Much head scratching over Italy's defeat of Canada in the World Baseball Classic on Monday. How could such a thing happen? Easy. It was pretty much just a glorified MLB spring training game.
Amusingly, the Italian team is nicknamed The Azzurri, a name which is usually reserved for Italy's national soccer team. But most of their World Baseball Classic roster have most likely never set foot on Italian soil. Winning pitcher Dan Serafini, for instance, is a name you probably recognize. Serafini grew up in San Francisco and played prep ball at Serra High in San Mateo, where I coached him as a freshman in basketball. How Italian is Serafini? Let's just say there were no translation problems. He was a tall, amiable kid who was my backup center, and had a slight future in basketball until someone saw him throw a baseball. Serafini signed out of high school with the Minnesota Twins, played nine seasons in the majors and has been in the minors since testing positive for steroids in 2007.
Serafini started and got the win on Monday as Italy eliminated Canada, 6-2. All three Italian pitchers were born in the U.S.; Chris Cooper, a minor leaguer from 2001-06 who played in Italy last year, relieved Serafini, and Jason Grilli, a member of the Colorado Rockies, got the save.
So what are the eligibility rules in the World Baseball Classic anyway? Apparently anyone who has an Italian surname, or has appeared on an episode of The Sopranos, is Italian. Actually, the eligibility rules are thus:
A: A player is eligible to participate on a World Baseball Classic team if:
• The player is a citizen of the nation the team represents. (Additionally, if a player is qualified for citizenship or to hold a passport under the laws of a nation represented by a team, but has not been granted citizenship or been issued a passport, then the player may be made eligible by WBCI upon petition by the player or team.
• The player is a permanent legal resident of the nation or territory the team represents.
• The player was born in the nation or territory the team represents.
• The player has one parent who is, or if deceased was, a citizen of the nation the team represents.
• The player has one parent who was born in the nation or territory the team represents.
So a player "qualified for citizenship" is in, even if that player has never even visited that nation. I suppose Serafini qualifies, but he's spent more actual time in Japan (three seasons in the Japanese League) than he has in Italy. In fact, the Italian National team has 15 players on U.S. professional rosters — Major Leaguers Nick Punto of the Twins and Grilli among them — versus only 10 actual native Italians.
But that's nothing: The Canadian roster is populated with 24 pro U.S. players, among them Justin Morneau, Jason Bay and Russell Martin. The Dominican Republic has 22 (23 if one counts Moises Alou), Mexico has 19, The Netherlands 11 (including the very Dutch Juan Carlos Sulbaran), Australia 17, Panama 18, Puerto Rico 22, South Africa 6, Taiwan 9 and Venezuela 17.
The result is a kind of exotic Major League spring training B squad. Couldn't we save a lot of time and money and just play all the games in Florida? WBC organizers would say that would be contrary to their mission statement: To "increase global interest and introduce new fans and players to the game." Fans, maybe, although SportsCenter probably does a much more thorough job with none of the time and expense. As for the players, for the most part they're already here.
Mamma Mia! Italy Knocks Team Canada Out Of The World Baseball Classic [The Canadian Press]
World Baseball Classic FAQ [WorldBaseballClassic.com]