Filmmakers Roberto Angotti and Karen De Luca Stephens featured on IDEA Boston’s “Beyond DiMaggio: The Influence of Italian American Players in Baseball” panel

IDEA Boston is an initiative of I AM Books (an abbreviation for Italian AMerican), Boston’s independent Italian bookstore founded in 2015 by Nicola Orichuia and Jim Pinzino. The Boston North End neighborhood bookstore serves as a cultural hub for locals and visitors interested in diving into the rich world of Italian and Italian American culture, literature, history, research, art and more. IDEA Boston will feature 24 panel talks, over 60 speakers, a theatrical performance, a musical performance, a photo exhibit, 11 actors, 12 musicians, and a grand finale party.

The IDEA Boston festival is an extension of the bookstore’s platform and mission. IDEA Boston is a two-day “Italian-inspired cultural festival, celebrating literature, history, art and many other aspects of Italian and Italian American culture. IDEA Boston kicks off on Friday, November 1, 2019 at the Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts in Cambridge beginning at 12:40 pm with the “Beyond DiMaggio: The Influence of Italian American Players in Baseball” panel featuring two filmmakers focusing on similar subjects.  Led by Roberto Angotti and Karen De Luca Stephens, this discussion will dive into the rich and sometimes obscure history of Italian American players in America’s favorite pastime. At a time when Italian immigrants were still seen with suspicion, Italian American players helped break barriers, forcing many to look beyond the stereotypes.

Roberto AngottiRoberto Angotti is a cultural historian, writer, film director, curator, and radio DJ who blends his love of baseball, Italian American arts and culture, and music into multi-media creations. His film, Italian American Baseball Family, tells the story of how Italian Americans assimilated into popular culture through America’s favorite pastime, baseball, and how Italian Americans have circled back to Italy to grow the game by playing for Team Italy in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic.
At the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) 42nd Anniversary Gala in November 2017, the movie was screened and won the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award. Angotti is an official Team Italy media representative for Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS), and he reports first-hand from international competitions such as the World Baseball Classic and the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan: www.FIBS.it/en. He was first inspired to write about baseball in Italy and the USA, Italian American arts and culture, and music through his blog: http://www.MLBforLife.com.

Born into a Boston immigrant family, Karen De Luca Stephens lived in East Boston until her graduation from Northeastern University with a B.A. in philosophy. After receiving an M.A. in philosophy from the Johns Hopkins University she moved to Mexico City where she and her husband have recently founded the Tlacopac Artist Residency. From 2014-2017, De Luca Stephens was a Fellow in Fiction at the Writers’ Institute, CUNY Graduate Center. While a fellow she wrote a collection of short fiction and the screenplay for a feature film, Hitting Home. Based on the true story of a team of young boys from East Boston, Hitting Home is about the Italian immigrant experience during the Great Depression and the American dream that shaped a generation against the backdrop of our favorite pastime, baseball.

Since I AM Books and IDEA Boston‘s goals include helping individuals understand the Italian American experience, bookstore co-founder and festival organizer Nicola Orichuia provided recommendations for those who would like an introduction to Italian American literature:

  • Ask the Dust: A Novel, by John Fante (the book that Orichuia fell in love with as a teenager)
  • The Dream Book: An Anthology of Writings by Italian-American Women, edited by Helen Barolini
  • “Really any book by Fred Gardaphé, who is at the Calandra Institute in New York. The Calandra Institute is solely dedicated to the study of Italian American culture and identity. So anything by Fred Gardaphé is definitely worth diving into to try to understand better the Italian American experience.”I_Am_Books_Boston_091218.jpgWhether navigating Boston’s North End neighborhood for the first time or tracing back American history along the Freedom Trail, I AM Books is a mandatory stop where visitors connect with each other and immerse themselves in Italian and Italian American culture through book signings, small concerts and other events. Located at 189 North Street, right across the street from the historic Paul Revere House and a few steps away from North Square, I AM Books sells primarily fiction and non-fiction by Italian and Italian American authors, books in Italian, as well as cookbooks and books on travel, history, sports, Italian American studies and titles by local authors. The store also features a children’s section, with books, learning material, games and toys. Hours: Mon-Sat 10-6; Sun 10-4 | Tel. 857-263-7665 I AM Books website

IDEA Boston takes place November 1 and 2, 2019 at Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts, 41 Hampshire Street, Cambridge. Tickets are available per session, or per day; more information and ticket purchases can be found on the IDEA Boston website.

