« Round 2 of World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park | Main | Jose Fernandez sent to minors -- maybe for last time »

Former Marlins catcher Mike Piazza (albeit briefly) enjoying time as Italy's hitting coach

Even though he was only a Marlin for five games, Mike Piazza has always maintained a soft spot in his heart for South Florida.

Mike PiazzaThe 44-year old future Hall of Fame catcher -- once a standout at Miami-Dade College and even a University of Miami Hurricane -- has lived in Miami Beach for the last 10 years. So getting to come home for the World Baseball Classic with surprising team Italy has been nice.

But where Piazza could end up finding a job next is as a major league hitting coach.

His work with Italy's national team has definitely opened some eyes. Although Italy has just four regular major leaguers in its lineup (Dodgers infielder Nick Punto, Padres center fielder Chris Denorfia, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Mariners third baseman Alex Liddi), they've pounded the ball. They came into Tuesday's Round 2 opener against the Dominican Republic hitting .336 as a team (second best in the tournament) and having scored more runs (22) than it did in the previous six WBC games combined (19) in 2006 and 2009.

Piazza said his message to his hitters has been clear: relax at the plate and use the entire field, like he did during his 16-year career.

"My sort of whole agenda is to get these guys to believe they're good enough to be productive," said Piazza, a former 62nd round pick who knows a thing or two about overcoming long odds.

"[Rizzo] asked me 'How did you have great power to right?' My old joke was well there is a fence out there, too. I told them you've got to open the field up a little bit. Little things like that are getting into their heads a little bit, especially with two strikes. These are good pitchers, they're going to get outs. Make them earn it. Just don't get outs on their pitch."

Rizzo, Italy's No. 3-hitter and a former standout at Stoneman Douglas High in nearby Parkland said when Piazza has opened his mouth everyone on Italy's team has listened. "He just makes you so relaxed," Rizzo told reporters last week in Phoenix. "He'd be a great hitting coach."

Piazza, a 12-time All-Star and career .308 hitter with 427 home runs, 1,335 RBI, said he's not necessarily looking for a major league job right now. But he is enjoying his time with team Italy, whom he played for back in 2006 and has remained involved with as both a consultant and a coach.

"At this point in my life it's exactly what I want to do," said Piazza, a father of two girls. "Being of Italian American decent, the tradition and the pride my family has -- and also the other Italian American guys here -- for me it's a small way to give back and spread the game worldwide. It's a plus what we've done in the tournament so far. It's a plus for baseball and for baseball in Italy. We knew coming into it it was going to be difficult.

"But as the Japanese have shown you don't always have to have the most talented team, just play well at the right time. Hopefully we can follow that model."

Piazza said while some may be surprised how well the Italians have done in this year's tournament, he said he isn't and points out how the Italians have played both the Japanese and Cubans frequently over the last 10 years while winning 10 European titles.

Piazza credits manager Marco Mazzieri with doing a great job motivating the team and even showed them photos of Marlins Park and San Francisco's AT&T Park before the tournament as "future destinations."

The finals are in San Francisco.

"Sometimes when you are going in that direction as a coach you don't know how guys are going to take it, but it's been fun to watch those guys respond to that," Piazza said. "I've said many times in my life you can never stop trying to find something to motivate you even as a major leaguer. The fact he's been so positive and so excited has kept us focused on the mission."

Comments