In an intriguing move that we reported after it was announced on Italian-language media, Mark Teahen is coming out of retirement to play for Tommasin Padova in Italy. Retired since a final push at 2014 Spring Training, Teahen is arguably the highest profile player to every sign with an Italian Baseball League club. The utility player hit .264/.327/.409 in a seven-year career in the big leagues, five of which were with the Kansas City Royals.
Immediately after hanging up his spikes, Mark and his wife Lauren took a trip to Italy that they thought might afford a final playing opportunity, but instead gave them an idea for a business. The Teahens had a memorable time at a wine tasting bar in Chianti, and decided to open their own establishment, Sorso. We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Teahen about his decision to play in Italy, travel, wine, and more.
Extra Innings: Thanks for agreeing to speak with us.
Mark Teahen: No problem.
EI: It sounds like you’ve considered baseball in Italy before.
MT: I went over to do look into it in 2014 after a friend told me about it. I tried out for most of the Italian clubs, actually except for Padua [Padova]. Since then, I’ve always wished that I had done it. It just wasn’t the right time then.
EI: What was your reaction when Padua contacted you?
MT: We assessed it for the family. I wasn’t really just sitting at home with Sorso and the family! We didn’t really think we could do it at first.
EI: So what made you go for it?
MT: We had a charity event that hadn’t gone exactly as expected. After the charity event had wrapped, we had a lunch that turned into dinner and over the course of the day we talked to everyone we needed to cover us in our absence. Everything we thought would restrict us ended up sorting it out.
EI: You’ve played everywhere from Alaska to Toronto and across the US. How do you think that will help you cope with the move to Italy?
MT: I’ve been able to play in so many different time zones, I’ll use stuff I’ve learned in every stop to make the adjustment smooth. The great thing about baseball is that it is a game of adjustment, and my ability to adjust will help out.
EI: You’ve played for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Did you consider it for the upcoming tournament?
MT: Canada does a good job developing their young guys, so they don’t really look for that many players to fill out the roster. I did see a couple of older guys [Eric Gagné and Ryan Dempster] were on the roster. I missed the last tournament [in 2013] as I was trying to make it on to a roster.
EI: What have you done to brush up on Italian culture in preparation?
MT: We tried to get off the beaten path [on our last trip], and we just loved the culture on that trip. Being out of the game for a couple years and jumping back into it has made the approach more fun. Lauren was talking with a friend who said it was great that I was going to Italy to play ball and Lauren replied, “Mark isn’t going to Italy to play ball, Mark is playing ball so we can go Italy.”
EI: You’ve posted some workout tips [a hilarious series of videos on “How to Become an Italian Baseball Superstar”] for others thinking about taking their game to Italy, but how hard has it actually been to get into playing shape again?
MT: The idea that they only place twice a week works well [physically]. I’m gearing up as if I’m going into a regular season, but it’s nice to know that I’ll have a couple days [a week] to recover.
NB: The Italian Baseball League plays on weekends as most of the players have day jobs.
EI: How do you feel like your time away from the game has affected your approach to baseball?
MT: I’ve been staying in shape, but not in baseball shape. Today I’ll take groundballs, tomorrow I’ll hit, and so on. Just taking it slowly. Once I get back into playing games, it will all come naturally.
EI: Marco [Flores d’Arcais, Padova’s Vice President] suggested you’d be playing mostly first base or third base. Have you talked them about it? Any preference?
MT: I talked to them a bit, and I kind of have every glove. I look forward to playing third base as it was my original position. I can still play corner outfield.
EI: I assume a lot of what you’ll be asked to do will be before at bats, between innings, and in game preparation. Has Padova mentioned anything specific?
MT: Yeah, that’s exactly what I expect. I hope that I can still be valuable in that sense [as a leader]. I want to go over and be productive on the field, but my real value is off the field, helping guys develop. I assume I’ll do some little clinics. I’m happy to help out.
EI: What have you learned about Italian baseball in preparation?
MT: I’ve spoken with Christian Mura [Director of Sport at Fortitudo Bologna], and I know what we’re walking into and the style of baseball. Looking at different websites, it has become more obvious to me how serious Italian fans are. It was good to remind me that I can’t just walk into the games unprepared.
