09 March 2013

2013 World Baseball Classic: Venezuela

This is the thirteenth in a series to introduce everyone to teams participating in 2013's World Baseball Classic.  As this series progress, you will find all of the articles under this key world: 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Previously, we reviewed Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Italy, Korea, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Spain, and the USA.  Remaining countries to cover are the Dominican Republic, Japan, and Mexico.  Let's hope we cover them before time runs out.

The body of the Venezuela article was written by Jon Shepherd.

IBAF Ranking (out of 74) 8th
2013 Pool Puerto Rico

Dominican Republic

2013 Players of Note Anibal Sanchez, RHP

Jhoulys Chacin, RHP

Miguel Cabrera, 1B/3B

Pablo Sandoval, 3B

Elvis Andrus, SS

2009 Record 6 - 2, Semifinals
2006 Record 3 - 3, Second Round

The American sphere of influence, often through the intervention of Cuban nationals, spread the game of baseball through much of Latin America.  Venezuela's history of the game has been largely influenced by this path.  Simply, we can divide the history of the Venezuelan game into four eras: Proto-Baseball (1850s to 1895), Pioneer (1895-1941), Modern (1941-1989), and Post-Modern (1989-present).

1850s to 1895
During this time, borders were somewhat of a fluid thing between British Guiana and Venezuela.  The land in and around the disputed areas held some of the most productive gold mines in the world, but such a vast territory made it difficult for the different governments to effectively hold the area.  This led to many local arrangements being made permitting British interests to actively mine the region.  An influx of British citizens creeped into the regions during these decades.  With them, came the British game of rounders (which the American game of baseball deviated from), which was played with quite regularity in mining camps.  Over the decades though, sentiment towards the British turned worse which likely made the populace more willing to mess around with a ball and bat game that was distinctly identified as British.

The first baseball game to be played in Venezuela was documented on May 23, 1895.  It appears the game culminated from more affluent individuals, like Emilio Cramer (a Cuban who established a cigarette factory in Caracas), who were able to provide the equipment and filled out with factory workers and other blue collar Venezuelans.  Thus was born the El Caracas Base Ball Club, which was the first of many baseball social clubs that would form and play against each other.  This is somewhat similar to how baseball began to thrive in the United States.  Anyway, the game flourished and competition would often take place between the social clubs and when ever American ships would frequent the city.

Eventually, Venezuela's vast oil reserves became recognized by commercial interests in the United States.  This interest led to many Americans to entering the country and, just like the Cubans with their tobacco and sugar factories, brought not only investment money, but also a great desire to maintain their interest in baseball.  This led to a larger population of invested players with disposable income to fund equipment and find suitable places to place.  The interest became great enough that American minor league clubs sometimes visited to play in exhibition series.  In 1928, the Crisfield Crabbers arrived in Caracas to play a series to inaugurate a brand new stadium.  The Crabbers were a very successful Class D minor league team on Maryland's Eastern Shore.  The team that faced the Venezuelan club team included an 18year old named Paul Richards.  You may know him better as the Baltimore Oriole Manager and General Manager during the 50s and 60s.

What also became more important during this time was Venezuela's attempts to unseat Cuba as the dominant baseball force in Latin America.  The country began holding international competitions in the 1930s and 1940s.  Teams and players from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Negro Leagues shuttled to and from the Venezuelan leagues with regularity.  This is also the period of time where the lines between amateur and professional began to blur.  In 1941, the Venezuelan team beat the Cubans in Havana for the crown in the World Amateur Baseball Championship.  The country shut down in celebration for their home team.  This fervor was further awarded with Championship wins in 1944 and 1945.

The Venezuelans by this point had proven themselves as capable of playing at a highly competitive level.  Major League teams took notice by first going after the lighter skinned players and, after Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color line, darker skinned players.  Major League teams took advantage of established amateur club systems for youth that fed into professional leagues in Cuba.  The first Venezuelans to break into major league ball include: Alejandro Carrasquel, Chico Carrasquel, Luis Aparicio, and Pompeyo Davalillo.

