Touring the Bases with Italian Baseball Coach Andrea D’Auria
If you ever wondered about baseball in Italy, and if it is even played there, you will love this interview. Andrea sounds like a great guy and I am sure he is and displays the passion for baseball that is like the great coaches here in America. This year was especially rewarding and momentous for Italian baseball, as you may know and will read about.
Andrea D’Auria is the head coach of an Italian baseball team in Piacenza, which is in their top division in Italy. He also helps American ballplayers who wish to play pro ball find contracts in Italy. Andrea has developed baseball connections all over the world (USA, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, etc…) with coaches, scouts, agents and in Italy, of course. He is also a European representative of USSSA and ABR baseball associations.
Jack Perconte – How exciting was it for you to see Alex Liddi become the first player born and bred in Italy to make the major leagues this past season with the Seattle Mariners?
Andrea D’Auria – Alex Liddi in Major League, wow…what a day! I was waiting for that since March, when he had the 2 grand slams in 2 days in a row at the Spring Training. Alex deserves all of this for the tenacity with which he approached the experience in America. I have played against him 7 or 8 years ago, he was a young rookie with talent, but who thought he could have reached the Majors? It’s not easy for a young guy leave his family, friends, crossing the ocean to chase a dream. But he did it. How many chances an Italian boy has to play in the Major? Realistic…one in a million is an optimistic forecast. But he did it. He has strongly chased his dream, and finally he has reached it. That’s fantastic, he gave a dream to all the Italian kids in Italy that approach baseball, he showed them that there is a point of arrival and the way to reach it. The emotion I had watching Alex’s Major League debut was enthusiastic, crazy, unreal…for a moment I felt myself closer to the Major League’s world.
Jack – Was Alex making it to the majors front-page news over there?
Andrea – The day after Alex Liddi’s debut, all the sport media (radio, tv, internet and newspaper) in Italy have given wide coverage to the event. That never happened before, even when we beat the USA National Team in the Intercontinental Cup, or the big win at the World Classic. Hopefully, something will change now, especially if Alex should confirm his abilities next year.
Jack – I know football (soccer) is the top sport in Italy, where does baseball come in as far as popularity after soccer?
Andrea – That’s difficult to say and it depends city by city. In the small town, or in certain areas, baseball is very popular. Parma, Nettuno, Grosseto have a lot of people playing and fans, newspapers follow all the events. In the big cities football shades all the other sports. After football, the other sports with a lot of popularity are basket (with the NBA lockout we have a lot of players here at the moment, include Kobe Bryant), volley and in the last 10 years rugby has increased a lot thanks to the National Team. My hope is that Baseball could increase popularity with a National Team playing International Events and Alex Liddi in the Big Leagues.
Jack – What percentage of youth are playing baseball in Italy?
Andrea – I am sorry, no idea. I can tell you that in my hometown we have 2 baseball fields and probably more than 30 football fields, I am sure you can have an idea on what I mean.
Jack – Which sport do you hope your kids like to play the most when they grow up?
Andrea – I have a daughter and a boy. Not sure about the female, she is 8 yrs old and now she practices ballet and gymnastics, so probably she will follow one of these. My son is still very young, he just turned 3, but he loves baseball, so my hope is that he will follow me! He swings the bat lefty and throws with both hands…he could play any position! He will decide by himself if starting baseball or another sport though, I want that my sons will decide by their own what sport will make them passionate.
Jack – Tell us a little about your baseball career, as a player.
Andrea – I started playing ball when i was 8 yrs old. Like most kids in Italy, I have started playing football (soccer) when i was 6, but when i have tried baseball the first time, it has fascinated me and i have decided to put the glove in my hand. I have played all the youth categories, and when i was 15 yrs old I have made my debut in a senior team. I retired still young (30 yrs old) due to a shoulder injury, total lesion of the labrum. I had a surgery, but after a long rehab I never feel to be in game shape. I have always played 2B-3B, with some mound appearances.
Jack - When and how did you get into baseball coaching?
