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From Rome, With Glove
07/15/2013 4:39 PM ET
 

When most little boys in Verona, Italy go to sleep at night, they don't dream of being the next Ripken, Roberts, or Belanger. Most envision themselves as the next Fabio Cannavaro or Francecso Totti- Italian soccer stars of international acclaim.

Not Federico Castagnini. While other parents pushed their sons into soccer, Castagnini was raised with baseball.

"My parents were a huge influence on me playing baseball," Castagnini said. "I used to play both baseball and soccer, but my parents' love of the game pushed me towards baseball."

When American GIs imported baseball into Italy during World War II, Castagnini's family caught the bug. Both his parents played the sport in some form, and his father, Paolo, played professionally and now coaches in the Italian leagues.

"My mother had played softball and my dad played baseball; it was just something they did," Castagnini said. "The fact that they played is why I play."

Even growing up in a baseball family, learning to play baseball in Italy was a challenge for Castagnini. Italian little leagues are structured very differently than their American counterparts. Youth leagues are far more disorganized. Because of the limited popularity of the sport, teams are few and far between, and games can be difficult to schedule.

"We definitely practice more [as opposed to playing games] in Italy than you do in America," Castagnini said. "We just don't get enough playing time."

When it became hard to continue improving his skills in Italy, Castagnini did not give up on his dream. He chose to pursue it by moving to America.

"Ever since I was a little kid, I'd wanted to come over here and play baseball," Castagnini said.

He had been attempting to move to the United States for several years, but didn't get his chance until he was seventeen years old. He wound up in Colorado, living with a host family and graduating from an American high school.

After graduating, he moved on to Barton Community College in Great Bend, Kansas, where he continued to excel playing baseball. During his sophomore year at Barton, he hit .361 with 6 home runs and 67 RBIs, and was recognized as an honorable mention All-American by the NJCAA.

Castagnini then transferred to Creighton University, and in his sole year playing for the Blue Jays, hit .320 and was twice named Missouri Valley Conference player of the week. But even with all the success, Castagnini's baseball future remained uncertain.

"I talked to a bunch of scouts my sophomore year [at Barton], and thought I had a chance to get drafted," said Castagnini, who was drafted by the Orioles in the 30th round of the 2013 MLB Draft. "But my junior year, I didn't talk to anybody, and then all of a sudden, I get that call. I was absolutely shocked. It was one of the happiest days of my life."

Castagnini was then faced with the choice: whether to join the Orioles organization or return to Creighton for his senior season.

"The whole season, I had never really thought about it," Castagnini said of getting drafted. "But I came here all the way from Italy just to play professional baseball, so at the end of the day, it was a pretty easy decision."

For Castagnini, it was a dream come true, even if it was a dream he didn't share with many of his countrymen. However, while his baseball journey has taken him all over the world, Castagnini knows where he wants it to end.

"Obviously, I want to end up in the major leagues," he stated emphatically. "If you play baseball, it doesn't matter where you're from, you're going to want to play in the Major Leagues."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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