John Andreoli believes playing for Team Italy is baseball in its purest form

Team Italy slugger John Andreoli leads the Azzurri squad in the 2019 European Baseball Championship in Bonn, Germany by example. His .438 batting average, .938 slugging percentage, and .526 on-base percentage after five games in the competition speaks volumes, but helping undefeated Team Italy (5-0) secure a berth as the Europe-Africa representative for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo is why he is here.

The proud 29-year-old Italian American, who was selected in the 17th round by the Chicago Cubs in 2011 draft out of the University of Connecticut and later made his MLB debut for the Seattle Mariners in 2018, is playing for Team Italy to win. John Andreoli said, "It's all about winning so stats go out the window. It's an absolute honor to represent Italy. I love the group of guys, everyone from number 1 through 9 in the lineup, our pitching staff, even the guys who come off the bench are all great guys. They play the game the right way, play hard, and represent Italy with everything they have. I feel like we have great chemistry, and it's just a lot of fun. We're here to win and expect to win. It's been great. The staff is incredible here. It's just baseball in its purest form. It's an absolute blast, and I can't get enough of it..."

Perhaps divine intervention played a part in John Andreoli rejoining Team Italy after making his Azzurri debut during the 2017 World Baseball Classic in Guadalajara, Mexico. It looked like a longshot for him to obtain dual citizenship in time to participate in the 2019 European Baseball Championship. He said, "I found about this about a year and a half ago, and how I needed to get dual citizenship, which came to fruition about two weeks before our games started here. I was really fortunate having the Italian Consulate in Boston, everyone in Italy, and FIBS in helping me to get the paperwork to make that happen. It's an unbelievable opportunity for us to represent the country of Italy and its people. Hopefully, we can get us an Olympic berth in Tokyo. It means so much for so many people in talking with some of my family members who still live in Italy. Just the ability to have another sport in Italy qualify to play in Tokyo is a tremendous opportunity."

Loyal Team Italy supporters know what John Andreoli is capable of doing based on his performance in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He went 6-for-16 with three home runs, five runs scored and seven RBI in the tournament. On opening night against host and favorite Mexico, John Andreoli had the walkoff hit which sent the hardcore Mexican fans home from the sold-out Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco in disbelief after the Italians came back from a four-run deficit to win 10-9. He nearly repeated another heroic moment when his solo home run gave Team Italy a narrow lead in the tie-breaker game against Venezuela; however, the Azzurri could not hold on in their 4-3 loss in the elimination game. The heartbreaking defeat was one of two one-run losses to Venezuela.

For John Andreoli, defeating Mexico on their home turf in the 2017 World Baseball Classic may be the most memorable moment of his baseball playing career. He reminisced, "That win to come from behind...I think we were down 9 to 5 in the last inning there, to come back and score five unanswered runs without giving an out, to beat Mexico on their home field was unbelievable. It was definitely one of the most memorable, if not the most memorable moment of my baseball career, and to share it with that group of guys was something I will never forget."

After making his MLB debut for the Seattle Mariners on May 23, 2018, the Baltimore Orioles claimed John Andreoli off waivers on August 18, 2018. He went on to play 23 games in the Orioles outfield and was reclaimed by the Mariners on October 31, 2018. John Andreoli was a hot item on the waiver wire during the offseason as he was claimed by the Texas Rangers on January 15, 2019 and claimed again by the San Francisco Giants on February 1, 2019. While playing for the San Francisco Giants during 2019 Cactus League Spring Training, John Andreoli appeared in nine games and went 2-for-8 with two RBI and three walks.

On March 23, 2019, John Andreoli was traded to the Minnesota Twins. This twist of fate would lead to an unlikely reunion for two Team Italy baseball brothers. Facing Tim Tebow and the Syracuse Mets in a doubleheader at Frontier Field in Rochester, New York on April 16, 2019, Team Italy’s John Andreoli and Drew Maggi were reunited for the first time since playing in the 2017 World Baseball Classic as teammates on the Minnesota Twins Triple-A affiliate Rochester Red Wings roster. He commented, "It was surreal. When I got traded over there, I walked into the locker room with my bags, and Drew was one of the first ones I saw. So I just started laughing and I said 'We are right back in Guadalajara again.' It was great. I love playing alongside him. He's an unbelievable player and even a better person. We definitely went through a couple of the memories we had on Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Just playing alongside him and watching him do so well is great."

John Andreoli has witnessed firsthand how players from Italy have beaten the odds and enjoyed success in MLB. The signing of Team Italy slugger Robel Garcia by the Chicago Cubs is close to John Andreoli's heart since he too was signed by the Chicago Cubs. He commented, "I think a lot of people really didn't know who he was until this year. I saw him go up, being that I follow the Cubs a little bit having been in their system for so many years. I actually had the opportunity to play against him in Triple-A this year. He is really an impressive player, and I think he is going to have a long career over in the United States in Major League Baseball. So I think it's exciting."

John Andreoli believes winning starts on the first pitch. He said, "We are competing pitch-by-pitch. It's all about winning that pitch in that specfic at-bat whether you are on offense or defense. You are just trying to get as many runs as possible, and that's one of the reasons I love playing here. In the United States and Minor League Baseball, it's a lot about development. But here it's all about winning. Whatever opportunity you have that day to help the team win, you are trying to make the most of it."

Winning a berth to the 2020 Olympics begins in the 2019 European Baseball Championship. Pool B top-seed Team Italy (5-0) plays Pool A fourth-place finisher Germany (2-3) in the quarterfinals on Friday, September 13 at 7 pm. Another victory for Team Italy moves the Azzurri squad on to the semifinals against the winner of the Israel (4-1)/France (3-2) game on Saturday, September 14 at 7 pm. Pool A top-seed Netherlands (4-1) must defeat Belgium (2-3) in order to play the winner of the Spain (4-1)/Czech Republic (3-2) game in the semifinals.

It is likely that Team Italy and Euro rival Netherlands will finally meet in the European Baseball Championship final game on Sunday, September 15 at 7 pm. The top five finishers of the 2019 European Baseball Championship and South Africa will compete for the one ticket to Tokyo in the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier in Bologna and Parma from September 18-22, 2019. Forza #Italia! #LetsMakeItHappen #Tokyo2020

by Roberto Angotti

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