"Awesome, baby!": When Dick Vitale met the pope

It happened last week, and the famed announcer was left momentarily mute:

It took a face-to-face meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in Italy recently to leave local resident and “Awesome Baby!” sports announcer Dick Vitale in the most unfamiliar of postures.

Being from an Italian background — his grandparents were Sicilian immigrants — Vitale said his late parents would have been proud that their son met the pope.

“I was in such awe that I really was speechless,” said Vitale, whose basketball announcing gigs on TV are characterized by his almost nonstop, high-energy delivery.

Vitale, who lives in Lakewood Ranch in Manatee County, fulfilled a longtime dream of meeting the pope while he and his wife were in Italy last week.

Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice wrote to the Vatican on behalf of Vitale, and that call paved the way for Vitale and his wife Lorraine to personally meet Pope Benedict XVI.

While Vitale’s daughter Terri, son-in law Chris Sforzo and grandchildren Ryan and Sydney took pictures with the crowd outside of Castel Gandolfo, the pope’s summer home, Dick and Lorraine visited with the pontiff. Vitale kissed the pope’s ring at one point.

“I was in total awe,” he said. “We had no idea that we would get one-on-one time with him.”

The Vitales asked the pope for his blessings for their family and for peace.

Vitale said he has met many superstars and celebrities over his career, but the honor of meeting the pope was an unbelievable privilege.

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