Ciao St. Louis in association with Fox Sports Midwest Live! are proud to present a free showing of the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning documentary, Italian American Baseball Family, at Ballpark Village in downtown St Louis on July 22, 2018 at 7 pm. Immediately following the screening of the movie, director Roberto Angotti will host a Q and A discussion with Robert Garagiola, nephew of the late and great Joe Garagiola. In recognition of his “major contributions to baseball” and his outstanding broadcasting accomplishments, Joe Garagiola received the 1991 Ford C. Frick Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A journeyman catcher for nine seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants, his interest in broadcasting piqued in 1950 when he tuned in to his team’s radio broadcasts while convalescing from a shoulder separation. Following his retirement as a player after the 1954 season, he was offered a job with the St. Louis Cardinals’ broadcast crew. In the booth, Garagiola possessed a marvelous, easy-to-like approach to the game and a friendly, folksy manner. His progression behind the microphone included the Game of the Week, All-Star Game and World Series with NBC-TV throughout the 1960s, New York Yankees telecasts with such greats as Red Barber, Phil Rizzuto, and Jerry Coleman from 1965-67, NBC’s Today Show from 1962-73, and California Angels telecasts in 1990.
Garagiola went on to do television broadcasts for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in 2004. The beloved Italian American from “The Hill” was also given his own star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. He retired from broadcasting in 2013 and was named as the 2014 recipient of the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, presented once every three years by the National Baseball Hall of Fame for positive contributions to Major League Baseball. Garagiola passed away at age 90 in 2016. The Arizona Diamondbacks wore a patch, a black circle with “JOE” written in white in the center with a catchers’ mask replacing the O, in his memory on their right sleeve for the 2016 season.
Of the Italian American baseball players who grew up “On the Hill” in St. Louis, Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola were the most famous. The rich baseball history of St. Louis will be revisited at a special screening of the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning movie, Italian American Baseball Family, on Sunday, July 22, 2018 at 7 pm at Ballpark Village, 601 Clark Avenue in downtown St. Louis. The documentary examines how the likes of Tony Lazzeri, Joe DiMaggio,Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra helped reshape America’s perspective on Italian immigrants, and how baseball helped Italians assimilate into American popular culture. The move is based on the book “Beyond DiMaggio: Italians Americans in Baseball” by Professor Lawrence Baldassaro, who is also featured in the hour-long documentary. The film depicts the Italian American experience through American’s favorite pastime and showcases Italian Americans who have circled back to Italy to help grow the game abroad by playing for Team Italy in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. Film director Roberto Angotti is excited about the upcoming screening. He said, “St. Louis has a rich Italian cultural heritage, and as a proud Italian American, I am delighted to share the film with lovers of baseball and history. Whether you are a fan of Ernie Orsatti, Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola, Tito Francona, Sal Maglie, Vic Raschi, John Romano, Tony La Russa, Joe Girardi, Gary Gaetti, Ed and Scott Spiezio, Nick Punto, Daniel Descalso, or Adam Ottavino, there’s something for everybody during our Italian baseball celebration in St. Louis.”
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.”
“Fastball John” by John D’Acquisto and Dave Jordan rivals Mike Piazza’s “Long Shot” as one of baseball’s best books of the decade. “Fastball John”features a prolific foreword by baseball historian Dan Epstein as well as references to a soundtrack of pop culture including: the Everly Brothers, the Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Carpenters, the Temptations, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Donna Summer, Nicolette Larson, Blondie, Dave Mason, Don Henley, the Pretenders and New Order. “Fastball John” D’Acquisto will be signing his new book on September 24th and 25th from 1 to 4 PM at The Pennant, 2893 Mission Blvd. in San Diego’s South Mission Beach. It will be a family reunion of sorts since John Francis D’Acquisto was born in San Diego on December 24, 1951. He would later become a hometown hero while attending St. Augustine High School, where he excelled in both football and baseball.
In the 1920’s, most Italian immigrants who settled near downtown San Diego were fishermen from Genoa and Sicily. Many other Italian fishermen and their families moved to San Diego from San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake. Like Joe DiMaggio’s father– who was a fisherman in the Bay Area–John D’Acquisto’s father, Fred D’Acquisto Sr., also depended on the fishing industry to put food on the table. As serendipitous as it may sound, the two sons of Italian immigrant families would meet in 1975 when John was honored by Joe DiMaggio and the Italian-American Society as its “Italian-American of the Year”. John’s father, Fred D’Acquisto Sr., was a local San Diego celebrity for 51 years as he worked for the legendary Anthony’s Fish Grotto Restaurant in the vibrant downtown Little Italy community. Starting out as a young teenager, John’s father worked himself up to dining room manager and would split his time between the original restaurant and their sister location, the Star of the Seas.
A first-round pick in the 1970 amateur draft, John D’Acquisto was selected by the San Francisco Giants. Blessed with a death-defying fastball, “Johnny D” made his MLB debut for the Giants late in the 1973 season. He was named National League Rookie of the Year and National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News in 1974. During the span of his ten season career, John D’Acquisto pitched for the Giants, Cardinals, Padres, Expos, Angels and Athletics from 1973-1982. Read John’s blog and order “Fastball John” today by clicking HERE.
