March 30, 2012

Week 31 Recap

Game 1: 179
Game 2: 215
Game 3: 205
Series: 599
Week Avg: 199
Season Avg: 191


I didn't get a chance to throw much practice this week, but the lanes have been fairly consistent on Thursday nights so I wasn't too worried. My goal again was to just make sure I hit my mark on every shot and trust my instincts to do the rest.

The first game started with a spare and a strike. I spent much of the first game trying to fine tune my angle into the pocket to carry the corners and found myself shooting at the 6-, 7- and 10-pins frequently. I struck in the sixth frame and then missed the 2-4-5 for my first open of the game. I picked up the rest of my spares until the tenth frame when I left the 6-7 split and finished the first game with a 179.

The second game started with a 5-7 split, which I missed. I struck a few times, but for the most part still had difficulty getting all the pins to fall. During the first game I moved a half board right and then a few inches back on the approach to get the ball to come in a little higher in the pocket. I tried a full board right, but that was too far (resulting in the first frame 5-7 split). After missing a 3-10 split as a result of missing my mark to the left I decided to slow my approach a little and focus on just following through over the second arrow. I struck four in a row into the first ball in the tenth and then spared to finish with a 215.

I came in a little high on my last shot in the second game so I moved up a few inches to start the third game. It turned out to be a good adjustment because I started with a turkey, 8-pin spare, and a strike. I continued to pick up my spares and strike until the first ball in the tenth frame when I hit pretty high and left the 4-10 split. The 7-pin barely fell and bumped the 4-pin, but it refused to fall. So after opening in the tenth frame I finished with a 205 game and a 599 series.

Lesson Learned

Our opponent's anchor couldn't believe the 4-pin stood in the tenth frame and remarked that I must have been upset with throwing a 599. Our league secretary also came over to tell me how mad I must have been to have thrown a 599. While it hurt that it had to happen with an open in the tenth frame, I was thrilled to bowl over average for the first time since February 23rd. Frankly, I was more upset at not advancing in the first round of the brackets due to my open tenth frame in the first game.

This is a great time to be on the upswing as my average over the last five games bowled is 205. With the playoffs starting in two weeks and the tournament on Saturday I feel pretty good, and with that feeling comes confidence. Hopefully I can get my average to at least 192 again by the end of the league.

One thing I need to work on is making the right adjustments more quickly. I spent a lot of the first game playing with my body position on the approach before settling on the right spot and eventually ball speed. Also, I have to be more aware of how the lanes are changing late in the third game so that I can avoid running high and risking splits. One advantage of slowing my ball speed early in the night is that I have the option to pick it up again later without changing my angle to the pocket, but recognizing when to make that change is the challenge. I think now that I have added that adjustment to my repertoire, it is just the matter of being cognizant of how my ball reacts in certain situations and oil patterns. In the end, bowling is about 75% observation and 25% execution . . . ok I just made that last part up but you understand what I am getting at.

March 26, 2012

Some Pre-Tournament Practice

As I mentioned in my last post, my wife and I are going to be in an eight team 100% handicap tournament on March 31st. She had bowled one game since August and thought it might be a good idea to go out and shake the rust off before this weekend. My goal for the outing was to gain some confidence and pick up some momentum. I didn't have anything specific I wanted to work on or try out, I just wanted to throw a few good games.

When we got to the alley our 9 month old daughter decided to scream like a maniac every time my wife went up to bowl, so concentration was a bit difficult. On top of that, the approach was very tacky at the foul line, so I was doing my best not to fall on my face. The first game was a warm up, basically practice for practice. It took a few frames, but I found a good line and was pretty comfortable heading into the second game. I began to have problems kicking out the 10-pin again, which I realized should be my focus for the session. I had a 142 the first game, but wasn't overly concerned about it. luckily our daughter calmed down and let us bowl two more games.

At the beginning of the second game I slowed my approach to avoid falling and was able to get a bit more slide on my last step to the foul line. The lanes were pretty similar to Thursday night, with the exception that if you missed your mark to the right the ball would still come back to the pocket. I started with a strike and 6-pin spare. Then I threw four in a row and picked up a few 10-pins. High hits were carrying, but just a hair to the right and the 10-pin would remain. I stayed clean up to the tenth frame when I missed a 10-pin. I had a respectable 225, but it could have been in the 230s without the tenth frame miss. The next game saw a few more spares, but I stayed clean throughout this time. I shot a few more 10-pins and a 7-pin, finishing the game with a 205.

