Italian flavour

31 Maggio 2011
Lincoln starting pitcher Alex Maestri fields a bunt bare-handed in the third inning against Kansas City at Haymarket Park on Tuesday, May 24, 2011. The game was suspended in the seventh inning with Kansas City leading Lincoln 3-1. (GWYNETH ROBERTS / Lincoln Journal Star)

No decision and no finish, but Alex Maestri showed plenty of good things for the Lincoln Saltdogs in their home opener Tuesday night at Haymarket Park.

The Saltdogs trailed the Kansas City T-Bones 3-1 after the top of the seventh inning before sending 3,249 fans home. The game will be picked up at 11 a.m. with a second nine-inning game to follow.

Maestri did his best to keep the score tied through six innings.

The 25-year-old, the first Italian-born pitcher signed by a major league organization, played for five years in the Chicago Cubs organization.

He also pitched for Italy in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009 and built a career that included two All-Star honors while in Class A baseball.

Tuesday, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound right-hander limited the hottest-hitting team in the American Association to six hits and one run, with one walk and three strikeouts, in six innings. The score was tied 1-1 when he left the game after the sixth.

“I was pretty nervous at the beginning and I had to calm myself down,” Maestri said. “I try to get to the point where I’m not thinking about much and just pitching and playing the game I love.”

Maestri gave up a run in the first when Kansas City’s Rico Washington and Ray Sadler hit back-to-back doubles. But he stranded two runners in the third, allowed just an infield hit in the fourth and gave up a single in the fifth.

He faced the minimum number of batters in the sixth before giving way to reliever Tommy Palica.

“I thought it was OK. Nothing great,” Maestri said. “I’m happy to be with this team and here in Lincoln. I want to do my best and help us win some games and get seen by some scouts, too.”

Maestri said he had a feeling that he might get cut by the Cubs after spring training this March and April.

“I didn’t have a good year last year, and on the last day of spring training I was released. It hit hard, but some friends and some contacts said Lincoln might be a place I could go. It didn’t take long and I was with this team and I have a chance to play some more baseball.”

Maestri explained that he might be done with baseball had he decided to head home to Cesena, Italy.

“There is a little bit of pro baseball there, but not much. Not like here. And if I went home, I’d probably have to make a choice on how to make a living, too. Right now, I don’t have to make that choice.”

Instead, he’s a part of the pitching rotation with the Saltdogs, and he’s learned to enjoy the American versions of “Italian” food.

“You know I like the American version, but it seems everybody wants me to eat Italian food when I want to eat American food. I can get real Italian food back home.”

As for playing in Lincoln, Maestri said his goal is the same as always, to pitch and win.

“I got a chance to get my confidence up and just keep working to improve day by day,” said Maestri, who is 1-1 after three starts this season. He has given up 14 hits in 14-plus innings, struck out 11 and walked four.

His pitching, which includes a solid slider, complements some dazzling fielding. In the third inning Tuesday, he scooped up a dribbler to the right side of the mound, jumped and spun in the air and threw out a runner at second. He almost made another impossible play in the fourth.

“I love fielding as much as any part of baseball,” he said. “Before I became a pitcher at 16 or 17, I played everything in the infield, and I think I can still field pretty good.”