Chris Barnes has had an incredible professional bowling career, amassing 18 titles (3 of which are majors), winning both PBA Rookie of the Year (1998) and Player of the Year (2007-2008) honors, bowling a 300 game on TV (Geico Shark Open 2013), and being a consistent title contender week-in and week-out for more than a decade. The 1999 Eerie Flagship Open was Barnes’ second career TV show, and it was a high-energy finals that culminated in what would turn out to be the first of many championships for Barnes. Let’s go back in time to that memorable day now!
The crowd at the Eerie Civic Center was electric before the first ball was even thrown. This could be because there had been high scores all week, with bowlers averaging in the 230s and some even in the 240s, and the tournaments held in this venue in previous years had also yielded high scores. It could also be due to the fact that a basketball game which was airing on the same TV station that day went into double overtime, so the start of the bowling was delayed by a significant length of time. The first match featured Parker Bohn III going up against Rick Steelsmith. Bohn III was making his third consecutive TV finals appearance (and would eventually end up winning Player of the Year honors that year) and Steelsmith had incredible bowling talent but did not have a more accomplished career due to a shoulder injury he suffered earlier in his career. Bohn III had a lot of momentum going into the match, but after the first few frames it was apparent his ball reaction was not good. Bohn III, who was playing up the gutter, would go light on one shot and high on the next. He wasn’t missing by much, but he did not have much room to miss if he was to get a strike. Bohn III left a split early, which resulted in an open frame, and fell behind by a large number of pins when Steelsmith began the game with 3 straight strikes. Even though Steelsmith cooled off in the middle portion of the game, leaving 3 single pin spares that resulted in spares, Bohn III could not string enough strikes together to climb back into the match, or even make it close. When Steelsmith, who was playing a slight swing around the second arrow, threw 3 more strikes in a row the match was his. He defeated Bohn III by a score of 235 – 197.
Steelsmith now faced Chris Barnes who was making just his second TV finals appearance. Barnes’ first TV show, which was earlier that year, did not go so well. He was the tournament leader at the Albuquerque Open but lost to Brian Himmler. Himmler bowled a great game, shooting 228 (with an open late in that game) but Barnes struggled, bowling 161. Most people do bowl poorly on their first TV show, but now everyone was anxious to see how Barnes would fare in this next go-round. After bowling 235 you would think Steelsmith was locked-in, but his opening shot of the second game suggested otherwise. He went right through the heart and left a 4-count split. He only got 4 pins on his spare attempt, and Barnes jumped on Steelsmith’s mistake immediately by throwing two strikes in a row. Barnes was playing more of a swing than Steelsmith was, playing around 16 board out to the 12, and he was coming in light and splattering the pins around with his powerful shot. Steelsmith was down big for the entire match, and a solid 10 pin crushed any hope Steelsmith could win the match, or at least make it close. Barnes defeated Steelsmith 258 – 184.
In the next match Barnes went up against Patrick Healey, Jr. Both bowlers started with strikes, although Healey’s strike was a lucky one in which he tripped the 2-8 for a strike. In the second frame, Barnes threw a light hit that he’d been carrying all day, but this time the 5-7 split was left standing. The 5 pin was knocked slightly off-spot to the left. Barnes seemed kind of stunned that he left those pins, and on his spare attempt he missed both pins. However, he just barely missed the 5 pin, and if it hadn’t been knocked off-spot, Barnes probably would have gotten a spare instead of an open. This whole frame seemed to really tick Barnes off, and it appeared to have flipped a switch where all of a sudden Barnes was serious and laser-focused. Healey followed up his fortuitous strike in the first frame with another one in the second, when he tripped the 8-10 out. Healey would throw one more strike after that to make it 3 strikes in a row before coming in light and leaving the 2-8-10 split. After the unlucky break in the second frame, Barnes threw nothing but strikes, and they were flush strikes as well. Healey followed up the open in the fourth frame with a strike and a spare before striking out for the remainder of the game and throwing a 245 score. Healey bowled a good game, but it was no match for the new-found intensity of Barnes, who threw strikes in each frame from the 3rd to the 12th and got a final score of 266.
It was now time for the final match wherein Barnes would be taking on Rudy “Revs” Kasimakis, who had a lot of experience bowling “action” matches, which is when two bowlers go head-to-head for a lot of money (often times thousands of dollars each game). For a more detailed and nuanced look at “action” bowling, read this fabulous article by Gianmarc Manzione. Or better yet, read his amazing book “Pin Action: Small-Time Gangsters, High-Stakes Gambling, and the Teenage Hustler who Became a Bowling Champion.” Both bowlers started with strikes, and Rudy Revs was definitely working to get the crowd fired up! Whenever he would strike he would emphatically yell “Yeah!” and would encourage the crowd to get loud. Both bowlers threw a double early on in the match, but Barnes blinked first when he went through the nose in the 6th frame and left the 4-6-10 split. Just when it seemed like Kasimakis was going to put distance between him and Barnes, he left a flat 10 pin and missed it. After that miss, Kasimakis couldn’t string strikes together, instead alternating between strikes and spares and finishing with a 197. Kasimakis had a similar problem to Parker Bohn III from the first match, where he was all around the pocket but just couldn’t finish flush. After Barnes’ open in 6th frame, he threw 3 strikes in a row, culminating in a light swisher after which Barnes gave an enthusiastic fist-pump and exclaimed, “Yes, that’s the one!” While at the time the strike didn’t guarantee Barnes the victory, it did make it so he couldn’t be shut out and put all of the pressure on Kasimakis. When Kasimakis didn’t double in the 10th frame and finished with a 197, the match belonged to Chris Barnes who finished with a score in the 2-teens (the telecast ended before Barnes’ final shot, but I am going to say he shot 214.) The championship match of the 1999 Eerie Flagship Open between Chris Barnes and Rudy Kasimakis was an intense conclusion to an event that was pulsing with energy all day as Chris Barnes climbed the ladder and won his first PBA title.
Here is a link to the final match: Chris Barnes vs. Rudy Kasimakis