The pressure will be on when the Angels host MLB’s first Italian-born-and-developed player–Alex Liddi and the Seattle Mariners at Angel Stadium on Sunday, September 22. The postseason will be around the corner, and the LA Angels will be in the hunt for an October playoff berth. This will not just be another game for the Halos as they will be playing every contest with a sense of urgency and
a do-or-die attitude. Looking at the 2013 Angels Promotional Calendar, September 22nd is also Angel Team Photo and Fan Appreciation Day–when lucky fans have traditionally come home with loads of freebies including: vacations to five-star resorts, airline tickets, Angels Suites and Group Night tickets, amusement park passes, fitness club memberships, pool tables, BBQ grills, flatscreen TVs, BluRays, iPods, Flip Video Cams and even new tires.
September 22nd takes on more significance as it marks the start of our fundraising efforts to bring the Museo Italo Americano of San Francisco’s craftfully-curated Italian Americans at Bat: From Sand Lots to the Major Leagues Exhibit one step closer to Orange County in 2014. The exhibit documents not only the important role that Italian Americans have played in “America’s favorite pastime”, but also the role that baseball played in the assimilation of Italians into American culture. The great DiMaggio brothers are among the coveted stars featured in the exhibition.
The Angels have had its share of Italian Americans on its roster in the past. Two prominent players who resonated in the hearts of hardcore Angels fans–Jim Fregosi and Tony Conigliaro–are included in the celebrated Italian Americans at Bat Exhibit. Fregosi became the Angels’ first budding star during the team’s initial eleven seasons of play from 1961-71. He led the American League in double plays twice, won the 1967 Gold Glove Award and set a franchise record with 70 career triples. Fregosi went on to manage the Angels at age 36 and guided the team to its first-ever postseason appearance in 1979. Conigliaro played for the Angels in 1971 but was never the same MLB All-Star after being hit by a tragic fastball thrown by Angels’ pitcher Jack Hamilton in 1967.
The modern day Italian Americans in MLB include Angels’ catcher, Chris Iannetta. His parents, Maria and Domenic, both moved from villages near Naples to the East Coast as children. Raised in Rhode Island, Chris still has strong ties to his relatives living in Italy. Iannetta had the opportunity to honor his heritage and play for Team Italy in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. When a roster spot opened up on the Team USA roster after Joe Mauer was unable to participate in the international tournament due to injury, he declined the Italian invitation and opted to play for Team USA instead. Ineligible to play in the 2013 WBC because of the amount of time he spent on the disabled list in 2012, Iannetta did not have to make the difficult decision of which team to play for this past March. The 30-year-old veteran, who proudly identifies with Italian American heritage, watched Team Italy with interest and pride in the WBC. “They played really well. It was fun to watch,” said Iannetta. Part of the reason Team Italy was so fun to watch was because of Mariners’ Alex Liddi. The Italian infielder played stellar defense and wrecked havoc on opposing pitchers in the WBC. Now in this third season for Seattle, Liddi is the face of European baseball in MLB. See him live in action against the Angels on September 22nd and help bring Italian Americans at Bat to Orange County by purchasing your tickets from us at 949-870-5987.
Although San Diego can lay claim to Team Italy’s lead off hitter/LA Dodgers infielder Nick Punto as their own born-and-raised MLB hero, Sanremo–a popular Italian Riviera resort town between Genoa and the French border–is the proud home of WBC teammate/Seattle Mariners third baseman Alex Liddi. Alex was literally weaned on baseball by his father, Agostino, and his mother, Flavia. Agostino’s parents left Italy shortly after World War II to work as tailors in America.
While attending Beverly Hills High School, Agostino Liddi played baseball before repatriating to Italy after graduation. It was there that he met his future wife, Flavia, who played softball competitively in Italy.
You could say that Alex was a truly a baseball baby since it was reported that Flavia played first base for the first three months of her pregnancy carrying Alex. When Alex was old enough to play, his mother coached his baseball teams. As a teenager, his father drove him long distances to compete in games throughout Italy. With the addition of their two sons, Thomas and Alex, the couple shared their love of the game to transform the Liddi’s into the archetypal Italian baseball family. Alex Liddi was honored last year by the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) for his valuable contributions to the game. FIBS president Riccardo Fraccari called
Liddi “the real ambassador of Italian baseball” after he became the first player from Italy to play in the Major Leagues since 1954 and the first-ever Italian-developed player in MLB. Liddi, the face of European baseball, has the opportunity to spur the growth of baseball back home by playing at the sport’s highest level. By watching Liddi on MLB.tv and reading the nightly box scores, young Italian athletes are now inspired to think that playing Major League Baseball is a viable option. Currently at Triple-A Tacoma with Team Italia pitcher Brian Sweeney, Alex Liddi is playing with conviction
in anticipation of his return to the Mariners for his third consecutive season. Now leading the Rainiers in home runs (8), runs (34), and RBI (32), the sheer power of Italian
24-year-old Liddi will be a welcome addition to the Seattle lineup when MLB rosters expand to 40 players in September. The European baseball ambassador was kind enough to sit down for an interview at the 2013 World Baseball Classic in Phoenix.
Roberto: You were signed in 2005 by Mariners’ scout Wayne Norton and current WBC Team Spain manager Mauro Mazzotti. Isn’t that a good sign for Italian baseball when two Italian managers, Italy’s Marco Mazzieri and Spain’s Mauro Mazzotti, are leading two of Europe’s finest ballplayers in the WBC?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, I’m happy for him that he is able to participate in the World Baseball Classic with another team. I wish him the best.
