Of the more than four million Italians who left home between 1880 and 1920 with dreams of a better life, nobody could have imagined their children fulfilling the American dream by playing a game that was as foreign to them as the English language. Examining the experiences of baseball pioneers, current players and coaches, fans, and historians, filmmaker Roberto Angotti captures the story of how Italian Americans assimilated into popular culture through America’s favorite pastime in his new hour-long Italian American Baseball Familydocumentary. The film also explores how Italian Americans have circled back to Italy to help grow the game abroad by playing for Team Italy in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. Although brothers Vince, Joe, and Dom DiMaggio may be the premier Italian American Baseball Family, the Colabellos from Milford, Massachusetts are a perfect example of the modern day Italian American Baseball Family. Father Lou Colabello was the starting pitcher for Team Italy against host Team USA at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics while his son Chris Colabello later played baseball in Italy as a youth and, like his father, eventually went on to represent Team Italy in the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classics.
The Italian American Baseball Family traverses the U.S. cultural landscape and documents an ethnic group’s rise from adversity by celebrating its triumphs in breaking into a sport originally dominated by English, Irish and German immigrants. The 2017 Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning movie showcases both the hardships and accomplishments of legendary Italian American baseball players.
After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States declared war and began targeting those of German, Italian, or Japanese descent. The Italians were the largest immigrant group in the U.S. at the time and about 600,000 of the country’s five million Italian immigrants who had not yet naturalized were forced to register as enemy aliens. Baseball came ashore to Italy in 1944 when allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Nettuno and nearby Anzio en route to freeing Rome from its Nazi occupiers. American troops brought baseball gear and taught Italians how to play. Baseball countered the negative immigrant identity as an outsider. The game bridged the gap so that Italians could integrate into the American way of life.
The Italian American Baseball Family brings home the message that baseball allowed Italian Americans to assimilate into popular culture. The documentary honors the Italian American baseball ambassadors who have etched their names into U.S. sports history. The film pays tribute to their invaluable contributions and acknowledges those players who have left their unique imprint on the game.
Filmmaker Roberto Angotti said, “It was an exhilarating experience and so rewarding to interview mentor and renowned historian Lawrence Baldassaro, author of Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago as well as National Baseball Hall of Fame legend Tommy Lasorda. Getting to speak with MLB past and present players Frank Viola, Nick Punto, Francisco Cervelli, Chris Colabello, Brandon Nimmo, and Gavin Cecchini for the Italian American Baseball Family was also a privilege and an honor.”
Roberto was fascinated by the game of baseball since he was a child and played Little League. He witnessed Tommy Lasorda lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to two World Series titles in the 1980s. In high school, he played American Legion baseball. As a Film Studies student at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), Angotti did play-by-play broadcasts for Pomona-Pitzer Baseball while program director at KSPC 88.7 FM. His education at CMC was the foundation for him to catapult into the entertainment industry. Roberto was recently the subject of a CMC alumni profile. To access the article, click on this link: https://www.cmc.edu/news/filmmaker-roberto-angotti-traces-roots-of-italian-american-baseball. Throughout his professional radio career at KNAC 105.5 FM (Long Beach), KROQ 106.7 FM (Pasadena/Los Angeles) as well as 91X and 92.5 FM (San Diego), he integrated music, sports, and popular culture to become one of the most listened to on-air personalities in Southern California.
In 2011 Angotti launched an MLB.com blog which eventually became a Top 10 MLB.com Fan website – www.MLBforLife.com – to showcase up-and-coming Italian and Italian American players. After visiting the Italian Baseball Academy near Pisa, Roberto was invited to the 2013 World Baseball Classic in Phoenix, Arizona, where he got to know Mike Piazza, who served as hitting coach for Team Italy. Piazza inspired him to document the Italian American experience. That same year Angotti curated the Artists’ Tribute to Italian Americans in Baseball exhibition at the Convivio Center in San Diego’s Little Italy. The exhibit featured Italian American artists who focused their work on Italian American Baseball Hall of Famers: Tony Lazzeri, Joe DiMaggio, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Ernie Lombardi, Phil Rizzuto, Tommy Lasorda, Ron Santo, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, John Smoltz, Craig Biggio, and Mike Piazza.
