Baseball might be America’s game, but a group of youths whose parents are based at Caserma Ederle in Vicenza are learning some valuable lessons with the help of their Italian hosts.

Two teams made up of American kids from the base are participating in Italian baseball leagues for the first time, according to base officials. And coaches say the kids are picking up skills and having fun.

“What’s really great is the whole relationship part,” said James Madson, who coaches the base’s 13- and 14-year-olds on a team called the Spartans. “Italians get a chance to see Americans playing their sport.”

“Baseball’s our sport,” added Anthony Bly, who coaches the Hurricanes, made up of players between 9 and 12 years old. “They can see how we play.

“I’ve been impressed with the maturity and sportsmanship the Italians display. And they’re fundamentally sound. So sometimes our kids can learn from watching them, too.”

Both teams are getting a chance to play baseball because of the generosity of a local stadium that agreed to sponsor the Americans in the league.

Construction projects on base have left the older kids with nowhere else to play. “We would not be playing this year, because we have no field,” Madson said.

The only other alternative would be to travel to Aviano for a few games, he said.

The younger team could be playing some on base. But Bly said they wouldn’t have nearly the same level of competition or playing time. The competition in the league is good enough that the Hurricanes are 2-2.

Bly said he’s already seen a lot of improvement by his team and expects to see more over the rest of the season, which ends in June.

The older team plays a bit longer. It is in a league with seven other teams, playing each other twice. The team is undefeated.

“I’d say our biggest advantage is probably our pitching,” Madson said.

The coaches say the rules are pretty similar to what American kids are used to, though the umpires and opposition are mostly speaking another language.

“We have some difficulty with communication,” he said. “But the Italians have adopted so much of their baseball from America that it’s pretty easy to understand.”

Georgia Salyer, sports and fitness director for Child and Youth Services on base, said some American kids have played on Italian teams over the years, but the base has never fielded complete teams. She said every player had to undergo an Italian physical and complete registration just as the Italians did. She said the base also had to make sure everyone was committed to play. Teams that don’t show up for a game can be fined 1,000 euros.

Salyer said the base had the opportunity to field a high-school-age team as well as a girls softball team, but didn’t have enough firm commitments for this year. The base also has four teams composed of 8- and 9-year olds who are playing games with an Italian team, but not in an organized league.

Salyer said teams of American youth have also taken on Italian counterparts in basketball and soccer in the last year, though base squads haven’t participated in any formal leagues.

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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 40 years.

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