Charging 'Rhino' - Former San Diegan Ryan Page rising quickly on pro bowling tour By Chris Jenkins

    02/12/09

    United States

    Republished courtesy of Union-Tribune - San Diego, Calif. (Feb. 6, 2009)

    20090206RhinoPage.jpg The first thing that strikes you, no pun intended, is the name: Rhino Page. By now much more than just a nickname, it's more suited to a fullback or rugger than a baby-faced lad of 25 who stands maybe 5-foot-7. Especially one playing Page's particular sport.

    Rhino' Ryan Page had the greatest rookie season last year on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour. (Laura Embry / Union-Tribune)

    Ryan Page, the title he was given at birth, became "Rhino" when a tee-ball coach in San Diego noted that he had the furious temperament and intensity of a rhinoceros in full-on charge mode. True to that natural testiness, the young boy hated it. Despised it. "I asked my tee-ball teammates to stop calling me 'Rhino,' " he said. "It didn't get cool to me until I saw it on a bowling ball."

    Ah, and there it is. Now you see it on the back of the colorful athletic shirts that Page wears on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, adorned with a handwritten autograph with the "i" dotted by the horn of a rhino.

    Growing up in Southernmost California, see, Page would tell his Horizon High buddies and baseball teammates that he'd rather spend his spare time in an alley than the waves of Windansea. Hardly the SoCal stereotype, he aspired to be the greatest bowler in the world. Which, he's getting there. Fast.

    Coming within a measly, heart-breaking four pins of a major PBA championship two weeks ago in Las Vegas, Page is following up the greatest season ever by a tour rookie, and he's invariably identified on national television and leaderboards as a resident of Topeka, Kan. Makes sense. Bowling's big in that stay-indoors part of the country, and he does make his home in Kansas.

    In fact, as he competed this week in the Denny's Dick Weber Open in Fountain Valley, Page was as close to his roots as the PBA Tour will get him. Yesterday, he finished 46th and failed to advance.

    How he happened to leave his native San Diego for the Jayhawk State, well, that just makes no sense at all.

    C'mon. Who moves from San Diego to Kansas for the climate?

    20090206RhinoPage2.jpg "Only a couple colleges out here have bowling teams, but (the University of) Kansas had the major I wanted: atmospheric sciences," Page said. "I'm a weather nerd. I know that sounds weird, coming from where I come from, a place where the weather's always perfect. (He feigns a weatherman's voice.) Seventy-five and morning clouds . . . again."

    The Horizon High grad led the University of Kansas to the national title in 2004, his sophomore year. He was named tournament MVP. (Laura Embry / Union-Tribune)

    Page led the upstart Jayhawks to a national championship, but his real thrills were provided by the living classroom of Kansas. On the plains, sometimes you don't find the weather as much as it finds you, and frequently it comes with a twist.

    "I was loving it," Page said, positively beaming. "I went storm-chasing all the time. It was frightening, don't get me wrong. Still, to this day, nothing's made my heart race like seeing storms and looking for a tornado in the middle of nowhere.

    "I'd go out by myself in a car, look at the radar to see what I could find. I saw a funnel cloud one day and, man, I tell you what. I hit the gas (pedal) pretty hard. I said, 'That's really cool, totally cool, but i could die right now. Get out of here!' "

    Getting out of San Diego was something Page had to do to pursue his passion and, eventually, his profession. Since then, he's become a whirlwind in his own right, a young left-hander taking the sport by storm. (Conveniently, too, his major sponsor is Storm bowling equipment.)

    In effect, Page is bowling's version of NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, who likewise had to move away from San Diego County to a part of the U.S. where his chosen sport has a far greater impact and following.

    "The reason there are such good bowlers from other places is that they didn't have a whole lot else to do, especially in the wintertime, so they bowl all the time," Page said. "Here, with the beach and the weather, there's so much you can be doing outside. For a city this big, to see only six bowling centers, that is very rare."

    Over the past decade, half of the six centers that existed in San Diego during Page's youth have closed down. One of those was Sunset Lanes, the Clairemont center where his parents bowled, putting toddler son Ryan in a nursery equipped with a plastic bowling play set.

    "All I remember is being a little boy, maybe 3 or 4, watching from the nursery as my parents bowled league," Page said. "I'd always practice on the little play set, looking forward to throwing one ball when they were done. I'll never forget the first time I threw a ball between my legs without any help. I threw a strike, and I was hooked from that point forward."

    His mom, Karen Page, remembers the sound of those plastic pins pinging off the hallway walls and kitchen appliances of their home. Even before he was old enough to start school, Rhino was practicing from morning to night with the bowling play set.

    Rick Page said his son would watch the PBA on television every weekend and mimic perfectly the deliveries of bowling legend Earl Anthony, also a southpaw in a sport of mostly right-handers.

    Like an advancing rhino, too, the PBA should have seen or felt Page coming from a distance. Although a baseball pitcher until his senior year at Horizon, Page was considerably more consumed and accomplished with bowling, making the USA Junior Team in 2001 and 2002, winning the U.S. Amateur Championship of 2005 and two gold medals at the Pan American Games of 2007. Not only did the Jayhawks win the 2004 Intercollegiate Bowling Championship his sophomore year, but Page was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

    Never before had the PBA, now celebrating its 50th anniversary, had a rookie quite like Page. He qualified for five championships, unprecedented for a first-year player, and won a tournament in Norwich, Conn., en route to a rookie-record $84,811 in earnings for 2007-08. Despite having to qualify for every tournament, Page finished ninth on the tour in points, ranking fourth in average at 223.42.

    Baltimore's been a particularly good stop for Page, who last season set a PBA seven-game record of 1,883 there. Overcoming a rough start to the current season – "a funk that took a long while to get out of" – Page won the Lumber Liquidators Shark Championship in Baltimore in December.

    Two weekends ago, Page found his rhythm again in Las Vegas at the H&R Block Tournament of Champions, one of the tour's majors. After posting one of eight perfect-300 games in the early going, Page eliminated former tour roommate Wes Malott in the nationally televised semifinals, 245-200.

    Matched against friend Patrick Allen for the $50,000 title, Page fell behind the first couple of frames, but reeled off seven straight strikes and held the lead heading into the 10th frame, needing a strike and a nine-count spare to win. He got the first strike, but unleashed a nightmare toss, missing the headpin entirely and knocking down just four. Thus handed a 267-263 victory and the championship, Allen looked more shocked at Page's errant shot than anybody.

    "I got distracted and threw a bad ball," Page said. "We move on."

    Already up to fourth in PBA earnings at $69,080, Page also is tied for fourth in points with Walter Ray Williams Jr., a 45-tourney winner who recently was named second to Anthony as the greatest bowler in PBA history.

    This isn't your grandfather's PBA, however, what with lane-crowding fans encouraged to whoop it up and competitors even engaging in a bit of trash talk and theatrics on occasion. To keep the sport in the public eye, too, some of the top bowlers get more TV time by competing in team events on makeshift outdoor lanes in places like windy Florida.

    Anybody getting Page on his team has a decided advantage. Meteorology being his other specialty.

    "You're fighting the wind, fighting off storms," Page said. "In between matches, I had my phone out with the radar on, so I could tell everyone what was going on with the weather. "I'd say something like, 'We've got a cell that's going to be here in about 15 minutes, dump rain on us for 90 minutes, and then we'll be fine.' The other guys are looking at me, like, whatever."

    By now, they know Page. That's how Rhino rolls.


    Contact Chris Jenkins: (619) 293-1267; chris.jenkins@uniontrib.com