This pathway came to an end though with the Cuban revolution.  Baseball teams now were directly focused on the countries that fed the Cuban system.  Most looked toward the Dominican Republic, but a small group of clubs took marginal resources to continue to scout in Venezuela.  The Astros were at the heart of this movement.  Paul Richards came over from Baltimore to lead the Houston team.  He had brought with him a young front office man named Pat Gillick, who also quickly became a big proponent of mining Latin America for talent.  The focus was primarily directed at the Dominican Republic, which became the new feeder system.  This created a system where young Dominicans worked hard with trainers to be ready to show their skills off to MLB scouts who were often present at games.  Venezuelan youth did not have this avenue.  They had to progress far enough in their skills for a trip to the Dominican to make sense for them to show off their skills.  If you agree with that assessment, it provides a good reason why the youth baseball infrastructure in the Dominican withered away while it flourished and became more entrenched in Venezuela.

Andres Reiner had a plan.  It was a slow plan, but it was one that a team without great resources would appreciate.  Why wait for Venezuelans to develop and prove themselves in the Dominican or in international amateur play?  If a team waits that long, then they will wind up having to compete with all of the other scouts that frequent these events.  Furthermore, as the Dominican became a more profitable place to find talent, MLB placed restrictions on how long a youth could be kept at an academy before signing in order to prevent teams hoarding prospects and circumventing player threshold rules.  In this scenario, it made sense to go to Venezuela and find the kids who excel at baseball.  A team, without the rule restriction, could then hoard players without concern of other teams swooping in as well as enabling a team to train players for a few months before finally determining if they like the talent or not.

Andres Reiner, through a great deal of hard work, convinced the already open-minded Houston Astro organization to make a more concerted effort in finding MLB talent in Venezuela.  Reiner established an academy and hired full time and part time scouts and trainers, including Cesar Cedeno (Pat Gillick's first signing out of the Dominican Republic).  For almost the entirety of the 1990s, only the Astros had a fully established system to produce viable talent out of Venezuela.  The following is a list of Reiner's successes:
One of the interesting things about the Astros investment in Venezuelan prospects is their apparent misevaluation of how talented their prospects were once they left Reiner's hands.  Of the above, only Richard Hidalgo saw his talent realized by the Astros.  The others were left available in Rule 5 drafts (e.g., Johan Santana), expansion drafts (e.g., Bobby Abreu), trades (though using Guillen and Garcia for Randy Johnson is understandable), or simply released (e.g., Melvin Mora).

Several teams are now fully entrenched in Venezuela.  Strangely, Houston is not one of them with the closing of their academy in 2008 (which led Reiner to go to the Rays to help build up their academy in Brazil).  Talent is certainly present in Venezuela, but some teams are concerned about safety in the country.  There have been many examples of players, scouts, or families of players being robbed at gun point or kidnapped for ransom.  This unfortunate cost of doing business has kept two thirds of baseball to mainly have interest only in Venezuelans who make the international amateur scene or those that are released by other clubs.  However, the amateur youth system, the winter leagues, and several academies are going strong and ensure Venezuelan baseball is alive and vibrant.

08 March 2013

World Baseball Classic 2013: Spain

This is the sixth in a series to introduce everyone to teams participating in 2013's World Baseball Classic.  As this series progress, you will find all of the articles under this key world: 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Previously, we reviewed Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Italy, Korea, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, and the USA.

The body of the Spain article was written by Stuart Wallace.

