On Saturday, June 2, 2018, Italian Americans have an opportunity to celebrate their heritage and Chicago’s rich baseball history through a screening of the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning film, Italian American Baseball Family at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. The 2016 American Community Survey reveals that almost 17 million Italians live in the United States. With more than 500,000 Italian Americans living in greater Chicago, the city trails only New York and Philadelphia as the third largest thriving Italian epicenter in America. Chicago boasts a big and loyal baseball following with two professional Major League teams: the Cubs and South Side rivals White Sox. The city has a rich baseball history, of which outsiders may have little or no knowledge.
Chi Town’s first major baseball player of Italian descent was Francesco Pezzolo, known to most as “Ping Bodie.” Francesco was the son of Giuseppe Pezzolo, who emigrated from a small town near Genoa to New York City, and who worked long hours building the Brooklyn Bridge. In 1876 father Giuseppe and mother Rosa moved the family west to a gold-mining settlement in Bodie, California. Francesco Pezzolo was born on October 8, 1887 in San Francisco, and to mask his Italian identity due to racial prejudices and injustices, he changed his professional baseball name to Ping Bodie. After joining the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals in 1908, Ping Bodie soon became a Bay Area fan favorite and was nicknamed “the Fence Buster”. The Chicago White Sox could not help but notice Ping Bodie when he slugged 30 home runs in 1910 and subsequently signed him to a Major League contract. During his rookie season in 1911, Bodie hit .289 with four homers and 97 RBI. He became a Chicago baseball icon during his four years as a solid contributor to the White Sox. His popularity continued in New York later in his career when he became Babe Ruth‘s first Yankee roommate. Ping Bodie was a father figure for many other West Coast Italian American ballplayers and paved the way for those who followed him including Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, and the DiMaggio brothers.
There is one special Chicago Italian who has played for Team Italy in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. That unsung hero’s name is Fabio Milano, a former pitching all-star who played for Team Italy in the 2001 World Cup, 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Milano is also father to a pair of up-and-coming Team Italy softball stars. Maya and Kylie Milano. Another Chicago Italian who deserves a Hollywood Star for helping hundreds develop their craft is Paul Petricca, author of Hitting with Torque: For Softball and Baseball Players. Petricca along with The St. Joseph Club of Italian Americans are proud to present a “Celebration of Italian Baseball and Softball” on Saturday, June 2, 2018 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell Street in Arlington Heights beginning at 11:00 am. The Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning documentary, Italian American Baseball Family, will be shown.
Immediately following the screening of the movie, a Q & A discussion with filmmaker Roberto Angotti and a panel of former Italian baseball players will interact with the audience in an engaging discussion on playing baseball internationally. Panelists scheduled to appear include: Fabio Milano, Joe Mazzuca, former Marlins prospect who played for Team Italy internationally from 2006-2014; Barth Morreale Jr., who began pitching in Bologna in 2006 and led his team to victory in the 2011 European Cup; and Brent Consiglio, who played in baseball in Poviglio after graduating from the University of Chicago in 2004.
PITCHERS: Team Italy switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, who has proved himself worthy of playing in Major League Baseball after stints with the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in late November with an invite to 2018 Spring Training. The 32-year-old fan favorite was lights out in Arizona, where he appeared in more games than any Dodger pitcher (nine), threw more innings than any other Dodger reliever (10.1), and posted the lowest ERA (1.74) of any reliever who pitched more than eight innings this spring. The Omaha, Nebraska native allowed only two earned runs on seven hits, while walking three and striking out 13. Despite his remarkable statistics and stellar performance, Pat Venditte will have to wait patiently and pitch for the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers before he makes his debut at Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles.
MLB veteran Tommy Layne made 19 appearances out of the New York Yankees bullpen in 2017. The lefty reliever specialist signed a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox in February and appeared in eight 2018 Spring Training games. He pitched seven inning in relief and picked up one save with a 2.57 ERA and six strikeouts. The 33-year-old seasoned professional will start out the 2018 season playing for Triple-A affiliate Pawtucket Red Sox with hopes of being brought back to Boston, where he spent most of his MLB career from 2014-2016.
In 2017 Sam Gaviglio made 12 appearances (11 starts) with the Seattle Mariners before being claimed off waivers by the Kansas City Royals, where he made another four appearances which included two starts. Overall, he went 4-5 with a 4.36 ERA. The Pacific Northwest right-hander was recently traded to the Toronto Blue Jays and assigned to Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons. It won’t be long before Sam Gaviglio makes his debut at Rogers Centre to give the Blue Jays added pitching depth.
