Originally written February 23, 2013 on Fox Sports Wisconsin:
Jeff Bianchi was born roughly 4,500 miles from Italy in Lampeter, Pa. He'll be the first one to tell you he's only of Italian descent. But with not much of a shot to ever represent the United States in the World Baseball Classic, how could the Milwaukee Brewers infielder say no when Team Italy came calling? His decision wasn't as easy as it seems because Bianchi is again fighting to keep his major league career alive. Missing camp time could hurt him in the long run -- the more time he's away is just more of an opportunity for guys like Bobby Crosby and Donnie Murphy to earn one of the final roster spots. Bianchi consulted with the Brewers, and the team gave him the go-ahead to play. Milwaukee already knows what it has in the 26-year-old and in all honesty, Italy won't be around long in a pool that includes the United States and Mexico. Big leaguers Anthony Rizzo, Nick Punto and Jason Grilli will give Italy a fighting chance, but it enters as a heavy underdog. "We've got some big-league names coming over, some guys that I'll meet, some guys that I don't know too well," Bianchi said. "So I'm excited. We're going to have a pretty good team. We'll be competitive, just like everybody else." Regardless of how short Italy's stint in the Classic is, Bianchi is taking a risk in being away. With Alex Gonzalez in the fold and two competitors in Crosby and Murphy fighting for a spot, making the Opening Day roster is far from a guarantee. Because of Gonzalez's injury last season and the inability to replace him as the starting shortstop, Bianchi made his major league debut with the Brewers, hitting .188 with three home runs in 33 games. The experience of playing in the big leagues has the longtime minor leaguer feeling more comfortable this time around. "Having a couple months in the big leagues helped me prepare this offseason to help me get ready for the spring," Bianchi said. "I mean, playing alongside guys like (Ryan) Braun and (Aramis) Ramirez and (Rickie) Weeks, just kind of learning what they do every day, I mean, they're guys who have been around for a a while, so anything I can learn from them to help me just kind of get the edge. "You never know how long you're going to be around to play this game. While you get those moments I think you've really got to enjoy them." Interview for this story provided by the Milwaukee Brewers Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter.
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