On a recent night at Fair Lanes-Prince George's Plaza, a recalcitrant felled duckpin spun slowly, evading the sweep of the automatic pinsetter in lane 17.
Most bowlers would have tiptoed down the lane and scooted the pin home via the gutter. But Jeff Pyles grabbed a ball and whipped it down the lane, sending the wayward pin into the 10 newly set up - and knocked down six.
"Wow, that guy hits everything," exclaimed a bowler in the next lane.
Well, not quite everything.Pyles has never bowled a 300 game of duckpins, but neither has anyone else. The 21-year-old does not even own the one-game record at Prince George's; that is held by Kathy McLain with a 255. In fact, this night Pyles did not bowl the highest score on his team in the first game of competition in the Coca-Cola Major League, settling for 133.
What Pyles did to distinguish himself among the thousands of duckpin bowlers in this area, a hotbed of the sport, was record the highest three-game series in the 78-year history of duckpinning.That happened in April at Glenmont lanes: a 655 total.
Pyles began the set with 235, rolling strikes the first four frames and getting marks (strikes or spares) in nine frames. He tailed off in the second game - a pair of nasty splits dropped him to 185.
He opened the final game with six consecutive strikes, virtually unheard of the sport.
"There were 23 other lanes being used for league play," Pyles remembered, "and after the six straight strikes, everybody else stopped bowling to come over and watch. Nobody had ever bowled a 600 series. Everybody there wanted to see the first one."
Pyles, admitting he grew tense in the home stretch, left a bad split in the seventh frame to end his succession of nine marks. But he marked out the final three frames for another 235 game and the 655 total that easily surpassed the previous record of 592.
"I was on a real hot streak for two weeks at that time," Pyles remembered. "Then days after the 655 I rolled a 585." His previous high series had been 545.
Pyles does not believe a 300 game in duckpins is possible. "You'd have to have fantastic luck," he said.
Pyles has tied tenpins, posting a high game of 243, but prefers the smaller duckpin balls because of his small hands.
"I took to duckpins because I started bowling when I was 6, and that was the only ball I could handle," said Pyles, who began bowling at the lanes where his mother worked.
He joined the professional tour at 17, having met the requirement of a 125 average. As a rookie, Pyles defeated the veteran No. 1-ranked duckpinner Jimmy Dietsch in the tour final.
"That's when I realized I could go with the best around," Pyles recalled.
In the 12-month season which ended in June, Pyles carried the highest average (149) on the tour. His five-man Coca-Cola Major League squad split last season's first-place prize money ($2,500), based on winning percentage.
Now his brief fling with history is well past, the picture in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" has yellowed and Pyles is just one of thousands of league bowlers trying to make that spare. But Pyles, an apprentice electrician, retains the memory of the night he shocked the duckpin world.