Long, Winding Road To Italy
What takes two-and-a-half years and requires the birth certificate of your great-grandparents?
The opportunity to play for the Italian national baseball team, of course.
Tyler LaTorre, one of the Grizzlies’ catchers for each of the last two seasons, had his 2012 campaign with Fresno cut short by a week due to an opportunity to represent Italy in the European Baseball Championships. The path to get there, however, took longer than he intended.
You see, LaTorre was not born in Italy; more like born in Santa Cruz, California (roughly 6,200 miles away). Really, the only time LaTorre had been to the Italian Republic was after his freshman year at University of California, Davis when he spent two weeks in Florence.
The idea of LaTorre playing for Italy was brought up by current Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (short-season affiliate of the San Francisco Giants) manager Tom Trebelhorn. The former Major League skipper was the bench coach for the Italian team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
With Trebelhorn’s motivation, LaTorre began the process of obtaining an Italian passport in 2010. First, he had to gain dual citizenship. As everyone knows, the first step can always be the hardest.
To gain Italian citizenship, one of the requirements is to have one’s grandfather born to a non-US citizen. Therefore, LaTorre had to trace back his lineage to his great-grandparents in a foreign country.
“I was in contact with the Italian Federation of Baseball,” said LaTorre. “They have a lawyer who dug up some stuff. What I had to do is get their names and where they were born.”
With the birth certificate, death certificate and marriage certificate for all generations dating back to his great grandparents, LaTorre was ready to get his new passport. He sent his paperwork to the California State Senate, who translated it and provided the proper seal before he sent back to Italy for approval.
On June 18th, during an off day between series at Salt Lake and Sacramento, LaTorre drove to the Italian Consulate in Los Angeles to pick up the passport.
“I thought I was going to have to wait to get my passport when I went down [to Los Angeles], but they gave it to me that day,” said LaTorre. “On the drive back, I was just ecstatic. It was just a big weight off my shoulders because I have been trying for so long.”
The San Francisco Giants and Major League Baseball approved LaTorre’s early exit from the 2012 season to play in the Euro Championships.
LaTorre played in his final game with the Grizzles in 2012 on August 27th. After the game, he drove back home to Santa Cruz before beginning his journey to Italy on August 29th. He flew from San Francisco to New York, New York to Rome.
Once in Italy, LaTorre went to the Italian Baseball Federation’s headquarters about 20 minutes south of Rome, where he trained for their week of exhibitions against Chinese Taipei, Spain and Czech Republic.
The 2012 European Baseball Championships start on September 7th, with it being hosted in the Netherlands. Italy is the defending champion from the last time the tournament was held in 2010.
LaTorre will be joined on the Italian team by his college teammate and right-handed pitcher Marco Grifantini. Grifantini, who has played in the Italian Baseball League, will help LaTorre’s transition to the foreign country, including the language barrier.
“I know a little bit [of Italian] because my dad speaks it,” said LaTorre. “I know the numbers, how to order the food; I know the basics.”
Italy is already qualified for 2013 World Baseball Classic, so the European Championships are sort of a tune-up for the big tournament. For LaTorre, it is an opportunity to impress team officials.
“I am trying to springboard this European Championship by playing well for [Italy] and into the WBC, which is much bigger.”
LaTorre is coming off a year in which he spent the majority of the season with the Grizzlies, playing in 42 games and batting .278 with two home runs and 15 RBI.
With a strong season at Triple-A behind him, LaTorre has plenty of momentum to compete in the World Baseball Classic with Italy. The tournament may be a few months away, but that is nothing relative to what he has gone through to play for his new team.
Follow Tyler LaTorre on Twitter (@tylerlatorre) as he keeps everyone up-to-date on his progress overseas.