Having won its second straight European Championship in 2012 after defeating the Netherlands, Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri expects nothing less than a third consecutive EU title since the Italian National Baseball Team has captured 10 European titles and placed second fifteen times in 32 overall appearances. The Netherlands–winner of 20 EU Championship titles with nine runner-up finishes–and 12-time Bronze Spain stand in their way.
Before Italia has the opportunity to face the Netherlands and Spain in the semi-final and final games held in Brno, Czech Republic, they must first qualify by defeating Belgium, Sweden, France, Germany and Great Britain in Regensburg, Germany. The Netherlands and Spain can both advance to the final rounds with wins over the Czech Republic, Greece, Croatia and Russia in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Although Team Italia has been dominant of late in European baseball, the Netherlands won four straight EU Championship titles from 1999 to 2007. “This has been a long-time rivalry,” Team Italia skipper Marco Mazzieri said of the showdowns with the Dutch. “I have tremendous respect for their program. With that said, I like to beat them just as much as they like to beat us. Luckily, we’ve been able to beat them the past couple of years in the European Championships.” However, the Dutch have fared better than the Italians in the international competition spotlight. The Netherlands reached the second round of the 2009 World Baseball Classic, won the 2011 World Cup in Panama and went as far as the semi-finals in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Mazzieri admits the Dutch have an advantage when it comes down to recruiting top international talent from the Netherlands Antilles, which are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. “It’s easier for them to get players from the Caribbean,” said Mazzieri.
Considering twenty-eight percent of all players making the 25-man MLB opening day rosters last year were born outside the United States, it should come as no surprise that 241 players from 12 different countries were represented on the diamond. Former New York Yankee Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens, who serves as the Netherlands manager when not coaching for the San Francisco Giants, is from Curaçao. He spoke about Major League Baseball’s effort to grow the game globally. Hensley said, “International competitions give many countries the chance to show people that we can compete with the best team in baseball, Team USA.” With the Netherlands pitching staff led by MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven and the best position players from Curacao and Aruba being mentored by former Yankees infielder Robert Eenhoorn–who heads the Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Association, the Netherlands is now home to six baseball academies and a bonafide professional stadium in Hoofddorp which will host an upcoming MLB Season Opening Series soon.In the 2013 World Baseball Classic, the only player on Spain’s 28-man roster born in the country was pitcher Eric Gonzalez, who grew up in the Canary Islands and whose parents are Venezuelan. Eleven of his teammates were born in Venezuela and six in Cuba. The makeup of Team Spain reflects the changing demographics of the country, where nearly half of the five million legal immigrants are from Latin America. Some members of Team Spain received passports because of their family roots in Spain, while others qualified to play through marriage or long-term residency. Mauro Mazzotti’s team is dangerous because the manager recruits baseball’s secret weapons from former Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and Latin America.Manager Marco Mazzieri hopes to replicate the winning synergy demonstrated by the international Team Italia lineup of MLB-affiliated players in the WBC with a roster of primarily homegrown talent in the European Championship. He said, “I’m really focused on developing our guys and possibly to add good players as we did in the 2013 WBC. We would like to get players from all over the U.S. a little bit more, but we just have to make do with what we have.” Expect the defending Euro Champions Italians to play with intentions of a three-peat.
For further information on the upcoming European Baseball Championship and details on how to obtain tickets for the September 12-16 games in Regensburg, Germany, click HERE. To learn more about the international competition and tickets for the September 12-21 Czech Republic games, click HERE. For an updated schedule of the 2014 European Baseball Championship and complete game box scores, click HERE.