Blue Jays prospect Jordan Romano was named 2017 MiLB Organizational All-Star after pitching for the Single-A Advanced Dunedin Blue Jays and playing with future MLB stars Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He amassed 138 strikeouts in 138 innings of pitching during the 2017 season, which included 26 starts (7-5, 3.39 ERA). Jordan Romano was invited to 2018 Blue Jays Spring Training, where he appeared in three games and pitched 2.2 inning of relief with a 3.38 ERA. Although he was assigned to Double-A affiliate New Hampshire Fisher Cats, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to see Jordan Romano join fellow Team Italy pitcher Sam Gaviglio in Buffalo en route to Toronto in 2018.
After spending seven years in the Cleveland Indians organization and pitching for Double-A affiliate Akron RubberDucks in 2017, Luis Lugo signed a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles in December. The crafty 24-year-old Team Italy left-hander, who was born in Venezuela, went 8-7 in 25 starts with a 4.35 ERA in 2017. He will be forwardly placed in the Orioles minor league system in anticipation of a breakout season to catapult him into MLB.
Philadelphia Phillies pitching prospect Nick Fanti was outstanding during his 2017 season with Single-A affiliate Lakewood BlueClaws, where he was involved in two no-hitters. The former 31st-round 2015 Phillies draft pick threw a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts on July 17, 2017, just two months after he pitched 8.2 hitless innings with nine strikeouts on May 6, 2017.The 21-year-old Baseball America Low Class A All-Star ended his 2017 campaign with an outstanding 9-2 record with 2.54 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 120.1 innings of work. In 2018 expect Nick Fanti to make his way from the Single-A Advanced Clearwater Threshers up the ladder to MLB.
CATCHERS: Team Italy is led by a dynamic duo of MLB veteran catchers, Francisco Cervelli of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Drew Butera of the Kansas City Royals, both known for being winners after calling quality games and coming through in the clutch. Francisco Cervelli was the hero on Pirates opening day at Detroit’s Comerica Park on March 30, 2018. Home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo called Tigers’ Nicholas Castellanos safe in a close play at the plate for a walk-off win in the 10th inning. While his fellow Pirates headed straight to dugout with their heads down conceding defeat in extra-innings, Francisco Cervelli knew he had tagged the runner out before Castellanos had touched the plate so he appealed to the umpires for a “courtesy review”. In what became MLB’s first controversial ruling of the 2018 regular season, the call was reversed and the game resumed. Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire went nuts, kicking dirt and getting ejected from his first game as Tigers skipper. Cervelli kept his cool and said, “In the past, we used to celebrate. Now, you’ve got to wait, especially on plays like that. It’s tough because they were celebrating. But I won, again.” The marathon contest lasted a Pirates opening day-record 5 hours and 27 minutes before Pittsburgh eventually beat the Tigers 13-10 in 13 innings. Francisco Cervelli orchestrated the barrage of pitchers from behind the plate while going 2-for-6 with 3 RBI. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle praised the Italian-Venezuelan catcher and said, “We’re a better team with Cervelli in the lineup and behind the plate. Truthfully, you have a pitching coach on the field. He and Yadier Molina are the two best I’ve seen. They have a good touch and feel for the pitchers, and they also have a Plan B or Plan C they can go to when Plan A doesn’t show up.”
With MLB All-Star Salvador Perez on the disabled list for four-to-six weeks, Drew Butera was in the 2018 opening day lineup as the primary catcher for the Kansas City Royals. He went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored in the Royals 14-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox on March 29. 2018. Nick Leto, Manager of Arizona Operations for the Kansas City Royals is a believer in Team Italy catcher Drew Butera. He said, “I think he is great. I am a big Butera fan. I think he helps us win on a nightly basis.” A proven winner with a 2015 World Series ring to his credit, 34-year-old Drew Butera has caught two no-hitters in his career so far. Being able to handle pitches with grace rarely seen at the Major League level while producing a calming effect on his pitching staff, catcher Drew Butera kept lefty Francisco Liriano focused on every pitch which led him to a no-hitter while playing for the Minnesota Twins against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, 2011. Three years later as the Los Angeles Dodgers backup catcher Butera caught Josh Beckett’s no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 25, 2014. As a result of the monumental accomplishments, he became only the fifth catcher in Major League Baseball history to catch a no-hitter in both leagues.
