Rainiers’ third baseman Alex Liddi comes from Italy, a country not renowned for its baseball heritage. He was only 16 when the Mariners signed him as a non-drafted free agent in September of 2005, just out of high school. The next spring he was playing in Peoria, Ariz., in the rookie league, thousands of miles away from his home in San Remo, Italy. Tacoma Weekly baseball correspondent Karen Westeen sat down recently with Liddi to find out what this multi-cultural experience has been like for him.
TW: What was it like growing up in Italy?
AL: I was just a regular kid, going to school every day and then when I was five years old I started to play baseball a little bit and when I was seven I started to play Little League. When I was 16 I had a chance to sign and I decided that’s what I wanted to do with my life.
TW: Is there a lot of organized baseball in Italy?
AL: It’s not as big as soccer and other sports, but there is a professional league and it’s not that bad. But there aren’t as many fans as here.
TW: Are there teams in the high schools or is it mostly a club (not school affiliated) sport?
AL: Sports are something you do after school. It has nothing to do with classes. You can choose which sport you want to play. Baseball was a family sport and it was always my dream to come to the states and maybe eventually play in the Big Leagues.
TW: Did you play other sports?
AL: No. Baseball was my passion since I was a kid, there was no other sport. My parents never told me ‘no, don’t sign,’ they were always on my side.
TW: I heard that your father spent some of his early life in the United States.
AL: My dad grew up here, from elementary school to high school, because his family came here to find work. He played baseball and football here, then he went back to Italy and met my mom. She played softball.
TW: Had you ever been to the United States before you signed?
AL: I played in Little League tournaments here when I was 11 and 12. My mom came with me. I came back at 14 for another tournament, and at 15 the Orioles invited me to Spring Training for 10 days.
TW: Did you start working with special coaches or trainers when you decided to make baseball your life’s work?
AL: My dad was a baseball player. I had worked with him until I was 15. He helped coach me. I also worked with the manager of the Italian national team and he knew a lot about baseball
TW: How did you and your family prepare for you to come to the U.S.?
AL: I knew they were on my side, because of the passion I have for this game.
TW: Your English is very good. Did you study it in school?
AL: I was taking one or two hours a week in high school and when I got here I worked on it. Even if I got it wrong, it was easier to pick it up when you communicate with somebody rather than studying it in a foreign country.
TW: Over your five and a half seasons as a professional, you’ve played in Arizona, Wisconsin, California, Tennessee and now Tacoma. Is there a park that you like really well?
AL: In the Midwest League I liked it in Wisconsin, and I like it here a lot.
TW: Is this a good park for you to hit in?
AL: Yes, I like this park. (As of June 25, Liddi is batting .255. He leads the team in games played (75), homeruns (13) and doubles (22).)
TW: Has your family seen you play professionally yet?
AL: Yes, they usually come to spring training.
TW: 2009 was a monster year for you. You lead all minor leaguers in batting average (.345) and the Mariners named you their Minor League Player of the Year, plus you played for Team Italy in the Baseball World Classic. And you set personal highs in several offensive categories. Why did that happen?
AL: Before spring training I went to the World Classic and I got to spend some time playing against Big Leaguers. That gave me confidence to see that I can play well, and I felt good about myself at spring training. (It helped me) feel more comfortable about making mistakes.
TW: This is your first year here in Tacoma, working with Alonzo Powell, the Rainiers’ hitting coach. What are you learning from him?
AL: He was a great player and it’s a pleasure for us to have him around. He doesn’t change a lot in my mechanics, just helps me see little things to do different. At this level it’s more about the mental approach.
TW: Do you feel you contribute more to the Rainiers with your offense or your defense?
AL: My offense got off to a rough start, but now I’m hitting better. But I stayed good on defense. Even when you go 0-for-4 at the plate, you can help win the game on defense.
TW: There have been many famous Italian-American baseball players but none so far who came straight from Italy. How does that make you feel?
AL: I hope I could be the first to go to play in the Major Leagues.
TW: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
AL: Playing in the World Classic, and going to Big League camp for spring training.
(Liddi also played on the world team for the Major League All Star Futures game in 2009 and 2010 and was recently named to play in the game again this year. It will be held in Phoenix, Arizona, on Sunday, July 10.)
TW: I know it’s a long way off, but have you thought at all about what you’d like to do after your illustrious career is over?
AL: Maybe be a coach or help my nation to get more players into the Big Leagues.