March 3, 1982 my mother was taking me out to the Pittsburgh Airport to catch my first flight to New York then after having a lay over until 7pm local I will be off to Italia. I had everything I needed my baseball gear was the most important, some books and a pocket vocabulary of the English – Italian language. I was pretty confident of my level of preparedness to confront the Italian Baseball league even though I really didn’t know the level of it. After playing in the SEC against some great teams plus the month of spring training Bob Mariano and I spent at the visitors locker room couldn’t have ask for anything better. An hour flight to New York then about an 8 hour flight to Rome where for the first time since I was in the 9th grade I will be travelling out of the USA. We travelled to Europe with our middle school from Penn Hills. I remember going to Paris, Holland, Belgium and London with a my future high school classmates. . Was a great trip took a lot of nice pictures the best one was the one we took in Paris eating a pizza where you could see the gift I bought for my mother on the table and there it remained, so mom didn’t get a gift from Europe.
The flight was long but shorter than the Grey Hound bus trip from Pittsburgh to Baton Rouge and didn’t have any drunken homeless people getting thrown off the plane like what happened on the bus when we were going through some small town in Kentucky. As soon as we landed in Rome I noticed right away I was in foreign country. Now keep in mind I was down in the bayou in Louisiana now if you ever heard the real Cajuns talk and closed your eyes you would have no idea what your geographical location would be on the earth. Plus their food for example Boudin Sausage which is pork meat and liver and rice or sea food, chicken Gumbo, Okra and the best was frog legs on Friday in the training table at LSU. After growing up in Pittsburgh were the cuisine was petty basic except if were lucky enough to have your family, a relative or friend who’s parents came from a European country your taste bud’s biggest thrill would have been eating a primanti sandwich with cold cuts, French fries and coleslaw all on two pieces of bread , a Pittsburgh thing.
I had one of the best experiences of eating something at a friend’s house when I was growing up in Penn Hills. Our senior year I remember we had big snow fall so Bart Ung and I went around Penn Hills trying to shovel snow to make some money. There was a second grade teacher up at Washington school her name was Mildred Kosanovich who was my neighbour when I was growing up in Universal on School Street. I knew she was retired not married and would think would pay us to clean her side walk and driveway. Bart and I headed up to Frankstown road I knew where she lived. I rang the bell and she was happy to see me, I haven’t seen her since I was a kid. I said “Would you like to have the snow removed”? She said yes so Bart and I started shovelling she had a big house and driveway. We must have worked for almost two hours. When we finished I rang the bell and said we are done, she gave Bart and I $2.00. Not 2 each we had to split it! So we were hungry and we drove over to Bart’s house to eat something , with that $2.00 we couldn’t have ate at McDonald’s or got a piece of pizza up at Casey’s . We walked into Bart’s house and his mom just happened to making egg rolls when we walked in, she made the mistake of asking me if I like some after shovelling for two hours we ate the whole tray. Bart and I decided to not continue with our snow removal business the money just wasn’t there I am sure that made his mother happy.
The Twa flight touched down in Rome we started getting off the plane to go to the passport control.
The first thing I noticed were the Italian Carabinieri with uzi machine guns. I wasn’t used to seeing that, military police standing in public with automatic weapons. I went through the control with no problem picked up my suitcases. I had a big suitcase, carry on and an army duffel bag were my bats and baseball gear where. I had no idea who from the team was picking me up and what they looked like. I walked out into the main area of the airport looking for someone holding a sign up with my name on it or Nettuno baseball. Nothing, didn’t see anyone now what?? It isn’t like today where you can find people who can speak English, cell phones I didn’t know what to do. I looked around and with using my Italian English dictionary, I saw a sign they said meeting point. So I went there and stood for about two hours. To no avail no signs of anyone now what? I saw a map on the wall of Italy so I went over there to find the place where I had to go. I was a little nervous so I did forget the name of the town. I could hear Bob saying” Tell them Charlie sent you”. I started looking south down from the airport for Charlie the Tuna because tuna sounded like the ending of the town I was looking for Net-tuno. I found it on the map now I saw it was about 60 miles from the airport. Little did I know at the time when I was looking for Charlie what I decided to do that moment would have a bearing on rest of my life. I had a round trip ticket in my hand, I looked up at the flight departure screen and saw there was one leaving for New York at 11 am. Thanks to the map on the wall I knew where Charlie was but should I set out on my own and how am I going to get there? Thought went threw my mind could this be a joke? Impossible they paid for my ticket so I said what the hell lets go for it. I stopped a man who was carrying people’s suitcases out to their cars, I stopped him and said “Charlie sent me”, no I said Nettuno, Nettuno like 3 or 4 times and he give me a sign that I figured out meant to follow him. In America when you want someone to follow, you raise your hand in the air and motion your palm toward your body and