Top 10 Turbo Bocce Memories

There has never been a more exciting time to play bocce in Syracuse! Turbo Bocce is heading into its tenth season, and we are bigger and better than ever.

Due to our humble beginnings, not too many people remember what the league was like when it first started in 2005, and that is a shame because while we were building Turbo Bocce into the league you know today, we were also having a lot of fun and creating a lot of memories.

So, in honor of Turbo Bocce’s tenth anniversary, I am putting together a few top ten lists, starting with the top ten Turbo Bocce memories you might not know about, that should help you understand the league you enjoy, and learn how everything came together.

Remember 2005? Back in those days Harry Potter had not yet defeated Voldamort (either in books or on screen), a thing called Hollaback Girl topped the music charts, MySpace was the big online craze, Pope John Paul was replaced by Pope Benedict, and the Chicago White Sox were somehow able to win the World Series.

The American drinking scene was going through a sort of Dark Age. Hurricane Katrina destroyed one of our country’s biggest drinking travel destinations, and locally the best place to drink in Syracuse on a Tuesday night was Quigley’s Tavern (a place I wanted to include a picture of, but apparently no visual evidence of its existence can be found anywhere on the internet, which explains a lot in its own way).

The world was ready for a change, and Turbo Bocce provided it.  A lot of memories followed.  Here are ten of them, specifically,  the Top 10 Turbo Bocce Memories You Might Not Know Abut:

Number 10: Our First Television appearance

wtvh_cbs5_syracuse

From day one, Turbo Bocce has been somewhat of a spectacle, and it took a surprisingly small amount of time for the news to catch on to this fact. I really don’t remember how channel 5 got word of our antics, but they did, and within a couple months of us starting the league they sent their sports reporter Kevin Mahr to come play bocce with us.

THE Kevin Mahr

THE Kevin Mahr

The idea was, he would challenge us to a bocce game and televise the results, but since we play with teams of two, Kevin took someone from our league as a teammate.

Of course we wanted to stack the odds in our favor, so we put the league’s two leading scorers, Phil Martino and myself, on the Turbo Bocce team and we made Mike Stizar (nicknamed Sid) who was one of the more controversial players in the league, Kevin Mahr’s teammate.

We played at Onondaga Lake park, and for a televised public event there was a lot of drinking (Kevin Mahr may have been peed on secondarily, but that’s a another story for another day). I remember all of us being drunk, and I vividly remember Jim McCarthy wearing a red, white, and blue, American top hat and an American flag as a cape while playing the drums. There was a lot of cheers and a lot of noise, and the bocce game was actually a fantastic one.

Kevin Mahr was not very good, but Sid had the game of his life. The camera’s agreed with him I guess. During the season his team was towards the bottom of the league but in this one he was an ace machine, which definitely looks good on camera.

There’s not much you can do to beat an ace, and sure enough Phil and I lost, despite being the two leading scorers in the league. On the surface, a loss for Turbo Bocce, but the three Turbo Bocce players were the three high scorers in the game, and all those aces sure looked nice on television. What looked even better was the yelling, screaming, and merrymaking the camera caught on tape, so I’d say it was an overall win both for the league and for television. Plus a sports reporter got peed on (which again, is another story for another time).

 

Number 9: Beer Girls

For a brief time, Turbo Bocce players enjoyed the luxury of having beer and pizza delivered to them while they played. It was great because you never had to stop playing bocce to go get a drink – or stop drinking to go play bocce depending upon how you look at things. The people who made these deliveries were affectionately known as “beer girls.”

If memory serves they looked something like this.

Warning: objects in memory may appear more German than they actually are.

Warning: objects in memory may appear more German than they actually are.

Turbo Bocce had beer and food in abundance. What we wanted was convenience and a way to make our games quicker, so we offered free beer and free food to anyone willing to deliver these things to people playing bocce, and score keep when needed. It worked. The beer girls really shortened games by cutting down on breaks, and of course increased drinking. I’d say games were shortened by about a third on average, and our beer was drained in half the time it would otherwise have taken, or less.

