Mike Piazza was at the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago last November when he bumped into Anthony Rizzo.
That’s when the 23-year old first baseman from Parkland Douglas High — whose great grandparents are from Sicily — started hearing the sales pitch from the likely future Hall of Fame catcher about playing for Italy in the World Baseball Classic.
“As soon as we saw him walk through the door at spring training we exhaled,” said Piazza, Italy’s hitting coach. “He’s just a great kid and I think it’s just wonderful he chose to play with our team.’’
While the Cubs’ budding young star has enjoyed his run with the Italians, carrying the torch for the nation isn’t something that necessarily interests him. In fact, Rizzo was actually hoping to playing for the United States, but knew he was “the low man on the totem poll.’’ When the Americans opted for the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira he wasn’t surprised. Thankfully, he said, Italy still wanted him.
Rizzo, who drove in all three of Italy’s runs in a 4-3 loss to Puerto Rico on Wednesday, said that if the opportunity arose to play for the U.S. team in the next World Baseball Classic in 2017, he doesn’t know which direction he would go. But Piazza, who compares Rizzo’s swing to that of a young Will Clark, is hoping he will stick with Italy.
“It is important to have an impact guy like that with not only huge size, but status to play for Italy,” Piazza said. “If he’s finally able to reign in and stay healthy and maintain discipline and hit to all fields in Chicago, there’s no doubt he’s going to be a very productive major-league hitter. I think he’s going to be big-time for many years to come.”
• Team Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez, who became the first from his island to become a major-league manager, said he has received phone calls about joining major-league staffs as a coach since leaving the Marlins in 2011, but not any managerial positions.
“I don’t want to take anything away from coaching, but at this point in my career I would like to stay as a manager regardless what level it is,’’ said Rodriguez, 52, who now serves as Double A manager for the Indians.
• Rodriguez said he was impressed with how much right fielder Giancarlo Stanton has improved defensively and was surprised by his stellar running catch in Tuesday’s victory for the Americans over Puerto Rico.
“I thought he had no chance, and then that huge body was right under the ball, long arms and all that,” Rodriguez said. “The instincts that he has developed in the outfield is amazing. We’re talking about a guy that was thinking about going into football four years ago, and now he’s a superstar in the big leagues.”
• Rodriguez said he considered bring Puerto Rico’s most prized prospect — Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, the first overall pick of the 2012 draft — to the WBC, but “he still needed a little bit more work offensively.”
• Catcher Drew Butera, a backup with the Twins, has had the unique perspective of playing in Puerto Rico, the U.S. and now with Italy.