Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bowling League

Some friends from work talked me into joining their team in a bowling league. This was a ton of fun in Seattle, so I did it. But this league is far more serious.

The first clue was the discussion of handicaps - it seems the other three on my team average 180 or higher. But they swore this was fine, I would get a handicap and apparently the "weaker" bowlers on a team (like myself) in a handicap league make all the difference. The reasoning behind this is somebody who already bowls 180 or 200 or 220 probably isn't going to improve that much; meanwhile somebody who bowls in the low 100's may, over the course of the league, improve their average 20 points or so - and this improvement, added to their handicap, boosts the team score a much larger proportion.

The second clue this league took itself far more seriously was the league meeting before we started the season - run via parlimentary procedure, with motions and seconds to elect officers (!!) and accept the league rules. The whole time I sat there in disbelief - it seemed far too overblown and I could scarcely believe this was happening for a bowling league. Officer positions were the standard President, Vice President, and some combination of Secretary and Treasurer run in conjunction with an employee of the lanes. There was brief mention of electing a Sergeant-at-Arms, charged with the duty of breaking up fist-fights (I am totally serious here), but we passed on that.

So with all these (in my mind, ridiculous) formalities out of the way, we started bowling. And here was my third clue the league was so serious - everybody else brought all their own gear. Rolling luggages with space for shoes, a bunch of towels, assorted stickers, and two balls each. That's right, two balls: one for the first roll, and a so-called "spare" ball for the second roll, and a few rubber doughnuts so people could keep their spare balls under the rack. After all, there isn't enough room for eight people with two balls each to keep them all on the rack. So why two balls, what is the difference between a "first roll" ball and the "spare" ball? Funny I should ask...

It turns out bowling balls have a solid metal rod embedded in them, that runs from the core to the surface. Balls are marked with a small spot as to where this rod is, by a colored dot or small target etched on the ball. House balls are usually drilled so the rod is between the finger holes - thus a ball bowled straight will tend to roll straight. But all the serious bowlers don't release like that, they give it spin and release at an angle. Thus, their balls are drilled so the finger holes are away from the rod, and being off-center from the roll, the ball will tend to hook. This in turn is why they have two bowling balls - one is drilled in this fashion, used for the first roll in a frame, and the other one is drilled "straighter" (closer to center) so it tends to roll straighter, and is used for picking up spares.

It was surreal listening to my teammates and our opponents talk about lane oil, watching them unpack little sticky thumb grippers to place into the thumb hole, polishing excess oil off their bowling balls in between frames, using small metal brushes on their bowling shoes to improve the "slide"... My mind was reeling from all this, as I used rented shoes and a house ball and did nothing.

I wound up bowling a 397 for three games (individual games are so passé, as serious bowlers apparently keep score of a three game series), while two teammates bowled a 540 and 541 and our fourth bowled a 695. Unbelievable! I'm not even sure how games are scored, for competitive purposes - it isn't merely total score of all players, there is something to do with pincount as well, where pincount is number of pins knocked down, and thus differs from score since pincount doesn't get a bonus from spares or strikes. My three teammates entered a "strike pot" for $1 - the pot pays out to all winners if (and only if) somebody bowls a strike in three randomly chosen frames per game. I cannot produce a strike on demand so I opted to skip it, although for $1 I'll probably enter next week for the heck of it. The pot accumulates throughout the season, but is capped at $1500. Now that would be pretty sweet, to hit the correct nine strikes one day and collect $1500. For me, hitting three strikes per game for three games would be great in and of itself. :)

It was fun, and I look forward to observing this bowling subculture that I did not know existed. The league runs to August so I will have plenty of chances to check it out.

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