Team Italy manager Marco Mazzieri knew he had a special MLB everyday player in leadoff hitter and spark plug Nick Punto before the 2013 World Baseball Classic began. Having played shortstop for Team Italy in the 2009 WBC at Rogers Centre in Toronto,
the versatile Dodgers infielder (3B/SS/2B) played a solid second base in the 2013 WBC tournament–allowing Seattle Mariners reserve third baseman Alex Liddi (currently at Triple-A Tacoma) and former MiLB farmhand shortstop Anthony Granato to remain at their usual positions. Having beaten Mexico and Canada in Phoenix to advance to the second round in Miami, Punto led off in every one of Team Italy’s five games and raked at the plate (8-for-19, .421 BA, two 2B, two BB and five runs scored). LA Dodgers infielder Nick Punto
made his first start of the season in Sunday’s series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Chavez Ravine. Playing second base and batting second in the lineup, he went 2-for-2 with a walk and two runs scored. Punto also stole a base in a 6-2 victory. The seasoned 35-year-old MLB veteran with a World Series ring (2011 St. Louis Cardinals) is 4-for-7 in limited action during two weeks of play–despite leading the team with his impressive .571 batting average.LA Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly may want take note of WBC Team Italy manager Marco Mazzieri’s unconditional love for Nick Punto
as an everyday player. The recently appointed Dodgers European scout Mazzieri said, “Nick is a terrific guy. Here’s a guy with tremendous experience…a big clubhouse guy trying to keep everybody up and ready.” Former manager Tony La Russa started Punto in the 2011 World Series because he believed
that he made his team better.
Now it’s time for Mattingly to follow suit and strongly consider including the Team Italia energizer and World Champion in the his daily lineup card. Not only would Nick Punto ignite the Dodgers offensively, but his natural born athleticism and constant hustle on the field would be documented in web gems for the world to see on nightly highlight reels. Dodgers fans and baseball fanatics alike deserve to see “the great Nicky Punto” in action just as those lucky enough to witness the magic firsthand from his beloved days in Minnesota. Forza Dodgers!
Despite the defending European Champs having traveled the greatest distance to compete in Pool D of the World Baseball Classic (which begins Thursday, March 7th and includes perennial favorite USA, Mexico and Canada) in addition to being the only team required to tax its arsenal of talented pitchers after being scheduled to play five games in five days beginning Tuesday with a pre-WBC exhibition warm-up against American League West Division Champion Oakland A’s, resilient Team Italy will be walking a tightrope in light of reduced WBC pitch limits (65 in the first round, 80 in the second round, and 95 in the semi-finals and finals) to overcome the adverse working conditions reminiscent to the plight of their ancestral forefathers who emigrated to America at the end of the 19th century. Although Team Italy’s exhibition games against the Athletics on Tuesday and Mike Scioscia’s Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on Wednesday will not count in the tournament’s stringent pitch limits, it will have serious repercussions
on the arms of the Italian pitching staff.
Italy manager Marco Mazzieri and pitching coach Bill Holmberg sat down prior to a scrimmage against
a team of spirited Seattle Mariners prospects at the
Peoria Sports Complex in Arizona and provided a very
candid snapshot of their team’s compromised chances
of beating the odds and advancing to the second round
of the highly-touted competition in the following interview.
Roberto: Is Team Italy ready to battle Mexico, Canada and USA in the 2013 World Baseball Classic? Marco Mazzieri: We’ll be ready when the games start. We’re right now just trying to tune up all the guys and waiting for our MLB players to come down and join us. We know they’ll all be excited to go. So we’re pretty excited about this. Bill Holmberg: I like our team a lot.