 

Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning documentary comes to Fox Sports Midwest Live at Ballpark Village in St. Louis on July 22, 2018

Fox Sports Live! in St. Louis
Located in St. Louis’ Ballpark Village, FOX Sports Midwest Live! is a major gathering place and entertainment plaza with two levels spanning 20,000 square feet.
Joe Garagiola
Joe Garagiola

Ciao St. Louis in association with Fox Sports Midwest Live! are proud to present a free showing of the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning documentary, Italian American Baseball Family, at Ballpark Village in downtown St Louis on July 22, 2018 at 7 pm. Immediately following the screening of the movie, director Roberto Angotti will host a Q and A discussion with Robert Garagiola, nephew of the late and great Joe Garagiola. In recognition of his “major contributions to baseball” and his outstanding broadcasting accomplishments, Joe Garagiola received the 1991 Ford C. Frick Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame. A journeyman catcher for nine seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants, his interest in broadcasting piqued in 1950 when he tuned in to his team’s radio broadcasts while convalescing from a shoulder separation. Following his retirement as a player after the 1954 season, he was offered a job with the St. Louis Cardinals’ broadcast crew. In the booth, Garagiola possessed a marvelous, easy-to-like approach to the game and a friendly, folksy manner. His progression behind the microphone included the Game of the Week, All-Star Game and World Series with NBC-TV throughout the 1960s, New York Yankees telecasts with such greats as Red Barber, Phil Rizzuto, and Jerry Coleman from 1965-67, NBC’s Today Show from 1962-73, and California Angels telecasts in 1990.

JOE patchGaragiola went on to do television broadcasts for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in 2004. The beloved Italian American from “The Hill” was also given his own star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. He retired from broadcasting in 2013 and was named as the 2014 recipient of the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, presented once every three years by the National Baseball Hall of Fame for positive contributions to Major League Baseball. Garagiola passed away at age 90 in 2016. The Arizona Diamondbacks wore a patch, a black circle with “JOE” written in white in the center with a catchers’ mask replacing the O, in his memory on their right sleeve for the 2016 season.

Robert Garagiola
Robert Garagiola, nephew of the late and great Joe Garagiola, will join director Roberto Angotti for a discussion on the Italian American Baseball Family experience immediately following the St. Louis premiere of the award-winning documentary on July 22, 2018.
Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola
Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola

Of the Italian American baseball players who grew up “On the Hill” in St. Louis, Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola were the most famous. The rich baseball history of St. Louis will be revisited at a special screening of the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning movie, Italian American Baseball Family, on Sunday, July 22, 2018 at 7 pm at Ballpark Village, 601 Clark Avenue in downtown St. Louis. The documentary examines how the likes of Tony Lazzeri, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra helped reshape America’s perspective on Italian immigrants, and how baseball helped Italians assimilate into American popular culture. The move is based on the book “Beyond DiMaggio: Italians Americans in Baseball” by Professor Lawrence Baldassaro, who is also featured in the hour-long documentary. The film depicts the Italian American experience through American’s favorite pastime and showcases Italian Americans who have circled back to Italy to help grow the game abroad by playing for Team Italy in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. Film director Roberto Angotti is excited about the upcoming screening. He said, “St. Louis has a rich Italian cultural heritage, and as a proud Italian American, I am delighted to share the film with lovers of baseball and history. Whether you are a fan of Ernie OrsattiYogi Berra, Joe Garagiola, Tito Francona, Sal Maglie, Vic Raschi, John RomanoTony La Russa, Joe Girardi, Gary Gaetti, Ed and Scott Spiezio, Nick Punto, Daniel Descalso, or Adam Ottavino, there’s something for everybody during our Italian baseball celebration in St.  Louis.” heritage-night

BURNT and Perro Bravo add fire and bite to Cali Reggae Rock

burnt and perro bravo backstage at Victoria SkaFest
BURNT and Perro Bravo backstage at the Victoria Ska and Reggae Fest on June 17, 2017.

Fresh off Vancouver Island after performing at the Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival, BURNT and Perro Bravo return to their California roots this summer with new releases. While we patiently await Perro Bravo‘s full-length effort, BURNT delivers 70 minutes of absolute niceness on a must-own double album entitled Majestic Walrus, which features special guest appearances by various luminaries including Perro Bravo’s Miguel Happoldt. BURNT lead vocalist Danny Franco remembers the day he was introduced to Sublime and learned of Skunk Records producer Mike ‘Miguel’ Happoldt. He said, “We first became aware of Miguel through his work with Sublime. I first heard 40 oz. to Freedom as a teenager…this would have been 1994 or 1995. A girl I had a crush on played the CD for me, and I thought it was really strange music…but I could not stop listening. For the next decade Sublime’s music became the soundtrack to our lives. There are many other influences for sure, but Sublime was always there. I personally discovered so much music through Sublime, which of course was part of Brad Nowell’s genius–from The Minutemen, Bad Brains, KRS-One, Circle Jerks, Beastie Boys, Falling Idols, The Ziggens, Peter Tosh, Secret Hate, Public Enemy, The Toyes–the list goes on and on. There were so many layers and snatches of music. A person could spend years unpacking the references and samples on Sublimes’s 40 oz. to Freedom and Robbin’ the Hood and we did.”cover

