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October 24, 2014

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Athlete you might like to know

Bowling great, an RV-driving family man, has ‘dream life’

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Leila Navidi

Bowling legend Walter Ray Williams Jr., in town this week for the U.S. Bowling Congress Masters, relaxes with his 17-month-old daughter, Rebecca, inside his 40-foot RV, parked at Sam’s Town.

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  • Hall of Fame bowler Walter Ray Williams talks about living in his RV.
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  • Williams on not doing much sightseeing while traveling.
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  • Williams talks about "living the dream life."
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  • Williams talks about continuing to bowl.
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One of bowling's greats

Walter Ray Williams Jr., 49, practices Monday at Cashman Center. In addition to topping the Professional Bowlers Association in all-time wins and earnings, Williams is an ace at horseshoes and golf. Launch slideshow »

It was a little past 2 on Tuesday afternoon, roughly two hours before his squad would hit the lanes at the United States Bowling Congress Masters at Cashman Center, and one of the greatest bowlers to ever cover a baby split was lounging on a comfy couch in his 40-foot RV in his stocking feet, signing trading cards with his picture on them.

Walter Ray Williams Jr. seemed amused they had selected a picture from 1989 to put on his card when he heard something in the back of the RV. His daughter, Rebecca, was shuffling around, like bowling pins before the automated setter scoops them up and drops them into place. She had been napping.

That was our cue to leave the Sam’s Town RV Park. But Williams, 49, one of the greatest bowlers to ever topple the 10 pins, insisted we meet his and wife Paige’s 17-month-old adopted daughter. He cradled her in his arms as if she were a bowling bowl made of porcelain.

I tried to envision somebody like Barry Bonds signing baseball cards — for free — and then bouncing his child on his knee an hour before Game 1 of the World Series. I also tried to envision somebody like Bonds loading his wife and kids into an RV and driving 2,850 miles before a three-game series against the Marlins, which is basically what Walter Ray, who makes his home in Ocala, Fla., does every time the PBA Tour wends its way to the National Bowling Stadium in Reno (the longest haul Williams makes).

“Sorry, Dusty, better scratch me today. There’s an ice storm blowing across the plain and the kid got ahold of some bad praline divinity at Stuckey’s.”

Some people poke fun at bowlers, because they think Bill Murray’s comb-over in “Kingpin” was a hoot and because it’s not that hard to play while drinking a beer. But if they grew up watching and listening as Chris Schenkel and Bo Burton would lower their voices on Saturday afternoon after Earl Anthony or Johnny Petraglia had strung together five or six in a row in Akron with that month’s mortgage payment riding on the outcome, perhaps they’d show a little more respect to those who bowl for dollars.

The only time my old man wouldn’t let his kids change the channel was when bowling or “Rawhide” was on.

If Dad were still alive, I would have asked Walter Ray to sign one of those cards for him. I would have called my dad on my cell phone, handed it to one of the greatest bowlers who ever lived, and asked him to say a few words.

When I told Walter Ray that, he said “thanks.”

In addition to being the PBA’s all-time leader in wins (45) and earnings (more than $4 million), Walter Ray Williams Jr. is a world-class horseshoes pitcher, having been invited to pitch at the White House by the original President Bush. He also is a scratch golfer, or pretty darn to close it. And he’s one of the few guys I know who still looks good with a mustache.

Between the strikes and the spares and the ringers and the birdies, he has been around the country about 100 times in an RV equipped with most, if not all, the options. He’s seen the Grand Canyon as well as The Thing, The Mystery of the Desert. And that huge meteor crater outside of Flagstaff.

He has taken four leisure-time activities and turned them into a career, which makes him the hero of just about every guy from Milwaukee I’ve ever met.

“I’m definitely living a dream life,” he says.

And that was before Rebecca looked up at her daddy with those baby blue eyes as big as saucers and melted his heart by yanking the “Go RVing” sponsor patch right off his yellow bowling shirt.

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