When Italian baseball player Massimiliano Geri was younger, he would often send fan mail to MLB players that shared his Italian heritage. One letter landed in the hands of MLB All-Star relief pitcher Jason Grilli, who was playing for the Atlanta Braves and recovering from an Achilles injury at the time. Grilli had time on his hands and gave Geri a call. Nearly 10 years later, the two friends with a passion for baseball and Italy decided to launch a wine project.
The idea for Rock'n Ball Wines was born in 2019, when Grilli flew to Italy and visited Tuscany with Geri (their first in-person meeting). Grilli wanted to leverage Geri's winery connections to build a charity wine brand that would support baseball in Italy. "It was an easy choice, because I've been chasing my Italian roots and giving back to baseball," Grilli told Wine Spectator. "If there's gonna be more Italian players [in Major League Baseball], we need to put more people in the seats [in Italy], and we need more money for locker rooms, the [Italian leagues] and players in Italy."
The Rock'n Ball bottle label features six lines representing guitar strings, referencing one of Grilli’s other passions, music. "Every rock star wants to be an athlete, and every athlete wants to be a rock star, so we merged the two ideas together," Grilli said, explaining that musicians will also be invited to participate in the Rock’n Ball project.
The first two wines in the lineup were made for Grilli, who became an Italian citizen in 1996, and ex-MLB catcher Francisco Cervelli, who played for the Italian national team at the World Baseball Classic in 2017 and 2009. And both wines come from the same regions as the players’ families: Grilli's 2019 Cesanese del Piglio DOCG (40 cases made, $80) is from Lazio and Cervelli's 2019 Negroamaro del Salento IGP (20 cases, $80) is from Puglia.
Geri says that five more labels with MLB players are in the works, with each participant choosing their own charity beneficiary. Grilli is giving a portion of the Cesanese del Piglio proceeds to the Italian Baseball Softball Players Association, the Italian players' union he helped establish with Geri in 2017, and Cervelli’s Negroamaro del Salento will benefit Sun.Risas, a nonprofit organization supporting programs for underprivileged children around the world.
"Everybody wants to be proud of who they are and what they identify with," said Grilli. "I take great pride in the Italian culture. I have respect for why my grandparents came [to the U.S.] for the better opportunity, but I'd like to go back, because I see how great the traditions I have are."
Enjoy Unfiltered? The best of Unfiltered's round-up of drinks in pop culture can now be delivered straight to your inbox every other week! Sign up now to receive the Unfiltered e-mail newsletter, featuring the latest scoop on how wine intersects with film, TV, music, sports, politics and more.