Florence, birthplace of Renaissance artists Donatello and Michelangelo as well as modern fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, hosts a series of exhibition games between Team Italia, Spain and Czech Republic during Italian Baseball Week in preparation of the 2016 European Baseball Championship. Manager Marco Mazzieri gets his last chance to finalize the Azzurri lineup when Team Italia play Spain on September 4th and follow up with Czech Republic on September 6th at Stadio di Baseball Cerreti.
Sponsored in part by FIBS, the City of Firenze and Firenze Viola Super Sport, Italian Baseball Week welcomes back international competition to Cerreti Stadium, where the 2009 Baseball World Cup was held. FIBS vice president Massimo Fochi and Team Italia manager Marco Mazzieri were instrumental in the planning of such a monumental event prior to the 2016 Euro Championship in Holland from September 9-18. Mazzieri is only the second manager to lead Team Italia to a championship title in the Netherlands when they defeated Holland in 2012. Skipper Marco Mazzieri and pitching coach Bill Holmberg are up for the challenge to reclaim the Euro throne.
Former New York Yankee prospect and current Seattle Mariner secret weapon Pat Venditte will be fondly remembered by the Staten Island Yankees on August 19th when the Yanks Class A Short Season affiliate host Pat Venditte “Switch-Pitcher” Bobblearms Giveaway Night. Venditte made his pro debut for the “Baby Bombers” against the Brooklyn Cyclones on June 19, 2008. With two outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the ninth inning, a switch-hitter came to the plate representing Brooklyn’s last hope. He entered the batters box batting right-handed, so Venditte switched his glove to his left hand. The hitter then decided to bat lefty, so Venditte switched his glove back to his right.
After a prolonged delay switching sides at the plate, the hitter was ordered to bat right-handed. Ambidextrous pitcher Venditte then struck out the batter on four pitches to end the game and secure a Yankees win. Two weeks later on July 2nd after consulting with the Major League Baseball rules committee, the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation announced what has become known as the Venditte Rule: A switch-pitcher has to declare which hand he is going to use first. It ultimately afforded opposing managers the luxury of knowing the pitcher’s hand.
Selected by the New York Yankees in the 20th round of the 2008 draft, the Omaha native spent seven seasons in the Yankees’ farm system before signing a minor-league deal with Oakland. After an impressive 1.55 ERA with 40 strikeouts at AAA Nashville, the proud Italian American made his MLB debut with the A’s on June 5, 2015. He finished the season with a 2-2 record and a 4.40 ERA. Toronto claimed Venditte off waivers during the off-season, and the 31-year-old was traded to Seattle on August 6th.
Just ask former Jays manager Cito Gaston about the current team’s roster, which now boasts veteran Italian American pitcher Jason Grillias their reliable setup man. Just two games out of first in the American League East Division, the Blue Jays would like nothing more than ending the 23-year-old drought by bringing a World Series title back home to Toronto. Gaston said, “I think they have the team to win it. It’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be fun for this city to watch.” Since being traded on May 31st from the Atlanta Braves, Jason Grilli has provided the necessary leadership to propel current Toronto Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons’ team to the top.
The trade that brought Grilli north of the border probably would have never taken place without a little help from Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin, who encouraged the front office to take action and served as catcher for Grilli while with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013 when Jason earned a nod to the National League All-Star squad. Like a fine Italian wine getting better with time, Grilli saved 33 games and posted a 2.70 ERA with 74 strikeouts to just 13 walks for the Pirates that year. His accolades grew larger in 2014 when the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame honored Pirates closer Jason Grilli as the “Man of the Year”. Jays General Manager Ross Atkins cited Martin’s endorsement of Grilli as being a factor in bringing him to Toronto.
Martin admitted Grilli is now getting by more on craft and guile than power. “His arm is still electric. There’s still some bullets in that thing,” Russell said. “He’s got that fastball that guys like to swing at when it’s up in the zone. He knows how to disrupt timing with the slide-step, how to elevate the fastball. And he’s got a really tight slider — one of the best that I’ve caught.” Jason has made fifteen appearances for Toronto, tossing 13.2 innings, allowing ten hits and six walks while striking out 23. Grilli has also notched four holds since joining the Blue Jays.
After Grilli was traded to the Angels from the Pirates in 2014, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said: “I know this about Jason. Every time a new opportunity has come to him, he has been able to find another gear.” Based on his performance for the past six weeks, Jason has indeed found a new lease on life in Toronto–thanks in part to the recruitment efforts of Canadian-born Russell Martin, who would love matching World Series rings. “I thanked him and up down,” Grilli said of Martin. “I told him I knew he had something to do with me being over here.”
Having recently taken a majority ownership share of A.C. Reggiana 1919— an Italian soccer team competing in Lega Pro, the third division of Italian soccer — Mike Piazza has strengthened and empowered ties between America and Italy with his investment and contribution to sports abroad. At the press conference, Italian American icon Piazza said: “I think it’s important for the fans to know the business of the club and the foundation for the foreseeable future will be very stable. But more importantly we have to develop and grow the youth academy, the relationships with sponsors in the region, and eventually grow the brand internationally. Obviously in the United States with my involvement, I want to market the team slowly understanding it’s a step-by-step (process). We need to build strategic partnerships by fielding a very competitive team.”
