Team Italy pitcher Chris Cooper has passed away

Team Italy pitcher Chris Cooper has passed away
The 44-year-old Italian American pitcher, who led Team Italy to two European Baseball Championship titles, died of a heart attack. Azzurri coach and former teammate Jack Santora shed light on how important it was for Chris Cooper to represent Team Italy in international competition and in day-to-day life.

When Team Italy got the final out in the bottom of the ninth inning against Kingdom of  the Netherlands last night to advance to the 2023 World Baseball Classic quarterfinals in Tokyo, a complete stranger approached us in the Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium media section with a mystical message while pointing up to the sky and then gesturing down to the field. 

He professed, “There is also Bill (Holmberg) from up there celebrating together with them on the field." Indeed, internationally-respected coach Bill Holmberg was the longtime pillar of Italian baseball and the reason why Team Italy skipper Mike Piazza took on the Azzurri managerial role. The late and great Bill Holmberg mentored players like Chris Cooper, who loved him like a father. He also welcomed his adopted son into the pearly gates of heaven when word reached Taiwan that he had passed from a fatal heart attack. It was the news that kept many of us in a state of shock when others were celebrating one of Team Italy’s greatest baseball achievements in history. However, we take solace that the presence of Bill Holmberg and Chris Cooper could be felt on the Taiwanese diamond. 

Chris Cooper was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on October 31, 1978. After graduating from the University of New Mexico, he played in the Cleveland Indians and the NY Mets organizations before departing for Italy. Chris Cooper pitched for Montepaschi Grosseto from 2008 to 2011. He later spent three years playing for T&A San Marino and helped the team win the 2012 Italian Baseball Series.

Chris Cooper represented Team Italy in the 2009 and 2013 editions of the World Baseball Classic. He was an Azzurri hero on the mound when he won the decision in the 11-3 victory over the Netherlands in the 2010 European Baseball Championship final (6.0 IP, 2 ER, 1 BB , 8 SO). Chris Cooper was also instrumental in Team Italy repeating as 2012 Euro champion when relieving starter John Mariotti and pitching two scoreless innings with two strikeouts. 

Team Italy WBC coach and former Azzurri teammate Jack Santora said, "it's sadly ironic, we are here to represent Italy and he was so proud to be part of this. He loved these moments so much. He could wear this shirt every day for two years after our victories. He was great for the national team, and if you look at his career, he deserved a chance in the Big Leagues. It didn't happen, but of course it doesn't matter, he was just a great person. Now I'm drained, devastated, speechless. I have talked to Chris every day for the past five years. I know his family, his children. I hadn't heard from him for five days while I was here in Taiwan. And at 3 am this morning, I got this message. That's all I have now."

FIBS President Andrea Marcon sends his deepest condolences to the Cooper family on behalf of the entire Italian baseball movement. Forza #Chris! Forza #Bill!! Forza #Italia!!!

by Marco Landi and Roberto Angotti