IBAF Ranking (out of 74) 16th
2013 Pool Puerto Rico

Dominican Republic

2013 Players of Note Rhiner Cruz, RHP

Eric Gonzalez, RHP

Paco Figueroa, INF

Engel Beltre, OF

Danny Figueroa, OF

2009 Record NA
2006 Record NA

Not a baseball powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, Spain nonetheless has enjoyed a fleeting dalliance with the game, most of it arising from its colonial influences in the Americas and Caribbean. One only needs to check out Baseball Reference and search for players born in Spain to see that the history of the game in the country is sparse. In many respects, Al Cabrera, the first player with Spanish roots to play in the MLB, set the tone for baseballing Spaniards to follow, including those we see manning the Spain roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. In actuality a Canary Islander, Cabrera had a brief tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1913, going 0 for 2 for the day, before calling it a day in the MLB. He then went on to play and manage another twenty years in the Cuban Leagues, and was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1942. While not necessarily a Spaniard in the truest sense, Spain has nonetheless taken liberties to call players like Cabrera their own, and parlay it into developing the baseball nation we see today. 

As foreshadowed by the Cabrera reference, Spain's baseball roots were planted, nurtured, and brought to fruition by Cuba's zealous passion for and following of the game. Spain had its initial exposure to the game by Cubans in the late 19th Century, during the island nation's struggle for independence against its colonial rulers. The Spaniards did not think much of the game initially, going so far as to ban baseball in Cuba, as they struggled to maintain control of the country. In spite of its initial distaste for the game, Spain did see games played locally, thanks to soldiers returning from Cuba bringing home the game, with competitions first seen in Barcelona in 1901, and Madrid in 1903. From the banning of the game in Cuba, to the notion that the game was considered somewhat barbaric and violent by the Spanish ruling elite, baseball sat dormant in the minds of those on the Iberian Peninsula until the late 1940's, when the descendants of Cuban immigrants began to play the game across the country in earnest. While still a nation whose sporting landscape is dominated by soccer, basketball, and bullfighting, Spain saw an uptick in interest and popularity of the peasant's game, with teams being formed and funded by many of the sports clubs better known for their soccer squads. Post World War II, clubs like FC Barcelona and Real Madrid found themselves fielding baseball teams along with their more popular soccer squads. With the formation of these domestic teams and the start of competition in the Campeonato de España also came the formation of a governing body - La Federacion Española de Béisbol. By the 1950's, baseball had truly gained a following in Spain; however, this increase in participation and interest in the sport nationally was quickly swept away. With the ushering in of the TV age, came another drop in interest in baseball, as the country's minds and eyes turned to televised soccer, in particular First Division Spanish League 'La Liga' games. What little traction baseball had gained in the late 1940's and 1950's had all but dissipated by the 1970's.
Yet, the few survivors from the teams formed in the early days soldiered on, and led to the formation of the baseball leagues we see today in the country – the top División de Honor and the Primera División. Set up similar to the soccer leagues in Europe, the División de Honor is considered the premier league, with the worst performing team each year relegated to the Primera División, and the top team from the Primera promoted to the División de Honor. Within the 10 team División de Honor, play is normally on the weekends, with each team playing a home and away game on the same day, in a double round robin format. With no playoffs, the top four squads then play for the Copa del Rey, with the winner going on to represent Spain in the European Cup. In an interesting twist not unlike that seen in the Italian Baseball League, the second game of each series must have pitchers that are eligible to play for the Spanish National Team. Among the teams in the league, the Barcelona area Viladecans is by far the most popular and the most successful, having enjoyed a 21 season championship run from 1981-2002. Viladecans is also unique in developing and fielding local talent, on top of recruiting foreign players for their roster.
Internationally, Spain successes have been few and far between. After winning the European Championship in 1955, Spain didn't see a baseball championship until 1978, in the form of a European Cup victory. In the years since, Spain has finished 8th in the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics, and a 3rd place finish in the 2007 European Championships; 2013 will be the nation's first foray into WBC play.
With respect to the WBC, Spain is most definitely the underdog in Pool C, sharing the field with international top dogs Venezuela, host Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. Yet, the opportunity is there to play spoiler, due to their roster heavily influenced by the likes of Cuban, Venezuelan, and American players eligible to play for Spain under WBC criteria. With only one player on the WBC roster considered a Spaniard – pitcher and Canary Islander Eric Gonzalez – the team's fortunes lie almost completely in the hands of such imports like University of Miami alums Paco and Danny Figueroa, Cuban defector Barbaro Canizares, and Dominican flamethrower Rhiner Cruz, who pitched a handful of innings last year with the Houston Astros. While the potential to win is present, albeit slim for Spain, the focus should not be on the win/loss column, but more on exposing the team and the nation to elite baseball. There is an opportunity to not only continue to recruit high performing players with Spanish ties to play for the team, but also to challenge other European squads such as Italy and the Netherlands for the title of Europe's best baseball team. In order to do that, it will take an approach much like the local Viladecans squad, where the time and effort has been put into the scouting and development of local talent, versus relying solely on imports to win games. With only one Spaniard player on the roster, and at that, a Canary islander, the impetus is upon Team España to cultivate the game on the Iberian Peninsula, if they are to build upon their 16th place IBAF world rank. In spite of being rivals in so many ways, Spain could possibly take a look at how Italy has developed their local talent, using a unique set of rules in their professional league that is geared towards developing national talent, and providing playing experience in preparation for international competition. Overall, Spain has a long way to go in becoming a top baseball nation, but the seeds planted in their colonial past are ready to bloom.