This whole thing might seem rather frivolous, but it actually played an important part in Turbo Bocce history. The very next year The Mystic, which is no longer in business but was a bar in Solvey with a primarily lesbian clientele, came to me saying they had about fifty girls interested in playing bocce, so we formed a co-ed league. Most of the girls who had been beer girls the year before began participating in this new league as players, and when about thirty of the fifty girls the Mystic promised actually showed up, none of them knowing how to play bocce, the former beer girls stepped up and helped me teach everybody the rules. Their year of score keeping and familiarity with the Turbo Bocce way really served as the cornerstone of the new league, and largely because of them the co-ed league thrived. It lasted two years before we combined it with the original league to form one super league, which, in my opinion, is when Turbo Bocce really took off and became something great.

 

Number 8: Building a Bocce League

We did it in five easy steps . . .

Step 1- Law School Graduation

The seed that eventually grew into Turbo Bocce was planted at Darien Lake amusement park, of all places, during my law school graduation. I went to the University of Buffalo, and having my graduation party at Darien Lake seemed like a cool idea because it was closer to my friends and family driving up from Syracuse, and not located in the slums like my apartment was.

Darien Lake actually turned out to be a great place for a party. We had a gazebo with food and drinks, and access to all of the rides. Someone in my family (not sure who, quite frankly it could have been anybody) brought a set of bocce balls because apparently an entire amusement park full of rides and entertainment was not enough to keep them occupied, and the funny thing is, the bocce balls became the hit of the party. A few of my friends (Phil Martino and George Christo especially) and a few of my uncles played bocce all day, never going on a single ride. One of the Darien Lake employees figured out that there were good tips to be made by delivering fresh beer to the people playing bocce, and made regular trips out to them. I remember at one point, looking up at the giant steel roller-coasters towering overhead and thinking that they spent millions creating those rides and yet there we were having more fun with a cheap set of bocce balls.

The day after the party I began studying for the bar and was pretty much missing in action for a couple months. When I got back to Syracuse, Phil and George were still talking about how much fun they had playing bocce. They suggested starting a bocce league, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Step 2 – Fill Coleman’s napkins with writing

We knew we wanted to start a bocce league, now we had to figure out how it would work. A lot of that figuring took place at Coleman’s over beers, sketching out ideas on the back of cocktail napkins. It was at Coleman’s where we penned the original name of our league, the Bocce Organization Of Beer Swillers.

Step 3 – Beg and plead

We had a league, we had rules, now we needed players. A league consisting of sixteen players forming eight teams seemed doable, but we didn’t want just anybody in the league. The idea was to have a bunch of good guys so that you could form teams by picking names out of a hat and no matter who your partner turned out to be you’d be happy.

Getting everybody on the same page was not as simple as it sounds. Several people agreed to play then didn’t show up forcing us to get replacements, while others just showed up without warning, but after some begging and pleading we managed to get sixteen people on board.

Step 4 – Fight over the name Beer United

Phil Martino, Jim McCarthy, and myself put the final touches on the league late one night at Phil’s house. One of those finishing touches involved choosing teammates for everybody. Just as we planned, everybody’s name was written on a scrap of paper and then put into a hat so teams would be chosen blindly. Phil and Jim were hoping to be on the same team because they managed a fantasy soccer team together with the name Beer United, and they both wanted Beer United to be their bocce team’s name. Unfortunately luck was not on their side and they did not get placed on the same team, so who would get the Beer United name? There was only one reasonable way to settle the dispute, a one on one bocce match with the winner earning exclusive rights to Beer United. The only problem was, it was midnight. That didn’t stop us. Phil found a flashlight and gave it to me. I stood in the dark and lit the pallino while Phil and Jim played.

Jim won the game and still uses the Beer United name to this day.

Step 5 – Just add water . . . beer

Our very first league game was played at the Martino residence (the same battle ground that the fight for Beer United took place on) but in those days we traveled to a different park every week. We went to a lot of fun areas including the Inner Harbor, Onondaga Park, and Thordon Park, and everybody brought a six pack to shared with the group. The league went off pretty much without a hitch, until the playoffs which we intended to play at Darien Lake (where it all began). Unfortunately our dreams were a little too grand and the playoffs never happened. We have actually never returned to Darien Lake, but even so the spirit of playing bocce on a sun soaked field while drinking beer has never left us.

