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.
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.
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 Family documentary. 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.”