By Charlie Sacchetti
Fall has always been my favorite time of the year. I find the crisp air, the array of colors and the bright skies of autumn both lovely and invigorating. Additionally, since 2013, I have another reason to look forward to this time of year, because October of 2013 was the first time that my friend Bill Winarski and I attended the annual Al Pisa Memorial Bocce Tournament held at the Pisa residence in the Bunker Hill section of Dunmore, Pa. We continue to enjoy annual attendance each October. As I explained in my story, headlined “Sorry, I’ve passed on but meet some friends of mine,” (August 2016, IAH), a chance phone call I made in 2012 led me to enjoy a wonderful friendship with Al’s closest friends and family, especially his son, Carlo, and Carlo’s son, Alfredo. Carlo faithfully continues this bocce tournament, a tradition of love and friendship that Al started many years ago.
Al’s vision was to host this annual get-together at his home, which meant he would do almost all of the cooking and preparation. Of course, the guests rarely come empty-handed, usually bringing Italian specialties such as roasted peppers, eggplant marinated in olive oil and spices, pepperoni, sharp provolone, wine and crusty Italian bread. All of these, however, are merely pre-meal snacks to be enjoyed with beverages under Carlo’s large grapevine. The real dinner begins after the bocce tournament. This feast is where our host shines as the provider of various pasta dishes, meatballs, hot and sweet sausage, chicken, salad, and whatever else he deems fit for the occasion. Dessert is the specialty of one of the guests, Dave “The Mailman” Evanko, a master baker who prepares the most creative and delicious pastries imaginable.
And then there is the bocce tournament! It’s important to note that I use the term
“tournament” in its loosest form. There is very little structure; No officials or judges preside, and sometimes a half-hour may pass between games as the competing pairs fuel up on Chianti or Merlot. Rules are loosely followed, probably because no one really knows what they are. When someone makes a good shot, everybody yells. When a guy makes a bad shot, everybody gives him the business. It’s all about fun and camaraderie. The first year that we attended, we were dubbed “The Jersey Boys.” Bill and I had never played bocce in our lives, but we won the tournament, primarily because we made a couple of lucky shots, bouncing the wooden ball off of the railroad ties which still serve as court borders. No skill was necessary. In October of 2014, we chose to make a grand entrance, carrying jugs of wine and reminding all of our buddies that we were the defending champs. We lost miserably, barely winning one game out of the six we played. Our cockiness soon faded. In 2015 and 2016, we gave similar performances as we, and every other team, fell victim to a bona fide bocce star.
In 2015, Ken Gaughan, one of the guys and a yearly attendee, brought along his 15-year-old son, Kenny Jr., to the festivities. As partners, they crushed all their opponents. Pop was good, but Kenny was amazing. Almost every shot he took came within inches of the pallina, a small ball that is the target at which you shoot. The closer your larger ball gets to it, the higher your score. Kenny was untouchable that day. He and his dad whipped everyone again in 2016, but he was such a nice kid that I found myself rooting for him. Not the least bit arrogant, Kenny just annihilated all opponents.
But fate would pay a visit to the Pisa bocce court in 2017.
That year, Bill and I actually played well and defeated three teams. Kenny and Ken were still alive, and – as luck would have it – we would face them in the final game of 21 points. I was rolling against Kenny; Bill was to take on his dad. With the score tied at 18, the match-deciding game came down to Kenny’s final throw. If he put his shot inside of mine, they would win their third consecutive championship. If not, the bragging rights would again belong to the Jersey Boys. As 25 guys watched, Kenny intently studied the court. He saw a path to victory if he could roll the ball between three others. Having seen Kenny easily make that shot many times, I was certain he’d do it again. As Kenny took a step and swung his arm back to release the ball, he was stung by a bee right on his hand. The pain of the sting forced him to release the ball prematurely, so it traveled only a few feet.
Game over. The Jersey Boys were back!
After shaking hands (gently) with Kenny and his dad, Bill and I retired to the grapevine and treated ourselves to a few pieces of provolone and pepperoni. That was where we started the rumor that we had brought the bee with us from Jersey to be tactically released at the most critical moment.
I think most of the guys believed we were kidding, but it’s never too early to start playing head games on your opponents at the Al Pisa Memorial Bocce Tournament.
Charlie Sacchetti is the author of three books, “It’s All Good: Times and Events I’d Never Want to Change;” “Knowing He’s There: True Stories of God’s Subtle Yet Unmistakable Touch,” and his newest, “Savoring the Moments: True Stories of Happiness, Sadness and Everything in Between.” Contact him at email@example.com.