 

Number 7: The Very First Italian Fest Victory

Every year the city of Syracuse hosts an Italian festival. Every year the Italian festival hosts a bocce tournament. Every year (for six straight years) a team representing Turbo Bocce has won the Italian fest bocce championship.

After so many wins its hard for me to imagine one of our teams not emerging victorious, but our first time there I was not nearly as confident, in fact, I got the distinct impression that we did not belong. Back then we were the new guys, interloping amongst people who knew their place in a tournament with a rather rigid power structure.

If you’ve ever wandered by the traditional bocce courts at Onondaga Lake park you may have seen a league comprised of mostly older gentlemen speaking Italian. That is the league that runs the Italian Fest bocce tournament. Back in our first year competing, these guys were refereeing the games, playing in the games, and fully expecting to win the tournament (and the cash prize). This is the way it had always been for them, and it is the way they always expected it to be.

As soon as we showed up – four young guys who did not speak Italian, and already had a beer in hand at 9:00 am – they looked at us like we didn’t belong, and talked to us that way too. Its safe to say our presence was not welcome.

For those who don’t know, the Italian Fest bocce tournament is a double elimination tournament, played by four person teams, on three outdoor courts. Sign up starts at 9:00 am and the tournament usually concludes about ten hours later. This past year, Turbo Bocce entered eight teams into the tournament and won first, second and third place. In our first year, though, Turbo Bocce was much smaller, and we had trouble pulling together four guys to form a single team. Eventually Phil Martino, George Christou, Andy Ingalls, and myself got together to represent Turbo Bocce.

The day did not start off well for us. I don’t want to say Andy Ingalls had one too many the night before, but I will say that he found himself unable to get to the tournament on time. We thought we were going to be eliminated from the tournament before it even began and we were not happy about it. Luckily, after a few desperate phone calls, Mike Bush raced down to the tournament and saved the day by filling the vacant the fourth spot on our team. As good as Andy Ingalls is (and he’s a former Turbo Bocce champion, so he’s VERY good) it turned out to be a lucky change for us because Mike Bush was consistently our best player all day long – and he proved he has a knack for Italian Fest style bocce by winning the tournament again the next year.

Now that we had a team together, the wins came pretty easily. After we won the first two games we had to wait a really long time before playing again, due to the tournament being double elimination, and all the teams in the losers bracket having to sort themselves out before advancing to the winners bracket. Ironically we decided to spend most of our time at the Italian fest inside L’Ador which is a French restaurant (because they had cheaper beer than the Italian fest beer tent did). Somehow (don’t ask me how) we started doing shots of pear flavored brandy, and decided make a pact with the bartender – if we won the tournament we were going to use our winnings to come back and drink the rest of the bottle, then eat the pear that was trapped inside the bottle for flavoring.

Luckily, our stop offs at L’Ador did not seem to hinder our ability to play bocce because we made it to the final as the only unbeaten team in a double elimination tournament. The team we met in the championship game was (of course) the older Italian gentlemen who ran the tournament, whose friends were refereeing the game, and who had been looking at us sideways all day long.

I knew this was a team used to winning by the forty or so family, friends, and relatives that took chairs away from the concert going on next door and surrounded the bocce court with them in anticipation of cheering their team on to victory. Wives, children, and grandchildren were all there, and were all surprisingly loud, both when cheering on their own team, and when booing us (which they were not afraid to do). Luckily for us, we were all too happy to play the role of villain. It might have even made us play better.

I don’t think anybody in attendance expected us to win. Maybe because they didn’t know us, maybe because our opponents won God knows how many Italian Fest tournaments in a row, and maybe because their referee friends gave them every call that was even remotely close. I know nobody wanted us to win (they were very vocal about that), especially when we took a big 7-1 lead. It was forty people against us, and one sweet couple in our favor who apparently were the only people in the entire city not related to our opponents.

