Dodgers All-Star Mookie Betts bowls in quiet solitude at US Open in Indianapolis | Opinion

INDIANAPOLIS – They’re standing five-deep at Royal Pin Woodland, the northside bowling alley holding the U.S. Open championship this week. It’s just after sunrise but they’re here early, these bowling junkies, to see the spectacle for themselves – and there he is. He’s an amateur and a lefty, which puts him in the minority during Round 1 of the U.S. Open. Everything about him seems slightly out of place among the pro bowlers here: so long, lanky and powerful, so fluid. Bowler? This guy looks more like a baseball player.

He strolls toward the line casually, like he’s familiar with pressure – and this ain’t it – and unleashes a gorgeous throw. The ball doesn’t so much collide with the pins as it explodes into them for a strike.

Behind me, someone mutters two words.

"Oh (bleep)."

He’s good, Brandon Bohn. That’s who we’re watching, the next big thing in bowling. He’s the son of PBA Hall of Famer Parker Bohn III, only a freshman in college but already the reigning national amateur champion. He’ll turn pro soon enough, and when he does, he’ll be running things. Just like his old man has for years.

Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star Mookie Betts is attempting to qualify for the PBA's US Open at Royal Pin Woodland in Indianapolis
Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star Mookie Betts is attempting to qualify for the PBA's US Open at Royal Pin Woodland in Indianapolis

Down the way, bowling almost by himself, is Mookie Betts. He’s also competing at the U.S. Open. Also, he’s a right fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a six-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion and the 2018 American League MVP. He’ll go into the Hall of Fame himself someday, the one in Cooperstown, but right now he’s doing what he loves, and doing it in blissful anonymity.

Betts tippy-toes up to the line, shuffling his feet along the way, and throws a perfect hook. Sixty feet away, 10 pins fall.

"Yes," Betts says to himself, quietly, as he walks back toward the ball return. Now he’s making eye contact with his brother, one of the few people watching.

"Yes," Betts says a little louder.

Betts bowled a 300 on his birthday

Betts isn’t here on a lark. He has bowled at least five 300 games, most recently while celebrating his 30th birthday in October – he celebrated at a bowling alley; tells you he’s serious – and also at the 2017 World Series of Bowling in Reno, Nevada.

Betts could’ve bowled his way here on his own, but we’ll never know. He received an exemption into the main draw because the U.S. Bowling Congress, which runs the U.S. Open, knows a good a story when it hears one.

So there was Betts early Tuesday morning, arriving well before sunrise, warming up for the first round of main-draw qualifying. All 108 entrants will bowl eight games a day over three days, 24 games total, with the top 24 reaching match play on Friday and Saturday. The finals are Sunday.

Warming up, one of dozens of bowlers sharing a handful of lanes, Betts didn’t seem comfortable. He was pulling at his right shoulder, switching balls, talking with his coach. At one point Betts knocked over five pins with his first throw, an amateurish result, and let out a big sigh. He’s better than that. Five 300 games, remember?

He walked to his coach, said something, heard something in return, then blurted, “Really??”

Don’t ask for the coach’s name. He’d rather not say. Mookie’s brother is here, Mark Betts, but he’d rather not talk either. Same goes for a childhood friend – name given: Howard – here to support Betts. Nobody is being rude. They’d just rather not speak with reporters, same as Betts. The USBC is leaving it up to Betts, and while he’s fabulous with the media with the Dodgers, that’s his job. This is his offseason. He’s not here for interviews.

Fine by me, really. It’s enough to watch Betts, in his black bowling shirt with white stripes – Mookie Betts, it reads in cursive near his shoulders – black pants, black shoes and black socks. It’s enough to watch him bowl a strike with his final warmup throw and get a fist bump from one of the two competitors he’ll be bowling alongside, Nathan Bohr of Round Rock, Texas.

Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star Mookie Betts is attempting to qualify for the PBA's US Open at Royal Pin Woodland in Indianapolis
Los Angeles Dodgers All-Star Mookie Betts is attempting to qualify for the PBA's US Open at Royal Pin Woodland in Indianapolis

Bohr’s a story. Well, his hair’s a story. It’s cut in a high fade, buzzed almost to the top, where it's growing out and held in place by at least three rubber bands.

