When you think of Rhode Island, baseball and wine don’t immediately come to mind…for most of us, anyway. The same can’t be said of Arizona Diamondbacks catcher, Chris Iannetta. Born in Providence, RI, Chris is the first to admit that although anything is possible, a path from New England to the Majors requires a bit of snow shoveling along the way.
“Growing up in Rhode Island, everyone thinks it’s cold and it is…the wintertime is a little rough. But, if you want to play baseball, you’ll have enough opportunities to do so,” he says.
Following an award-winning academic and athletic high school career at St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, RI, where his jersey is retired after becoming a three-time all-state selection, Iannetta took his skills to the University of North Carolina. In 2004, as a junior with the Tar-Heels, Iannetta finished the season as one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award, given annually to the nation’s top collegiate catcher. It was also in 2004 when the Colorado Rockies drafted Iannetta in the fourth round of that year’s amateur draft – launching him on his way to a Major League career that is entering its 12th season in 2017.
So how does a Rhode Island schoolboy make it to The Show?
“I never thought playing Major League Baseball was going to be an opportunity for me,” said Iannetta. “But when I was playing Little League, I wanted to play Babe Ruth, and when I was playing Babe Ruth, I wanted to play high school ball. From high school I was hoping to play in college. I got that opportunity and got drafted by the Rockies when I was in college.”
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? According to Iannetta, it’s not easy, but anything is possible if you have a passion for what interests you.
“You have to truly love what you do, because you’ll get more out of it if you have a passion for it,” he says.
His passion doesn’t end on the diamond. He is also passionate about family and wine, and two years ago he joined forces with former teammate Vernon Wells to create their own wine label, JACK.
“In 2007, when I made it to the Big Leagues, my grandfather passed away. A kind of way to reconnect with him was to have a glass of wine. Both my grandparents are from Italy and they both made wine. We always had wine on the table growing up,” said Iannetta.
After breaking his wrist and ending up on the disabled list, Iannetta found a kindred spirit in Wells, who was also recovering from an injury at the time. The two Angels teammates spent a lot of time together and they became fast and lifelong friends. It was this bond that led the pair to hatch the idea of taking their shared passion for wine and launch JACK.
“How do you solidify a friendship?” asked Iannetta at the time. “We both had a general love for wine and sure enough, JACK was born.”
JACK is an extension of Iannetta’s and Wells’ passion for their families, and the name is derived by taking the first letters of the first names of their children. “I have Ashlyn and Kylie, and Vernon has Jayce and Christian,” explains Iannetta.
And to prove that JACK was more than just a folly hatched by two idle ballplayers, in just two years, JACK has been generating critical acclaim in wine circles. Praise has come in the form of high ratings from Wine Spectator and Robert Parker Wine Advocate. As Iannetta explains, “We received a 94 rating for our Cab and a 90 for our white. Doing that in your second year is a huge honor for us.”
From Rhode Island to Major League Baseball to the Napa Valley, Iannetta is living proof that if you follow your heart and your passion, dreams can come true.
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