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Former UMass star Matt Torra to pitch for Team Italy in World Baseball Classic

  • Former UMass star Matt Torra pitches for the Triple-A Reno Aces in this 2010 photo. Torra will play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Photo by David Calvert/Reno Aces

    Former UMass star Matt Torra pitches for the Triple-A Reno Aces in this 2010 photo. Torra will play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Photo by David Calvert/Reno Aces Purchase photo reprints »

  • Former UMass star Matt Torra pitches for the Triple-A Reno Aces in this 2010 photo. Torra will play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Photo by David Calvert/Reno Aces

    Former UMass star Matt Torra pitches for the Triple-A Reno Aces in this 2010 photo. Torra will play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Photo by David Calvert/Reno Aces Purchase photo reprints »

  • Former UMass star Matt Torra pitches for the Triple-A Reno Aces in this 2010 photo. Torra will play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Photo by David Calvert/Reno Aces
  • Former UMass star Matt Torra pitches for the Triple-A Reno Aces in this 2010 photo. Torra will play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Photo by David Calvert/Reno Aces

Matt Torra hopes to visit Italy someday. The former University of Massachusetts baseball standout has the Mediterranean nation on the top of his list of places to visit.

But before he ever steps foot in the homeland of his paternal great-grandfather, he’ll represent it in the World Baseball Classic next month.

Because Giuseppi Torra was born in Italy, Torra is eligible for dual citizenship and can pitch for the Italians in international competition.

During the summer of 2012, the Italian baseball federation began contacting players of Italian-American descent about representing that country in the WBC. Torra, who signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals in December, jumped at the chance to pull on the nation’s traditional blue uniforms.

“I’m really looking forward to that opportunity,” Torra said. “I think it’s going to be a great experience.”

After a stellar career at UMass, the 28-year-old Pittsfield native was a sandwich pick (between first and second round) of the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2005 MLB draft.

Torra put up solid, but not spectacular numbers as he climbed the ladder of the Diamondback organization. He plateaued in Triple-A where he played two seasons (2010, 2011) in Reno, Nev. He was traded during the 2011 season to the Tampa Bay organization. The Rays assigned him to Triple-A Durham (N.C.) where he went 12-7 with a 4.10 ERA in 2012.

Torra expected to be assigned to Washington’s Triple-A Syracuse club this season, putting him closer than he’s ever been as a professional to his Pittsfield roots.

He hoped the change in organization and World Baseball Classic experience might jump-start his career.

“As I’m getting later in my career as a minor leaguer, joining the Nationals is hopefully going to give me that boost that I need. Hopefully something positive comes of it,” Torra said. “The Nationals are a booming organization now, doing very well. Jumping on with them and pitching in Syracuse which is near home, is another good incentive. I feel like this is going to be a good season for me. I’ve been pitching well and improving as a pitcher. Hopefully this is my year. This is the best shape I’ve been in, in my life.”

Italy, USA, Mexico and Canada form Pool D and will play March 7-10 in Phoenix. The top two teams will advance to the championship round. The Italians have a handful of major leaguers on its roster including Anthony Rizzo (Cubs), Jason Grilli (Pirates), Chris Denofia (Padres), Drew Butera (Twins) and Francisco Cervelli (Yankees). The coaching staff hasn’t been announced yet.

Torra will join the team at a training camp in Arizona in late February. Italy opens with Mexico at 1 p.m. on March 7.

“To pitch in the World Baseball Classic in a nationally televised game would definitely give me some exposure and help me meet a lot of people. Careerwise and experiencewise, I’m really looking forward to it,” Torra said. “Once the WBC is done, I’ll join the Nationals in Florida for spring training. I’ll miss the first week or week and a half of spring training, but I should be there in time for when games start up.”

Being a part of the WBC has increased Torra’s desire to see Italy and maybe even play there someday. Italy has an eight-team professional league that plays a 42-game season. They have restrictions on the number of non-Italian players each team can have.

“I’ve not been to Italy. It’s on my list of things I really want to do and hope to accomplish soon,” said Torra, who is strongly considering dual citizenship. “Just to honor my heritage. If I wanted to play over in Italy I could play as an Italian player and not a foreign player if that was something I chose to do down the road. It would be more for the experience to do when my career is winding down.”

He said his family is excited about his new connection with his heritage.

“We still have a bunch of relatives that live over in Italy,” he said. “I’m sure my grandmother is going to get on the computer and email a few people over there. It’s definitely something that’s made my family proud. We’re excited and can’t wait to see that comes of it.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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