Tom Baker arrived at Cal Bowl in Lakewood early Saturday, brimming with newfound confidence, hoping to win his first PBA title in 10 years.
He had bowled his way into the top position at the AC Delco Classic with a 225 average through three days of competition, meaning he had only to bowl in the championship game and could finish no worse than second place.
But when he entered the equipment room, he noticed that his favorite ball was missing. Someone had accidentally sent it to Las Vegas, site of the next tournament.
"When I saw it wasn't there, I panicked," the Brooklyn native said. "But then I realized I had to find something else. I had to put that behind me."
He drilled a new ball, watched as Bob Learn Jr. worked his way through the elimination games, then went out and methodically pulled away from Learn en route to a 278-247 victory before a packed house.
Baker was so focused and so efficient with his new ball that he nearly rolled a perfect game. He strung together nine consecutive strikes before knocking down only nine pins--leaving the 10-pin--on what appeared to be a perfect ball in the 10th frame.
Baker, 41, earned $48,000--more than double his earnings all last year--with his first PBA Tour victory since 1986 in Rochester, N.Y. He has eight overall.
As for the lost ball, he said he will track it down and put it back in his arsenal. And he will probably thank the people responsible for prematurely shipping it off.
Learn, 33, of Erie, Pa., and seeded third, had advanced to the championship game through the step-ladder format by edging Jim Johnson Jr., 247-246, and defeating second-seeded David Ozio, 211-204.
This is the second consecutive year Learn has finished second in this event.
"Thanks for reminding me," he said, when someone brought it up. "But I still made $25,000. I'll take that every week."