The 1976 Horlick High School graduate had planned to satisfy his desire to play professional baseball for a year or so overseas and then get used to the real world.
“My baseball career in Italy was much more than I bargained for, to say the least,” Bonanno said. “When I first had the chance to play in Italy way back in 1982, my first intention was to play a year or so, travel a bit, then come back home to try to figure out what I wanted to do in my working life.”
As Bonanno would experience with great satisfaction, things took care of themselves when he started a career in international baseball that continues to this day. He was recently rewarded for his life’s work.
Bonanno has been inducted into the Old Time Baseball Players Association of Wisconsin Hall of Fame. The five other inductees include former Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin.
“Quite honestly, this award was unexpected,” said Bonanno, whose nephew is Chris Maragos, a special teams ace for the Philadelphia Eagles who has been sidelined this season with a knee injury. “I don’t believe we aspire to be recognized in this way, but it happens and it’s very gratifying.
“It was a humbling experience and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
Bonanno joined such teammates as Randy Sykes, Mike Buchaklian, Tim Weber, Avak Gregorian and Don Heinkel in 1976 to help Horlick become the first public school baseball team from Racine to advance to the WIAA Tournament.
The Rebels were 12-0 before losing 5-3 to Wausau West in a quarterfinal, but for Bonanno, his career in baseball was just getting started.
He was a shortstop and third baseman for a Grand Canyon team that won the 1981 NAIA championship. After moving on to Italy, he was a player through the 1988 season and a coach from 1989-99.
Major League Baseball’s International Division hired him to work in its game development program in 2000. He continues to live in Santarcangelo di Romagna on the northeastern coast of the Adriatic Sea in Italy as he works for Major League Baseball in its search for European talent.
His duties include hosting Elite Camps throughout Europe to identify and sign prospective players.
“The most rewarding thing about my baseball experience in Italy and Europe, besides having my two boys, Daniele and Luca, was having been given the chance to play and coach there for 18 years and to meet many fun and wonderful people along the way.
“Of course, having the privilege to work with Major League Baseball for the past 18 years was an absolute Godsend, too, because it allowed for me to live in Europe and work in baseball while being involved on the business and administrative side of the sport.
“Having been directly involved with each version of the World Baseball Classic was definitely a highlight because game development in Europe is quite removed from professional baseball.
“So being part of a professional, organizational staff and participating in all aspects of team logistics was a thrill and very gratifying, as well.”
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