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IABF Gala Dinner unites Italian American baseball and softball stars with pride and passion

The fourth annual Italian American Baseball Foundation (IABF) Gala Dinner and Fundraiser for Federazione Italiana Baseball Softball (FIBS) proved to be the best event ever in the 501(c)(3) charity foundation’s history at Giando on the Water in Brooklyn on December 4, 2019. After three successful extravaganzas at the beloved Carmine's Sports Bar and Restaurant honoring Mike Piazza (2016), Bobby Valentine (2017), and John Franco (2018), the IABF hit a grand slam with 2019 Guest of Honor Joe Girardi and a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline at the sold-out gathering intended to help grow the game of baseball and softball in the U.S. and Italy.

Since its inception in 2016, IABF Executive Board Members Joe Quagliano, Carmine Gangone, Mark Cardillo, Frank Catalanotto, and Natalie Spedaliere have combined their efforts to attract MLB royalty to bring America and Italy closer together through sports. Reminiscent of when Mike Piazza lit the nearby Empire State Building with the colors of the Italian flag five years earlier, the IABF transformed the three-level Giando on the Water in the spirit of tre colore with a pre-dinner reception downstairs where internationally-acclaimed sports artist James Fiorentino showcased his exclusive signed prints of 2019 IABF Guest of Honor Joe Girardi and WFAN sports radio personality Danielle McCartan interviewed baseball and softball luminaries as they walked the red carpet. Conversations in English and Italian could be heard as MLB International Senior Vice President Jim Small and FIBS President Andrea Marcon discussed how the two organizations could strengthen ties prior to their annual meeting at MLB headquarters the following day.

Up two levels the silent auction was in full swing with various sponsorship packages, travel offers, meet-and-greet opportunities with celebrities, luxury suites at New York Yankees games, and collectibles all of which were attracting attendees to bid on valuable items. As guests arrived on the ground floor, they could smell the delectable aroma of Italian cuisine being prepared in the Giando on the Water kitchen. Downstairs the energy of the room reached epic proportions, and the Italian American party was on. After an hour of nonstop fun, restaurant staff eventually had to escort guests upstairs since nobody was in a hurry to leave the pre-game festivities.

Patiently awaiting the arrival of dinner guests upstairs was the consummate professional in IABF Gala emcee, New York Mets radio announcer Wayne Randazzo, who provided enlightening and engaging anecdotes in between guest introductions. After the American and Italian National Anthems were played, Team Italy softball slugger Emily Carosone was the first speaker summoned to the podium. The proud Italian American spoke from the heart and retold the story how the Italian softball squad played with grit to win the Europe-Africa Olympic Qualifier. She was joined at the IABF Gala by her parents and Azzurre softball teammate Andrea Howard.

Next up was IABF Secretary Mark Cardillo, who presented a short video on the IABF 2019 clinics and college showcase in Italy. After Mark Cardillo, John Franco, Joe Quagliano, and Carmine Gangone put on their first IABF Italian Youth Clinics in 2018, Mark Cardillo returned to Italy this year with Mark Pagliarulo, Nick Derba, and Frank Del George to work with young players and also included workshops in Sicily. Mark Cardillo spoke about Gary Perone and the first IABF-sponsored Italian American Heritage Celebration with the Brooklyn Cyclones (New York Mets Short Season Single-A Affiliate) as well as similar functions with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Philadelphia Phillies Triple-A Affiliate), the New York Mets, and the Miami Marlins. It was a monumental year as the IABF held its first annual MLB All-Star Weekend Round Table Discussion with guest of honor Mike Napoli, Mike Pagliarulo, Bob DiBiasio, and Anthony Castrovince. In addition, the IABF hosted its inaugural golf outing at Ramsey Golf and Country Club in Ramsey, New Jersey.

After a brief speech by IABF supporter and Philadelphia Phillies scout Dan Palumbo, MLB Network's Natalie Spedaliere delivered a heartwarming narrative detailing her strong and supportive Italian family, her life-long love for the New York Yankees, her educational pursuits, her never-ending job search, and the answer to her prayers by way of an opportunity to work for MLB Network. Natalie Spedaliere was then honored with the 2019 IABF Executive of the Year Award.

2019 IABF Guest of Honor Joe Girardi grabbed the cordless microphone and worked the floor like a seasoned Las Vegas showman. Circling the tables systematically, he pointed out countless Italian Americans in attendance at the various tables. Joe Girardi unselflessly shared the spotlight with the guests and mentioned how each individual had contributed in some way to the game of baseball and softball. His kudos included praise for Team Italy's Drew Butera, who helped the Kansas City Royals win the 2015 World Series. Joe Girardi surprised everyone when he walked over to Team Italy softball star Emily Carosone and acknowledged her true grit for not giving up the fight for an Olympic bid in Tokyo 2020. Although he was given the 2019 IABF Guest of Honor Award, Joe Girardi truly made everyone attending the IABF Gala feel like they too were guests of honor.

Team Italy coach and 14-year MLB veteran Frank Catalanotto closed out the evening with a very uplifting and inspiring speech which points to a bright future ahead for Italian baseball with National Baseball Hall of Famer Mike Piazza as the new manager for Team Italy. Honored with the 2019 IABF Achievement Award, Frank Catalanatto turned around the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) baseball program in just one year. During his inaugural 2019 season, head coach Frank Catalanotto led the NYIT baseball team to their first NCAA tournament berth since 1983 and the first College World Series appearance in school history with a program-record 37 wins and a year-end number 13 ranking. He also was named ABCA East Region and ECAC Coach of the Year.

Other past and present Team Italy notables attending the fourth annual IABF Gala Dinner included John Franco, Lee Mazzilli, Frank Menechino, Chris Colabello, and Brandon Nimmo. New York Yankees first baseman Mike Ford and Long Island Ducks second baseman L.J. Mazzilli were also seen mingling with guests. Special thanks to everyone who came out to help the IABF in supporting youth baseball abroad by building and maintaining fields, awarding student-athletes with scholarships and financial aid, purchasing uniforms and equipment as well as organizing pitching, fielding, and hitting clinics with MLB instructors under the guidance of FIBS. To learn more about how to become a supporter of the 501(c)(3) charity IABF, click HERE. Forza #Italia! #ItaliaBaseball #ItaliaSoftball

by Roberto Angotti