As the English language editor and reporter for Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (www.fibs.it/en), Angotti represented the Italian national teams at three international competitions in 2017: the World Baseball Classic in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico; the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U-19 Junior Women’s World Championship in Clearwater, Florida; and the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
When Roberto returned from the 2017 World Baseball Classic, he resolved to make a film about Italian Americans and their integral role in baseball. The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, and the Russo Brothers offered the Italian American Film Forum Grant to filmmakers wanting to share the Italian American experience. It was a natural fit so Angotti applied and was chosen as one of seven grant recipients. Later he was selected as one of three finalists invited to the 42nd Anniversary NIAF Gala Weekend in Washington, D.C., where he was proclaimed the winner and presented the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award by Italian Sons and Daughters of America President Basil Russo, National Italian American Foundation President John Viola and FOX Business Network TV Anchor/Global Markets Editor Maria Bartiromo on Saturday, November 4, 2017.
Angotti plans to make a series of Italian American baseball films. He sees his first documentary as a way to educate young Italian Americans and others on the plight of Italian immigrants, using baseball as a focal point. He said, “Italians were once second class citizens in the United States, and invisible in baseball before players like Tony Lazzeri and Joe DiMaggio rose to prominence. Not having an appreciation of your heritage is like an olive tree without roots. Baseball is a part of mine.”
With majestic Mount Baldy providing the perfect backdrop for the optimal collegiate baseball setting, the late and great Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags Baseball Head Coach Bill Arce fulfilled his promise to empower those who played on the Arce Field of Dreams to attain excellence. Former student athlete Wes Parker, who played under Coach Arce from 1959-1961, enjoyed a career with the LA Dodgers from 1964-1971. Arce once said, “Wes was the hardest worker I ever had. He honed his great natural talent with tremendous work ethic.”
When Internationally-acclaimed broadcast journalist Josh Chetwynd wrote his book “Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History” (2008), he acknowledged the invaluable contribution of legendary Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Baseball Coach Bill Arce. In his introduction, author Josh Chetwynd wrote: Some Americans have made a commitment to the European game for no reason but for the love of the sport. During the Battle of the Bulge, Bill Arce was a member of General George Patton’s Third Army. Injured in the fighting, Arce prayed to God. He promised that if he were to survive, he’d spend his life in a meaningful way. Arce would go on to become a university professor, administrator and baseball coach–and would give to European baseball like no other. Often paying out of his own pocket, he was the first American coach to hold baseball clinics in Sweden (1962), Czechoslolvakia (1969) and Yugoslavia (1979). All told, he worked in fifteen different European countries and was the only person to have coached two different countries–the Netherlands (in 1971) and Italy (in 1975) to a European Baseball Championship. In his first chapter on the Netherlands in “Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History”, Josh Chetwynd retraced the story how Bill Arce became involved in coaching abroad: Bill Arce’s entry into European baseball was mere happenstance. “I was on a plane trip with a professor from Stanford going to a convention in New York,” recalled Arce about his 1960 introduction to the European game. “At the bottom of the sports page, I noticed an item saying Holland had won the European baseball tournament. I commented that would be a great way to spend a leave from college, working with baseball players in a country like Holland.” Sometime after that he received a letter from a friend who was serving as the American consul in Amsterdam saying they were looking for a coach. Arce, who served as athletic director and head coach at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, jumped at the opportunity in 1962.
The book “Baseball in Europe: A Country by Country History” elaborated on the significant impact Bill Arce had on baseball abroad: Arce would become not only a tireless teacher for the Dutch but also a master organizer. As the Dutch Baseball Hall of Famer Han Urbanus put it years later: “Bill Arce became one of the most famous and trusted coaches in our baseball history.”
On Arce’s initial trip, he took a leave of absence from his U.S. academic commitments and spent more than a year working with Dutch players. For years after that, he brought college-aged teams to Holland to play and coach. Arce’s players were central figures in improving play in Holland. So much so “that the impact it had on Dutch baseball is still felt there today,” wrote longtime Atlanta Braves scout Bill Clark in 1995. A top-flight coach, he would also lead the Netherlands to a gold medal in the 1971 European Baseball Championship.
After much success coaching in Holland, international ambassador Bill Arce crossed enemy lines to help Euro rival Italy in developing its baseball program. After managing the Italian national team in the 1973 and 1975 Intercontinental Cups, he ended Italy’s 21-year drought by bringing home the 1975 European Baseball Championship title.