Mike, accompanied by his lovely wife–Alicia and beautiful daughters–Nicoletta and Paulina along with Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Miami president Gianluca Fontani, reunited with Federazione Italiana Baseball SoftballAcademy director Bill Holmberg and his wife in celebration of “Piazza Day” on June 18 in Reggio-Emilia. Thousands of hardcore A.C. Reggiana tifosi gathered to commemorate the new partnership which many believe to be the catalyst to bring the former first-tier Italian soccer squad back to its premier elite status under current club chairman Stefano Compagni. Piazza said, “I plan on spending a lot of time here. We’re going to have a great future. We will try to build the team with sound management and discipline. We have big dreams. Forza Reggiana!”
Known best for his excellent defensive prowess and as a pitcher’s catcher calling games behind the plate, Drew Butera has been experiencing an offensive renaissance for the 2016 Kansas City Royals. Making the most of his 47 at-bats, the 32-year-old Italian American is hitting .298 with six doubles, two homers, four walks and eight RBI. Royals manager Ned Yost has rewarded Butera with more playing time this season by putting regular backstop Salvador Perez in as DH. The Florida-native is the son of Sal Butera—a journeyman catcher who played 359 MLB games for the Blue Jays, Twins, Reds, Expos and Tigers from 1980-1988. Drew was selected by the Blue Jays in the 2002 MLB Draft but instead opted to play at the University of Central Florida. After throwing out 48% of potential base-stealers and hitting .325 in his last season at UCF, Butera was a 2005 fifth-round draft pick by the NY Mets.
A big opera fan who used to listen to Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti in the clubhouse before games while in the Mets’ minor league system, Drew was named Florida League All-Star and subsequently promoted to AA in 2007 before being traded to the Twins—where Butera family history was made as Sal and Drew became the first father-son combination to play for Minnesota when he made his MLB debut on April 9, 2010. Being able to handle pitches with grace rarely seen at the Major League level while producing a calming effect on his pitching staff, Drew Butera kept lefty Francisco Liriano focused on every pitch which led him to a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox on May 3, 2011. While playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 25, 2014, Butera caught Josh Beckett’s no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies and became only the fifth catcher in Major League Baseball history to catch a no-hitter in both leagues.
Butera was a big hit for Team Italia in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Delivering a two-run home run that helped defeat Mexico and a two-run double that buried Canada, Drew was instrumental in each of Team Italia’s victories to earn la squadra Azzurri the right to advance with Team USA to the second round of play.
Drew Butera is playing well over in Arizona. Just laced a two-run double and Team Italy is up 9-4 over Canada. Hit a HR yesterday. #MNTwins
Drew Butera cannot wait to suit up for Team Italia in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He spoke enthusiastically about playing for manager Marco Mazzieri’s eclectic mix of talented Italian-born players and MLB-affiliated Italian American passport holders. Butera said, “It was a great experience for me personally. To experience it for myself, there’s really no word that could describe it: the intensity, the passion of the games, just the amount of fun that we had. It was really great.”
Marco Mazzieri’s Team Italia will need to dethrone host and 2014 Euro Champ Holland to reclaim the Gold Medal in the upcoming September 9-18 tournament which also features talented teams from Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic, France, Belgium, Russia, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Sweden and Greece. In the 33-year history of the competition, the Dutch lead with 21 Gold Medals while Italia follows with 10. Hoofddorp’s state-of-the-art complex in the tourist-friendly Haarlemmermeer municipality just outside Amsterdam opened in 2014 after satisfying all stringent field requirements set by Major League Baseball in an ongoing effort to bring MLB games to Europe.
Team Italia play their opener on September 9th against 2014 tenth place finisher Greece, a much improved team now under the management of Mauro Mazzotti. The Azzurri return the following day on September 10th to face France, led by manager Eric Gagné, whose leadership nearly landed the French a Bronze after a loss to third place Spain in 2014. The Italians are under the lights on September 11th when battling 2014 seventh place finisher Belgium. Then Team Italia quickly come back for a day game on September 12th against Spain. They close out their Pool B action with an afternoon game versus 2014 twelfth place finisher Croatia on September 13th. Italia must dominate Pool B for a rematch against reigning champ Holland. Forza Italia!
MLB.com Blogs Central has announced its March 2016 Latest Leaders, and MLBforLife.com has ranked sixth as the most visited MLB.comFan Website. Embracing the motto “where baseball meets history and pop culture”, radio DJ and writer Roberto Angotti has produced over 150 articles to date since 2011. Inspired by the great Roberto Clemente, Roberto spent his youth in the right field pavilion of Dodger Stadium at every Pirates game to get up close to his favorite player. After Clemente’s tragic death in 1972, Roberto set out on his own mission to promote athletes and musicians that gave back. MLBforLife.com prides itself for giving readers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at international events such as the upcoming 2016 European Baseball Championship and the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Supporting Team Italia manager and LA Dodgers international scout Marco Mazzieri, Roberto is dedicated to help grow the game in Europe.