New Bowler Blues

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Most of you won’t be aware of this, but my late father was an amazing bowler.

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Manuel Ponte Jr circa 1970 (1939-1996)

He was active in the 60’s-80’s and won a ton of trophies. He passed in 1996 when I was 16. Despite this pedigree, and due to my love of junk food, I never really tried to take up the sport. My dad’s ball sat in a box, following me when I moved to a new state several years ago. Now, one of my favorite movies is The Big Lebowski. After watching the 20th anniversary screening last month, something clicked within me. I decided to take up the family sport and give bowling a try.

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East Providence Lanes, Rhode Island

 The first thing I did was retrieve my dad’s final ball, a Columbia 300 Yellow Dot, from it’s box. The years had not been kind to it. Besides the battle damage to the ball from my father’s use, the finish was terrible. This thing was quite the ball back in the late 70’s, very popular for it’s curving abilities. There is a strong urge to take up my dad’s ball and use it as my own- an Excalibur situation if you will. I decided, however, that I would not be using his ball as my own. I did decide that I would take it to the local Pro Shop and have it restored. They did a beautiful job.

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My father’s Columbia 300, restored to a beautiful shine. I left the battle damage intact.

My dad’s ball now shiny and sitting in a place of honor on my bookcase, I needed to sort myself out. When I decide to try something, I usually jump in all the way. For bowling, this translated to me ordering my very own ball and shoes. I did just that on 8/25 and on 9/1 the ball came in, a 900 Global Boost (Royal/Scarlet/Violet).

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My first ball- 900 Global Boost.

As I am a very new bowler,  I wanted to develop my curve ball skills while I was in the formative stages, as opposed to retraining myself later. I was averaging about 90 in my first week, not too bad for a newbie. I was throwing house balls, and these are very difficult to “curve” for two reasons.

The first reason a house ball is not the best for curving is that they are, overwhelmingly, made of a plastic. A plastic coverstock was standard in my father’s day, but technology has improved considerably. In the 80’s, Urethane emerged followed by Reactive Resin (which come in Solid, Pearl, and Hybrid) in the 90’s and Particle Stock in recent years. All these new materials provided stronger curves than the old plastic covers and are considered standard to serious bowlers. The other factor for a curve ball is the finger drill. Most house balls have a conventional drill, where the middle fingers enter the hole all the way in to the 2nd joint. This allows the ball to travel straight as the fingers are not well positioned to put a spin on the ball. To get the classic curve, a fingertip grip is called for. The is a drill where where your fingers only enter the holes up to the first joint. My new ball is a Reactive Resin (Hybrid) with a fingertip grip.

Last week was the first with my new ball, and it was not pretty. I was hoping for some immediate boost in my score, but it was eluding me. I couldn’t throw the damn thing straight to save my life. Gutterball after gutterball was my new reality. Strikes were non-existent and spares were more luck than anything. The fingertip grip had completely thrown off my  throw. I was really struggling, some games I was lucky to break 60 points. After some practice, I managed to get back up into the 90/100 score range, on par with my house ball performance, but I had no control of the curve.

Now we are at the start of another week, and I slept terribly last night. My dreams were of bowling (obsessed much?). I was seeing myself contimuiously attempt to throw a curve, and fail each time. No matter how much I tried, it got worse. I would see line drawings of the geometry of the elusive curve in some manic attempt to solve the problem with math. To say that it was starting to get under my skin is an understatement. I woke up, frustrated from the lack of sleep, and felt the desire to head to the lanes to exorcise these demons. I arrived for some 9AM bowling. To my surprise, I bowl a decent first game, 127 points, but my technique was all over the place. The score was more due to luck that skill. I next score a 95 in my second game and am working on my third when something interesting happened.

During the 8th frame of my third game, I notice that although I am throwing straight, and coming up in “the handshake”, the ball is not acting as expected. The “handshake” is the position your hand should be in after throwing a curve ball, you hand extended as if shaking someone’s hand. Now, I am a larger guy and I realized that my “man-boobs” were actually causing my arm to begin my approach at a slight angle. A slim man’s arm hangs straight at their side, but mine actually bulges out at the bicep due to my grotesque fatness. I form a theory that this is the cause of my insane throw. I tuck in my elbow, nestled in the fat rolls, push out with the ball, swing my arm back and throw it straight forward. I was as my hand follows through the swing and my hand comes up in the “handshake position”. To my amazement, unlike my previous attempts, the ball followed the path of my follow-through and curved right into the pocket. Holy crap! Next frame I did it again, same curve! I finished up the game 3 and started a new one, could I have finally cracked the code on the curve ball?!

Yes! While my aim was far from perfect, I had discovered consistency in my throw! The full power of my new ball is now open to me, I can curve it… every time. The score of this last game of the morning, my 4th, was 142, a personal best. It’s a far cry from you 200+ bowlers, but I am beyond happy to have “figured it out”!

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