By Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan)
WASHINGTON D.C.- During the hustle and bustle of the National Italian American Foundation’s annual Expo Italiana, I had the privilege to speak with Marco Mazzieri, the poised, pensive, and soft-spoken manager of the Italian National baseball team. The next installment of the World Baseball Classic, a worldwide baseball competition in which players from each country play alongside Major League Baseball players of the same heritage, will be played in 2017. The competition occurs quadrennially.
Current confirmed MLB stars playing for Team Italy:
Chris Colabello (Toronto Blue Jays)
Mike Napoli (Cleveland Indians)
Jason Grilli (Toronto Blue Jays)
Drew Butera (Kansas City Royals)
Francisco Cervelli (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Johnny Giavotella (Free agent)
Pat Venditte (Seattle Mariners)
Coach Nick Punto (retired)
Mazzieri, very excitedly revealed to me that he hopes to continue his aura of success with the brand-new addition of coach Nick Punto. “[He] will be a great addition because [he] bring[s] Major League experience, [he has] a lot of enthusiasm, and [he] love[s] being on Team Italy” said Mazzieri. After making his MLB debut in 2001, Punto had a successful 14-year career as an infielder, winning a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
In addition to being a .245 career hitter, Nick Punto has played a game in every position except for pitcher and catcher. Experience like that is invaluable. “He was great in his playing days with us, he loved being with us playing for Team Italy, and I know he’s very excited about joining the coaching staff and he’s looking forward to it” explained Mazzieri. Understandably, the presence of the Big Leaguers in lineups and on coaching staffs adds another exciting dimension to the tournament. Mazzieri told me: “My first classic was in 2009 and, for some reason, we were able to just create the right mix with these MLB players … and the excitement level was so high from both sides that they carry each other and they feed off of each other”.
WBC 2017 Challenges
Manager Mazzieri understands Italy is a member of arguably the most competitive pool play bracket in the tournament, joining: Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela. “All these teams we are going to play in the classic are very, very good teams from a talent-wise point, its very difficult.” After acknowledging this, he remains optimistic: “[In] one single game [we] can beat anybody. What’s important for us is to recreate the energy we had in the classic in 2013. That’s what we’re looking for for next classic”.
World Baseball Classic 2017 Outlook
A nation dominated by soccer, Mazzieri is looking forward to “show[ing] everybody that Italy has a good baseball team.” Managing a lineup consisting of 3 players who played in the 2016 MLB’s playoffs, Mazzieri holds an optimistic viewpoint for the 2017 tournament. “We’re going to be looking to open up some more eyes and to advance to the second round like we did…. We are confident. We’ve been the underdogs for the last two classics. We actually played very well and we were able to advance to the second round four years ago. … We are looking forward to doing that [again] this time”
His message to the fans? “We know we have a lot of fans here in the US, everytime we play, I get witnesses of how Italian baseball teams are loved around the world and especially here in the US.”After Mazzieri cited the 2013 motto “shock the world”, fans can bet Squadra Italia è pronta per 2017.
Mike Piazza is the event’s headliner, while Mazzieri and players on 2017’s Team Italy are expected to attend. Carmine Gangone, owner, told me “For me, [the event is] huge. Not only is our area an Italian community, its also a big Mets community. It’ll help Mets fans and Italian Americans get to see guys like Mike Piazza and Francisco Cervelli, a former Yankees player.
Gangone also hopes that this fundraising event will have a lasting impact on youth involvement in the game of baseball both in the United States and in Italy. In addition to raising money for victims of this summer’s earthquake in Amatrice, Italy, a portion of ticket sales will fund a baseball academy in Pisa.
Mazzieri told me this event is “going to be great just to be able to have so many players and so many celebrities together in one room … to help the Italian baseball program. It just great. It just tells you a lot about the Italian family throughtout baseball and around the world”.
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