Roberto: Has the journey with the Seattle Mariners organization been a good experience so far?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, I enjoy my time in Seattle and in the minor league system. I think that it’s a pretty good system. I’ve enjoyed my years playing with them. I’ve got to thank them for giving me a chance to play in the big leagues. So I’m really thankful.
Roberto: You began your professional career in 2006 with the Peoria Mariners and then were then promoted to Single-A Wisconsin. You remained there until 2008 at which time you were batting .313 and enjoyed an eight-game hitting streak when you nearly hit .500! That must have been memorable?
Alex Liddi: Yeah. At every level you go, you try to make adjustments. I was trying to show them that I could play in the states.
Roberto: In 2009 playing for Single-A Advanced High Desert, you led the California League with a .345 batting average, 23 home runs, and 104 RBI. You were selected as a Cal League All-Star. In addition, you were awarded the Cal League MVP, Topps Cal League Player of the Year, Mariners Minor League Player of the Year and MLB.com Mariners Organization Player of the Year. What an accomplishment!
Alex Liddi: Yeah, it we kind of my break out year. We had a good team that year so it was a little easier for me to put out good numbers plus it was a good hitter-friendly park. But that gave me the confidence, and it gave me the chance to keep going for the rest of that year. All these things combined made me have a really good year.
Roberto: How did it feel playing on Team Canada at the Toronto’s Rogers Centre in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and beating the home team on their own turf?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, it was a good time for me. It was probably one of the biggest memories of my life, of my career. I had the chance to beat Canada at the highest level of competition. It will always be something that I will bring with me. I am happy that I was there.
Roberto: In 2011 you were invited to your first Spring Training camp with the Seattle Mariners. It was special because you hit back-to-back grand slams in consecutive games and produced impressive numbers: .385 batting average and a .429 on-base percentage. Your stellar 2011 campaign at Triple-A Tacoma (30 home runs, 104 RBI, 121 runs scored, 32 doubles and 61 walks) led you to your MLB debut with the Seattle Mariners on September 7. 2011. When you got to the big leagues, you hit three home runs and drove in six RBI in 40 at-bats while playing 15 games as a September call-up. Did you ever have to pinch yourself to make sure you were not dreaming anymore and come to the realization
that you were actually a big leaguer?
Alex Liddi: Yeah, for sure. I remember that I had a good spring, but I was still young.
So I had to go back down to Triple-A and develop myself a little more. But then it was getting really close to when the roster expanded to 40 in September, and I was getting really pumped. I maybe had the chance to get called up. Somebody would say ‘yes’
that I was going to get called up and somebody else would say ‘no’. Until they called
me and told me that I was getting called up. It was kind of like all the dreams came true, and it was a big day for me.
Roberto: You also played in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game. That must have been an
eye-opener playing in the front of the MLB media under the watchful eye of a worldwide televised audience.
Alex Liddi: It was a real honor. I would have never expected that to have come to me.
I was really happy to go there. It was really fun.Roberto: You have a special bond with Alessandro Maestri, the first Italian-born-and-raised pitcher to be signed by MLB. He also waves the Italian baseball flag internationally just as you do. Let’s talk about your friendship and what makes him a competitor.
Alex Liddi: First of all, I have a lot of respect for him
as a person and as a player. He’s a really good friend
of mine and probably one of my best friends. He’s one
of those guys who always works hard and fights for everything. He never got anything easy in his life and always had to fight for it. That’s why I give him a lot of respect as a person. Plus he’s a really good pitcher with really good stuff. It was a shame when he got released by the Cubs, but at the same time I remember when I called him to tell him to keep his head up. I thought he could have pitched in the big leagues for sure, and I
still think he can. And then he got a chance to pitch in Japan and make it to the big leagues there. I’m really proud of him. Hopefully, he will have a long career.
Roberto: He actually was selected as the inaugural Fan Choice Award in the Australian Baseball League when he pitched for the Brisbane Bandits in 2011. Wherever he decides
to play, he always makes a major impact.
Alex Liddi: He has charisma. He has a really good attitude on and off the field that makes him a complete player. Good tools, good person, good teammate…so all these things combined together make him a really good player.
Roberto: What is different about Team Italia in the 2013 WBC from the previous team in 2009. What is different in the chemistry which makes the team such a dominant player in this year’s World Baseball Classic?
Alex Liddi: Last time in the World Baseball Classic we had a good team, but this time we have been playing together more. I mean we already know Chris Denorfia, Nick Punto, Anthony Rizzo–I’ve known Rizzo for a couple years now. He’s been a friend of mine since I have been playing against him for a long time. The other guys have been playing together for a while now so the team is really together now. Instead of the other teams, they might bigger names but they have never played together like we do.
Roberto: You could have a bunch of big names on a lineup card, but at the end of the day you look at the box score and the team with the biggest desire to win the game will actually succeed.
Alex Liddi: I think we showed them already that we came here to win. We’re not joking and you can see it on our face…our enthusiasm on the field. We’re playing hard right now. We’re playing real baseball so everybody has to be careful.
Roberto: You are going out there playing nine one-inning games every contest, opponents should not take Team Italia lightly.