The 20-song masterpiece Majestic Walrus is the 10th self-produced release from BURNT, an indy power trio comprised of lead vocalist/guitarist Danny Franco, bass player Matt “Primo” Swagler and drummer Rob LaPorte. BURNT’s “less is more” approach to music is reminiscent to that of the original Long Beach-based Sublime band’s three-piece lineup. BURNT leader Franco looked to DIY mentor Miguel Happoldt for inspiration. He said, “BURNT has always been a DIY band, following the example of many influential bands before us. As the saying goes: We stand on the shoulders of giants… As BURNT began to develop our own musical sound and craft back in early 2000, we studied not only the sounds of Sublime but also the means by which they produced albums–the DIY culture. This was not unique to Sublime, but we respected and looked up to the way that Brad and Miguel founded Skunk Records–with Miguel leveraging his free recording time as a student at Cal State Dominguez Hills to record the early Sublime work. We took that example to heart–that we should be the directors and producers of our craft and the masters of our own musical destiny. That is really where Miguel first fits into the BURNT story. He is a master musician and of course contributed heavily to Sublime’s music, but we really looked up to Miguel as a producer and engineer. In addition, we also marveled at the way the guy figured out a way to keep it together and put out quality records through all the chaos that is life.” 

BURNT’s latest Majestic Walrus brings together a plethora of talented musicians including lead guitarist Joe Ransom Ortner, members of The Debonaires, Beyond Rhythm’s Benjamin “B-Jah” Cook, renowned hip hop artist Karmic Basis and UK dubmaster Nathan “Rivel” McCoy. Recorded and mixed by BURNT, Tom Cook and Calvin “Crash” Turnabull in The Debonaires’ hometown of Riverside, California, the new Majestic Walrus double album has something for everybody to enjoy. Perro Bravo’s Miguel Happoldt contributed his expertise to the song ‘Downstream’, which no doubt makes the new BURNT recording a true collector’s item. Danny Franco commented, “As we were going through the recording process for Majestic Walrus, I hit up Miguel with a number of tracks. The one that made the album, ‘Downstream’ came together organically and is a total collaboration from start to finish. We’re humbled and honored to share the stage and make music with all the Perro Bravo guys. It’s fair to say that I hit it off right away with bassist Mike Long and Greg “Mudd” Lowther, Perro Bravo’s drummer. He is a very intelligent guy who loves books and music. I think both bands realized that we had a kindred spirit, and that our sounds–while being very distinct and different from one another–make for an entertaining show and lineup. Miguel and I started booking runs of shows together, and most recently just got back from a mini-tour of British Columbia and an appearance at the 18th Annual Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival. It has been totally fun getting to know all the Perro Bravo guys, and learning from their wisdom and experience. I truly believe that this is really still the beginning of what I hope will be many fun and interesting collaborations in the years to come.” If Majestic Walrus is any indication of what the future holds between BURNT and Perro Bravo, then more collaborations between the two Cali Reggae Rock bands are on the horizon. With a new Perro Bravo recording expected later this summer, pick up a copy of BURNT’s Majestic Walrus in the meantime by clicking HEREHALOWEEN 2015 DIA DE MUERTOS 

Fastball John D’Acquisto returns to Italian American roots for San Diego book signing

fastball-john“Fastball John” by John D’Acquisto and Dave Jordan rivals Mike Piazza’s “Long Shot” as one of baseball’s best books of the decade. “Fastball John” features a prolific foreword by baseball historian Dan Epstein as well as references to a soundtrack of pop culture including: the Everly Brothers, the Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Carpenters, the Temptations, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Donna Summer, Nicolette Larson, Blondie, Dave Mason, Don Henley, the Pretenders and New Order. “Fastball John” D’Acquisto will be signing his new book on September 24th and 25th from 1 to 4 PM at The Pennant, 2893 Mission Blvd. in San Diego’s South Mission Beach. It will be a family reunion of sorts since John Francis D’Acquisto was born in San Diego on December 24, 1951. He would later become a hometown hero while attending St. Augustine High School, where he excelled in both football and baseball.

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Italian American pitcher John D’Acquisto made a personal appearance and speech at the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball Exhibit in San Diego.
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Celebrating its 70th anniversary on the waterfront, Anthony’s is San Diego’s original Seafood Restaurant.
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As an active member of the MLBPA, John D’Acquisto works in the broadcast booth for various MLB games.

In the 1920’s, most Italian immigrants who settled near downtown San Diego were fishermen from Genoa and Sicily. Many other Italian fishermen and their families moved to San Diego from San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake. Like Joe DiMaggio’s father– who was a fisherman in the Bay Area–John D’Acquisto’s father, Fred D’Acquisto Sr., also depended on the fishing industry to put food on the table. As serendipitous as it may sound, the two sons of Italian immigrant families would meet in 1975 when John was honored by Joe DiMaggio and the Italian-American Society as its “Italian-American of the Year”. John’s father, Fred D’Acquisto Sr., was a local San Diego celebrity for 51 years as he worked for the legendary Anthony’s Fish Grotto Restaurant in the vibrant downtown Little Italy community. Starting out as a young teenager, John’s father worked himself up to dining room manager and would split his time between the original restaurant and their sister location, the Star of the Seas.

A first-round pick in the 1970 amateur draft, John D’Acquisto was selected by the San Francisco Giants. Blessed with a death-defying fastball, “Johnny D” made his MLB debut for the Giants late in the 1973 season. He was named National League Rookie of the Year and National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News in 1974. During the span of his ten season career, John D’Acquisto pitched for the Giants, Cardinals, Padres, Expos, Angels and Athletics from 1973-1982. Read John’s blog and order Fastball John” today by clicking HERE.