There is absolutely nothing looney about recently selected Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame inductee Nomar Garciaparra being Bugs Bunny’s biggest fan. As one of the best shortstops in the game in 1997, Garciaparra won AL Rookie of the Year honors with a 30-homer, 98-RBI season. Nomar was an All-Star in five of his nine seasons in Boston (1996-2004) and was a runner-up for AL MVP in 1998 after hitting .323 with 35 homers and 122 RBI. The Whittier, California native and St. John Bosco High School All-Star standout knew early on that he wanted to be like the talented and versatile rabbit: “Back then, my idol was Bugs Bunny, because I saw a cartoon of him playing ball – you know, the one where he plays every position himself with nobody else on the field but him? Now that I think of it, Bugs is still my idol. You have to love a ballplayer like that…” Nomar is not alone in the Wascally Wabbit Fan Club. Proud Italian American Tommy Lasorda marched with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck in a 2008 LA holiday parade and said, “Bugs would be an excellent baseball player. He’s more than just an ordinary steak sauce, a heckuva lot more!”Trevor Hoffman was a promising college shortstop who had trouble hitting in Minor League Baseball. Converting to a pitcher, Hoffman was never the same in MLB after shoulder surgery eliminated his 95 mph fastball in 1994 and 1995. He learned the changeup, which was so good it earned the nickname of “Bugs Bunny” because of the cartoonish swings it would induce from hitters. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, “When I think of Trevor Hoffman, I think of his virtually unhittable changeup. They called it the Bugs Bunny changeup. Basically, it stopped at home plate. Guys hadn’t seen a pitch like that, and they couldn’t adjust to it. He pitched so well off his fastball they couldn’t just sit on it every pitch. But even if they did, they hadn’t seen a pitch like that so they didn’t know how to hit it.” Despite Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander being compared to Bugs Bunny by MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac, it’s Tiger teammate Austin Jackson who aspires to have the superpower of the Looney Tunes character. The speedy outfielder said, “If I was a cartoon character, I think I’d be Bugs Bunny. I’d be the baseball Bugs Bunny, because I’m kind of sneaky a little bit.” Warner Bros. Management came up with a pretty sneaky idea for a retirement present to Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda in 1996 by giving a little bit of Looney Tunes love from Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck kissing Lasorda in a customized one-of-a-kind illustration. Warner Bros. Senior Production Artist Kim Reynolds said, “Bugs has always been tied into baseball with ‘Baseball Bugs’ released in 1946 so it was only fitting. It has always been a fan favorite. Daffy was added just to finish it. We decided on a newer uniform to give the piece a updated look.” The multi-talented artist Reynolds spoke enthusiastically about Lasorda’s reaction to receiving the retirement gift from Warner Bros. “As far as I know, Lasorda loved it! It’s always fun doing dedication projects, but it was especially fun doing this for Lasorda. I’ve always been a Dodger fan and it was a real pleasure creating this art for him.” Fans can see the piece in the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit at the Convivio Center in San Diego through March 30. The traveling exhibition will soon pass through Orange County and Los Angeles to coincide with the beginning of the 2014 MLB Season. More cities will be announced in the near future.
Chaperoned by his parents after just becoming a teenager, James Fiorentino took an artist’s leap of faith by bringing a prized Joe DiMaggio painting he had done of the legendary Yankee great to an autograph show that DiMaggio was appearing at. Fiorentino reminisced: “He was always tough at these things and usually didn’t sign artwork. He looked at me and said, ‘Oh my gosh! Did you do this?’ I guess for him to even say something was kind of a big reaction. He seemed to like it and autographed it for me. I met DiMaggio a few times after that. He was always very nice to me and would talk to me.” Not long after his initial contact with DiMaggio, Fiorentino became the youngest artist to ever be featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame at age 15 with his portrait of Reggie Jackson. Although two decades have passed, Fiorentino to this day still treasures that signed Joe DiMaggio painting close to his heart.The Upper Deck Legends Fiorentino Collection includes Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Nolan Ryan, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial, Johnny Bench, Honus Wagner and Reggie Jackson. Although Fiorentino is proud of all of his subjects, the teenage encounter with Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra is cited as his all-time favorite. “He was the first player who actually made a reproduction of my artwork. He had me to his house when I was 15 and signed pieces for me,” said Fiorentino, who was honored to have an exhibition at the Yogi Berra Museum in recent years. “He’s a Jersey guy who just loves baseball—like me, I guess.” James Fiorentino was recently honored during a two-day gala sponsored by the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) in our nation’s capital. Proud of his Italian heritage and the contributions of Italian Americans in the arts and sports, he showcased some of his latest original artwork at the Washington Hilton Hotel and donated a painting of Yogi Berra (also signed by Berra) to NIAF’s celebrity luncheon auction as a way to give back to his fellow Italian Americans.
Heralded as the youngest artist ever to be inducted into the prestigious New York Society of Illustrators–where his work is displayed along with the likes of Rockwell, Pyle, Holland, and Fuchs–Fiorentino has always been inspired to share his talents with those who need it most from day one. “The thing I’m most proud of is that I’m allowed to help out charities by donating my work,” said Fiorentino. “That’s a big part of my life, playing a lot of golf outings, donating work, helping people out.” Featured on national and regional media outlets including ESPN, MSG, FOX, and the New York Times, Fiorentino is considered one of the best sports artists in the world. Each of the hand-painted retro-inspired cards found in 2003 Upper Deck Play Ball Baseball Card Series–including the Joe DiMaggio 56 card Yankee Clipper 1941 Hitting Streak Box Score cards and the Summer of ’41 cards–is truly a Fiorentino work of perfection. Art seen at JamesFiorentino.com has graced the walls of the National Basketball and Cycling Hall of Fames, the Ted Williams and Roberto Clemente Museums, the National Art Museum of Sport and the Sports Museum of America. Fiorentino’s talent will be showcased next month at Convivio in San Diego’s Little Italy in an Italian American baseball exhibit paying homage to artists of Italian descent and Team Italy players and coaches in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Some of the big names represented include future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, 2013 National League All-Star and Pirates’ closer Jason Grilli, Padres’ Chris Denorfia, Dodgers’ Nick Punto and Drew Butera, Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, Twins’ Chris Colabello, Orioles’ Alex Liddi, Mariners’ Brian Sweeney, Reds’ Mike Costanzo and Tim Crabbe, Giants’ Tyler LaTorre and MLB veterans Frank Catalanotto and Dan Serafini. In addition to original work from renowned Italian American artists James Fiorentino,Vincent Scilla, Professor John Giarrizzo, Rob Monte and Zack D’Ulisse, other critically-acclaimed artists on display will include Vernon Wells Jr., Tom Richmond, Jeremy Nash and photographer Robb Long.