It was a good outing overall. I think that slowing my approach should give me that extra board needed to carry the 10-pin, but the extra hook in the backend and near the gutters was nice to have. I am guessing that the lanes for Saturday's tournament will react a bit more like these and less like the lanes on Thursday night, which definitely works in my favor.  Hopefully I can ride this session into a quality outing on Thursday night and keep the momentum going into the weekend. My wife averaged nine pins under her last book average from a year ago, which is not bad considering she had only thrown one game in the interim. Saturday should be a good experience.

March 23, 2012

Week 30 Recap

Game 1: 189
Game 2: 159
Game 3: 205
Series: 553
Week Avg: 184
Season Avg: 191


During practice I kept missing my mark to the left and the ball was hugging the gutter for almost the entire length of the lane. There was no room for error on the outside: if you missed your mark right the ball wasn't coming back.
The first game started with a spare and strike, followed up by eight spares in a row. I was consistently in the pocket, but I had difficulty kicking out the 10-pin so I spent most of the game trying to make minute adjustments to get it to carry. Finally on my last ball I struck by slowing my ball speed. I finished with a clean 189.

The next game stayed clean until the fifth frame when I left the 2-5-8 and couldn't pick up the 8-pin. I spared again before leaving an 8-10 split on a pretty good hit. Typically this is a result of a flat pocket hit, but the ball hooked in so I am still scratching my head over this one. I didn't feel so bad when our opponent's anchor left the exact same split on a similar hit that same frame. I also missed a 6-7 split late in the game. Luckily I was able to through a few more strikes than I did the first game, but I couldn't make up for the three opens and finished with a 159.

The third game started with a strike and then I whiffed on the 6-10 after a high hit. I changed my ball speed back to normal and fired off the next five in a row. In the eighth frame I hit light and left another 8-10 split. I filled the tenth frame and finished the evening with a 205 game and 553 series. We took 5 of 7 points on the night and are slowly climbing our way up the standings with one more week before the final quarter's position night.

Lesson Learned

Once again I felt like I bowled better than my series reflects. I was much more consistent in hitting my mark and finding the pocket, I just couldn't get the pins to carry. (So much so that every time someone left a 10-pin on a nice hit they would say they got Zach-ed.) The first game was filled with nine counts and could have easily been in the mid-200s. I wasn't really fishing around for adjustments during the second game, I just had two pocket splits and double wood from a light hit. The third game was great overall, but I missed an easy spare in the right corner, a spot I had thrown at at least ten times earlier in the night, and I left another split. There was a lot of oil on the lane and the ball was just rolled out by the time it hit the pins until I finally dug in a good line in the third game. Looking back I feel like I should be more frustrated over my scores, but I can't help but walk away from the evening with a few positives.

I am, however, officially in a slump with the last four weeks being under average. For whatever reason, luck just seems to evaporate from your game when you are in a slump, so I will have to depend on my skill to get me out of it. Yikes.

I have four weeks left to gain at least one pin and get back to where I finished last season.  My average +1 for next week is a 605.

The Road Ahead

Its going to be a busy couple weeks for me on the lanes. US Steel's Andrew Carnegie Athletic Association is having a bowling tournament on the 31st and my wife put together a team for that. She has bowled once in the last eleven months so we are going to go practice this weekend before the tournament next Saturday. The tournament is in a different bowling center than my league, so I am hoping the change in scenery will do me some good. Also, league playoffs start on April 12th and carry into the 19th. I will have two weeks off before starting my summer league, but I'll talk more about that a little bit later . . .

March 16, 2012

Week 29 Recap

Game 1: 166
Game 2: 214
Game 3: 192
Series: 572
Week Avg: 190
Season Avg: 191

Coming into the night I planned to just focus on staying behind the ball and hitting my marks. If I could do that, I was confident that everything else would fall into place. I had a hard time getting loose during practice and really didn't get a good shot off before the first game started.

I had a spare and a strike to start the first game, but it was downhill from there. I missed two 2-4-5 combos and a 2-pin. I consistently missed my mark when shooting spares to the left of the headpin; however, I was much more accurate on my first shot. The ball was hooking later than usual, so for the most part I was hitting light. I tried moving back and slowing my ball speed to no avail. I was getting frustrated again, but gained my composure in the ninth frame with a strike. In the tenth I struck and spared to salvage a 166 game. It could have been much worse.