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Fastball John D’Acquisto pitched for the San Diego Padres from 1977 to 1980.

 

From Costa Rica to Costa Mesa, Perro Bravo rocks!

Perro Bravo lead vocalist/guitarist Michael “Miguel “Happoldt, drummer Greg “Mudd” Lowther and bassist Mike Long
Guitarist Michael “Miguel “Happoldt, drummer Greg “Mudd” Lowther and bassist Mike Long
Cover art for Perro Bravo's 3 on the tree CD by Opie Ortiz
Cover art for Perro Bravo’s 3 on the Tree CD was produced by Sublime graphic designer Opie Ortiz, who serves as Long Beach Dub Allstars frontman.

Long Beach Records is pleased to announce the release of Perro Bravo’s new 3 on the Tree CD, which is now conveniently packaged with the band’s 2013 Smoking Scorpion Tales CD in order to double your listening pleasure. Perro Bravo is the manifestation of reggae rock/dub innovator Michael “Miguel” Happoldt of Skunk Records, who most music lovers remember as the producer who brought Sublime, Slightly Stoopid and Long Beach Dub Allstars into the limelight. Coupled with seasoned and accomplished musicians Greg “Mudd” Lowther on drums and Mike Long on bass, this power trio has fast become fan favorites in some of the best surfing towns in Costa Rica and California. Find out what the buzz is about and purchase their double CD by clicking HERE.

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Perro Bravo’s Smoking Scorpion Tales CD cover art was illustrated by renowned LBC tattoo artist Opie Ortiz.

Perro Bravo will be among the 27 bands performing at the One Love Cali Reggae Fest on February 13, 2016 at the Observatory in Santa Ana. Some of the other headliners at the all-ages festival include Pato Banton, KRS-One, Rebelution, Iration, Pepper, Tribal Seeds and Fortunate Youth. Purchase your tickets by clicking HERE. Perro Bravo recently performed at a benefit concert for former LBDA family members Ikey and Aaron Owens at LA’s El Rey Theatre, where they also backed LBDA. Perro Bravo turns up the heat when backing other artists and welcomes surprise guests onstage on any given night. Since anything can happen live, one must catch the band while on tour or miss a potential once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Salento-Kingston connection: Shengen Clan Band’s Toni Tarantino brings Italian fire backing Alborosie

Shengen Clan Band's Toni Tarantino
The Shengen Clan Band’s keyboardist Toni Tarantino

Located on the heel of Italy’s boot, the Salento Peninsula in southern Puglia is world-class for its pure olive oil, exquisite wine, and crystal clear blue waters off the beautiful coastline. Considered the Jamaica of Italy for its sandy beaches and reggae vibes, Salento is fast becoming known for its share of renowned hometown musicians including–Anthony “Toni” Tarantino–keyboardist, beatboxer and trumpet player for reggae ambassador Alborosie’s Kingston-based Shengen Clan Band.

 

Shengen Clan's Toni Tarantino
Shengen Clan’s Toni Tarantino (front and center) live

Having studied and performed classical music and jazz in Europe prior to joining Shengen Clan in 2009, Tarantino was greatly influenced by Cinematic Orchestra, Radiohead, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Michel Petrucciani. Fluent in Italian, French, English and Jamaican patois, Toni now travels the reggae world as an accomplished international arranger, producer and musician.

The multi-talented Toni Tarantino
The multi-talented Toni Tarantino

Receiving his first keyboard when he was three years old from his father, who would later in life sing and accompany his talented son at piano bars and special events, the 33-year-old Italian maestro expressed interest early beginning at age five that he aspired to join a top-notch music conservatory. Although it took fourteen years before his dreams were realized in 2001 when he enrolled at Prince Clause Conservatorium in Groningen, Holland to study jazz and piano, Toni began listening to Italian mainstream music such as Modugno, Claudio Villa, and Minabegan before playing regularly in the public eye when he was twelve at his local church. Having played the trumpet concurrently for three years while a member of Tito Schipa, a respected conservatorium for musicians in the Lecce area, in addition to being a skilled keyboardist, Toni decided to focus entirely in playing and studying classical piano. During his early teens, Tarantino drew significant influence from the likes of Bach, Chopin, Albeniz, Debussy, Post Romantic, and Jazz music.

Alborosie enlisted the the services of fellow Italian Toni Tarantino to join the Shengen Clan Band
Alborosie enlisted the services of fellow Italian Toni Tarantino to join Shengen Clan.
Toni Tarantino's Mad Boxes project
Toni Tarantino’s Italian side project: Mad Boxes

Tarantino’s parents rented a piano so that their son Toni could practice at least eight hours a day in order to receive his piano diploma during the course of six years of study instead of the usual decade of dedication. Sandro P, a friend who served as Monteroni di Lecce’s “Fa la cosa giusta” music association president, encouraged Toni to come along on a well-deserved Jamaican vacation during which time Alborosie invited him to join the Shengen Clan Band. He has since been involved in every Alborosie studio production and tour since 2009. Toni has also produced DJ Gruff, Boom Boom Vibration and Rubens as well as his latest project–Mad Boxes–to critical acclaim.

