Saturday, December 16, 2006

Ok, I'm good at it... now what?

I started bowling when I was 8 years old. I had a nasty accident on my BMX bike that tore the ligaments and cartilage in my right knee. It ended my soccer and basketball career so my other options were swimming and bowling. I joined a league when I was 9 and was in one pretty much year round until I was 24. I spent a lot of time in dark smokey bowling alleys watching, learning and practicing...sometimes as many as 80 games a week. I had coaches and sponsors who eased the costs. Mike from Country Club let me bowl for free since I was 15. I'd get 2nd rate equipment from Big 5 Sporting goods or professional cast aways and re-drill them to fit my hand. I was the dork who watched pro bowling in Saturday afternoons. Dick Weber, Earl Anthony, Del Ballard, Norm Duke, Walter Ray Williams.... they were my idols. I used to copy their styles, mostly making fun of their individual flaws. Pete Weber's ridiculously high back swing, Amalleto Monacheli's spin... he was the 1st guy I ever saw who was able to get over 21 revolutions before the ball would hit the head pin... I learned how to do it, but I also learned how it wasn't important. I mean, yeah, I can put some serious torque on the ball and over power the lanes if I needed to, but to do it all the time just hurt. Anyway, I realized early the game was all about getting your spares. I watched idiot after idiot get 9, throw a fit and be such a wreck that they wouldn't really focus or try hard enough to get the 1 remaining pin. What would you rather have 9 or 19? Plus a chance at 20 more in the next frame. Habits, both good and bad, come from practicing them. If you always blow your stack when you think you should have gotten a strike and you forget that getting the spare is the most important part, you'll never get good. The 10 pin was my nemesis for the longest time because I was a "cranker". I put a lot of spin on the ball so I could throw it hard to the edge of the lane just watch it come screaming back into the head pin with authority and power... the pins would simply dance for me. But, if the ball came in flat and hit the pocket flush, the 3 pin would hit the 6 pins in such a way that it either goes limp in the gutter or wraps around the 10 pin missing it completely and unless the head pin smacks of the left wall and flies across to take out the 10 pin late, you're stuck with a pin in the farthest corner... taunting you because of how precariously close to the gutter it is and how impossible it is throw a ball that curves to the left into that far right corner. My friend Mike Handlin worked at the lanes and one day I was working on a way to throw a reverse hook to curve the ball into the pin rather than away from it and thus increase my percentage on this shot. He took it upon himself to go behind the lane and set up just the 10 pin for me for an hour or so... all I did was throw at the corner over and over again until I nailed it every time. It doesn't matter what the oil pattern on the lane is... I start in the same place, throw to the same arrow on the lane and get the same result. Muscle memory is an interesting study. It's the same thing a dart thrower or a horse shoe pitcher does... the same thing over and over again until it becomes second nature. I was told once somewhere that the human body needs to do the same correct movement 74 times before it will remember like instinct the next day. Real or not I believed this theory and practiced correct form and technique at every turn... doing my best to stay balanced and focused within a set routine every time with the hope of achieving the same result every time... in essence, become a robot. After my coach videotaped me when I was 16 I fine tuned my delivery style and release point and practiced. Combined with support, I watched my average climb from the 170's up into the 200's. By the time I was 18 I had developed a reputation and was playing in the adult leagues. When it's all working it's like being on another planet. Some people call it being 'in the zone'. I don't even realize what I'm doing. I just turn my brain off and throw it... and that's the other side of the whole thing. It's 10% physical and 90% mental. If someone gets in your head and throws off you timing your doomed. I used to get messed with a lot because I was mentally weak. But I learned a lot of tricks and started using them against people at just the right time. Most of the time I would just keep to myself and watch every detail about how the competition would bowl and then at the critical moment when I needed a break to get back into the match I would say something like, "Hey, which foot do you start with?" or "Where is your left hand when you release the ball?" It's all it takes to get someone to shank a throw and lose confidence. But since I figured out every shot in the game down to a science and could turn my brain off, I often persevered. I did used to get mad at my self when I would do something stupid, like drop my eyes at the last second and lose my balance or over think my routine based on a previous shot.
So, having said all this... I get a call from my wife asking me if I wanted to substitute for one of her co-workers who wasn't able to make it. I said no the first time because I was legitimately busy... not the I don't feel like it busy but lie about it. No, really I was busy. But they asked again and I said to my wife, "What did you tell them about me?" She said that I was "good". It's been 10 years since I joined a league and I pick up a ball once a year to see if I can still throw, but a league? What the heck, let's see if I can still do it week after week with old out dated equipment and 25 extra pounds on my frame. I show up, meet my teammates, two blonds with averages in the 110's. I ask if it is a 80 or 90% handicap and they don't know. The lanes come on to warm up and half the bowlers in the league haven't shown up yet. Almost instinctively I race to get my shoes on, but realize what I've gotten myself into and slow down a notch. There's no one throwing yet so I walk over get my ball walk up pluncked it on the lane and get a strike. It was a "Brooklyn" strike... the ball went over to the other side of the head pin. I walk back and hear, "Ok, who brought in the ringer?!" The next shot I made my adjustment and threw a strike and the same with the next. I went over to the other lane to make a comparison and they were the same, then I sat down. We start bowling and I was worried more about making friends than how well I was doing, but I didn't miss any spares and I got a few strikes here and there and ended up with a 217. I did just as well in the second game, but then caught fire in the 3rd and bowled a 244. I established my average at 225. After 3 weeks of bowling I've only had 5 open frames. So my average is 223. My low game is 193 and that came with an open 9th and 10th frame. If you know anything about bowling scores I was on and fell apart at the end.
Anyway, now what? Ok, I can do this as well as I did when I "retired", but what does this mean? I'm not going pro. I already made that decision. I just wish I were as good at racing Folkboats as I am at bowling. Maybe with time I will be.