After being inducted into both the Dutch and Italian Baseball Halls of Fame, Bill Arce’s influence still reigned internationally. Following the conclusion the 2011 American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention, MLB International’s Jason Holowaty said: “For me the highlight was a special dinner hosted by MLB to honor Bill Arce, one of the first U.S. college coaches to start visiting Europe and a central figure in the development of European baseball and MLB International. Through the years he has influenced so many people in international baseball, including myself. It was great for everyone to get a chance to say thank you to such an important man.” He was also honored when given the European Baseball Coaches Association (EBCA) Career Achievement Award in 2012. Arce launched the EBCA exchange program, an initiative to develop European coaches’ insights in every aspect of the game through collaborative mentoring by experienced American coaches.
The Stags legend finished his college coaching career with an impressive 606-472-7 record. Prior to his passing in 2016, Bill Arce was inducted into the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletic Coaches and the American Baseball Coaches Halls of Fame as well as received the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Distinguished Service Award.
When asked to special guest Friday morning at 8 am (Perth, Australia time) or Thursday afternoon at 4 pm (PST, USA time) on ABC Grandstand Strike Zone baseball radio show by host @CJColeman after completing my most comprehensive article to date
“MLB digs ‘Down Under’ and find nine Aussie stars”, I requested to include one of the featured Australian players–Pitcher Shane Lindsay of the Los Angeles Dodgers–because of a recent tweet received from @ABQTopes (LA Dodgers Triple-A affiliate Albuquerque Isotopes). I thought to myself that if anyone deserved to go directly from the Australian Baseball League straight to Major League Baseball without any pit stops it was the recently signed Dodger flamethrower. After the Isotopes were kind enough to retweet my article to its 2500 followers, I tweeted back: “Thanks for the RT (retweet) and for sending the Dodgers your best talent. Do you think Aussie Shane Lindsay will wear True Blue after ST (spring training)?”
Moments later @ABQTopes replied,
“He has the tools to impress, but new ownership will have the final say.” Time will tell who exactly will sign Lindsay’s checks, but in the meantime he is training rigorously in Arizona to prepare for the pitcher and catcher February 21st report date at Camelback Ranch in Glendale. Shane emailed me: “Hey mate, doing good…working my butt off in Phoenix and getting ready for camp at athlete performance.” Lindsay is taking this challenge very seriously.
Without a doubt, Lindsay could very well be vintage Jonathan Broxton
with additional strength out of the bullpen. Last season wearing Chicago White Sox silks, the gutsy and often “wild” Australian hurler was not afraid to throw inside with his intimidating signature upper 90’s fastball to strike out hitters. The Dodgers believe Shane Lindsay has what it takes to become successful in MLB, and all he has to do now is figure out who to impress…the “wild” Kim Kardashian?In order for me to impress on why you should vote for me to be in the 2012 MLB Fan Cave by clicking HERE so that I may deliver an innovative and fresh approach to the coverage of pro baseball and also report on the latest cutting-edge music and pop culture trends, it is imperative to hear from others about my positive influence on them–as I am not accustomed to being my own publicist! Let’s first connect the dots through the Skunk Records and Sublime stories as told by San Diego-based Slightly Stoopiddrummer Ryan ‘RyMo’ Moran.
While on the road with Rebelution , Ryan Morgan recently spoke about my good friend, Mike ‘Miguel’ Happoldt–co-founder of Skunk Records and producer for Sublime, Slightly Stoopid, Unwritten Law, Long Beach Dub All-Stars and Long Beach Shortbus. ‘RyMo’ explained, “In a nutshell, Skunk Records was two people. It was Brad Nowellfrom Sublime, and Mike Happoldt. Mike Happoldt is still one of our producers to this day, we work with him all the time. Basically those two guys started that record label as an underground Long Beach record label. It was basically two friends who just put their heads together and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to start recording.’ At the time, Mike Happoldt was called ‘Miguel’. Miguel was going to Long Beach State and he was in a recording arts music program there … and so after hours there they would sneak into Long Beach State, and Sublime recorded a whole bunch of stuff there. They would basically just sneak in after hours and use the studio from like, 8 p.m. ‘till 4 in the morning and then come back in the next night and do it all again. Skunk Records really was just a grass roots movement between those two guys.