Alex Liddi: We’re playing as a team. Everybody can come up with the big hit. Nobody has got to do too much. Everybody’s got other people’s back, you know. We keep playing like this, and we’ll do a lot of damage.
Roberto: Having a stellar coaching staff which includes future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto, it must have a tremendous impact on your entire approach to baseball.
Alex Liddi: For sure. I mean when you have a chance to have coaches like Mike Piazza and Frank Catalanotto—guys who have been in the big leagues for a long time—it makes it fun just to be around those guys. You’re able to ask them questions and learn from them so that’s another big part of the team right there too. Roberto: How proud are you being an Italian playing Major League Baseball and providing hope for Italian athletes that they too can play baseball professionally?
Alex Liddi: I’m really proud to have accomplished being the first Italian-born-and-raised player in the big leagues. It was something that I was always looking forward to coming up through the minors. That was my goal ever since getting signed. Getting closer to it, I could actually understand what it meant. As I got closer, and I was really excited about it. There was no pressure for me. It’s something I’m happy about that happened to me–getting to the big leagues. I’m really thankful to everybody for giving me the opportunity.
Roberto: I love what you represent to Team Italia, your family, friends and fans.
Alex Liddi: I respect this game, and I respect my family. You always got to remember where you come from. So I will always be there for my friends, and a lot of my friends are my fans too. They’re there for me so I got to be there for them. The fans are what make
the game fun. So you have got to be thankful for the fans. I really appreciate the fans. Without the fans, this game would be nothing…
Although we won’t see Alex Liddi play in San Diego this year, we can still enjoy his banner in Little Italy. You will be pleasantly surprised by the number of Italian American baseball players that grace the streets of America’s finest city. You will find Team Italia hitting coach Mike Piazzawith 2013 World Baseball Classic players Nick Punto, Chris Denorfia, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Colabello and Jason Grilli in Little Italy. Other Italian American heroes on display include the likes of Jason Giambi, Barry Zito, Craig Biggio, Rich Aurilla, Gary Gaetti, Frank Viola, Rick Botallico, Ron Santo, Sal Bando, Tony Conigliaro, Pete Falcone, Roy Campanella, Rico Petrocelli, Tommy Lasorda, Bart Giamatti, Joe Pepitone, Joe Garagiola, Yogi Berra, Joe Torre, Frank Torre, Joe DiMaggio, Dom DiMaggio, Frank Crosetti, Phil Rizzuto, Nicholas Dallassandro, Charles Strada, Phil Cavaretta, and Babe Pinelli. To learn more about Italian American players in Major League Baseball, pick up a copy of Lawrence Baldassaro’s Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball.
It is believed that baseball was introduced to Australia by American gold miners in the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s. Back then miners would play baseball on the gold fields when they received time off for rest. The first reports of organized baseball teams appeared in Ballarat, Victoria in 1857. So it should come as no surprise that Americans are still playing
ball in places like Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and Perth as participants in the Australian Baseball League. Let’s look at some of the Top 40 Americans in the ABL.#30 C.J. Beatty was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 26th round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft after all-star play at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. He progressed rapidly up the ranks in 2010 to Single-A Advanced Palm Beach in the Florida State League before the Cardinals farm system released him after discovering an irregular heartbeat during his 2011 camp physical. Although he was cleared to play after an EKG, the red birds acted on the side of caution with his release. That didn’t stop him from pursing his dream. After Independent ball stints
in the North American League (San Angelo, Edinburg, and Fort Worth)
and the American Association League (Lincoln), the 24-year-old North Carolinian relished his time in the ABL playing third base for the Brisbane Bandits. He earned the ABL Round 11 Player of the Week title after a multi-home run game in which he drove in five of the Bandits’ six runs. The former St. Louis Cardinals farmhand had hits in all four games of the Bandits’ Round 11 series, going 6-for-11 (.667) with three homers and eight RBI. Beatty led Brisbane in both slugging percentage (.483) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.845) while batting .252 during 2012-13. #29 JaDamion “J.D.” Williams played in his first year in the ABL after spending three seasons in the Minnesota Twins minor league system. A 10th round draft pick by the Twins in 2010 out of high school, J.D. inked a $125,000 signing bonus and spent the first two years at the rookie level before jumping to Single-A in 2012. He struggled in his pro debut, hitting just .214 while playing primarily second base in the Gulf Coast League in 2010, but switched to the outfield while moving up to Elizabethton in 2011 and thrived. He batted .317 with 17 extra-base hits, 25 walks, and 10 steals in 50 games. Williams demonstrated that beyond tools and projection there was a talented baseball player beneath all the speed and athleticism. With the Beloit Snappers in 2012, the Florida native batted .234 and stole 23 bases in 32 attempts. The 21-year-old’s power numbers have also gone up every year, hitting one in his first season and six in 2012. Playing 37 games for the 2012-13 Sydney Blue Sox in the ABL, the switch-hitting outfielder contributed greatly to the team’s second place finish in the standings despite a lackluster .218 batting average. Drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 19th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft after graduating from South Carolina’s York High School, #28 Zac Fuesser chose not to sign in favor of attending college. Yet, the left-handed hurler was snagged as a 2009 34th round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates after receiving a $125,000 signing bonus. Since embarking on his professional baseball career at age 18, Fuesser has appeared in 83 games for three different minor league teams in the Pirates system and has a career 3.73 ERA. He spent his 2011 and 2012 campaigns pitching for Single-A West Virginia Power prior to joining the Adelaide Bite in the Australian Baseball League. Named to Team World in the 2012 ABL All-Star game, the 22-year-old southpaw contained Team Australia and pitched one scoreless inning. Second on the Adelaide pitching staff in strikeouts (57) in 57.1 innings of work, starter Zach Fuesser appeared in 11 games during the 2012-13 ABL season and posted a 4-4 record with a 3.61 ERA. He held opponents to a .259 batting average and had a strong 1.44 ground outs per fly outs ratio. #27 Jonathan Jones was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 29th round of the 2010 draft after a successful collegiate career for the Long Beach State Dirtbags. Prized for his speed, strong throwing arm and defensive prowess in the outfield, the 22-year-old Northern California native played in 90 games for the 2012 Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays and posted a .266 batting average before venturing down under in the Australian Baseball League. The Canberra Cavalry center fielder was promising in the early going (.258 BA, 1 HR, 2 SB), but unfortunately had to return home after only eight games due to a hamstring issue that shortened his ABL experience.
