The World Baseball Classic is played every four years in the spring, before the beginning of the regular season of Major League Baseball. It is a tribute to the growth of the game throughout the world. This year (2017) there are 16 teams that represent these countries: South Korea, China Taipei, the Netherlands, Israel, Japan, Australia, China, Cuba, the United States, Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Italy, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.
Italy defeated Mexico but a few months ago in March, Venezuela defeated Italy. However, the Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, criticized the Italian team: “But are these players Italian? It seems to me that we beat the United States, because not one of them lives in Italy or was born in Italy. They are American players with Italian surnames who organized this masquerade and call themselves the Italian team. It is a fraud, it is a scam.”
In a way, Maduro’s criticisms make sense. The Italian roster at the 2017 World Baseball Classic is composed of 32 athletes, and only a quarter of them are “real” Italians. The rest, for the most part, are Americans—actually Italian-Americans. But, for example, the Israeli team has only one player who was born in that country.
There is a long tradition of Italian-Americans in baseball from the time of Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra, and more recently, Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and now Anthony Rizzo, who is called “the Italian stallion” by his teammates on the Chicago Cubs, the 2016 world champions. But over time, many players have come from Spanish-speaking Countries like the Dominican Republic. And now Venezuela has many very strong players like Félix Hernández, José Altuve, and Martín Prado. In fact, 30 out of the 36 players on the Venezuelan team also play in Major League Baseball.
Italians don’t like baseball, or rather, they don’t understand much about this sport and prefer, obviously, European football. But baseball is very important to many Italian-Americans. In the film “Brooklyn” (2015), the female protagonist, Eilis, an Irish immigrant, tells her boss at work, Miss Fortini, that she met a boy: “He’s an Italian fella.” The boss worries that Eilis will get her heart broken and says, “Does he talk about baseball all of the time…or his mother?” When Eilis says “No,” Miss Fortini says, “Then keep him. There is not another man like him in New York.”