Italian-born and developed catcher Alberto Mineo was claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays (Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons) in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft from the Chicago Cubs (Single-A affiliate South Bend Cubs) on December 14, 2017. The Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy graduate played in a Chicago Cubs Spring Training game against Team Italy at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona on March 7, 2017. He entered the contest in the fifth inning as a pinch-runner for Kyle Schwarber and made one plate appearance later in the game for the Cubs. Alberto Mineo was assigned to Single-A Advanced affiliate Dunedin Blue Jays on April 1, 2018.
Cesarre Astorri, a 19-year-old FIBS Academy graduate, signed a minor league contract with the Oakland Athletics on January 8, 2018. The Italian catcher from Parma was assigned to the Arizona Rookie League Athletics. With two MLB veteran catchers and two up-and-coming MLB prospects on the horizon prepared to go to battle for Team Italy in the 2020 Olympics, the Azzurri have the potential to make an impact in Tokyo. Let’s wish Francisco Cervelli, Drew Butera, Alberto Mineo and Cesarre Astorri the best so that they remain healthy and committed to the future of the game abroad.
INFIELDERS: Sending a pitch from Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw over the swimming pool in right field at Chase Field in Phoenix, Team Italy infielder Daniel Descalso gave the Arizona Diamondbacks an early 1-0 lead with his homer in the second inning on April 3, 2018. The D-backs went on to beat the 2017 National League Champions 6-1, and 31-year-old second baseman Daniel Descalso could not have been happier to have taken the three-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher deep. “I think lefties are still allowed to get hits off him,” said Descalso. Last year in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) at Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, infielder Daniel Descalso was also an early catalyst for the Team Italy offense as he drove in each of the Italians’ first three runs against Venezuela on March 11, 2017. Two days later in the WBC tiebreaker rematch game against Venezuela, Daniel Descalso was once again responsible for Team Italy‘s go-ahead run with his RBI single in the first inning. Having been on the same 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals team that Team Italy coach Nick Punto played on under the leadership of Italian American manager Tony La Russa, Daniel Descalso is a proven winner and a consistent run producer. He can be effective off the bench as a pinch-hitter under pressure and come through in the clutch. In 35 pinch-hit plate appearances during the 2017 season, Daniel Descalso hit .231 (6-for-26)/.429 OBP/.462 SLG with two home runs and nine RBI, ranking fifth in the National League in on-base percentage and sixth in OPS (.890). At Chase Field, he hit .271 (49-for-181)/.371 OBP/.453 SLG with 7 home runs and 29 RBI in 69 games. Daniel Descalso had 2 walk-off hits, including his first career game-ending homer against his former team the Colorado Rockies on April 30, 2017. He also logged his first career inside-the-park home run against eventual World Series Champion Houston Astros on August 17, 2017. The nine-year MLB veteran is a tough out for pitchers in do-or-die situations because he is able to keep his at-bats alive by being patient at the plate until he gets a pitch he can do some damage with. As a dependable utility position player with versatility, Daniel Descalso can be put in the starting lineup as a second baseman, shortstop, third baseman, or left fielder. He can even be called upon for mop-up duty as a relief pitcher when a game is out of reach, and the team wants to rest its bullpen. During the course of his three career appearances on the mound, Daniel Descalso has retired all seven MLB hitters he has faced. In fact, he is about to set the record for the most career batters faced without allowing a baserunner. Only four other pitchers in major league history have faced more batters without allowing a hit or walk than Daniel Descalso. With a career 0.000 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched), he needs one more out to tie the record and two more outs to become the most perfect pitcher in baseball history.
Opting to get a major league baseball contract instead of returning to the minor leagues, Team Italy first baseman Chris Colabello remains an unsigned free agent. After being invited by the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers for pro ball try outs, 34-year-old slugger Chris Colabello joined the 2018 Major League Baseball Players Association Free Agent Spring Training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The proud Italian American has since authored a new book with hitting instructor Bobby Tewksbary entitled Be A Hitter. Should Chris Colabello not sign a major league contract in the near future, he will reunite with Team Italy pitcher Alessandro Maestri and play for T&A San Marino. Both players spent their formative years competing against each other in the Emilia-Romagna region. While Chris Colabello returned to his native Massachusetts to play high school baseball, Alessandro Maestri remained in Italy to attend the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy and later became the first Italian-born and developed pitcher to sign a professional contract with the Chicago Cubs in 2006. Although Alessandro Maestri never pitched in the major leagues, Chris Colabello made his MLB debut (Minnesota Twins, 2013) and two years later led the Toronto Blue Jays to the 2015 American League postseason.
