Il favorito

THE ITALIAN STALLION, IL FAVORITO

Alex Maestri is the Bandits fan favourite, looking to take the same title for the league as well

The Bandits ace made nine starts for Brisbane this season

The Bandits ace made nine starts for Brisbane this season (Ryan Schembri / SMP Images)

The man barely needs an introduction.

He was the ace of the Brisbane Bandits this season. He is the Italian Stallion. He is a team leader. He is an Australian Baseball League All-Star. He is il favorito dei tifosi in his native tongue. In English, he is the fan favourite.

Alex Maestri made the trip from his hometown of Cesena, Italy to take the mound for Brisbane this summer, and in a short time made a huge impression. The 26-year-old not only had a fantastic season for the Bandits on the hill, but has garnered continued attention as the days count down until the winner of the ABL Fan Choice Award is announced.

As of Tuesday night, the Italian right-hander leads the charge with almost 400 more votes than the next leading competitor, though the contest, presented by Fielder’s Choice, doesn’t close until Friday evening.

After winning the title of fan favourite for the Brisbane Bandits, Maestri now faces the other team’s picks to be the favorito of the league. Though at first the native of Italy didn’t really pay too much attention to the contest, it has now become a source of fun for him and for people around him.

“It’s cool,” Maestri said. “I didn’t really think too much about it at first but then I saw my friends back home [in Italy] kind of got into it. And lately it’s been good to be in first and to have a lot of votes coming my way as well. It feels good.”

Not only does the pitcher have support coming in from Italy, but he’s also gained awareness from American and Canadian Bandits fans, and of course from those in Brisbane. Maestri’s international following is likely what has helped put him ahead of the other candidates by such a wide margin, and is also something to be proud of.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “I’ve been traveling a lot for the past six years, playing baseball all over the map, and it’s cool to know that I’ve got friends all over the board. It’s great to have that support behind me, for a fan contest or for anything.”

It should be no surprise to anyone that Maestri is so popular after the season he pieced together for the Bandits. From his first start for the team to the end of the season, his presence on the mound was impressive and he was noticeable right from the beginning.

In Round 1 of ABL action he earned runner-up honours for the Player of the Week award, something he would do three times in total over the season, also notching a win in that category down the road. Taking his first turn in the Brisbane starting rotation in Canberra, Maestri threw five innings, allowing just two hits and one run with a walk and a strikeout, making his debut in the Bandits uniform.

The following week, the righty had one of his most memorable outings of the season. At home for the first time he went 5 1/3 innings against the Sydney Blue Sox lineup, allowing five hits, no runs and striking out 10 on the night. That was the first that Bandits fans saw of Maestri, and certainly an indication of what more was to come.

The Italian Stallion earned an honourable mention once again for his performance in Round 3. In Melbourne he tossed seven complete frames, allowing seven hits, three runs and one walk, while striking out eight more batters.

Maestri’s Player of the Week award finally came in Round 8 of the ABL. He started off the home series against Canberra with a two-hit complete game, only the third such game of its kind in the league at the time. He allowed just one unearned run, fanning four batters on the night, facing 24 consecutive hitters without allowing a hit between the third inning and the ninth.

The ABL All-Star followed up his stellar performance with another one in Perth the following week. Against the Heat lineup in Round 9, Maestri went six innings, allowing four hits, one run, three walks and striking out four. With so many fantastic outings to choose from, it’s understandable that more than one performance would stand out on the season in his mind.

“There were a couple of games, actually,” Maestri said of his season’s highlights. “The first would definitely be the one with Sydney at home where I had those 10 strikeouts. I was feeling pretty good there. And then the complete game was nice because I haven’t really had that many. I never really started when I was in the minor leagues.

“And then there was the game in Perth when we were on the road at the end of the year. I only went six innings but I felt pretty good there too. Those were probably the three best games of the year for me.”

This season was a comeback season for the former Cubs prospect in a sense, after having some things to work through and move past from his time in baseball in recent years. Though no one would ever know it watching him this summer in Australia, the right-hander had recent struggles up until he made his way down under.

“It was really great,” Maestri said of his Aussie baseball experience. “My last two years were kind of bad and I was looking for a place to rebound from that and playing ball here kind of brought me back to life. I just ran into a couple of bad years with baseball and my confidence went down a lot during that time. My last year in Double-A wasn’t good at all but coming here it’s like I kind of found myself again.”

If a season like Maestri’s can’t help confidence than it would be hard to find an alternative. Fortunately for the righty, and for Bandits fans, the Italian Stallion appeared to have found his groove back, even though he didn’t necessarily get into it right away.

“Not really,” he said of having confidence coming into the season. “I still had those bad memories in my mind floating around. But then I started pitching well again and I started to feel like I had everything back once more. It was pretty cool and it was a very good experience.”

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