A baseball trip that was more than a baseball trip 

Ten years from now, the players won’t remember the scores, or their record, or that the rules often seemed to be made up or changed on the spot.

All they’ll remember, unequivocally fondly, is that in the summer of 2014, thanks to a wonderful organization out of South San Francisco called the Baseball Without Borders Foundation, they were part of a truly international team of 13- and 14-year-old boys who toured and then played in a baseball tournament in northern Italy.

And had the time of their lives doing it.

On second thought, they likely will remember the Italian umpires’ fluid interpretation of the game’s rules. My occasional Ugly American opposition to such was loud and demonstrative — when in Rome (or in this case, Rimini), right? — and kids tend to dig it (and giggle) when their manager has their back.

They might also remember the tournament’s unique and frustrating format. Thanks to a ridiculously stingy 1-hour, 25-minute time limit and a five-runs-an-inning max, we played a total of 19 innings over six games.

Think about that. My daughters’ 10-and-under softball league allows for 1:20, for Nolan Ryan’s sake, and you’re giving boys four years older only five more minutes for a slower-paced game. You’re also virtually eliminating the concept of comebacks. For instance, we gave up a five-spot in the top of the third inning of one game, putting us behind 7-1. They ended the game right then and there, even though we had a little time left on the clock, because even if we’d put up a five-spot of our own, we’re still behind and time’s up.

Nothing like being the home team and not allowed to bat in the bottom of the third while taking a 2½-inning loss. Except, perhaps, the stress that comes with trying to find playing time for 13 deserving boys in those 2½-inning losses. Or the headache that comes with trying to keep track of it all as the scorekeeper.

That thankless job fell to an incredibly gracious parent, Ernesto “Big Papi-Giuseppe” Castillo, who also lugged our equipment bag back and forth between the field and our team hotel. The charming, family-run hotel, by the way, featured showers that literally doubled as the bathroom. No curtain or doors, just a shower head affixed to the wall, exactly two feet from the toilet bowl. So if someone needed to use the toilet after you showered, they had to wipe away water, shampoo and whatever else was now soaking the entire bathroom.

Not that anyone complained. We were in Italy, playing ball and surrounded by an incredibly tight-knit group of parents, siblings and teammates who’d tirelessly raised funds for the previous six-plus months to make it all happen. It was a labor of love, indeed, and by the end of the trip, love flowed freely between participants from three different countries.

Did I mention that five of our 13 players were from Spain? We added them through the benefit of previous Baseball Without Borders endeavors to fill out the roster, picked them up in Bologna after five days of touring — Colico and Bellagio on Lake Como, where we all watched the World Cup finale on a massive screen attached to the outside wall of a palazzo bar; Lagano, Switzerland; and Verona and Venice — and immediately incorporated them into the extended family we’d become. Fortunately, several of our American families spoke Spanish, so the transition was quick and seamless.

Sort of. Four of our 13 players were second basemen on their summer teams. Three were first basemen. So some had to become Swiss. As in Army knives.

None of it mattered, because Baseball Without Borders attracts special people like Castillo and his son, Julian, a remarkable young man who personified all that is right in youth sports. Unselfish, hard-working and the consummate teammate, Julian, like the other 12, was a manager’s dream.

So was the sight of the boys who played for the Italian tournament champions testing their English with our boys, professing their love for the Giants and hatred for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Turns out “Beat L.A.” sounds the same no matter wherever you might travel.

Mychael Urban, a longtime Bay Area-based sportswriter and broadcaster, is the host of “Inside the Bigs,” which airs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon on KGMZ “The Game” (95.7 FM).

About The Author

Mychael Urban

Mychael Urban

Mychael Urban has been covering Bay Area sports for 25 years and has worked for MLB.com, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and KNBR (680 AM).
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