@abuschini Thanks bro. Give me a call when you get back to the Bay.
“I believe that Twitter is a great tool. It gives the fans access to follow their favorite players and see what they are doing, learn their likes and dislikes, and even get to see photos. It allows fans to feel like they have a personal relationship and for the athletes, and in return, it allows us to see all the fans’ love and support.” After a stellar high school baseball career, #26 Andrew Kittredge–a Spokane, Washington-born right-handed pitcher–was taken in the 45th round of the 2008 draft by the Seattle Mariners. Kittredge began his pro ball career after playing at the University of Washington in Seattle. He completed his first full season in the Mariners organization by splitting time between three different leagues within the farm system in 2012. Starting at Single-A Clinton before jumping up to Double-A Jackson, the 22-year-old Mariners prospect spent most of the season pitching for Single-A Advanced High Desert Mavericks. During the course of his brief 2012 elevator ride up-and-down, Kittredge made 25 appearances in 42 innings of relief and went 3-1 with a 4.07 ERA while striking out 43. Working as the 2012-13 Adelaide Bite closer in the ABL, Andrew saved six games and compiled a 3-1 record with a 4.73 ERA while striking out 25.
#25 Nathan Melendres was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 17th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft from his hometown University of Miami Hurricanes in Florida. The 22-year-old outfielder was one of three Adelaide Bite imports to have finished the 2012 season with the High Desert Mavericks of the California League. Having only played in 23 games in 2012 during his second season in the Mariners organization, Nathan put together a .307 batting average with two home runs and 15 RBI between
his time at Single-A Advanced High Desert, Single-A Clinton and the Arizona Rookie League. However, he got his work in this off-season in 26 ABL contests. With a .245 batting average, five extra-base hits and five homers to his credit while in an Adelaide Bite uniforn, Melendres made his impression felt
in Australia and excited the Mariners’ faithful. #24 Carlos Alonso was selected in the 32nd round of the 2010 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies after playing for the University of Delaware. The Los Gatos, California native began his collegiate baseball career at Santa Barbara City College, where he was a two-time First Team All-Western State Conference third baseman. Hitting over .360 two years straight for the Vaqueros, he started 88 consectutive games at Santa Barbara City College and led his team to the playoffs twice. Leaving the West Coast in search of more playing time, Alonso transferred to the University of Delaware and was under the guidance of head baseball coach Jim Sherman. Upon being drafted by the Phillies in 2010, Sherman was supportive
of Alonso regardless of his chosen career path. “Wherever Carlos goes, whatever he decides to do beyond baseball, whether he plays baseball for a career professionally, or goes into the business sector of the world, no matter what part of the country he’s in, he’s always going to be perceived as a class individual,” Sherman said. “I think people are just going to gravitate towards him.” Ranked #25 in Bleacher Report‘s 2012 Phillies Top 25 Positional Prospects, the righty infielder played 93 games for Single-A Advanced Clearwater and racked up a respectable .278 batting average.