More on the Death of Prospect Yewri Guillen

by Chris Lindsay

A little under two years ago, 18-year old Dominican shortstop Yewri Guillen died of a preventable viral or bacterial infection. You may remember that he was a prospect in the Washington Nationals organization, and that his death made some headlines. But there's a lot more to his story.

Ian Gordon with Mother Jones magazine has written a great article investigating the circumstances surrounding Guillen's death and the system by which young Dominican players enter the major leagues. It's an excellent read, and I highly recommend it. I had a chance to ask Gordon a few follow-up questions about the matter, and my conclusions are outlined below. I'll include the main points of the problem in my discussion, but if you haven't yet done so you should definitely read his article.

Yewri Guillen and the Dominican System

In some ways Guillen was a special case, but most Dominican prospects face similar risks. He had originally been signed by the Nationals back in 2009, but his contract was held up by suspicions about his real age. He continued to train at the Nationals' academy without being an official part of their system, until his contract was confirmed in 2011. Just before he was to have left for the US to play in the minor leagues, he fell ill. The academy did not offer him the treatment he needed, but instead sent him to his family home. His impoverished family struggled to find him private medical care, but finally got him admitted to a clinic several days later. By then it was too late and he died of his infection (the exact nature of that infection is in some dispute).

American baseball fans know that the Dominican Republic is a great producer of baseball talent. As of Opening Day 2012, Dominicans formed 11% of the players on MLB active rosters - the largest contingent of foreign-born players. And anyone who follows baseball can reel off a list of Dominican superstar players. 

But young Dominican players seeking to reach the major leagues face daunting odds. First, they have to be good enough to stand out from the crowd of other players and attract the attention of scouts. Many train with private promoters known as buscones, who will take a share of their signing bonus if they sign with a team. Conditions in the academies run by buscones can be very spartan and dangerous, but as Guillen's example makes clear, the conditions in academies run by MLB teams are not great either.

In fact, Gordon reveals that just nine of the thirty major league teams have certified trainers in their Dominican academies. Guillen's coaches sent him home without treating his illness, but it's unlikely that they recognized the severity of his condition, and it's unclear whether anyone at the academy had the expertise to treat or diagnose his condition. 

For the record, the nine teams that had certified trainers at their academies in 2012 were: ARI, BAL, CHC, CIN, MIL, NYM, PIT, TEX, and TOR. I don't see any particular pattern among those teams, but as this is an Orioles blog it's nice to see that they were among the nine. There might be plenty of other problems at the Orioles' DR academy, though.

The rough physical conditions at the academies are not the only problems facing Dominican prospects. There is intense pressure to succeed, and to succeed quickly, as teams prefer to recruit teenagers. American teenagers may go on to play baseball in college and enter the draft in their early twenties, but Dominican players generally must sign in their teens or be passed over. This of course has led to many cases of identity and age fraud, and abuse of performance- or physique-enhancing drugs.