Now sadly, we all know the story that Brad Nowell passed away in ’96 from an overdose on heroin, which sucked. At that point Mike, or Miguel, basically kept the label going, but it shrunk considerably. It went from like a full-on functioning label to just basically him doing stuff out of his house on a smaller scale. Basically, Skunk Records released quite a few records from bands like The Ziggens, one of Sublime’s favorite bands from back in the day. They released a good amount of other stuff —- obviously the work they did with Long Beach Dub All-Stars. Basically, Skunk Records is just Miguel Happoldt. It’s his project.”
When LA music industry insider executive Dana Smart interviewed Mike ‘Miguel’ Happoldt about Sublime and the influence of reggae, yours truly got some serious props.
Mike said, “Brad was a huge fan of DJ Roberto Angotti of KNAC (not metal yet) in Long Beach. He taped every show between 1985 and 1986.” You can listen to some of the songs that Brad loved by clicking on the following podcast link–The Waxcast Episode 2: Homage to Reggae Revolution–a loyal listener’s tribute to my radio show
before moving on to Los Angeles’ #1 Young Adult Radio Leader, ‘The World Famous KROQ 106.7 FM’, where I deejayed from 1986 through 1992.
I would see Brad regularly when I promoted Club Reggae at Fenders Ballroom in downtown Long Beach, where huge punk groups would perform in the larger room and Jamaica’s Wailing Souls and Eek-A-Mouse, England’s Pato Banton and Tippa Irie as well as LA’s Untouchables and Fishbone and other reggae/ska groups would play in my part of the ballroom on weekends. We would not discriminate against anyone who would enter our Punky Reggae Party. Long Beach experienced a London boomtown feeling in the early/mid-80’s. I clearly remember Brad joining me in the DJ booth when I promoted Eek-A-Mouse and Sublime together at Bogart’s in Long Beach. He came again to check me at an Andy Summers gig as well. When singer Gwen Stefani and bassist Tony Kanal from No Doubt were a couple without a contract, they would frequent my OC Club Reggae where I would test market their records on the dance floor. After graduating early in 1980 from high school at age 17, I studied abroad in London and immersed myself in the 2 Tone movement. Borrowing elements of ska, punk rock, rocksteady, reggae and New Wave, bands like The Specials, The Selecter, The (English) Beat, Madness, Bad Manners, and The Bodysnatchers were the talk of the town. However, it was UB40’s “My Way of Thinking” that captured my imagination. Their progressive and upbeat style of British reggae was ear candy, and I could not get enough of it. I also learned of another Birmingham-based band called Steel Pulse. I collected records from London’s Aswad and Linton Kwesi Johnson as well. The artists trusted me, and I traveled with UB40 throughout America as their emcee while supporting Sting and The Police. I became the first radio deejay to interview British reggae, ska and two tone artists and break their records in America while hosting “Roberto, Rock, Reggae” on KSPC 88.7 in Claremont, California. Although a college station, the strong 3000 watt signal penetrated in Orange, LA, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Within two years in 1982, I got my first real job in commercial radio when I was hired as a new music jock.
Working overnights at ‘Rock N Rhythm KNAC’ in Long Beach, I mixed New Wave and Classic Rock from the 50’s-70’s in this unique format which allowed deejay freedom with two personal choices per hour. I would bring in my crate of records from independent and unsigned artists to customize my radio show with a healthy dose of reggae and ska. After I had created a huge buzz for the music, I was rewarded with the first reggae show–“Reggae Revolution”–on commercial radio in addition to working my KNAC new music weekend deejay shifts and serving as program director of Pomona College’s KSPC. Often I would receive acetate test press copies of songs fresh out of the studio from up-and-coming LA New Wave bands like the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (who would later drop the long name), The Motels, X, The Blasters, The Plimsouls and Missing Persons. The groups would have listening parties while paying close attention to the audio quality of the recording on-the-air before going back in the studio to master the song.
Although we did not have the signal strength of LA powerhouse KROQ, Long Beach’s KNAC–lead by the innovative program director Jimmy ‘The Saint’ Christopher (who would later become the PA announcer for the Texas Rangers at the Ballpark at Arlington)–was looked upon by the music industry as an indicator station. While other stations would only play one or two tracks from an album, KNAC would dig deeper and play as many as four or five. Once research had indicated that the public liked the tracks, then only would the more conservative and bigger KROQ’s of the world would add songs to the playlist–especially if there was payola.