A versatile utility player who can play any infield or outfield position,
the 25-year-old Phillies farmhand is valuable commodity for any team manager. While in Australia, Alonso anchored the Brisbane Bandits infield at third base. Bandits manager Kevin Jordan said, “Like a lot
of guys, Carlos got out here and you’re learning the whole league overnight, literally. You get thrown in the fire. For him, it is what
it is. I told him what was going to happen, that he was going to be thrown into it, that he was going to have to pretty much learn all
the pitchers; where to play guys defensively, on the fly and he’s starting to come around, especially with the bat.” Alonso ended the 2012-13 ABL season with a .209 batting average and seven doubles. #23 Adam Melker was selected by the
St. Louis Cardinals in the 44th round of the June 2010 Amateur Draft from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. After completing his third season
in the Cardinals organization and putting up good 2012 numbers (126 games, .278 batting average, 10 home runs, 35 RBI) at Double-A Springfield, Melker was reunited with former Perth Heat manager and current Corvallis Knights skipper Brooke Knight–who took his 2011-12 Aussie champion Heat to South Korea to represent Australia in the 2012 Asia Series. Prior to arriving in mid-October to play for Perth in the ABL, the left-handed hitting slugger exuded excitement. “I’m really excited,” said Melker. “I’ve heard baseball in Asia is extremely good so I’m looking forward to the challenge. Some time off this winter would have been nice, but I couldn’t turn down and opportunity to play baseball on two other continents…”
Melker remained with the Heat until mid-December and then
returned to the United States. “I would have liked to have stayed longer,” he said. “But I needed some time off that
I could dedicate to strength training and get 100% healthy before I headed off to spring training in March.” During
the 22 ABL games Melker played in the Perth outfield,
he contributed to the Heat’s early season offensive attack
with a .247 batting average–including two doubles, two
triples, one home run, six RBI and one stolen base.#22 Tyler Herr of the Sydney Blue Sox was selected by the Minnesota Twins in 44th round of the 2009 draft. Launching his pro ball career in 2010 at age 19, the intimidating right-hander from Texas now has three seasons under his belt in the Twins’ minor league system with a career 8-4 record and a 3.38 ERA. Through 90 innings pitched, Herr has allowed just 87 hits while striking out 74. Making 21 appearances for the 2012 Appalachian League champions Elizabethton Twins, the six-foot-eight hurler went 3-0 with a 2.56 ERA. After coaching the 2012 Minnesota Twins extended Spring Training rookie ball club, former Twins minor leaguer and current Sydney Blue Sox manager Jason Pospishil liked what he saw and invited Herr to join his squad in the ABL. The first-year Sydney skipper said, “He has a power sinker in the 93-95 mph range with a good slider and developing change-up. More importantly, he has a tremendous work ethic.” Herr was summoned out of the 2012-13 Sydney Blue Sox bullpen in 16 games and went 3-2 with a 3.57 ERA.#21 Justin Howard of the Adelaide Bite was both a newsreel highlight and a major letdown in Australia after the ABL Player of the Week for Round 6
(4 games played, 9-for-14 for a .643 batting average, 4 doubles, 4 RBI, and 6 runs total) sustained an elbow injury and had to return to America for surgery. In his last nine games prior to his departure, the left-handed hitting 25-year-old Bite first baseman/ DH was on a roll–going 15-for-35 with five doubles and five RBI–but left with a down-to-earth .266 batting average.
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in
the 24th round of the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft from University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Justin Howard has successfully been promoted each of his three seasons for the Buccos. The native Texan hit .283 with two homers and 29 RBI in 83 games for Single-A Advanced Bradenton prior to playing in the ABL. He will certainly be welcome to return to the Adelaide Bite next season.
It’s been amazing Adelaide. Sorry for the early departure but gotta get the elbow cleaned out. Back to the great state of Texas in 15 hours
Shane Victorino, star center fielder of the Los Angeles Dodgers and winner of the 2011 Branch Rickey Award,
was inducted as the 20th member of the Baseball Humanitarians Hall of Fame last November. Created by the Rotary Club of Denver in 1991, the Branch Rickey Award honors MLB personnel who contribute unselfishly to their communities and who are positive role models for young people. All 30 Major League teams nominate
a player, coach or executive–either active or retired–who personify Rotary International’s motto of “Service Above Self” for this nationally-acclaimed award named in honor of the late baseball executive Branch Rickey–best known as “Mr. Baseball” for breaking baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson and hiring the first Latin American to be selected to the Hall of Fame, Roberto Clemente.
It was announced recently that the National Selection Committee–comprised of 300 members of the sports media, past award winners, baseball executives and Rotary district governors–had chosen R.A. Dickey, star pitcher of the New York Mets, as the winner of the 2012 Branch Rickey Award and the 21st member of the Baseball Humanitarians Hall of Fame. Dickey was recognized for his charity work distributing baseball equipment and medical supplies internationally
as well as raising money for an organization rescuing young women from forced prostitution in India.
Other 2012 Branch Rickey Award nominees included: Joe Saunders,
Tim Hudson, Adam Jones, David Ortiz, Tony Campana, Jake Peavy, Jay Bruce, Vinnie Pestano, Jeremy Guthrie, Justin Verlander, Bud Norris, Alex Gordon, Jered Weaver, Don Newcombe, Emilio Bonifacio, Rickie Weeks, Justin Morneau, David Robertson, Kurt Suzuki, Ryan Howard, Chris Resop, Matt Holiday, Orlando Hudson, Matt Cain, Felix Hernandez, Joe Maddon, Michael Young, Ricky Romero, and Ryan Zimmerman. In years past,
Branch Rickey Award winners have included: Dave Winfield, Toronto Blue Jays; Kirby Puckett, Minnesota Twins; Ozzie Smith, St. Louis Cardinals;
Tony Gwynn, San Diego Padres; Brett Butler, Los Angeles Dodgers; Craig Biggio, Houston Astros; Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins; Al Leiter, New York Mets; Todd Stottlemyre, Arizona Diamondbacks; Curt Schilling, Arizona Diamondbacks; Bobby Valentine, New York Mets; Roland Hemond, Chicago White Sox; Jamie Moyer, Seattle Mariners; Tommy Lasorda, Los Angeles Dodgers; John Smoltz, Atlanta Braves; Trevor Hoffman, San Diego Padres; Torii Hunter, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; Vernon Wells, Toronto Blue Jays; and Shane Victorino, Philadelphia Phillies.
