Azzurri catcher Francisco Cervelli (Pittsburgh Pirates) has already belted two home runs and six doubles so far since April 3, 2017. With a career high of seven homers and 17 doubles during his first year with the Bucs in 2015, Cervelli is on pace to set career best stats in home runs and extra-base hits in 2017. Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli takes pride in his Italian heritage. Born in Valencia, Venezuela to an Italian father and Venezuelan mother, Cervelli left home at 15 to pursue a life in baseball. He signed with the New York Yankees as an international free agent in 2003. Prior to playing for Team Italy in the 2009 WBC, Cervelli was not yet an established Major Leaguer as he had only played in three games for the 2008 Yankees. Despite the odds, he managed to guide Team Italy’s pitching staff to an impressive 6-2 victory over host Canada, thereby eliminating the Canadians at Toronto’s Rogers Centre. Cervelli spent an additional six years in New York in a limited backup capacity before being traded on November 12, 2014 to Pittsburgh, where he is adored as the Bucs’ full-time catcher. The Pirates recognized Cervelli before their game against the Atlanta Braves on April 8, 2017, when the first 20,000 fans in attendance at PNC Park received Francisco Cervelli “That’s Amore” Singing Bobbleheads. The bobblehead featured Cervelli in his patented Love Doctor robe with rose petals at his feet singing “That’s Amore”. Catching all four games for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC, Francisco proved to be an offensive weapon as well with two of his four hits being for extra-bases.
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 Piazza with 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.
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!!