Mookie Betts Begins Preparations for GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling VII

by Bob Johnson 0

Bill Vint
Professional Bowlers Association

Boston Red Sox star is working hard for his newest challenge as a professional athlete

MookieBowlingCHICAGO (Nov. 11, 2015) – Mookie Betts returned to his home in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, Oct. 5 – the day after his highly-successful season with the Boston Red Sox ended – and that evening, a supply of new bowling balls was delivered to his house.

Tuesday afternoon, he was at Donelson Strike & Spare, practicing as he began preparing for his debut in the GEICO Professional Bowlers Association World Series of Bowling VII, presented by Silver Legacy and the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Bureau, in Reno, Nev., Dec. 7-19.

For the past month, the 23-year-old Red Sox outfielder has been preparing himself for his next athletic challenge: competing for the first time against a field of more than 200 of the world’s best bowlers and hoping to make a “cut” in the sport’s most complex environment.

“I’ve been bowling for a long time and the opportunity to bowl against the guys I’ve watched on TV on Sundays for all these years is going to be an amazing experience,” Betts said.

Betts will get his chance to bowl with and against professional bowling’s best because he mentioned during the baseball season that he wanted to bowl in the annual PBA Chris Paul Celebrity Invitational (which he will do in January). That expression of interest led the PBA to invite him to bowl in the World Series as well. He eagerly accepted.

Now, he said, it’s a matter of getting into bowling shape and learning as much as he can about PBA-level competition before making his debut.

“I’m been practicing every other day,” he said, “and I’m subbing in a couple of leagues (at Donelson Strike & Spare, and Oak Valley Lanes). I’m going to try to make a cut.”

He’s getting help, from a couple of childhood friends – Aaron Martin and Kamron Doyle – along with technical assistance from Rob Gotchall, Ebonite Marketing Manager for Players, Promotions and Events. Doyle has been especially helpful by inviting Betts to practice privately at the so-called “Kamron Doyle Training Center” – a modern two-lane installation in Doyle’s home, complete with modern lane conditioning technology and ball drilling equipment.

“I’ve known Mookie since I was 7 or 8,” said Doyle, an accomplished international competitor even though he’s only a 17-year-old high school senior. Doyle set a record when he cashed in a PBA Regional at age 12 and another when he cashed in the 2012 U.S. Open as a 5-foot-5, 105-pound 14-year-old (he’s now 6-3, going on 6-foot-4).

“We bowled in the same youth league,” Doyle said. “I didn’t know him well, but we talked here and there. I lost touch when he got into baseball, but when I found out he was bowling to bowl in the PBA World Series, I called and asked if he wanted to train together. That’s what we’re doing.”

“I bowl at Kamron’s place whenever I get a chance, but I’m also subbing in a couple of leagues,” Betts said. “It’s house conditions, but I’m just trying to hit the same line, hit my mark, be consistent, that stuff. I’m working on throwing the ball straighter at spares.

“I don’t know about the (PBA) patterns, but I’m going to learn. I’ve got a couple of other buddies who are going to Reno, and I’ll listen to what they’re telling me. Right now, I’m just getting into bowling shape. Every other day helps, but I plan to bowl 7, 8 games every day when we get closer.”

Doyle, who has global experience as a Junior and Adult Team USA member, also has plans to help Betts get into game shape. He also has entered WSOB VII and will offer Betts advice on-site in Reno.

“Right now we’re just trying to get him sharp,” Doyle said. “We’re not doing anything exotic. We helped fix his footwork, which helped his accuracy. He’s used to bowling on house conditions, where he wanted to throw the ball 100 miles per hour with a lot of revs. So we’re working on some of the nuances, and helping him understand there isn’t much room for error on PBA conditions.

“Despite not bowling much for the past couple of years because of baseball, he’s still a pretty good spare shooter,” Doyle continued. “His misses are maybe a couple of boards. He’s not all over the place, and I think we can improve on that.

