MLB.com Columnist

Joe Posnanski

The making of an Italian baseball superstar

Former big leaguer Teahen prepares for post-career stint in Italy

The making of an Italian baseball superstar

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For aspiring young sportswriters out there, let's take a couple of minutes to go step by step and show how you, too, can write a story about blossoming "Italian baseball superstar" Mark Teahen.

First thing you need is a catchy lead sentence, something like this: "Mark Teahen has been preparing all his life to become an Italian baseball superstar."

That's not bad, except, well, "all his life" might be a bit of an exaggeration. Teahen has actually only been preparing to become an Italian baseball superstar since someone from the Italian Baseball League called him out of the blue two months ago and invited him to play.

"Strange thing," the man said, "we haven't been able to find any statistics on you the last couple of years."

"Yeah, that is strange," Teahen said.

Teahen has been retired from baseball since 2013. So maybe it's better to say that he has been preparing for two months to become an Italian baseball superstar.

The trouble there is the word "preparing." Teahen has been posting Instagram videos showing his training regimen. His rigorous program seems to include:

• Drinking wine to better understand the culture ("Little known fact," he says, "Italy produces wine").

 

• Overcoming blisters he got while taking batting practice at Scottsdale's CrackerJax Family Fun Park batting cages.

• Running little left-turning circles in the snow ("Turning left is the key to scoring runs").

• Getting to know the local food options ("Little known fact," he says, "the only food ever served in Italy is pizza").

• Dragging family kicking and screaming back to Kansas City to show them where "you were once good at baseball."

• Playing catch on top of a parking garage.

So maybe it is better to say that Teahen, burgeoning Italian baseball superstar, is just holding on for dear life as he gets ready for what promises to be a wonderful escapade.

"People say to us, 'Oh, it must be great to go to Italy so Mark can play baseball," Mark's wife Lauren said. "And I tell them, 'No. Mark is playing baseball so we can go to Italy.'"

Teahen was a good Major League ballplayer. He was part of Oakland's famed "Moneyball" Draft class in 2002, and he was traded to Kansas City two years later in a three-team deal that included Carlos Beltran, Octavio Dotel and, as Teahen himself says, "a bunch of other players who were better than me."

 

But this isn't really true. In Teahen's second year with the Royals, he was terrific. He hit .290, slugged .500, banged 18 homers and stole 10 bases without getting caught. Teahen was not especially fast, but he was one of the best baserunners in baseball. He was not especially skilled defensively, but he held his own at third base. Teahen was a 24-year-old at the time. I was a columnist in Kansas City then, and I wrote more times than I care to remember that he was on his way to baseball stardom.

That didn't happen for various reasons -- some of them inexplicable: Teahen's power sapped, he stopped getting lift on the ball and he hit ground ball after ground ball (one year after his breakthrough, he hit into a league-leading 23 double plays). He changed positions because the Royals had drafted then-third-baseman Alex Gordon ... and he never did get comfortable defensively again. Also, Kansas City was terrible then -- it wasn't an easy place to play baseball or develop into a star.

Teahen kept at it, though, bouncing around the Majors and Minors for another seven years. He was traded twice, released four times and, in his last year, he played in Reno, Round Rock and finally for the York Revolution in independent ball.

Teahen never lost his sense of humor about it all. Are you kidding? There was nothing to be sad about. Hey, he had a great life in baseball. Teahen made more than $20 million. He met a lot of great people. He saw America.

And when Teahen retired, yes, he really retired -- no regrets, no feelings of being incomplete. He didn't go into coaching or broadcasting; he had given the game all he had. Instead, he and Lauren went to Italy, fell in love with the place, came back home to Scottsdale and opened up an Italian wine room they call, "Sorso," which means, "Sip." They started a family -- they now have three kids ages four and younger.

Becoming an Italian baseball superstar was pretty much the last thing on Teahen's mind ... until he got that call out of the blue.

"I kept in shape playing in a men's league," said Teahen.

"You did?" I asked.

"Well, that's what I told them," he said.

Italy will be an adventure. Teahen doesn't know how good the baseball will be. He suspects it will be roughly equivalent to Class A ball, but he has not seen any games. Teahen's only experience with the league came when he and Lauren visited Italy three years ago. They went by a field where there was a practice going on. He introduced himself to the manager, who promptly invited him to take some batting practice.

"There was a dog running on the field," he said. "It was great."

But Teahen is not going to become an Italian baseball superstar to accomplish more in his own baseball career. That part is done. The Italian Baseball League is interested in having him help some of the younger players, while sharing some of his experiences in the game. Teahen is excited about doing that, as well as the opportunity to take his young family and travel around Europe.

"Do you feel any of the old competitive juices?" I asked Teahen.

"Um," he said, "yeah?"

He definitely used a question mark at the end of his "yeah." It is important, when writing about Italian baseball superstar Mark Teahen that you punctuate correctly.

MLB.com columnist Joe Posnanski is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, an Emmy Award-winning writer and has been awarded National Sportswriter of the Year. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.