Joe Scarborough walks into 10 Park Lanes on Tuesday afternoon and it’s as if LeBron James has walked into the gym.
A man respectfully mimics Scarborough’s victory celebration. A woman in Lane 19 that Scarborough has never met wants to hold his now famous gold bowling ball. A stranger quietly congratulates Scarborough. Another stops and talks about getting on a roll, a term that could have been created for the work Scarborough did April 21.
“I don’t know how I can explain,” says Scarborough, 50, an electrical contractor with graying hair and a goatee who lives 15 minutes from 10 Park Lanes. “I just made the right ball choice, I was on the right pair of lanes, it was the right time of day, the humidity was right, and everything just worked.”
Scarborough grew up in Asheville, had asthma as a kid and couldn’t play baseball or football. When he was 10, his mom, Sondra, took him to Asheville’s Star Lanes.
This he could do. He bowled in leagues. He even turned pro. He had some professional success in the late 1980s. But he reached a point where he wasn’t improving. In November of 2003, he decided to take a break.
Scarborough moved from Asheville to Charlotte in 2005. Instead of bowling, he worked on cars, especially Mustangs. He didn’t miss the game.
In 2012 he attended a few seniors events, saw old friends and how much fun they were having. In June of 2012, after a break of nine years, he returned to bowling.
In October he turned 50, which made him eligible for PBA50 Tour events.
Scarborough didn’t win any, but he did enough to offset his expenses. On April 21, he competed in a big one, the PBA50 Sun Bowl in The Villages, Fla. The Villages is 55 miles northwest of Orlando.
He brought 15 balls to Spanish Springs Lanes for the competition and experimented with each. In his final six warm-up throws he threw six strikes with his Storm IQ Tour Pearl. The ball weighs 15 pounds, is bright gold and looks as if it should hang from a Christmas tree.
“Give it a smell,” Scarborough says Tuesday.
Until this moment I have never smelled a bowling ball. To be frank, I have never considered it.
But I like the guy.
The ball smells like butterscotch. Storm infuses bowling balls with a scent. I know not why. And, even though I’m a professional journalist, I refuse to ask.
Several hundred spectators attend the tournament in The Villages and bleachers are set up to accommodate them. Eighty bowlers compete. Scarborough opens with 12 straight strikes, a perfect game.
“You don’t think a lot about it because so many people can shoot 300s,” he says.
Then he rolls another 300. He had never rolled consecutive perfect games.
Scarborough turns to the fans.
“Do you believe this?” he asks.
The fans are with him and he’s with them. They talk and laugh. But as he prepares to throw, he doesn’t think about the crowd. He thinks about 10 Park Lanes, on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, nobody watching or caring how he does.
Bowlers switch lanes after every game and, for game No. 3, he is sent all the way to the end.
“I said, ‘C’mon, follow me,’ and everybody did,” says Scarborough. “But I was going to the wrong end. I said, ‘Everybody come back this way,’ and everybody did. They were unbelievable.”
Nobody in PBA’s 55-year history has rolled three consecutive 300 games in the same series, on the same day.
But Scarborough rolls 11 more. That is 35 straight strikes (not counting the warm-ups).
By now, Spanish Springs Lanes smells like a butterscotch sundae.
Scarborough needs one more strike. He rolls the ball right, as close to the gutter as he can, drops to a crouch, implores the ball to carry, sees all 10 pins go down, turns to the crowd, drops to his knees, puts his head on the floor, holds his hands up and, until he sees video, doesn’t remember the celebration.
In game No. 4 he rolls one more strike. Then it ends. He finishes tied for 49th place.
That’s not what fans remember. This they might:
After attending to his official duties, Scarborough walks to the bleachers.
“Folks, I got to sit down a minute,” he tells them. “That was too much.”
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