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12/10/08 3:00 PM EST

Italy out to make mark on world stage

Country looks to carry success in Europe to 2009 Classic

The Italian national baseball team is considered to be one of the strongest in Europe. In fact, the Italians were the only team to beat Team USA during the American's run to the gold medal in the 2007 World Cup.

World Baseball Classic success, however, eluded Italy in 2006. The Italians did not make it out of the first round of play in Pool D, going 1-2, with the lone victory coming against Australia.

In 2009, Italy will have a new manager -- Marco Mazzieri, who became manager of the Italian national team in 2007, will replace Matt Galante -- and a new chance to make a name for itself on the international stage.

Mazzieri, who guided the Italian national team to a European Championship in 2007, is excited for the opportunity.

"It will be a great challenge," Mazzieri told Italian reporters, "and it won't be easy. But when Major League players face other Major League players, anything can happen."

Italy lost some star power in its lineup with the retirement of Mike Piazza, but Piazza will remain involved. He will serve as the Italian team's hitting coach.

Mazzieri's staff will also include former Indians, Orioles and Mariners manager Mike Hargrove, who will serve as bench coach, and former Brewers and Cubs manager Tom Trebelhorn, who will be the third-base coach.

A total of 69 players are under consideration for the Italian roster. Several of them have Major League ties.

Rangers utilityman Frank Catalanotto, who went 4-for-11 with a team-high three RBIs for Italy in 2006, is on the list. Earlier this year, Catalanotto was asked if he'd like to participate in the Classic again, and he sounded enthusiastic about the possibility.

"I thought it was great," he said. "Most of the guys I played with didn't speak much English, and it was great getting to know them."

Brewers right-hander Mark Di Felice, A's left-hander Lenny DiNardo, Rockies right-hander Jason Grilli, Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, Angels catcher Mike Napoli, Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta, free-agent catchers Sal Fasano and Mike DiFelice, free-agent infielder Nick Punto and A's outfielder Chris Denorfia are also on the list.

Minor Leaguers being considered include left-handers Phil Barzilla, Brian Mazone, Mike Gallo and Matteo Pizziconi, right-handers Cliff Flagello, B.J. La Mura, Alessandro Maestri, Marc Lamacchia, Kasey Olenberger, Adam Ottavino and Mauro Schiavoni, shortstop Tommy Manzella, third baseman Mike Costanzo and first baseman Val Pascucci.

Italy will have a provisional roster of 45 players put together by Jan. 19, with the official roster of 28 players secured by Feb. 24.

The sport of baseball has only gained in importance in Italy since it was first taught to the Italians by American troops during World War II.

But while Italy has a history of performing well in the biennial European Baseball Championship, which it has won eight times since 1954, the country has struggled against the likes of the U.S., Japan, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela in international play.

In the 2009 Classic, Italy will be in a new pool of play, joining the U.S., Canada and Venezuela in Pool C.

Italy's first game is scheduled for Saturday, March 7, at the Rogers Center in Toronto. The Italians will face Venezuela at 8 p.m. ET in a game broadcast on the MLB Network.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.