Why the midsummer lull is good for sports fans
Today, the second day after baseball's All-Star game, is a virtual dead zone for sports. There is practically nothing to watch—no baseball, no basketball or football (except on, say, ESPN Classic), no golf, no tennis, no soccer, no important car or horse races, and no big championship fights. It's a day on which sports fans should re-think their feelings about sports.
In my case, I live in South Orange, NJ, and I could get out to several games in person: The Newark Bears are playing tonight, and they're just a 10-minue train ride plus five-minute walk away from my door. I could walk over to my nearby park and watch tennis, kids' soccer, or Little League games played by children of friends and neighbors. I could watch pick-up basketball, the teams culled from inner-city kids who take the train out here to play because the local kids, black and white, are usually home during the summer with their video games.
As the sun goes down, my favorite spectator sport begins to warm up as the older Italians—and even a few elderly Puerto Rican and Jewish men—gather near the duck pond for bocce ball. Bocce is played on small courts, up to 90 feet long and 8-13 feet wide. Without going into too much detail, the object is to roll or bowl your ball—I'm told that some bocce balls are made of plastic or even leather, but I've only played with wooden balls—to the nearest proximity of a "jack," a small wooden ball that serves roughly the same function as the stake in horseshoes.
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I love bocce; my Uncle Anthony taught me to play many years ago, repeatedly telling me that it's much more satisfying game than horseshoes. "Horseshoes roll all over the damn place," he said. "The bocce ball goes where you throw it."
"This is easy," I bragged the first time I tossed a ball. "Yes," my uncle replied. "Doing it better than the other person is what's hard."
Maybe three times over the years I've driven by, stopped, watched the game and talked to some of the players. But it's not really fair to ask to play if you're only going to stay 20 or30 minutes. If you really want to play you must commit to an entire evening up to and possibly even past dinnertime.
For nearly 20 years now I've been telling myself I was going to turn off my TV and computer, walk down to the park, and ask if I can play with them. Why I've never done this isn't clear to me. I suppose I'm a little shy about playing with aces—and these guys, who must have been playing this game since FDR or even Hoover was president, are aces. A couple of them even told me they learned the game from fathers and uncles back in Naples; one said Sicily.