Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dove è Alex Liddi

We didn't actually expect to find Alex Liddi himself while we were in Italy. In fact, we knew he was in the U.S., involved in the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx's quest for a Southern League championship. They were eliminated from their semi-final series with the Tennessee Smokies on Sunday, September 12.

However, I did briefly wonder if there was a chance I'd find a Liddi jersey somewhere. After all, he's probably the best baseball player the country has produced in half a century, so despite the fact he plays a sport that is not even 1/100th as popular as soccer, I thought there was a chance he'd have a following.

I was wrong. The next major stop on our Italian vacation brought us to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, an area of Southern Italy I would describe as down around the ankle. While in Sorrento, we happened upon a fútbol—or soccer, as we would call it in the United States—merchandise store. KJ asked if they carried any Italian baseball gear, and the store clerk's response was to laugh and say, " New York Yankee," as he looked past her in reference to the cap I was wearing. That's not a typo there, by the way. He neglected to pluralize Yankees.

It was at this point I realized that Liddi was drafted by a major league team at 17 years old, so even if by chance there were some jerseys of players from the Italian Baseball League, he probably hadn't played baseball in Italy since high school. So, I gave up the half ounce of optimism I had of finding myself a Liddi jersey.

During this part of the trip, I actually went four consecutive days with no knowledge of any happenings in Major League Baseball. Since this was the view from our hotel room in Sorrento, I'm sure you can understand.

But, that's not to say the subject of baseball was completely erased from our minds during our two-week stay in Italy. After a few days in Sorrento, we headed to Florence, mainly to rent a car for our Tuscan adventure that followed, but also to visit the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Admittedly, we didn't spend nearly as much time in Florence as it deserved, but while we were there, we visited a little restaurant called Trattoria Icche C'e C'e.

Immediately upon entering the establishment, we were greeted by co-owner and hostess Mara, who gave a more enthusiastic reception to my Cooperstown t-shirt than we could have possibly imagined. When she called her husband Gino—the restaurant's chef and co-owner—out of the kitchen, he immediately denounced my Yankees hat, proclaiming himself a Red Sox fan. When KJ confessed she is too, he gave her a huge hug and a kiss on the cheek. Of course, if you look closely enough, just to the right of the Detroit Tigers cap in the following photo taken of the baseball cap collection on his wall, you'll notice another example of the object of his disdain.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Where Are They Now? The 2009 Italian WBC Team, Part 3

Alex Liddi was born in Sanremo, less than an hour from the border of France in northwest Italy. He was signed by the Seattle Mariners just a month after his 17th birthday in 2005. He started two of Italy's three World Baseball Classic games in 2009, going 3-for-8 and driving in two runs, both in the team's 6-2 upset victory over Canada.

Following the WBC, Liddi proceeded to tear apart the high-A California League, batting .345 with 44 doubles, 23 HR and 104 RBI in 129 games for the High Desert Mavericks. This performance won him league MVP and the Mariners' 2009 Minor League Player of the Year honors. For a little perspective, though, I should point out that the California League is a hitters' league and High Desert is an extreme hitters' ballpark.

Liddi was promoted to AA this year and turned in a solid season for the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. While his numbers were not as eye-popping as those he produced last year, he did lead the league in RBI with 92, while batting .281 with 37 doubles and 15 HR in 134 games. Having just turned 22 in August, Liddi's 2010 performance showed definite progression and, while I'm far from an expert on the Mariners farm system, there's a strong chance he'll be promoted to AAA in 2011.

According to Wikipedia, Alex is the first Italian-born position player to play professional baseball in the United States. However, this is not true. Reno Bertoia (1953-1962) and Hank Biasetti (1949) were major league players born in Italy, but since they both grew up in Canada rather than Italy, I suspect this is where the Wikipedia article is misinformed. Regardless, if and when Liddi does reach the majors, he'll be the first native of his country to do so since Bertoia.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Birra Artigianale a Roma (Craft Beer in Rome)

KJ and I returned yesterday from a two-week trip to Italy. Of course, we didn't travel to this beautiful country in Southern Europe for anything related to my three major interests: beer, baseball and music. Nevertheless, I was still on the lookout for appropriate subject matter for this blog, and I was a little more successful than expected. So, I thought I'd write about our experiences and also share a couple observations from our sightseeing endeavors in the process.

Our flight touched down in Rome on September 3, and one of the first things I noticed on the way to our hotel room was a craft beer store. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. We didn't make our way back to the store until the next day, but we were also quite pleased with the friendly and extremely helpful store clerk we met at Domus Birrae. He informed us that they sell only Italian micros and helped us select two fine beers based on our description of what we like.

Orso Verde Rebelde & Birra del Borgo Re Ale Extra
The first of these was Re Ale Extra, brewed by Birra del Borgo in the village of Borgorose, about an hour northeast of Rome. Literally translated, the brewery's name means "Beer of the Village," and their creation was the best Italian microbrew we tasted on the entire trip. Classified as an IPA, it tasted more like a nicely hopped pale ale with a little extra maltiness (6.5% ABV) to me. In fact, I wasn't all that impressed on my first sip, but once I accepted that this wasn't going to be like the American IPAs I'm used to, I really enjoyed it.

