When Mike Piazza took over as manager for Team Italy, there was already plenty of excitement: Here was one of the greatest Italian-American ballplayers in history, a bona fide Hall of Famer, who wanted to show just what Team Italy could do at the World Baseball Classic. But before the tournament began, Piazza had another idea, one he called, "Mission Classic."
Piazza's plan was simple, if ambitious: Bring some of the American players with Italian heritage over to the country for a week, where they could meet and train with some of the best Italian-born ballplayers. The MLB players could share their knowledge and experience, while getting to travel through the country and really connect with their family's roots.
"I've been playing for Italy since 2006, I was in the first Classic," Piazza said. "My father was so proud to be Italian, so when I had the opportunity, I said, 'Absolutely. We want to bring you guys here to see why you're fighting, to reconnect with your Italian blood and realize it's beautiful. There's a lot of passion here.'"
Major Leaguers like the Royals' Vinnie Pasquantino and Nicky Lopez, along with top prospects like the Giants’ Joey Marciano, made the trip. They got to see artistic highlights, historical sites and enjoyed long wine-and-conversation-filled meals with their new teammates.
“You can just tell by the bus rides we’re having that guys are having a really good time together,” Pasquantino said. “It’s a really cool thing. Without this, it would have been really awkward in February because we would have no idea who they are, but now we have an understanding of what this team is and hopefully that helps us.”
Watch the newest episode of MLB’s “Behind the Flag” above and be sure to tune in when Italy begins its World Baseball Classic tournament on March 9 at 6 a.m. ET when it faces off against Cuba.