Everyone here is a story, really. Brandon Bohn, his older brother Justin, and their dad, Parker. Jason Belmonte, who irritated the old guard by bringing that two-handed, shovel style into tournament play, then established himself as the greatest bowler alive, and now has spawned copycats. Like Wesley Low Jr., 25, who became the youngest winner of a PBA regional event at age 15, and has since become the 36th person to bowl a 900 series in tournament play.

Even the event workers have stories. Take Nolan Hughes, the PBA content coordinator. Social media, blogs, that sort of thing. He’s 24, a recent graduate of Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee. He was a sophomore at LMU in 2019, still trying to figure out what he wanted to do in this world, when he read about the passing of Tyler Trent, the young sportswriter from Carmel who went to Purdue and famously fought cancer.

Tyler inspired people around the world, people like Nolan Hughes, who decided he could do what Tyler had done and started chasing his dream of writing about sports. He began with a blog, writing about the more established sports though bowling was his passion; he bowled on the LMU team. One day he decided to write about Australia’s Jason Belmonte – Belmo, as he’s called – and Belmo’s strangely effective style. That post caught some eyes, including Belmo’s, and next thing you know, Nolan Hughes is writing for the PBA.

Here he is this week at Royal Pin Woodland, writing content about some of the best bowlers in the world. This is what happens, when you chase a dream.

Speaking of Mookie Betts…

Just how good is Betts?

What does Betts look like as a bowler? Like a shorter, right-handed version of Brandon Bohn, actually: Long and lanky, fluid, athletic. The ball doesn’t explode out of his hand like it does for Bohn, but then, I don’t see Bohn throwing out runners and stealing bases and hitting for power and average while winning six Gold Gloves. A five-tool player, you call Mookie Betts in baseball.

A grinder, you call him in bowling. He grew up bowling, actually did it before baseball – throwing his first strike before he tried to hit one – and even now bowls five or six times a week in the offseason. His 30th birthday in October, remember? Celebrated with that 300 game.

Here at Royal Pin Woodland, he has the microfiber ball rag and the wristband and the bag full of bowling balls. He tosses one ball to his brother, just launches it, underhanded, about 10 feet so his brother can put in the bag. Betts has decided on a ball, and it won’t be that one.

Down on Lane 48 he starts slow, with a spare followed by an open frame – he knocked down six, then one more – followed by his only strike of his first game of qualifying. He’d pick up five more spares to finish his first of 16 games with a 150. It’s a low number, but misleading. Same as the U.S. Open in golf, the U.S. Open in bowling has a dastardly setup. “Demanding lane conditions,” they call it, with a thick coating of oil spread evenly most of the way down the lane, not tapered toward the middle. It’s not a friendly pattern, like surrounding narrow golf fairways with thick rough.

If it was easy, anyone could do it. And not everyone can. Betts’ partners, Bohr (188) and Timothy Foy Jr. (156) of Seaford, Delaware, don’t exactly light the lane afire in their first game, either. At the end of his first eight-game qualifying set – a squad, it’s called – Betts is tied for 19th among the squad’s 36 competitors at 1,538. That’s a 193 average, with a high game of 234. He will bowl five more squads over the next three days, this Major League star looking out of place at this northside alley and yet, for sure, like he belongs.   

Betts doesn’t have a big entourage or following, not like some of these guys, but that’s OK. He isn’t here for attention. He’s here because he’s at home in the bowling alley, surely the only $365 million man ever to step foot inside Royal Pin Woodland.

There’s a sign near the bar here, the sign telling everyone what time it is: Beer Thirty. Mookie Betts walks under the sign and into a world of competition, a world where he is comfortable. Remember how he wasn't alone in 19th place after one round? The other guy was Belmo himself, Jason Belmonte, the greatest bowler alive tied with Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts.

Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: MLB star Mookie Betts holds his own vs world's best bowlers at US Open