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Sport Scene Italian style Bergstrom named to hall of fame

Fall 2006 • Volume 12, Issue 4

Baseball

While playing professional baseball in Italy, Josh Caruso ‘06 has visited many Italian landmarks. He has taken an estimated 2,000 photos, which he plans to share with his students when he becomes a history teacher in America.

Baseball Italian style

by Justin Phelps ’05

Josh Caruso ’06 was hoping for a ticket to professional baseball during his senior season as a Bradley baseball player. He never expected that ticket to include a history lesson in Italy. Just months after completing his degree requirements, Caruso left Illinois in March to play baseball in Godo, Italy, a small town on the northeast coast. He is a pitcher for the Godo Baseball Club and league leader in saves in Series A1, the highest level of baseball in Italy.

Between practices and games, Caruso is preparing for a future as a teacher. Caruso, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education with a concentration in history, has enjoyed visiting Rome, Venice, and Florence. “When I went to Rome for the first time to see where Julius Caesar died 3,000 years ago, it was unbelievable,” said Caruso. “I was standing in the same spot Caesar stood. The things you see in a textbook are right here.”

But it is baseball that brought Caruso to Italy. Caruso’s senior season at Bradley in 2005 wasn’t ex-actly what he expected. A season after Caruso found his niche as a closer with the Braves, the Missouri Valley Conference made a league-wide scheduling change. Instead of playing a four-game weekend series, teams played three games on weekends. The change meant teams only needed three starters, instead of four. The Braves’ fourth starter became a closer, and Caruso moved to a midweek starter and weekend middle reliever, limiting his exposure for a shot at professional baseball. Caruso’s move from closer didn’t affect his attitude about that season. “We got along so well, it made things easy,” Caruso said. “I had a great time. We made it to the MVC tournament, and it was fun because of those guys.”

Late in the season while coming back to Peoria from a road trip, Bradley coach Dewey Kalmer told Caruso an Italian team was interested in him. Caruso was also invited to attend 2006 spring training with the Gateway Grizzlies and Windy City ThunderBolts, both of the independent Frontier League.

According to Caruso, Italian teams have individuals who track college statistics and search college rosters for players with Italian last names. Originally, Caruso was expected to come to Italy on a visa and register as a foreign player. Italian teams are allowed five foreign players, but foreign pitchers can play in only one game per week. Italian teams play three games per week over a six-month, 52-game schedule that starts in April.

Instead of being listed as a foreign player, the Carusos traced Josh’s ancestry to his Italian roots. Because documentation of Caruso’s great-grandfather living in Italy was found, Josh applied for and received Italian citizenship. By holding dual citizenship, Caruso can pitch in every game like the other six dual-citizenship players in the Godo Baseball Club. Many of the Godo Baseball Club players are former Major League and Triple-A players.

“Coming here, there’s probably not as much chance to move up and make it to the big leagues,” said Caruso, who lives with four Americans. “But there’s really good competition here … people just don’t know about it. The competition is better than anything I have ever played in.”

Caruso plays for two other Italian teams. He pitched for the Italian National Team, which went to Rotterdam, Holland in July. In August, Caruso was in Cuba for the World University Baseball Championships, where his team finished in fifth place behind the U.S., China, Japan, and Cuba. “I pitched well,” said Caruso, who pitched scoreless innings against both Cuba and Mexico.