SHOOTING THE BREEZE WITH… THE BANDITS ALEX MAESTRI
Recently, Boris from ABLBUZZ was lucky enough to spend some quality time with Brisbane Bandits gun import Alex Maestri. We chatted about Australia, Italy, baseball, soccer, vegemite and Mike Piazza among other things. Alex comes across as a man who is passionate about his baseball and one who takes any setbacks in his stride. He also seems like a hell of a nice bloke who is committed to making his trip downunder a positive step in his career.
Read on to discover more about Alex, affectionately dubbed “The Italian Stallion” by his manager.
Boris AblBuzz: In the Minor Leagues you would be at the ballpark almost every day, in Australia you regularly have 3 or more days off and right now you have 6 days off. How have you found the transition to having more time off between games?
Alex Maestri: It was hard at first getting used to not playing everyday, but now I am getting used to practicing more to fill in the time, and the bonus is I like spending a bit of time at the beach when I get the chance.
B: With a 6 day break from the last series, what have you been up to?
AM: I went up to the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast in my time off, spent a lot of time just chilling on the beach, it is some beautiful country right here!
B: When you were in the Cubs organisation, they pretty much tagged you as a reliever due to your “fearlessness”. Your work as a starter for Brisbane has been outstanding so far – do you have a preference to start or work out of the pen?
AM: When I played Independent ball I was used as a starter, and I did find it hard at first having been a reliever for a long time. I really love the bullpen as it is a lot of fun hanging out with the other guys and being ready to go at any stage, but I am enjoying the challenge of being a starter.
B: Your minor league career was slowed due to some shoulder problems – do you feel that the shoulder issues are behind you now?
AM: In 2008 I had a shoulder problem and struggled a little coming back from that in 2009, but luckily I avoided surgery and the shoulder is feeling really strong now, back to what it was before I had any problems.
B: A couple of years ago Baseball America – a highly respected minor league magazine – voted your slider the best of all pitchers in the entire Cub organisation. Is it still your “go to” pitch?
AM: Yeah, the slider has been a big pitch for me and I am getting it back now. It was always a great strikeout pitch for me but I lost the feeling of it for a couple of years – but it is coming back right now and it’s good to have it back! I’ve been working on my change up more as I didn’t really use it much as a reliever, but it is good to have that extra pitch to throw when you are starting.
B: With a 10 strikeout game already under your belt, do you feel like right now you are at the top of your game?
AM: It’s funny as I haven’t really been trying to strike guys out, but getting the feel of my pitches is the priority. Sometimes when you try to strike guys out you can’t get any! I think because I have been executing my pitches well it has just been a bonus to get the strikeouts.
B: What has been the biggest surprise for you in regard to the Australian Baseball League so far?
AM: I knew it would be a pretty good league here as I have played against Australia in International competition and the skill level is high. I must say that I wasn’t expecting the fans to be so much into it, they really seem to love the game – it’s a bit like inItaly, the fan numbers aren’t huge but they are all passionate about the game.
B: The reason we love baseball Alex is that the closest alternative is cricket, one of the most boring games on earth!
AM: (laughing) Yeah, I don’t think I am going to get into that game, it seems kind of strange and goes for a long time………
B: You recently competed for Italy in the World Baseball Championship in Panama – what was the experience in Panama like?
AM:Panama was a good time but unfortunately we were out of Panama City so we didn’t get to see a lot of the country. The tournament itself was fun though.
B: You had some bad weather throughout the tournament, did that make it tough?
AM: Yeah, it did rain a lot – which makes you wonder why they play a tournament in the wet season!
B: You are currently staying with a host family in Brisbane – has that been a fun experience?
AM: My host family is awesome, they are a great family who have a lot of fun – they give me a hard time when I give up runs but they treat me great! They are volunteers for the Bandits so they know their baseball and are fun to be around.
B: What other sports do you follow – being of Italian heritage, surely there is a soccer player inside waiting to get out?
AM: I played soccer when I was 5 years old but since I took up baseball I don’t play a lot. I do like to play 5 on 5 with my friends back home; it is a great game to enjoy with friends. I do follow the soccer scene and keep up with the scores on the computer when I am away from home. Inter Milan is my team, so I keep up with how they are going.
B: Alex Liddi of the Mariners got to the big leagues last season – the first Italian born and raised player to do so. At one stage you guys were almost even money as to who would make it first to the bigs. You both played together on the 2009 World Baseball Classic team – do you follow his career at all?
AM: Yeah, we are like best friends actually. We always worked out together in the off-season, and we worked hard to try and get to the big leagues. I am very happy for him that he has made it, and I hope that this experience inAustralia will help me to get there too some day.
B: With soccer being so huge in Italy, do you think players such as yourself and Liddi will go some way to raising the profile of the game back home?
AM: Baseball is unfortunately not very popular back home, but much like here there are teams that you can play for if you like. With Alex making the majors I hope that it helps to get people interested but right now it is hard to compete with soccer.
B: What are your plans once the Aussie season is done?
AM: When I’m done I am going to head back toItaly for a couple of months, then off to the States to play independent ball for one more year to see what happens. I am playing for the River City Rascals in the Frontier league next season which will be fun. It is close toSt. Louis in Missouri, Cardinal country!
B: Speaking of the Cardinals, did you watch the World Series?
AM: Yeah, the great thing about being in Australia was that I could watch it in the morning. Game 6 was just awesome; I remember watching it and just thinking how amazing it was. That is how World Series are supposed to be, so exciting.
B: Your played on the 2006 WBC team that included 12 time All-Star Mike Piazza as catcher, then with him as a coach in 2009 and again recently in 2011. What was it like playing and working with him?
AM: It’s cool being around him – he really loves Italy, and tries to promote the game back home as much as possible. He is such a great guy to have around; it almost seems unreal that he is there with you in the team!
B: Does he still swing it OK?
AM: Yeah actually he still takes a few swings, and one time recently he just walked up like he does and asks to take a few swings, and he casually smashed one out of the park on the second pitch! He is an incredible guy.
B: What is the favourite food and drink you have discovered since being down here in Australia?
AM: Oh man, my host family tried to get me to eat some vegemite, but no way am I eating that again. They love it but I don’t think it is for me. They also got me into some Ginger Beer which I think is good!
B: Have you had a chance to visit any tourist spots on your visit so far?
AM: My brother told me I have to go to Byron Bay because he has been there before and said it was great, and Fraser Island is on the list if I get a chance. When I was inMelbourne I tried to get around and see a few things but it was raining a lot! (Ed: no surprise there….)
B: Your team mates seem happy to give you plenty of nicknames – GTM, the Italian Stallion – who is the craziest team mate on the Bandits roster?
AM: Brad Dutton is pretty intense when he plays; he looks a bit crazy but just gets right into it which I love. Roberts just runs into walls and it doesn’t bother him at all, nothing ever seems to happen to him! There aren’t many guys like that in baseball. There are some other crazy things but I probably shouldn’t say too much…
B: What do you think your chances of The Bandits going all the way to the Championship in the ABL this year?
AM: Yeah, Perth is doing great, but I like our team – we have hard working guys and a good balance. We seem to do well in the close games, which is important. I guess we will wait and see but I think we have a good chance.
B: How are you getting on with the Japanese players?
AM: They are cool guys, but the language barrier is hard. We have a lot of fun with them, I always try and talk to them and we have a good time. They are so respectful and work hard.
Boris and ABLBUZZ wish to say a big “thanks” to Alex for his time and to the Brisbane Bandits (in particular Anna James) organisation for teeing the interview up. We also wish Alex all the best for the rest of the ABL season and the continuation of his career back in the U.S.