Baseball isn’t the only game of inches and centimeters

July 9, 2014 

I’m one of the few people in my generation who knows how to play bridge — albeit not very well. I also grew up golfing, and have dabbled in croquet. I consider myself a lucky bingo player and I enjoy an early bird special at a local restaurant. I’ve also seen many of Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant’s movies (thanks, Dad), and have watched the original “Leave it to Beaver” TV series.

So when I set out to play bocce ball with some seniors from the Gig Harbor Welcome Club on the Gig Harbor Civic Center lawn, I felt these folks were my kin, to some extent. I hoped my limited knowledge of things not of my generation would provide a natural affinity for the noble sport of bocce.

It was a somewhat chilly Thursday, but pleasant enough, and I introduced myself to the club’s chair, Harris Atkins. About 15 senior citizens showed up to play, and we all drew cards. I drew a black five, and was partnered up with Karen Evans, who drew a red five.

“I’m hoping I do better than last time,” she told me.

Her easygoing attitude helped settle me in, and I was ready to go. A quick and perhaps oversimple explanation of bocce ball: A golf ball is tossed out, and then you take turns throwing two balls, trying to get them as close as possible to the golf ball. Karen and I were pitted against an obviously formidable duo of Mary Atkins and Jeff Holsten.

A fear swept over me: Mary must be the wife of Harris, the chair. She confirmed my fear. Obviously, the wife of the club’s chair would have a vast wealth of experience and knowledge that I could never hope to catch up to in my first game.

My team quickly went down 4-0 as I became acclimated with the bumpy playing surface. Our team didn’t fade away easily though. I bumped Holsten’s ball out of the way to climb back to 5-3, and we appeared to be back in it. But Atkins quickly exposed me as the amateur that I was, guiding nearly every shot to within a foot of the ball with flawless form, trajectory and purpose. If The News Tribune selected an All-Area bocce ball team, Atkins would be a first-teamer.

We lost 12-4, which meant we had to sit out for a round. I claimed my spot on the park bench, feeling shaken and humiliated. I pondered what had happened, what had went wrong. I was prepared to bounce back strong. In our next game, we were paired up against Nancy Christopher and Dave Folsom.

During the second game, there was a shot that was especially close. With my youthful eyesight, I made the determination that my ball was closer than Folsom’s. He agreed, begrudgingly.

“We’ll give you that one,” he said. “No more nice guy.”

He wasn’t joking. He sunk he next shot and proclaimed: “There is justice!”

If there was justice, it was short lived, as Karen and I found our groove, schooling our opponents with beautifully executed tosses. We were on the cusp of a major win, and I said to Karen, “I believe in you.”

She threw two perfect balls and we won, 11-5. We high-fived, rejoicing in our victory.

Spending time with people of a different generation, whether younger or older — even recreationally — is something that I think everyone can do a better job of. I’ve always enjoyed the insight and wit of my older companions, and will continue to look for ways to bridge that generational gap — even if it means taking a licking on the field.

I’ll be back.

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