I think we’re going to have a very solid pitching staff, and our position players
of course are very good. I think we have a very, very good chance to go to the next round. Roberto: Having to listen to a lot of disrespect from the media who consider Italy a novelty and a doormat for other teams, do you enjoy being the underdog and having to endure constant scrutiny? Marco Mazzieri: I think it’s our destiny to be the underdogs all the time. We were the underdogs four years ago against Team Canada, and we beat them. The next thing we know we didn’t have hotel rooms because nobody expected us to win. We had to move to another hotel. I mean last September we were supposed to lose against the Dutch in the European Championship. They were celebrating the 100th anniversary of their federation and it was like 35 years that we had not beat them on their own soil. And we beat them! So I think we got used to being the underdog, but we don’t complain. We’re going to use all of this to get the guys even more excited and more ready to go. I think they will do a good job.
We expect everybody to have no fear. “We can beat anybody. We beat the U.S.
already once in 2007 during the World Cup
in Chinese Taipei. They had Evan Longoria, Colby Ramus, Andy LaRoche, and Brian
Bixler. They had a great pitching staff.
They only lost that one game, but we
were the team that beat them. Again,
we respect everybody a lot, but there’s
going to be no fear at all.”
2013 WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC
ITALY MANAGER MARCO MAZZIERI
Roberto: Former Chicago Cubs minor league pitcher Alessandro Maestri was named as the recipient of the 2011 Australian Baseball League Fan Choice Award after decimating hitters with his wicked slider pitching for the Brisbane Bandits. He has since been having a strong campaign for Japan’s Orix Buffaloes, the same team that recently signed former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Brandon Dickson as well as former outfielder/catcher for the Cleveland Indians/New York Mets/2009 Team Italy Vinny Rottino. Any words on Alex? Bill Holmberg: Alex is a really, really good pitcher. And you know at times he’s great.
He’s shown in the past that he has been able to throw well for us, and we’re looking
forward to having him on the mound real soon during the WBC series.
ROBERTO ANGOTTI — Toronto’s John Mariotti will pitch for Italy in the World Baseball Classic… fb.me/1l3Y9UT5D
Roberto: Former Baltimore Orioles prospect John Mariotti has been stellar for the defending Can-Am League Champion Québec Capitales for the past two years. How did you find this outstanding Canadian Italian pitcher? Bill Holmberg: John has been around and spoke with Marco a couple years ago. He had been talking with the Italian Baseball Federation and Marco for a few years so we’re very lucky to have John. John is a sinkerball pitcher that really helped us at the European Championship, and I imagine he’s going to help us even more during the World Baseball Classic.
@grillcheese49Hey Grill.It’s Cat.Marco Mazzieri would like yuor number.Can you send it to me so I can get it to him. Thanks. Hope ur well
Roberto: Team Italy has the luxury of having one of MLB’s premier closers, Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jason Grilli, ready and willing to do what he does best in shutting teams down with the lead late in any game. You must feel good about that? Bill Holmberg: I’m very happy to have Jason and to be honest with you I’m happy to
have every one of our pitchers. I believe all of them can be situational where they come in and close the door on any team we are going to play. Of course, you are going to have to execute. We’re going to try to scout as well as we can and give them the best possible plan before the game. From there, all they have to do is execute.
Roberto: Matt Torra, a former 2005 first-round draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and current Washington Nationals’ MLB hopeful, is also a very capable pitcher for Team Italy. Bill Holmberg: Matt has thrown well. We’ve had one live batting practice session,
and he’s going to be throwing today. I was extremely happy the way he threw the BP.
He throws strikes. He keeps the ball down. He’s a smart kid. He knows how to pitch.
Honored to represent Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Can’t wait to join the team in Phoenix next week. #WBClassic#TeamItaly
Roberto: The ambidextrous Pat Venditte from the New York Yankees organization is a pitching staff’s best friend and a hitter’s worst nightmare. Although recent surgery on his right shoulder labrum has limited him to throwing as a lefty for the World Baseball Classic,
do you think he will contribute as Team Italy’s secret weapon? Bill Holmberg: Pat threw a short side, and I think he’s going to be extremely nasty. I’ve seen him on youtube, and if that is the same way he throws on the mound during a game then we’re pretty lucky.
