Pat Rinaldi is very proud of the ring she wears on her left hand. It has a little duckpin set in it, with a small diamond that represents a bowling ball.
Rinaldi bought the ring about five years ago with the money she won for being the National Duckpin Bowling Congress' top-ranked woman player.
"I wanted to get it engraved then but never got around to it," the Chevy Chase resident recalls. "And then I kept winning and didn't want to do anything that would break the chain of luck."
Her luck has held. She has just become the top-ranked duckpin bowler for the fifth successive season, averaging a world record 141.7 pins over 386 games, breaking the record of 141.6 she set a year ago.
Rinaldi, 37, the 1981 bowler of the year on the Ladies Pro Duckpin Tour, also holds records for an eight-game set (1,296 pins), a 12-game set (1,780), a 15-game set (2,310), and a 30-game set (4,147). Her picture has appeared in TV Guide and most recently in the "Faces in the Crowd" section of Sports Illustrated.
"They sent me a fact sheet that said that Bob Hope and Prince Charles had both appeared in that space," Rinaldi says. "So I guess I was in good company."
Unfortunately for Rinaldi, duckpin bowling does not get the exposure of tenpin bowling. Seven tournaments comprise the women's tour, with the biggest prize being only $2,000. A television contract is still not in sight; in the United States, only the East Coast knows much about the nearly 100-year-old sport.
"A man named Sherman held the rights to it but would not sell it to Brunswick because he wanted to keep it a local sport," Rinaldi explains. Then, with more than a touch of frustration, she adds, "Well, it's a local sport."
But Rinaldi feels her sport has greater appeal than tenpin.
"Our game is so much more alive. Pins fly, people fly, everyone talks, it's just not as regimented as tenpin," she says. "If you put the ball in the same spot in duckpin, you'll get a different break every time. In tenpin you pretty much know what will happen from where you throw it."
Rinaldi has bowled a high game of 202, and her record average is only nine pins short of the current men's record.
Because of the added difficulty of knocking down pins with a much smaller ball, duckpin bowlers get three shots for a spare instead of the two afforded tenpinners. While many perfect (300) scores have been recorded in tenpin, that figure has not been approached in duckpin.
Rinaldi, who grew up in a bowling family and whose father Nick owns several lanes in the area, started bowling for duckpins at 7 when she needed two hands to hold the grapefruit-sized ball. She works on Capitol Hill for Rep. Clair Burgener (R-Calif.).
Rinaldi's next major tournament will be in Glen Burnie, Md., starting July 17. In August, the tour will stop in Hyattsville.
She hopes to do well but says, "Humility is very important in duckpin because one minute you can be the greatest in the world, and the next very frustrated. You just can't count on being good forever.
"At least I can count on having my ring forever."