On Saturday, June 2, 2018, Italian Americans have an opportunity to celebrate their heritage and Chicago’s rich baseball history through a screening of the Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning film, Italian American Baseball Family at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. The 2016 American Community Survey reveals that almost 17 million Italians live in the United States. With more than 500,000 Italian Americans living in greater Chicago, the city trails only New York and Philadelphia as the third largest thriving Italian epicenter in America. Chicago boasts a big and loyal baseball following with two professional Major League teams: the Cubs and South Side rivals White Sox. The city has a rich baseball history, of which outsiders may have little or no knowledge.
Chi Town’s first major baseball player of Italian descent was Francesco Pezzolo, known to most as “Ping Bodie.” Francesco was the son of Giuseppe Pezzolo, who emigrated from a small town near Genoa to New York City, and who worked long hours building the Brooklyn Bridge. In 1876 father Giuseppe and mother Rosa moved the family west to a gold-mining settlement in Bodie, California. Francesco Pezzolo was born on October 8, 1887 in San Francisco, and to mask his Italian identity due to racial prejudices and injustices, he changed his professional baseball name to Ping Bodie. After joining the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals in 1908, Ping Bodie soon became a Bay Area fan favorite and was nicknamed “the Fence Buster”. The Chicago White Sox could not help but notice Ping Bodie when he slugged 30 home runs in 1910 and subsequently signed him to a Major League contract. During his rookie season in 1911, Bodie hit .289 with four homers and 97 RBI. He became a Chicago baseball icon during his four years as a solid contributor to the White Sox. His popularity continued in New York later in his career when he became Babe Ruth‘s first Yankee roommate. Ping Bodie was a father figure for many other West Coast Italian American ballplayers and paved the way for those who followed him including Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, and the DiMaggio brothers.
Chicago is not afraid to profess its love for the late and great Ron Santo. According to Lawrence Baladassaro’s brilliant new bookBaseball Italian Style , Ron’s father, Louis Santo, was born in Foggia, Italy, and came to America as a teenager. His son Ron grew up in the heart of “Garlic Gulch,” Seattle’s Italian district. Signed out of high school in 1959, just a year later 20-year-old Ron Santo made his MLB debut on June 26, 1960, when he had three hits and five RBI in a double-header sweep. In his 14 seasons with the Cubs, Santo was named to nine National League All-Star teams and won five consecutive Gold Glove awards (1964-68). He had four seasons with 100 or more RBI and hit 30 or more home runs in four consecutive seasons (1964-67). The 2012 Hall-of-Fame inductee hit 337 home runs and drove in 1,290 runs as a Cub, then played the final season of his career with the White Sox before retiring at age 34. He later became the Cubs radio color commentator in 1990 and held the position until his passing in 2010. A statue of the beloved Cub player and broadcaster was resurrected outside Wrigley Field in 2011 to honor his legacy.
There is one special Chicago Italian who has played for Team Italy in the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic. That unsung hero’s name is Fabio Milano, a former pitching all-star who played for Team Italy in the 2001 World Cup, 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Baseball Classic. Milano is also father to a pair of up-and-coming Team Italy softball stars. Maya and Kylie Milano. Another Chicago Italian who deserves a Hollywood Star for helping hundreds develop their craft is Paul Petricca, author of Hitting with Torque: For Softball and Baseball Players. Petricca along with The St. Joseph Club of Italian Americans are proud to present a “Celebration of Italian Baseball and Softball” on Saturday, June 2, 2018 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell Street in Arlington Heights beginning at 11:00 am. The Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum Award-winning documentary, Italian American Baseball Family, will be shown.
Immediately following the screening of the movie, a Q & A discussion with filmmaker Roberto Angotti and a panel of former Italian baseball players will interact with the audience in an engaging discussion on playing baseball internationally. Panelists scheduled to appear include: Fabio Milano, Joe Mazzuca, former Marlins prospect who played for Team Italy internationally from 2006-2014; Barth Morreale Jr., who began pitching in Bologna in 2006 and led his team to victory in the 2011 European Cup; and Brent Consiglio, who played in baseball in Poviglio after graduating from the University of Chicago in 2004.
Angotti’s film Italian American Baseball Familydocuments the Italian American experience on how Italians assimilated into popular culture through America’s favorite pastime, baseball, and 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. He is excited to bring the movie to Chicago, where University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Professor Emeritus Lawrence Baldassaro (author ofBeyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseballand Baseball Italian Style) was interviewed for the documentary at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and Ron Onesti was filmed at Piazza DiMaggio in Little Italy on Taylor Street. Angotti said, “Chicago 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 Ron Santo or Anthony Rizzo, there will be something for everybody during our celebration of Italian baseball and softball at the Metropolis.” Attendees are encouraged to participate in a silent auction featuring premium Chicago Cubs tickets, private pitching and hitting sessions and more. Tickets are available at the door. For more information, please contact Paul Petricca at 847-533-8474.
Who would have guessed that at least 454 Italian
Americans have played baseball in the majors
since 1897? The San Francisco Bay Area produced many of baseball’s pioneers and originated the
sandlot playing field in the 1860s. In fact, the
earliest West Coast games were played downtown
on a sandlot where San Francisco City Hall stands today–nearly a century before the Giants and
Dodgers arrived in 1958. So it’s most appropriate Italian Americans at Bat: From Sand Lots
to the Major Leagues, a lavish documentary
exhibition of baseball memorabilia celebrating
the vast contributions of Italians Americans to
baseball, be on display for FREE in Reno, Nevada
at the magnificent Arte Italia through May 19th.
