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New York Natives Festa, Valente Excited to Play for Italy at World Baseball Classic

 Leif Skodnick  |    Mar 1st, 2023 9:22pm EST

By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Italy relief pitcher Matt Festa made his postseason debut with the Seattle Mariners in the American League Wildcard Series against the Toronto Blue Jays. 

He’d also throw two scoreless innings for Seattle in the Division Series against the Houston Astros, but over the next few weeks, he’ll get even more big game experience pitching for Italy in the World Baseball Classic, where he will have a crucial bullpen role with Italy during the start of the World Baseball Classic before going back to play with the Mariners for the 2023 major league season.

A New York City native, Festa was proud to get the call to play for Italy for the World Baseball Classic, and attended the Mission Classic, a trip for Major League Baseball players and coaches of Italian heritage last November. Festa appeared in 53 games with Seattle last season, posting a 4.17 ERA in 54 innings pitched with a WHIP of 1.13.

“It was super special, being my first time over in Italy, and it was just amazing to be engulfed in the culture, they taught us so much,” Festa said of the Mission Classic. “I thought I know it was like to be an Italian-American, but to being an Italian in Italy is a completely different lifestyle, and you learn to cherish it, and I’m proud to represent Italy.” 

Festa’s fellow American Leaguer and New York metropolitan area native John Valente, a native of New Rochelle, N.Y., just north of the city, agreed with Festa about the pride of being an Italian-American representing Italy.

“To wear an Italy jersey, it’s a very meaningful thing,” said Valente, who split last season between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. “When I told my grandma I was playing, she was very happy because she’s from over there, and just to represent it and show the world what Italy has is going to be pretty awesome.”

Italy is ranked 16th in the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s World Baseball Rankings and will have to beat several giants of the baseball world in order to advance from Pool A at the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Italy can give the WBSC Europe sector a big boost if they can beat World No. 7 and back-to-back WBC semifinalists the Netherlands during pool play in Taiwan.

Italy will play in Pool A at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium against Cuba on March 9 at 6 a.m. EST on Tubi. The three other teams that will play in Pool A of the World Baseball Classic are the Netherlands, Panama, and host nation Chinese Taipei.

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Leif Skodnick