Nomadic life of pro bowler creates strains

March 17, 1991|By Steve Jacobson | Steve Jacobson,Newsday

It was on the road from one major tournament to the other from Florida to St. Louis and it started to snow in the mountains of Tennessee. And it snowed harder and harder until there was hardly anything moving on the interstate except the big tractor trailers and Steve Cook's 33-foot mobile home.

"We got to 200 miles of St. Louis and three feet of snow had fallen," Cook recalled. "Cars were off the road all over the place. Two hundred miles at maybe 15 miles an hour was going to take at least 12 hours. But I had to be there that night."

And in the back of the vehicle the kids were sleeping. "They didn't know what was going on," Cook said.

He had to be there that night because he's a bowler, and he was in a mobile home because that's how he keeps his family together when there are 33 tournaments a year and there's no such thing as a homestand.

There was the other time when a tornado was coming, and it isn't hard to apply thoughts of the bans on house trailers on the George Washington Bridge because of high winds.

"I felt it move 6 feet," Cook said, "so we got under a bridge and stayed right there."

Cook, his wife and three children travel by mobile home whenever possible, taking as much as eight weeks' school assignments. Jimmie Pritts and Don Genalo travel together by van and room together at the tournament. Pete McCordic flies when he can, but he shares a room at the site. It saves, and it costs out there. Some guys will book motel space for the whole field in order to get a free room out of it.

They are the best there is at what they do. But of the best of them -- Amleto Monacelli, the Venezuelan flash, earned $204,775 -- only 11 men earned last year what is the minimum for major-league baseball players ($100,000). They played the Long Island Open -- finals on national TV yesterday -- for a first prize of $23,000 and 53rd prize of a fat $800. It costs $800 a week to live on the road with a shared motel room and a lot of fast food. The rest of the 160 in the field get nothing but the laughs and the grief.

That TV show is a long-running hit, often outdrawing baseball and college basketball and, certainly golf. But golf is sponsored on TV by insurance giants, sophisticated office machines and luxury cars, bowling by a hardware store chain, beer and a truck.

"Johnny Petraglia explained to me that golf and tennis sold themselves as sports; bowling sold itself as a recreation from 3 to 103," Genalo said.

"The company executives will rub elbows with golfers even though every one of the workers bowls," said Jimmie Pritts with a shrug that said he understood the facts of life.

It's hard. It's hard to deal with the thought that if a man misses a spare and doesn't make the cut, he has to live off his savings. It's hard for more than a few of them not to resent the likes of Rickey Henderson, who signs for $3 million a year and later whines that it isn't enough, when the entire 1991 bowling tour offers $9 million.

A man ought to have a sense of humor and an understanding of his roommate -- or get another roommate. "We split the room down the middle," Pete McCordic said. "Over 33 weeks it comes out about even."

"If six of us go out for say a steak, we'll ask for separate checks," Genalo said. "He's got to pay his bills and I got to pay mine." There are families at home and divorces, too. "My kids are the best dressed, they tell me," Pritts said. "My wife and I, we do without if we have to."

He begins the tour by flying to the first stop, where Genalo has the van and they drive from stop to stop. Genalo drives slowly; Pritts challenges the Texas Rangers. It's 1,300 miles from the Quaker State Open in Grand Prairie outside Dallas to the Florida Open in Winter Haven. The driver gets to tune the radio. Genalo likes "oldies;" Pritts looks for AM talk shows. When one drives, the other usually sleeps, but the van is set up so the other can read a book. There's a TV too, and they've worked it out so that the driver could watch the Super Bowl in the big rear-view mirror.

On the lanes they learn to read Ernie Schlegel's psych, making everybody wait for his last warm-up ball, Jeff Bellinger's talking to opponents, Marshall Holman's clapping and yelling. At the hotel a man learns to read his roommate like a book. "You learn when you can kid and when to shut up," Genalo said. "You don't need any more aggravation. If I'm bowling good and he's struggling, I can't celebrate in front of him. I can say how good I feel somewhere else. When he's doing better, we can kid him again."

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