In anticipation of the tournament we have coming up Saturday October 17th, at the site of Turbo Bocce’s first ever championship, I want to chronicle the early days of Turbo Bocce, and the people who invented it.
This part will detail the road to Strathmore. I’m going to title it:
With the rules set and the teams set, we had our very first day of competitive league bocce at Phil Martino’s parents house. Here are some pictures.
We were assholes to each other. But it was fun.
Ambition has never been one of Turbo Bocce’s problems. That first year we played at a different site every week with the idea that our playoffs would take place in one all-day Saturday tournament that would be held where the idea to form the league, as detailed in part 3, took shape: Darien Lake.
The problem was, we were not completely organized, and only half the league was really into it. Towards the end of the season some people stopped showing up, and even without that obstacle, getting all 16 people to Darien Lake for the day was probably never going to happen. We ended up not having a playoff at all.
So season one ended with a whimper instead of a bang, but Hammer’s website kept us all connected, thinking about bocce, and talking smack to each other. The next season we came out way more organized, and with 16 people who were in it until the end.
We still played at a different park every week, but some parks were by this time beginning to emerge as favorites that we wanted to do twice a year instead of once. We settled on five locations twice a year instead of ten locations once. Those five turned out to be:
1) Thorndon Park – in the amphitheater. This was my favorite location. Something about playing in a grass pit surrounded by stone seats works for me. Plus Tuesday is when they practice for Shakespeare in the Park, so we got a fee play every time we went (at first they looked upset that we were there, but they never actually said anything to us, and eventually I think they came to appreciate having an audience, even if it was a drunk audience that wasn’t paying any attention).
2) Inner Harbor – At this point in time millions had been put into developing the Inner Harbor, but nobody was using it yet. I am proud to say that we were the first. I remember driving around the city in those days, looking for places to play bocce. When I saw the almost football field sized peninsulas extending out into the water, covered in flat grass, I knew the Inner Harbor would be perfect for us, and it was. Pretty soon the development is going to finish there and its going to be the coolest place in Syracuse. I plan on bragging that I was the first to make use of it as soon as this happens.
3) Lower Burnett Park – When you first pull into the zoo, there’s a square grass field on the right with a large black fountain. That’s where we played. The grass there was great for bocce, plus it was in Tipp Hill where many of us lived and usually preferred to drink.
4) I’m not sure what the name of the fifth park was, but it was in Solvey and had a playground and an unused softball field. This was the least sexy of the five options, but the ground was great for bocce, and like Burnett was close to the places we wanted to drink.
5) Upper Onondaga Park – Strathmore. This park is just beautiful. To one side is the lake and the gazebo, to the other is a breathtaking view of downtown Syracuse. I took my wedding photos there.
After playing bocce we would all meet at a bar and drink. At first we would go to whatever bar happened to be closest to the park we were playing in, but we quickly realized that the Blarney Stone on Tipp Hill was the best bar to drink at, and made a point to travel there no matter where we were. Blarney Stone treated us great. They made us fantastic food that was not available to anybody else (stuff like Sheppard’s pie) and gave it to us for free, and they maybe charged us for half of the beer that we actually drank. Because we were young and broke, we usually ordered PBR’s which were the cheapest beers available. This is before PBR became a cool hipster beer. Because of us Blarney Stone started offering $2.00 PBR tall boys every Tuesday (a special I believe they still offer to this day – although the cost has gone up). Our goal became to literally drink the bar out of PBRs. We accomplished this goal about half the time. Somewhere along the way PBR (the national company!) took notice that sales were skyrocketing every Tuesday at Blarney Stone because of a bocce league. So they created and sold PBR bocce sets, and gave us the very first set as a gift! Hammer still has it.
You can still buy these bocce sets online, the link is HERE.
When it came time for the playoffs, we kept the idea of doing an all day Saturday tournament, but smartly gave up on the Darien Lake dream. We decided to hold the tournament in Strathmore instead. It just felt right. Everybody liked playing there, and it was beautiful and seemed to add credibility to our tournament.
Whipple and myself (team name Tipp Hill Tossers) were the number one seed with a 25-5 record. George and Phil had joined forces in that second year and named themselves Black Jesus. I’m pretty sure they were the second seed.
Either way the two of us met in the finals.
We wanted to give the finals drama, so we made the championship games go to 21 points instead of 11. Keep in mind that this happened after a full 8 hour or so day of bocce, and lots of drinking. It was also about 95 degrees that day, not a cloud in the sky.
By the time the finals came around I was so drunk and dehydrated that I could barely stand, but George was just coming into his own. He had a fantastic game, and George and Phil became Turbo Bocce’s first ever champions. With George taking home the MVP award.
It was a game that involved some decent bocce and some epic trash talking. It also created a new rule; and the rule is this: after each round you can only move the pallino ten feet from where it lies. The reason this rule was created is because George decided he played better at one end of the park and Whipple decided he played better at the opposite end of the park, so in between each round, we would pick up all the bocce balls, and walk about a half mile to the site where the winner of the point wanted to play. We did this during a three game series up to 21, and after a FULL day of bocce! It was a nightmare, and everybody was glad to see the new rule come into play.
So that’s the story of Turbo Bocce’s creation, our journey to Strathmore, and Black Jesus’s triumphant championship victory.
Years later the Syracuse police would ask us to play at Strathmore every week instead of traveling around because they thought less crime occurred with fifty guys hanging around the park playing bocce. We did, and Strathmore became our permanent home until 2012 when city parks outlawed drinking. Three more championship tournament’s were held there, including the only two that I won.
The first was Tipp Hill Tossers two games to nil victory over The Hippies (a great bocce team that eventually broke up because they wanted to be responsible parents).
The second was Tipp Hill Tossers two games to nil victory over Black Jesus, which was a bit of a redemption game for us. Whipple and I broke up after this.
The third was The Hippies epic two games to one victory over Black Jesus that has to go down as one of the best bocce games ever played.
After a few years away we are back. Tomorrow – Saturday the 17th – is your chance to add your name to this list, and become Turbo Bocce’s newest Strathmore champion. Get ready. Get excited.
If history is any indication we will all walk away with some great memories.