Perfect world

bowling_genericI was nervous, I was sweating and I could barely stand — and I was not just trying to stand, but then walk while holding and then throwing a 15-pound bowling ball. But that’s not really unusual.

I think about things, a lot, sometimes long beyond any useful purpose and even to my detriment.

It can be especially good at showing up at inopportune times, like athletic competition. Having been in a bowling league for 15 years, it has reared its ugly head more than once while I stood on the approach at the end of a key match with ball in hand.

A 300 is a perfect game in bowling, something I’ve never really approached before Sunday. I’d thrown a pair of 279s, meaning I had all strikes except for one frame prior to the 10th in which I had a 9-spare. But I’d never come closer, because the games in which I’d done that the spares came very early on, second or third frame, and I then struck out from there.

The most strikes I’d ever strung together to start a game I think was seven, but it was a long time ago and I was most definitely not in the right frame of mind to close out that kind of a start. These days I’d put together five or six in a row to open games a couple of times, but that was it.

Sunday I was struggling during warmups to find my line, the ideal trajectory for my ball to strike, and I was leaving pins all over the place. My first ball of the game, I pulled it badly but luckily crossed over and threw a strike after burying the ball in the left-hand pocket between the 1 and 2 pins.

I threw two such strikes, plus a couple of other less lucky but somewhat fortunate strikes — my shot in the seventh frame seemed to leave the 6 pin until a messenger pin from the other side shot across and took it out. I struck again in the eighth, and had done a pretty good job of keeping conversations going between frames.

I learned years ago that the best way to take my mind off what I was doing — when I seem to bowl best, I’m not really paying a lot of attention to the game itself — was to talk to people about non-bowling topics. I’m usually at my best when I have to be reminded that it’s my turn.

Sunday I was chatting with my teammates about various things until the eighth, when the talk suddenly died down. I have a feeling that people were noticing what I was doing, and it was getting to be like a Major League dugout during a no-hitter. I didn’t want anything like that, so I started talking to a teammate again about his struggles in the game, trying to help him find a solution and stop it from being so damn quiet.

I struck again in the ninth, and went to the 10th frame with my chance at a perfect game still intact and needing three strikes to close it out. I was ready to get it over with one way or the other, though my body was telling me something different. But I managed to stay upright, threw a good ball and buried it in the pocket. The 7 pin stood staring at me for a second or two after the rest had disappeared, until it fell backward into the pit.

The second ball was good as well, and the pins went flying for the second strike. By this time I knew a crowd had gathered around behind me, and was waiting to see if by some miracle I could pull this off.

There are a lot of good bowlers in our league. It competes on Sunday mornings, the perfect time for a sportswriter whose schedule changes constantly but has one day a week where he’s almost always off and free to throw a few games. Though especially in recent years there’s always been at least one bowler averaging a 230 or better, my highest average in the league has been just over 200. Mine stood at 199 entering play Sunday, which was a nice improvement over earlier in the year thanks to a new ball I bought after hitting a low point near the end of the first third of the season.

I’d been throwing better, with a 279 in the first couple of weeks after getting the ball. I’d been getting more consistent as well, which is what I’d been searching for and came as I learned to control a ball that had a lot more power and hook than the one I’d used for more than a decade.

But there I was, trying not to shake as I stood on the approach and staring down the pins and my mark on the lane that I was trying to throw at. I could feel the sweat under my arms and my shirt sticking to my pits. I took my four steps, swung my arm and released what looked like a great ball when it started down the lane.

300bAnd it stayed that way. There were many congratulations from people throughout the league that I’ve bowled against for months or many years. And for a brief moment, it was a perfect world.

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