Many people around Berlin know Keith D'Amato.
Some may know him as a coach to one of his three daughters, Carina, 20, Lia 18 or Nina 14. Some may know him through his wife, Cathy, who teaches at Hubbard Elementary School. Heck, some may know him as one of the top basketball officials in the state.
Chances are, however, very few know him as an Olympian.
That's right, Keith D'Amato of Berlin, a baseball star at Plainville high School and Fairfield University, was selected to play on the Italian Olympic Baseball team that competed in 1984 in Los Angeles. D'Amato does not talk about the Olympics because he is a humble person but we twisted his arm to get some recollections and memories of his experience.
D’Amato graduated from Plainville High School in 1979. He was a three sport varsity player who starred as a quarterback who led the Devils to their first home win in 30 years over then rival Southington. His greatest achievements however, came on the baseball field as an all-state pitcher who won 20 games during his time at PHS.
D’Amato went on to Fairfield University where he earned All New England Honors. He is still ranked in the top-20 all-time in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) in ERA, with a career ERA of 2.07. After graduation, Keith went overseas to play baseball professionally in Italy.
"I didn't get drafted but I went over to play professionally in Italy after college," said D'Amato, who has lived in Berlin for the past 19 years. "In 1983 I made the European Cup Team. Once I made that I was invited to try out for the Italian Olympic Team. It was a series of tryouts and psychological tests and health tests that seemed like it went on forever.
"Baseball was a demonstration sport back then and there were eight teams in two divisions. The tryouts were in Rome, which was about an hour from where I was living and playing. We didn't find out until about four weeks before the games that we made the team. We went over about a week before the games started and trained at San Diego State."
The selection took so long that D'Amato's parents and family did not see him play in the Olympic Games. Only a cousin who lived in California got to see him play.
"My parents had made travel plans to visit me in Italy so they had their flights and everything set," D'Amato said. "It was too late for them to change plans so when I got back from the Olympics they were there in Italy waiting for me."
The Olympic Village for the LA Games was between USC and UCLA. D'Amato and his teammates stayed at USC. The games were played at Dodger Stadium "which was pretty cool," D'Amato said.
"The opening and closing ceremonies were great highlights for me," D'Amato said. "It was not even close to as elaborate as it is today but it was still amazing. The countries were in underground tunnels that came right out to the Rose Bowl. There had to be more than 100,000 people there. It was during the day so you could see everything and everybody. It was unbelievably exciting."
Italy played three games in the Olympics that year. It started off with a 10-7 win over Dominican Republic but then got drubbed by the US team, 16-1. A 10-0 loss to China eliminated Italy from the semifinals.
D'Amato pitched one inning in relief, a perfect inning in the loss to China, three up and three down.
"That US team just annihilated us," D'Amato said with a laugh. "They were awesome. They had Barry Larkin and Mark McGwire, B.J. Surhoff. They were really good but they lost in the gold medal game to Japan."
Baseball and softball are no longer in the Olympics.
"I'm disappointed it's not still in but I can understand why," D'Amato said. "It's all about Major League Baseball at this time. There is so much money involved that you're not going to put the season on hold for the Olympics. You're not going to see the Yankees let Derek Jeter go play in the Olympics where he might get hurt. It just isn't going to happen."
D'Amato said every four years when the Olympics come around, he gets to walk down memory lane with his wife and children.
"The girls are glued to the television while the Olympics are on," D'Amato said. "They ask all the time about what it was like for me and what the athletes are going through. It's amazing to me to see the size and speed of the athletes now and the science that helps them develop into these machines. It has changed and evolved so much it's incredible. But for me to be able to experience it...a kid from Plainville...I never even dreamt about it."