The 4-pin that saved the PBA tour – Opening Frame
WE FIND OURSELVES ON THE edge of Chris Peters PBA, Mach II. And stating into the 2002-03 season, one thing is evident: The PBA isn’t waiting to be invited to a play date with other major broadcast sports. It’s crashing the playground like a bully hungry for lunch money.
No one is under the illusion that professional bowling is going to supplant the NFL, NBA, or NASCAR among America’s top spectator sports, but then, pro bowling has never had a man like Peters powering it.
Season 1 was a peculiar sort of work-in-progress, with the grafting of the 2001 tour onto 2001-02, new lane conditions to conquer, and a format straight out of March Madness. Its pivotal point, dare I say it, came more than a year ago, in October 2001, with Pete Weber’s now-legendary semifinal 299 at the Great Lakes Classic in Grand Rapids, Mich.
A tour that had been wheezing, with more prize money to dress up tournaments but weak TV rounds leaving it with nowhere to go ratingswise received a swift kick in the hiney, courtesy of PDW.
New fans and lifelong Weberites stood and cheered. Starched shirts scoffed and scolded. And Chris Peters just smiled.
At that point, ESPN–the PBA’s broadcast partner, mind you–would not have touched the tour with a 10-foot ten-pin. Overnight, P-Dub’s bark had given the PBA back its bite–you could practically see the spittle on that night’s “SportsCenter.” And all it took was Weber’s penchant for theatrics–barking at pins, smacking off strikes, and stating down ringers–heretofore seen only in local league beer frames.
By toppling onto his back as that stubborn 4-pin refused to fall on his last semifinal shot, Weber righted the tour.
From then on, there was a sense the PBA was back on track and headed to bigger things. And despite Parker Bohn III’s spectacular coast through the season and a stronger top-to-bottom tour than in years–maybe ever–Weber was the story.
Never mind that the ensuing national attention paid the tour rarely focused on much beYOnd P-Dub and his emotional exploits. The New Yorker wasn’t there to spend thousands of words on the tour in full; nor was USA Today, the Chicago Sun-Times, or countless other publications that wouldn’t normally spare their sparse space covering strikes and spares (and in fact, still rarely do offer up any more than irregular listings of finalists).
No matter. The attention showered on the league’s most lovable pro-wrestler-in-the-making was a means to an end. Weber pulled scads of scribes back into centers for the first time since bowling’s stogie-chompin’ days.
But credit Peters for perfectly playing all the new lanes opening up to his PBA. Of particular note is the league’s new “Strike Pass” tournament-on-demand Webcasts, which–while not as convenient as, say, DirecTV’s NBA “Season Pass”–give PBA fans more access to more broadcasting than ever.
Just as the spurt from last season’s attention-grabbing 299 from Weber needed to be sustained by great matches through the PBA’s stretch run, the tour must provide action worthy of “Strike Pass” to justify the innovation this season.
The anticipated seasonlong Bohn-Weber duel alone could provide drama befitting the PBA’s growing popularity. But many bowlers are just waiting to, at a minimum, stir the pot and perhaps even crash P-Dub’s party or Parker’s coronation. From these parts, for all the hirevving Robert Smiths and savvy Walter Ray Williamses, don’t be surprised to see Chris Barnes take top season honors.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group