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Italian Luigi Carrozza: 1996 Olympics leading hitter proud of record which still stands

Italian Luigi Carrozza: 1996 Olympics leading hitter proud of record which still stands
24/04/2020
Carrozza's .571 batting average topped Cuban sluggers Ulacia, Linares and Kindelán, and Japan's Fukudome and Matsunaka. Today he's back as a coach to the team where it all started in southern Italy.

Luigi Carrozza was the batting champion of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia (USA), posting an on-fire .571 average. This feat from nearly 25 years ago hasn't been matched since and it will be very hard to top at future Games.

"Well, records do exist to be beaten," Carrozza told WBSC via telephone. "It's not that I got a hit every time at bat. That would be impossible to beat."

Luigi Carrozza, born in 1969, was a 27-year-old in his prime during the Games in Atlanta.

"We had worked very hard before the Olympics," remembered Carrozza. "The Italian Federation [FIBS] had a very good programme. They took us all around the world to compete at the top level. We were very well conditioned and our Physician Gianfranco Beltrami had worked a lot on our nutrition."

WBSC: When did you become aware of the record in the making?
"As a player, you keep checking your numbers during a tournament. Towards the end I became aware, but I really didn't think I could outhit those big names."

Carrozza outhit Cuba's Luis Ulacia, who finished with a .556 batting average. Behind Ulacia came other notable Cuban stars like Omar Linares and Orestes Kindelan.

Also among the best hitters of the tournament were Japanese rising stars, 19-year-old Kosuke Fukudome, who would became an Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) first-round draft pick in 1999, and his teammate Nobuhiko Matsunaka, who slugged five home runs and went on to become the number two pick in the 1997 NPB draft.

In Atlanta, the U.S National Team featured 20-year old Troy Glaus, who would go on to become the 2002 MLB World Series MVP.

WBSC: After such a performance in the US, it looked like you could attract interest from Major League Baseball organizations. What went wrong?
"Well, I was already 27," commented Carrozza. "I think my best chance had come back in 1991. I was invited to Spring Training by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Things didn't work out."

Carrozza is in the Italian Baseball Hall of Fame.
"I was inducted in January and this really makes me proud. I had a very long career. I played until my 40th birthday and I can say I dedicated a lot of energy to the game. I feel grateful that my commitment has been honoured this way."

After his retirement, Carrozza took a break from baseball.
"I felt I really needed to direct my energy to other projects. I committed myself to baseball from the age of 13 to the age of 40. I felt I had nothing left for me [to do] in baseball."

WBSC: There comes a time you need to respond to The Call of the Wild, though.
"I like that, the Call of the Wild. It really worked like that. The club of my hometown Matino, near Lecce, had been asking for a while. They finally got me back on the field."

The 1996 batting champion of the Olympics is back to were it all began: a small field in southern Italy. He is the head coach of a third-division team.

"2019 was my first season. We started early for the 2020 season, then the COVID-19 pandemic put us on stand by."

WBSC: How do you keep your players involved in your project?
"I'm keeping in touch with the players. I try to convince them to #StayStrong. We can't practice as a team, but they can still exercise at home. The federation announced that we will have a season, starting in the middle of June. We'll be ready."