- The Premier Italian American Newspaper Since 1931 -

Polishing the Diamond – Engaging Baseball in Italy

By Mark Cardillo

It is easy to think of soccer when discussing sports in Italy; tens of thousands of fans on their feet, chanting their club song in unison and screaming at the top of their lungs when one of their favorite players scores a goal. However, those who know Italian sports may well think of other sports too, such as tennis, cycling, alpine skiing, sailing and baseball. Baseball? Yes… baseball!

Baseball took root in Italy in 1944, in a small seaside town called Nettuno, located an hour south of Rome on the Mediterranean coast. American soldiers led by Colonel Charles Butte and Sergeant Horace McGarrity, both known as the “fathers of Italian Baseball,” would teach the local Nettunese how to play the game. As early as the mid-1950s, local children were given baseball gloves and bats upon taking their First Holy Communion, a tradition that continues today.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2016, after thousands of Major League home runs hit by Italian Americans players such as DiMaggio, Berra and Piazza, small business owner Joe Quagliano and former MLB veteran Frank Catalanotto were discussing Italian baseball and how they could get involved.  Catalanotto, who played 14 years in the major leagues, has been involved with the World Baseball Classic, an international baseball tournament sanctioned by the World Baseball Softball Confederation. Since its inception in 2006, Frank has been proposed by Major League Baseball to the organization four times – twice as a player and twice as a coach. Quagliano, founder of Mint Pros (specializing in VIP baseball events – bridging fans with their favorite players) grew up idolizing Italian American baseball players such as Dave Righetti, Steve Balboni, John Franco and Mike Scioscia.

So you might ask why aren’t we seeing more names like Giambi, Campanella and Biggio? That is why Quagliano and Catalanotto, along with FIBS (Federation of Italian Baseball/Softball) executive Marco Landi and restaurateur Carmine Gangone, created the non-profit Italian American Baseball Foundation (IABF). Its mission is to bring awareness of the game to Italian youth through clinics, camps and education, as well as to provide scholarships and financial assistance to student-athletes who qualify academically to play baseball in the United States on the college or high school level. The goal of the organization is to one day develop its own youth baseball academy in Italy.

In December of 2016, the IABF held its first annual winter fundraising dinner at Carmine and Sons Pizzeria, Restaurant and Sports Bar in Brooklyn, New York. The star studded dinner hosted the 2016 World Baseball Classic Team Italy, also known as Squadra Italia. It also recognized Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza for his contributions to Italian baseball; Piazza played on Team Italy in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. In December of 2017, at the second annual dinner, the IABF honored former New York Mets manager and current board member, Bobby Valentine.

Looking ahead at the IABF’s 2018 calendar, the foundation is very excited to hold its very first one-day baseball clinic on Tuesday, July 10 at MCU Stadium, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, for players aged 7-14. Catalanotto will be leading the coaching staff to ensure the campers receive professional quality baseball instruction.

From July 18-27, Quagliano and Gangone will be taking former New York Met closer and board member John Franco, as well as former Italian baseball player and board member Mark Cardillo, to Rome, Italy to assist with a baseball clinic for the Under-15 Italian National Team and local Nettuno youth teams. During this trip, they will meet with the President of FIBS, Andrea Marcon and the President of the Italian Olympic Committee, Giovanny Malagò.

With these objectives in mind, the IABF is currently looking for sponsorships. The list of sponsorship opportunities with the IABF are endless, but they are seeking sponsors for clinics, scholarships and equipment. If anyone is interested in becoming a sponsor or simply would like to make a donation, please email Joe Quagliano at [email protected].

The IABF does have a few exciting and entertaining fundraising events scheduled for the later part of 2018. On Saturday, August 18, the IABF is holding a fundraiser at a Yankee Stadium luxury suite when the Yankees will be taking on the Toronto Blue Jays at 1:05 pm. The suite will feature appearances by several former Yankee players who will be signing autographs, posing for photos and speaking with those in attendance. With a buffet and beverages included, it is a great family event and a once in a lifetime experience for all baseball fans. One hundred percent of the proceeds will go to the IABF to support their mission. Tickets are available at www.iabf.foundation.

On Sunday, October 7, the IABF will be sponsoring the first annual Columbus Day Party at Russo’s on The Bay in Howard Beach, New York. There will be a cocktail hour, open bar, DJ, food, entertainment and raffles. All proceeds from this dinner will be going towards the IABF. For more information on the above events or on how to get involved, please visit the IABF’s website at www.IABF.Foundation.