“Here, the mental side is not emphasized.”
– Claudio Liverziani, Italy’s team captain.
Like most other countries, baseball was introduced to Italy by Americans, in this case World War II servicemen. Nettuno, an hour south of Rome along the Tyrrhenian Sea, is the birthplace and hotbed of baseball in Italy. In Nettuno a retired Joe DiMaggio visited and and tattooed a ball out of the ballpark and onto the highway past the fence. Members of the US armed forces taught Italians the game of baseball in this area. Towns such as Grosseto and Bologna are also considered to be baseball hotbeds.
As far as notable players, there are none really. None have ever played in the majors and none are about to by the looks of things.
Italy’s National Sports Federation manages an Italian Major Baseball League and has been in existance for the most part since 1948. 10 teams play a total of 54 games during the regular season from April to the middle of September known as Amateur League #1 (or A1 – the best players play here). The top four teams make the playoffs, which features an MLB style best of 7 semifinals followed by a best of 7 Final known to Italian fans as “Lo Scudetto.” Much like English Premier League soccer, the two teams with the worst record in A1 are demoted to A2 for the following season to be replaced by the two best A2 teams.
There are 24 A2 teams scattered across the country as well as 40 “B” level teams, mostly located in the north. There is also an 8 team Italian Winter League. This is surprisingly a lot of teams!
The teams play three games a week against the same opposing team. The first game is played Friday at 9 p.m., followed by a doubleheader Saturday, one at 4 p.m. and the other at 9 p.m. This is to accomodate the Italian players’ day jobs. Three-Four umpires will call a game; it gets serious during the playoffs with 7. Tickets cost about 7 Euro and if you are a canine lover, dogs get in free of charge.
One thing to note: Pitchers are allowed only three warm-up tosses on the mound between innings.
Grosseto has some throwback uniforms, similar to the old Cincinnati Reds.
Each team is allowed three foreign born players. Typically one is a starting pitcher.
Non-Italian born pitchers can only pitch in Friday night games. In the first Saturday game, the starting pitchers must be Italian or Italian-American, and each team must play three players under 23 at all times. The Saturday night game is limited to only Italian pitchers, but there are no age restrictions.
The reason for this I do not know but it seems kind of discriminatory, yes? Can you imagine if the same practice was employed in Canada?
The designated hitter rule is in use and each team carries a roster that totals 23 players – 20 Italian (or Italian-Americans, they count as Italian) and three foreigners.
The level of play ranges from low single A in A1 to house league baseball in some B level games. Italian-born players receive a small per-diem and hold fulltime jobs. Foreign-born players such as Chris Cooper, psuedo-star of the 2009 Italian team at the 2009 WBC, are paid about $40,000 and receive free housing, transportation and meals.
Steno Borghese Stadium in Nettuno, rebuilt in 1991, seats 7,000 and is the jewel of ballparks in Italy.
As far as stuffing your face at the game, no wine cheese or pasta here. All that is offered is standard American ballpark food such as hamburgers and hot dogs, Cokes and peanuts with the occasional prosciutto or pork sandwich here and there. Fans can substitute soft serve with gelato and smoke cigarettes all night long.
The average attendance varies between 500 people to 2,000 at a regular season game. Fans adopt a soccer mentality, heckling every time they get an excuse to razz the umpires. Grosseto, Bologna and Nettuno boast the best attendance. The playoffs sell out consistently. (Sounds like Toronto if they ever were to make the playoffs again, no?)