Minor Leaguer Andreoli embracing roots in Classic

Minor Leaguer Andreoli embracing roots in Classic

MESA, Ariz. -- Some day, John Andreoli will travel to Florence, Italy, to learn more about his family's background. In March, he'll be representing Italy in the World Baseball Classic.

The Cubs' Minor League outfielder was named to Team Italy, which opens play on March 9 against Mexico at Estadio de Baseball Charros de Jalisco. Italy is in Pool D, with the club also facing Venezuela on March 11 and Puerto Rico on March 12.

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Andreoli, an early arrival in Cubs camp, couldn't wait to talk to Anthony Rizzo, who played for Italy in the 2013 Classic.

"For our sport, this is the Olympics, sort of," Andreoli said. "When you get the opportunity, as long as your body is cooperating and you can work with your affiliate club [to get permission], it's a no-brainer."

Andreoli, a 17th-round pick in the 2011 Draft, got the invitation to play in mid-January and had to scramble to find birth and marriage certificates to prove how Italian he was.

"On my dad's side, both my great grandparents are from Italy, and my grandmother is from Italy as well," Andreoli said. "It's a great opportunity to represent my Italian heritage."

The 26-year-old doesn't speak Italian, but he understands the language a little, having grown up listening to it. His grandfather ran an Italian restaurant in Stafford Springs, Conn.

"We grew up going there," Andreoli said. "I've always had homemade Italian food and love it."

Andreoli knows a couple of the players on Team Italy, including infielder Chris Colabello, who led the team in home runs (two), RBIs (seven) and total bases (12) in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, and pitcher A.J. Morris, who was in the Cubs' organization from '12-13.

"Our pool is extremely competitive, seeing the names on the teams," Andreoli said. "The guys on our roster, I've played against and with a couple, and I think we'll have a really good lineup and some pitchers who can throw some quality innings. If you get hot at the right time, you can seriously make a run, and I think we have the guys to do it."

Andreoli, who has hit .272 with 85 doubles, 31 triples, 20 homers and 171 RBIs in six Minor League seasons, had planned on reporting to Arizona on Feb. 1, so his offseason plans didn't change because of the World Baseball Classic. The Triple-A outfielder will just be playing games that mean something earlier than most of the other Cubs. He was hoping to see action in the Cubs' Cactus League games, which start on Feb. 25, to help prepare.

"Looking at the rosters, it'll be phenomenal baseball," Andreoli said of the World Baseball Classic. "It's definitely a growing experience and an awesome opportunity to win a championship."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.