I stopped in a small town near Akron, Ohio, to chance a lunch in a small diner along the main street. The diner was situated next to a bowling alley, and outside of it, right along the street, was a statue. Having to walk past the statue, I became interested in it, for it was a man, down on his knees, his hands over his eyes, and in front of him was a lone bowling pin. I read the plaque at the base of the statue. It read, “Dedicated to Ten Pin Smithers and His Almost Perfect Game. January 9, 1974.”
I chuckled, shortly after which I heard a voice. I turned and saw an older man with short hair and glasses sitting on a bench just a few feet from the statue.
“Bet you never heard of Tin Pin Smithers before, did you?” he asked.
“No, can’t say I ever have,” I replied. “This statue seems a little odd, though.”
“Ten Pin Smithers,” the man said. “If you’ve got a couple of minutes, I’ll tell you his story. It’s rather sad.”
A story. Just what I wanted, and right in my line of work, which is reporting human interest stories for the newspaper and a local online magazine site back home. This was the reason of my trip. I was looking for something interesting.
“OK,” I said, “Mind if I sit down beside you?”
He jumped right in as I was finding a seat.
“Back in ’74, as the plaque says, a company was staging a bowling tournament right here,” He pointed over his shoulder to the bowling alley. “A hundred dollars to the winner, but there was a huge bonus if anyone bowled a perfect game. You know what a perfect game is, don’t you? Twelve strikes in a row for the game and a perfect 300 score. Worth a million dollars. A million dollars.
“Ten Pin Smithers had been home from Vietnam for about a year, and he had found getting back into society challenging. He had some emotional issues from Vietnam, plus he couldn’t find a job. However, he loved to bowl, and he was pretty good at it. So, he entered the tournament. All he really hoped for was winning the hundred dollars. At worst, second place, which was fifty dollars.
“Well, he made it all the way to the championship match. The place was packed, and the entire thing was being recorded so it could be shown on TV. His opponent was some out-of-town guy named Larkin, or Larabee, or something like that. Guy had a real unusual delivery when he bowled, and every time he released the ball he yelled out, ‘Come home to Papa!’ He wasn’t much of a bowler, though somehow he managed to make it to the championship.
“The final match was over pretty quickly. Larkin or Larabee was awful, while Ten Pin rolled strike after strike. The excitement grew, the tension grew, the crowd got real excited, but that didn’t seem to bother Ten Pin. When it was his turn to bowl, he calmly took his bowling ball, lined it up, and rolled it down the alley. Like I said, strike after strike.
“In fact, his first eleven rolls were strikes. He had just one roll left in the game, and if he got a strike there, he would win the million dollars. Everybody was cheering for him. Still, he did not appear nervous. The last roll, he did the same as all the others, calmly lining up his shot, and then he rolled it down the alley. It appeared to be a perfect hit, right in the pocket. Wouldn’t you know it, though? The six pin, which is supposed to knock down the ten pin, went around the ten pin and left it standing, the only pin left.
“That statue you see there? That’s the exact representation of Ten Pin Smithers when he lost that million dollars. Just dropped down on his knees, put his hands over his face, and finally ended up staring at that lone pin still standing.
“People always wondered how that affected his life. How would his life have been different? He remained here, but has been obscure ever since. Seldom talks to people about it. Seems to have no regrets. Says it’s the best memory of his life. For once, he was in the spotlight, everybody was cheering him on, and he ended up with a hundred dollars.”
The man stopped speaking. I got up, thanked him, and told him I was going to use that story—whether it was true or not—in the next column I wrote. He said that was fine with him. He didn’t think anyone would object. I asked him if Tin Pin Smithers was still around.
“Yeah, he’s around somewhere,” he said. “You might be able to find him if you ask around. That was 45, 46 years ago. He’d be in his upper sixties by now. Doesn’t look anything like the statue anymore.”
He wished me a good day, rose from the bench, and started walking towards the bowling alley door. When he was about 20 feet from the door, a man came out and yelled to him, “Hey, Ten Pin, lane number 7 has a problem. Could you go back and fix it?”