To start the second game I moved one board right on the approach. That was all it took to find the pocket. I fired eight great shots for a four bagger, two 9 count spares and a double. In the ninth frame I hit light and left and converted the 1-2-5. In the tenth frame I left the 2-4-5-8 and again only clipped the 5- and 8-pins. I hate to open in the tenth. I really hate to open on a makable shot. And I despise opening to finish what should have been a great game. I finished with a 214.

The third game started with a double. I made the 2-5-7-8 split and converted a lot of single pin spares. I did miss the 10-pin late in the game, but otherwise I felt pretty comfortable with my strike shots. I started to come in high on the left lane in the seventh frame, but forgot to adjust in the ninth and left the 10-pin both times. I finished with a 192 game and a 572 series.

Lesson Learned

For some reason I create an invisible boundary on the approach and while adjusting to the lanes I subconsciously avoid moving my body beyond that boundary. I think it is because I have not had to play so far right in a while and I am afraid that I will not be able to hit my mark and keep the ball to the right of the headpin. Earlier in the season that boundary was the 25th board, but I realized after struggling for a few weeks that I had to move further right of that spot if I wanted to succeed in the heavy oil. But I never really moved beyond the boundary, I just pushed it to the right to about the 23rd board. I struggled again the first game Thursday night because even though I was making adjustments, the ball would still not come into the pocket. Eventually I realized that I had to move beyond my new boundary if I wanted to have a good shot, and once I moved I was fine. Hopefully this will be the end of my boundary issues and I will not be afraid to go where I am needed to let the ball do its work.

March 13, 2012

Keep It Simple, Stupid

On Friday I went to the bowling alley with the intention of banking a few league games in anticipation of not being able to make it on April 5th. I'm going to the Pittsburgh Pirates home opener and wanted to be safe in case the game doesn't end early enough for me to get to the alley.

When I arrived they put me on lanes 5 and 6, the same set I had bowled on about 15 hours earlier during my league. It seemed that no one had touched the lanes since then because the conditions were exactly as I had left them. The ball had some movement in the backend, but there was a very fine line for a good shot into the pocket. My first game saw four strikes, two washouts, a split, and three opens. I finished with a 163.

The second game featured one strike in the ninth frame after two washouts, a missed 2-pin, and two other opens including a split. I had a very difficult time hitting my mark. I was all over the place, but mainly missing left by at least two boards. There was no transition to be seen as far as the lane conditions went, but I was moving all over to try to find a better line and correct my accuracy issues. I finished that game with a 159.

The third game started with another washout, missing the 7-pin on the spare attempt. I decided to calm down, slow the pace of the game, and just concentrate on staying behind the ball and hitting my target. The result was seven perfect pocket shots resulting in a double, a turkey, and two 10-pin spares. Unfortunately I left a split in the ninth, but managed to fill the 10th frame with a spare and nine count for a 203 game. For those counting at home, its a 525 series and 175 average.

So what did I get out of this session? Keep things simple! Don't over think shots. Don't worry about moving around. Don't get frustrated. Just concentrate on hitting my mark and see what happens. Once I can consistently hit my target, then I can worry about adjusting. I know how to adjust, its not being able to execute the same shot over and over again that hinders my game. I am my own worst enemy, not the oil. Hopefully coming into Thursday with this philosophy will help my scores.

This session also served as a great motivator. As in I am motivated to get the heck out of PNC Park after the baseball game and get to league so I don't have to use these scores.

March 9, 2012

Week 28 Recap

Game 1: 203
Game 2: 196
Game 3: 160
Series: 559
Week Avg: 186
Season Avg: 191(.98)


The backends proved to be drier than they had been in recent weeks, which allowed for a bit more hook into the pocket. This was unique to our league, though, as the pair next to us complained all night about the oil on their lanes. I found a comfortable line during practice and felt confident heading into the night.

The first game started out with a double. High and light pocket hits were carrying, but I sliced through the rack leaving the 1-2-10. I left the 10-pin to open and then followed up with a turkey. I stayed clean the rest of the way and finished the game with a 203.

The transition game started out alright, but I missed a 2-pin early in the game. I started to have difficulty getting a solid pocket hit, resulting in a lot of 2- and 9-pins depending on whether I hit high or light. I stayed clean the rest of this game as well and finished up with a 196.