Located at 442 Flint Street, Arte Italia is open
Thursday through Sunday from noon to 5 PM
(www.arteitaliausa.com). The chronologically-
arranged exhibition was originally curated by
the Museo Italo Americano, the Italian American Museum of San Francisco, which explains why
there is a strong emphasis on Bay Area teams. However, it plays out perfectly for the climactic
finish to the showcase: an autographed cap
and jersey worn by 2012 World Champion
San Francisco Giants’ lefty starter Barry Zito,
who won the opener of the 2012 World Series.
The exhibit’s co-curator, writer and historian Lawrence DiStasi of Bolinas, has loved the game since rooting for the New York Yankees as a child and playing baseball in the streets of Connecticut. In addition to writing all the text panels for the exhibition, DiStasi weaves together ideas, stories and statistics to depict the Italian American experience. There is a timeline of the years 1845 to 2012, which includes historical points of baseball and Italian immigration into the United States–and most importantly when those two histories intersect. The exhibition highlights several decades: the early days of redefining cultural stereotypes, transcending national barriers in the 30s and 40s, improbable triumphs of the 50s, 60s and 70s, the pride of the modern era, and a dominant presence in the Hall of Fame. Joe DiMaggio is the coveted star of the exhibition, and his 56-game hitting streak in 1941 is accented by DiStasi’s text panels which document each hit recorded in the “Dimag-o-Log” that SF Chronicle ran in the Sporting Green every day. Joe DiMaggio, along with his brothers–
Dom and Vince, Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, Babe Pinelli, Ernie Lombardi, Rugger Ardizoia, Billy Martin and Jim Fregosi are among the celebrated Italian American players with strong baseball roots to the Bay Area.
Undoubtedly Italian Americans have made important contributions to the game, but
perhaps just as poignant is the profound
effect baseball has had on the Americanization of Italians. Faced with Italian-born parents who opposed his participation in pro baseball and regarded the sport as juvenile as well as not the wisest career choice–Ed Abbaticchio, probably the first person with an Italian surname to play professionally in 1897, was offered a hotel by his father if he would stop playing baseball. Despite the temptation, the ballplayer refused the bribe and pursued his passion for the game. However, some could not withstand the pressure and caved in to discriminatory bias and the constant ridicule sports writers bestowed upon Italian names. Among them was Francesco Pezzolo, who chose a California mining town as his name-sake and became Ping Bodie–the big league center fielder who played from 1911 to 1921.
Italian Americans at Bat: From Sand Lots to the Major Leagues traverses the U.S. cultural landscape and documents an ethnic group’s rise from adversity by celebrating its triumphs in breaking into a sport dominated by English, Irish and German immigrants. However, even the game’s greatest stars had to contend with deep-rooted prejudices and stereotypical misnomers. A May 10, 1939 Life magazine cover story on Joe DiMaggio was laced with gross innuendos: “Instead of olive oil or smelly bear grease he keeps his hair
slick with water. He never reeks of garlic and prefers chicken chow mein to spaghetti.”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. Required to carry photo ID booklets and surrender flashlights, shortwave radios, guns, binoculars, cameras and other “contraband,” Italian enemy aliens were subject to FBI raids and nightly house arrest with a curfew from 8 PM to 6 AM. Noncitizens could not travel more than five miles from home without a permit. Lawrence DiStasi, author of “Una Storia Segreta: The Secret History of Italian American Evacuation and Internment during World War II”, reports that 10,000 Italians in California were evacuated, mostly from coastal areas and sites near power plants, dams and military installations. Ironically, the half-million Italian Americans serving in the U.S. armed forces at the time of the crackdown were the largest ethnic group in the military. Of the 257 Italians put in internment camps for up to two years, 90 were from California. Fishing boats were seized, and thousands of fishermen lost their jobs. In San Francisco, 1,500 people–including Joe DiMaggio’s parents–were idled. “The opportunity to showcase the adversity and accomplishments of legendary Italian American baseball players is one we welcome and relish,” said Kristen Avansino, President and Executive Director of Arte Italia. “For them, it was a way to integrate into the American way of life,” added Arte Italia Program Director Annie Turner. The exhibition brings home
the message that baseball allowed Italian Americans to assimilate into popular culture:
“This most American of sports became a quick way to counter that negative immigrant identity as an outsider.” Phil Rizzuto, Yogi Berra, Rocky Colavito, Roy Campenella, Ron
Santo, Carl Furillo, Joe Caragiola, Sal Maglie, Tony Conigliaro, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Mike Scioscia, Ken Caminiti, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Mike Napoli and
former Commissioner of Major League Baseball Bart Giamatti are just some of the legendary Italian American baseball ambassadors that have etched their names into U.S. sports history forever.Italian Americans at Bat: From Sand Lots to the Major Leaguepays tribute to their contributions, and those of over 400 others who have left their unique imprint
on the game. Currently on display in Arte Italia’s upstairs Michelangelo and Leonardo
da Vinci galleries are vintage jerseys, a plethora of memorabilia–including classic baseball cards and autographed baseballs, press clippings of career milestones, an interactive
touch screen computer database featuring memoirs, stats, and career highlights of
Italian American players and 14 World Series Championship managers as well as
over 200 archival photographs of some of the greatest moments in baseball history. With game one of the WBC Semifinals beginning Sunday evening, March 17 at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, fans have plenty of time to see the Italian Americans at Bat Exhibition at Arte Italia. You might even find Team Italy downstairs eating an inspirational pre-game meal prepared by Master Chef Paolo Sari, who has created three distinct regional menus reflecting the culinary traditions of Joe DiMaggio (Sicilia), Tony Lazzeri (Toscana) and Frank Crosetti (Lombardia). Buon appetito! Forza Italia!! Forza Azzurri…