It's a long way from Omaha, Nebraska to the Vatican in Rome, especially if you are the Harvard baseball team. And years after the 1973 Crimson nine hang up their spikes, they will remember their two-week undefeated swing through Italy and try to forget their dismal showing at the NCAA championships in Omaha.
The baseball team that took nine straight from the best sunny Italy had to offer (which is not as good as Japan, to put the trip in perspective) was a much different outfit from the squad that travelled to Omaha in early June for the NCAAs, quickly dropped their first two games, and just as quickly, returned home.
Relaxed and Resourceful
Coach Loyal Park's charges alternated between playing baseball and seeing Italy, and the dual existence resulted in a relaxed and resourceful Crimson squad.
The team swept to nine victories with an awesome show of power, and as a result, not much need for pitching. The Crimson power hitters--specifically Jim Stoeckel, who hit six home runs--rubbed their eyes in disbelief when they saw the Italian fences.
The fences at the park in Rome, where the first two games were played, stood only 270 feet from home plate, the length of a long pop fly. Joe Namath could probably throw a football that far with the Noxzema girl breathing down his neck.
Well, Stoeckel was at no such disadvantage, and he managed to hit three round-trippers in the first game, leading the Crimson to a 15-6 rout. The next night, the Crimson pounded the fences again en route to an 8-5 victory.
Italy threw its national team against Harvard, and although the Italians cannot yet compare to the Japanese, they are considered a powerful force in European baseball.
After playing the Crimson in five different cities, the Italian nationals went on to the European championships and won two consecutive games by scores of 22-1 and 23-2.
But if the Italians know how to hit, they are weaker in other areas of the game. Park said yesterday from a summer camp in Mars, Pa. that the "national team had good power, but they were weak on fundamentals."
"They need help in pitching, speed and defense," Park said. "They need a few good American coaches to come over and teach them fundamentals."
Park said that he was impressed by the great enthusiasm for baseball in Italy. "The spectators stayed right to the final out, no matter what the score," he said.
Italy has no professional baseball league. Park said that they expect to start one inside of 10 years, but he estimated that the Italians are at least ten years behind the Japanese.
Italy has no amateur program, and Park said he thinks it is this deficiency which hurts the Italians on fundamentals. Park said he was offered a five-year contract to coach in Italy.
"They are hungry for instruction," Park explained.