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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Baseball’s popularity is growing in Italy, and Americans found that out firsthand last weekend.

Volunteers organized a two-day tournament for youths at Aviano last week and, according to organizers, about 300 Italian and American players and family members showed up.

“I had to turn down six other teams that wanted to come,” said Tech. Sgt. Bruce Brown, one of the organizers.

As it was, four Italian teams played with a team of American counterparts in the 10- to 12- year-old age bracket, and three teams squared off against a group of 13- to 16-year-old Americans.

None of those participating — including the Americans — are affiliated with Little League baseball, which is currently holding its World Series in the States.

Brown said many Italian communities have youth baseball teams. Teams from Aviano have been playing them and traveling to their tournaments since shortly after the 31st Fighter Wing activated in Aviano in 1994. Over the years, teams from Aviano have also played against squads from the Czech Republic, Croatia and Slovenia.

Brown said there were a host of logistical factors in hosting a tournament on base. Fields were not a problem: The base has six, which are set to host the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Army-Air Force softball championships in the next two weeks.

But getting the Italians on base, getting them sheltered in the nearby gym during a downpour Saturday and setting up a giant potluck dinner all provided challenges.

Because of the inclement weather Saturday, most games were played Sunday, with an Italian team from San Lorenzo winning the younger category and a squad from Trieste grabbing the crown for older players.

Brown said organizers hope to hold the tournament again next July and, if logistics can be worked out, invite more teams to participate.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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