Leave it to a tight indoor bocce game to fire up the mood on a chilly Friday night.
Domenico Mastroianni’s first toss quickly drew attention from Pat Corniello, who happened to notice his opponent’s toe had slipped beyond a spray painted marker at the baseboard of the court. On any other night at the Colombo Soccer Club, he might have let the harmless foul slip.
But on a league night? Never. Certainly not during the first game of the first league night in nearly a decade.
“No,” he shouted at Mastroianni. “You passed the line.”
The spirited exchange went on for a couple of minutes, occasionally drifting into Italian and sometimes growing in volume. After all, part of the fun of bocce is its tendency to spur amiable disputes between opponents.
For instance, the amount of water sprinkled on the crushed sandstone court can be an instant source of disagreement. Too much water makes the balls travel slower and too little will mean a cloud of dust lingering in the basement air.
The most animated arguments, however, are reserved for matters that impact the scoreboard. Eyeballing the distance between two opposing balls and the “pallino” simply doesn’t cut it when they’re close.
There’s a tape measure for that. And if some players had their druthers, they’d employ some sort of hypersensitive laser measuring device to gauge the distance down to the nanometer.
“Some of us take it really serious,” said Cesare Maniccia.
Or at least as serious as one can take things over a few beers with good friends. Welcome to the Colombo Bocce League, a place where good-natured arguments flow almost as easy as bottles of Peroni after the first game.
The league was founded several years after the club built the indoor bocce court in the basement of the converted residence near Rotterdam’s Five Corners intersection. Club members actually dug nearly a foot out of the basement to create the court after they decided they didn’t want to wait until spring to play bocce.
Columbo’s league was fairly large during the 1990s, at one point incorporating eight co-ed teams. But as the club members aged, interest in the league began to wane until it dissolved altogether.
Angelo Caschera fondly recalled the old days of the league, when guys turnout nearly every day to hone their bocce game. League nights involved advanced preparation, getting the court properly groomed and dusting of the benches, and preparing a dinner to serve the league after the games wrapped up.
Now he’s trying to bring back some of the old magic. On Friday, about two dozen bocce players gathered at the club, many of them congregating in the basement to watch the first game of the 10-week season.
Jeff Agosta came with several friends from Amsterdam to consider joining the league. Though he acknowledge he probably isn’t dedicated enough to drive roughly 18 miles for bocce each week, he liked the feel of the league and the sense of camaraderie among its members.
“I don’t hear a lot of arguing, and that’s a good thing,” he said while observing the action. “But then again, I don’t speak Italian.”
Others were happy to see their old league rejuvenated. Corniello, who played in the league before it folded, was pleased to have a team again.
“It’s very nice to be back,” he said.