Mazzieri details 'wish list' roster for Team Italy
Longtime manager looking to recapture magic of 2013's surprise run
By Anthony Castrovince
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- At the moment, manager Marco Mazzieri's roster for Italy in the 2017 World Baseball Classic is not unlike a child's letter to Santa Claus.
"It's more like a wish list," Mazzieri said.
As of Monday afternoon, when the managers for the World Baseball Classic clubs were made available to reporters at the MLB Winter Meetings, Mazzieri did not have clarity from Major League Baseball on which members of his preliminary roster -- or "wish list," as it were -- will actually be participating in the event. None of the 30 players confirmed Monday are playing for Italy.
Though nothing is set yet, one player not expected to be taking part for Italy is Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He played for Italy in the 2013 tournament but is coming off the physically and emotionally draining experience of winning the World Series.
Italy is part of Group D and will compete against Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico in round-robin play at Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico. The Italian club's first game is scheduled for March 9 against Mexico.
The Classic's championship round will take place at Dodger Stadium on March 20-22.
Italy shocked the baseball world in 2013 with its win over Mexico to advance to the second round, where the magic ended with losses to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Mazzieri is hoping to get back some "veterans" from that experience -- first baseman Chris Colabello, catcher Drew Butera, outfielder Chris Denorfia and relievers Jason Grilli and Pat Venditte were among the notable participants in '13 -- to help the effort in '17.
"Those guys feed off each other," Mazzieri said. "The Classic is something different, it's something special, it's something unique. You need to be at the emotional level of October in early March. That's why it's so hard. By trying to make this team, what I look for is to have those guys who really want to be there. Because their motivation will make a difference."
Colabello, who was outrighted from the Blue Jays roster last week, Butera and Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli have all been reported to be joining Mazzieri's club, but the manager could not say for certain if that would be the case. Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi and Rangers prospect Joey Gallo are both believed to be on the preliminary roster, but Benintendi is expected to spend his first full big league Spring Training with the Red Sox, and Gallo sustained a Grade 2 hamstring injury in winter ball, putting his participation in doubt.
Mazzieri mentioned free-agent infielder Daniel Descalso as another player he hopes will take part, and he's also hoping Alex Liddi, who was released by the Orioles last spring, will recover from ACL surgery in time to take part. Liddi became the first player born and raised in Italy to reach the big leagues in 2011 with the Mariners.
"He's in Grosseto recovering," Mazzieri said. "He's doing great, actually. He rode the bike for 50 kilometers [31 miles] two weeks ago, and it was only a month from the surgery. So I'm really hoping and wishing that he'll be back."
However the roster takes shape, Mazzieri knows Team Italy will again enter the tournament as an underdog.
"What we were able to create [in 2013] was something special," Mazzieri said. "That was a special team with special guys. The chemistry was just incredible, and you could feel the energy. It was just outstanding. We're looking to recreate that, because that's what we've got to have. If you look at the other teams with all those names, it's going to be tough, because they all have All-Star teams. We can't worry about the opposition. We have to worry about ourselves. We have to minimize mistakes to maximize results."
Mazzieri, who has managed the Italian national team since 2007, feels the Classic is important for attracting interest in baseball in Italy.
"It's so tough," he said. "You have so many other sports that have been there for 100 years, and it's a cultural thing. Baseball is not in the culture, so it's a tough battle there. But we're trying our best to promote it and do it the way it's supposed to be done."
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.