Roberto: Any thoughts on San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A catcher Tyler LaTorre and Minnesota Twin’s backstop Drew Buter? Marco Mazzieri: We’re very happy with our catchers as well. Tyler LaTorre has been
with us in the European Championship. He did a terrific job handling the pitching staff.
Drew Butera is so excited. I talked with him last night, and he can’t wait to be here.
He’s going to give us a pretty experienced catcher. With the pitchers that we have,
we are looking forward to it.
@tylerlatorre thanks again La Torre!! Def appreciate ur help!!
Roberto: Tyler LaTorre has caught San Francisco Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong and Sergio Romo. Vogey is reportedly scheduled to pitch for Team USA against Italy, and Romo will be the closer for Team Mexico. Did you know that you have a built-in scouting report on your roster? Bill Holmberg: I didn’t know that. We’re getting information from everywhere. We’re getting information from guys that are playing in the Mexican Leagues. Of course, John Mariotti is Canadian so we’re trying to get as much information as we possibly can.
We’ll take it from anywhere. So Roberto if you have some information to give us, I’d be happy to accept it. Roberto: If you put a Team Italia jersey on my back, I will happily sit in the dugout and scout on your behalf (laughter)…
@bigace22 that’s great news! I’ll be training with Team Italy at the Dodgers facility. Going in as a reserve in case they need a guy
Roberto: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim prospect Alexander Burkard is a reserve pitcher from Caracas, Venezuela. He is in your back pocket if you need him in a pinch. Bill Holmberg: He’s a great kid, a terrific kid. He’s six-foot-eight, just a terrific kid. He threw the other day. He didn’t do as well as we’d hoped, but I’m sure with a little bit of work in the bullpen as we did today he’s going to be a lot better next time out. Roberto: Bill, how does it feel being a contributing member of this eclectic Team Italy coaching staff? Bill Holmberg: I love the guys who are on this staff. To be honest with you, I’m very privileged to be on Marco’s staff. We have a great group of guys, and we just get along very well. It’s tremendous to come out here. This is not work. This is coming out here and having a good time. We laugh a little bit. We work real hard, and at the end of the day we’re happy with what we do.
Roberto: When you heard that Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo was playing for Team Italy,
you must have felt like your chances to advance in the WBC had increased. Marco Mazzieri: That was good because at one point it looked like the USA team was going to call him up. So we were kind of afraid that we couldn’t get him. We’re happy to have him. We’re looking forward to it. But we have another guy that we really like a lot–Chris Colabello. He’s in Big League camp with the Twins along with Alex Liddi (Mariners) and Chris Denorfia (Padres). I think we have a pretty good heart of the lineup.
@bbrentz7 I’m good homie… I’m over in Holland playing in the European Cup for Italy… Way to go get you a ship!
Roberto: Chris Colabello has been shadowing Minnesota Twins four-time all-star first baseman Justin Morneau and tearing the leather off the ball in Spring Training. His father Lou played for Italy in the 1984 Olympics. Bill Holmberg: I’ve known Chris for maybe 20 years because he used to come over to Italy with his dad. His dad pitched in the Italian Baseball League. His mom is Italian. Chris is just
a great kid. He loves to come over and play for us. We enjoy having him. We like him. He’s
a very energetic, tremendous kid.
Roberto: Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Nick Punto has a World Series ring after having played under Tony La Russa for the St. Louis Cardinals. How has his energy helped Team Italy? Marco Mazzieri: Nick is a terrific guy. We met him four years ago for the World Baseball Classic. We didn’t know him. We’ve been in touch with him throughout the years, and he can’t wait to be here as well. Again, here’s a guy with tremendous experience. A big clubhouse guy trying to keep everybody up and ready. But overall honestly I don’t like to talk much about individual single players, single names. I think we have tremendous chemistry in the clubhouse. That’s what we’re about. It’s important. As we showed four years ago, these guys played as a team from day one. It’s not going to be like an all-star team where everybody is kind of like showcasing themselves. This is going to be about winning ballgames and be together and doing the little things. We’re going to do that.
