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Original Issue

Baseball's Dolce Vita

Far off the beaten path, in the Italian minor leagues

SET YOURSELF DOWN with an espresso and some biscotti, and you'll be well-equipped to enjoy Baseballissimo (McClelland & Stewart, $36.99), author Dave Bidini's account of a season spent with an Italian minor league baseball team. Italian players have yet to discover sunflower seeds--during games they share espresso, pastries and orange soda in the dugout. In Italy they're getting to love baseball, but they love their cuisine even more.

Italians adopted baseball after American servicemen brought it with them during World War II, and the game grew to the point at which it now supports several competitive leagues. (Serie A is the big leagues and Serie B is the minors.) In 2002 Bidini, a Canadian of Italian descent, ventured to Nettuno, a coastal town an hour south of Rome, to spend a season with the Serie B Peones. The team's roster is made up of local athletes who work day jobs and in many cases live at home, in contrast to Serie A teams, which are often stocked with American and Latin players.

Bidini is well-matched with his subject: Everyone involved seems out to have a good time. An especially entertaining presence is the team's goofball reliever, Chencho, who croons songs into his shower sandals and leads the team in "pretending to have intercourse with inanimate objects." While the author's attention sometimes drifts to tangential topics, such as growing up as an Italian in Canada and the Toronto Blue Jays games that broke his heart, the reader will grant him these indulgences because he's an engaging writer. But the Peones are the story, and when the book begins to run out of pages with the team still in a preliminary playoff round, it's a little sad, because the season will clearly end with a loss. And you'll find that you don't want Baseballissimo to end--not because it's the greatest book ever written, but because you wouldn't mind hanging with the Peones a little while longer. --Bill Syken