SURFSIDE - Sixteen years ago Bob Fink was perfect and just after Christmas 2004 he finally received his reward.
Bob had bowled his fifth perfect game of his kegling career that began in 1940 as a pin-setter in Indianapolis, Ind. The perfecto - 12 strikes in a row - came on Nov. 25, 1988, and was Mr. Fink's first 300 game to be sanctioned by the American Bowling Congress.
"When I didn't receive my ring I thought maybe they hadn't sent my 300 game in. I had almost forgotten about the ring, but of course you never forget about bowling a perfect game," the amiable Fink explains.
A new league secretary in Portland had discovered the error and called Mr. Fink almost 16 years to the date. He received his prized memento in the mail a couple of days after Christmas. "It's pretty nice, isn't it?" Bob asks humbly.
Over the years Fink was a very successful bowler, compiling a 215 average in 1985 and once bowling 17 consecutive strikes over two-games. "I had a spare then struck out with 11 straight strikes," Fink explains. "In the second game I bowled six more strikes before missing the pocket."
Fink's highest series was 777. "A goal I don't think I'll ever reach now is an 800 series. Once I had a 258 and a 300 then fell off to a 178 because I got too excited about the perfect game," he said with a shrug. "Another time I had 11 strikes in a row and then slipped and threw a gutter ball on my last shot to finish with a 290 because the Seattle 11 O'clock news cameras rushed over to take my picture. I think my ball hit the gutter about where the arrows are," he says good-naturedly.
A 290 game - perfect for 11 strikes then hitting the gutter - is a rare feat and one Bob also had sanctioned, but again he had to wait six years for the paper work to go through.
Bob, who will turn 77 in March, joined the Navy in 1943 at the ripe old age of 15 and entered the maritime marines when the military found out how old he really was. Eventually he signed up for the Army Air Corps and was discharged in 1947. After his military career Fink worked in the woods "before power saws," did some commercial fishing, and drove a "Milky Way" truck for most of his working life. "You remember the double tankers with Milky Way on the side," he asks. "I drove one."
In 1990 he retired and he and wife Loretta moved to Surfside north of Ocean Park. Bob still builds picnic tables and Adirondack chairs and sells scrap from mobile homes. Loretta is a seamstress who has created hats for the Garlic Festival and last Saturday was altering a dress so a young lady could attend the high school dance that evening. She does sewing work for the fire department and has excellent collections of old sewing machines and thimbles.
"I used to bowl in as many as eight leagues at a time and Loretta bowls, too. I can beat her most of the time," Fink said with his easy laugh. "There isn't much that keeps me from the bowling alley, or from being active for that matter."
That's like saying Babe Ruth hit a few home runs. You see Fink suffers from diabetes and has had two toes amputated. "The doctors said if I hadn't been as active as I am, I probably would have lost my left leg." He competes in the Long Beach City League Thursdays and bowls with the seniors Wednesday afternoons and also works out regularly at Golden Sands Assisted Living Center. "I missed six days when I had surgery; otherwise I haven't missed working out in the last 15 months."
The pesky diabetes, which was first diagnosed in 1997, has caused Fink to have five eye surgeries. "I can read below the 20-20 line on the eye charts, but my equilibrium sometimes gets thrown off."
Several years ago he had surgery on the first two fingers of his right hand from a logging accident, so he bowled left-handed for two seasons. Another time he accidentally sliced his right thumb on a box cutter. "I waited until the bleeding stopped then used some super glue to patch it up and bowled that night." And then there was the time he dropped a piece of heavy equipment on his toes and when they swelled he had to cut his bowling shoes open, but he didn't miss one roll of his 16-pound ball at the pins.
"I love to bowl," nodding his head with a quiet passion. "I played basketball in the early 1950s for the Seattle Ramblers, a semi-pro team," Fink said. "I've always been pretty athletic with my work and such." His pride and joy is a 1907 Brunswick bowling ball, only the tenth one ever made by the giant sports equipment corporation.
As for when Fink will stop bowling, he points heavenward and relates, "I'll quit the day He wants to take me home. I'd like to spend my 80th birthday bowling." In a perfect world he'd roll an 800 series right on the button that day.
Loretta says of Bob, "When he comes home I always ask how bowled. When he answers 'with a ball' I know he didn't do so hot."
Fink bowled six games in the Long Beach City Tournament at Hilltop Bowl in Ilwaco Jan. 22. At the end of his third game he rolled a strike in both the eighth and ninth frames. In the tenth he nearly made a "turkey" but a stubborn four-pin wobbled, but would not fall. "Reminds me of a four-pin that wouldn't drop in a 299 game I rolled," Bob says.
His next ball narrowly missed the errant pin, leaving him with an open frame. Teammates and opponents alike came up to him to offer condolences and more than one fellow-bowler said, "He's my inspiration." One opponent went so far as to tell Fink with sincerity, "You're my idol."
Sixty-five years of bowling success and a lifetime of being an all-around good guy and husband tends to earn you that kind of universal respect. It may even entitle you to miss a pin or two once in awhile.