Friday, January 20, 2012

Chris Barnes Has No Competition in the Cheetah Challenge

Chris Barnes showed up today at Fountain Valley Bowl at 5:30 PM EST with $5000 cash in his pocket, but nobody dared to take him on. That's right, PBA Xtra Frame was all set to live stream a contest in which Barnes and one or possibly more challengers each tossed $5000 into the pot and the highest scorer for three games would walk away with all the money. Yet, not even last year's Cheetah monster and champion Eugene McCune rose to the challenge.

If you recall, McCune not only won last year's Cheetah championship but obliterated the nine-game block scoring record by averaging an unbelievable 274 along the way in match play. I've posted a short video of part of that mind-boggling performance below.

Maybe all the players, fresh off a practice round, were resting physically and psyching up mentally for tomorrow's opening of the PBA Cheetah Open and didn't want to be distracted by a preliminary match with Barnes. Yet, I'm still surprised that no one went after him. Yes, $5000 is a lot of money for most of us, and underpaid bowlers are decidedly no exception. But surely there are well-to-do sponsors out there who would have been willing to take a gamble. After all, Chris Barnes, as great as he is, has not exactly shown himself to be unbeatable here of late on any lane condition. Yes, he had an excellent year last season despite the fact that he didn't win any championships, but HE DIDN'T WIN ANY CHAMPIONSHIPS and was completely out of the running in quite a number of tournaments.

Well, even though Chris didn't get to bowl against anybody, he did throw some impressive practice balls and talk with Xtra Frame announcer Mike J. Laneside and Fountain Valley Bowl resident bowling coach extraordinaire Mark Baker about his game, his equipment, and how to handle the Cheetah pattern, and it was quite illuminating. Chris Barnes has encyclopedic knowledge of bowling and bowling equipment and is very articulate in discussing it.

Any serious bowler who wants to get better and can afford $7.95 a month or $65 a year for Xtra Frame is crazy not to subscribe and start soaking up like a thirsty sponge the incredible information offered. And if you do subscribe and miss events like what I just described, you can always catch them in the archives and go over them as many times as you wish to learn everything you can and want to learn from them.

Not only that, but this season the PBA Tour will run several national tournaments that will be carried only on Xtra Frame. In the past, it has used Xtra Frame to cover qualifying and match play rounds, leaving the finals to ESPN or, in one instance, ABC to televise. But this year, only Xtra Frame will be carrying some of the finals as well. And the Cheetah Championship beginning tomorrow at Fountain Valley Bowl will be one of those tournaments that will be carried only by Xtra Frame from start to finish. Qualifying rounds begin tomorrow at noon EST, and the scoring promises to be high on the highest scoring of all the PBA "animal" patterns.

By the way, one of the things Mark Baker revealed on today's webcast was that he's just sent a book to his publisher entitled "The Game Changer." It is his first instructional book, and he says he's proud of it. Since he is widely considered to be one of the best, if not the best, bowling coaches in the world, I'm guessing that serious bowlers will want to grab a copy of his book as soon as it comes out. Baker surmises that it will be out around March 15.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Storm's Illustrious Staff's Advice on Increasing and Maintaining Rev Count

Do you want to increase the revolutions on your ball or, at least, be more consistent with the revs you do generate? If so, and it seems that almost everybody does, the staff at Storm have some suggestions that I gleaned from Storm's Facebook page. Here are some of the more notable ones:

 "Sounds to me like there are some timing issues, as well as some muscle in the swing that is causing the inconsistencies. It's tough to tell without physically seeing it, but the key is achieving effortless power." ~ Jeff Carter

"Go to the gym and work on your leg strength, flexibility, and your cardio. You should see a dramatic improvement after a few good workouts. I wanted to increase my rev rate this year so I intensified my routine at the gym and my rev rate went from 360 to 400." ~ Ryan Shafer

"I would try to use a few less revs. You should be able to be more consistent if you find a release that you can repeat." ~ Tom Hess

"Sounds like a timing issue. Make sure to get the slide foot to the foul line ahead of the ball." ~ Randy Pedersen

"It's not all about revs. Consistency is the key though, so you are right about that. Be sure to work on practicing your release. Make it as consistent as possible. One step drills and foul line drills can help with this." ~ Jason Belmonte

"It's tough to say without watching you bowl. I think it's key to make sure you have a consistent timing. Also practice hard on having the same hand position at the moment of release." ~ Andres Gomez

"Well, honestly I'm not sure. I'm not a big guy, so I won't tell you to work out more or pump iron. I'm considered a "tweener," and I would much rather be consistent in hitting my mark than the amount of revs I have on the ball." ~ Pete Weber

"Make sure to accelerate through the release area, not before." ~ Norm Duke

Friday, January 13, 2012

PBA Xtra Frame Now Indispensable to PBA Fans

If you're a big fan of the PBA but don't subscribe to the PBA's webcast service Xtra Frame, tis the season to sign up. I say this not only because Xtra Frame will continue offering incredibly incisive commentary during qualifying and match play leading up to the PBA finals televised on ESPN, but it will also feature coverage of entire PBA tournaments, including the finals, for the first time, that you'll be able to see only on Xtra Frame. Moreover you'll be able to catch regional and senior finals along with other tournament action, special events, and massively archived action that you can't see on TV.