Rocky Road The loyal and strong California reggae massive were delighted to see headliners Alborosie and the Shengen Clan Band (featuring Toni Tarantino) recently at Reggae On The Mountain in Topanga. Prior to heading up to Humboldt County for Reggae On The River, Alborosie and Shengen Clan make a rare Orange County club appearance on Saturday, August 1st at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., in Santa Ana. For more information, phone (714) 957-0600 or visit www.observatoryoc.com While you are there, pick up a copy of Alborosie’s latest “Dub of Thrones” release featuring legendary Jamaican producer King Jammy. Last but not least, make sure to watch and ‘like’ Puppa Albo’s new “Rocky Road” video by clicking HERE. Grazie!

Salento’s Mamanera Beach is truly the Jamaica of Italy

Mamanera Reggae Boom Beach celebrates its 15th Anniversary on Lido San Basilio this summer.
Mamanera Reggae Boom Beach celebrates its 15th Anniversary on Lido San Basilio this summer.

salento-map-1 The irie reggae vibes on the sandy Salento coast beach of Lido San Basilio (San Foca) in the province of Lecce located in the Puglia region of southeastern Italy rival those found in the Jamaican dancehall today. With “Free Music for Free People” as its motto, Mamanera Beach has been a favorite spot for reggae artists and fans alike. Montego Bay-born reggae dancehall diva Tenza told Jamaica Observer that Salento was legit and said: “The way they embraced the music and the Jamaican culture was absolutely amazing and memorable. They came out in numbers. The atmosphere was like being back in Jamaica, where every night was another party and people just rave non-stop to dancehall and reggae music even if it’s raining.”

Mamanera Reggae Beach on Lido San Basilio
Mamanera Reggae Boom Beach on Lido San Basilio in Salento is the place to be this summer for irie vibes.

The 2015 Mamanera Reggae Boom Beach summer lineup is as follows: July 25–I-Shence (Perugia); August 1–Villada Posse (Rome); August 8–Black Chiney (Miami); August 10–Mr. Vegas (Jamaica); August 12–Johnny Osbourne (Jamaica)/Soul Stereo (France); August 13–Heavy Hammer Sound 16th Anniversary Party with Killamanjaro Sound (Jamaica); August 15–Sound Clash between Sentinel Sound (Germany) and Coppershot Sound (Jamaica); August 17–Mananera Revolution; August 20–Original Salento Dancehall: No-Tap! with Mamanera All-Stars. www.Mamanera.com

Heavy Hammer Sound opened the 2015 Summer Season.
Salento favorite Heavy Hammer Sound entertained over 5000 reggae dancehall lovers on Opening Night.

Established in 1999 in on the outskirts of Lecce in Salento–otherwise known as “the Italian Jamaica”–Heavy Hammer is the resident sound crew on the world-famous Mamanera Beach every summer alongside some of best entertainers in the business. Initially four friends who shared a common love for reggae dancehall music, sound systems, Jamaican culture and partying all night on the beach, Heavy Hammer has grown to become a family of seven–including Raffa, Gecky, Gigi, Quasta, Lep, Boris and Charly. Learn more about Heavy Hammer, the promoters of the annual Mamanera Reggae Boom Beach at www.HeavyHammer.it

‘Tis the season for HOF’s Mike Piazza and La Befana

NIASHF Only second to Santa in holiday appearances, National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame spokesman Mike Piazza began early before Thanksgiving when he emceed NIASHF’s 37th Annual Awards Celebration and inducted John Andretti, Babe Parilli, Scott Pioli, Angelo Pizzo and Frank Zamboni at the InterContinental Hotel in Chicago.

Mike Piazza's popularity in Italy is second only Venezia's Santa Clause.
Mike Piazza’s popularity in Italia comes a close second to St. Nick but nobody can touch La Befana.

International baseball ambassador and Italian National team hitting coach Mike Piazza got a jump start on Babbo Natale, otherwise known as Father Christmas, when he traveled to Veneto, Italy last January to speak to an enthusiastic audience at the 29th Annual Coaches Convention. Piazza said, “We all overteach and overanalyze hitting. Everyone has their own opinion, but in actuality–just as Ted Williams explained in his book–The Science of Hitting–the number one rule is to get a good ball to hit. Gaining an understanding of the strike zone and what you can and can’t hit is the key. Simply spoken, you can’t hit what you can’t see.” Borrowing a page straight out of Ted Williams’ book, Rudolph the red nose reindeer leads Cometa, Ballerina, Fulmine, Donnola, Freccia, Saltarello, Donato, and Cupido so that Babbo Natale is able to see which homes to hit and deliver presents to millions of Italian children every year. However, La Befana, the elderly woman who delivers gifts on Epiphany Eve (January 5th), is a cultural folklore tradition favorite and reigns as the undisputed Italian holiday champion.

