It was Sunday, Day 2 of the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling at South Point Bowling Center. Jeff Frankos, a professional from Daly City, Calif. – the best player in the West; the best player in the entire country, according to some, yet to win a title – was knocking them down on lanes 59 and 60 just as fast as the whirring automatic pinsetters could set them up.
Strike, strike, strike, strike, strike.
He wasn’t bowling all that great, he said. It was just that he couldn’t miss. He even threw a ball on the Brooklyn side.
He threw three more balls.
Strike, strike, strike.
It had been almost six weeks since his pal Tony Reyes had been killed in an automobile accident in Redwood City, Calif.
And though you often hear people say this after the tragic loss of one who is special – and sometimes it might even sound cliche – Frankos did, indeed, feel like his pal Tony Reyes was looking down on him, and smiling.
It could have been because when two people are close, that is how one feels when the other is taken away.
It could have been because at the end of lanes 59 and 60 there rose a giant montage honoring the life of Tony Reyes, with four large action shots of the popular bowler from Cupertino, Calif., and a fifth photo, even larger – one of those publicity-type shots the tour puts out, so when a guy rolls 289 to win the stepladder finals, newspapers have something to run alongside a couple of sentences in the sports briefs – that showed him grinning ear to ear.
This was how Tony Reyes looked when he won his one and only title, in Michigan; this was how he looked all the time, even when he wasn’t bowling well.
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It was 2006 when Tony Reyes had a game like his pal Jeff Frankos was having on Sunday. Only Reyes kept hitting the pocket. And this was on national TV.
Motor City Classic. Taylor Lanes, Taylor, Mich. Near Detroit. Reyes had thrown 11 consecutive strikes in the semifinals. The ticker on the ESPN rebroadcast advised “ ’Monday Night Football’ in
5:27:12,” and it showed the logos of the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders, the latter being Tony Reyes’ favorite team.
But there was no need to show that ticker. It is a known fact that it’s impossible to turn away from a bowling match when a guy is throwing a perfect game, because this is something that doesn’t happen every day.
And then the camera showed Parker Bohn III, who cocked his head to one side and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Whaddya gonna do?”
Tony Reyes threw his maroon bowling ball with the black swirls one more time, bringing it right to left; and even before it found the pocket, there was a roar from the people on the risers, like the gallery at Augusta roars when Tiger or Phil is making a charge and the gallery has no idea where the long birdie putt is going, but roars anyway.
And then it was in the hole.
And then there was a great explosion of pins, as depicted on the back of those vintage bowling shirts my old man used to wear on Monday and Thursday nights.
Tony Reyes shouted into the TV camera after bowling only the 18th perfect game in TV history; he wagged a cautionary finger in the air. “One more game, though. One more game.”
He won that game, too. He became, as he often was identified, “the most popular one-title winner on tour.”
And now there are no more games to be bowled, because on his way home from the pro shop on Sept. 28 – a job that paid him handsomely enough that he could semi-retire from pro bowling, and spend more time with his wife, Nicole, and their year-old daughter, Gianna – Tony crashed his car into a sound wall on Highway 101 in Redwood City.
When he got out to inspect the damage, he was struck by a guy driving a Jeep, and then Tony Reyes, the most popular one-title winner on tour, was gone, at 38.
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It was late Tuesday morning when the pro bowlers began dropping by the media center to tell stories about their friend Tony.
Mike Fagan. P.J. Haggerty. Bugsy Kelly of Ebonite, who said he couldn’t bring himself to open an email that Tony sent the week of his death until now, and how Tony began by saying how much he was enjoying being a father. And then Bugsy Kelly couldn’t read any more.
Mike Edwards, a Cherokee Indian who sounds like Mickey Mantle when he talks, told a story about shopping in Louisville, Ky., when Reyes deliberated, at great length, about spending several hundred dollars on a vintage Willie McCovey jersey; finally, Reyes said to “fire it in,” which is to bowling what “What the f—” was to Joel Goodson in “Risky Business.”
Brian Himmler, a four-time titlist from Cincinnati, talked about the heartbreak of sitting on Reyes’ couch and watching the baseball playoffs without him, because this was after Tony’s wake.
And, finally, Jeff Frankos, who had known Tony Reyes the longest, since they were 12 and bowling on the junior circuit, told the story about rolling three more strikes on Sunday, about completing his perfect game on lanes 59 and 60.
On Tony’s lanes.
On Tony’s pair.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.