Team Italy's Gavin Cecchini improves with age for New York Mets

Selected in the first round of the 2012 MLB draft by the New York Mets out of Barbe High School in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Gavin Cecchini was born to perform. He helped his South Lake Charles Little League team advance to the 2006 Little League Baseball World Series as the Southwestern Region Champion and pitched six scoreless innings in his squad's lone win in the tourney. Fast forward ten years when Gavin Cecchini would make his MLB debut for the New York Mets as a call-up in September 2016.

Outgoing Team Italy manager Marco Mazzieri knew it would be his last year at the helm of the Azzurri club so he decided to go out with a bang by recruiting some of the best up-and-coming MLB players of Italian descent. On the top of his list were New York Mets' outfielder Brandon Nimmo and middle infielder Gavin Cecchini. Skipper Mazzieri wanted Gavin Cecchini to play shortstop for Team Italy in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. In the opener against Mexico on March 9, 2017, the 23-year-old Italian American infielder nearly hit a homer to center field but settled for a ground-rule double off reliever Fernando Salas. The Italians went on to beat host Mexico 10-9 in that game at Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Guadalajara. Playing against Venezuela two days later, Gavin Cecchini's clutch line-drive RBI single to center field off closer Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez in the bottom of the ninth inning tied the score 10-10 and sent the game into extra innings. Unfortunately, in the end Team Italy experienced a heartbreaking 11-10 loss to Venezuela. Although the Azzurri did not advance to the next round of play in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, shortstop Gavin Cecchini showed excellent defensive prowess and offensive pop at the plate when it mattered most throughout the international competition.

Gavin Cecchini began the 2017 season with Mets' Triple-A affiliate Las Vegas 51s and got promoted up to the New York big-league club in mid-June. Outgoing Mets manager Terry Collins wanted to stack a slew of right-handed bats in the starting lineup against Los Angeles Dodger all-star pitcher Clayton Kershaw at Chavez Ravine on June 19. As a result, an opportunity arose for Cecchini to start at second base. New York's Terry Collins said, "We like our young players, and Gavin is going to be a good player." Gavin Cecchini lived up to his manager's high praise and blasted a 1-2 pitch off lefty Kershaw over the left field wall for a two-run home run in the fifth inning. "I try to tell myself it's the same game I've played my whole life and regardless of Clayton Kershaw out there pitching or a high school pitcher, I approach it the same way," Cecchini said. "I put my best swing on it and it happened to go out." Collins liked what he saw and kept Gavin in the starting lineup for the following three games against the Dodgers. Gavin Cecchini enjoyed success in Los Angeles and notched a hit every day he played.

As the season continued, Gavin Cecchini was grinding out at-bats and gained more valuable experience at the major-league level. He had the game of his promising young MLB career on September 16, 2017 at Turner Field in Atlanta. Facing opposing knuckleball starting pitcher R.A. Dickey, Cecchini relished at the dish. His line drive RBI single to right field gave the Mets a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning, and his RBI double to deep center field put the Mets ahead 5-0 in the top of the fifth inning. Cecchini went 3-for-4 on that night, and the Mets prevailed in their 7-3 victory over the Braves. A proud member of the Italian American Baseball Family, Gavin Cecchini continues to improve with age as he grows into the player scouts raved about early in his professional career. “The guy has bat potential,” Collins said. “I still think he’s got a chance to be an everyday player.” Forza #Italia!

by Roberto Angotti