Monday, September 20, 2010
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Alfredo Meli: setting the Distance for Italian Baseball
He was the only member of the Italian Federation to win as player, coach
and general manager and was the founder of the Baseball for the Blind in his
country. He died at age 65 on July 31st
Alfredo Meli, one of the outstanding figures in Italian baseball,
passed away in Bologna
his home town on July 31st at age 65.
He is the only member of the Italian baseball federation to have won national
trophies as a player, a coach and a general
manager. He was also the founder, papà and protector of
Italian baseball for the blind.
As a player for Fortitudo Bologna (1965-1976) he chalked up
a lifetime batting average of .302
in 431 appearances winning three league
championships (1969, 1972 and 1974)
with his team. He won the Italian national individual batting trophy in
1969. His team finished in second place among all
European teams that year in the playoffs in Germany,
and again in 1971
in Parma and Bologna. He was the
best hitter on his team in 1968, 1969 and 1971.
He was selected for the Italian national team 38 times. Italy,
with Meli playing on the team, was ranked 10th in
the World Cup in 1970
in Columbia, 8th in 1971 in
Cuba and 15th in 1972
in Nicaragua. His teammates describe him as
“intelligent,” “witty,” “insightful” and “sensitive.” He didn’t seek
glory but became an essential element of his victorious team.
In 1978 he became head coach for Bologna and they again won
the Italian pennant. And then he became general manager in 1984
and they carried off the title once more. In 2003
always a non-assuming person, he made a brief appearance at the ceremony in Bologna where his number (11)
was retired in recognition of his outstanding career.
But his heritage of achievement hardly stopped there. Although his
campaign to become President of the Italian federation was unsuccessful (he was
defeated by Aldo Notari of Parma, who served 1985-2001
as President of the Federation of Italian Baseball and Softball – FIBS
– and later went on to become President of the Confederation of European
Baseball – CEB 1987-2005 – and then the first European to be
elected President of the International Baseball Association of Federations – IBAF
1993-2006), Alfredo Meli took on what seemed an
impossible task. He founded the Italian Federation of Baseball for the
Blind – AIBxC.
Enforcing his effort with a team of other outstanding Bologna players like Umberto
Calzolari, Stefano Malaguti, Angelo Baldi
and Carlo Morelli, after several years of effort competitions
began October 16, 1994. The AIBxC organized its first
regular season in 1997.
The game in Italy
is played with a hollowed-out baseball with sleigh
bells inside. First base has an electronic beeper.
The batter throws the ball in the air and hits it with the bat (there is no
pitcher or catcher). The ball must bounce once over the
line between second and third base into left field. The batter then must run
to, find and tag first base unassisted.
He then must run for second base with the help of a sighted
base coach. Meanwhile the defense must locate the ball
and get it to the sighted second baseman before the
batter-runner gets to the second baseline. If safe, the
runner can advance to third or home on subsequent plays to
score. All attempts to retire a runner are made
at second base.
This was the fourteenth straight season for the Italian
league. Seven teams played a 21
game schedule from March through June. Playoffs are
in September and October. Each year the league awards the series winner,
the October cup winner, the Homerun Derby champion player and an October
weekend tournament winner. Milano Thunder’s Five claimed
their fifth victory in six years. Other
teams include Fiorentina BXC, Bologna White Sox, Milano Lampi, Cvinta Ravenna
and the Aquilone Red Sox.
Alfredo Meli made all this possible. One of his
teammates, Alberto Toro (the italian for bull) Rinaldi,
credits him with not only being “a very effective player” but also “selfless,”
generous” and “creative.” And getting a federation off the ground in Italy for sight
impaired players was no mean task. It takes tireless dedication to
get the agreement and active cooperation of educators, players, sports
administrators, field directors and health professionals. The FIBS threw
their full support and recognition to the blind baseball effort in 2005.
FIBS President Riccardo Fraccari (now himself President of
IBAF since 2009) and Alfredo Meli as
President of the AIBxC, signed an historic Protocol between the two
organizations. A new commission for blind baseball was also set
up within FIBS with Alfredo Meli as Commission President.
Representatives of the Italian league for blind baseball
have demonstrated the sport in Hungary,
Cuba, Germany and Spain.
since been able to field up to six teams but has difficulties
locating and financing equipment. Similar efforts are under way in Germany and France
inspired by the success of the Italian League and Alfredo Meli.
Blind baseball has been played in the United States
for 35 years. Chinese Taipei also has
an eight team league since 1995 and sends an All
Star team to the championships in the USA. Japan
has started another version of blind baseball with
over 10,000 players.
Riccardo Fraccari has identified blind baseball
as one of the primary objectives of World baseball
and the IBAF will be supporting initiatives. Alfredo Meli
will be remembered for his tireless efforts.
Stefano Michelini, current President of Fortitudo
Bologna Baseball, remembers him as always being a bit private with
little consideration for fuss or celebrations. “He seemed shy and even a
bit grumpy, but in reality he lived intensely and held strong emotions.
He didn’t show off, or didn’t show much emotion. He didn’t like being in the
But on the field and off, Meli proved over and over again that
he could hit and score for baseball when it
counted. It will be a tough act to follow.
By Tom Nagel,
September 13, 2010