The third game featured no strikes, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. Several good pocket hits left the 10-pin, but for the most part I couldn't finesse the ball into the pocket like I had in the first game. I would hit high and make an adjustment, but then the ball would skid out toward the gutter and I would hit light or the ball would just seems to skid through the rack. I missed the 1-2-4-10 in the third frame and chopped the 6-10 in the eighth frame. I needed 19 pins in the tenth frame to win in the brackets for the third straight week and 11 pins to win the game. I left the 2-5 on my first ball and the spare shot went a little further left than I would have liked, but it stuck. So now I needed to keep it on the lane to win the game and 9 pins to win brackets. I came in high again and left the 4-8, finishing with a hard fought but disappointing 160 and a 559 series. We won the game and I split the bracket money. 

Lesson Learned

During the last game I was faced with a choice: keep my team in the game by playing the safe line that wouldn't result in any crazy leaves and try to work the ball into the pocket for some strikes, or try a completely different line that could be either high reward or a disaster. I chose to play the safe line because my team had lost the first two games and we needed to come out of the evening with some points. The decision turned out to be a good one for the team because we won the game, but my individual score suffered because of it. There is most definitely a difference between team and individual bowling, and I hope these points help us out at the end of the quarter.

The drastic change I was thinking about making was to move my body and mark left a few boards and rely on the dry backends to snap my ball into the pocket. I would have been able to do this because I started experimenting with playing the inside of the ball. Essentially, this is when your hand is on the side of the ball facing your body with your palm facing outward throughout your backswing rather than being behind it with your palm facing the pins. This provides more revs and gets the ball to snap a bit more. Early on I was finding that this caused the ball to skid a bit further down the lane before ripping left at the last moment. I think that by the third game I could have found a line more through the middle that would have worked, but it might have taken a few valuable frames to locate the line. The high reward would have been a few strikes, but the risk was leaving washout after washout, slicing through the rack leaving 1-2-10 combinations like I did in the first and third games.

I've got a quick turnaround this week as I am going to throw a few games Friday afternoon on my day off. I am banking these as pre-bowl games because I might miss league on April 5th, so I won't be able to experiment like I would would have liked to.  Let's hope the lanes are kind.

March 8, 2012

Early 20th Century Bowling Alleys

It is no secret that I love history. So much so, in fact, that I kind of made it my job. One thing I wanted to include on this blog was articles about the history of bowling, primarily in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania. Recently, while doing some research on a non-bowling related interest, I came across the following information on early 20th century bowling alleys from articles originally posted online in 2009.  While these alleys are not located in Pittsburgh, there are some local ties:

Henry Clay Frick was a steel tycoon from western Pennsylvania. He is probably most notorious for his strike breaking tactics at the Carnegie Steel mill in Homestead and most famous for his extensive art collection. His first mansion, Clayton, still stands in Pittsburgh a few blocks away from my office, but as it turns out, his mansion in New York City is of a bit more interest to us. As you will see, in addition to being an industrialist and art collector, Frick was also a bowler.

In 1912, Frick was scheduled to take the Titanic back to the United States from his European vacation; however, his wife twisted her ankle in France, forcing them to cancel their reservations. After cheating death and arriving safely back in the U.S., Frick purchased land in New York City to build an extensive mansion between 70th and 71st Streets across from Central Park. In the basement of this mansion, which now houses the Frick art collection, sits one of the most exquisite bowling alleys I have ever seen.

Frick bowling alley, New York City.

Built in 1914 by the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company (an early version of the still very much active Brunswick Corporation), this two lane alley cost Frick $850, a large sum at the time. There are pine-and-maple lane beds featuring wooden gutters and a gravity-driven ball return. A Brunswick representative at the time stated that this was the finest alley possible. For an additional $100, Frick also purchased a set of bowling balls which had two finger holes instead of the standard three and were heavier than those used today. After Frick’s death in 1919, his daughter Helen housed an entire library in the bowling alley before she could build one next door. Shelves were placed over the gutters and the lanes themselves served as the aisles. The bowling alley was restored in 1997 and is currently closed to the public due to fire code regulations (there is only one exit).

Gravity-driven ball return and padded backstop.

If you have the time, I encourage you to check out an interactive panorama of the bowling alley posted by the New York Times and spin around a few times.  The entire room is breathtaking. Notice that on the scoreboard, frames are called "innings".  Looking at the lanes themselves, the change from pine to maple appears to occur about where the arrows are on today's lanes and then change back to pine where the pins are located. I don't have much knowledge about different types of wood, but my guess is that the pine is more durable than the maple and so it is used in the areas that would take the biggest beatings.
Ball return.