Azzurri third baseman Alex Liddi is the face of Italian baseball. With the opportunity to spur the growth of the game in Europe by competing at the sport’s highest level, he has inspired young Italian players including Marten Gasparini, who begins 2018 with Kansas City Royals Single-A affiliate Lexington Legends. Alex Liddi traveled to New England during the offseason to work with Bobby Tewksbary on his swing, and it paid off as the first Italian-born and developed player to play in MLB (Seattle Mariners, 2011). The 29-year-old Italian hero was recently offered a minor league contact with the Kansas City Royals. In five 2018 Royals Spring Training games in Arizona, he hit .333 (2-for-6) with one home run. Alex Liddi will begin at Double-A affiliate Northwest Arkansas Naturals with hopes of returning to the Big Leagues in September when the 40-man roster kicks in.
Versatile Team Italy utility player Rob Segedin can handle first and third base as well as left and right field. Acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers from the New York Yankees in 2016, Rob Segedin performed well for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC. He displayed excellent defense in right field and hit .375 with a double, home run and two RBI in the international competition. Due to injuries which plagued him in 2017, Rob Segedin played in only 27 games between his short time for a quick espresso in Los Angeles and his limited stint with Triple-A affiliate Oklahoma City. He and Team Italy switch-pitcher Pat Venditte will both wear Oklahoma City Dodgers uniforms at the start of the 2018 season as they patiently await for Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to call them up to the major league level.
Team Italy shortstop Gavin Cecchini played second base for the New York Mets during 2018 Mets Spring Training. He also learned how to become a third baseman so that he would be more valuable to the team while working to improve his swing. Based on his two home runs and two extra-base hits at 2018 Spring Training, it appears Gavin Cecchini has added some pop to his stroke. He will continue to make progress under the guidance and supervision of Triple-A affiliate Las Vegas 51s hitting coach Joel Chimelis at the start of the 2018 season. There is no doubt Gavin Cecchini will make his way back into MLB soon and join Team Italy outfielder Brandon Nimmo on the New York Mets roster.
Drew Maggi signed a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians last November and never looked back. Hitting at a remarkable .342 clip (13-for-38) with 11 runs and four RBI during 2018 Indians Spring Training in Arizona, the 28-year-old Team Italy utility player with eight seasons under his belt in the minor leagues made a favorable impression on manager Terry Francona. With a stacked lineup and an all-star cast infield, the Tribe’s skipper has no room on his Big League roster for third baseman Drew Maggi at this time. He was placed on the restricted list for the Triple-A affiliate Columbus Clippers on April 4, 2018.
During a Spring Training minor league game against the Chicago White Sox at the Cincinnati Reds minor league training facility in Goodyear, Arizona on March 17, 2018, Team Italy’s Leonardo Seminati went 2-for-4 with a single and a double, “Grande Leo” Seminati lived up to his name. “He’s going to be big,” said Billy Hamilton when asked about the promising 19-year-old Cincinnati Reds prospect. Fast forward from the moment FIBS Academy graduate Leo Seminati signed a professional contract with the Cincinnati Reds on July 2, 2017, and most would agree that “Grande Leo” has traveled light years ahead of expectations. Just ask MLBPipeline.com reporter Jonathan Mayo, who wrote “Italy’s Seminati exceeding expectations at Reds instructs”. MLB scouts scratched their heads in disbelief when Team Italy first baseman Leonardo Seminati stole the show by hitting several bombs over the Marlins Park wall in the 2016 Power Showcase Home Run Derby. It was not long after his command performance in Miami that scout Sal Varriale made the call to the Cincinnati Reds front office. Baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, who served as MLB International Ambassador and currently works in player development for the Cincinnati Reds, was well aware of Seminati’s power potential and approved of the signing of “Grande Leo”. Working with Cincinnati Reds minor league coach and former MLB first baseman Donald Lutz, Team Italy slugger Leo Seminati looks to become the complete ballplayer offensively and defensively in the 2018 Arizona Rookie League.
