ANAHEIM, Calif. – Alex Liddi had heard all about Los Angeles, Angel Stadium, Disneyland and Beverly Hills before playing in the Futures Game on Sunday. Especially Beverly Hills.
Liddi, a Double-A prospect with the Seattle Mariners trying to become the second Italian-born position player to make the major leagues, learned baseball from his father, Augustine, who played the game while attending Beverly Hills High 40 years ago. After marrying, Augustine started a family in San Remo, Italy, a gorgeous seaside town on the Italian Riviera close to Monaco.
It was in San Remo – known as the ''Town of Flowers'' for its luxuriant gardens of long-stemmed roses, carnations and begonias – that Alex's love of baseball blossomed. By the time he reached his teens he was easily the best player in his region.
Liddi traveled to Tuscany at 15 to spend three weeks at an MLB European Academy under the coaching of former big leaguers Jim Lefebvre and Bruce Hurst. He came away convinced that his future would be playing a game that ranks a distant second to soccer in popularity and proficiency in Italy.
"It became my dream to play in the states,'' said Liddi, who signed with the Mariners at 17. "When I got the chance, I decided I wanted to take it to the limit.''
Liddi, a sturdy 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, has methodically climbed the ladder, and is having a solid season at Double-A West Tennessee. He exhibits power to all fields, and while one scouting report said the third baseman needs to ''take as many ground balls as possible,'' most talent evaluators believe he has the ability to become an everyday major league player.
He got his first taste of California a year ago, batting .345 with 23 homers and 104 RBIs playing for the High Desert Mavericks. When the Mariners made a late-season trip to Anaheim, Liddi and several teammates were invited to a game. His appetite was whetted.
"It got me excited, especially meeting the guys on the Mariners,'' he said. "Making the big leagues would be special. It would make all of Italy proud. Then maybe others can follow me and play in the states."
The only other Italian-born position player was Reno Bertoia, a utility infielder who batted .244 from 1953 to 1962 for four teams, primarily the Tigers. Bertoia moved to Canada at the age of 1.
• Local flavor: Hank Conger was added to the U.S. team late and delivered the game's big blast, a three-run home run in the fifth inning that gave the U.S. a four-run lead en route to a 9-1 victory. He rounded the bases with a huge grin, and no wonder. Playing at Angel Stadium was a lifelong dream for Conger, who grew up in nearby Huntington Beach, Calif., and was the Angels' first-round pick in 2006.
''Playing right in my back yard was awesome,'' Conger said. ''My dad was sitting right behind home plate and I had a lot of friends here.''
They might be able to see Conger regularly soon enough. He is having a solid year at Triple-A and soon could provide the Angels with more consistent offense than they've been accustomed to in recent years from the catching spot.
• Ready and waiting:The best pitcher in the minor leagues is Jeremy Hellickson(notes). The only reason the 23-year-old right-hander is in Triple-A is that he is in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, and their rotation has no opening. As if his 11-2 record and 2.21 ERA weren't enough, Hellickson proved to the World that he is polished beyond his station by retiring three hitters in a row in the first inning on 12 pitches.
A Major League Scouting Bureau report inexplicably gave Hellickson poor marks after an April 18 victory in which he gave up one run in seven innings, striking out eight and walking one. The reports said Hellickson had ''no fire,'' ''lazy stuff,'' and that his hand was dropping underneath the ball on his curve, which flattens the pitch out.
Every team in baseball would be more than happy to take that kind of lazy stuff, to be sure. Hellickson has 104 strikeouts with only 26 walks this year and in his five minor league seasons is 46-15 with a 2.62 ERA.
• Brown's blunders: Some scouts consider Dominic Brown ready for the big leagues, and certainly, the Philadelphia Phillies' prospect is putting up numbers to back up the sentiment: He's batting .364 with four homers the last two weeks in Triple-A after hitting .318 with 15 home runs in Double-A. But he needs some seasoning on the basepaths if the first inning of the Futures Game is a fair gauge.
After hitting an RBI infield single in the first inning, Brown was caught leaning toward second when pitcher Simon Castro faked a pickoff move to third base before turning to first. Only Castro's inexplicable hesitation in throwing to first enabled Brown to dive back safely. Then Eric Hosmer singled to center and Brown rounded second too far even though the ball was directly in his line of vision. Center fielder Gorkys Hernandez had Brown thrown out at second, but Brett Lawrie couldn't hold the throw and Brown had averted another disaster.
A wild pitch sent Brown to third, but he was lifted for a pinch-runner after a twinge he felt in his right hamstring while accelerating out of the batter's box got worse during his baserunning adventures.
"I was going to go to third on that hit but I had to shut it down," he said.
• Cannon shots: World catcher Wilin Rosario, a Colorado Rockies' prospect, threw out Mike Trout trying to steal second in the third inning and back-picked Brett Jackson at first base in the fourth inning.
Even though catcher Miguel Olivo(notes) is having a career year with the Rockies, Rosario will challenge for a big league spot next spring. Olivo is a bargain, making $2 million this season, so the Rockies likely will pick up his club option for 2011 at $2.5 million. It could be an ideal situation for Rosario to learn from Olivo for a year, then become the starter in 2012.
A recent scouting report said Rosario is ''what a catcher looks like, durable build with defensive skills.'' Combine that evaluation with his rifle arm and a bat that has produced 11 home runs at Double-A Tulsa and it's clear why the Rockies believe Rosario could be their best-ever homegrown position player from Latin America.