Any successful team needs some kind veteran leadership to provide knowledge of the game and a calming presence in the clubhouse. When searching for this solid foundation, most teams wouldn't turn to a player who was drafted only three years ago, in 2003. Most teams, however, don't have a guy like Tony Giarratano. And most 24 year old prospects don't have the kind of experience that Giarratano has.
Erie's starting shortstop has seen a lot for his age. Last year, Tony was called up to Detroit to give and ailing Carlos Guillen a much-needed break. Though the stint lasted only 15 games, the experience did a lot for the young player's understanding of the game. He was able to observe how the big-leaguers stayed composed and "coped with failure." Giarratano says the Tigers players "teach you how to go about your business, never get too high or too low, and to stay at a certain level through adversity or success."
Tony hopes that he left as good of an impression of himself as he got of the team, saying, "I was able to show the guys up there what I was capable of." Despite its brevity, Tony calls the experience "exciting. It was a chance to get a taste of what, hopefully, is going to happen in the near future."
Getting called up to the Majors was a relief to Giarratano, but not enough to satisfy him. While it helped him to know that playing for Detroit was an attainable goal, the time did even more to fuel his hunger to get up there and stay for good. He also notes that next time he comes to Detroit he won't have to worry as much about feeling comfortable or adjusting.
Giarratano, a native of Queens, New York, also has another special experience under his belt that has increased his maturity and baseball understanding. Tony represented the country of his heritage, Italy, in this year's inaugural World Baseball Classic. "It was the most exciting experience I've ever had in baseball," Tony says, "the most fun, too."
Italy wasn't expected to do much in the tournament, especially given their placement in a pool with two statistical favorites—Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. But with a mix of personal and cultural pride, Giarratano helped Italy to a respectable showing.
Going up against the two powerhouses, which Tony called "basically all-star teams," didn't faze the young shortstop. "It wasn't intimidating. We just wanted to go out there and show people that we could play a little bit with these guys." He was able to embrace both the underdog mentality and the challenge ahead of him. "There was nothing to lose for us. It's what you want…to be out there with those guys and see what you can do against them."
Though Tony has done a lot in his short career, he is nowhere close to being finished. Despite starting the season as Detroit's twelfth ranked prospect and widely rumored to possibly be Guillen's successor when his contract is up, Tony knows he still has work to do to fulfill his goals.
He believes that his defensive skills and speed are close to where they need to be, but his offensive numbers still have a way to go.
Despite reworking his swing in spring training in an attempt to boost his production at the plate, the stats still aren't where he'd like them to be. He understands that despite his above-average defensive range, the biggest thing coaches still look at is offense. "Unfortunately," he says, "this game has a lot to do with numbers, and I feel that if people come watch me play on a consistent basis, they can see much more than what a box score might show."
While many prospects would worry and over-react to the lower numbers, Giarratano, because of what he has learned from playing with people who have already made it, takes everything in stride. "I'm just going to keep doing the little things to help my team win—trying to help my team any way I can." His experience is also apparent in his professionalism towards the game, noting the importance of "playing hard everyday," and always "putting your heart and soul into each game."
Tony Giarratano, with his time in Detroit and with the Italian National Team, understands how baseball works, both on the field and off. On his future, he explains, "If I give it all I got, if I keep going out there and play my game, something good will happen." And if he performs up to the level of his potential, those good things that he's hoping for should happen sooner rather than later.