They list Tom Baker’s home town as King, N.C., these days, but he is a true Buffalonian, born and bred. In fact, he belongs in the pantheon of the city’s greatest native born sports heroes with Spahn, Lanier, Laettner, Kane, just to name a few.
Baker burst on the local bowling scene as a teen-age phenom in the early 1970s and was traveling with the Tour pros when he was barely in his 20s. He was 26 when he won his first PBA Tour title in 1980, the same year he won the George A. Obenauer Masters locally.
The next year he won three PBA Tour titles and earned a career best $134,633. After wrist problems led to nine years without a title, he became a winner again in the mid 1990s. He was 49 when he won his first and only major, the PBA World Championship in Ypsilanti, Mich, in March of 2004.
The one-time Wonder Boy, now 62, is still at it and still winning on the PBA’s Senior pro circuits.
On Monday, at Lane Glo Bowl in New Port Richey, Fla., Baker survived some 10th frame drama against another accomplished pro, defeating Ron Mohr of Las Vegas, 247-245, for the championship of the Killer “B” Open. Baker, the top qualifier, doubled in the 10th, then had a nine-count. Now, he had to sweat out Mohr’s final frame. Mohr, a two-time PBA50 Player of the Year, struck twice but left the 2-4-8 to finish two pins shy of a shootout.
“That was a great back and forth match,” said Baker, a 12-time winner on the PBA50 Tour and 10-time winner on the PBA Tour. “You couldn’t ask for more than that.
“It’s very rewarding when you can win with a big finish,” Baker added. “The way Ron was bowling I expected he would probably do the same thing but it looked like he got the ball a little inside in the oil and the ball didn’t have a chance to finish.”
Baker collected $7,500 for his win. He went 7-1 in match play and averaged 233.67 for the tournament.
Baker is a four-time PBA50 Player of the Year himself, but hadn’t won on the senior circuit since 2014, when he took the PBA50 Dayton Classic. However, last season he had four top-five finishes, including a third place in the Mooresville Classic in North Carolina. He’s won more then $325,000 on the main Senior Tour since he joined in 2005. That doesn’t count what he’s earns each year in the several PBA50 regional events in the Carolinas and Florida.
“I’m looking forward to a good season,” Baker said. “To get a win right out of the gate really adds to your confidence so hopefully there will be more to come.”
The Killer “B” is the only PBA60 tournament for Super Seniors like Baker. Super Seniors take part in the PBA50 tournaments, too. The first PBA50 tournament of the season began Tuesday in New Port Richey with the Pasco County Florida Open, also at Lane Glo Bowl.
An open in the 10th by PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke of Clermont, Fla., enabled top qualifier Brian LeClair of Delmar to win his second career PBA50 Tour title in the Pasco County event.
After LeClair finished with 191, Duke needed a mark in the 10th to win but left the 2-4-8-10 split. He finished with 187, the fourth consecutive runner-up finish for Duke in the Pasco County tournament.
Baker may have been worn out from his ordeal in the Killer “B” by the time the Pasco County Tournament began the next day. He stood in 14th place after the first qualifying round in which he averaged 226 for seven games. In the second round, though, Baker finished with games of 153, 157 and 191 and ended up 44th, missing match play.
There are 12 more PBA50 tournaments before the tour wraps up in August. Pete Weber, who still is a factor on the regular PBA Tour, Walter Ray Williams, Parker Bohn III, Duke are some of the big names stilll active as seniors. Like Baker, they are all PBA Hall of Famers.
• The Sixth Annual Tonawandas Scratch Eliminator Classic will be held at Mallwitz’s Island Lanes on April 30 starting at 11 a.m. Sanctioned bowlers from New York are eligible to enter. Entry fee is $60. Walk-ins will be accepted based on availability.
The event is Smart approved for youth participants. USBC members not sanctioned in the Tonawandas Association may participate by paying the local fee ($7) in addition to the entry fee. Applications are available at the Tonawandas Bowling centers or by visiting the association website at tonusbc.com.
Manor Lanes will be the host for the 75th Tonawandas City Championships May 2-18.
• Jessica Sass shot 695 to win the Girls Division I Scratch title and Dominic German’s 692 took the Boys A Scratch title in the 52nd Tonawandas Youth Singles Championship at Manor Lanes II. Paige Bartosz’s 728, which included a 290, won the Girls Handicap, while Aaron Simonds had a 793 for the Boys Handicap title. Bartosz’s 290 came in a 641 scratch series.
• Fairleigh Dickinson University, with Melanie Hannon (Maryvale) and Morgan Walsh in the lineup, ended up with a 3-4 record in qualifying matches, then was eliminated by Baker match losses to Nebraska and Sam Houston State in last weekend’s NCAA Championships in Baton Rouge, La. McKendree (Ill.) took the team title by winning four straight from Nebraska in the best-of-seven final match. Hannon averaged 196.6 in seven games of regular team competition before the tournament entered the Baker scoring phase.
McKendree will attempt a double this weekend in the Intercollegiate Team Championships, which also are being held in Baton Rouge. The IBC Men’s and Women’s Singles championships as well as the IBC men’s and women’s team finals will be taped and shown on the CBS Sports Network next month.
• The Professional Women’s Bowlers Association Tour will get under way next weekend in Rohnert Park, Calif. The PWBA Tour includes a stop at AMF Gates Lanes in Rochester July 13-15 for the Nationwide PWBA Open. In the confusing world of pro bowling, the stepladder finals of the Rochester tournament will not be held until Aug. 6 in Plano, Texas, where they will be taped for showing on the CBS Sports Network on Aug. 29. Got that?