It was closing in on midnight last Saturday at the Riviera Lanes in the Akron suburb of Fairlawn, and Dave Ferraro was finally free of the well-wishers, autograph seekers, microphones, TV lights and legions of bowling wannabes, usedtobes and neverwillbes. He was free, at last, to sigh and stretch and bask in the mellow afterglow of winning the Firestone Tournament of Champions, bowling's most prestigious event. In the championship game, Ferraro had rolled a 226 to Tony Westlake's 203. Said the 30-year-old Ferraro, "I won because I bowled better than everyone else." In a time of rampant over-analysis in sports, this comment was a welcome spring breeze.
So there was Ferraro, with a first-place check of $50,000 tucked into his shirt pocket and with a victory that may be the most significant rung in his climb toward the Professional Bowlers Association Hall of Fame. Life on the tour these days is pretty doggone sweet, isn't it, Dave?
"Nope, I hate it," he replied. "What I enjoy is being home in Kingston [N.Y.]—and staying home." For Ferraro, bowling represents one of life's cruel contradictions. He's terrific at it. His average has been among the top three on the PBA tour for the past three years, and his career winnings are $585,997. Of course, he wants to continue doing what he does so well. But to do it, he has to drag himself out on the road for at least 30 weeks a year, and he detests traveling. In fact, as he stood at bowling's pinnacle, Ferraro seemed to be trying to think of reasons to quit, rather than to keep on rolling. This is the opposite view of most bowlers, who stay on the tour until they are tapped out—financially and/or athletically—and then try to hang on for a couple more tournaments, hoping for a miracle.
"If I end up making only $50,000 or $60,000 a year out here," said Ferraro, "then I go home. Gladly. I've got to win at least $100,000 to make it worth my while. [He won $137,907 in 1989 and has been among the top 10 money winners for the past three years.] Believe me, I'll know when to go home." One senses that it will be sooner, rather than later. In fact, it could have been real soon, the way he had been going before the Firestone: He hadn't won a tour event since November '88—he now has five tour victories in six years—and had won a paltry $22,220 this year.
Ferraro, rather than viewing his success in Fairlawn as evidence that his game is now back at its peak, regarded the big check as a cushion that would allow him to cancel out on at least one PBA tournament, the Seattle Open on May 15-19. There's no question Ferraro feels that if he never had to watch in agony as another 10-pin failed to fall on the tour and could instead stay at home with his wife, Gloria, his son, John David, 2½, and all the other members of his extended family, his life would be better for it.
Ferraro's dislike of the tour is not the only thing that separates him from his bowling brethren. When he's on the road, he jumps rope 3,500 times in 25 minutes every day. At home, he works out on a Lifecycle and a StairMaster. Most bowlers think they have proof of their physical fitness when they wake up alive. Westlake, who is Ferraro's best friend on the tour, is more typical of the average pro. He carries 175 pounds on his 5'6" frame, which explains why his stomach tumbles over his belt. The other night at an Akron deli, while Ferraro discussed skipping rope, Westlake ordered home fries.
Furthermore, in a world where fashion doesn't exist, Ferraro is a clotheshorse. "I'm a so-so bowler," he says, "but I'm Shopper of the Year." While in Akron, Ferraro bought three pairs of pants ($110 each), to bring his total to more than 50. Yup, Akron. You've seen it on the windows of fine clothing stores everywhere: New York, Milan, Paris, London, Akron. "I can't help it," Ferraro says, "I like to dress up." Conversely, Westlake's major concession to fashion is to repeatedly pull up his pants, which, through no fault of their own, can't seem to find a waist to cling to for support.
Last week, Ferraro was also unlike the other bowlers in the way he rose above them. He was nobody's favorite to win the Firestone, and while there were many turning points in the 49 games he bowled, the key frame was the first one in Saturday's final game. He opened with a 2-10 split that he failed to convert and followed that with a spare in the second frame. Meanwhile, Westlake had won his way into the championship by bombing defending champion Del Ballard in a sudden-death semifinal game, rolling nine strikes with his last 10 balls. He started the final with two more strikes. Ferraro looked DOA until the fourth frame, when he moved his starting position two boards (two inches) to the right to improve his angle. Presto! He rolled five straight strikes while Westlake got only two. Westlake still had a mathematical—though no real—chance to win until the ninth frame, when his try for the spare left the 4-pin standing.
It was a remarkable comeback for Ferraro after his awful start. "If your mental game isn't right, it can play tricks on you," he said. Ferraro knows about perseverance. In his eleven years on the PBA tour, he has finished second in seven tournaments, five of them last year.
Ferraro's win at Fairlawn was a milestone in a bowling career that began when he was two. The game was his first love-after all, he didn't have to go on tour to play then—and by the time he was four, he had rolled a 156. Practice was never a problem for young Dave, who bowled every day at the Bowlerama, which the Ferraros then owned in Kingston. Although Dave's father trained and raced harness horses at Monticello and Saratoga raceways for 18 years, hay fever distanced Dave from the horses.
Nothing short of tour riches will distance him from his family, though. The Ferraro clan—Dave's parents, Jack and Lorraine; his brother, Steve, and his family; and his maternal grandmother—live in separate houses on a six-acre piece of property the family calls Ferraro Hill. A couple of times a week, the clan gathers to eat dinner at one of the houses, everyone waving their hands and talking at the same time. "My grandfather was one of 21 children," Ferraro says, "and there was a feud about something. My dad said he'll never let that happen to us. The basic theory is that a family that eats pasta together, sticks together."
Ferraro says his bowling career will never become a wedge in family unity. Still, he reluctantly boarded a plane to Reno on Sunday, heading for the next stop On the tour. "I sure wish I was going home," he said, wistfully.