While pitching for Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, lefty Dan Serafini began his 22nd season playing as a pro in America, Canada, Japan, and Mexico. With 104 MLB appearances for the Twins, Cubs, Pirates, Padres, Reds, and Rockies under his belt, the bullpen has always been a second home for the Twins’ first-round draft pick of 1992. So when when it came time for the San Francisco-born Serafini to choose an appropriate name for his new sports bar located close to the family home at 5215 Vista Blvd. in Sparks, Nevada, it was simply a case of serendipity that he call it The Bullpen at Aspen Glen.
Dan Serafini has been one of the Bay Area’s hometown heroes since the early nineties. In his senior year at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, the southpaw pitcher was on every MLB scout’s radar after going nearly perfect (11 wins and 1 loss) and setting a single-season school record of 149 strikeouts. In his two seasons playing varsity for the Padres, he went 20-2 with a 1.70 ERA and 271 strikeouts. Perhaps the most appropriate way to leave a legacy that overshadows the numerous accolades that other notable Serra alumni have achieved during their high school campaign, Serafini was named to every All-Star team conceivable including: AII- WCAL, AII- County, All Peninsula, and All Northern California.
He was the 1992 WCAL, County and Peninsula Co-Player of the Year in addition to being named the San Mateo Times County Athlete of the Year.
Roberto: San Mateo’s Junipero Serra High School has been known to produce their share of athletes including Barry Bonds and many sports legends. While covering the Australian Baseball League, I learned that Brisbane Bandits’ Chuck Lofgren pitched at Serra High School. Having also played there, how does it feel being surrounded by a strong Bay Area professional athlete fraternity at Serra? Dan Serafini: Serra High School is a great baseball facility and just a great school to go to. We had a lot of great players: Jim Fregosi, Dan Frisella…even some football players: Lynn Swann, Tom Brady. We have quite an athletic history. Some really good baseball players like Gregg Jeffries have come out of my school.
Roberto: Team Italy slugger Chris Colabello followed the same minor league path to MLB playing for Double-A New Britain RockCats. While you played there, you were named to the 1995 Eastern League All-Star team after going 12-9 with a 3.37 ERA. Dan Serafini: That was a long time ago. I can barely even remember that. At New Britain, Chris got to play in the new stadium. I played in the old Beehive Stadium, which was more like a high school stadium with a trailer park locker room. I had a good year that year, and it got me a call up to Triple-A before the season was over.Roberto: You made your MLB debut on June 25, 1996 in Minnesota against the New York Yankees. Dan Serafini: It was not an easy team to pitch against for my first time playing in the big leagues, but it was a great memory. It was kind of funny.
The Twins wouldn’t let me into the locker room before the game. They didn’t want any animosity in the locker room because they hadn’t sent anyone down (to Triple-A) yet. I had to stay in a hotel and then on game day I got to show up right before the game started so that I could get ready to play. It wasn’t the greatest experience, but it was still a good experience. I got to the big leagues! Roberto: At least it was a home game when you had to face the intimidating New York Yankees. Dan Serafini: Although it was a home game in Minnesota, it was still intimidating. It was the New York Yankees—no matter where you are playing them, they are intimidating. Crowd factor definitely helped. I had the crowd on my side. I loved Minnesota. It was very supportive. I had a great time.
Roberto: You also had some more playing time with the Twins in 1997 and 1998. Was it rewarding for you? Dan Serafini: It was. I got a very brief opportunity with the Twins. You know, going back from starting to the bullpen and starting and bullpen. I was never really able to fill my niche with the Twins. It was fun. It was rewarding. I’m a Major League Baseball player. There is nothing more rewarding than that. Roberto: The Chicago Cubs bought your contract from the Twins on March 31, 1999. You made four starts for the Cubbies and put together a 3-2 record in 42 appearances with a 6.93 ERA. Dan Serafini: The ERA was kind of high, but in my defense I actually pitched really well until the all-star break. I think I only had a 3 or 3.50 ERA up until the all-star break. Then my big league pitching coach, Marty DeMerritt, wanted me to become a left-handed specialist and drop down sidearm and start pitching sidearm only. So I did that, and it completely screwed up the whole rest of my season. I was walking everybody, giving up all kinds of hits and just all kind of happened. I can’t blame him. He was just trying to help me out, but to change your pitching mechanics in the middle of the season… It’s really hard to make an adjustment to big league hitters. It hurt me pretty good.
Roberto: In the 1999 offseason you were traded to the San Diego Padres and pitched in three games in 2000. How did it feel to come back to your native California to play pro ball? Dan Serafini: I was there for a long time. I didn’t get many opportunities.
I was mostly like a chess pawn. I just kind of sat in the dugout. I’d go a week straight without pitching in a game.
