In the opening game for Team Italy against South Africa in the Europe-Africa Olympic Baseball Qualifier at Stadio Nino Cavalli in Parma on September 18, 2019, the Italians were unable to complete the contest due to an onslaught of rain, thunder and lightening. Prior to the first pitch of a game that was suspended for weather in the top of the sixth inning with Italy and South Africa tied 4-4, National Baseball Hall of Famer Mike Piazza gave Team Italy an uplifting, inspirational, and motivating speech. The Azzurri baseball squad responded with a standing ovation for the proud Italian American baseball hero who now resides with his family just outside of Parma.
Team Italy manager Gilberto "Gibo" Gerali called on his usually dependable pitching ace Alessandro Maestri, who got off to a rocky start when giving up three runs in the bottom of the first inning. South Africa countered with former Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels pitching prospect Dylan Unsworth, who surrendered his first base hit to Team Italy designated hitter Giuseppe Mazzanti in the top of the second inning. Toronto Blue Jays catching prospect Alberto Mineo and Team Italy captain Alessandro Vaglio followed with back-to-back singles to load the bases for shortstop Gavin Cecchini. The New York Mets first-round pick of the 2012 MLB draft made his first Azzurri at-bat since the 2017 World Baseball Classic and delivered a two-run single in the left field corner to put the Italians on the board. Then center fielder Federico Celli singled to load the bases for Azzurri leadoff hitter John Andreoli, who came through in the clutch with an RBI fielder's choice to tie the game 3-3.
South Africa answered with one run in the bottom of the second inning to take a slim 4-3 lead. Team Italy got even in the contest in the top of fourth inning when catcher Alberto Mineo led off with a solo home run blast over the scoreboard in right-center field. In the bottom of the fourth inning, starter Alessandro Maestri (3.0 innings pitched, four earned runs on five hits, five strikeouts, and two walks) was relieved by lefty Michael Johnson. The former Los Angeles Dodgers pitching prospect threw an easy 1-2-3 out inning with one strikeout. He returned in the bottom of the fifth inning and escaped trouble after a leadoff double down the right field line just out of reach of first baseman Chris Colabello. A sacrifice bunt out followed by a strikeout and a flyout left the South Africa baserunner stranded on third base without scoring.
The 4-4 tie game between Team Italy and South Africa will resume at Stadio Nino Cavalli in Parma on Friday, September 20 at 11 am. Team Italy now travels to nearby Bologna for a battle at Stadio Gianni Falchi against Czech Republic on Thursday, September 19 at 8 pm. The Italians return to Stadio Nino Cavalli in Parma for a pair of contests on Friday, September 20 beginning with resumption of the South Africa game at 11 am followed by a clash against Israel on at 8 pm. Team Italy remains in Parma for a game against Spain on Saturday, September 21 at 8 pm. The rematch between European baseball powerhouses Italy and Kingdom of the Netherlands takes place at Stadio Gianni Falchi in Bologna on Sunday, September 22 at 8 pm. The top finisher in the round-robin tournament earns the right to be the lone Europe-Africa representative in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Forza #Italia! #LetsMakeItHappen #RoadtoTokyo
by Roberto Angotti