I thought that I would never sell my soul to the corporate giants, but it took a KNAC format change to Metal in 1986 for me to take a sabbatical in the UK and come back stronger than ever at KROQ. While a Film Studies major at Claremont McKenna College, I had done a documentary of the English Beat and written my thesis on reggae based upon two interviews with legendary original Wailer, the late and great Peter Tosh. He was the Original Jamaican Rude Boy that many of the two tone characters emulated years later in England.After graduating from college and taking some time off, I embarked on a journey to document UB40’s making of the ‘Geoffrey Morgan’ Album in their hometown of Birmingham, England. Staying at each band-member’s house a week at a time, it goes without saying that the lads were tired of my eternal smiling grin and my video camera staring at them every step of the way. Upon arriving at their DEP studios in the industrial section of Birmingham’s Digbeth, the band suggested I go down to an open audition held underground at a local pub where local talent would be performing live.
My life would change forever… At the time, a local MC by the name of Pato Banton had recorded two tracks on UB40’s ‘Baggariddim’ Double Album. One of the tracks, “Hip Hop Lyrical Robot”, was a B Side to the #1 song “I Got You Babe” featuring Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders. After the success of the Beat’s “Pato and Roger Ago Talk” off the Beat’s ‘Special Beat Service’ Album, Ranking Roger continued to produce Birmingham’s top MC while Pato was on fire.
Roger did not disappoint the local reggae massive when he produced Pato’s 12″ single called “Mash Up The Telly”, which was the song that I had videotaped at the audition and later became a big UK smash hit. Before I could stop the camera and say hello, Pato was out the door and gone… I was blown away at his amazing talent and charisma on camera. I showed the footage to UB40 back at the studio, and the next day keyboardist Mickey Virtue game me Pato’s 12″ single “The Boss” and business card.
I immediately phoned and arranged a meeting with Pato’s manager, Grantley ‘G.T.’ Haynes. I learned that he also managed another client from London’s #1 Saxon Sound named Tippa Irie, who had massive success with “Hello Darling”. I had been sending postcards to KROQ Program Director Rick Carroll so he would expect me when I arrived back in LA. Equipped with new vinyl and a vengeance to get back on the radio, I brought back “Reggae Revolution” to the Southern California airwaves with a much improved signal that reached five times the amount of listeners I had previously at KNAC. Within a few months,Pato Banton and Tippa Irie were signed to U.S. recording contracts.
I arranged for Pato to record a song at the KROQ studios with the San Diego-based rock group Private Domain. The end result was “Absolute Perfection”, and the song became an instant hit on commercial radio throughout America in addition to a staple in the KROQ Top 10 playlist. Later I took Tippa Irie to see his first Black Eyed Peas concert at the Belly Up in Solana Beach. The end result there was “Hey Mama”, a track that broke radio charts internationally and was a MTV favorite. UB40 have always respected my writing style, and they paid me the ultimate compliment when they asked me to write the liner notes for their Dancehall Album.
After they flew me to Jamaica, I was able to work out of Ali Campbell and Brian Travers’ Oracabessa Records HQ in St. Mary. There I would vibe up full stop and meet a long cast of Jamaican stars passing through including Sly & Robbie, Rappa Robert, Toots Hibbert, Jack Radics and Mr. Vegas. Once word got out that I was writing liners, the phone rang constantly. The Sublime camp always loved my articles for Mean Street Magazine and asked for to write the liner notes for ‘Sublime: Everything Under the Sun’ Box Set. Mad Professor requested that I write Macka B’s ‘Global Messenger’ CD liners as well.
Music Club U.S.A. allowed me to go through the entire Fashion Records catalogue out of South London and produce two compilation CDs: ‘Love All Night’ and ‘Essential Dancehall Classics’. Despite having my plate full between teaching English in Orange County and freelance writing nonstop, I continued working with Pato Banton as he had a long list of recording artists who to this day consider him an inspiration and a foundation artist. Sting recorded with Pato on a couple occasions and flew he and his band on his private jet to Spain. Peter Gabriel recruited Pato to join him on his international WOMAD Tour. Ali and Robin Campbell scored a #1 hit with Pato on “Baby Come Back”. I have since arranged for Pato Banton to tour with the likes of 311, Matisyahu, English Beat, and Argentina’s Los Pericos. Tippa Irie and Pato Banton are first-rate live performers and consummate professionals in the recording studio. Both constantly in demand, it won’t
be long before they each throw out the first pitch at an upcoming MLB game and perform live in the MLB Fan Cave.