I didn’t get as many opportunities as
I would have liked to become a better player than I am today. San Diego is beautiful, and I’m from California–even though it’s Northern California where I’m from. Southern California is a beautiful place. I guess I had more fun there off the field than on the field.
Roberto: After being traded to Pittsburgh and playing for the Nashville Sound, you had a 4-3 record with a 2.60 ERA before the call up to the Pirates on August 5, 2000 to make 11 starts. Dan Serafini: After getting traded from San Diego, I had a really good month or so in Nashville before getting called up.
I made my first start against the San Francisco Giants and won. That could have been probably my favorite time in the big leagues–to be going back home to my hometown and beating San Francisco in San Francisco. I had a pretty good season with Pittsburgh. They were struggling and in last place. I threw well for Pittsburgh. I just didn’t fit in their books. Roberto: Signing with San Francisco must have been a dream come true? Dan Serafini: I didn’t get to stay with San Francisco too long. They signed me as a big league player, but they didn’t have a roster spot. I went to Triple-A for a little bit. I was making a substantial amount of money for a Triple-A player so when they couldn’t find a spot for me I got released about a month after
I signed. So I really didn’t get much of an opportunity with San Francisco. Roberto: You quickly signed with the Mets and played for the 2001 Triple-A Norfolk Tides, where you posted 5-2 record with a 3.31 ERA in 31 games. Dan Serafini: I didn’t waste anytime—maybe two days later signed with the Mets. Went to Triple-A and played there a little bit. I pitched pretty well, but got into an altercation with the GM. I ended up getting released and walking on over to the other clubhouse and signed up with Milwaukee that same day. Roberto: You finished off the 2001 season pitching for the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis Indians and posted a 2-2 record with a 5.96 ERA. However,
you chose to move on from Milwaukee
and were granted free agency in October, 2001. This opened the door for other opportunities, and you ended up signing a minor league deal with the Anaheim Angels. Was that another short-term engagement by design or a matter of being released? Please clear up all the misconceptions and incorrect information the media has picked up on to make you have to stand up for yourself and clarify. Dan Serafini: Well you know the thing is…the media–they always say you were released, you were released, you were released. But for a lot of those teams I’ve actually picked the option for my release.
I didn’t get released. They would option me down to Triple-A, and I felt that I didn’t deserve to go to Triple-A. So for a lot of those assignments I chose not to go. Roberto: After opting out of your contract with the Angels, you tried to make a comeback in late 2002 when you signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. You began at Triple-A Memphis, but then on April 21, 2003 you were released. Dan Serafini: I knew what was going to happen because during the offseason I signed for such a high contract to go to Triple-A. I knew they were using me to fill a spot. So I knew as soon as no one came down from the big leagues or something that I was going to get released.
Roberto: So you expected it? Dan Serafini: I had signed for a substantial amount of money to go and play in Triple-A. Within the first month when Kevin Ohme was sent down from St. Louis, they got rid of me the next day. I pitched okay there, but it was really hard because I have always been a starter my whole career and I kept bouncing back and forth. I was going from bullpen to starting to bullpen and starting and never got into a rhythm. So for all these teams I played for, I had really a tough time coming out of the bullpen and learning my routine and learning to play. Unfortunately, I didn’t really prove myself that well as well. Roberto: It sounds like the experiment on the big league level of being a sidearm specialist coming out of the bullpen went terribly wrong. It was not exactly the best training ground for trying something new. Dan Serafini: No. The only chance I had to experiment was on the big stage, which is really difficult if you are not physically or mentally prepared for those things. I wasn’t…I was only 21 or 22 at the time. It was a difficult road for me–that’s for sure! Roberto: Did being disillusioned with American pro ball inspire you to head south to Mexico? Dan Serafini: Yes, I played my first year in 2002. It was winter ball for Mazatlan. I had a great manager and a really fun time there. And they said if I ever had a problem in summer that I was more than welcome to play in Mexico. So after that St. Louis series, I went in 2003 to go play summer ball in Mexico. Roberto: The Cincinnati Reds noticed and purchased your contract on August 25, 2003. Dan Serafini: I ended up winning the ERA title. I set the record for the most wins in a row that season. I was a starter. I got back in the my swing of things. I got my mechanics back and pitched really well. I got called up and went straight to the big leagues in Cincinnati.
Roberto: On August 26, 2003, you started against the Milwaukee Brewers. Dan Serafini: I believe I also started in a game versus St. Louis. Then I went back to the bullpen after I told the GM
I wouldn’t go to the bullpen and that I would only start. Because I had already 130 innings pitched in Mexico, I was tired and said I didn’t want to get up and down every day out of the bullpen. After I said I only wanted to start, the GM said that was exactly what I was summoned there to do–to start for Danny Graves because he got hurt. So I went there, got two starts and they stuck me in the bullpen. It was a disappointment. I know it’s a business, and I just need to man up and do it. It was just hard. I talked to Bobby Valentine in 2004, and he asked me to go down to Vegas and throw a bullpen for somebody to try out for the team he managed in Japan. I went out there and tried out for the Chiba Lotte Marines. I was hurt at the time. I had a broken collar bone because
I crashed on a motorcycle messing around with my friends. Despite being injured, I still got a good enough report from the try out to go to Japan.
