Beer, bowling and buddies
A night out at the Craig Lanes with the Northwest Colorado Men's League
Steven Baptist watches his ball rotate over the greased alley with a dream. He visualizes that one day he will eye his ball along with hundreds of spectators on the professional circuit.
Jim Pike carefully measures the spin of an unfamiliar ball as it eats up more shiny wood with each revolution. He had to replace his bowling balls after an airline lost them on his way to nationals earlier this month.
Tom Mathers stares as his black beauty makes its parabolic journey to the black and white crash site for the umpteenth time. He has sponsored and been part of the Mathers’ Bar team for more than 20 years.
“There might be other reasons people come out,” said Gene Camilletti. “But really we’re just out here to have fun, drink a little beer and knock over some pins.”
Every Wednesday night more than 100 men unzip their bags, put on their team bowling shirts and lace up for the Northwest Colorado Men’s League at the Craig Lanes.
And every Wednesday night at the Craig Lanes one can hear the slap of high fives, the thud of beer bottles on wood and, if one listens carefully, the dull smack of a nickel in the plastic pot.
There is more to the league than just strikes and spares. The intricate system of side bets would be too much to learn in one night. If one leads off the team, they owe their teammates a beer, another team plays for the best poker hand and they earn cards with a strike or spare. Additionally, the only person not to get a strike on the team in a frame owes a nickel to the pot that funds a trip to the casino on the way to the state bowling tournament.
“There’s so many different side bets that it takes a while for a new guy to have a clue,” Mathers said. “Usually the first couple of weeks they just put down some money and say, ‘That should cover me for the night.'”
“I guess it’s a big gambling thing,” said league president Mike Stearns. “Some nights there’s a decent amount of money to be won.”
Of course, there is the overall league competition where each of the nine teams faces off against each other three times in the season. But at least on this night, it didn’t seem like there were too many worries about who won and who lost, except for the occasional expletives because of a bad round.
“Sometimes we just pray that our lane is going to work,” Mathers said. “These alleys have been here for a long time and they tend to have problems.”
“I don’t even want to go there,” Camelletti said as a bowler on another team blamed the lane for a bad result, which several of his teammates claimed was just an excuse.
But before one assumes that it’s just an excuse to go drink and gamble with buddies, there is some serious thought, time and money put into the hobby.
This isn’t just the normal rent-a-pair-of-shoes and pick-a-ball-from-the-rack bowling. Most of the competitors have multiple balls specifically for situations like a dry or oily lane, as well as separate weapons for a spare that’s 30 feet away or a spare that’s 40 feet away.
The teams compete at the state and national level. When Pike, who has finished as high as second place at the state level, lost his bowling balls, he was on his way to Knoxville, Tenn., for the national tournament.
For Baptist, Wednesday is his night.
“Bowling is pretty much my life,” he said. “I love what I’m doing and it’s been something I’ve wanted to do since my dad had the chance to do it and he never did.”
He is well on his way to a season with a 190 average. It takes two years in a row with a 190 average or better to earn a chance to enter a big tournament. After that, a bowler must become recognized by a pro for a chance to be in the big time.
“It’s a dream of mine I want to follow through with,” he said.
Along with the big dreamers, there is occasionally the reminder of the bigger picture. Last Wednesday when Operation Iraqi Freedom started, the pins practically had a night off.
“You couldn’t get anybody to bowl that night,” Mathers said. “They all wanted to see what was going on with the war.”
The Mathers’ Bar team also lost a longtime teammate earlier this month and they quietly passed a hat to help their friend’s widow in her trying time.
“It’s kind of like an Elks club,” Mathers said. “We all know each other and a lot of us have become pretty good friends throughout the years.”
On a Wednesday night, in a town where some people claim there’s nothing to do, the smoky haze thickened, the score cards filled up while beer bottles were emptied and another three-game series was wrapped up.
Baptist was one step closer to his dream, Pike had become more familiar with his new equipment and Mathers had made it through another night out with the guys.
“This is just great camaraderie,” Stearns said, “We have a great time with a little competition and a lot of fun.”
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or email@example.com
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