Scott Genthner hit the mark for the first time as a bowler earlier this year during the Men’s B competition at the Bowler’s Club, also recording the first perfect game of the Saugerties league’s long season.
Twelve straight strikes: it’s less by more than half in number than the amount of consecutive batters a pitcher must retire in baseball to get its perfect game and that brand of eternal glory. But make no mistake; rolling perfect game is no easy feat.
“I’ve been bowling there since I was 10,” said Genthner of the Barclay Heights-based bowling center that has been a part of the local landscape for decades. “My mother bowled for a lot of years, and she pretty much got me into it on Saturday mornings.”
For a young bowler, a perfect game might not even be in your wildest of dreams, at least not while you’re still fighting just to keep from everything you roll going straight into the gutter. The youngest U.S. bowler ever to roll a perfect game approved by the United States Bowling Congress was Chaz Dennis, a 10-year-old from Columbus, Ohio who hit the mark a little over five years ago. Genthner bowled for over 20 years before his own perfect game, a sign that it’s not as easy as you might think.
High pressure situation
Bowling is a sport of precision, of numeric calculations and a connection between mind and body. Success is gauged on the crucial understanding of friction and angles, and the reality that even when you’re at your best, it still might not be good enough.
The stars aligned for Genthner on Thursday, Jan. 27, when he bowled a perfect 300 on his way to a 728 total, good enough for a second place finish behind Damion Ferraro. Ferraro is no stranger to the perfect game, having bowled several himself, including back-to-back games in late 2009. Ferraro knew exactly what Genthner might have been feeling last week when the Saugerties bowler rolled his very first.
“It’s the best highlight of your career,” Ferraro said. “It’s comparable to a hole in one in golf. It never gets old. And for your first one, it’s, ‘Holy shit! I just did this!’”
Genthner caught the bowling bug early on, joining junior leagues as a teenager before moving on to adult leagues like the one he competes in now. 20 five-man teams compete on Thursday nights at the Bowler’s Club in a 32 week season that’s around 2/3 of the way through at present. Genthner bowls for Mirabella’s One, and like Ferraro, is the anchor of his team. It was in this role that the perfect game happened.
Genthner compared the perfect game in bowling to the one in baseball, not just because of the accomplishment itself, but the buzz surrounding it.
“Once you get seven or eight strikes going in a row, people leave you alone,” Genthner said. “The ninth frame, usually everybody still bowls, but going into the tenth everything stops. By the time you throw the last ball, all the other lanes are shut down and people are all standing behind you. It gets pretty quiet in there.”
It’s hard enough for some of us to roll even one strike, much less to string a few together. The pressure of the sudden focus on the bowler working toward a perfect game can undo a stellar run and lead to a respectably high final score with one nervous misstep.
Rob Houtman’s family has owned Bowler’s Club since 1968, taking over the facility after three years owning an alley in the village in the building that now houses the Boys & Girls Club. Houtman has seen his share of perfect games, and he believes technology has made it easier to accomplish in the modern age than it was a few decades ago.
“Better equipment, better lanes,” Houtman said bluntly. “More people now know a lot about the things to make it work. We were on lacquer and shellac those years. Now we have synthetic lanes, and even the finishes on the wood lanes were vastly improved (from the early days).”
But Houtman also added that just because the perfect game happens with more frequency, that doesn’t mean it’s an everyday occurrence.
“I don’t play them down, because it’s still a great score,” he said. “I know guys who’ve shot a lot of them, and they still love it.”
Houtman remembers “three or four” perfect games bowled during the first year his family owned the Bowler’s Club, with the first in league competition by Bruce Barents. Houtman said the buzz in the room remains the same, decades later. It happened the night of Genthner’s perfect game.
“The place gets quiet, and that’s the worst thing for the guy who’s bowling,” he said. “There’s still the pressure. They’re obviously still thinking about it.”
Genthner said he was most aware of how in the zone he felt.
“The first 11 balls, I couldn’t do nothing wrong,” he said. “I was locked right in.”
Ferraro recalled his own first perfect game feeling a bit different.
“For the first time I ever shot it, there’s no zone,” he said. “You’re in the zone for a couple of shots, but you’re shitting your pants. The 10th shot is the most important one. Once you get that, it’s all good.”
No matter how focused you are on trying to complete the perfect game, Ferraro said, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that all eyes are on you.
“You can just feel the anticipation building around you,” he said. “You can hear pins setting into the tops of the machines.”
For the last few frames, the quiet in the buildup explodes in a torrent of cheers every time the ball is released and goes spinning down the lane.
“As soon as you let the ball go, they’re screaming,” Ferraro said. “When the last one goes, it’s exhilaration, joy, drinks flying around, hugs kisses, belly bumps.”
“There’s a lot of excitement and stuff,” he said. “They bought me some drinks and shots afterwards. It took me about 20 minutes to get going on that last game. And then it was pretty much back to reality: Go bowl.”
Perhaps even more frequently are the perfect games that slip away in the final moments. Ferraro had it happen last week, as did a fellow bowler who recorded an impressive 298 after knocking down just eight pins on his last roll. And because the league is good-natured, the excitement of seeing a perfect game in the making quickly turns to trash talk when it comes undone.
“It’s like getting beat up by a girl,” Ferraro said. “Everyone wants you to do it, and when you don’t it’s, “You suck!”
Houtman said the buzz around a perfect game is good for bowling.
“It’s more frequent than it was, but I see everybody get excited about it,” he said. “It’s still as fun to see. And sometimes it’s a guy who you wouldn’t expect it to happen, and that’s a little more exciting.”