La Befana is one of Italy's oldest and most celebrated legends.
La Befana is one of Italy’s oldest and most celebrated legends.

La Befana is a nice old woman who some believe takes flight on her broom stick every year in the middle of the night in preparation of the arrival of Epiphany day on January 6th. She showers children with gifts to reward them for their good behavior. La Befana’s big sack on her back and basket is usually full of sweets and chocolates, which will make their way into the stockings of kids who have behaved on the day of the Epiphany. However, those children who didn’t do what they were asked by their parents and were naughty throughout the year will end up with a stocking full of lumps of coal. Yet, everyone loves La Befana. She is sometimes portrayed as having white or black hair with a long crooked nose, broken shoes and a patched dress. Unlike in America where children generally leave milk and cookies for Santa Claus, it is customary to have a nice glass of red wine waiting for La Befana upon her arrival to your house considering the long overnight journey she had to endure getting there.

Some believe the Mike Piazza soccer jersey handed out at Italian Heritage Night at Citi Field may have been the best Mets giveaway of all-time.
Attendees of Italian Heritage Night at Citi Field received a Mike Piazza soccer jersey to the delight the Azzurri.

Mike Piazza deserves more than just chianti for the seemingly endless journey he has had to experience to become enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Mets Hall of Famer is a fan favorite, and anytime he is affiliated with a night at the ballpark it is an instant hit. The Mike Piazza soccer jersey giveaway at the 2014 Italian Heritage Night at Citi Field was considered to be best Mets promotion of the season.

Mike Piazza appears in a Norelco commercial.
Mike Piazza featured in Philips Norelco commercial

Commercial endorsements from Philips Norelco as well as special guest interview appearances on Complex News and TMZ Sports are just the tip of the iceberg of mass media that has spotlighted Mike Piazza recently. Expect nothing less than an avalanche of additional coverage in 2015 to follow with Piazza’s support of the National Italian American Foundation and the NIAF 40th Anniversary Gala.

Mike Piazza and friends at the National Italian American Foundation Gala
Mike Piazza and the Hollywood crowd at the NIAF Gala
Author and University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Emeritus Professor Lawrence A. Baldassaro summed up why this blogger believes Mike Piazza is Italian American of the Decade when he wrote: “Of all the younger Major League players I interviewed for my book, Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball, none was more in touch with, and interested in, his Italian heritage than Mike Piazza. And his commitment to baseball in Italy is unmatched among those his age.”

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Lenny Randle leads Nettuno, Italy’s baseball revolution

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Former MLB All-Star Lenny Randle leads the Italian baseball renaissance in Nettuno.
Lenny Randle became the first American major leaguer to play in Italy in 1983.

With Ronald Reagan serving as America’s leader and the final episode of M*A*S*H* airing on television in 1983, Lenny Randle embarked on an Italian baseball adventure that lasted almost a decade before nearly making a miraculous MLB comeback at age 46 with the 1995 Angels. Not afraid of climbing into the stands to talk, sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans, Lenny Randle is a fan favorite both on and off the field. Infamous for teaching future ballplayers Italian phrases and encouraging them to get their college degree so they have something to fall back on, Randle practices what he preaches having received his Masters Degree in Education and started his own baseball school after retirement. Learning the game from the best, Lenny broke into the big leagues with the Washington Senators in 1971 under manager Ted Williams and was mentored by the likes of Billy Martin, Don Drysdale, and Tommy Lasorda during his illustrious 12-year career.

Locandina-Lenny-Randles-Day During the span of his 1,138 MLB games played with the Washington Senators, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners, Randle’s best season was in 1974 with the Texas Rangers when he hit .302 (7th overall in American League) and stole 26 bases. In 1983, the versatile player ventured to Nettuno at age 34. In his first season in the Italian Baseball League, he won the batting title handily just shy of a .500 clip. He later went on to lead the league in stolen bases with 32. The Southern California native found his power stroke in Italy during his 200-game career and hit 47 home runs. In a 1995 interview with the Tampa Tribune, Randle summed up his experience abroad by saying: “Playing baseball in Italy was like finding the fountain of youth. Guys over there relax and enjoy the game. It’s easy because there’s no stress.”

Stadio Steno Borghese is home of Nettuno baseball.
Stadio Steno Borghese is home of Nettuno baseball.

Fast forward two decades and Nettuno Baseball Club’s all-time favorite, Lenny “Cappuccino” Randle, is now the team’s new general manager and co-owner. If anyone can start the Italian baseball revolution and transform Nettuno’s historical World War II U.S. battlefield site into baseball’s next field of dreams, it’s Lenny Randle. Supported by a first-class coaching staff of seasoned MLB vets including Chris Bando, Félix Millán, and Rudy Law, Randle is ready to turn Nettuno into European baseball’s biggest epicenter.

Lights, camera, action...the stage is set for Lenny Randle in Nettuno.
Lights, camera, action in Nettuno, Italy–where Lenny Randle’s baseball revolution is taking place.
Joe DiMaggio poses during his visit to Nettuno in 1953.
Joe DiMaggio poses during his visit to Nettuno in 1953.

