Liddi far from home during World Cup win

Italian Minor Leaguer's love of baseball keeps him in the U.S.

(Salvatore Laporta/Getty)

July 11, 2006 11:14 AM ET

Over 25 million Italians watched Sunday's World Cup Final, as their beloved Azzurri emerged victorious over France. The game was the very definition of a "can't miss event" - a nerve-wracking and ultimately triumphant contest that resulted in a euphoric explosion of national pride.

Alex Liddi, an Italian athlete who hails from the town of Sanremo, wishes he could have seen it.

Instead, Liddi spent the afternoon on a baseball diamond, scuffling through an Arizona Rookie League game in which he collected a single and struck out three times as his Mariners fell to the Giants by a score of 8-2.

Liddi, a third baseman, signed with the Seattle Mariners this past September. Scouts had been impressed by his play in the 2005 European Baseball Championships. Last month, he arrived in the United States to pursue his dream of playing baseball at the world's highest level -- the Major Leagues. last spoke with Liddi on June 15, shortly before Italy's game against the United States in the first round of World Cup play.

"I'm scared that Italy will lose, because then my teammates will make fun of me," he said at the time.

That game ended in a 1-1 tie. The United States lost to Ghana five days later and failed to advance to the semi-finals. The Italians, of course, went on to defeat the Czech Republic, Australia, the Ukraine, Germany and, finally, France. So how did Liddi's teammates respond to Italy's amazing string of victories?

"They kept changing things around," Liddi said. "Before the games, they would say that Italy is not going to win. After the games they would say that they knew Italy would win all along."

Of course, Liddi was disappointed that he missed out on all the celebrating that's occurred in the wake of Italy's win.

"I want to be back home," he said. "I called my friends and they told me about how everyone was out in the streets celebrating."

Still, Liddi has absolutely no regrets about his decision to leave his country in order to pursue a career in the Majors.

"I have to live my life, and baseball is my life," he said.

Thus far, Liddi has been pleased with how his first Minor League season has progressed. He is currently hitting .276 over 58 at-bats, with four doubles, eight runs scored and five RBIs.

"I've been working a lot on my hitting," he said. "And it's my goal to hit .300."

That certainly seems attainable. Liddi was hitting .325 as recently as July 4, but has collected just three hits over his last 18 at-bats. And while he's connected on two deep fly balls that almost left the park, he has yet to hit a home run.

"I don't worry much about that," he said. "I'm still young, and the power will come with age."

Liddi has been able to adjust to life away from home despite the fact that he is the only native Italian in the Arizona League. Pitcher Alessandro Maestri was slated to begin the season with the AZL Cubs, but was sent to the Northwest League's Boise Hawks instead.

"We haven't talked since he left," said Liddi. "I'd email him, but my computer is broken."

Despite the lack of fellow Italians, Liddi says he doesn't mind living in Arizona. But there's one thing he has really been craving, however, and it has nothing to do with soccer.

"I really miss Italian food," he said. "Especially my mom's cooking."

Benjamin Hill is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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