OUTFIELDERS: When New York Mets manager Mickey Callaway pulled Team Italy outfielder Brandon Nimmo aside and told him he would be the leadoff man for the Mets on 2018 Opening Day, the 25-year-old Wyoming native could not have been afforded a better opportunity to make a name for himself in Major League Baseball. ”He’s a worker. He’s so prepared, and he works,” said NY Mets skipper Mickey Callaway. ”You get a player like that and the results are going to come. I’m really proud of him for the way he goes about his business. Very impressive. He’s locked in every pitch. Those are the type of players you need to win.” Brandon Nimmo has certainly paid his dues to gain entry to compete with the game’s elite in MLB. Last year he hit .260 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 177 at-bats for the New York Mets. During 2018 Mets Spring Training in Florida, Brandon Nimmo auditioned for the leadoff hitter position and made the strong case for an Opening Day roster spot. Batting .306 with 11 extra-base hits, three home runs and 11 RBI in Grapefruit League play, he earned the right to be the first name listed on the New York Mets lineup card. Brandon Nimmo has not disappointed so far this young 2018 regular season. He is currently htting .375 (3-for-8) with one double, three walks and four runs scored. Brandon Nimmo was a first-round draft pick by the New York Mets in 2011. Scouts admired him for being a very patient hitter at the plate and for rarely swinging outside the strike zone. His selective approach to hitting continues to this day in MLB as witnessed by his 15.3% walk rate and .379 OBP in 2017. The Team Italy outfielder fits the mold of a perfect leadoff hitter candidate, and he should relish in that spot should he be given the chance to play every day.
Chicago Cubs Italian American manager Joe Maddon knows how special a player Team Italy outfielder John Andreoli truly is. Despite successful campaigns at the upper level of the Chicago Cubs minor leagues from 2013-2017, he was always cut short of making the Big League club as a result of being overshadowed by a star-studded Cubbie outfield and eclipsed by up-and-coming prospects. John Andreoli spent his final three years playing for Triple-A affiliate Iowa, where he hit .258 with 65 doubles, 21 triples, 31 homers, 142 RBI and an incredible 101 stolen bases. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon praised John Andreoli in the 2017 World Baseball Classic (WBC) after Team Italy scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat host Mexico, 10-9, at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco. John Andreoli was the difference in the game as he drove in the winning run with a walk-off single and hit a home run earlier in the first inning. Maddon said, “I’m so happy for him, he’s such a good kid. He works so hard, he cares so much. A few days before the WBC I saw him bear down in front of one of our video computers looking at pitchers he might face in the tournament. So I give him a lot of credit. It’s absolutely great.” Playing for Team Italy in the 2017 WBC, John Andreoli went 6-for-16 with five runs, seven RBI and three home runs. With little chance of making the MLB roster in the Cubs organization, the 2011 Chicago Cubs 17th-round draft pick elected free agency on November 6, 2017. Despite having to leave the team that drafted him out of the University of Connecticut, John Andreoli enjoyed his time talking with veterans Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo about hitting with two strikes and playing with the likes of Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell. Cubs manager Joe Maddon told the team’s TV broadcasters that John Andreoli “plays with his hair on fire.” No doubt the Chicago skipper hated to see him leave the organization, but in the end it was the best thing for the Italian American grinder. In January the Seattle Mariners signed John Andreoli to a minor league contract with an invite to 2018 Spring Training. He played in 19 Cactus League games before being assigned to Triple-A affiliate Tacoma Rainiers. John Andreoli was the leadoff hitter in his first game playing for the Tacoma Rainiers on April 5, 2018. The 27-year-old prospect stands to have a chance for a promotion to the Seattle Mariners for his MLB debut when the 40-man roster takes effect on September 1, 2018.
