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Piazza works with Italian team as coach

Thu., Feb. 26, 2009

JUPITER, Fla. – The blue and gray uniform Mike Piazza wore looked like a holdover from his days with the Los Angeles Dodgers, except the name across the chest said “Italia.”

Piazza is the hitting coach for the Italian team, which played a practice game against the Florida Marlins on a back field Wednesday morning in preparation for the World Baseball Classic.

“I’m excited to get back on the field a little bit,” Piazza said. “They’re very serious about trying to grow the game in Italy, and I played for the World Classic team in ’06, so I’m thrilled about it.”

The Italian roster includes few major leaguers, and the team is a long shot to get out of the first round against the United States, Canada and Venezuela in Toronto on March 7-11. But Piazza likes working with prospects.

“They’re so eager to learn. There are not a lot of egos,” he said.

“Every time I say something, the eyes get big and it gets quiet. I’m like, ‘OK, they’re really listening.’ It’s kind of funny.”

Piazza, who once met Pope John Paul II on a trip to Italy, said his family is excited about his job with the national team. His father is from Sicily and came to the United States at age 3, and Piazza said he speaks a little Italian.

“It’s an interesting language,” he said. “I love the enunciation, the way they roll.”

Piazza was one of the top-hitting catchers in baseball history. He concluded a 16-year major league career in 2007 with a .308 average and 427 home runs.

He said his new job is a chance to see how he likes coaching. He may also do some broadcasting this season.

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