Former Ranger John Burkett Abides by His Dream to Bowl Professionally
By Mark Miller
For as long as he can recall, John Burkett wanted to be a bowler. Not just a high average league or local tournament competitor, but a card-carrying member of the Professional Bowlers Association Tour.
“I just always loved the game and bowled leagues since I was 8-years-old,” the former Texas Rangers pitcher said. “I couldn’t wait to bowl in a league.”
He continued that quest until he discovered he could throw a baseball maybe better than a bowling ball. It was as a high school pitcher in Beaver, Pa., when he realized that sport would temporarily move bowling to the background.
After 21 years as a professional ballplayer, including parts of 15 in the majors (four with the Rangers), Burkett retired at age 38 in 2003. But, he never gave up on his bowling dreams. Thanks to turning age 50 in November, he’s ready to take on his true heroes in the PBA50 Tour this year.
“I’ve been waiting until I’m 50,” said Burkett, who initially learned about bowling from a combination of watching his dad Ken, the pros and teaching himself. “It’s been on my mind for two or three years.”
Though he will compete against many of his bowling idols, he still wants to beat them. To prepare for the PBA50, Burkett has worked with Chad Newman, manager of Ballard’s Bowling Solutions Pro Shop at Brunswick Watauga and coach of the University of North Texas club team. Not only has Newman drilled new equipment for Burkett, he also changed his hand span and approach.
Burkett put what Newman taught him into practice several times in 2014 including the PBA Summer Swing in Shawnee, Okla., and World Series of Bowling in October in Las Vegas. Though he didn’t win any events, he learned enough to be ready when the PBA50 Tour kicks off in April in Florida.
“I don’t expect to win anything but wouldn’t be surprised if I did,” he said. “I have confidence in myself. Sometimes you are good at something but don’t know until you try. I’m ready to take some bumps and bruises along the way and hopefully I can sneak one in.”
This will not be Burkett’s first foray in professional bowling. He’s competed in several events dating back to January 1990 in Pinole, Calif., thanks to a special invitation while with the San Francisco Giants, the team that drafted him in the sixth round (148th overall pick) in 1983.
Overall, he pitched in 445 games, starting 423 with a 166-136 record and respectable 4.31 ERA. He was a two-time All-Star – in 1993 as part of a 22-7 record and 3.65 earned run average with the Giants and in 2001 when he went 12-12, 3.01 with the Atlanta Braves.
Traded to the Rangers in August 1996, he finished the season 5-2, 4.06 in 10 starts and won his only post-season game against the New York Yankees in the American League Divisional Series. He went 9-12, 4.56 in 1997, 9-13, 5.68 in 1998, and 9-8, 5.62 in 1999. After two years in Atlanta, he completed his career with two years with the Boston Red Sox.
With a wife and three young kids at home, Burkett no longer wanted the nomadic baseball life so he never returned to the sport other than to attend an occasional game. Yet baseball brought Burkett enough fortune for him and his family to comfortably settle into “retirement.” He has lived in Southlake since first coming to Texas in 1996 and in his current home since 2001.
Besides returning to his bowling roots, he has spent the past six years with groups that buy, refurbish and sell homes in Pennsylvania and Texas. He also keeps his competitive drive going through casino poker. His attempt at the PBA50 Tour also will help him stay close to games.
“I just love competing and bowling has been my favorite sport from the get-go, so to now be able to do it at a level with the greatest bowlers in that age bracket in the world would be a lot of fun,” he said. “I love challenges. I love challenging myself and seeing what I can do with situations, so going against those guys will be fun.”