In what coincidently appears to be a part of an international cultural exchange, the first Italian-born and-raised professional baseball player to beat the odds and successfully make it all the way to Major League Baseball in 2011–Seattle Mariners utility infielder Alex Liddi–may have inspired the first Seattle-born coffee maker to venture into the Italy’s competitive playing field with the opening of retail locations in Milano, Venezia, Roma and Napoli. If that isn’t enough caffeine to combat jet lag, a double shot of Italian international baseball ambassadors–Alessandro Maestri (the first Italian-born and-raised player to have reached AA ball in MLB) along with Alex Liddi–are headed to Japan. Coming off a successful stint as the 2012 ABL Fan Choice in the Australian Baseball League, Maestri–the former Chicago Cub minor leaguer–has signed a contract to pitch for the Kagawa Olive Guyners, while Alex and the Mariners battle the Oakland A’s on March 28th and 29th in a two-game Japan Opening Series to launch the 2012 MLB season. Both graduates of the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS)-operated Major League Baseball International European Academy at the Olympic Training Center in Tirrenia, Italy, Maestri and Liddi have mentored a whole new generation of Italian youth who aspire to play baseball internationally. Six Italian-born players have appeared in the major leagues, but all of them immigrated to North America during childhood, according to Riccardo Schiroli, communications manager for the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball and co-author of Azzuri on the Diamond: Characters and Stories. Liddi, however, was born in Sanremo, Italy, and played amateur baseball there before signing with MLB.
Alex Liddi has become so popular worldwide that there is an Alex Liddi Fan Club on Facebook. Why shouldn’t they be excited after the 23-year-old bachelor absolutely made the most of his 2012 Mariners Spring Training campaign by showcasing his defensive versatility at first and third base in addition to cranking out some very impressive offense: .429 BA/.500 OBP/.714 SLG/1.214 OPS. He led the M’s in hits (15) and doubles (7) plus his 10 RBI were only one shy of team-leading Jesus Montero (11). Liddi said, “I hit for power, but RBI–that’s my job! I’m supposed to drive in runs.” Seattle manager Eric Wedge looks to give more opportunities for the powerful 6-foot-4, 230 pound Italian slugger as a utility infielder and a secret weapon off the bench. The Mariner skipper remained optimistic before boarding his flight to Tokyo and commented, “The more versatile he is, the more quickly we might find a spot for him.”
Having athleticism in his blood helped Liddi early on. His father, Augustine, played baseball and taught Alex the game. His mother, Flavia, played softball at a competitive level and inspired her son to love baseball at age three. In 2004, Liddi played for the Italian National Junior Team in the World Junior Championship. Signed in 2005 by Mariners’ international scout Wayne Norton and Mario Mazzotti, one of the team’s European scouts, Liddi competed in Italy up until the time of signing a professional contract at age 17.
He went on to play for the Italian National Team in the 2006 Intercontinental Cup, the 2007 European Championship and the 2009 World Championship. Alex was also a member of the Italian National Team in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in 2009, when he hit .375 under the guidance of hitting coach and MLB All-Star great Mike Piazza. Having already played on three consecutive MLB All-Star Futures games, Alex Liddi knew in his heart that it was just a matter of time before he would join the game’s elite in Major League Baseball. It really hit home that he was ready for the Big Leagues after successfully squaring off with many MLB pitchers in the WBC. “Playing in the World Baseball Classic in 2009 was really good for my confidence,” said Liddi. “It showed
me that I was good enough to play against some of the best. After that,
I felt like I belonged here.” Although his 2011 Minor League season for the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers was stellar with 30 home runs, 104 RBIs, 121 runs scored, 32 doubles and 61 walks, Liddi had his share of strike outs. However, in his second spring in Major League camp, Liddi made some adjustments at the plate with a lower leg kick. After working with M’s hitting coach Chris Chambliss, Liddi’s swing appears to have shortened–which results in him making more contact. Alex Liddi has more raw power and a better eye for walks than his main competitor–Kyle Seager–for the third base back-up job behind utiltyman Chone Figgins, who will seemingly play anywhere to accommodate Liddi’s hot bat in the Mariners’ line-up.
Overall, Liddi could not be happier with his progress at M’s camp. “Things have been really good here,” Liddi said. “I feel like I’ve improved on my contact. That’s what it’s all about. My goal is to be a .300 hitter and drive in some runs.
I don’t really care about home runs.
I care about RBI. I’m still working on it. I’m getting better.” Saying ‘sayonara’ to the Field of Dreams in Arizona and ‘ciao’ to the Land of the Rising Sun in Japan, Liddi has embarked on a remarkable journey of perseverance, dedication and validation in his first full season in MLB. Let’s enjoy the show! Buona fortuna Alex!!
Baseball in Italy received a Major League surprise last month when an unannounced MLB manager graced the 436 registered attendees with his presence at the Italian Coaches Convention Dinner at Castelnuovo de Garda (Verona). Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, a first-generation Italian-American whose father was born in Italy, was overjoyed by the warm reception received at the gala dinner which pays tribute to the coaches that make a difference in the internationalization of baseball in Italy. Madden exclaimed, “I feel at home here, because in the small city in Pennsylvania where I live there is a big Italian community.”
His grandparents original surname was Madonnini, but after emigrating from the Region of Abruzzo to America
their last name was shortened. Maddon continued, “It is always a pleasure for me to visit Italy. I am proud of my heritage.” The Rays were very well represented in Italy as Maddon brought along members of his coaching staff to lead instructional clinics for the delegation of Europe’s best coaches.
