During World War II, the Allied push to rid the Nazis from the peninsula began with the invasion of Sicily in 1943. This was followed with the long, yet successful campaigns of Naples and then finally in 1944 with the beach head landing on Anzio beach. Nearby is the town of Nettuno, only 35 kilometers from Rome. This city would play an important role in developing America’s National Pastime in Italy. Nettuno PS was the first baseball squad in Italy. The early players were all candidates for the police. Nettuno PS (Polizia dello Stato). This squad would eventually win 17 scudetti (championships) of the LIB (Lega Italiana di Baseball). In addition, the squad won (La Coppa Europa) the European Cup 7 times since its inception in 1963.
The end of the Battle of Anzio coincided with beginning of summer. The National World War II Museum reports that during the soldiers’ free time, they would play a pickup game of baseball, and often the young men from the town would join in.
A local teen, Alberto Fasano, was so enamored with the sport that he went to an umpire’s school in Rome to learn the nuances of the game. This led to the first softball team named Nettuno P.S.
In 1948 an American Charles Butte was tasked to build a cemetery for the fallen soldiers from the Battle of Anzio.
Since Charles was a rabid baseball fan he convinced his superiors to use the left-over material to build the first stadium lo Stadio Villa Borghese. In 1950 he changed the game from softball to baseball. Soon afterwards Nettuno became known as Baseball City.
In 1957 Joe di Maggio married Marylin Monroe and spent his honeymoon in Rome. He heard about the fledgling baseball squad in a beach town outside of Rome and decided to visit Baseball City. The story goes that he stood at home plate and watched two strikes go by without swinging. He told the best pitcher in Italy, Carlo Tagliaboschi, to get serious and throw his fastest ball. DiMaggio girò la mazza e colpì la palla. Il rumore fu inconfondibile: il caratteristico crack of the bat lasciò poco spazio all’immaginazione. La palla finì ben oltre il muro esterno che delimitava il ballpark: fuoricampo.
As you can imagine on the next pitch after the crack of the bat (lascio’ poco spazio) the ball landed 400 feet outside of the ballpark. Carlo Tagliaboschi stood on the mound in disbelief. He threw another pitch and as the old-timers say the ball landed somewhere in the lower depths of the Tyrrhenian Sea. During the 1950s my cousin Zelinda Di Michele owned a restaurant called La Marciaronda in Nettuno. I wish I could tell you that many ballplayers frequented this seaside restaurant. But that story is for another day. IAH Lou Thomas was born and raised in Philadelphia, in a family with origins in Abruzzo. He is a Temple graduate who has been teaching Italian for 20 years at all levels. He attained a master’s degree in teaching Italian from Rutgers University. The sounds of Vivaldi and Jovanotti fill his classroom. His favorite quote is Il vino e’ la poesia della terra.