Games in that tournament are played to ten, so with a 7-1 lead we knew we had a chance to win it, and capitalized with a four point round. George, Phil, and Mike ran to the center of the court and hugged in celebration, but I noticed the referee kick two of our balls away, so I walked up to him and called him on it. They had been screwing us out of points all day long and I was sick of it.

“I saw you kick those balls away” I said.

“You’ll probably win anyway.” He said to me, without any shame or apology.

That was just the way it was going to be. If we were going to win it had to be such a convincing victory that they could not cheat their way out of it. At that point I wanted us to win that convincingly. I wanted to embarrass them if for no other reason than to rub it in their faces, so I grabbed my celebrating teammates and told them the game was not over. They were understandably shocked, but not quite as shocked as they would have been if the officials had not been cheating against us all day long.

The crowed clapped to show their approval of the smart move the official made by kicking our game winning shots away.

We recovered well.

In the next round our game winning point was in by several feet, with another shot in for good measure. Not even a cheating official could deny us. This time our celebration was not interrupted, and although the newspaper man sent to take photographs of the event conveniently walked away without snapping a pic of the winners (another old friend of our opponents) we did get our money.

The four of us were as good as our word, and returned to L’Ador victorious (along with the only couple in the city who cheered for us – they would be rewarded with free drinks) and we finished that bottle of pear brandy. When we did, the bartender sent the bottle into the kitchen to have the pear surgically removed, and out it came on a chopping board.

We had our victory meal, and let me tell you, I do not recommend it. The flavor of the pear fuses into the brandy making it tasty, but raw alcohol fuses into the pear making it disgusting, and some ungodly high proof.

Our victory triggered a stretch of six straight Italian Fest victories for our league. The older Italian gentlemen still run the tournament but have since given us their grudging respect. They no longer actively cheat against us (although sometimes they make incorrect calls out of sheer incompetence), and just last year when we played at Onondaga Lake park a few of those guys wandered over to our field and sought me out.

“So this is what you guys do.” One of them said.

“Yep, this is it.” I replied.

“Its nice.” He said, and we shook hands.

Number 6: Turbo Bocce’s official (and unofficial) mascots

Question: What do a talking bocce ball from outer space (who is also Asian somehow) and an engineer from RIT have in common?

Answer: They are both Turbo Bocce mascots.

To tell the whole story in a way that makes sense I’ll have to go back to our very first year, 2005. We have learned over the years that its best not to have any restrictions on who can play who, and thus not break teams up into divisions, but back in 2005 that was not the case. Originally the league was split into two divisions, and we placed teams into their respective divisions based on (of all things) the personalities of the players. This is something you can do when the entire league is made up of just sixteen people who all know each other well.

The divisions were (for lack of better terms) split up into the crazy people and the normal people. The loudest and most flamboyant people who drank the most and talked the most smack went into the “crazy” division, while the more reserved people went into the “normal” division. Each division was given its own mascot and its own theme song.

The crazy division’s mascot was named Turbo, and thus the division became known as the Turbo Division. Turbo was an alien who came to earth on an interstellar skateboard and spoke with a Vietnamese accent. He was loud, crazy, and outspoken, just like his division, and his theme song represented him.

And here is the Turbo Division’s theme song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OG_6CopW9GQ

The more reserved division’s mascot was named Bob. He was an accountant beer bottle, who enjoyed statistics and rooted exclusively for teams in the Bob Division.

Here is the Bob Division’s theme song.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOAtz8xWM0w

For a while we even had comic strips featuring Turbo and Bob, but I can’t seem to find any of them at the moment.

Turbo and Bob made great virtual mascots – gracing our website and arguing via comic in many of the same ways we would argue on the field, but for obvious reasons a talking bocce ball and beer bottle will never be seen on a bocce field. That’s where Turbo Bocce’s unofficial mascot comes in.

His name is Sanguine French, and he can be found to this day at Turbo Bocce events (usually about once a year) in various guises. If you see him say hi (he loves to mingle with the people) and now you wont have to wonder why he is dressed in the ways he is. That’s how mascots are suppose to dress. Obviously.