Once in the minor leagues, the path to the major league level is still quite difficult, as minor leaguers of any nationality could attest. But Dominicans advance slower than their American counterparts through the ranks of the minor league system, a trend probably reflecting the culture shock they must undergo playing in a very different environment against more polished and professionally-trained players.

And if a Dominican prospect fails to land a contract or washes out of the minors, his future life can look pretty bleak. As a rule, the teenage players drop out of any school they had been attending in order to concentrate on baseball training. While American prospects have completed high school, the Dominicans, whose educational opportunities were much sparser to begin with, will be lucky if they have completed grade school. 

How Could the System Be Improved?

Of course the root problem in all this is the extreme poverty in the Dominican Republic. Because baseball offers a small but real chance to escape their impoverishment, Dominican teenagers are willing to risk the long odds and put up with the rough conditions. In many cases, the appalling living conditions at the academies may represent a step up from their home lives. 

MLB and the Nationals, while expressing their regret for Guillen's death, have maintained that there was no wrong-doing involved, and that the Nationals academy followed all the applicable regulations. As Gordon points out, that is true, but the regulations don't require much. 

As baseball fans and as human beings, we should demand more.  I asked Gordon what he thought would be the most important improvements to enact, and he gave me a very sensible list of reform priorities:
  • Every team should have a certified athletic trainer at their academy.
  • Every team should have a doctor working with the academy.
  • Unsigned players (like Guillen) should not be able to live/play at the academies - at least not without health insurance.
  • There should be an MLB-led effort to standardize the education provided at all academies.
  • Regulating the buscones would be great (this would probably involve forming a buscon union).
One element of the equation that I thought was not covered in Gordon's article was the Dominican government. Ultimately they are responsible for the laws and well-being of their citizens. Obviously they have plenty of handicaps and with very limited resources they cannot do everything, but legally they have the power to regulate how teams and buscones can conduct business on their territory. It appears that at the moment they are a missing stakeholder, but I think they have the most potential to improve the situation. 

I asked Gordon about the role of the government, and he told me that the Dominican government has aligned itself with MLB and generally keeps quiet on these issues. They are cooperating with MLB in the establishment of an educational program to help players released by teams (this is a great idea, of course, but is still in its infancy). No doubt the government is very pleased that MLB contributes millions of dollars to the Dominican economy, and doesn't want to see that threatened. But if that's their reasoning I think they severely underestimate their bargaining power. A few common-sense laws to require decent medical care, living conditions, and educational facilities at academies would not drive MLB out of the country, given the massive value of Dominican talent in baseball. And the government should be in a much better position than MLB to regulate the buscones.

Will There Be Improvement?

Obviously, this situation is very sad. But when you consider the parameters, it's not very surprising. The players are desperate to reach the major leagues and will put up with many hardships in order to get there. The government seems unwilling or unable to regulate the process. The buscones may feel some protective instinct for their players but are basically out to make money. And so are the teams.

Fans of a team may feel great affection and loyalty for that team, but in the end we have to remember that all of the major league teams are for-profit corporations. And the entity known as Major League Baseball is really just a cartel of these for-profit corporations, so it will not act against their interests. In principle the teams have a vested interest in the health and well-being of their prospects, but generally they will do whatever they can to keep their costs down.

A case in point: the 2011 collective bargaining agreement contains numerous provisions that are clearly intended to hold down salaries and bonuses for players, particularly new players. The limitation of signing bonuses on international free agents marks a sudden departure from past policy, and greatly reduces the amount of money that Dominican prospects can expect to receive. In turn, that will greatly reduce the amount of money that the buscones receive.

