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Bowler Rick Auerbach survives plunge into ‘shark’ tank

Former major league baseball player Rick Auerbach took a shot at the pros in a second sport.
Former major league baseball player Rick Auerbach took a shot at the pros in a second sport.
Fred Eisenhammer

“It was a whole new world. I was bowling the bad boys. I’m like a guppy who was bowling against the sharks.”

So said Rick Auerbach after taking part in Saturday’s West Coast Senior Tour tournament at Buena Lanes in Ventura.

Auerbach, an elite amateur bowler who played 11 seasons in the major leagues, was taking his first shot at the pros in a second sport – more than 30 years after hanging up his baseball spikes.

The WCST draws top 60-and-older professionals from Nevada and California and the 64-year-old Auerbach performed more than respectably. After scuffling to find consistency in his first four games of the eight-game qualifying round (196-189-183-148, 179 average), Auerbach found his rhythm in his next four games.

He closed strongly with scores of 224, 246, 205 and 181 (215.5 average) to finish 27th of 34 bowlers during qualifying with a 197.3 average. The top eight finishers advanced to the double-elimination finals, which was won by Ray Torres of Thousand Palms, who was the top qualifier with a blistering 249.5 average.

Auerbach turned a lot of heads in his sixth game when he made a bid for a perfect game by reeling off strikes in the first six frames (“I was hoping for a three”) before leaving a solid 10 pin in the seventh frame.

Auerbach bowled in a three-man group that included Jim Lesiuk of Rancho Cucamonga and Dustin Johnson of Chatsworth.

“For a first tournament, [Auerbach] did great,” said the 75-year-old Johnson, who averaged 202. “With the pressure and lane changes, he did a great job.”

WCST tournaments require bowlers to switch lanes after every game, making it difficult as Auerbach noted, “to get locked into one lane.”

The lane switches were just one of several changes that the right-handed Auerbach faced from his league competition, during which he’s smoked four perfect games and one 800 series. Auerbach said “the hardest part was waiting for two lanes to open up” [on both sides] of him before he could bowl.

Still, Auerbach was able to make several adjustments in his second four-game set. As a result, his shots that were hitting the pocket and leaving splits in the first four games were carrying for strikes in his next four games.

Noted Dick Sanders, the tour’s owner and director: “Rick was probably a little nervous to start off with and then he settled down. That’s his professional style.”

Overall, Auerbach said, “I’m not happy and I’m not sad. I did OK.”

As for bowling in future WCST tournaments, Auerbach said he would consider it.

“I’d do it again if it was close to home. I wouldn’t go to Arizona to get my a— kicked,” he said with a laugh.