Erika Puschock showed up for her Tuesday night bowling league carrying a large remote control shark.
The shark hovers around the lanes as she and her teammates on Sharks and Strikes do their best to notch another victory. And if they win, or even if they lose, they can head to the bar where beer is served in Sharks and Strikes pint glasses or bottles come with White Russian beer cozies. White Russian is Puschock’s bowling name. The team also has also provided the bar with its own coasters, for everyone’s enjoyment.
“We just like our team that much,” said Puschock, 38, wearing the team’s aqua and pink “Miami Vice”-style shirt. “So we brought all these things in.”
League nights at Bayside Bowl in Portland are unlike bowling nights anywhere else, passionate team members say. The shirts are gaudy and bowlers have nicknames like Double Cheese, McStriker and Nut Sauce. Some teams wear wigs. Some bring flying sharks. All take the bowling, and the wacky fun, very seriously. And that’s a big reason why the Professional Bowlers Association is staging championship events there for a third time, Sunday through April 16.
“The Bayside Bowl fans are redefining the fan’s role in the PBA, and the PBA fan experience overall,” said Tom Clark, the PBA’s chief executive officer and commissioner. “They played a huge role in our commitment to coming back (this year) and for the foreseeable future.”
The bowlers who make league nights at Bayside Bowl a nonstop party turn out in droves during the PBA events. The bowling alley will hold about 450 spectators for the quarterfinals and finals on April 15 and 16, and both those days are already sold out. The VIP tickets that allowed access to all events including the finals, are also sold out. They were $225 apiece.
And Bayside’s Bowlers are showing up in droves to participate as well. There will be two “pro-am” tournaments during the week, on Sunday and April 13, where more than 150 local bowlers get to bowl in teams of four with one pro. The pro-ams, like in golf, are sort of a way for the pros to mix with the locals, but aren’t part of the official competition.
Still, they let local bowlers who care deeply about the sport see how they measure up with the pros.
Chris Ogden, known as Double Cheese because he ordered a double cheeseburger once while waiting for a lane, will be in the pro-am this year for the third time, on a team with Jason Belmonte. One of the great thrills of his bowling life was beating Belmonte’s score in a televised match. Belmonte gave Ogden his ball as reward.
“This place, there’s really nothing like it, and I think the pros are just blown away when they come here,” said Ogden, 37.
There are actually two PBA events during the week, being held on various days, with the finals on the two last days. One is the L.L. Bean PBA League Elias Cup and the other is the MaineQuarterly.com Mark Roth/Marshall Holman PBA Doubles Championships. At least one Maine team has qualified for the doubles tournament (see accompanying story), while the Elias Cup event is just PBA pros. The doubles tournament will be seen live on ESPN at 1 p.m. April 16. Coverage of the Elias Cup will be shown on ESPN later, at 1 p.m. on April 23 and 30 and May 7 and 14.
Just in time for the PBA, Bayside recently underwent a $3 million expansion that includes eight more bowling lanes, three more bars, an arcade and a rooftop deck with a fire pit, where a 1962 Airstream was placed by crane to serve as a taco truck.
Part of the reason for the expansion was the heavy demand from bowlers, causing hours-long waits sometimes. But another reason was to better host more PBA events with room for more fans, said Justin Alfond, who opened the alley on Alder Street with co-owner Charlie Mitchell in 2010.
“Charlie and I wanted to build a great bowling alley, and we hoped we’d attract great people and great leagues,” said Alfond. “To land the high honor of hosting the PBA has just been awesome. For our bowlers, it’s been like landing the Super Bowl.”
L.L. BEAN PBA LEAGUE ELIAS CUP AND MAINEQUARTERLY.COM MARK ROTH/MARSHALL HOLMAN PBA DOUBLES CHAMPIONSHIPS
WHEN: Sunday April 9 through April 16
WHERE: Bayside Bowl, 58 Alder St., Portland
INFO: Pba.com; Baysidebowl.com
SCHEDULE AND ADMISSION PRICES:
Sunday: Practice sessions noon to 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 to 5 p.m., pro-am tournament 6 to 8:30 p.m., free
Monday: Qualifying rounds 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 8 p.m., $10
Tuesday: Qualifying rounds 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 8 p.m., $10
Wednesday: Qualifying rounds 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3 to 6:30 p.m., $10
Thursday: Team Baker qualifier, noon to 4 p.m.; pro-am tournament, 7 to 10 p.m., $15
Friday: Closed to the public for player interviews and practice
Saturday: PBA League quarterfinals noon to 5:30 p.m., L.L. Bean music show 7 to 11 p.m.; SOLD OUT
Sunday: PBA League semifinals and finals, Roth/Holman doubles finals, 1 to 9 p.m.; SOLD OUT. (Doubles finals can be seen live on ESPN from 1 to 3 p.m.)
MORE GUTTER TALK: Rolling with the Pros & Two Maine bowlers will get to roll with pros for big prize money