PHOENIX -- Dodgers infielder Nick Punto left camp over the weekend to join the Italian team for the World Baseball Classic. It will be the second time Punto has played for his ancestral homeland in the WBC, and he says he does it to honor his grandparents.
His grandmother was born in Florence, his grandfather in Sicily.
"They were a big influence in my life as a young kid," he said of Bobby and Pauline, both of whom died before Punto pulled on the Italian jersey for the first time in 2009, when Italy upset Canada for its only win in three games.
"We had a good time. [That] was a huge victory for us," said Punto, who nonetheless struggled at the plate, getting just a single in 12 at-bats.
Obviously, Punto hopes to do better this year, but he said the time away from the Dodgers won't hurt his standing with the team.
"These guys, they've watched me for a lot of years," he said. "If I was a young guy coming into camp, maybe. The other thing is, I'm going to play baseball. I am going to be away but I’m still playing. So it's not like I'm taking a break from baseball."
Punto also said the WBC, which is being played for the third time, is becoming more popular with players.
"The buzz is getting a little better," he said. "I think it's fun."
Now as for Italy, Punto said he only knows a few words of Italian and has never been to his grandparents' birthplace. That could change after representing the country twice in the WBC.
"I have connections now,” he said.