Andrea – My first approach with coaching was when i was still a player, working with kids. When I have decided to retire, my team’s owner has offered me the head coach position for the first team, in Italian Division 2. I immediately thought it was an opportunity that must be caught. I have studied the game a lot, made clinics with the best Italian coaches (two of them related to Alex Liddi: Marco Mazzieri, the Italian National Team head coach, good person with a great knowledge of the game, include technical and mental aspects. He is the person who raised Alex in Italy. The other one is Mauro Mazzotti. Besides being a friend, he is the most professional person in the Italian baseball, now GM of the best Italian team, Head Coach of the Spanish National Team and coordinator of European scouting with the Astros. In 2006 he was scout for the Mariners, and he is the one who has signed Alex Liddi, good decision, right?). I have crossed the ocean to relate and learn from American coaches like Rod Delmonico, Pat McMahon, Kevin Long, John Cohen, etc…
Jack – What is the thing you like best about coaching? And the thing you like least about it?
Andrea – I love the organization, and to conduct a training section, timing, coordinate my coaching staff. Although I have the skills to be an instructor, I was trained as a manager, not as a “special coach”, and I let my coaches free to perform their duties under my supervision and coordination. I like the strategy part of the game, even though I try to don’t tie up my players because they are the protagonists of the game, not me. Certainly, a manager must be ready at the strategic level to call a play at the right time, to make a change at the right time, he must have knowledge of the game! What I like least is filling the line up before a game. Making choices is part of my job, but it is always difficult to tell a player “Hey, today you’re not in the starting line up.”
Jack – Tell us about the professional baseball leagues in Italy; and what level is it compared to here in the United States?
Andrea – In Italy we have 5 leagues: the most important is the IBL (Italian Baseball League), who has an 8 teams format, and it’s probably compared to a Minor League AA. There are 3 games a week. Teams have 4 sport visas and other open spots for players with Italian dual citizenship or European passport. That means we have a lot of imported players (the most part pitchers), American with Italian decent, Venezuelans with Spanish passport, Canadians with UK origin, etc…In the past few years we have many former Major Leaguer playing here, a lot of AAA guys, because salaries are pretty good, in most of cases better than American independent leagues. Teams offer roundtrip tickets, housing and other benefits, life in Italy is comfortable, and it could be a lifetime experience, you know.
But obviously the most important fact is that the level is pretty good. The Federal Serie A is good too, but lower level because less imported players (only 1 sport visa, plus the dual citizens and European players) and only 2 games a week. Usually the season starts at the beginning of April and ends by mid August, then another month of post season for the best 4 teams in the regular season. Baseball in Europe is improving every year, look at the World Tournament just finished in Panama, Netherland is the new World Champion, pretty amazing, they defeat Cuba! I know the economic situation in the United States is not the best, same as we are, but I think (and hope) it’s time the Major Leagues invest some money in the European Leagues (and Italy is the best league) in addition to the Academies they already started overseas.
Jack – What bothers you the most about how youth sports are played or taught in Italy?
Andrea – Kids in youth leagues, in any sport, are pushed too much to perform, forgetting that they are only kids, they first need to have fun. So even the coaches have to think that their development is generally different from one kid to another.
Jack – Do they televise your professional league baseball in Italy? Is our (United States) World Series televised in Italy?
Andrea – Yes, we have 1 game a week televised live, and all the Championship Series live. And all the games are covered with a play by play online. And of course the Major Leagues are televised in Italy, we have ESPN America so we can see games almost every day during the regular season, and full coverage of the World Series. Many people, like me, have an annual subscription with MLB.TV. I am pretty sure I watch more games than you guys in America…just kidding.
Jack – Do you have a favorite major league baseball (American) team and favorite player?
Andrea – My favorite team, trivial, the Yankees. My favorite players…it’s difficult to say. I like the pure talent, so two players who well represent what I mean with talent are Robbie Cano and Josh Hamilton. But if I have to choose one, for me Derek Jeter is the spot of THE REAL BALL PLAYER!
Former major leaguer Jack Perconte offers great baseball instruction at his new website at www.baseballcoachingtips.net and at his website http://jackperconte.com. Jack is the author of two books The Making of a Hitter and Raising an Athlete.