Thursday, June 24, 2010

(Candlepin) bowled over.

I am, to say the least, a crappy bowler.

As with any sports-y thing that requires a bit of concentration – pool, mini-golf – I am completely incapable of sustaining focus. Even when I start off okay – under par on the front nine in mini-golf – I end up blowing up on the back nine. I know the plot alright, and can always tell when someone else is lining their shot up for failure. But I just run out of concentration steam.  Getting it right – if I have to think about it – just never seems worth. It’s not all that interesting to me.

So it is with bowling.

I get, more of less, what you’re supposed to do – and am, in fact, capable of doing it. Sometimes.

Thus, my scores (with or without side bumpers) for big- ball- bowling tend to run along the lines of nine or ten for one frame, followed by a zero or one in the next.

I’m sure that averaging one game of bowling per year doesn’t help me out much, but I think the max I’ve ever scored in big ball bowling is between 110 and 120.

I don’t know what my max is for candlepins, but I clearly remember my minimum: a score of 13, the first time I went bowling, when I was in 7th grade, with the Junior Catholic Daughters of America. (Boy, is it hard to believe I was ever a member of an organization that was spawned by the Knights of Columbus, but there you have it.)

If you’re reading this and you did not grow up in New England, you may be asking yourself just what candlepin bowling is. But if you look at the picture to your right, you’ll see that the pins are straighter (tapered only at the ends) and smaller than those used in big-ball-bowling. And, from the size of the ball, you can see why us native candle-pinners call the other kind big-ball-bowling.

The ball in candlepin, well, it can almost be cradled in the palm of your hand.

Another difference is that, in candlepin, the downed pins aren’t swept away between rolls. They’re left where they are. So your follow up shots use the wood on the ground to fell the pins that are still standing. Also, in candlepin, you get three rolls per frame, not two. (All of this explains why, when I’ve been big-ball bowling, I’ve been confused. Didn’t you used to get three rolls? Didn’t there used to be deadwood pins left to play off of?)

This, of course, may make it sound easier than in big-ball-bowling.

But it’s not.

While perfect games are a dime a dozen in big-ball-bowling - (Okay. They’re not a dime a dozen when I bowl, but tens of thousands of perfect games have been recorded.)  - there’s never, ever, ever been a perfect game played in candlepin.

The record, according to the International Candlepin Bowling Association stands at 245, since the invention – or was it the discovery – of candlepin bowling in (ta-DA) Worcester, Massachusetts, late in the 19th century. (Of all the fabulosity that’s come out of the Heart of the Commonwealth – the liquid fuel rocket, the diner, the smiley face – candlepin bowling is right up there.)

Candlepin bowling alleys outnumber big-ball-bowling alleys by 3 to 1 in these parts. (Source for this an further info: Boston Globe Magazine article on candlepin bowling from a while back.)

Is it any wonder that a game in which perfection is seemingly impossible would take hold in New England?

What with the Puritan heritage and wave upon wave of Catholic immigrant groups filling our cities and our bowling alleys… Talk about the folks who not only wouldn’t think perfection is attainable here on earth, they wouldn’t want anyone to attain perfection here on earth. Certainly not the guy in the next alley, that’s for sure.

The Globe article reminisced about the good old days when we had multiple weekly candlepin bowling shows on the air, including Candlepin Bowling and it’s first-cousin, Candlepins for Cash. (They failed to mention the unsavory detail that one of the hosts –initials: BG: I don’t want to use his name -  of Candlepins for Cash  is now in federal prison for buying kiddy-porn online.  But we won’t let that take away from the glories of candlepin bowling.)

Even more lamentable, well after Candlepin Bowling went off the air in 1996, the last remnant of televised candlepin was dumped by Comcast last year. (I hadn’t heard. Perhaps if more of us had known…)

Worse yet, most dire:

At the end of last year, the pro tour folded.

Does this mean that there will be no more professional candlepin bowlers? One more buggy-whipped profession?

Maybe not quite yet:

Already, some of the best young bowlers in the game have stepped in to save the sport by reinventing it. If they have their way, the new era of candlepin begins now.

That would be guys like John Zappi who, with a couple of 20 and 30-something buds, has re-invented the tournament game, making it livelier, more exciting, and quicker than the old everybody bowl 10 strings approach. (Go read the article for the details on this livelier, more exciting, and quicker approach.)

While the bowlers themselves are out organizing a new pro tour, Bob Parrella  - of Paramount Industries, the last company that still makes candlepin bowling balls – is trying to get some TV interest going.

Unfortunately, no one will be interested unless they find a way to lower the geezer demographic of those willing to sit around at home on a Saturday afternoon and watch candlepin bowling.

In the old days, this was not much of a problem. There was less to do in general. There was certainly less on television. Everyone, at one point of another, logged some time in front of the TV – probably before or after Killer Kowalski or Bruno San Martino or Andre the Giant wrestled – watching candlepin bowling.

However, no adults in my house growing up watched it.

I just can’t conceive of either of my parents watching bowling on TV, even if one of the many rotten jobs my father had had as a kid was as a pin-setter in a candlepin bowling alley. At least I think the alley was candlepin. It was, after all, in Worcester.

So the demographic used to skew younger, that’s for sure.

But Parrella believes that, in order to woo in the younger folks, bowling alleys are gong to have to modernize a bit and get the kiddoes playing candlepin.

He’s calling for bumper lanes in candlepin alleys. (Where were they when I needed them?) Electronic scoring. Something called “glow-bowling”. (Don’t know what they is, but it sounds like fun.)

“Too many [bowling center owners] say, ‘The old is charming. The old is what customers like.’ That’s because they’re old,” Parrella barks. “How many kids want to go to a nursing home on the weekends?”

Well, old is charming. And the older I get, the more charming old gets, too, by the way.

But I’m with Parrella on the modernization.

While their interest is dying out now that they’re teenagers, I’ve been bowling many times with my nieces over the years, and it’s been big-ball-bowling.

So bring on the bumpers, the electronics, and the glow-bowling.

New England needs you if candlepin bowling is going to survive!


Trixie said...

CP bowling is not dead yet with the teenage set. M recently went to a birthday party for classmates at one of the local establishments. It was at night and they have "cosmic" bowling, which means it is dark and they have day-glo lights and loud music! That bowling alley was pretty packed on a Saturday night, so maybe there is hope yet. Now, if bumpers were standard (rather than having to ask for them), I might become a regular!

nisha said...
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