In this podcast on Above 180, Xtra Frame announcer extraordinaire Mike J. "Laneside" discusses the PBA's growing reliance on Xtra Frame as its broadcast vehicle.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Josh Blanchard's Hopeful Words About His Fall

According to Jerry Schneider's "PBA Spare Shots" column this morning, Josh Blanchard is taking his hugely publicized mishap in pretty good stride. He's appeared on several ESPN program segments, on the Howard Stern show, and his fall has rapidly become a YouTube sensation. Here is what he has to say about it:

I would have never dreamed in a million years that it would have gotten this much attention. Everything happens for a reason and I’m actually having a lot of fun with it. I’m looking at it as an opportunity to turn it into a positive for the sport.

Below is a brief ESPN "Behind the Horn" video segment featuring his fall. I'm not sure it's possible to make lemonade out of this kind of lemon, but I applaud Josh for trying his level best to do it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Josh Blanchard's Fall Heard Round the World

"Trust me if they didn't show me and just showed Jason it would have been fine with me!!!" ~ Josh Blanchard, commenting on Facebook

My previous post featured a video of professional bowler Josh Blanchard hanging up in the thumbhole of his ball when he tried to release it and slipping on the oily heads past the foul line and falling in the channel on his butt on last Sunday's PBA telecast. I said nothing about Australian two-handed sensation Jason Belmonte bowling 300 in the next game and then defeating Brian Kretzer to advance to the PBA World Championship finals to be shown next Sunday.

And it seems that, despite the still relative rarity of 300 games on PBA telecasts (there have been only 21 in 50 or so years), Belmo's accomplishment garnered virtually no attention from the sports or news media. Instead, they were all about Blanchard's boo-boo, with ESPN even interviewing him by phone while playing endless slow motion repetitions of "the fall."

To Blanchard's credit, he handled the interview with good-natured grace, but I'm guessing that this isn't how he wanted to find himself featured on ESPN, as his quote above amply implies. Yet, should the media have ignored him or, at least, given equal coverage to Belmo's 300 and tournament victory?

This was probably the first time a bowler has ever fallen like that on TV compared to the 21 PBA perfectos that have been televised. Yet, if Belmo's 300 had been the first or only the second or third perfecto ever, I'm wondering if it wouldn't have still been eclipsed by Blanchard's fall so far as the media's concerned.

Some complained about the media's coverage. Others said they understood it, even agreed with it and that the PBA should be grateful for any mass media coverage it can get. What do you think?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bowling Video--Bowler Hangs Up in Thumbhole, Takes Televised Spill

I've seen some pretty interesting things on PBA telecasts over the past fifty years or so, but I've never seen this happen before.

Bowling Doctor Jeff Mark's Mysterious Departure From PBA and Xtra Frame

Jeff Mark was known on the PBA's webcasting service Xtra Frame as the "Bowling Doctor." And if you watched any of Xtra Frame's coverage of PBA events, you know why. He was extremely knowledgeable about the technical aspects of bowling biomechanics, ball physics, lane construction and oil patterns, and how all these variables fit together in the increasingly challenging sport of bowling. Not only that, but he could articulate these concepts very clearly. Many times, I tuned in to Xtra Frame as much for his incisive commentary as to watch the action.

So, I was very surprised and extremely disappointed yesterday to learn that Jeff had parted ways with the PBA and would no longer be commentating on Xtra Frame. I was even more surprised to read one of the rumors circulating about why this happened. I don't believe the rumor and won't share it here, but I admit that I am curious about why Jeff left the PBA or was let go after years of seemingly dedicated and exceedingly capable service.

I inquired about it on Facebook's PBA page and on the PBA's Xtra Frame message board forum, but both inquiries were promptly deleted, and I received a private message from a PBA spokesperson explaining that this was a private matter and that no public discussion of it would be "tolerated" in PBA domains.

I guess I can understand and accept this. If I resigned or were let go from a public position, I might want the details kept quiet too instead of seeing official explanations or rumors galore splattered across the websites of my former employer.

Still, I don't think it's necessarily morbid curiosity that motivates fans of Jeff Mark, as I surely was, to want to know more about why he's no longer with the PBA or on Xtra Frame, and I don't think we're necessarily being unreasonable in our dissatisfaction with the seemingly tight-lipped and heavy-handed way in which the PBA has handled his sudden departure and public inquiries concerning it. I don't know precisely how these things should be handled, but I wish there were a better way to do it.

Nevertheless, the show must go on, and I've been assured by the aforementioned spokesperson that "The Bowling Guy" Jason Thomas will very capably take over Mark's commentary position, and, having heard Jason's work over many hours on Xtra Frame and having read his excellent columns on the PBA website, I don't doubt that he'll do an outstanding job in his own right.

Below is a video showing some of Jeff Mark's work on PBA Xtra Frame, even though it doesn't showcase his superb expert commentary skills.