There has been plenty of speculation that the new limit will drive young people away from the game, as talented athletes turn to other, potentially more lucrative sports, along the lines of what happened in Puerto Rico after it was included in the MLB draft. This is certainly a possibility, but given the overall Dominican enthusiasm for baseball and the extreme poverty of many of the players, it seems rather far-fetched. In any case, we won't be able to see any such effect until several years from now. On the other hand, the new limits will certainly hurt the buscones. Some may shut down their operations altogether, while others may try to save a little money by trimming their expenses. This could result in even worse conditions at their academies.

Rafael Perez, the head of MLB's Dominican operations, told Gordon that teams were improving conditions on a voluntary basis, and that "people have a negative reaction when things are imposed." Certainly, people always complain about regulations that are imposed upon them, and sometimes with justice, but it's really the only sane response to chronic problems like this. Part of the reason why conditions at academies have not improved heretofore may have to do with competition between the teams. Why would Team A shell out extra money to improve its academy when Team B does not, considering that the extra expense will probably not noticeably improve the flow of talent the team receives from the academy? If all of the teams are required to bring their facilities up to a decent standard, they may complain about the burden but at least they would all incur similar costs.

It's hard to see much actual improvement since Guillen's death, and such improvement looks unlikely unless someone brings some pressure to bear on the teams. A widespread outcry from media and fans would certainly encourage the teams to get their act together, but there is really no substitute for regulation. If properly motivated, MLB could require that all its teams improve the conditions at their academies, and if MLB took the lead the government might be more willing to get involved.

It would also be nice to see some more activity by established major league players on this matter. Dominican stars like David Ortiz and Robinson Cano are heroes in their home country and in the US. I know many of them contribute to and organize charities to help poor people in the Dominican, but I think they could also be making more use of their celebrity to raise awareness of the issue and bring pressure to bear on MLB and the DR government.

The bottom line is that baseball can do better. Yewri Guillen was a great talent with his whole life ahead of him. He had a hard path ahead of him, and maybe he would never have reached the major leagues. But he certainly didn't need to die trying to get there.

07 March 2013

2013 World Baseball Classic: Italy

This is the sixth in a series to introduce everyone to teams participating in 2013's World Baseball Classic.  As this series progress, you will find all of the articles under this key world: 2013 World Baseball Classic.  Previously, we reviewed Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Korea, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, and the USA.

The body of the Italy article was written by Stuart Wallace.

