Have you ever watched bowling on television? I stop to watch for at least a little bit whenever bowling (or anything a little offbeat) is on ESPN. Usually this happens on a weekend afternoon, when football or basketball games on the broadcast networks have taken up about 99.9% of America’s collective sports interest. With no chance to compete, ESPN sends some poor intern waaaay back into its fetid, dank footage cavern to find something, anything, to put on the air.
Sometimes, you get some cool stuff out of this: maybe a strongman competition (Thor Magnusson has SHATTERED the world record, pulling an 18-wheeler 100 meters with his TEETH, how about that Bob), maybe some billiards trick-shot competitions (he’s gonna bank the cue ball off of each cushion, over all the other balls, and into a shoe!) Other times, though, bowling is on. Last Saturday, I sat down and watched, really watched, a PBA tour championship event, probably for a lot longer than I would have if I had known where the remote was.
Some things were immediately noticeable, even before a ball was rolled. First off, ALL of the competitors wore ridiculous shirts:Strike one. Look at those dudes. Now, I’m no connoisseur of today’s fashion trends, and my own wardrobe doesn’t have a lot of pizzazz. Maybe I should be lauding the bravery of these men. The bowlers probably wear the shirts because they’re provided by sponsors, but even that doesn’t exculpate the dude with the blue pants. It looks like these guys all have free reign over their pants selection, and still, that guy went and did that. People complain all the time about how ugly the NBA’s recent sleeved jerseys are; imagine what would happen if somebody went up to Kobe Bryant and told him he had to wear one of these things on the court.
Now, to the action. The very first roll that I saw, the guy did his whole fancy “I clearly know what I’m doing” gaze, before he approached and threw a fast, curving ball… and knocked down six pins. This man is a professional. A couple of weeks earlier, I was at a bowling alley, knowing nothing about bowling techniques, and never did worse than six pins on the first roll. Do they have a longer lane? I think there’s only the one lane size. I’m thoroughly unimpressed that any professional can EVER knock down only six pins.
I know he’s an unfathomably better bowler than me, obviously, and that there’d be no point to bowling if everyone just threw strikes every time. But even then, there’s no transcendent aspect to the craft. There’s none of the wow factor that comes from a 100 mile-per-hour fastball, or a dunk, or even from a dude who throws a bunch of bullseyes in darts. I could try and try to do any of those things, and they would never happen. I will never have those skills, regardless of how hard I may try to develop them. But if I, or anyone I know, had maintained a monastic dedication to bowling from an early age, we’d be really good. At least as good as the guy who knocked down six pins.
I feel bad. These bowlers look like nice guys. I’m completely crapping on a sport to which they have dedicated an amazing amount of time. There’s not much money in it, and you really have to love it to be involved, and here comes this guy who’s done a minimal amount of casual bowling, and who has seen all of 25 total lifetime minutes of the sport on TV, to talk about how lame it is. I’m sure that devotion to the purity of the game is what sustains it. Because of that devotion, our children and their children will be able to partake in this great family-friendly sports tradition for eons to come. This sport is surely devoid of the egocentric and abrasive loudmouths of most sports, right?
Oh, God. There goes that theory.