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

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.

Alfredo Meli in his playing days

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.

At bat in italian baseball for the blind (Xavier Hémar)

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 leagueSeven 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 SpainHavana has 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 USAJapan 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 spotlight.” 
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



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