Occasionally, I'll have some crazy ideas when it comes to my collection.
Things like, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool to collect this sometime down the road?"
Most of the time, I shrug it off and forget about it fifteen minutes later. I tell myself, "Your collection is wacky enough as it is."
However, a couple of those "crazy" ideas have stuck with me. That's how my obsession with cards featuring pitchers at the plate got started.
A couple weeks ago, I found myself wandering through my Rays and/or Devil Rays binder for the umpteenth time. I stopped when I came across the Rocco Baldelli section.
I always do.
You see, most of my family's heritage lies in Italy. It's something I've taken a lot of pride in over the course of my life. The culture, the history, the food...everything.
But especially the food.
Just saying the name makes me seem a little more Italian by the minute. (With or without the typical Italian hand gestures.)
That's when the crazy thought popped into my mind.
How neat would it be to start a collection of Italian ballplayers?
Only a handful of actual Italian-born guys have played in the bigs throughout the course of history (including current Mariners prospect Alex Liddi), but surely there's enough Italian-American players to fill a collection.
Once I looked at the actual list, I knew it would be a Herculean task, should I decide to chase it.
I'm not ready to make a commitment just yet, but it's definitely on the table for future consideration.
In a lot of ways, though, I think I've already started.
I give Topps a ton of credit for managing to squeeze that name onto this piece of cardboard.
In terms of today's players, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is probably my favorite of the Italian-American category. He actually had a pretty good year, although you'd never know it given all the other drama that went down in Boston.
His last name is what first sucked me into collecting his cards. For one thing, it's the longest last name in big league history.
Even more than that, though, "Saltalamacchia" loosely translates to "jump over the car" in Italian.
There's your fun fact of the day.
This is one of the best cards I own.
Not just because it's vintage. Not just because it's from 1959, one of the better efforts in Topps' long history.
And not necessarily because it features Rocky Colavito.
More accurately, it's because it features "Rocco" Colavito, one of the more "pure Italian" names you'll ever see.
Colavito's rookie card lists his first name as "Rocco", but that one is a tad out of my price range.
I'm the proud owner of a '58 Topps Colavito, but he'd apparently already earned the nickname "Rocky" by then.
For whatever reason, Topps reverted back to "Rocco" for his '59 issue.
If I do ever decide to officially start collecting cards of my fellow Italians, this would definitely be one of the centerpieces.
Downtown Chicago is actually home to the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame.
I've never been able to make the trek down there. One day, though. One day.
A few of my friends got to go there for a field trip during my junior year of high school. I envied them.
Not surprisingly, my friends told me that most of it was dedicated to the "Yankee Clipper" himself, Joe DiMaggio.
A man who, ironically, nearly wound up playing in the Windy City.
There's no denying that "Joltin' Joe" is the quintessential Italian-American sports icon. You probably didn't need me to tell you that.
Still, one card stands above the rest when it comes to honoring my heritage.
One that comes from an unlikely source.
Mark my words.
You will see this card somewhere in my "Top 100" rankings. Probably quite high on the list as well, if I had to guess.
I don't know if there's such a thing as a "perfect" baseball card.
For me, though, this one borders dangerously close to being that "perfect" piece of cardboard, even though these "World Baseball Classic" inserts barely get mentioned in the hobby.
Italy's roster for the '09 WBC featured big-leaguers such as Nick Punto and Jason Grilli (Mike Piazza was the hitting coach), but Topps eventually chose Mr. Catalanotto to represent the nation.
Given that he enjoyed a solid 14-year big league career, I think it was a fine choice.
Thanks to this card, Frank Catalanotto will always represent the country of Italy in my collection.
An unlikely "cardboard hero".
What I've shown here is just the tip of the iceberg. With names like Tony Conligliaro, Sal Bando, and Tony Lazzeri, it's safe to say that Italians have definitely made their mark on the game.
For a lot of us, our collections honor something that is near and dear to us. Our favorite team. Our favorite player. Our favorite sets.
So, I ask, why not our heritage?
Like I said, I don't know if I'll ever actually sit down and decide to chase this project. I doubt I'm even the first one to have come up with this idea.
At the least, it's something to consider.