Team Italy switch-hitter Marten Gasparini, who signed for $1.3 million with the Kansas City Royals in 2013, is the key player baseball insiders believe will follow in Alex Liddi’s footsteps as the second Italian-born and developed player in the Big Leagues. He is still heralded as Europe’s top MLB prospect and is progressing every day up the ladder in the minor leagues. Nick Leto, Manager of Arizona Operations for the Kansas City Royals, was instrumental in the Royals’ signing of Marten Gasparini. Leto said, “There’s great belief in Marten’s ability. It’s a process. All players develop differently. There’s no question about Marten’s ability, it’s just time and reps. Switch-hitting is a really difficult skill to develop. Marten has experienced a lot of things for the first time since signing a professional contract. His intelligence, maturity, and awareness are going to allow these lessons to stick and be applied. There’s no doubt Marten will be a major league player, not a just a player, a special major league player, a championship player.” Adapting to his new position in the outfield from shortstop, Marten Gasparini played for Single-A affiliate Lexington Legends in 2017. He got a taste of the Big Leagues when he made two appearances in 2018 Royals Spring Training games alongside Team Italy slugger Alex Liddi, who homered against the San Francisco Giants on March 23, 2018. Marten Gasparini began the 2018 season playing Single-A ball in Lexington, where he was sandwiched between Kansas City Royals top prospects Michael Gigliotti and Nick Pratto in the lineup on April 5, 2018. As the team’s designated hitter in the two-hole, Marten Gasparini went 1-for-4 with a triple. Look for big things to come for the talented and promising Team Italy outfielder.
Azzurri catcher Francisco Cervelli spoke with FIBS (Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball) and IABF (Italian American Baseball Family) media reporter Roberto Angotti during Team Italy batting practice prior to the start of the 2017 WBC game against Venezuela on March 11th at Estadio de Béisbol Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico. The Pittsburgh Pirate fan favorite expressed how much love he felt being honored with his own Francisco Cervelli That’s Amore Singing Bobblehead Night at PNC Park on April 8th.
— Kristina Marie (@Lovelyrita27) April 9, 2017
Having received Top 10 MLB.com Fan Website recognition for the past five years, MLB blogger Roberto Angotti has been selected by Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) to report on Team Italy in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. His articles are now exclusively available on the FIBS English language website (www.FIBS.it/en) and also on the Italian American Baseball Family website (www.IABF.it). For frequent updates on Team Italy throughout the 2017 World Baseball Classic, visit the various social media sites for FIBS (facebook/twitter/instagram) and the Italian American Baseball Family (facebook/twitter/instagram). Facing Latin American powerhouses Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico, Team Italy is once again the underdog when the extremely competitive WBC Pool D action begins on March 9, 2017 at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara, Mexico. Prior to heading south of the border, Team Italy will play exhibition games against the Chicago Cubs on March 7th and the Oakland A’s on March 8th in Mesa, Arizona. During all games, social media followers are encouraged to interact with Team Italy by using the following hashtags: #wbc2017, #WBC, #Italia and #Italy.
Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri will have his mixed roster of seasoned MLB players and up-and-coming prospects ready for combat in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara will be declared a war zone beginning March 9th when 2017 WBC host Mexico seeks revenge against a ‘never say die’ Italian squad that attacked closer Sergio Romo to pull off a miraculous 6-5 come-from-behind victory in the opening game of the 2013 WBC in Scottsdale, Arizona. Team Mexico will be managed by Edgar Gonzalez, who will be depending on his brother Adrian Gonzalez to lead the Mexican’s offensive charge with the support of sluggers Khris Davis and Danny Espinosa. In the opening battle on March 9th, Team Italia will most likely face starting pitchers Jamie Garcia, Miguel Gonzalez or Oliver Perez. It will be critical for Team Italia to strike first and score runs early because the Mexican bullpen is filled with some of the MLB’s finest relievers including: Roberto Osuna, Sergio Romo, Joakim Soria, Fernando Salas and Carlos Torres.
Team Italia will use a day off to strategize and prepare their troops for the March 11th clash versus Venezuela. Not only will this be one of the Team Italia’s biggest challenges of the 2017 WBC, but it is life-or-death for Venezuelan-born catcher Francisco Cervelli–who played for Team Italia when Venezuela eliminated the Italians from the 2009 WBC competition following their devastating 10-1 defeat. Fellow Venezuela native Luis Lugo, a 22-year-old Cleveland Indians pitching prospect who secured a Team Italia roster spot in the 2016 European Championship, would absolutely love the opportunity to get the ball and turn the tables on Venezuela. However, it will not be an easy task for Team Italia as Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel’s roster of MLB All-Stars includes Felix Hernandez, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Carlos Gonzalez, Jose Altuves, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rougned Odor, Martin Prado, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, Ender Inciarte, Odubel Herrera and Sandy Leon.
