On Sunday, when it rained for 18 straight hours, there wasn’t much reason for optimism that the weather was going to change.
Unless you were Italian.
About 90 minutes before their scheduled showdown against unbeaten Russia, when all the other teams were going back to bed or engaging in pillow fights, the Italians put on their uniforms and trudged to the field through the driving rainstorm, only to discover that they were alone. No LL officials, no groundskeepers, no umpires, no Russians.
So what did the Italians do?
They sat in the dugout. Like church mice. For 90 minutes. Waiting for someone to show up.
“We’re Italian – we don’t know when to come in out of the rain,” cracked the team’s immenently likeable 60-year-old manager, Mario Andriolo.
Skies cleared and the Italians got their shot at the Russians Monday morning, and while the result – a 3-0 loss – wasn’t what they were hoping for, Italy gained a gondola-full of respect in this tournament by beating Netherlands, playing Russia tougher than anyone else and compiling a 3-2 record.
They missed making the semifinals of the European LL Championships here in Kutno, Poland by one game.
Tuesday’s semifinals pit Pool A winner Russia (6-0, outscoring opponents 56-1) against Pool B runnerup Moldova (4-1) and Pool B champ Germany (5-0) against Pool A runnerup Austria (4-1, first time in European semis in post-KMac era). At stake on Wednesday is a berth in the LLWS in Williamsport, PA starting next week.
For the team from Verona, there was no outward disappointment because there were no expectations, despite the fact the Italians had to win a 7-team tournament to get here. Plus, this team is a total representation of its manager – an absolute compliment. This guy is such a jewel that Fremont, CA unpire Vic Langford honored him Monday night at the local eatery/watering hole with a Warm Springs LL jacket, calling him “The manager I have enjoyed working with the most and whose demeanor best reflects what Little League is all about.”
“We bring this team to Kutno and we hope for the best, said Andriolo, a retired bus company executive who has either played, umpired or coached baseball for over 40 years. “This is the first international tournament for our team, and it will not be the last. We are very passionate about baseball in Italy, and after this experience, we will go home, get better and come back.”
If Verona wins the Italian championship and returns in 2007, it’ll be without star pitcher Davide Benetti, who beat Netherlands 4-3 while striking out 15 and lost to Russia, striking out 11 in five innings and allowing no earned runs. He is a flat-out stud, a 5-foot-8, long-armed, freewheeling flame-thrower whose curve is devastating as well.
Ths year’s Italy team also has the tournament’s only female, Nicola Falzi, who batted .333 and tripled against Russia Monday.
“We are developing players, getting more and more kids involved at a young age,” said Andriolo. “We’ve been here now, we know the rules. If we’d known them BEFORE we got here, we might have won our first game, and then WE would be in the semifinals.”
NOTES: Belarus pitcher Novik Aliaksandr struck out 18 in a six-inning, 3-2 win over Slovenia today…Tuesday’s semifinal plates went to Larry McEwen from Calif. D13 in Thousand Oaks and to Ken Garrison from Texas D14 in League City, outside Houston.