03/04/2013 4:50 PM ET
Team Italy confident despite 'underdog' status
By William Boor / MLB.com
Italy has won 10 European championships, including the past two. However the Italians are in a pool with Canada, Mexico, the United States and are viewed largely as an underdog.
The Italians know what people expect of them and know the other teams are talented, but they have confidence in themselves and believe they have the talent necessary to turn a few heads.
"We're going to go with the underdog mentality," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "No one is going to expect us to win. [We want to] just sneak up and play good baseball."
Rizzo knows other teams may appear to have more talent, but the World Baseball Classic is a brief tournament, as opposed to a 162-game season, where any team can catch fire for a few weeks.
"It's not about [batting] average or ERA in this tournament," Rizzo said. "It is all about who is going to get that big hit in the right situation."
Alex Liddi is one of the players Italy will be leaning on to get that big hit.
Liddi hit .224 in 38 games with the Mariners last year and .375 in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
As the first Italian-born player to reach the Major Leagues, Liddi has overcome obstacles and is familiar with the role of the underdog.
"It's kind of the story of my career, too," Liddi said. "I'm kind of used to that, because no one expected me to be here. It doesn't really matter to me. We just have to play the game and beat the other team."
Despite the lack of attention the Italian squad is receiving, Liddi feels their resume speaks for itself and that the team has nothing to prove. The 24-year old third baseman simply wants to win and is ignoring the outside expectations.
"We don't have to prove anything to anyone, but we really want to win so they better come ready for us," Liddi said.
Players working to overcome language barrier
PHOENIX -- With just a few days to go until Italy plays its first game in the World Baseball Classic, there is some bonding and development that needs to take place.
"The language barrier is the biggest thing," Anthony Rizzo said. "The guys that don't know English, it is pretty cool hearing them speak in Italian."
Despite the lack of fluency, Rizzo said he has picked up a little Italian -- claiming it is similar to Spanish -- and acknowledged that a lot of his teammates speak a bit of English.Rizzo can't have extensive conversations with teammates that don't speak English, but admitted it is not all that complicated to figure everything out.
"Baseball is baseball," Rizzo said. "It's not like they are doing anything crazy different."
If for some reason there is a communication breakdown between Rizzo or any of his teammates, the Italian players can always look to Alex Liddi for guidance.
Liddi was born in Italy, but has lived in the United States for a while and can speak both languages.
"I've been in the States for a while and I know all the Italian guys for a long time," Liddi said. "The Italian guys have known me longer and the American guys know who I am as well, so I can treat everyone the same.
In addition to overcoming the different languages spoken in the clubhouse, dugout and on the field, the Italian team -- as well as several other teams in the World Baseball Classic -- will have to work with Major League players who may or may not be ready to compete in full-length, high-intensity games.
The Major League players are in the early stages of Spring Training, and most of the regulars have yet to play a full game, but Rizzo does not believe that will be an issue.
"I'm going to be as ready as I am," Rizzo said. "Only 20 at-bats in, but that's as ready as anybody's going to be. Pitchers are only maybe 10 innings in. I'm not the only one."
Liddi, teammates take pride in representing Italy
PHOENIX -- Italy won't officially begin the 2013 World Baseball Classic until it plays Mexico on Thursday, but the players have already begun to acknowledge the sense of pride that comes with representing their country.
"Of course you take a lot of pride in this competition," Alex Liddi said. "We are looking forward to giving a good impression and not only playing good, but winning the games and going as far as we can."
The Italians had their first day of camp Monday at Papago Baseball Facility, and finally getting everyone together in one clubhouse after months of anticipation, brought everyone's emotions and excitement to life.
"It is nice to get together finally," Liddi said. "It was a long wait. I was excited, so I'm happy to be here today and see everybody again."
Liddi, a native of Italy, was already familiar with a lot of the guys on the Italian roster, but Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo did not have that luxury as camp began.
The 23-year-old Rizzo barely speaks Italian, but is just as excited to be competing for the pride of a country.
"It's pretty cool so far, just getting to know everyone and seeing a different style and culture," Rizzo said. "The reason to do it is to compete on an international level. I think this is going to be a great experience."
William Boor is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.