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At the US-Cuba match in Italy, fans munch on ... bruschetta?
Earlier in the summer, left-handed Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman walked out of his Netherlands hotel and defected, the kind of thing that casts a negative light on the defector’s country. In the best capitalist tradition, Chapman immediately established residency in Andorra, assuring that the millions he earns from the Yankees or Red Sox will go untaxed.
The game I saw concluded without any major non-baseball developments. The U.S. won 5-3, and then repeated the feat three days later, beating Cuba 10-5 to win the championship on Sunday. The title gave the U.S. back-to-back Baseball World Cup titles for the first time since the 1970s.
The next day, I spoke to World Cup organizers who stressed that if baseball is going to succeed as a world sport it needed to succeed in places like Nettuno, considered one of the capitals of European baseball thanks in part to a historic U.S. military presence in the area. On the surface, the argument makes sense. One of the strongest teams in the smallish Italian pro league is based in Nettuno, where the stadium is a handsome structure that seats 8,000. The fans are surprisingly knowledgeable (they applauded loudest whenever there was a "doppia eliminazione" — a double play) and enthusiastic enough to turn out for games even after the Italian squad was eliminated. But there’s no doubt that baseball has a long way to go to become an international sport. A total of 20 teams representing every continent but Antarctica played in the World Cup field. But the range of teams did little but highlight the weakness of the sport beyond its traditional strongholds in North America, the Caribbean rim and in parts of Asia.
The first round was full of laughable competition: Venezuela beat Germany, 12-1, and China, 17-2. Canada won 19-1 against Sweden and 15-0 against Netherlands Antilles. Taiwan beat the Czech Republic, 10-1, and Puerto Rico prevailed 12-0 against South Africa. Look at the biographies of the players from the Dutch, Italian or Australian rosters — the non-traditional powers that made some noise in the second round — and you’ll find them filled with players who grew up somewhere else.
As much as I miss baseball, the Italian version of the sport lacks the same authenticity as most of the Italian food I've had back home. It's almost impossible to find a proper bruschetta or an intense enough espresso when I'm back in Florida, but if I'm there long enough I make do with what's available. I suppose I'll have to do the same with baseball here in Italy.