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Baseballissimo, by Dave Bidini
Book Review by Lorna Jackson

McClelland & Stewart, 348 pp, $36.99, hardcover.

In 1998, Dave Bidini swore off pro hockey—Cup finals, Wings vs. Caps—thanks to the ugly trap and the expansion bucks that birthed it. He ditched his band, the Rheostatics, packed his sticks, and left Toronto shinny for a purer game in Transylvania. Tropic of Hockey is one of the most engaging and meaningful books on the game, any game.

In Baseballissimo: My Summer in the Italian Minor Leagues, same quest: find the cleaner, subtler angles of sport by outrunning the hype. Bidini looks for his heritage, too, and takes the whole family to summer with an amateur team in Nettuno. Via nonstop wise-assing, we learn the team, the city, the birth of Italian baseball there circa World War II, Italian cuisine, and what pro sports lacks: fun without profit.

In describing the 2002 Nettuno Peones, Bidini is a wide-eyed outsider, punch-drunk on being part of the team, on connecting with a culture that, as a kid in Toronto, he hid from. His journey is personal, but his knowledge of the game is wide and deep. Still, our guy Dave is like every goofy fan who's tried to communicate telepathically with a struggling hero (who hasn't beamed Nazzie: "Cheer up, Markus, use a happy stick"?) or who shrieks, weeps, and gets wasted when extra innings don't pan out. "Give me a sport," Bidini says, always the hoser, "where you either stand in one place for a really long time, like baseball, or cry 'Wheee!!' when you're making a dash up the rink, like hockey."

Sports Illustrated calls hockey a "goon-show-on-ice" that must "clean the violence from its game" but markets the swimsuit issue as an annual cultural event. Pro sports: the Astroturf on which moral relativism slips and slides. And sports writers—those parasites—tell us we're having fun. Bidini's books give sports and travel writing a charge. This ain't SI. He's hilarious and sucky-sentimental, whip-smart and naive: "As the pitch left Pompo's hand, the Wild Thing swung like Ulysses fighting the Cyclops, but he was about three years in front of the ball." Fans of every game should read Baseballissimo, especially now, when it's taking forever for the fun to get here.


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