36,000 American soldiers landed at Nettuno in 1944 and brought along an arsenal of baseballs, bats, and gloves to keep their sanity during wartime. While the U.S. Army maintained its beachhead at Nettuno for five months, Italians were introduced to America’s favorite pastime. Baseball reached the masses when the Italian press learned of Joe DiMaggio’s visit to the game’s birthplace in Nettuno after his retirement in 1957. Randle’s Nettuno Baseball Club will pay tribute to the Italian American icon at Stadio Steno Borghese in 2015.

Lenny Randle and Nettuno Baseball Club President Piero Fortini
Lenny Randle and Nettuno Baseball Club President Piero Fortini lead the Italian baseball revolution.

The Nettuno Baseball Club looks to inspire a whole new generation of baseball fans and players while upholding the legacy and traditions of the game in Italy. Under the leadership of General Manager Lenny Randle and President Piero Fortino, the Nettuno Baseball Club is building international alliances with corporate sponsors interested in expanding its reach through innovative marketing and interactive fan engagement.

Nettuno Baseball Club Sponsorship Levels include Home Run ($20,000), Batter Up ($10,000), Double Play ($5,000) and Line Drive ($2,000)
Nettuno Baseball Club Sponsorship Levels include the exclusive Home Run Club ($20,000), Batter Up Club($10,000), Double Play Club ($5,000) and Line Drive Club ($2,000). All levels of sponsorship receive great benefits and maximum exposure for corporate branding internationally while helping the Nettuno Baseball Club expand its reach in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Sponsorship members of the exclusive Nettuno Baseball Club Home Run Club pledge $20,000 and receive a plethora of benefits including: roundtrip airfare to Nettuno/all ground transportation, two nights accommodation at a luxury hotel, private meet and greet with players and coaches, gourmet lunch and five-course dinner at beachside restaurant, VIP Season Tickets/baseball game box seats at stadium, guided tour of local attractions and destinations including World War II Monument and Rome, radio/tv mentions, announcements on game days, a permanent banner at stadium, corporate logo on all printed materials/online media presence and link from the Nettuno website.377490_untitled Until the Asian and American monopoly on baseball’s culture and resources eases up and Major League Baseball and its corporate partners invest in youth and professional leagues in Europe, the fate of the game’s future is dependent on the involvement of former MLB vets like Lenny Randle and Mike Piazza. Finding and developing players is one of Nettuno Baseball Club’s strengths. Both 20-year-old Atlanta Braves prospect Mattia Mercuri and 17-year-old LA Dodgers prospect Federico Giordani ascended up the ranks through Nettuno Baseball Club.

LA Dodgers prospect Federico Giordani played in the youth league for Nettuno Lions before joining  the Nettuno Baseball Club.
LA Dodgers prospect Federico Giordani played youth league ball for the Nettuno Lions before joining the Italian Baseball League’s Nettuno Baseball Club.

Cultivating prospects like Nettuno’s Mercuri and Giordani into major league-quality players and using them like missionaries to promote baseball in Europe will make a strong enough impression back home to give young Italian athletes the vote of confidence that playing MLB is a viable option. Every time Major League Baseball has reached out to expand its constituency to new geographic areas, it has been rewarded with tactical and cultural innovation, a broader fan base and a higher quality of play. Why should Europe be any different? Without MLB financing, the Nettuno Baseball Club and Italian Baseball League depend on corporate sponsorship and FIBS. To learn more about the fantastic opportunities afforded to businesses and athletes, please visit Lenny Randle Sports Tours.
Italian Baseball

Grilli is a BIG name in Italia and in Pittsburgh, PA

The Roberto Clemente Bridge leads Grilli and Pirates fans to PNC Park in downtown Pittsburgh.
The Roberto Clemente Bridge leads Grilli and Pirates fans to PNC Park in downtown Pittsburgh.
Italian Finance Minister Vittorio Grilli
Vittorio Grilli is currently
the Italian Finance Minister.
“I told the cab driver, just rolling up over the Clemente Bridge and going around the corner, I said, this is my office space,” said Pittsburgh’s new closer Jason Grilli after signing his two-year, $6.75 million contract through 2014 with the Pirates. “This is how I do my best work. There’s sometimes not enough money that can be a good tradeoff to being comfortable and to know what to expect.” Despite leaving money on the table and taking far less than the free agent market offered to stay in Pittsburgh–much to the disliking of Italian Finance Minister Vittorio Grilli, 36-year-old pitcher Jason Grilli remains a Pirate.
In his 2012 campaign for the Pittsburgh Pirates, reliever Jason Grilli established career highs in appearances (64) and strikeouts (90)
Jason Grilli established career highs in appearances (64) and strikeouts (90) with a career-best 2.91 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .207 batting average in 2012.
ItaliaHowever, Jason Grilli has earned the right to pitch wherever he chooses after picking up the win in Team Italia’s 10-0 shutout of Australia in the 2006 World Baseball Classic (WBC) and a save in Italy’s 6-2 upset over heavily-favored Canada in the 2009 WBC competition. It goes without saying that the sight of Jason Grilli wearing an Azzurri jersey brings more joy and glory to the near-bankrupt European nation than any Italian politician could ever produce.
Jason Grilli pitching for Team Italia in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
Jason Grilli pitching for Team Italia in the 2006 WBC.
Yet, politics somehow infiltrated into Italian baseball during the 1996 Olympics. After being invited by the the Italian Baseball Federation to join the country’s Olympic team while playing college ball at Seton Hall, Grilli stood proud and was honored with a parade in his hometown of Syracuse, New York. When joining the team with another Italian American pitcher, they did not receive a warm reception. The other players on the Italian squad that qualified for the Olympics without the two imports threatened a boycott.