Team Italia will face Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez’s talented roster on March 12th. Starting pitcher possibilities include Seth Lugo and Hector Santiago. Relievers include Alex Claudio, Edwin Diaz, Joe Jimenez and Joe Colon. Puerto Rico boosts a strong MLB All-Star caliber lineup with the likes of Javier Baez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Yadier Molina, T.J. Rivera and Eddie Rosario. Puerto Rico, the runner-up of the 2013 WBC, eliminated Team Italia in the second round of play when they rallied late in the eight inning from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Azzurri with a 4-3 victory. As with the 2013 WBC, the first round will again be a round-robin format with the top two teams advancing to one of two second-round pools. However, for the first time in the worldwide tournament’s history, a single-elimination tiebreaker game will be played if necessary to determine the second advancing team in both the first and second rounds. In the case of the first round in Guadalajara, the tiebreaker contest would be played on March 13th. The two top teams will then move on to the second round of action slated to begin on March 14th at San Diego’s Petco Park.
Team Italia and host Mexico have a favorable advantage over rivals Venezuela and Puerto Rico due to the scheduling of the round-robin tournament. Both teams have a day off following their head-to-head combat match-up on opening night March 9th. However, when Team Italia returns recharged for a day game against Venezuela on March 11th, the Italians can take advantage of a sleep-deprived and fatigued Venezuela pitching staff that will have been taxed after being used the night before versus Puerto Rico. Team Italia will once again enjoy the same luxury when they play their second consecutive day game against a tired Puerto Rico squad that will have undergone back-to-back night battles versus Venezuela and Mexico. Although Team Italia remains the underdog, manager Marco Mazzieri’s army of blue-collar baseball players will fight to the death to repeat as they did in the 2013 WBC and advance to the second round.
In late 1976 Lou Colabello got an invitation he could not refuse from friend Ed Orizzi, who was looking for a pitcher to help Rimini compete in the Italian Baseball League. It didn’t take long for the left-handed ace from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to regain his pitching form last seen in the 1969 College World Series to lead Rimini to three Italian Series A titles from 1977 to 1984. Putting together a stellar 94-25 record with a 2.99 ERA, the owners of the other IBL teams did not want to see Colabello’s dominance any longer. As a result, the president of the league and owner of the team in Parma implemented a rule that barred American-schooled Italians over the age of 26 from pitching.
After meeting the love of his life Silvana in Rimini and getting married to her in 1981, the Italian American Baseball Family Tree grew its first branch with the birth of their son Chris Colabello in 1983. Lou was invited to play for the Italian national team in 1984, when he would pitch against USA’s Barry Larkin, Will Clark, Shane Mack, Oddibe McDowell, Mark McGwire, Cory Snyder and B.J. Surhoff at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Fast forward to the first pitch of the 2013 World Baseball Classic warm-up game between Team Italia and the Los Angeles Angels. Halos skipper Mike Scioscia looked out at the sea of Azzurri jerseys and said, “I’m proud to be Italian, and I think everyone on that field is proud of their roots and where they come from.” Then Scioscia asked, “Where’s Sal?” He wanted to know where Sal Varriale was. Sal was the first “oriundo” or immigrant with Italian ancestry recruited by Aldo Notari, the former Italian Baseball Federation President from 1985 to 2000. The Brooklyn native enjoyed a successful playing career in Italy and coached Team Italia in the Olympics from 1992 to 2004.
Today Sal proudly serves as Director of Parma Baseball and as an international scout for the Cincinnati Reds. The Italian American Baseball Family Roots grew during Notari’s tenure governing the Italian Baseball Federation and it continues to prosper with the addition of MLB’s World Baseball Classic under new president Andrea Marcon. Mike Piazza was recruited by former president Riccardo Fraccari to join Team Italia while visiting Italy in 2002. Jason Grilli and Frank Catalanotto also signed up to play for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC.
With Mike Piazza signing on as Team Italia hitting coach for the 2009 World Baseball Classic in Toronto, many notable Italian American MLB players contributed to Team Italia’s surprise 6-2 upset over host Canada. Chris Denorfia went 4-for-4 with three doubles, two runs, two RBI and played great defense. Starting pitcher Dan Serafini picked up the win after middle reliever Chris Cooper kept hitters off balance and closer Jason Grilli secured the 3 1/3 inning save. New Italian American Baseball Family members included Nick Punto, Francisco Cervelli, Adam Ottavino, and Mike Costanzo.
