RJ Martinez is finally breaking through some of the mental barriers that have prevented him from becoming one of the area’s top young bowlers.
The 22-year-old Ballston Spa native and lane mechanic at Tippy Bowl Lanes is having a breakout season. Although he competes in only one league, the Ballston Spa Merchants, he is dominating that circuit and is also making a name for himself on the local tournament scene.
He recently won his first Huck Finn/Northeast Bowling Proprietors of New York’s “Capital Region Bowling Show” and picked up a check for $1,000.
“That’s a huge weight off my shoulders, getting that first Huck Finn win,” said Martinez. “Now I know that I can finally compete with the top bowlers. The last couple of years, I didn’t make a [Huck Finn] cut. It took me three years of trying to not only make the cut, but to finally win.”
Martinez, whose timing and release are among the best in the region, wasn’t sure what was keeping him from finally reaching his potential.
“My physical game is there. I think it was all in my head. I finally got past all those inner demons,” he said.
But under the TV lights, Martinez still had to prove he belonged.
“My first few shots of practice, I was scared to death,” he said. “Then, I went to the TV pair for some more practice, and I put my first couple of shots in the gutter. I started to drink some water and tried to clear my mind. Then, once my first match started, I was OK. The problem was when I bowled for the title. The left lane got into my head a little bit, and I tugged a few shots. But I got through it, and I took some deep breaths. It felt great once I got through.”
With his work schedule at Tippy Lanes, Martinez doesn’t have time to bowl in more than one league, but he’s making the most of his one night out.
“I’m averaging 235, and that’s leading the league by about 25 pins,” he said. “We don’t traditionally have very high scores there, but I’m doing pretty well.”
Martinez already has six perfect games and a pair of 800 triples under his belt, but he’s not concerned about those numbers. He wants to eventually build his resume in regional tournaments.
“I work Saturday mornings at the lanes, so it’s hard to get away for the full weekend, but if it’s a big tournament, Mo [proprietor Mo Barker] let’s me slide away once a month or so,” he said. “Right now, I’ll stay within a five-hour ride when it comes to tournaments.”
He also tries to stay on top of his game and practices when he can get some extra time.
“I go out and have a full practice session once every two weeks or so,” he said. “I’m always working on my timing. Sometimes, I just go out and shoot corner pins for an hour straight.”
Martinez said the only physical change he’s made this season, compared with the last couple of years, is with his equipment.
“I stopped using finger grips in my ball,” he said. “I get out of the ball much better now. It was an idea that Warren Guernsey gave me. He drills most of my bowling balls for me.”
Martinez normally uses Storm equipment, but he said he’ll use whatever is working for him at the time.
“For a Huck Finn tournament, I’ll bring five or six bowling balls. For big tournaments, I’ll bring eight or nine,” he said.
“One of those balls is usually a plastic ball for spares. Normally, I stick with the same release I use for my strikes for my spares, but I’ll switch balls.”
Martinez would love to try the pro game some day, but he can’t really afford it right now.
“That’s a pipe dream,” he saids. “I would love to bowl on the pro tour, but there isn’t much money there right now. If the money was there, I would think about it more seriously.”
Don’t be surprised to see Martienz’s name near the top of the local tournament leaderbords for quite some time.
DeGENERO MOVING UP
Mike DeGenero Jr. is another young bowler who has made big strides in his game recently.
The 26-year-old Schenectady native is bowling four or five times a week in leagues, and he also tries to compete in local tournaments whenever possible.
DeGenero averages between 222 and 235 in his four leagues, two at Boulevard Bowl and two at Rolling Greens. He is also beginning to bowl in a third league at Boulevard, the Galaxy Men’s league, but he doesn’t have an average established in that circuit yet.
“My timing is getting better. I’ve been working at my game,” said DeGenero, who attended both Guilderland High School and Schalmont. He has 19 perfect games and seven 800 triples, including a high of 835.
“I’ve been trying to get more experience on a tougher shot. That’s one of the reasons I bowl at Rolling Greens,” he said. “Bowling at RG is tougher than at both Towne and Sportsman’s. The biggest thing is that making spares is key at Rolling Greens. You can’t hook the ball at spares, especially the 7-pin, when you’re at Rolling Greens.”
DeGenero said he doesn’t try to overpower the lanes.
“Accuracy, right now, is what I’m concentrating on,” he said. “I’ve been shooting between 680 and 700 every week in all of my leagues. I’m trying to be consistent. I’m not a power bowler. I try to use equipment that goes long and snaps at the end.”
DeGenero understands his weaknesses, and he is trying to improve upon them, especially his mental game.
“The things I’m working hard on are my concentration and my patience,” he said. “Sometimes, I get frazzled. I lose my cool and my composure, but I’m working on that.
“To tell you the truth, I look where I’m at with my game right now. I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made. I’ve had three to five perfect games in a season, and I’m trying to get as many as possible. I like the fact that I’ve been more consistent.”
DeGenero is dabbling in local tournaments, but he tries to keep within his budget.
“I like the NBAs because I like the format, and if you have one bad game, you can usually bounce back,” he said. “I also like the tougher conditions, which they normally have in the NBAs.
“One of my goals,” he added, “is to win a Huck Finn tournament.”
STRIKES & SPARES
u In a Big 10 match at Imperial Lanes in Amsterdam, Seth Adams of Christian Brothers Academy rolled his first perfect game en route to a 716 triple.
u Sean Burnham fired a perfect game for Hudson Falls in a Foothills Council match with Gloversville.
u Jim Stedman rolled games of 278 and 277 on the way to his second career sanctioned 800 triple (808) in the Cohoes Men’s Individual league at Cohoes Arena.
u Anthony Auspelmyer collected a 290 game and an 819 triple for Scotia-Glenville in a high school match last week.
u The 16th annual Capital District 600 Clubs Tournament will take place on Jan. 17 at 2:30 pm at Sunset Recreation. Entry forms have been e-mailed to all current members of the Electric City 600 Bowling Club and mailed to those without an e-mail address. You may also contact Marianne Hogle on 393-8907 for an entry form.
u The Redwood Lanes Women’s Doubles Tournament will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. The format will be four games, with 80 percent handicap to a team total of 440. Entry fee is $80 per team. No team average can surpass 440. Top prize will be $800, based on 36 teams. Call Redwood or Tom Donato (496-7812) for reservations or for more information.
u Jimmy Parker shot an 802 triple and won $300 in the fifth annual Turkey Shoot bowling tournament at Sunset Recreation. There were 47 entries. Other cashers were Joey Dibiase (790, $150), Mark Phillips (776, $75), Kenny Hall (770, $60), Kevin Fairburn (766, $45), Stanley Lamphere (766, $45) and John Pulver (749, $30).
u Marcel Brisson, James Vooris and Will Smith (300 game) each shot an 862 triple with a one-game throwout and earned $142 apiece in the Town ‘n Country Thanksgiving tournament.
u Left-hander Mike Bixler swept both the handicap and scratch divisions with an 846 triple in the annual Red Richards Thanksgiving Tournament at Uncle Sam Lanes in Troy. A field of 109 competed.