Julio Zuleta charged Dan Serafini on the mound after a ball nearly hit him in Japan in 2004 .
Roberto:: After being granted free agency and playing for Bobby Valentine’s Chiba Lotte Marines in 2004 and 2005 as well as the Orix Buffaloes in 2006 and 2007, were you treated with a little bit more respect in Japan? Dan Serafini: It was really rewarding because I actually got treated like a player that I was. Japan did nothing but give me the highest respect. Bobby Valentine did nothing but give me the highest respect. He kept me on a routine for the full season, and I had a really good career in Japan. I still talk to Bobby off and on the internet. I was happy to see him as an Ambassador for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Bobby Valentine throws out the first pitch of the 2013 WBC game between China and Japan.
Roberto: Did you follow all the drama that surrounded Bobby Valentine last year when he managed the Boston Red Sox? Dan Serafini: I did. In fact, before the season began I called him and asked him for a job to see if I could get a Triple-A job or a coaching/ player job. His hands were tied. He said that he couldn’t make any moves. But I followed him and saw all the disappointing articles about him and stuff from players that couldn’t handle his attitude. I thought it was ridiculous. He’s the smartest guy in baseball–hands down. He may want a little more attention than he deserves, but that’s his character.
If people don’t like it, they try to crucify him. He’s a very good man!
Roberto: It’s too bad he was the scapegoat for the Red Sox. Dan Serafini: It really was. I know he’s done some things in his past that has rubbed people the wrong way–and we all have. It’s just the way different personalities go–especially when you have a bunch of superstars in the one locker room. It’s almost like you have to walk on eggshells around these people because they’re more sensitive than most people that are not superstars. Roberto: When a player digs into the batter’s box and gives you a long grimacing stare, is your best response and message to the hitter simply the delivery of your next pitch? Dan Serafini: Yes, definitely–without a doubt. There’s got to be respect both ways. For me, I’ve always been tired of being called a cheater or having a dismal career by what some reporters have said. I feel like I have fought the longest just like Bobby Valentine did to get my career to where it is right now. Roberto: You signed a deal with the Colorado Rockies in 2007 and pitched on September 7th against the San Francisco Giants. Dan Serafini: It was a great feeling. I was excited. It was tough because I had just come back from Japan. I broke my hand in Japan, and they decided to release me at the last quarter of the season just because they were not going to use me anymore and had no chance of the playoffs. So they sent me home, and
I signed with Colorado. I got called up to the big leagues a couple weeks later and after four years of not having seen a major league game got to pitch to my first batter–Barry Bonds!
Roberto: What were the odds of you facing one of baseball’s most feared hitters in your MLB comeback attempt? Dan Serafini: It was pretty interesting. I had some butterflies. Roberto: How did you sustain your hand injury overseas? Dan Serafini: That happened at a game in Japan. I was pitching and lost my footing in the bullpen. It was on my glove hand.
I kind of slipped and fell over. I used my hand to stabilize myself from falling over, and I broke my ring finger, pinky and a couple bones in the middle of my hand. Roberto: In Japan you also sustained an achilles injury which required medication to help with the healing process and eventually led to a positive test for MLB banned substances when you signed with the Rockies in 2007. Dan Serafini: I actually got a serious injury and had surgery on my achilles. When I came back from Chiba Lotte, I tore my achilles tendon in the year we won the championship. I signed a two-year contract with the Orix Buffaloes for a substantial amount. My leg with in a cast for four months so they were shooting it up all year long trying to get it balanced back.
After my first year at Orix, I wasn’t throwing very well because my body was so out of balance that it started hurting my shoulder and back. So they told me to just take the rest of the year off and come back for 2007. I was still having problems with my leg and the way my muscles were firing in 2007. So again a doctor was giving me a medication that I didn’t think much of because I passed all of my drug tests and Olympic testing in Japan. So I didn’t even think twice about it. And that’s what it was when I got tested on the last day of the season with Colorado. It was still in my system, and I got busted for it. Roberto: It looks like MLB used you as a scapegoat to fill their 2007 quota and deter players from using banned substances. Dan Serafini: Yes, I think so. I mean because I tried to fight it.