go back and forth. Not in Italy I learned that day one, they raise their hand in the air and the hand and arm goes towards to ground in a downward movement. I was watching him giving me this sign and I wasn’t moving so he grabbed my arm and then I figured out he wanted me to follow him. We went over to a bus, wasn’t a grey hound they don’t have those here but just a normal bus. He was speaking to the driver I hoped telling him I am looking for Charlie. They grabbed my bags and put them in the compartment on the bus with the other bags and suitcases. I paid the guy for a ticket but I can’t remember how much or where I was going. We took off down the road out of the airport the trip took a while maybe like an hour or so. As we were travelling I saw we were heading to downtown Rome. It was pretty cool seeing the aqueducts and the other buildings I knew I was in Italy. Everything seemed so much smaller than at home, the cars, the streets everything but could they drive, seemed like everyone was travelling for throttle in the cars and motorbikes and there wasn’t any lanes you just made you own. We pulled up at a big building made out of marble I had no idea where I was. Ended up I was at the main train station in Rome. The bus stopped I didn’t know what to do but the driver gave me the downward movement to come here which I did, then he gave the same sign to another guy in the parking to come here which he did, I thought it is easy to pick up Italian , it is true they use their hands to talk. The bus driver loaded my bags on a cart that his friend had. As I was leaving a kind of shouted out to the bus driver and with my hand I waved good by and he come over to me right away and looked at me like what do I want? Need to remember my Italian hand signs I already forgot. I gave him an American wave like see you later and he thought I wanted him to come with me. I don’t know how long I have been awake but I guess he would understand I was tired. So I went behind the guy who had my luggage on the cart. We went inside the train station I have never seen anything like that in my life. People walking fast, everyone yelling, the hand signals I thought Benvunto in Italia, Welcome to Italy. I didn’t let this guy out of my site, I had my money and passport on me but he had my bats and gear. You try to steal my glove or bats that will be like declaring war, uzi or no uzi’s. We went up to a window and he told the lady something he ask for money and what we did is he bought me a one way train ticket to Nettuno. I followed him out to the tracks and he took me to the area where the train was leaving for Nettuno. He helped me put my stuff on the train and said good bye to me. I wish I would have got the bus driver’s and this guy’s number it was so kind of them to help me out, I would love to have thanked them. It was round 1pm wasn’t to many people on the train but the ones that were, I could feel them staring on me. The train took off, I had no idea how long or when I was going to have to get off. Before that day on March 4, 1982 I think I was in the train maybe in 2nd grade in Washington School they took us on a field trip to down town Pittsburgh. The train was moving along after about 30 minutes I started getting nervous where in heck is Charlie tuna. Across the aisle there was a woman I would say about 40 years old. I was 21 at the time she had that look like this poor kid is lost. She said something to me but up until then I just learned the hand signal to come here in Italian. Low and behold she did it and I got up and sat next to her, wow I am really starting to feel like a native. I pulled out my Italian English dictionary. I gave it to her and after 10 minutes I understood she was going to Nettuno and that Nettuno was the last stop, once the train got there it came back to Rome.
We tried to carry on a conversation with the dictionary but that was going nowhere. I knew Nettuno was on the beach but as the train moved south there was no sign of the ocean. When the train would stop there was a big sign at the station with the name of the stop. I remember seeing Anzio, and then I knew it we were close because from the history books the allies landed in this area during the war so they called it the Anzio Landing. After Anzio we came to Nettuno, I stood up put carry on around my neck, that big suitcase in one hand and the army duffel bag in the other. I tried to thank that woman the best I could and you know I don’t think I ever saw her again and she was from Nettuno. Now it is about 3:30 in the afternoon local time. I walked out from the train station it was a beautiful sunny day, I could see straight down the street there is the ocean. So I am thinking ok here I am but I got to find the baseball team. Today in Italy is like American all the stores are open all day but back in when I came here, the stores closed from 1-4:30pm so the streets were empty. I thought something must have happened , a war broke out ?
I was walking down the street with my bags and I saw a cop but no uzi, he had a uniform on. I thought this guy doesn’t need an uzi he was pretty big. I thought maybe he was like me and bobby, we had to go to Baton Rouge for spring training, maybe he works as a gladiator up at the colosseum on weekends and he was down in Nettuno for his spring training. Before I left the Nettuno train station I took one of my bats out and taped it on my bag so if someone saw me maybe they would take me to the team. With the gladiator it did work, he said something I said baseball and I could tell on his face he was happy. This gladiator took me to city hall to the mayor’s office then they contacted the team and they came and got me. Ended up this wasn’t Charlie his name was Giorgio Costantini he was a player on the Nettuno baseball team and 3 years later he would end up being my best man in my wedding.