KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Astros reliever Mike Gallo likes challenges, which is one of the reasons he will leave the team to pitch for Italy in the inaugural World Baseball Classic next week.
The decision means instead of facing a few Triple-A prospects and perhaps a Major League hitter or two as he normally would in an early March Grapefruit League game, next weekend Gallo might find himself facing the likes of Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz, Miguel Tejada, Moises Alou, Aramis Ramirez, Alphonso Soriano, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez or Bobby Abreu.
Since Italy is in the same Pool D bracket along with Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Australia, Gallo knows he could be called on to face such a Murderer's Row lineup.
"I think [facing the All-Stars] is going to help me," Gallo said. "If you're facing high caliber talent like that at this point in the season, I think you can use that as a springboard to the season. If you get hit around it just goes to show you make mistakes, and you just move on. My mentality is I'm hungry to pitch to a lineup like that. Everyone is an All-Star, or at least a potential All-Star, fighting for their country. I think it's going to be great for me as an experience and as a tool to help me get ready for the season."
Should things get rocky, at least there will be pitch limits.
"I'd rather face that lineup now than in July," Gallo said. "Their timing is going to be off. Honestly, I think the pitchers are going to have an edge, I really think the pitchers will have the advantage."
Gallo doesn't know much about the team -- he doesn't report to the Italian camp until March 2 -- but has an idea of what to expect. Longtime Astros coach Matt Galante is managing the team. "A college teammate of mine, Kasey Olenberger, he used to be in the Angels organization, is on [the team], so's [Houston prospect] Philip Barzilla," Gallo said. "We're going to have some guys with Major League experience, guys who have played pro ball. And we're all getting a chance to show what we can do against the best players in the world. I look at it as a great opportunity."
Some of his teammates have been needling Gallo for changing flags. Gallo was born in Long Beach, Calif., but is of Italian heritage.
"I'm getting a little bit of grief, like, 'Why aren't you playing for the American team?'" Gallo said. "I just want the experience. All I know is, if we win two out of three I get a free trip to Italy, so I'm looking forward to that."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.