I had to do a lot of things for my defense. I had to get the doctor from Japan to come and fly to New York to testify for me in court. He wanted $500,000 to do it because it would give Japan a bad name since I never failed a test in Japan. So I said, ‘Screw it, I’ll take the 50-game suspension and wear it for now.’ I didn’t think that it would be that bad, but Colorado didn’t sign me back. The GM at the time, Dan O’Dowd, didn’t give me my National League Championship ring. They gave me my playoff share because I was there for a short time, but they didn’t give me a ring because they were disgraced by the fact that I was a cheater and stuff like that. It was just bad. An unnamed journalist tried to say that I was trying to respark my dismal career. My response was like: ‘What’s so dismal about making over 10 million dollars?’ I don’t think that’s too dismal… Roberto: If a man can’t look at me in the eye and share his theory to my face without the facts in hand—and instead choose to hide behind a computer desk in favor of meeting publishing deadlines, then it’s not news worthy in my book. Dan Serafini: Exactly. You know it’s like so many people just wrote stories about me that never even asked me the details or took the details out. Even Tom Verducci and things he wrote in my
article. I said so many things to balance and justify the difference between cheating and other kinds of uses of certain PEDs or whatever. And they don’t want to listen to that, but everybody wants to be negative and listen in to CNN nowadays. Roberto: Not a lot of players want to comment in fear of being blackballed. But you are not afraid to speak your mind and represent Team Italia in the World Baseball Classic. It’s your time to shine and be heard. Dan Serafini: Yes, it is. If people want to call me a jerk, whatever but you know what… I’ve been around this game for 22 years now. And I know that 90% of the people I have played with have said: ‘If I had a chance to use it and make myself better, then I would have too…’ You know, that’s what we’re here for. Roberto: I don’t blame you for having headed south to pitch for the Monterrey Sultanes after all that nonsense. Dan Serafini: They were a great organization. I played with them for a while and just kept bouncing back and forth. I pitched
well in Monterrey, got to the playoffs a few times and then I got traded. Roberto: You spent 2008 and 2009 in Mexico before heading to the East Coast to play for the Bridgeport Bluefish in the Atlantic Independent League. Dan Serafini: Yes, I did that just for a little bit so that I could get a job back in the states. I wanted more people to see me pitch, but nothing came of it. Roberto: Yet Mexico loved you and you represented the country in several Caribbean Series.
Dan Serafini: Yes, I believe I played three Caribbean Series for Mexico–all during winter ball because the Sultanes play during the summer. In the winter I played for Yaquis de Obregón in
the 2008 Caribbean Series and then again in 2010 and 2011
I played for Mexico in the Caribbean Series.
Roberto: What’s the difference between baseball played
abroad and in the U.S.? Dan Serafini: For one, the United States has the best players in the world in the major leagues. So it’s kind of hard to represent the United States because it has so many great players. Mexico and Italy have a lot of great players that have been overlooked by United States. It’s hard. With me representing Mexico, I am one of the better players in Mexico because that’s just where I am playing at the time. With my experience and talent, I can make those teams and play for those teams. I could possibly pitch for Team USA but that team has so many Americans from all over the country to pick from. So it’s really hard to make that team.
Roberto: How were you recruited to pitch for Team Italia? Dan Serafini: Actually they called me in 2009 and found out
that I was Italian through my agent. After they got the background information about my Italian ancestry, they said that they would love for me to come and try out. I came down, tried out and they said that they could definitely use me as a starter or reliever because of ‘my good arm.’ So the rest is history as far as that. Roberto: It must have a been a major personal victory for you when Team Italia upset Mexico in the 2013 WBC. Dan Serafini: Almost everyone on Team Mexico I either played with them or against them. Team Italy asked me to write a
scouting report on the whole team, which I did and gave to the coaches. They watched a few of their games during their exhibition games and said it was ‘spot on’ as far as the scouting report. That’s what we used, and it actually came out well. We pitched well against them. We played great defense against them, and we came out victors. Roberto: Once Team Italia’s manager Marco Mazzieri gave me his cell phone number, I felt compelled to do the same and gave him a scouting report on Team Canada. We all had to do our part. Dan Serafini: Well, that’s it…exactly! We’re here to win. Right
now, I’m not an American. I’m an Italian, and I’m here to beat Team USA today. I was there to beat Canada yesterday, and I was there the day before to beat Mexico. Granted I have friends from every team from all over the world, but right now I’m just Italian. I’m here to walk all over every other team. Roberto: How proud are you to be Italian? Dan Serafini: I am very proud to be Italian. It’s unfortunate because I have always had a strong Italian family growing up, but Italian heritage or history was never really taught. I never learned Italian even though my father speaks Italian and both of my grandparents only spoke Italian. I just wasn’t brought up that way. Now doing more research about Italy and possibly thinking later in my career to maybe going to play in Italy for a little bit. I’m really interested in the Italian culture and to visit all around Europe. I’m looking forward to it. Italians are a well-educated culture to begin with. Everyone on our team speaks perfect English and perfect Italian. Some speak Spanish, Italian and English. I think they are just educated people. Unfortunately
when you move to another country and are unable to speak their language fluently, you tend to get away from your native language.
I know when I played in Mexico my whole team spoke English. I didn’t have a chance to learn Spanish because people talked to me in English. So it’s not as diverse as you think. It’s a lot harder, even my wife can tell you it’s a lot harder to go there and learn a language because everyone is polite to you and tries to talk to you in your language to make you feel more comfortable. So we have a tendency to get lazy
and not try. But right now I listen to Italian tapes every night because
I want to try to learn Italian. Roberto: That’s because everyone is trying to be hospitable
and speak your native tongue? Dan Serafini: Yes. I mean the Italians come right over here, and they all speak English right out of the gate. They don’t even try to speak Italian. They’re like: ‘No, we’re in America now–we’re speaking English.’ That’s what they do. Roberto: How does having a coaching staff that includes future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza affect your approach to the game? Dan Serafini: Mike is a great guy. Look at his story–coming from the 62nd round as a favor to his godfather Tommy Lasorda! Something ridiculous like that and becoming the best
offensive catcher of all time…whatever his statistics are.
