Three years ago, doctors told Tom Siatkowski he would never bowl again.
Now, he’s having the best statistical season of his long career.
After several decades of bowling in many of the area’s best scratch leagues, the 53-year-old Scotia native finally decided to take care of a nagging injury and had elbow surgery to rebuild a tendon in his right arm. Bowling wasn’t in his future, his doctors told him. But after a long rehabilitation process and changes in both his equipment and his mental approach, Siatkowski is knocking down pins at a pace he never expected.
In the Capital District All Star league at Sportsman’s Bowl, he’s averaging a whopping 244. In the Sportsman’s Majors on Monday nights, he’s slipped a bit to 238 after a fantastic start well into the 240s. He’s also averaging 234 in the Boulevard Classic Tuesday nights.
“When they told me I would never bowl again, I just knew I had to prove them wrong. I’ve loved bowling all of my life, and I couldn’t see myself not bowling again,” he said.
“When I came back after the surgery, I took it very slowly. I had to work up my arm strength and change a few things in my game. First, I changed my equipment. Bob Tedesco changed the pitches in my ball, and he shortened my span. He [set] me up with a couple of balls that fit my game.”
Then Siatkowski began pumping some iron. Actually, he started out with just a two-pound weight, swinging his arm 50 times a day before eventually switching to a heavier weight. He began to practice with a urethane ball and joined a recreational league at Burnt Hills Lanes before finally getting back into some scratch leagues.
“My elbow tendon was basically detached before the surgery,” he said. “After the surgery, I had to make some changes. Bob changed my game by having me hold the ball a little differently. I wanted to stay in the game in the worst way. I love it. I know it’s become easy, but I take all the high scores with a grain of salt. It’s come to the point where the game is so easy that it has become a joke, in a way, but I just go out there and try to have fun now, instead of being a hothead, like I was before.”
A couple of new bowling balls helped Siatkowski improve his average. Tedesco drilled up a Storm IQ gold pearl ball, but the ball that is working the best for him is a Track 811A.
“It’s a funny story how I got that ball,” Siatkowski said. “Mark Taylor was running a ball raffle for the Capital District Youth Scholarship Tour, and whatever number you drew for the 50-50 was how much you had to pay for the ball. I drew 50, so it cost me just 50 cents. The first night I used it, I won $500 and the clean pot. I felt so bad that I got the ball so cheaply that I went back and gave Mark $100.”
Siatkowski, who installs hardwood floors for a living by “swinging a hammer all day,” said he has an old-school game.
“I don’t do a lot with the ball. I’m a down-and-in guy,” he said. “I rely on my accuracy, and I don’t miss spares. The young kids can reel off 10 strikes in a row by ripping the cover off the rack, but then they leave some splits and miss some spares. They don’t care that much, because they know they can rip off a bunch of strikes at any time. But that’s not the way I bowl.
“I get around the ball a little better now, mainly because the new span and grip takes a lot of pressure off my tendon. They had to cut it [the tendon] down and shorten it during the surgery.”
Siatkowski, who grew up bowling at the old Skyway Lanes, was always a solid bowler, and he became a mainstay in several of the Schenectady Bowling Association centers in the early 1980s.
He has 33 perfect games and 22 800 triples.
“But a 300 means nothing nowadays,” he said. “I would rather see a guy make the 7-10 split or the double pinochle than watch him get a 300.”
Before this season, Siatkowski’s best days on the lanes came from 2003 to 2008.
“In three out of those five years, I either won the average title or finished second at Boulevard. I was also bowling in a lot of Huck Finns and cashing, although every time I seemed to lose the match that would have gotten me on TV,” he said.
“I don’t bowl in tournaments much anymore, because I’d prefer to work on classic cars on the weekends.”
Siatkowski learned the game from his late father, who died suddenly earlier this year. He also lost his brother last March.
“I owe my bowling game to my father. He got me into the game, and my brother was also a phenomenal bowler in his time. Maybe they are both looking down on me this year,” he said.
Siatkowski knows his hot streak won’t go on forever, but he’s enjoying it while he can.
“I’ve never bowled in my life the way I am this season,” he said. “It all came together for me. I feel in sync with my mentality on the game and staying within my own parameters. I don’t try to hook the ball. I try to keep it as straight as possible. I always try to find an area on the lane where I can keep my ball in play. I still use the same ball for my spares. I just change my hand position a little. I learned that from Dick Peckham.”
STRIKES & SPARES
The Huck Finn Mixed Doubles tournament, always one of the most popular events on the local schedule, will be held Sunday at Boulevard Bowl. There will be one squad, at 10 a.m. One in five teams will cash, with the top team guaranteed $1,400. Second place will be worth $700. Entry fee is $100 per team, plus the Huck Finn membership if not already paid. Men will bowl scratch, while the women will bowl with 100 percent handicap to a 220 average. The top eight teams will bowl head-to-head to determine the four teams that advance to the TV finals. Reservations are strongly suggested by calling Jeff Segel at 439-7628, but Segel said that walk-ups will be welcome. If anyone would like to bowl but doesn’t have a partner, call Segel, and he’ll find you one.
Green Island Lanes will host the next New Era Women and Senior tournament Saturday at 1 p.m.
Chris Radliff rolled a 300 game for Christian Brothers Academy in its 7-0 Big 10 win over Catholic Central Wednesday. He finished with a 726 triple.
The Schenectady Bowling Association’s next board of directors meeting will be Sunday at 2 p.m. at Boulevard Bowl.
Sponsored by the Carbone Auto Group and Towne Bowling Academy, the annual Uncle Nick Over/Under 50 Doubles tournament will be held in January, with the finals at Towne Bowling Academy. Entry fee is $130 per team. Teams will bowl four games, skipping pairs after each game. One in five teams advance to the semifinals. Bowling will be done on a sport pattern. Top prize will be $2,000 guaranteed. Qualifying squad times will be Jan. 22 (7 p.m. at Olympic Lanes), Jan. 24 (9:30 p.m. at Towne Bowling Academy) and Jan. 26 (9 a.m. and noon at Towne Bowling Academy). The finals will begin immediately following the final squad at 3 p.m. on Jan. 26.
The Scotia-Glenville Cheerleading no-tap tournament will be held tonight (7 p.m.) and Saturday night (9 p.m.) at Rolling Greens. Handicap will be 75 percent of a 1,100 team average. Multiple participation will be allowed, but no more than three entrants can bowl together on another team in the five-person event. Prizes will be returned on a one in 10 ratio. Entry fee is $60 per team. Call Rolling Greens at 381-4848 for more information.