Padecky: Windsor siblings take their swings in Sweden

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

No one who has seen a bench-clearing brawl or a brush-back pitch would ever think of the game of baseball as polite, cordial, friendly. Then again, they never played baseball in Sweden. They never saw what Nico Filice saw.

Filice is the Cardinal Newman graduate and Santa Rosa JC shortstop in Europe right now playing for the Swedish National Under-21 baseball team. His sister, Elli, a second baseman for Cardinal Newman, is playing for the Under-21 Swedish National softball team. They have been in Europe since June 1 and will stay until July 18. In September, Nico will play for the Swedish national team in the European championships, held in the Netherlands.

They have a lot of stories they’ll never forget. This is one of them. Inevitable, really, especially when it’s baseball being used as a cultural marking point for comparison.

In the States, when a runner is sliding into second base to break up a double play, the runner will try to send either middle infielder into left field with a body slam or leg whip.

In Sweden?

“The runner will come sliding in there, smiling,” said Filice, 20. “Then after the play he’ll stand up and shake your hand.”
Like, “I am pleased to meet you on a fine day like this.”

Pete Rose would have a hard time playing in Sweden.

Nico and Elli do not. The Windsor residents have enjoyed leaving their comfortable cocoon that is Sonoma County. Traveling, for those who keep their eyes and ears open, is a revelation. Yes, these are human beings, just like me, but maybe they grew up on another planet. Like when Nico passed a McDonald’s.

“The line was around the block,” he said, admitting he was stunned.

That shock was trumped by still another.

“That McDonald’s was clean, spotless,” he said.

Will wonders never cease? That’s a good question, considering the Filices are playing for Sweden at all. Their mom, Anna, was born in Sweden, met her husband, their dad, Joe, as a working au pair in Santa Rosa. The kids are fluent in Swedish, due in large part to frequently visiting Sweden to see to see their maternal grandparents in Stockholm. Before this current trip Elli, 17, had been to Sweden eight times, Nico nine. Each visit lasted a month to six weeks.

Two years ago, on a whim, Joe — a social justice teacher at Hanna Boys Center — visited the Swedish sports federation in Stockholm and made an innocent query. Since both his son and daughter were born to a Swedish woman, making them Swedish nationals, could they play for that country’s baseball and softball teams? Sure, said Ulf Steinvall, and I’ll get back to you in 2012 when Sweden enters the European championships.

“And I didn’t think about it again,” said Nico. “It was a shot in the dark.”

And you know what they say about shots in the dark. You never see them again. They go, never to return.

But in March, Ulf called back and said it was a go, both Elli and Nico could play for the Under-21s and if Nico performed as he had heard, he would make the Swedish National Team. Both brother and sister say they never pay attention to their batting averages but they ratted each other out, Nico saying Elli is batting .330 and Elli saying Nico is hitting .416.

Naturally baseball is not the first sport that comes to mind when one mentions Sweden; hockey and skiing bubble right to the top.

Baseball?

“Baseball is not phenomenal in Sweden,” dad said.

The skill level in baseball, Nico said, ranges anywhere from high school to the D2 level in college. Softball, Elli said, is at the high school level. Fastballs have been in the 80s but Nico has heard they’ll dip into the 90s this week when Sweden plays teams from Poland, Belgium and Germany in Prague, Czech Republic.

In a life spent playing baseball with American colloquialisms unique to the game, like “Hey batter, batter, SWING!” Nico said it’s an otherworldly feeling to hear, in Swedish, how the Swedes chant to get the batter to swing.

“Hey batter, swing” winds up “Nu kor vi gubben.” In English that translates to “Let’s go, man!”

Side funny note: Only “gubben” was highlighted by spell check on my computer. Very weird.

Side funny note II: Nico was a god when he showed up to Sweden’s first practice with sunflower seeds. The Swedes will drive a half-hour to buy sunflower seeds. The two bags he brought were gone in a matter of hours.

“This has brought Elli and I closer,” Nico said. That is due in some part for big brother protecting his little sister.

“I’ve got to keep those guys away from her,” he said.

To be sure, they both admit, they get a lot of stares when people find out they’re from the United States. We have as many stereotypes about everyone else as everyone else has about us. Nico has eliminated one of them, The Lazy American. A seasoned disciple of SRJC’s Damon Neidlinger and his coach’s work ethic, Nico is very clear why he is in Europe with the Swedes.

“I’m here to get my work in,” he said.

He made it sound like he was on a business trip. And it may be. At times.

“I’ve gone to McDonald’s twice,” Nico said, after some prodding.

No one on a business trip ever goes to McDonald’s. Well, check that. If the floors are clean, yes, that would be a tourist attraction.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.