Friday, January 6, 2012

More Praise For the Late Don Carter

"He was also one of the most generous people; he and his wife Paula helped many children of drug addicts by loaning them housing, helping them with their expenses and their education. They did this without any fanfare. Anything worthwhile, Don was there." ~ Chuck Pezzano, USBC and PBA Hall of Fame writer

"In my opinion, Earl Anthony, Dick Weber and Don Carter are the three iconic people in the history of our game, and you can flip that order any way you want it. Don was that good. Back when he was in his prime, he was the rock star of bowling. He was hanging out with the Mickey Mantles and stars of that caliber. He was a larger than life figure." ~ Marshall Holman, USBC and PBA Hall of Famer

"I have often said that what made me become a pro bowler was when I was 13 years old and I went to Madison Square Garden to watch Dick Weber and Don Carter do an exhibition. From that day on, I wanted to be like them, I wanted to be a pro bowler. And through the years Carter has always been such high class. He was really a great guy who never lost his temper or treated you any differently than anybody else. Just 100% class." ~ Johnny Petraglia, USBC and PBA Hall of Famer

"There has only been one rock star in bowling, and that was Don Carter." ~ Barry Asher, USBC and PBA Hall of Famer

"This was the most influential man in the history of our sport. Back in the 1950's, the combination of the advent of the pinsetter, television, and Don Carter brought the sport of bowling into the modern era." ~ Larry Lichstein, PBA Hall of Famer

You can read more quotes of praise for Don Carter here.

Don Carter, RIP

"I believe he was the greatest bowler that ever lived. He was a master of any condition, great in the clutch and great coming from behind. He had all the attributes of a great athlete. He was there to bowl and to win. I often thought that if I could build a robot of the perfect bowler, I would take most of the parts from Don Carter." ~ Churck Pezzano, PBA charter member and historian

"It's hard to explain what makes Don so great. All I know is that he's the greatest thing that ever happened to bowling. He's fabulous, above and beyond everybody in the game." ~ Dick Weber, 1962 Bowlers Journal story

"Don was one of the greatest bowlers who ever lived, but he had some other things that made him great. He was a great athlete. He won two 100-game tournaments in one year and I don't know how many other bowlers could take that kind of punishment. And he had the ability to focus better than anyone I've ever seen. On the lanes, he was in his own world, but off the lanes, he was a true gentleman. I had a lot of respect for him, as a bowler and as a man." ~ Carmen Salvino

Don Carter died last night at the age of 85.

If you're reading this blog, you've surely heard of Don Carter even though he retired from professional bowling in 1972 and was at his peak from the 1950's through the early 60's. But if you're my age or older and have been a bowling fan most of your life, the name Don Carter is almost synonymous with godhood. He was that revered by bowlers and bowling fans all over the world.

His bowling accomplishments are the stuff of legend. Between 1953 and 1961, he was six-time national Bowler of the Year. He won the BPAA All-Star Tournament (now known as the U.S. Open) four times. He won seven PBA titles of which five were "majors," five World Invitational titles, the ABC Masters, and four other ABC tournament titles. He was lead off for the awesome five-man Budweiser team of St. Louis that shot an incredible 3,858 series in 1958 that stood as an untouchable national team record for 36 years. He was the first president of the PBA. He became a charter member of the PBA Hall of Fame in 1975. Bowling Magazine ranked him as the Greatest Bowler of All-time in 1970 and the second greatest bowler of the 20th century in a 2000 poll. Bowlers Journal awarded him the title of Bowler of the Century in 2000, and in 2009 he was voted the 11th greatest player in PBA history. He also bowled the first 800 series on TV when he shot 809 on "National Bowling Champions." The list of firsts and other great accomplishments could go on and on.

Yet, there was more to Don Carter's glittering success story than his performances on the lanes and the accolades he received for them. He appeared regularly in TV commercials and, believe it or not, in 1964 he became the first athlete in any sport to sign an endorsement contract for $1 million. The ten-year contract was with bowling equipment manufacturer Ebonite. And prior to his focusing his efforts on bowling, he was a high school All-Star football and baseball player and signed as an infielder and pitcher with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1946 but quit because of all the traveling, which he hated, to pursue bowling full time. Chuck Pezzano also remembers this of Carter: "One thing that many people didn't know is that he was very compassionate and helped a lot of people who might have fallen on hard times during his career."

If one peruses the PBA message board, where irreverence toward bowling and even bowling's biggest stars seems to be the rule rather than the exception, one sees nothing but respect for Don Carter and sadness over his passing. But as commenter Fred Lowenhaupt puts it: "It's always a sad time when one of our bowling heroes passes away. But with Don we should be celebrating his long productive life rather than the sadness of his passing at age 85."

I agree in principle, but my heart is filled with sadness. For as another commenter in the forum says, "Bowling is running out of legends," and, I may add, at a time when it can least afford it.

RIP Don Carter, bowling's original superstar.

You can read Bill Vint's excellent article on Don Carter's life here, Terry Bigham's obituary here, and below you can watch videos of the great Don Carter's stellar career on and off the lanes.