italian_american_ Facing an ‘us or them’ ultimatum, the pitchers were dismissed. “I was in tears the whole way home,”
Grilli said. “The good part of it was I got to see Italy, but the worst part of it was it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I didn’t get to play.” Grilli traces his family heritage roots to Florence and Naples. He said, “I’m 75 percent Italian. My last name is every bit as Italian as you can get. The name on the front of the jersey is always more important than the name on the back, but in this case, the two go hand-in-hand.
I wouldn’t have ‘Italia’ on the front if I didn’t have ‘Grilli’ on the back. Obviously, I love the United States. But I’m also proud of my lineage.”

Tommy Lasorda was honored in 2011 by the National Italian American Foundation when he was presented the NIAF Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports Management by Team Italia Coach and former Dodger Mike Piazza.
Tommy Lasorda was honored in 2011 by the National Italian American Foundation
when he was presented the NIAF Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports Management
by Team Italia Coach, 12-time MLB All-Star and former Dodger catcher Mike Piazza.
“You know, they say the more you hang around Italians, the more Italian you become,”
said Grilli. “And that’s what I am. I’m an Italian,” said the Italian right-hander (il Italiano adopera la mano destra) who reminisced about his experience playing for Team Italia in
the World Baseball Classic. “One day Tommy Lasorda came in to talk to us. It was one of
the greatest speeches I’d ever heard. I wish I’d memorized or recorded it. He talked about the pride that comes with being Italian, with such feeling. It was a great experience.”
Having been invited to attend the 28th Annual Italian Coach Convention in Parma, Italy, Grilli is seriously considering a coaching career in Italy after he retires from Major League Baseball. “I know (former MLB All-Star and Team Italia coach) Mike Piazza has a house
(in Italy), and he goes over for a couple months every year,” Grilli said. “It‘s intriguing.”
Grilli and Team Italia stand at attention during the playing of the Italian National Anthem before facing Venezuela in the 2009 WBC.
Grilli and Team Italia stand at attention during the playing of the Italian National Anthem before being eliminated by Venezuela in the 2009 World Baseball Classic at Rogers Centre.
Team Italian Major Leaguers Jason Grilli, Alex Liddi and Francisco Cervelli celebrate after Grill held Canada scoreless for three innings and picked up the save in the 2009 WBC in Toronto.
Team Italia Major Leaguers Jason Grilli, Alex Liddi and Francisco Cervelli celebrate after Grill held host Canada scoreless for three innings and picked up the save at the 2009 World Baseball Classic in Toronto.
Selected by the San Francisco Giants in the first round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft (fourth pick overall), Grilli made his MLB debut with the Florida Marlins in 2000 and has made 330 career appearances during his 10 seasons in the big leagues. The Pirates signed Grilli as a free agent on July 21, 2011, and he has posted a 2.76 ERA with 127 strikeouts in 92 appearances over the last two seasons. He hinted at comfort and a heightened sense of excitement for Pittsburgh’s resurgence to Clemente-era dominance as top reasons for re-signing. “I’ve been on 10 different teams,” Grilli said. “The grass is never always greener. It’s really all the same. There’s just Piratessomething fitting here. It’s just a baseball town and it bugs me as much as it bugs everybody else in this city. They want this so bad.” In 2012 Grilli limited opponents to just one run in 15 of his 64 appearances and struck out at least one hitter in 56 of the 64 games. He set a franchise record for relievers by striking out at least one batter in each of his first 19 appearances in 2012. Although a bull in the pen on the mound, Jason is quite the gentlemen to members of the press. The local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America recently voted Grilli as the winner of the Chuck Tanner Award–an award that recognizes the player who is most cooperative with the media.
Train lead singer Patrick Monahan shares a laugh with Pirates' closer Jason Grill.
Train lead singer Patrick Monahan shares a laugh with Pittsburgh Pirates’ closer Jason Grilli.
Roberto Clemente statue at PNC Park.
Roberto Clemente statue at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Jason Grilli wants to bring back the World Series glory days to Pittsburgh. As a proud Italian, he supports MLB’s initiative to foster baseball’s popularity in Italy through the Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS)-sponsored MLB Italian Academy and international games like the World Baseball Classic. Grilli said, “I’m in the books in Italian baseball, and that’s good. Major League Baseball wants the game to grow globally, and I’m happy to be a part of that.”