I spent much of Friday night, June 29, in St. Helena’s Crane Park covering a bocce game between The Big Ragu’s and Felici Amici.
The Big Ragu’s improved to 14-4 on the season, winning all three games 12-10, 12-2 and 12-5. With the loss, Felici Amici dropped to 8-11 on the season.
But a night of bocce is not simply measured by a result on a scoreboard.
“The main thing is we want to have fun. We are here to have fun,” Ragu’s team captain Carlo DiFede explained over a pre-game dinner.
DiFede, who said he believes the team has been around for some 20 years, acknowledged that the team’s success does impact its level of enjoyment. But he and his teammates also have the bigger picture in focus.
“Losing is no fun. We don’t want to lose, so the more we win the more fun we have,” DiFede said with a smile. “And I think we enjoy our camaraderie. We enjoy sharing our time together, our food, our wine. So that’s the main reason we’re here … Our main objective is just to be out here in the open air and enjoy the weather and have fun.
“There is somebody, who also plays on Friday night, that every time you say, ‘How are you doing? ‘He says: Hey, I’m here. How bad can I be doing?” DiFede said, laughing.
Those unifying elements surrounding a game of bocce are on full display six nights a week every summer in St. Helena. They are also highlighted by Felici Amici team captain Jane Skeels.
Skeels noted that Felici Amici translated in English means “Happy Friends.” Skeels said she and her team would certainly like to win more often than they have so far this season, but she added the team’s primary objective is to have fun.
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As for herself, Skeels acknowledged playing bocce is primarily an opportunity to get out and do something on a Friday night, to have fun, to see and visit with people she wouldn’t necessarily otherwise come in contact with during the course of her everyday life.
“It’s definitely fulfilling in a social sort of way,” Skeels added.
Skeels said she has enjoyed learning about the history of the sport and how it has positively impacted local communities as well as communities abroad. And Skeels said she is “blown away” by the level of participation when it comes to playing bocce here in St. Helena.
“You look around here on a Friday night, there are lots of people and it’s like this six nights a week during the summer time. It’s unbelievable.”
In the end, a game of bocce – unlike other sports — is not a contest to be reported on in the traditional sense — but rather an experience to be savored and immersed in over food, a glass of wine and conversation with friends and acquaintances both old and new. In short, there are no strangers here.
And what’s more — like all sports — bocce at times serves as something of a diversion from the world at large and its many problems.
There is something comforting and reassuring in the knowledge that no matter how much some things change, others will remain the same despite the passage of time.
So the next time you watch or play bocce, understand you are a part of something that through the years has become one of those traditions and rituals that makes St. Helena such a special and unique place. And that certainly can’t be captured by simply reading numbers on a scoreboard or standings in the sports pages of a local newspaper.