Bocce dates back to 600 B.C., when the fun-loving Romans began hurling coconuts at small rocks. The equipment has evolved since then –
most balls today are made with phenolic resin, the same stuff as bowling and pool balls. Players take turns throwing the heavy grapefruit-sized balls (known as bocci), at a pallino, a ping-pong-sized ball. The team or player with the ball closest to the pallino at the end of the game scores a point. Sounds simple, but bocce players say that mastering “the Bocc,” as some like to call it, requires strategy. While some players aim for a baci, a high-scoring “kiss” between a bocce and a pallino, others loft aggressive raffa shots with the aim of displacing other players' balls. “Bocce is a very easy game to play but a difficult game to master,” said American champ Phil Ferrari, a.k.a. The Don King of Bocce or just Mr. Bocce for short. Mastery, he says, takes a lifetime.
Mr. Bocce uses his own life - which he says closely resembles the plot of Karate Kid - as a case in point. When he began playing 50 years ago at the age of 12 in Baltimore , the game was dominated by “little old Italian men getting drunk on red wine,” and newcomers had difficulty earning a place on the court. The young Mr. Bocce was allowed to participate in a family game only because one of his uncles didn't show up. He was finally admitted into a club at age 29 - a little older even than Ralph Macchio at the end of Karate Kid II - but it was not until age 49, nearly an elder himself, that he won the world singles championship. He was the first American-born player to do so.
In recent years, bocce has attracted players of all ages and backgrounds, and the traditions that accompany it are changing. Wine consumption, for example, is no longer a prerequisite. Some rebels have even begun drinking beer. "This isn't horseshoes," Mr. Bocce scoffs at the Budweiser-set, forgetting that he was once the young up-start.