Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Tale of Three Bowlers

I lived my first 51 years in the San Francisco Bay Area before moving to Sacramento a few years ago. I began bowling at the long-gone Camino Bowl in Mountain View as a young boy, later became enamored with the "wall" at the defunct 19th Avenue Bowl in San Mateo, and then took up a virtual 30 year residence at Mels Bowl in Redwood City.

During that time, I saw a lot of talented local bowlers. One of them was a kid named Dave Razzari who bowled at 19th Avenue. When I first met him, he had just set the national record as the youngest person in America at that time to roll a sanctioned 300 game. I believe that he was either twelve or thirteen. He threw an incredible ball for someone his age or any age. He had a smooth, effortless release that turned the three dots on his AMF rubber ball into a dizzying blur, and he averaged close to 230 in junior leagues at a time, the late 60's and early 70's, when such lofty averages were a lot rarer than they are now.

Of course, 19th Avenue was a "ditch," as we called easy house shots back then. But Dave Razzari was still an exceptional young bowler. Yet, when he got older, he more or less gave up the game. I don't know if he burned out or what, but I think he could have gone on to greater things in the bowling world had he stayed in it.

Many years later, I met a junior bowler at Mels by the name of Gary Harm. He didn't seem like anything special at first. But something happened in a very short time that transformed this young converted lefthander from just a typical young bowler into something extraordinary.

To this day, I've never seen anyone else get so good so fast. He went from averaging in the 170's to "sandbagging" a 239 average in just two or three years. He booked that 239 average bowling with my grandfather and me in an adult scratch trios league. One night he shot a 279 triplicate that is still as good a 3 game stretch of bowling as I've ever seen. Every ball was solid in the pocket. And only one ringing 7 pin in each game separated him from a 900 series. But there were times when he would deliberately miss spares or miss the pocket because he didn't want his stratospheric average to climb above 240.

Mels Bowl used to host an 8-gamer one Saturday night each month, and it regularly drew over a hundred bowlers, many of them pros. The best bowlers from throughout the Bay Area would show up. Gary Harm was one of them. Rusty Greiner was another.

Gary and Rusty used to stage some epic battles during these tournaments. Rusty was a hard throwing lefty with a style reminiscent of Ryan Ciminelli's. He was accurate and consistent and threw a devastating ball. I once saw him bowl back-to-back 300's and then start with the first six or more strikes the next game on the pair next to me. I felt like I was bowling in the wrong tournament. Gary was also a lefty, but his smooth-rolling style was more of a cross between Mike Aulby and Parker Bohn. He and Rusty would routinely average in the 250's and 260's over the 8 games of these tournaments. Usually no one else came close.

And lest you think that Gary Harm was just a typical, albeit unusually high averaging, house bowler, he also did very well outside the softer conditions of Mels Bowl. In his first year with the PCCB (Professional Central California Bowlers), he was Rookie of the Year. He won and placed high in good scratch tournaments all over the Bay Area and beyond. He was a magnificent young bowler for whom the sky was the limit until he suddenly disappeared, never to be heard from again.

There were stories about him. I won't go into the details. I don't know if they were true or not. However, I will say that one of those stories had him meeting with a very bad end. I hope that story is false and that Gary Harm, under whatever pseudonym he might be using, is still out there somewhere blessing the game of bowling with his exceptional talent and graceful style.

A few years later, I bowled in a scratch league at the dearly departed (have you noticed a sadly recurring theme here?) San Carlos Bowl. It was a pretty decent scratch league for some of the finer bowlers, myself excepted, on the San Francisco Peninsula. There was this kid making his adult league debut fresh out of juniors. He proceeded to dominate his elders. Everyone could see that he was destined for bowling stardom. His name was Jeff Frankos.

Unlike the aforementioned Dave and Gary, Jeff Frankos didn't burn out or worse. He kept polishing his game and, for most of the succeeding fifteen years or so, has been one of the best, if not the best, bowlers in the San Francisco Bay area and entire state of California. Indeed, if I'm not mistaken, he even led the PBA Western region in points last year, and he's running away with the points race this year.

Jeff Frankos is a very, very good bowler. If you enter a tournament and see him walk in the door, you know he's going to win or be in solid contention virtually every time. He can throw hard or soft. He can play wherever he has to with whatever he needs to in order to score well. He's smooth, deadly accurate, and he repeats shots with the best of them.

I've always thought that he could compete with the "big boys" on tour if he gave himself the chance. But I suspect that he does better financially and otherwise staying home with his family and bowling mostly local tournaments than he would taking on the grueling, peripatetic life of the PBA Tour. Still, I hope, now that he's eligible, that he takes his best shot at the TOC next year.

Why do some bowlers of outstanding promise throw it all away while others, like Jeff Frankos, rise and shine in the bowling firmament? I can't answer that, but I sure enjoy watching those who fulfill their bowling potential sparkle.

12 comments:

  1. Steve: Gary Harm here. I just spent 20 minutes typing a comment and not sure if you got it. Let me know.
    My email: gharm70@gmail.com

    Take care.....

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  2. Dave Barkmann held the 8 game record @ 268 per with NO 300s and I was the ONLY bowler to ever win the handicap and scratch division, I can't remember my exact total but the I shot 800 and 801 the first 6 games

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    1. Great scoring, Howie! That's far above what I ever scored there. I remember Dave. Very short, unusual approach, but he could knock down those pins.

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  3. Gary, If you use Facebook, get in touch

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  4. Wow loved reading your blog... brings back memories

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    1. Thank you, Tom. I'm thinking of resuming posting to the blog on at least a semi-regular basis.

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  5. 19th Avenue Bowl is being torn down this week.

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    1. I thought it had been torn down years ago, Mike. So, the appliance store is now gone too?

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  6. Where is Rusty today, any idea? I bowled with him in a youth pro-am as a kid in 86-87. He must have been early 20's then...My fondest memory is that I wrote him a letter (pen, paper, stamp, hard to believe), and he actually wrote back!

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  7. Ya, where is rusty these days. I met him back in the mid 80's. My mom asked if he would bowl against her 12 yr old son and he agreed. I eeked out a 180-179 win and was getting handshakes for months after. I think rusty had recently earned his PBA card.

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  8. Yes, Mel's was my bowling oasis for thirty years.

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