The other beer we picked up at Domus Birrae was an Orso Verde Rebelde, brewed by Birrificio L'Orso Verde in Busto Arsizio, about 45 minutes northwest of Milan. At 7.5% ABV, it's a little stronger than Re Ale Extra, but not quite as good. The aroma does absolutely nothing for me—KJ referred to it as smelling of "flat malt"—but it has a nice bite, nice maltiness, and just a little hint that reminds me of other European beers. The latter characteristic makes me think it has something to do with the water, but I really don't know for sure.

I also learned quite a few important Italian words in the process. Of course, birrificio means brewery. But, more importantly, malto is malt, lievito is yeast and luppolo means hops, an obvious derivation of humulus lupulus, the species name for the common hop flower.

Sistine Chapel
Despite our discovery of Domus Birrae, the real highlights of Rome and the Vatican City were the Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Sistine Chapel. As a librarian who wants nothing to do with shushing patrons, I sympathized with the security guards at the latter sight, whose primary purpose seems to be futilely attempting to keep the noise level down and preventing photographs from being taken. Since photos were allowed elsewhere in the Vatican Museum, many tourists—ourselves included—got in a shot or two before realizing they were prohibited. The photo here isn't the greatest—mainly due to poor lighting—but I'm including it anyway.

Of course, I'm far from an art expert, but I have to say I agree with those who believe that Michelangelo's painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling is the greatest individual work of art in history. That's not to mention the fact that he followed that up with his rendering of the Last Judgment on the wall behind the altar.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Where Are They Now? The 2009 Italian WBC Team, Part 2

Francisco Cervelli was born in Venezuela, to an Italian father and a Venezuelan mother. He was the starting catcher for Italy in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. With just three major league games under his belt at that point, significantly less than veterans Nick Punto and Frank Catalanotto, he was clearly one of the emotional leaders of the team.

Recalled by the Yankees in early May of 2009 due to an injury to Jorge Posada, he was pressed into full-time duty a few days later when backup catcher Jose Molina went down as well. He went 12-for-42 (.286) for the month, and posted a respectable .298 average in 94 at bats for the season. This year, the Yanks opted not to bring Molina back, and entrusted the backup catcher role to Cervelli. He played tremendously when Posada was injured earlier this year, but has since come back down to earth. Prior to games of September 2, he was hitting .251 with 32 RBI in 235 at bats, including a .371 mark (13-for-35) with runners in scoring position and two outs.

Cervelli's lack of power—1 HR in 334 career AB—and solid, but not outstanding, defensive skills—15.8% caught stealing rate in 2010—probably mean his career outlook is as a backup catcher, but his exceptional leadership ability at the ripe young age of 24 ensures that he'll be welcome in almost any clubhouse.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Where Are They Now? The 2009 Italian WBC Team: Part 1

Connecticut native Chris Denorfia was easily the player whose 2009 World Baseball Classic performance stood out the most to me. He played a very good center field and was 4-for-10 with three doubles at the plate. Italy scored just seven runs in their three WBC games, with Denorfia scoring two and driving in another pair. This didn't translate into success in professional baseball, however. The 28-year old spent almost the entire 2009 season at the Oakland Athletics' AAA affiliate, Sacramento, batting .271 with 9 HR, 49 RBI, 15 SB and 62 runs.

Signed by San Diego in the off-season and called up to the big club in May, he has made the most of his major league opportunities with the National League's top team this year. Aided in part by injuries to Scott Hairston and Tony Gwynn Jr., but mostly due to his own performance, Denorfia has seized the starting center field position and been a key contributor to the Padres' surprising season. Prior to games of September 2, he was hitting .281 with 9 HR, 35 RBI, 6 SB and 38 runs in 76 games.

Denorfia is a solid all-around player, but pretty much a career minor leaguer until this year. Already reaching his 30th birthday in July, there's not a lot of upside for Chris's major league career, although it appears there's potential he could settle into the role of solid fourth outfielder for several more years.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Where Are They Now? The 2009 Italian World Baseball Classic Team

With KJ and I headed to Italy for our belated honeymoon, I got to thinking about how the Italians rate in terms of this blog's three major subjects: baseball, music and beer.

Well, it's pretty safe to say that Italy is not known for its craft beer—I believe there's another alcoholic beverage it's considered famous for—and successful musicians from there are not really my cup of tea. Certainly no offense intended to Italian composers, but it really can't be said that I love the way Puccini lays down a tune, nor is Verdi always creeping from my room.

So, I decided that baseball is the realm of the three mentioned that Italy is best at. After all, it is the second best European country at the sport, with the Netherlands being the best, of course.

I got to see the 2009 Italian World Baseball Classic team in action when I traveled to Toronto back in March of 2009, so I thought I'd write a few entries about the post-WBC success of a few of those players. Of course, many of the players on that team were actually Americans of Italian descent, but there were a select few who captured my interest and who have gone on to achieve modest success in American professional baseball.

Unfortunately, I had intended to write more, but only completed two entries before leaving on my trip. I've scheduled them to appear in this blog over the next couple of weeks. I'll have to continue the series after I return, as time permits.