The Intercultural Center is one of Georgetown University's newest buildings, and it glows with fresh-faced health. The brick facade still sparkles, too new to have faded with rain and age. The landscaping is perfect. The picture windows gleam.
But as of last week, the Center has a blemish. A smiling, square-shouldered economics student named Steve Iannini put it there -- with a baseball.
A split second after the Providence College pitcher threw, Iannini swung. As baseball people say, it was gone the minute it left the bat. Up, up toward 37th Street the ball soared, until splat! It bounced off the Center's facing, three stories up, far beyond the left field fence, about 450 feet from home plate.
If Steve Iannini had hit his home run in Yankee Stadium, they might still be cheering. But he plays center field for the Georgetown Hoyas-- which means that exactly 13 people witnessed his epic accomplishment. And four of them were reading at the time. Another two were necking. None of them cheered.
Iannini is one of hundreds of unsung college athletes playing sports in the Washington area. Like him, many of the best hold national titles and rankings. But you won't be seeing them on network television, because they don't play football or basketball, and they realize there are other things in life--and in college life--than winning games.
However, you will be seeing three of the best right here. For the next three Mondays, I'll be spotlighting area college athletes who don't get much notice, but who deserve it. Iannini is at the head of the list.
Iannini is a 19-year-old sophomore at Georgetown--same age and same class as Patrick Ewing, the basketball superstar. But Ewing chose Georgetown because of its big-time basketball program. Iannini chose Georgetown because of its small-time baseball program.
Even though he was drafted by the Chicago White Sox and recruited by top baseball colleges in Florida, "I didn't think I was ready for any of that," Iannini said. "I was sure I wouldn't get as good an education at one of the big baseball schools in Florida (his home is in Orlando). Plus I was sure I'd get to play here right away. And it has paid off. I can see my development."
Iannini didn't have much to develop, to judge from his freshman season. He batted .463, the seventh best average in the nation. He led the team in hits, and was second in doubles, triples and stolen bases. He made only five errors in 41 games.
"He's my most talented player," said Ken Kelly, the Hoyas' coach. "I think it's a shame that a guy like Steve Iannini doesn't get more recognition. Nothing against Patrick. But I wish more people realized that Steve Iannini's sweat is just as valuable as Patrick Ewing's sweat."
Iannini plays his unsung role with admirable concentration. Between pitches, he stares at the pitcher, looking for a tell-tale indication of what's coming. Between innings, he compares notes with teammates about the opposition's defense. When he catches a fly, it's with two hands at the shoulder -- not one hand, not over the head, not basket style.
But as good as he is, Iannini is almost a total unknown at Georgetown. I stopped 20 people at random on campus; none had ever heard of him. One would think it bugs him, but he says it doesn't.
"I'm not really bothered by the fact that the basketball program is of more interest than baseball," said Iannini. "We don't look outside the team for support. We know we're not the biggest thing on this campus. That's kind of an incentive."
Despite Iannini's presence, Georgetown lost 11 of its first 16 games. Against Providence, a base-running error and a wild throw handed the Friars a 3-2 victory.
Nor is Iannini quite the same fellow who donned No. 20 last season. Through the first third of the season, his batting average had fallen by nearly 160 points, and his strikeouts had doubled. "He has been pressing," said Kelly.
But then came a fast ball from a fellow with "Providence" on his shirt. "I was expecting it," said Iannini. "I just got around on it."
"A lot of frustration came out in that swing," said Kelly. A lot of frustration, and one blemish.