Being blessed enough to play against him and talk to him,
it’s a great experience. Just because we have one more
person with a ton of experience on our team. He has been
in the spotlight for what…16 seasons! You know, I’ve been
in the spotlight for seven. Grilli has been the spotlight for
eight. So it’s like we have plenty of experience. It’s nice to
have someone of that magnitude on our team helping us out. Roberto: Mike Piazza could be doing something else with his time,
but his heart and soul are committed to Team Italia. Dan Serafini: You’re right. It is…and we appreciate that! He could
be doing anything with his time, and a lot of us could be but we’re all here together to represent Italy. We’re going to represent the right way this time. Roberto: Thank you for your time today. I’m sure this story will be continued next time we get together to talk. Dan Serafini: Yes, definitely…I’m looking forward to continuing it. I will answer any question that needs to be answered. It’s nice to be able to explain myself for a change, and hopefully one day people will look at me differently.
Coming off stellar performances for Team Italy in both the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics, the love for Padres’ outfielder Chris Denorfia overflows well beyond San Diego’s Little Italy to the motherland where his paternal grandmother Michelina lived. The Connecticut native first connected with his Italian roots as a teenager while visiting relatives in Italy and returned again for more Italian family amore in 2002 after graduating from Wheaton College during a Euro backpack adventure.
The sentiment for Denorfia’s return to Team Italy after a remarkable 2009 WBC campaign was echoed by the first Italian-born pitcher signed by MLB, Alessandro Maestri. The former Cubs’ minor leaguer said, “A guy who had an unbelievable WBC tournament was Chris Denorfia. At the tournament, he really gave everything he had. He made some great plays defensively and had some clutch hits so it’s going to be good to see him again.” During Italy’s 6-2 upset over 2009 WBC host Canada, Denorfia led the team in hits by going 4-for-4 with three doubles, a single, a walk, two runs and two RBI.
In their 2013 WBC opener versus Mexico on March 7th at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Team Italy began the ninth inning with odds against them facing the reliever who closed out the 2012 World Championship–San Francisco Giants’ Sergio Romo–and trailing by a score of 5 to 4.
After Romo got a quick out to start the top of the ninth, the enthusiastic Mexican fans in attendance responded with precisely-timed chants of victory and fiesta-like antics. Team Italy leadoff hitter Nick Punto silenced the premature postgame celebration with the crack of his bat for a double.
The small Italian contingency prayed for a miracle with Chris Denorfia up next. The right-hander Romo ignited the crowd once again after throwing back-to-back strikes. Down in the count 0-2, Denorfia exercised extreme plate discipline by taking three pitches just off the plate to work a full count. What happened next was unbelievable as Denorfia fouled off four straight pitches before lining Romo’s 10th pitch of the at-bat for a base hit. Anthony Rizzo endured a similar fate as Denorfia by falling behind 0-2 to Romo with the crowd on its feet. Italy had runners on the corners and one out. Mexico’s infield was set up for a double play to end the scoring threat and win the game. However, left-hand hitting Rizzo was thinking otherwise and drove Romo’s slider on the outside part of the plate deep to the left field warning track. Whether Italian divine intervention or merely a Mexican mishap, the ball miraculously went in and out of the glove of Mexico left fielder Edgar Gonzalez for a two-run double and a 6-5 Team Italy victory.
“The win over Mexico really got us going,” said Denorfia. “I think we surprised everyone in that game. We didn’t want to be that also-ran, the token team that everybody beat up on, and everyone responded. We had instant chemistry. The whole thing was amazing. It was like we were the road team the entire tournament. Some of crowds were a bit hostile to us. It seemed like every game we played, the crowd was against us — Mexico, Canada and the United States in Phoenix and then against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in Miami. I’m there any time they’d like me to represent Italy. It was one of my best experiences in the game.” Chris Denorfia went 8-for-21 (.381) with two doubles, five runs scored and an RBI in five games for Team Italy.In the process of making Team Italy hitting coach Mike Piazza very proud, Chris Denorfia currently leads the Padres’ everyday players in batting average (.395), on-base percentage (.465) and on-base percentage plus slugging (.965). Affectionately called “Deno” by his teammates and colleagues, the agile and versatile 32-year-old San Diego outfielder is poised to have his best season of his major league career. Leading off for the Friars in Tuesday’s game at Chavez Ravine against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Denorfia racked up a season-high three hits in his six at-bats with a double, a stolen base and two runs scored. On Wednesday Deno homered against Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw and the tweets began:
Chris Denorfia has a lot to offer any team in MLB. Having already spent two year stints with the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics, the seasoned Italian American is now in his fourth season with the Padres. Should Chris Denorfia be given the opportunity to become an everyday player in the San Diego lineup, he
has the tools not only to become a National League All-Star but also a 2013 Gold Glove Award winner.
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!
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…