PHOENIX -- In 27 years of life, Pat Venditte has only been to Italy once. In fact, the pitcher only speaks a bit of Italian, but that does not mean he isn't dedicated and committed to playing for Italy in the World Baseball Classic.
"It's a big deal to me," Venditte said. "I became an Italian citizen for this, and it's something I really looked forward to doing."
In order to compete for Team Italy, Venditte became a citizen in July and received his passport on Sept. 10.
Despite being born in Omaha, Neb., Venditte's Italian roots run deep. The relief pitcher's great grandfather immigrated to the United States from Italy, and Venditte grew up in "Little Italy."
"When I grew up, I had my grandma who lived next door, and three out of my five uncles lived within a three-block radius," Venditte said. "It's a tight-knit family and it's a tight-knit Italian community there. The heritage is something that's very important to my family and me."
Venditte, who was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 45th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, posted a 2.77 ERA in 2012 while pitching for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Spring Training did not begin until early February, but Venditte has had his sights set on the Classic for a long time. He has been working out in Tampa Bay since mid-January and feels he will be able to pitch with more intensity than a typical mid-March game would dictate.
"I'm ready to go -- whether it's for one out or a few outs," Venditte said.
While Venditte is excited to participate in the Classic and don the Italian jersey, he will be pitching without his most valuable asset.
When healthy, Venditte competes as an ambidextrous pitcher, throwing right-handed to righties and left-handed to lefties.
The Yankees' prospect is a natural right-hander, but he hurt himself last year. Venditte had surgery to repair a torn labrum on June 20 and will work with a catcher on flat ground for the first time on Tuesday.
Venditte hopes to be back to full speed and pitching with both arms by the middle of June, but he will have to pitch strictly left-handed for Italy.
Even if Venditte is not able to enter the tournament 100 percent healthy, there was nothing that was going to deter him from taking part.
"It's a special opportunity, a dream come true to be a part of this," Venditte said. "Seeing all the guys out here with the actual guys we are going to have. Seeing the talent out here really gets you going."
Venditte plans to have about 20 relatives cheering for him and his Italian teammates when they compete against Canada, Mexico and the United States this weekend.
William Boor is an associate reporter for MLB.com