Riccardo Fraccari, president of the Federation of Italian Baseball and Softball (FIBS), spoke of Alex Liddi becoming the first Italian-born and developed player to play Major League Baseball and its great significance to baseball in Italy. He said, “Alex’s story is really the tip of the iceberg, and we really need to take into account the daily work of the coaches in Italy who are the base of the movement.” Liddi was signed by the Seattle Mariners after being selected to attend the inaugural MLB International European Academy in 2005 and in September 2011 became the first graduate of the MLB International European Academy to play in the Major Leagues.
Bill Holmberg is one such coach that FIBS President Fraccari was referring to in his compelling speech. Holmberg has been living under the radar since 1989, when he came to Italy to serve as manager and technical director of the Godo baseball club for 12 years. He later became the pitching coach for San Marino as well as the Italian Junior and Senior National teams. Coach Holmberg was named Director and Field Coordinator of the MLB Italian Academy nearly a decade ago and has been instrumental in signing the best homegrown talent as a former international scout for the Chicago Cubs. Everyday he tirelessly trains the cream of the crop at an elite sports academy in the quaint beach community of Tirrenia near the Italian cultural iconic city of Pisa. Alessandro Maestri, the former Chicago Cub minor leaguer and recent Brisbane Bandit / 2012 Australian Baseball League (ABL) Fan Favorite Award recipient, was signed by Holmerg in 2006, when he became the first Italian-born pitcher ever signed by a Major League Baseball team.
Chicago Cub scout Holmberg knew early on that Alessandro was something special when he saw the young Italian play baseball for the first time. Holmberg said, “Alex can do whatever he wants to. He’s got the temperament and composure. He’s hit 95 mph, and his slider is at 86 or 87. He competes as hard as anyone out there.” Maestri still to this day works under the guidance and direction of Coach Holmberg. The Cesena, Italy
native made World Baseball Classic headlines in 2006 when his first offering to the Dominican Republic’s Moises Alou was rocketed out of the park for a home run. Despite the rocky start, he would not allow another earned run in his 4.2 combined innings in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.
Maestri demonstrated great promise in the Midwest and Florida State leagues as a two-time All-Star. As as starter and relief pitcher in the Chicago Cubs minor league system for five seasons, he racked up a 24-17 record with a 3.75 ERA and 19 saves. The right hand throwing pitcher put away hitters with his evasive slider–which was once voted as the best slider thrown by anyone in the entire franchise. Maestri made his preseason MLB debut against the Oakland A’s during Cubs Spring Training in Phoenix on April 1, 2009 when Cub manager Lou Pinella summoned him out of the bullpen. Maestri struck out Orlando Cabrera and then he sized up against slugger Jason Giambi–who was lucky to squeak out a single through the hole. MLB All-Star
Matt Holliday was caught looking at a third strike slider for the second out, and Eric Chavez went down swinging at his Italian slider in the dirt to end Maestri’s almost perfect outing. Nearly three years later, Alessandro is still as dominant as ever as witnessed by his numbers in the most recent 2011-12 ABL season. As the workhorse and ace of the Brisbane Bandit pitching staff, Maestri led his team in wins (4) and proved to be one of the best pitchers in the league. He finished third in the ABL in innings pitched (63.2) and in strikeouts (53), fourth in the ABL in WHIP (1.16) and sixth in the ABL in ERA (3.25). In Round Eight of the regular season, he earned the Pitcher of the Week award after pitching a stellar complete game two-hitter against the Canberra Cavalry. Based on his most recent form, Maestri is worthy of a second look by international scouts to make his long-awaited MLB debut. He will always be a competitor who lives on the edge to bail his team out of pressure situations.
Of the frequent MLB-sponsored instructional clinics throughout Europe, none has had the impact of MLB / FIBS Academy host Coach Holmberg’s annual three and a half week summer invitational Major League Baseball International European Academy at the Olympic Training Center in Tirrenia. Designed to provide promising junior teenage players with both the environment and the instruction to reach their full potential, the European Academy brings together around 50 or more of the brightest young playing talent in Europe and Africa with the best in Major League coaching and instruction. The Academy seeks to provide a path for elite players from this region to improve their skills in preparation for the rigors of professional and international baseball. In addition to helping these bright young stars develop their skills, the Academy enables MLB Clubs to scout the best future talent. Holmberg explained, “It’s a pretty good place to see all the best players in Europe at one time. We’ve had between 18 and 20 scouts that have watched the games this past year.”
The Tirrenia baseball camp, which began in 2005, has much to do with MLB’s accelerated rate of signing the European elite to professional contracts based on the fact that the numbers have more than tripled from 2005 (2.33 average) to 2011 (9.0 average). So far 49 Academy graduates from ten countries (45 players from Europe and 4 players from Africa) have signed professional contracts with 19 different Major League Baseball franchises. Holmberg commented, “We’re not the Dominican Republic yet, but I think we might be sneaking up on Australia.”
Considering the Australian Baseball League Canberra Cavalry catcher’s daunting six-foot-three solid muscle build, Madonna should consider recording a 2012 remix of “Don’t Cry For Me Australia!” There has always been a constant debate about whether home plate collisions should be banned throughout baseball history. By prohibiting the catcher from blocking the plate and banning base runners from making contact intentionally with the catcher, many argue the game would be a lot safer. However, baseball purists protest that combat at the dish has been around for years and is deeply entrenched in the sport’s tradition and its fans’ expectations of finding entertainment value in home plate drama. Selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 20th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft as a catcher out of Illinois’ Lincoln Land Community College, Travis Scott knew the occupational hazards inherent to his vulnerable position when he read the disclaimer and signed his first professional baseball contract.
