SPORTS DESK/Bob Liepa
In bowling, 300 is unquestionably the sexy number. Dropping down 300 pins in one game is perfection.
Even so, other numbers can be more desirable and more appreciated.
Meet Mr. 800. Well, Mr. 821, to be exact.
His name is Dave Gruner, a retired school teacher who lives in Jamesport.
On March 12, while bowling for the Sharpshooters in the Thursday Night Mixed League on Lanes 3 and 4 at Wildwood Lanes in Riverhead, Gruner did something most people, even those who have rolled a 300 game, have never done.
As Gruner recalls, the evening started typically for him. Nothing special during warmups, but then again, he noted, warmups don’t necessarily indicate how he will bowl on a given night. “Sometimes in practice you get a lot of strikes, then when the games start everything falls apart,” he said.
Well, this wasn’t one of those nights.
In the first game, Gruner, wearing a black sweatshirt and jeans, opened up with eight strikes in succession. Not bad.
He ended up with a game score of 278!
Then Gruner enjoyed a run of 19 strikes in a row, bridging the second and third games. Gruner, who had never before rolled a 300 game, came within one ball of a perfect game in the third game.
“That last game, when he started striking right in the beginning, everybody’s quiet, you know, just watching the tense moments, you know,” said John Pfeifer, who bowls on the team along with Kathleen Tergesen, Gloria Foley and Gruner. “He’s never bowled a 300 game, so naturally we were all rooting for him.”
Gruner didn’t get the 300, but what he did get was more special. With a 254 and a 289 in his last two games, he finished with a three-game series score of 821 on the greatest bowling night of his life.
“I’m not the best bowler there is, I just happened to have a great night, and I’m happy about it,” he said, adding, “Everything just worked for me.”
An opposing bowler, Tom Gafney, first brought the 821 series to Gruner’s attention, telling him, “You bowled an 800 series!”
Gruner said: “I couldn’t believe that. I said, ‘You’re kidding.’ ”
And here’s the other part of this tale. Gruner is 74 years old and living proof that bowlers can get better with age. “Most people say as you get older you should be doing more poorly, but I’ve been doing better as I get older,” he said.
Gruner believes he is the second-oldest player in the 14-team league, which started in the 1950s and has 56 players.
Just to put into perspective what an 821 series means, consider this: Three 200 games, not too shabby, would amount to a 600 series. It would take three 250 games for a 700. Gruner surpassed that by 120 pins.
Gruner has only been bowling for about 20 years. He started when a friend asked him to bowl with him at a bowling alley in Mattituck. When that alley closed, he moved on to the cozy setting at Wildwood Lanes.
Prior to March 12, Gruner’s high game was a 279, which he scored twice. He posted series scores in the low 700s on three occasions.
He abolished both of those career highs while at the same time vaulting himself into the top spot for league average with a shining 207.72.
Gruner also bowls for Coky’s Kids in a Monday night league. He said he had a 197 average in that league heading into this week’s action. Both leagues are sanctioned by the United States Bowling Congress.
Gruner expects to receive a ring from the USBC as an award for his high series.
After putting the finishing touches on his 821, Gruner received congratulations and hand shakes. “It made me feel like a real star,” he said. “I didn’t expect this to happen.”
Gruner appreciates the value of such a series, which shows a high level of consistency over three games. He said he wouldn’t trade his 821 series for a 300 game. “The series to me is more significant, more important to me,” he said.
Gruner said his wife, Sandy, always asks him how he did when he returns home from a night of bowling. If he’s in a grouchy mood, she knows things didn’t go too well. But on the night of March 12, he said, “I was really flying high when I came through the door.”
Asked if he had any advice to give bowlers shooting to reach the 800 plateau, Gruner said, “I don’t think I’m good enough to give anyone advice as to how to do it.”
Bob Liepa is the sports editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at [email protected].