“I’ve kind of explained the differences between the animal patterns he’ll see in Reno. We haven’t put them out yet, but we will. I want to get him used to the patterns and how to adjust, and what the environment will be like in Reno,” he added. “Mookie’s a fast learner. “I’m not worried.”

Nor is Betts.

“I don’t know anything about the animal patterns,” Betts said, “but I’m going to learn.”

Betts has never patterned his bowling style after anyone in particular. “I really don’t have a favorite bowler,” he said. “I just watched to see how guys rolled the ball, how they changed things going along. I just watched and learned.

“I have no earthly idea what my strengths as a bowler might be,” he chuckled. “I haven’t bowled on Sport conditions. I have no feel for how good I am, but very soon, I’ll be able to answer that question.”

As he works to improve his techniques and broaden his knowledge about lane conditions, he’s also learning about difference in bowling balls.

“Now that I’ve seen him bowl and we’ve drilled some equipment for him,” Gotchall said, “we’re going to give him a tour of the Ebonite plant (in nearby Hopkinsville). We’ll let him work out at our training center on some of the patterns he’ll see at the World Series.

“I think he has potential,” Gotchall said. “He’s a young athlete in his physical prime. He’s very humble. He’s working very hard to learn. The big thing is to get his fundamentals fine-tuned. The key to the World Series is versatility.

“We’ve had other pro athletes bowl PBA competition,” Gotchall continued. “(Former major league all-star pitcher) John Burkett is a perfect example. He was a good bowler, but he’s worked very hard to learn and now he’s competitive on the PBA50 Tour. Mookie will learn, too. He’ll learn to play different parts of the lane. He’s taking it seriously. He doesn’t want to be embarrassed.”

Doyle agrees. “Mookie loves to bowl. He’s competitive. He can’t stand to lose,” Doyle said. “I’m anxious to see how he does.”

Maybe the most important thing about Betts as he prepares to enter a world he’s never experienced before is that he’s realistic about it. While he divides his time in off-season training for the 2016 major league baseball season, he knows he has a lot to learn about competing at the highest level of bowling. That was a lesson he learned from his mother, Diana Benedict, are a very young age.

“I have no idea, going back to when I was 3 or 4 years old, who my first coach was,” Betts said, “but I do remember I’d go bowling when my mom was bowling league. She’d come down to watch me, and if I bowled two or three gutter balls, she’d make me stop. I got out of that habit in a hurry.”

Betts and the entire World Series field will bowl nine-game qualifying rounds in the Cheetah, Viper, Chameleon and Scorpion Champions on Dec. 8, 9, 10 and 11, respectively. The top 24 in each animal pattern event will advance to single-elimination match play Dec. 14-15, and the top 25 percent of the WSOB VII field after a combined 36 games in the four animal pattern events will advance to the Rolltech PBA World Championship cashers’ round on Dec. 12. The World Series continues through Saturday, Dec. 19, and also will feature the live ESPN finals of the Rolltech PBA World Championship on Thursday, Dec. 17, at 7 p.m. ET.

Bowling fans will be able to follow Mookie Betts’ progress, along with all other competitors, by watching live comprehensive coverage of all preliminary rounds on PBA’s online bowling channel, Xtra Frame. For subscription information, visit pba.com and click on the Xtra Frame link.

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson has received more national writing awards than any other bowling writer — close to 70 over the course of his 40-year career. He began at age 16 as a staff writer and then assistant editor for the weekly Pacific Bowler newspaper in his native California, and within three years was writing feature stories for Bowlers Journal. He has written for the magazine ever since, except for a five-year span when he was hired as the founding editor of another magazine. He moved to Chicago in 2000 and spent 13 years in the Windy City, including five as Bowlers Journal’s Editor. In 1975, Johnson received the Robert E. Kennedy Award as California’s top undergraduate high school journalist. Five years earlier, on the lanes, he had shared the Bantam Division Doubles championship in the Orange County Junior Bowling Association Championships. Today, he continues to work full-time for Bowlers Journal as its Senior Editor, to write his popular “Strikes Me” column, and to edit Luby Publishing Inc.’s weekly business-to-business Cyber Report.