Number 5: Bocce’s Holy Grail

Turbo Bocce started with just sixteen players, and did not grow from that number until its third year. By that point we had talked up the league so much that friends started asking to join, and we decided (with some trepidation) that a small amount of growth might be a good idea. For the first time ever, those of us with two years experience had some less experienced players around to beat up on. Or so we thought.

One of the players to join at this time was Andy Ingalls, who partnered with original league member Anson Zeppetello to form Amerika’z Most Wanted (Tupac inspired several team names in those days). While Amerika’z Most Wanted started the season with a few wins, I don’t think anybody took serious notice of them until they started drinking beer out of big black chalices with the word PIMP written on it in bling.

It started out as a funny way to drink beer for a week, but when they won all three games, the cups came back, and as the wins began to pile up, one thing became clear – the “Pimp Cups” were not going anywhere, because they were a lucky charm.

Amerika’z Most Wanted went on a long win streak while drinking from the Pimp cups, and before long the cups became the talk of the league. When Amerika’z Most Wanted went on to win the regular season title without ever suffering a losing week – drinking from their Pimp cups the entire time – it was undeniable that the Pimp cups had a bit of magic in them. In the playoffs, Amerika’z Most Wanted ran to the finals with little resistance where they met the Tipp Hill Tossers, and of course emerged victorious.

The Pimp cups have not been seen since that magical season, which means nobody has ever drank from one and lost. While Andy Ingalls and Anson Zeppetello are both still in the league they have moved on to different teams and Amerika’z Most Wanted, as well as the Pimp cups themselves, have been lost in the depths of time.

My advice to all those seeking treasure, glory, and bocce victory is to be on the lookout for a huge black chalice with PIMP written on it in silver letters, because, you never know, those old cups might still have a little magic (and a few wins) left in them.

Number 4: Mitch Hedberg and our Theme Song

Did you know that Turbo Bocce has a theme song? It might be woefully out of date, but it exists, and you can listen to it HERE.

Go ahead and give it a listen, I’ll wait.

Back? Okay. I’m sure that you are thinking many things after listening to that song, but I’ll bet you are definitely not thinking that it was written by a priest.

The truth is, a priest did, in fact, write that song. His name is Sean but we all called him Mitch after the deceased comedian Mitch Hedberg. Maybe you can see the resemblance?

Sean was one of the sixteen guys who played Turbo Bocce in its very first year back when the league was knows as BOOBS (Bocce Organization Of Beer Swillers). He was also in a band and had access to a recording studio, so he took it upon himself to write a theme song for us and record it.

The next year he quit the league and joined Seminary School.

Fast forward to 2013. ESPN radio 97.7 was doing weekly spots about our league and they wanted to sample the opening few seconds of the theme song that Sean wrote for us. Here is how they used it.

Turbo Bocce 15

I felt it was my responsibility to contact Sean and tell him that part of the song he wrote was actually going to be played on the radio, so I found him on facebook and sent him a message. After talking to him for the first time in years I have to say that Sean is just as nice a guy as ever. He took an interest in my life and in the league, and generally seemed pleased to hear his song was on the radio.

He also told me that he finished Seminary School and is a practicing priest now. While I’m sure his musical talents are being put to good use in church I often wonder if anybody in his congregation knows what a unique priest they have . . . or even knows who Mitch Hedberg is.

PS – If you are not familiar with Mitch Hedberg, do yourself a favor and listen to some of his stand up HERE. In my opinion he is the funniest comedian of all time.

Number 3: Ask the Pope


Turbo Bocce was a small league when it first started in 2005, but what we lacked in numbers we more than made up for in excitement. Sometimes that’s more important. I vividly remember how excited everybody was when Jim McCarthey first constructed our website. Creativity was at an all time high and everybody wanted to have their voice heard.

Our creativity, and eagerness to express ourselves, took us in a lot of strange directions that first year, but it also resulted in a lot of great bocce innovations. One development that managed to rank among both the strangest and greatest of that first year was a running column on the website called Ask the Pope.