EI: Have you gotten to know anyone at the club?
MT: I do not know the players that well, but I have known [Khelyn Smith, Padova’s manager in 2014-15] since I was younger, so I’ve talked to him a lot about it. I’ve been in good contact with people who have played in Italy elsewhere.
EI: What are spring training plans?
MT: We’re going over mid-march, and the first game is mid-April. We’ll go over and get comfortable. I don’t fully know the spring schedule. I’m assuming it won’t be quite as intense, not as long.
NB: The IBL schedule has yet to be announced for the 2017 season, but should become available on the FIBS (IBL) website.
EI: Don’t know if you are aware, but peanut butter is much harder to find in Europe. Are you going to keep your PB&J pre-game tradition or will you incorporate something more Italian?
MT (laughs): I guess I’ll probably some prosciutto, some small amount of protein for energy.
EI: What are the top sights and activities on your list for your off days?
MT: I’m hoping to spend a few days a week taking day trips with my family. The only trip we’ve made, we flew into Rome and drove into Tuscany. I’m excited to be a little farther north. There’s a new club this year [Novara, see our map of Italian baseball teams] in the north-west, so I’m excited to see the area west of Milan. It will be good to play in the different cities.
EI: The first well-known player to play in the IBL, Rick Waits, picked grapes for his club’s owner after the season was over. You’re obviously a wine lover. Any similar plans?
MT: I definitely think so. One of our distributers is based in Italy and he has told us of a couple of events we can’t miss. Fortunately, the big one is on a Monday! We have a couple dates circled to make sure we go to some wine events. We’re trying to parlay it into doing some wine activities.
EI: I know you have wine from a variety of regions at Sorso. Are you looking to add more Italian wines or strike an exclusive deal with a vineyard?
MT: In Arizona, we are closer to Napa Valley so it’s more accepted to have those wines available. People look for that, whereas if we were on the East Coast, people would look a bit more for Italian. We’d like to meet people and see what happens.
EI: Your other main passion is your charity, Driving Out Domestic Violence, and other causes. We know that is very important to both of you. How did you prepare for being away?
MT: We started Challenger Fashion in Kansas City and we were heavily involved. Being traded meant that became harder, so we had the next charity, Driving Out Domestic Violence [where we now live] in Scottsdale. We’ve been having a lot of meetings to make sure we’re further ahead than normal.
EI: Do you have plans to do charity work while you’re there?
MT: We plan to get there and see what the club needs. We don’t have anything specific planned, but if that takes us to doing charity work, great.
EI: So is the idea to make the most out of the year and then be done, or is there the potential for another season?
MT: It’s kind of open-ended. When the season is over, we’ll kind of just head back. The idea is to enjoy it for what it is. There’s a potential to do it for a second year, but after that our oldest child will start school.
EI: What do your former teammates think about it?
MT: I’ve talked to guys making millions of dollars, and they’ve all said it sounds awesome and it might be something they want to do. Maybe it will start a bit of trend, players will spend a year at the end of their career in Italy.
EI: Have you asked anyone who might actually come over?
MT: I actually asked Padova if they wanted me to get some pitchers. I know it’s hard to get pitching as anyone in good shape will be trying to get back to the bigs, whereas older position players know they’ll get squeezed out by young guys. I’ve put it in front of people and maybe they will in the future.
EI: You’ve been called ‘The Captain’, ‘Bruiser’, and ‘Teacup’. Have you picked out an Italian nickname you want to try out?
MT: I have not yet, but I’ll have a couple hours on the plane on the way over so I’ll have to think of one!
EI: We’ll look forward to hearing what you’ve come up with when we check in with you later in the season. Good luck!
Be sure to follow Mark on Twitter and Instagram for more of his must-watch series of “Becoming an Italian Baseball Superstar”. We will have lots of upcoming coverage of baseball around the world, including the West Asian Cup, World Baseball Classic, and more from Mark as the IBL season progresses. If you’re interested in international baseball, check out Extra Innings’ highest-rated articles:
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