Roberto: Any feedback on the lesser-known Milwaukee Brewers/Italy shortstop Jeff Bianchi? Bill Holmberg: I don’t know him as well as Marco does. I know he’s in the Big Leagues
and he can’t be that bad. So hopefully he’ll come to play. I know he was a high draft choice with the Royals. We also have another infielder who played with us in Holland during the European Championship–Tony Granato. He’s extremely solid, a great team player guy.
He plays his ass off every time he goes out. Roberto: Anthony Granato is the heart and soul of Team Italy. He represents La Squadra Azzurri’s “Never Say Die” approach to the game.
After an eventless first at bat for the Greek, Italy takes the lead on an RBI-single by Anthony Granato, who… fb.me/28qHVrJEW
Marco Mazzieri: Very much so. I think he really made a difference on our team since he joined us three years ago. As a matter of fact, we won two European Championships. We went to Chinese Taipei in 2010 and claimed the Bronze Medal. And he really made a huge difference for this team. Not only for his play, but he is a leader out on the field. And he shows it. He’s not the type of guy who’s going to talk a lot. He’s going to show it by example and lead by example in the way he goes about his business.
Roberto: Italians are gaining massive respect in Europe as witnessed by Team Spain’s decision to hire Italian manager Mauro Mazzotti. Could you imagine seeing two Italian managed European teams playing head-to-head after advancing to the second round? Marco Mazzieri: It would be nice, but let me tell you that we’re thinking about ourselves right now. It might be a little selfish. If they make it, we’re happy for them. But at this time we’re just mission focused, and we want to be the team that advances for sure. We’re going to do everything possible to be there.
Roberto: Didn’t Mazzotti sign Alex Liddi? Bill, why didn’t you sign him like you did for the Italian-born Alberto Mineo as the Chicago Cubs international scout? Bill Holmberg: I wish I would have signed him back then. Mauro Mazzotti had a hand in that, but Wayne Norton was also involved. I know that. I would have liked to have signed Alex. If he had come to our Italian Academy to work with Marco for at least a year, I think he would have gotten a lot more money. Hindsight is always 20/20. He’s done well for himself in the meantime.
Roberto: San Diego Padres’ Chris Denorfia is a diamond in the rough. What a score for Italy! Marco Mazzieri: Again like Nick Punto four years ago, he came along and showed tremendous leadership. Won’t give up. We’re very proud and happy to have him back
again for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He’s a great guy. He works hard and he’ll be playing a good center field. Along with those other guys, it’s going to a solid lineup. Roberto: Have you decided on the WBC pitching rotation for Team Italy? Marco Mazzieri: We’re going to decide after we play these four scrimmage games until March 3rd and then we’re going to decide who’s the hottest guy. Pretty much if I am allowed to say is that we are the only team in this bracket that is scheduled to play five games in a row with two exhibition games. It’s not to complain, but I don’t think it’s fair on our pitching staff…honestly. With all the pitching limitations and everything, why are we the only team with five games in a row? Everybody else is getting a day off in the middle, and we’re not. Again, we’re going to use our weakness as our strength at this point. We just want to go out and prove everybody wrong.Roberto: What makes Team Italy so resilient? Bill Holmberg: We’re a hard hat, lunch pail type of team. We’re blue collar from the beginning to the end. No obstacle is too great for us. We are not afraid. We fear no one. Bottom line is like what Marco said before…whatever comes, comes. We’re going to play
our cards as they are dealt. And that’s it, and we’re going to be happy doing it. Roberto: Let’s beat Mexico, Canada and USA so that we can advance to round two in Miami. Bill Holmberg: That’s our plan. Roberto: Thanks for your time gentlemen. Buona fortuna!