Between the lanes near the pins, it looks like there are small platforms for a pinsetter to stand on while the ball is thrown.  The pinsetter would then roll the ball down the ball return and reset the pins for the next bowler. The ball return has two levels: the bottom level held the balls while not in use and the top level caught the balls being returned to the bowlers.  A semi-circle at the back of the return would slow the returning ball and place it in the bottom rack. It also appears as though the ramp leading from the return to the top rack comes off so that balls could be rolled directly into the bottom level.
Prohibition-era alley.

To put things into perspective, let's also take a look at how the other half bowled during this same time period. In sticking with the New York theme, the blog had a post about a bowling alley found in the remnants an old factory, the basement of which served as a Prohibition-era night club. Even without the benefits of restoration like the Frick alley, the similarities are apparent. The differences, though, are what make this noteworthy. There is no separate ball return, so most likely the pinsetter rolled the balls back to the bowlers using the gutter. The gutters themselves are squared, whereas the Frick gutters are rounded like modern lanes. The overall openness of the Frick bowling/billiard room is a stark contrast to the necessary closeness of the bowling alley in an illegal speakeasy. But from now on, if someone ever hassles you about drinking at bowling, you have historical evidence to back up your actions.  People have been doing this for at least 90 years.

It brings to mind the Simpsons episode "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment" in which Homer supplies alcohol to Springfield while under Prohibition by filling bowling balls with beer and sending them to Moe's Tavern using tubes connected to the bowling alley. If you have never seen this, do so immediately.

I hope this has been interesting for you, it was fun to research.  Please leave comments as to whether you would like more posts on the history of bowling.

March 2, 2012

Week 27 Recap

Game 1: 193
Game 2: 186
Game 3: 190
Series: 569
Week Avg: 189
Season Avg: 192


Practice had sort of an ominous feel to it last night. The right lane took over 5 minutes to set the first rack of pins, the approach was pretty tacky near the foul lines, and the heavy oil made its triumphant return.

The first game started with two light pocket hits. I left and missed the 7-pin and the 2-pin in the first and second frames. A better hit in the third frame left the 5-pin, which I fortunately converted. There wasn't much room for error last night. High pocket and Brooklyn hits were carrying, but lighter hits were not. If I missed my mark as much as a board to the right the ball would barely tap the head pin, but if I missed more than a board left the ball would cross left of center. I threw a turkey and then followed it with another 7-pin.  I overcompensated from the first frame leave and the ball dropped into the gutter just ahead of the pin. I threw a couple more strikes, but opened on my third ball in the tenth frame. I finished just over average with a 193.

The transition game started with a spare, but then I missed the 3-10 split. By the end of the first game I could see that the backend was pretty much nonexistent because the oil pushed so far down the lane. I fished around for a good line the entire game, but had a difficult time finding the pocket. I would adjust to a high hit by moving up, but that didn't help. Then I would move left, but the ball would hang out toward the gutter too far down the lane and I would hit light. I doubled twice, but no thing very substantial happened until the tenth frame when I resolved to just sit tight with the light pocket hits for a few balls and create a line by pushing the oil out of the way. I finished the game with a 186.

The third game started with a turkey. I could tell that my plan from the second game was working because the ball started to hook a little earlier in the backend.  I left the 8-10 split in the fourth frame after hitting an oil patch just before the pocket, sending the ball skidding rather than driving through the pins. I picked up a couple more strikes before I started to run a little high. I moved up to compensate in the eighth frame and found the pocket again, but by then the lanes changed a little bit with every ball. I picked up 19 in the tenth frame to finish out with a 190 game and a 569 series. I also won brackets for the second week in a row.

Lesson Learned

It was a tight line all night and I was neither accurate nor consistent enough to make any real headway. I moved in a 2"x6" adjustment rectangle for most of the evening trying to locate the right combination of body position, target and entry angle to no avail. I had very few shots where all three variables came together for a good hit. This was mostly an extension of the missing my mark problem, which is not to say that I missed my target by much, there just wasn't a safety zone to fall back on like their was last week.

One thing I need to start working on is learning from my bad shots in addition to the good ones. If I miss my mark or have a poor release, what information about the lanes can I glean from that shot so that I don't have to wait to throw a perfect ball before I make an adjustment. I spent three or four frames of the second game waiting to throw a decent ball so that I could decide how to adjust. That is three frames where I could be settling into a preferred line or reading changing oil patterns wasted because I am only worried about how to fix what I did wrong. It is another facet of the game to consider between frames and something that is going to take some time to work into my usual post-shot analysis.