Ruiz from Venezuela in addition to Brent Buffa and Jeremy Castro from the USA. Other players of interest include local pitching favorites Nicolas Loardi and Pietro Paolo Cadoni plus Venezuelan catcher Luis Alvarez and Italian Dominican infielder Nathanael De Jesus. Novara should not be taken lightly as the new skipper Duarte plays to win and his players will follow his lead.
Polisportiva Padule Sesto Fiorentino manager Paolo Minozzi knows he has a big job ahead as the leader for the newest addition to the IBL. Former Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Jesus Parra and former Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Carlos Rodriguez, a pair of strong arms from Venezuela, make their IBL debut for Padule Sesto Fiorentino. Minozzi recruited some of the best Italian pitchers available including: Alessandro Ularetti, Marco Costantini, Massimiliano “The Rocket” Geri, Filippo Gandolfi and Matthias Zotti. The catching quartet of Fabio Origlia, Davide Tomaello and Valdemaro Faticanti and Marco Valsecchi will get their fair share of time behind the plate. With first base being anchored by Emiliano Lumini and Samy Ramirez, infielders Marco Labardi, Samuele Reggioli, Manuel Ricci and Livinston Santaniello split the second baseman and shortstop duties. Cubans Yordany Alarcon and Yordany Scull stake their claim to third base and center field respectively, while Nazzareno Neri and Rojelio Maldonado round out the Padule outfield. There is no doubt the new kids on the block will experience growing pains throughout season; however, Padule Sesto Fiorentino is a welcome addition to the IBL.
Azzurri catcher Francisco Cervelli spoke with FIBS (Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball) and IABF (Italian American Baseball Family) media reporter Roberto Angotti during Team Italy batting practice prior to the start of the 2017 WBC game against Venezuela on March 11th at Estadio de Béisbol Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico. The Pittsburgh Pirate fan favorite expressed how much love he felt being honored with his own Francisco Cervelli That’s Amore Singing Bobblehead Night at PNC Park on April 8th.
Having received Top 10 MLB.com Fan Website recognition for the past five years, MLB blogger Roberto Angotti has been selected by Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) to report on Team Italy in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. His articles are now exclusively available on the FIBS English language website (www.FIBS.it/en) and also on the Italian American Baseball Family website (www.IABF.it). For frequent updates on Team Italy throughout the 2017 World Baseball Classic, visit the various social media sites for FIBS (facebook/twitter/instagram) and the Italian American Baseball Family (facebook/twitter/instagram). Facing Latin American powerhouses Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico, Team Italy is once again the underdog when the extremely competitive WBC Pool D action begins on March 9, 2017 at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico. Prior to heading south of the border, Team Italy will play exhibition games against the Chicago Cubs on March 7th and the Oakland A’s on March 8th in Mesa, Arizona. During all games, social media followers are encouraged to interact with Team Italy by using the following hashtags: #wbc2017, #WBC, #Italia and #Italy.
Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri will have his mixed roster of seasoned MLB players and up-and-coming prospects ready for combat in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara will be declared a war zone beginning March 9th when 2017 WBC host Mexico seeks revenge against a ‘never say die’ Italian squad that attacked closer Sergio Romo to pull off a miraculous 6-5 come-from-behind victory in the opening game of the 2013 WBC in Scottsdale, Arizona. Team Mexico will be managed by Edgar Gonzalez, who will be depending on his brother Adrian Gonzalez to lead the Mexican’s offensive charge with the support of sluggers Khris Davis and Danny Espinosa. In the opening battle on March 9th, Team Italia will most likely face starting pitchers Jamie Garcia, Miguel Gonzalez or Oliver Perez. It will be critical for Team Italia to strike first and score runs early because the Mexican bullpen is filled with some of the MLB’s finest relievers including: Roberto Osuna, Sergio Romo, Joakim Soria, Fernando Salas and Carlos Torres.
Team Italia will use a day off to strategize and prepare their troops for the March 11th clash versus Venezuela. Not only will this be one of the Team Italia’s biggest challenges of the 2017 WBC, but it is life-or-death for Venezuelan-born catcher Francisco Cervelli–who played for Team Italia when Venezuela eliminated the Italians from the 2009 WBC competition following their devastating 10-1 defeat. Fellow Venezuela native Luis Lugo, a 22-year-old Cleveland Indians pitching prospect who secured a Team Italia roster spot in the 2016 European Championship, would absolutely love the opportunity to get the ball and turn the tables on Venezuela. However, it will not be an easy task for Team Italia as Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel’s roster of MLB All-Stars includes Felix Hernandez, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez, Jose Altuves, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rougned Odor, Martin Prado, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, Ender Inciarte, Odubel Herrera and Sandy Leon.
Team Italia will face Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez’s talented roster on March 12th. Starting pitcher possibilities include Seth Lugo and Hector Santiago. Relievers include Alex Claudio, Edwin Diaz, Joe Jimenez and Joe Colon. Puerto Rico boosts a strong MLB All-Star caliber lineup with the likes of Javier Baez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Yadier Molina, T.J. Rivera and Eddie Rosario. Puerto Rico, the runner-up of the 2013 WBC, eliminated Team Italia in the second round of play when they rallied late in the eight inning from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Azzurri with a 4-3 victory. As with the 2013 WBC, the first round will again be a round-robin format with the top two teams advancing to one of two second-round pools. However, for the first time in the worldwide tournament’s history, a single-elimination tiebreaker game will be played if necessary to determine the second advancing team in both the first and second rounds. In the case of the first round in Guadalajara, the tiebreaker contest would be played on March 13th. The two top teams will then move on to the second round of action slated to begin on March 14th at San Diego’s Petco Park.
Team Italia and host Mexico have a favorable advantage over rivals Venezuela and Puerto Rico due to the scheduling of the round-robin tournament. Both teams have a day off following their head-to-head combat match-up on opening night March 9th. However, when Team Italia returns recharged for a day game against Venezuela on March 11th, the Italians can take advantage of a sleep-deprived and fatigued Venezuela pitching staff that will have been taxed after being used the night before versus Puerto Rico. Team Italia will once again enjoy the same luxury when they play their second consecutive day game against a tired Puerto Rico squad that will have undergone back-to-back night battles versus Venezuela and Mexico. Although Team Italia remains the underdog, manager Marco Mazzieri’s army of blue-collar baseball players will fight to the death to repeat as they did in the 2013 WBC and advance to the second round.
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.
#BlueJays RP Joe Biagini on @FAN590 re whether he’ll play for Italy in WBC: “I’ve got a call with the Italian president right after this.”
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.
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.
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.
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 coachinglocally to give back to a sport that gave me so much.”