BIFB Side Project: April, Dave Bidini, Baseballissimo

 The Bare it for Books Calendar, sold in support of PEN Canada, is chock full of naked Canadian authors who stare at me from my wall and keep track of all my social engagements. It only made sense to read a book by each author in the month they grace. Click here for more info.

“Baseball,” he said, “I love it. But it kills you.”

It’s halfway through May and this post is way overdue. Part of the reason for that is I’ve been hosting a friend who was visiting from New Zealand by way of England, and of course – I took her to a Jays game.

Sarah, the Jays newest fan

Sarah, the Jays newest fan

This was pretty much the perfect April read, as the Jays season got underway and I was craving warm weather. I’ve played baseball (or at least t-ball) since I was four, and have followed the Blue Jays pretty much all my life. As any Canadian can tell you, it’s not the sport of choice for most of the country so I feel an immediate affinity for anyone who loves the game like I do, and the Nettuno Peones mostly fall into that category.

The book records the summer author Dave Bidini spent in Nettuno, a town on the west coast of Italy that is one of the first homes to Italian baseball. The book weaves together the events of the Peones’ 2002 season, the history of Italian baseball, and Bidini’s own baseball history and Blue Jays fandom. The latter part really drew me in – as a fan who can’t quite remember their World Series wins let alone their former stadium, it felt a bit like a chance to time travel and soak it in.

I’m always up for a history lesson so I enjoyed reading about the arrival of baseball in Italy via U.S. soldiers fighting in WWII, and some of the MLB history that made its way in there, but the present day Nettuno athletes carried the story. A diverse cast of varying dedication to the sport, I can’t help but wonder how they’d react to Bidini’s calendar page. The team is well summed up by this quote from their coach in the midst of playoffs: “Before the start of game five, Pietro told his players just two things: ‘Abbiamo vinto cazzo!’ (We haven’t won anything!) and ‘Don’t eat too much focaccia!’”

I am supremely jealous of the many feasts described within the book. The architecture, cities, landscape and art also have me itching to travel. Still it was the baseball that won me over – my image of a trip to Italy now includes as much sitting at ball parks as it does touring churches and frequent gelato breaks.

In one memorable scene, Bidini ends up at a rundown, barely recognizable diamond, with the whole of Rome visible over the outfield horizon. “After looking at that view with a bat in your hands, how could you not fall in love with baseball?” says his companion. But regardless of whether you’re playing in the shadow of the Colisseum or an empty lot in suburban Canada, how can you not be romantic about baseball?

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