Ask the Pope was topical. Pope Benedict’s inauguration came about a month before our inaugural bocce season and was big news, since he replaced John Paul II who had been Pope since 1978. Phil Martino capitalized on this worldwide event by creating a funny column where people could email “the Pope” and ask advice, then look for a response a week or so later. Despite the real Pope being German, our Pope talked in a stereotypically Italian accent and wasn’t afraid to tell you what he really thought. A few people found this column offensive, but I think the vast majority took it as the harmless and humorous gesture it was intended to be. It actually became popular enough that someone from Oregon emailed in a question (although if memory serves all the rest of the questions came from us).

The deepest philosophical issues of the day were tacked. Questions like “Is it okay to play bocce without drinking?” “How do you feel about the construction of sex-garages?” (which are apparently German drive through brothels) and “Why does Mr. Christou kiss his own biceps so often?” were asked, and all of them were given frank (and hilarious) answers.

In case you are wondering, the Pope was not in favor of the sex garage. He thought a better name would have been sex carholes.

HERE is a link to one of my favorite Ask the Pope articles. Its worth a read.

Number 2: PBR Bocce Balls

When Turbo Bocce started in 2005 it was essentially a traveling league. Instead of having a single field to call home, like we currently have, we used to play in a different park every week – and afterwords go out to drink at whatever bar happened to be closest to us. While we continued to travel around to different parks for a number of years, it didn’t take very long for us to decide that Blarney Stone was our favorite bar and to start going there every week no matter where we happened to be playing.

To this day no bar has ever treated us as well as Blarney Stone did. They made a variety of fancy foods that were not available on their menu, which they gave to us for free, and after noticing that we were all poor college kids (or just out of college) who almost always ordered Pabst Blue Ribbon because it was the cheapest beer available, they made Tuesday night PBR night just for us, where they offered 16oz PBR’s for only two dollars.

Because of our influence, our drinking, and the fact that two dollar PBR pounders are a great deal, Blarney Stone’s PBR sales skyrocketed. Every Tuesday night, our goal was to drink the bar’s entire PBR supply, and there were many times we succeeded.

Blarney Stone’s beer distributors took notice of the sudden and drastic increase in PBR sales, and somehow word got out that a bocce league in Syracuse was driving these sales. I assume word eventually got to some Pabst higher ups because shorty after Blarney Stone introduced PBR Tuesdays on our behalf, Pabst produced and began to sell PBR bocce balls, and they presented the first ever set to us for free, as a thank you for consuming their product.

This is what the bocce set looks like. Jim McCarthey still has it.

Now, here is the really crazy part . . . at this point in time our bocce league only had sixteen members.

I see this as a really good lesson for all of us. If just sixteen guys were able to get the notice of a national corporation and encourage them to make PBR bocce balls, just think of what hundreds of us can do if we are unified and work together.

It seems appropriate to take a minute here to remind everyone to “like” our facebook page, by clicking HERE, and to invite as many friends as possible to do the same. The more people we have on board the more influence we can wield, and as those PBR bocce balls prove – you never know who might be paying attention.

Number 1: National Lampoon’s Blackball

Black Ball is the true (but HIGHLY embellished) story of an English “lawn bowler” who earned the longest ban in English sports history for basically being a drunk jerk. The movie starts with said jerk rolling his bocce ball across a muddy pockmarked field and landing it on top of a discarded condom while his goofy friend looks on.

The movie came out in 2003, but was not well known in America. Two years later, Turbo Bocce was up and running and founding member  George Christou came across a movie at Blockbuster (yes video rental places were common back then), with a guy holding a bocce ball on the cover, and rented it. The rest was history.

What can I say? The movie resonated with us. We were the living embodiment of that drunk jerk. Playing bocce in random fields, but playing damn good bocce nevertheless. Blackball quotes were heard a lot during matches in those days and we’d usually play it during parties and get-togethers, even if it was nothing more than background noise.

Now, to commemorate our ten year anniversary I talked the Palace Theater into playing Blackball on May 6th at 7pm (drinking starts at 5:30) and only charging $3 for the viewing (that’s even better than 2005 prices!). We’ve come a long way!

Click HERE for more information on the Turbo Bocce anniversary party/Blackball showing on May 6th! Its going to be a blast, and Blackball is an absolute must see for anybody playing in the league.