Batavia bowler comes close to immortality with 899 series

Sports

Rich Wagner had just bowled a 300 game the week before.

The Stafford resident showed up February 12th for his Thursday night men’s league at Mancuso’s in Batavia with teammates already talking about how he had finished the previous week.

Wagner decided to use different balls for each lane of the pair his team was on that night (A DV8 Turmoil 2 Solid on the left lane. The Pearl version of the same ball on the right lane). He used both balls for all three games.

After Wagner rolled through another 300 game to start the evening, his friends on the team joked he only needed one more for a wraparound “900”. As Wagner motored through game two without missing a shot, the jokes started getting real.

“About the 8th, 9th frame of that second game, I was starting to feel the nerves,” Wagner said.

Once Wagner completed his second 300 game of the night (the 43rd 300 of his career) and his third in a row going back to the week before, he said it began to settle in that a legit 900 was becoming realistic. It’s something that’s only been accomplished 37 times in United States bowling history. All he had to do was the same thing he had done his last three games.

Nerves aren’t usually part of the equation for Wagner, a lefty that carries a 235 average. He bowls once a week in the men’s league at Mancuso’s and does an every other week couples league with his wife. Bowling is about three hours of laughs and beers with his friends. It’s not about making history.

On his attempt for a 30th consecutive strike in the 6th frame of game three, the 7-pin stood for a moment, but the head pin bounced off the side wall and took it out. In bowling parlance, that head pin is called a “messenger”. Wagner took the strike as a message from the bowling gods. Every high game or perfect score always comes with a good bounce or two. Wagner had just gotten one.

“From that point, my mind was gone,” Wagner said. “Knees shaking. My arm felt like it was an anchor.”

He couldn’t believe that the strikes kept coming. Wagner’s wife, Jennifer, was bowling in her own league on the other side of the center. She was being updated on her husband’s progress. At first, it was via messages conveyed directly. After a while, she could tell Rich was one shot closer to 900 just by the yells.

She didn’t want to come over and watch her husband for fear of disturbing the mojo. That changed when Wagner reached the 10th frame. It was quite fortunate Jennifer was able to be there for her husband on his career night. Most bowling centers are not allowing visitors inside during league play due to Covid regulations. If she wasn’t in her own league, Jennifer would be hearing the story almost the same way you are.

“That was the one person I was glad was there,” Wagner said.

Wagner struck on his first two shots of the 10th frame. He recounted the internal monologue that took place while one good ball away from 900.

“In my mind I was saying, I should regroup, but I didn’t want to lose the momentum,” Wagner said. “I played sports my whole life and everything’s a routine. I told myself ‘stay with the routine’.”

The final shot was pulled just a hair and it hit the head pin a bit inside Wagner’s preferred line. Bowlers call this a “high” shot and, for a lefty, that usually leaves a 6-pin. The 6-pin stood without budging.

“Mr. 899.” Wagner said.

Wagner was thankful that his teammates and even his opponents did so much to keep him loose during the night. Usually, the other team will stop bowling when someone is in the final frame of a chance at a 300 game. In this case, Wagner’s opponents kept going and he appreciated it. He said it helped keep his routine steady and his nerves under control.

Even with his lofty average, Wagner is well aware another quality look at 900 is not very likely in his future. He’s still going to remember 899 for all the pins that fell and not the one that didn’t.

“I was disappointed for maybe the first five minutes or so. But looking back, how many people can say they got to the very last shot,” Wagner said. “I wish I could go back and throw that (last) ball again and I probably will the rest of my life, but I’m still in awe over it. What an accomplishment.”

And Wagner did throw three consecutive 300 games, even if they weren’t all in the same night. There aren’t many people who can say that, either.

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