PC: Ezio Ratti-FIBS
Alessandro Maestri, 30, made history in 2006 when he became the first Italian-born pitcher signed by an MLB team. The right-hander signed with the Chicago Cubs as a non-drafted free agent. “It was definitely a dream come true, and being the first Italian pitcher to do it always motivated me, really pushed me, to try to get to the big leagues,” Maestri says. “I really thought that I was going to get there one day.”
Maestri had a couple of rough years in Double-A, and that lead to his release. Nevertheless, his years in the US were a great experience that taught him a lot. “I would definitely do it all again,” Maestri says.
He started to play baseball at the age of six. It was his brother that enticed little Alessandro to the ball field. “My friends and I grew up together going to school and playing baseball and we ended up having a pretty good team. At ages 11-12, some other guys and I got a chance to play for the Little League Italian national team.”
Maestri went on to represent the Italian minor league team Torre Pedrera before taking that next step. In 2005, he started to play with San Marino in the Italian Baseball League. Even though it was a big leap for the 20-year-old pitcher, his memories of that first game are vague.
“Honestly I don’t remember much about my first outing in San Marino, but I’m pretty sure it was in relief. I do remember that year though. That was my first year in the highest league in Italy. I was pretty excited to play and it ended up being a lot of fun. We got to the finals and finished second.”
In 2006, Maestri started his adventure in the USA. The first year he played with the Chicago Cubs affiliate the Boise Hawks in Class A-short. He played 42 2/3 innings with a win-loss record of 4-3 and an ERA of 3.80. Maestri played with the Peoria Chiefs in A-Class for 2007. He performed so well that the Cubs made plans to convert him into a starter the next season.
Maestri began the 2008 season on the Daytona Cubs’ starting rotation in the Florida State League Class A advanced. After that he was promoted to the AA Southern League Tennessee Smokies. With the Smokies Maestri made two starts in which he pitched 11 innings and gave up eight earned runs. Unfortunately he suffered a shoulder injury and the Cubs ended the starter experiment with him. Maestri played three more years in Double-A, and in Class A-Advanced, before being released in 2010.
In 2011 Maestri played independent baseball in the American Association with the Lincoln Saltdogs. November of that same year Alessandro decided it was time for a new adventure. He made his Australian Baseball League debut with the Brisbane Bandits against the Canberra Cavalry. “Australia is the best country I’ve played baseball for so far. The cities you get to play in, the weather, the people and their life styles. It is beautiful all around. Baseball-wise it was huge for me because I was able to get my confidence back after getting released by the Cubs.”
After Australia, Maestri made a short visit to Italy for the Rimini Baseball Club and then got a chance to play independent ball in Japan for 2012. First Maestri played with the Kagawa Olive Guyners of the Shikoku Island League, and then he signed with the Orix Buffaloes of the NPB where he still plays.
For many Europeans it takes time to settle into the Japanese culture, but Masteri says it wasn´t hard for him. “At the beginning my teammates and coaches were great with me. I found it fun to learn their culture and took it as a challenge to do things their way.”
One can easily say that Maestri has travelled around the world and seen a lot. He says that he has learned plenty during these years. “It teaches you so much when you know other cultures, learn other ways to do things and live life. It opens up your mind and makes you more independent. I would recommend it to everybody.”
Right now Alessandro Maestri is in Taiwan with Team Italy preparing for the WBSC Premiere12 tournament. According to him, they are going for the win. “Since 2007, thanks to our coach Mazzieri, Team Italy has changed the way in which it approaches tournaments. This competition will not be easy because we are playing against the best players but we’ll give it our best and try to honor our colors.”
Team Italy went on to take the 11 spot in the Premiere12. In 2016, Maestri played for the Hanwha Eagles in the Korean Baseball Organization.
This article was first published in November 2015 in European Baseball Magazine.