While the lead singer for rock and roll bands usually receive all the attention (and more…), the drummer is virtually unnoticed until he gets a crack at a drum solo (if he’s lucky). The same concept applies to the dynamic between the pitcher and his catcher. The pitcher gets all the hype (and salary), while the catcher keeps the beat (and the leftovers) of the game. He must have the intuition and knowledge to deal with every fine-tuned intricacy that starting pitchers and relievers have in their vast repertoire. As with the world of corporate rock, if your band or team does not possess a solid drummer or catcher, then your franchise will lose on the field and at the box office. While what a catcher can produce offensively at the plate is very important, what he does behind the plate is even more significant. The catcher must have a keen sense of intelligence to call a good game and have the ability to throw out base runners. Travis Scott possesses all the innate qualities necessary to become a successful MLB catcher.
Canberra Cavalry manager Steve Schrenk wasn’t caught off guard by catcher Travis Scott’s batting potential but more shocked by his power. Skipper Schrenk explains, “He knows how to hit. He hit well last year in Double-A for the Pirates so I was expecting some good things, but he brings a little bit more power than I thought.” The 26-year-old Milwaukee-born American import put up good enough numbers to earn himself a 2009 California League All-Star slot while playing for the Mariners Single-A Advanced affiliate High Desert Mavericks. In the first half of the season alone, Scott hit .324 with 11 home runs and 36 RBI. While playing for the 2010 Rockford River Hawks Professional Baseball Club in Illinois and after being signed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, he was voted the Hawks’ MVP with a .302 batting average and a 34% success rate of throwing out attempted base stealers to lead the Northern League. Scott credits Mariners minor league catching coordinator Roger Hanson for his defensive prowess. He elaborates, “I put in a lot of hard work in my four years with the Mariners, and we had one of the best catching coordinators in minor league baseball in Roger Hanson. You know it’s just all about proper balance and putting myself in position to get the most out of my arm.” Scott’s signing to the LA Angels was short-lived as the Pittsburgh Pirates quickly took him hostage before he could become Scioscia’s protege in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft. He is now a free agent looking for a new pro contract.
Currently second in doubles (13) and ninth in walks (14) in the ABL while hitting .250 for the Canberra Cavalry, Travis Scott knows in order to achieve his personal goal of a .300 batting average that he must pump up the volume for the remainder of the season. He concides, “In my position as a free agent, any time you get the opportunity to get some at-bats you want to put up good numbers because ultimately scouts in America are looking at your offensive numbers before your defensive numbers. I want to put up .300 or above numbers with a little bit of power to all fields. If I can do that, I’ll have a pretty good opportunity to find a club in the United States.” With eight regular season games left for the Canberra Cavalry catcher, Travis Scott will have to dig down deep and catapult his team into the playoffs so that scouts will have the opportunity to see for themselves why he deserves another chance to join the game’s elite in Major League Baseball.
Acquired by the Seattle Mariners on July 31st in the trade that sent pitcher Erik Bedard to the Boston Red Sox, 23-year-old Taiwanese-born outfielder Chih-Hsien Chiang was recently selected as the recipient for the George M. Trautman Award for Topps Eastern League 2011 Player of the Year after being the driving force behind the Red Sox’s AA affiliate Portland Seadogs in Portland, Maine. The awards are presented to the player of the year in each of the 16 domestic Minor Leagues by the Topps Company of New York, in conjunction with the Minor League Baseball. Leading the Eastern League in batting average (.340), runs batted in (76), doubles (37), extra-base hits (59), runs scored (68) and slugging percentage (.648), Chiang was the Eastern League Player of the Month for June and July as well as the 2011 Most Valuable Player runner-up. Racking up 18 home runs and four triples in 88 Seadogs games this past season, the left-handed hitting Chih-Hsien Chiang combined his 2011 impressive numbers to his 2010 campaign in setting a new franchise record for grand slams (3) and being only one of two players to homer in four straight games.
Prior to playing for the Peoria Javelinas–a team of professional baseball prospects from the Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Milwaukee Brewers and the recently crowned 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals–in the Arizona Fall League (AFL), Chiang was a stand out in both the Major League Baseball Futures Game on July 10th in Phoenix, Arizona and the Eastern League All-Star Game on July 13th in Manchester, New Hampshire. Ranked by Baseball Prospectus as the Mariners number 10 prospect with a projected 2013 Major League debut, Chih-Hsien Chiang blasted his first home run of the AFL season off Surprise Saguaros reliever Alejandro Ramos in the 10th inning of Wednesday’s extra inning 10-7 heartbreak and then went 2-for-4 with a double and three RBIs in Thursday’s 9-5 loss to the Salt River Rafters. Batting .297 overall and .421 against left-handed pitching in 64 at bats in the AFL, the six-foot two slugger is quite intimidating in the batter’s box. Switching off as designated hitter and right fielder for Peoria, the reverberation of Chih-Hsien Chiang’s bat will be felt after every swing well beyond the Arizona desert and across the Pacific Rim to the delight of baseball lovers worldwide. Stay tuned as the best has yet to come!