Rosie and Team Gia get boccie tournament rolling

This Just In ...

June 14, 1999|By DAN RODRICKS

There are many things to which the tradition-conscious Baltimorean looks forward each spring and summer in the Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Basin -- the return of the Orioles to Camden Yards, the blossoming of the Flower Mart in Mount Vernon, the start of another round of ethnic festivals, the return of Sunday car polishing in Druid Hill Park and the appearance of Rosie Apicella on the boccie courts in Little Italy.

Of course, it's not enough for the effervescent Rosie to merely appear there and to smile, hug and kiss old friends. She must play. She's a very competitive Italian bowler.

But for the tradition to be complete, Rosie must wear, as she did again yesterday, her knee-highs to a height of no more than 3 inches above her comfortable waitress shoes. There must be a neat roll of nylon just above the ankle. She must wear a colorful tank top and shorts, as she did yesterday. And Rosie must always be running between the boccie courts on Stiles Street and her duty tossing the fresh Italian salad -- she knows the secret recipe for the dressing -- at her booth at the St. Anthony Festival a block away. All that happened yesterday. All was right with Baltimore again.

Rosie played for Team Gia, which is known in the neighborhood as "the women's team." Three years ago, with Rosie, Gia Blattermann, Sheila Weiss and Angela Mento, Team Gia emerged as the first all-female squad to advance past the first round of the male-dominated, single-elimination tournament. Yesterday, Team Gia made it to the Final Four.

But Team Gia was not all-female this time. Two men had to be recruited -- Anthony "Call Me Angela" Sansone and Giacomo Corona in the role of "Sheila."

"That Team Gia is the team to beat," announced Clem Florio, the Pimlico handicapper whose team, The Four Horsemen, lost to novices in the first round of yesterday's tournament. "The other one to watch is Team Cannella."

Ah yes, Team Cannella -- men with strong accents who know the game and train at the fine boccie court in Burdick Park, in Hamilton. They're very good -- Virgilio Guglielmi, Umberto Fioravante, Roberto Ascenzi and Earmano D'Amico. Team Cannella also made it to the Final Four.

"It's getting pretty competitive down here," said Florio. "The old-timers, the young guys, they're all a little Belle-ish, like that guy [Albert] Belle on the Orioles."

A little intense, he means.

Next to the food, the boccie tournament has become the main attraction of the St. Anthony Festival. There was a good crowd, lined up four deep at times, under the Bradford pears that shade Court A. Spectators were easily distracted by the cross currents of fantastic aromas -- from the open kitchen door at Da Mimmo Restaurant a few feet away, and from the pit beef stand at the festival. You could smell fried dough and fried calamari and, when the direction of the breeze changed, the aroma of a marinara sauce from the pasta and meatball stands on Stiles Street.

Four-person boccie teams split up for each game. Two teammates go to the east end of the courts and two to the west. The game is played in one direction at a time, one frame at a time.

Each player gets to roll two heavy, softball-size balls (either red or green) at a smaller target ball, the pallino, usually placed just beyond midcourt. The Little Italy courts are 80 feeet long, packed powder, smooth and fast, a little slower when yesterday's rain hit them. A team scores points by rolling their balls closest to the pallino.

Usually a team wins a frame with one or two points -- by getting one or two of their balls closest to the pallino. Rarely does a team notch the maximum, four points. (A team gets four points only if all of its balls end up closer to the pallino than any one of the opponent's balls.) First team to get 12 points wins.

Boccie competition in Baltimore has grown fierce the past three years, and the prize money has increased. For yesterday's tournament, the Little Italy Boccie Rollers Association (LIBRA) offered 16 teams $2,000 in prize money, half of which would go to the champion.

There was no returning champion, however. Last year, two boccie teams came down from Scranton, Pa., and took first- and second-place cash back with them.

"Great teams," said Kevin Smith, who ran yesterday's tournament and captained Team Alta, which featured Primo China, Lucky Brundelre and Nino Ridolfi. "We took care of [the 1998 champion] real good this year. We didn't invite them back."

LIBRA trained its own referee, too. "His name is Joe [Serio], and he's not from the neighborhood," said Smith. "He's totally objective."

"I have the hardest job here," said Serio, between matches. "But I have absolute authority."

Authority to shoosh competitors off the court if they get too close to the action, for instance.

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