The way Steve Mason’s night was going he had no reason to believe something special was about to happen.
His first game in the Thursday Night Swingers league at La Sierra Lanes in Quincy was a 168. Not bad for a recreational bowler, but terrible for a guy with a 210 average.
“I had three splits so I decided to switch balls,” Mason said.
Mason changed to his Hammer Black Widow and found his line by the end of the 168 game.
The 51-year-old lifetime Quincy resident then proceeded to do something only eight La Sierra Lanes bowlers have accomplished since 1977 — he rolled a 300.
“We knew (Steve was going to roll a perfect game),” said La Sierra proprietor Jeanne Dykes, who owns the establishment with her husband, Richard. “We knew it would happen. We just didn’t know when.”
Mason certainly didn’t think it would happen on that Jan. 5 night. Maybe that’s why he didn’t get nervous when he started stringing strikes in the second game.
“It did start to get a little quiet,” Mason said, which is common when a bowler is closing in on a 300 game. The other bowlers nearby tend to stand back and give him his space. They don’t want to distract him.
However, that time-honored courtesy can sometimes add to the pressure. All eyes are on the guy flirting with perfection.
“But I really didn’t get nervous,” Mason said. “I’m pretty mellow.”
Mellow, yes. Oblivious to the situation? Impossible.
Mason admitted to “feeling it” a little when he stepped to the approach on the ninth frame. But after he got that out of the way, he said the 10thframe (which is actually three shots) was pretty easy.
As he stared at the final 10 pins that stood between himself and perfection, Mason said he had just one thought in mind.
“Don’t rush,” he told himself. “Sometimes I can take too big of a first step and get out of whack.”
Mason took his own advice and rolled a perfect shot for his 12th straight strike.
Amid the cheers and congratulations that surrounded him, Mason remained stoic.
“I didn’t run around and do anything goofy,” Mason said, and then chuckled. “Maybe we just get calmer with age.”
The 300 actually wasn’t Mason’s first. He rolled a perfect game in 2008 at a North State All-Stars tournament in Yuba City.
Mason still competes in the all-star circuit once a month. The North State All-Stars usually features 70 to 90 of the best bowlers in Northern California.
Although Mason has never won an all-star tournament, he has finished as high as third.
He said bowling on the old wooden lanes at La Sierra helps him when he is up against professional-caliber competition.
“If you can bowl good (at La Sierra Lanes), you are going to bowl really good somewhere else,” Mason said. “This place makes you better.”
Mason, who has worked at Sierra Pacific for 27 years, wasn’t knocking the longtime Quincy house. He said Richard Dykes does an excellent job keeping the lanes in good shape. But most of the newer establishments feature synthetic lanes, not wood.
Mason, who boasted a 220 average before he hurt his back earlier in the season, said the key to higher scores is using a different ball when trying to pick up spares.
He uses a plastic ball that doesn’t hook when he’s faced with a second shot. Mason said the plastic balls only cost about $50 and make a world of difference.
“I switched to a spare ball about 20 years ago,” the right-hander said. “And my average has been over 200 ever since. I rarely miss a 10-pin.”
“But you have to know how to throw that first shot, too,” Jeanne Dykes said, smiling at Mason as she walked by during the interview.
When it comes to his bowling balls, Mason doesn’t cut corners. He has them drilled and fitted with Vice Grip inserts in Pennsylvania and then shipped to Quincy.
He said he is just about ready to buy a ball for his 12-year-old son, Connor. He said Connor already has a 189 to his credit. “He throws the ball hard and straight,” Mason smiled.
Mason said he rolled the ball just as hard when he started as a 10-year-old at Pioneer Lanes.
Mason’s daughter Morgan, 14, also bowls.
Mason said he appreciates that his wife of 16 years, Grace Ann — who is the co-owner of Great Northern Hair Co. in Quincy — allows him the freedom to leave town for an all-stars tournament every month.
“She supports me doing that, and I really appreciate it,” Mason said. “That’s a $200 weekend.”