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Baseballissimo: My Summer in the Italian Minor Leagues

by Dave Bidini

Author and musician Dave Bidini is single-handedly creating his own genre of sports book: the North-American-sport-in-a-strange-land category. In his last book, Tropic of Hockey, Bidini looked at how Canada’s national pastime is played in unusual settings all over the world. In his latest offering, Baseballissimo, Bidini takes the same approach with the baseball diamond, spending one summer following the fortunes of a minor league Italian baseball team.

From the book’s opening scene, it’s clear that Bidini – and the reader – will have some fun with the idea. Members of the Nettuno Peones gather in the team’s dugout for a pre-game snack of pastries and sugar-saturated espresso, encouraging their Canadian visitor to partake liberally. Although the edibles are a lot different than those found in the dugouts of the Blue Jays or Yankees, Bidini draws an immediate parallel between Italian baseball and the North American version, where pro players were once legendary for their non-athletic diets of chewing tobacco, ballpark hot dogs, and beer.

Despite his constant reminders of the differences in culture, language, and athletic facilities, Bidini actually illuminates the similarities between baseball as played on his home continent and his parents’ home country. Just like in Canada and the U.S., many of the players have nicknames (Bidini befriends The Emperor, Fab Julie, Chica, and the Red Tiger, among others) and all of them are energized by a diving catch or screaming line drive.

The Peones (inexplicably named after Mexican peasants) competed in the B leagues during the season Bidini spent with them, having just been promoted from the even-lowlier “Serie C.” That grassroots context makes Bidini’s lively prose even more compelling. By following around a bunch of guys who know they will never become millionaires, and who know their game will always play second fiddle to soccer in their homeland, Bidini is able to put together an entertaining and often moving narrative of fellows who take to the field simply because they love the game.