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Bologna, Italy hopes this isn’t its last trip to Series

Lifting the white towel draped across his shoulders, Francesco Lamanuzzi wiped away the tears from his eyes. His booming smile never left his face.

He sat back and watched his players answer questions from a bevy of reporters like a proud papa as they talked about their most memorable moments from three games played at the Little League World Series. For a man who has spent 40 years coaching youth baseball in Italy, this moment was a success.

Players from losing teams aren’t normally asked to participate in postgame press conferences at the Little League World Series. Lamanuzzi asked Little League to allow Giulio Bissa, Gabriele Cirinia, Federico Tamburini and Giovanni Gregorini to speak with the media because his entire trip to the Series has been about providing an experience to his players.

The four players who surrounded him in front of the cameras Tuesday afternoon underneath Lamade Stadium were all only 10 years old. They walked into the media room taking in the scene, visually inspecting the grown men who sat prepared to offer them a big league experience. They sat motionless and quiet as Lamanuzzi answered the first two questions with his usual vigor and positive spin.

And as the kids were called on to answer a question or two, they thought long and hard about what was the right thing to say. Lamanuzzi soaked in the moment, allowing the team’s translator to do the work of helping them express their thoughts.

It didn’t matter the Italians went 0-3 in the Series after dropping a 4-3 decision to Oregon in a crossover consolation game. This tournament was never about what the scoreboard said for the Europe and Africa champions. This tournament was about these moments which would leave a lasting impression on each member of the team.

But Lamanuzzi specifically chose these four kids to join him at the table because of their age. They are the youngest players in the tournament and they were Lamanuzzi’s starting infield. It’s been clear over the last week he believes this isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip. He expects to be back here in South Williamsport again in the coming years.

Lamanuzzi has devoted his life to teaching a game to children who are more likely to pick Serie A legend Francesco Totti out of a photo lineup more easily than Mike Trout. But whatever he’s doing is clearly working. Despite having one of the youngest teams at this year’s Little League World Series, the Italians proved they belonged at the tournament with Tuesday’s performance.

“For us, this has been a great experience,” Lamanuzzi said through a translator. “We are very happy and I’m proud with how they played. This is our future. It’s very difficult to play baseball in Italy. To play like this today was really great.”

In his first trip to South Williamsport, Lamanuzzi brought with him perspective. He understood from the start winning was going to be tough for a team which has probably played fewer baseball games in their entire lives than some of the teams here have played in the last calendar year.

So when they lost 20-0 to Japan and then 10-0 to Canada, Lamanuzzi didn’t panic, he didn’t pout, he didn’t speak about bad luck or even poor play. He smiled through each postgame session with the media. He made sure everyone understood how grateful he was for the opportunity just to be here.

But make no mistake, when he stood up from that table Tuesday afternoon, tears still welling in his eyes from the pride he felt to be among his players, he told the gathered media, “I hope to be back again and again and again.”

His smile grew even wider.

Francesco, you’re more than welcome here any time. We can’t wait to see what your boys can accomplish next year.

Mitch Rupert can be reached at 570-326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert.

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