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Bocce: Of Italian Import

Special to the Tribune

The Martinez Bocce Federation clubhouse and courts are located at Waterfront Park in historic downtown Martinez. (MARTINEZ BOCCE FEDERATION / Courtesy)
The Martinez Bocce Federation clubhouse and courts are located at Waterfront Park in historic downtown Martinez. (MARTINEZ BOCCE FEDERATION / Courtesy)
I have only played bocce once and that was at Burning Man. My teacher was wearing Spider-Man underwear. A few days later the ephemeral Black Rock City disappeared, as it does every year, and I never found bocce camp again.

The Martinez Bocce Federation (MBF), however, is here to stay.

MBF was established in 1974. One of its charter members is 95, Italian, and still playing strong! It is the largest bocce league in the United States and perhaps the world, with maybe one larger in Brazil. If there is one larger, MBF then is the second largest in the world – but only by that small margin that one bocce ball can gain on another without crashing.

In 1972, Nancy Fahden and others developed a piece of Granger’s Wharf into a city park. The Lions Club installed two bocce courts there. Sixteen teams competed on these courts until 1976 when growing interest required four more courts. In 1981, the City of Martinez aided the MBF establishing its current location at the Marina which started with eight courts, and that year MBF hosted the United States Bocce Championships. In 1996 MBF hosted the Nationals to great success. MBF continues growing strong and to date there are 2,300 members hosting a multitude of expansive tournaments. Let’s face it, bocce is a significant contributor to the Martinez economy. So much more can be said about the MBF and how to join and play: www.martinezboccefederation.org. MBF also just published a new pamphlet available at the Chamber of Commerce at the train station.

So how did those golden eggs disguising themselves as colored balls get to Martinez? Yup, that’s right, via Italy. Bocce is the Italian plural equivalent of the verb “bowl.” Like its cousin pétanque (there is an active pétanque court across from the dog park in Golden Gate Park), bocce came from the bowling games of Ancient Rome and has spread through Italian migrants, their descendants, and into the broader populace.

Circa 1950 there were regulation bocce courts behind Della Pippas Tavern. In the online MBF picture collection is a great 1929 photograph of Italian men in ties and hats playing regulation bocce on Delchini’s property. Prior, the Marazzani’s had informal courts on their property, and these are likely the first.

If you see Bob Marazzani, say a big thank you for preserving his fourth generation home on the north end of Berrellesa. Does San Francisco have any Italian boarding houses, built by Italians for Italians, remaining?

The Martinez boarding houses on Granger’s wharf are very special cultural resources and if I was rolling in oyster shells like a bocce ball, I would buy the Chantri boarding house – with its unique salt box roof – and restore it.

Another Bocce connection to the Shoreline neighborhood is Gino DiTullio. “Recently” immigrating over 40 years ago, Gino quickly became a Martinez bocce champ. He has lived within that one block this whole time and you can often find him sitting with his wife, Mamie, on the porch of their freshly yellow house across from the pool. Strike up a conversation with Gino – he has a beautiful Italian accent. Ask him the story that Mrs. Cardinali – Nancy Fahden’s mother – told him about when she came to America as a little girl alone with her mother – on a ship then across by train only to arrive in the dead of night in the rain and no one to meet them, and how her mother cried so far from home, so far from family and everything known. I wrote the story in my book, but the way Gino tells it, it really hits “home.” Ask Gino to tell you about bocce in his Italian voice.

Visit this site to view the Martinez Bocce Federation picture gallery: http://photos.martinezboccefederation.com/AlbumHomeView.aspx

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