I Was A Prop At The PBA World Series Of Bowling
If you don’t believe me, try this simple experiment on your own: Enter any Vegas casino and sit down – but not in any of the 12,594 seats at which doing so requires placing a bet or ordering food and drink. See what I mean? Spooky, huh?
So it was that I recently found myself luxuriating in the comfort of a cement bench at the taxi stand outside of South Point Resort Casino, waiting for the gates to open for the PBA World Series of Bowling. It was either that or idle away the time at the slots. Since the Demon Deacon Fantasy Football League reminds me each year that I am the world’s least talented gambler, the choice was an easy one.
Actually the phrase “gates to open” is a bit of a misnomer here. The “gate” in this case was a fold-up banquet table, covered smartly with an attractive linen tablecloth, and attended to by two kindly older women. Upon my earlier arrival they had informed me that the “set” wouldn’t be open until shortly before the “show” was to begin.
Therein lay the uniqueness of this particular stop on the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour. For this venue was actually a television set, and not a sports venue, per se.
Yes, the World Series of Bowling was being conducted within the huge bowling complex on the mezzanine level of the South Point Resort and Casino, and yes, the competition had been going on for several days throughout the complex. On this particular day though, the action was confined to the half-dozen lanes that were surrounded by an ominous black curtain at the far end of the facility. For that was where ESPN had set up to tape the championship finals for broadcast at a later date.
And once the magical time arrived for us to slip inside the black curtain, it was instantly clear that those of us in attendance on this day were not so much sports fans as we were a live studio audience.
Any ambiguity about that notion was immediately dismissed by the continual presence of the sizable crew working the event/show. At the average sporting event, the game day operations team does its best to make itself invisible, in order to keep the spotlight fixed firmly on the game. Here there were no qualms about it – if you were there watching, you were merely a part of the set. A part of the set that paid $20 per session to be there.
There are five separate competitions that make up the World Series of Bowling, and the finals of each were taped in separate sessions. I had selected the Viper and Chameleon Championship sessions, and passed on attending the Scorpion, Shark and Cheetah finals.
Regarding the latter, when I shared my plans with The Bird, she asked incredulously “They’re having a championship for people that are cheating?” Proving once again that while you can take the girl out of New England, you can’t take the New England out of the girl.
I have no idea where the championship names came from, or what links them to bowling, but I did learn that each competition is set apart from the others by the relative oil patterns used on the lanes. At first the concept of creating entirely different championships on the basis of something as trivial as oil seemed odd to me, but I learned that at this level of bowling, oil patterns greatly influence the way that each bowler approaches the game.
To be specific, an oil “pattern” refers to the presence or absence of oil on various areas of the bowling lane. As I understand it, the heavier the oil pattern, the less friction the lane offers, which subsequently dictates how much the ball will spin. So if a bowler puts a lot of spin on their ball on a more heavily oiled lane, that ball is not going to curve as readily – especially if oil is prevalent near the end of the lane closest to the pins.
I pieced all of this together based on snippets that I could hear of the segment that ESPN bowling analyst Randy Pederson taped prior to the Viper Championship. And that “snippet effect” is what made this unique sporting event experience less than satisfying – and yet another disappointing example of how pro sports is rapidly veering from visceral communal experience to passive television grazing.
Sure, for a while it was fun to be right there on top of the action, but in practical terms, we were further away from it than will be anyone who tunes in to watch ESPN’s taped broadcast in December. The culprit was the audio…or lack thereof.
Every word uttered before, during and after each match was fed into the recording of the show – but not shared with the studio audience. We saw mouths moving, and if it was particularly quiet we could make out some of what was being said into microphones, but otherwise it was a purely visual experience.
“Attendance” was approximately 75 people, perched on two sets of temporary bleachers that faced each other and flanked the two lanes used for the competition. Much to my amazement, even though we were right on top of the bowlers, there was no restriction on cell phones, cameras or other recording devices. We were merely asked to “set our cell phones to vibrate”.
This came from the one voice that we heard during the day, that of Mike J. Laneside, the member of the production team that doubled as studio host. He was the stereotypical on-site host, complete with the requisite glib deejay persona that was identifiable as soon as he uttered the words “Who’s ready to party with Jackie Bowling today?” Jackie Bowling (the alter ego of one Jaclyn Marinkovich), was on hand to play the role of fan liaison and sideline reporter. She shared the latter duties with Miss USA 1999, Kimberly Pressler.
In preparation for our arrival, blank white placards and markers had been placed on the bleachers, in the hopes that enterprising souls among us would make signs. And to get the ball rolling (last bowling pun, I promise) there were even a few “home-made” signs done up in advance. Being the sheep that we were, many took the bait.
So at the risk of being placed on ESPN’s “Enemies List”, I’m here to tell you that if you tune in to watch in December, don’t be fooled. Those signs were not brought from home by rabid fans.
I can hear my phone being tapped already.
To be concluded in next post…