After Team Italia defeated Mexico and Canada to advance to the second-round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, they would suffer a 5-4 loss to eventual 2013 WBC Champion Dominican Republic and demonstrate how its mixed roster of Italian-born players like Alex Liddi and Alessandro Maestri and Italian American MLB-affiliated newcomers Anthony Rizzo, Chris Colabello, Drew Butera and Pat Venditte could compete with international baseball’s elite.
It was fun to share the enthusiasm of Roberto Angotti visiting our Academy in Tirrenia
— FIBS (@FIBSpress) February 23, 2012
Los Angeles radio deejay and journalist Roberto Angotti could see the writing on the wall and knew something special was happening when he was invited to the Italian Baseball Academy in Tirrenia while visiting family nearby in 2012. Since the day Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) Academy director and Chicago Cubs scout Bill Holmberg signed Italian Baseball Academy graduate Alberto Mineo to the Cubbies in 2010, MLB scouts have scattered around the FIBS-sponsored Baseball Academy like flies hunting down the scent of the next big European prospect. Germany’s most successful player to date–Max Kepler, a product of a similar European Baseball Academy that MLB’s Bill Holmberg frequents in Regensburg and recipient of the Minnesota Twins’ $800,000 signing bonus in 2009, proved to be worth his weight in gold based on his 17 homers and 63 RBI during the 2016 MLB season.
San Remo native Alex Liddi, who signed to the Seattle Mariners in 2005 and made his MLB debut in 2011, was inspirational for young Italian ballplayers like Marten Gasparini who dreamed of playing in the Big Leagues. Heralded as the best 5-tool player ever out of Europe, FIBS Academy graduate and MLB prospect Marten Gasparini received a $1.3 million dollar signing bonus from the Kansas City Royals in 2013. The 19-year-old shortstop credits Italian Baseball Academy director and Team Italia coach Bill Holmberg for his success.
Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri has been synonymous with Italian baseball since his playing days in the 1980’s. During his ten-year tenure as the leader of the Team Italia coaching staff, Mazzieri has made the Italians proud with European Baseball Championship titles in 2010 and 2012. The LA Dodgers recruited Mazzieri to become their scout in 2013. Mazzieri went right to work and wasted no time in signing FIBS Academy graduates Federico Celli and Federico Giordani.
Growing up in Los Angeles as a first generation Italian American Dodgers fan, Roberto Angotti understood the strong connection between Tommy Lasorda and Mike Piazza. From the moment Piazza decided to play for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC, Angotti enlisted to become a soldier on the frontline of the Italian baseball revolution. Roberto became friends with Mike during the two weeks Team Italia spent in Phoenix preparing for the 2013 WBC. When Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda dropped in on Team Italia’s practice at Dodgers’ Spring Training Camp in Glendale to address the team, Angotti pledged his support and worked tirelessy behind-the-scenes to provide daily journals of the team’s activities. Lasorda’s emotionally-driven speech coupled with Piazza’s serious commitment inspired Angotti to share the experience with others through a traveling exhibit paying tribute to Italian American baseball entitled Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball. The exhibition featured sports artists of Italian descent–including James Fiorentino–and paid homage to Team Italia.
Featured in the New York Times as well as on ESPN, MSG, and FOX, James Fiorentino is considered one of the world’s best sports artists. 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. Art seen at JamesFiorentino.com grace the walls of the National Basketball and Cycling Hall of Fames, Ted Williams and Roberto Clemente Museums, National Art Museum of Sport and the Sports Museum of America.
The Italian American Baseball Family grew organically when Mint Pros founder Joe Quagliano reached out to Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri and offered his expertise as a pro sports event promoter to raise funds for baseball development in Italy. With the support of FIBS executives Riccardo Fraccari, Marinella Mojoli, Massimo Fochi, Marco Landi and Riccardo Schiroli, Quagliano represented the Italian Baseball Federation with Marco Mazzieri at the National Italian American Foundation 41st Anniversary Gala and joined Mike Piazza at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame 39th Annual Induction & Awards Gala.
Mike Piazza, Frank Catalanotto,
Joe Quagliano, James Fiorentino and Roberto Angotti have teamed up for the Italian American Baseball Family Launch and Dinner, the first of many fundraisers to assist in the development of youth baseball in Italy by building and maintaining ball fields, purchasing uniforms and equipment, organizing clinics and supporting FIBS. Like branches on a tree, we grow in different directions yet our Italian family roots remain the same.