PEORIA, Ariz. -- With his combined Italian-Polish background, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said on Friday he would have wanted to represent either of those countries in the World Baseball Classic.Maddon said it's a matter of pride, noting the success already achieved this year by upstarts Team Israel and Team Italy,
PEORIA, Ariz. -- With his combined Italian-Polish background, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said on Friday he would have wanted to represent either of those countries in the World Baseball Classic.
Maddon said it's a matter of pride, noting the success already achieved this year by upstarts Team Israel and Team Italy, which defeated Mexico on Thursday with the help of Cubs Minor Leaguer John Andreoli.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
"Primarily, it's your background," Maddon said prior to the Cubs playing the Mariners in a Cactus League game at Peoria Stadium. "It's American Jews and American Italians. The players have to feel some pride in those countries they're representing. I know they do.
"I know being of Italian-Polish heritage, if I had the chance to play for Italy or Poland -- if they had a team -- I would've been very happy to do that, too."
Poland doesn't field a team, and the World Baseball Classic wasn't inaugurated until 2006, long after Maddon's playing career ended.
Even so, Maddon showed a lot of enthusiasm about the upstart Italian team, which for the second Classic in a row, vanquished the Mexicans. In Friday night's thriller, Italy scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat host Mexico, 10-9, at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco.
Andreoli, a 26-year-old outfielder in the Cubs' organization, drove in the winning run with a walk-off single. In the first inning, the right-handed hitter smacked a homer, the first of four Italian blasts in the game.
Maddon was more than thrilled for the youngster, who he says is targeted again for Triple-A Iowa this season and is a member of the next wave of young stars coming through the Cubs' system.
"I'm so happy for him, he's such a good kid," Maddon said. "He works so hard, he cares so much. A few days ago, I saw him bear down in front of one of our video computers looking at pitchers he might face in this thing, this tournament.
"So give him a lot credit. It's great, it's absolutely great."
That homework obviously helped. Andreoli's homer came off Mexico starter Yovani Gallardo, and the game-winning single -- a grounder to second -- came against left-hander Oliver Perez. Both are veteran Major League pitchers.
Four years ago, Italy knocked out Mexico in the first round and ascended to the second where it lost to eventual finalists Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in a pair of hard-fought one-run games. The Dominicans swept through the tournament, winning all eight games and the title.
Andreoli was not a member of that Italian team. But Chris Colabello and Alex Liddi were, and both had a hand in Thursday's big ninth-inning rally. Colabello also homered in the game.
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo played for Italy in 2013, but he decided to sit out the tournament this year.
"So Mexico doesn't like to see Italy among the rest of the teams," Maddon said. "The upsets are very interesting, what Italy is doing, what Israel is doing. For whatever reason, I think [the tournament] has garnered more interest this year than it has in the past, which I also think is a good thing."
As far as Andreoli is concerned, he'll ride this puppy out as long as he can and then return to Cubs camp in nearby Mesa, Ariz., to get ready for whatever the season has in store for him. The Italians still have tough games left in the Pool D bracket against Venezuela (2 p.m. CT on Saturday) and Puerto Rico (2:30 p.m. CT on Sunday). The top teams head to San Diego's Petco Park for second round play beginning on Tuesday.
Andreoli has played the last two seasons at Iowa, with 565 games under his belt without a sniff of the Major Leagues. His time is coming, Maddon said.
"We have kids who are up and they're kids," Maddon said. "We have a nice group of kids who are still coming and they're being held back a little bit. So for [Andreoli] this year, it's more like Triple-A, knocking on the big league door."
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.