Dave Bidini recounts his trip to the baseball capital of Italy to learn more about the sport and his heritage.

Dave Bidini

In the spring of 2002, Dave Bidini set off for Nettuno, Italy, with his wife, Janet, and their two small children, in search of his favourite summer game, baseball. Nettuno was his destination because this town, south of Rome, has been the baseball capital of Italy since 1944, when the game was introduced by the American GIs who liberated the region. Bidini wanted to spend time in a town where everyone is as nuts about the game as he is, and in Nettuno, they love the game so much that they hand out baseball gloves and bats to children taking their first communion.

For six months Bidini followed the fortunes of the Serie B Peones, Nettunese to the core. At the same time he was also learning about his own heritage, having spent his youth vigorously ignoring his Italianness. The result of his summer in Italy is vintage Bidini: a funny, perceptive and engrossing book that takes readers far beyond the professional sport to the game that people around the world love to play. (From McClelland & Stewart)

From the book

I am the starting shortstop for a team called the Rebels, originally affiliated with a local brewery, which was both our strength and poison. I spend most games standing on the gravel in my white Converse low­cuts, waiting for some silk­screen print shop worker or bartender or anthropology student or record ­store clerk to whale the ball to my feet, providing that no off­leash hound makes for the pitcher's mound, lovestruck couple promenades through centre field, or rapscallions riding their bmxs rip up the sod in the power alleys, which lie just to the right of the oak tree and slightly to the left of the guy selling weed out of his Dickie Dee ice­cream cart. Still, we compete like heck. As a weekend scrub, I give everything at the plate. I also try my best to keep my feet spread, arse down, and eyes on the ball when fielding ground hops, the way Pee Wee Reese might have. Stats­wise, I've hovered around .400 — a modest softball average — year in and out, having effectively learned how to slice a 25-mph spinball just beyond the reach of the guy in the knee brace, who's swatting a mosquito while trying not to spill his lager.

It's because of my shortcomings as a ballplayer that I couldn't possibly have tagged along with an elite, or even semi­elite, pro ­level team in Italy. I had briefly flirted with the notion of following around a major league club, but ditched the idea after hearing about Nettuno, which had just the right combination of respectable talent level, rabid fan base, and casual sporting culture to allow a dreamy scrub like me to toss in my glove and wander among them.

Which is to say: they let me.

From Baseballissimo by Dave Bidini ©2004. Published by McClelland & Stewart.

Other books by Dave Bidini