IBAF Ranking (out of 74) 9th
2013 Pool Mexico


2013 Players of Note Jason Grilli, RHP

Alex Liddi, INF

Anthony Rizzo, 1B

Mike Costanzo, INF

Nick Punto, 3B

2009 Record 1 - 2, First Round
2006 Record 1 - 2, First Round

Like many of the other nations competing in this year's World Baseball Classic, Italy's baseball origins can be traced back to the 1880's, and the influence of some seagoing Americans. While the game did not gain traction as a pastime in the country until the late 1940's, Italy's first flirtation with the game came in 1884, when the ships Lancaster and Guinnebaug docked in Livorno in late January and played a game. This caught the eye of the paper "La Gazzetta Livornese", which wrote an article chronicling the (unbeknownst to them) historical event. Years following the impromptu game came another seminal event, in the form of the 1888 Spalding's World Tour, a barmstorming group of baseball players funded and promoted by the sporting goods magnate A.G. Spalding. While primarily a tour built to expand Spalding's market to lands further afield, a secondary goal of the tour was to promote America's pastime in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific. Along with the United Kingdom and Ireland, Italy saw baseball exhibitions courtesy of Spalding, with games played in Florence, Naples and Rome in late February 1889.
From these beginnings, came several decades of hibernation, driven by not only two World Wars, but the banning of many American inspired hobbies by the Fascist regime of Mussolini. Aside from the occasional morale boosting games between the US and Italian armies in WWI, baseball was dormant in the country until following the Second World War. With the end of the war came a renaissance of the sport, thanks to the dedication and efforts of  Max Ott and Guido Graziani. Between the two, the Lega Italiana Softball was formed by Graziani in 1947, with Ott founding the Lega Italiana Baseball in 1948. Soon thereafter, both leagues joined forces and became the FIBS (Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball), who currently govern the modern day professional Italian Baseball League (IBL). In June of 1948, the first game played between Italian teams occurred in Milan, with the eventual first championship being won by Libertas Bologna, precursors to the current day UGF Fortitudo Bologna IBL squad.
While Italy's baseball history doesn't enjoy the rich and lengthy tapestry of a country like Japan, they do boast a professional league that has been around years before those of other baseball playing nations, even Japan's Nippon Profession Baseball, which opened its doors in 1950. The aforementioned IBL currently consists of 8 teams playing a 42 game schedule, but with a couple of interesting quirks that might be unfamiliar to the North American spectator. While similar to the MLB in using wood bats, and to other foreign leagues in limiting each team to four foreign (non-European Union) players, the IBL is unique in teams playing three game series against one another, with the first game set aside for using foreign starting pitchers. It's called the 'Foreign Affair Game', and from there, it sets the pitching roster for the remaining two games of a series. For games two and three, each team is free to use any EU pitcher, with the caveat that if the starting pitcher is considered 'Italian School of Baseball' – ASI for short – then any relievers must be ASI pitchers for the remainder of the game. If the second game is started by a non-Italian EU pitcher, then the third game of the series must use an ASI starter. ASI pitchers are classified as such if they were developed in the Italian baseball youth leagues and academies, or if they have played in the IBL for six or more years.

Even with the quirks of its native professional league, Italy enjoys a reasonable modicum of respect internationally within baseball circles, currently enjoying 9th place in IBAF rankings, second in Europe only to the Netherlands. Italy has done well in other non-WBC baseball competitions, winning the 2010 and 2012 Europeans Baseball Championships, and placing third in the 2010 Intercontinental Cup. With respect to the WBC and Olympics, Italy's fortunes haven't been as rosy, with a 6th place finish in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, and 10th place finishes in the WBC rounding out Italy's faring against other international competition. Like the Netherlands, where it can be argued that most of the talent on the roster is by way of their colonial past, in the form of players from island territories such as Aruba and Curacao, Italy's roster strength also is not necessarily from those born in the country. While World Baseball Classic rules regarding player eligibility to play for a given country is admittedly more lenient than what is normally encountered in other international competitions, Italy nonetheless  takes advantage of a large Italian-American population of players that satisfy the given criteria for eligibility for playing for Team Italia. With only seven players on the Italian roster actually born in Italy, the success of the team in the 2013 WBC is driven almost exclusively by the non-Italy born influence on the roster, in the form of MLB luminaries, such as Jason Grilli, Chris Denorfia, and Anthony Rizzo. In terms of roster makeup, Team Italia does have balance in terms of having both offensive and pitching talent, something that many of the teams of the WBC cannot boast.

For the future of the team and for its WBC fortunes, Italy will look to players such as Seattle Mariner farmhand and Sanremo born Alex Liddi, as well as current Orix Buffalo pitcher, and first Italian born player to sign a MLB contract, Alex Maestri, to carry the torch for the continued success of the national team, and with it, make it a truly national affair. While Italian-Americans will always find their way on to the roster, the fickle and precarious natures of their abilities to play and from an IBAF eligibility and MLB contractual obligations perspective puts the impetus on continuing to find native Italian talent to take Team Italia from a pretty good international team with roster caveats, to one that is making strides in international baseball circles under their own merits, and their own homegrown talent. The makings of a dominant Italian-born squad are already in place, with the rules governing pitching rotations in the IBL determined by nationality, and skewed towards Italian nationals having a larger say in team success than foreign born pitchers. It would not take much to build upon those rules, and to continue to build and grow the already well-established and FIBS run youth leagues and academies. While the influence of the United States has left an indelible mark upon the history of the game in Italy, for baseball to be truly an Italian affair, it will take the homeland to loosen ties with the new country for the sport to truly flourish.