Sean Rash was irked. Bowling in the PBA Team Shootout in Chicago in June 2011, Rash began his approach but stopped, distracted by the sound of a water bottle being crunched by an opponent, Jason Belmonte. So he paused, restarted his approach and tossed a strike.
Sean Rash was irked.
Bowling in the PBA Team Shootout in Chicago in June 2011, Rash began his approach but stopped, distracted by the sound of a water bottle being crunched by an opponent, Jason Belmonte.
So he paused, restarted his approach and tossed a strike.
Frustrations still lingering, Rash wasn't satisfied with just 10 pins falling.
"Take that," he said, before using an expletive, while pointing in the direction of Belmonte.
The outburst resulted in Rash, a native of Montgomery, Ill., being fined an undisclosed figure by the PBA for "conduct unbecoming a professional." But the tirade, since nicknamed "Bottle-gate," also served as the biggest snapshot of bowling's biggest and budding rivalry.
"I want one thing, for it to be real," PBA commissioner Tom Clark said. "You want it to be real. And it's real in this case. You don't want anything manufactured. Everyone can tell if something is real or fake, and this is dead real."
It's not going away, either.
Rash, 30, and Belmonte, a 29-year-old two-handed bowler from Australia, are among 24 participants remaining in the men's U.S. Open in Columbus. Through 38 games, Belmonte sits atop the standings, with Rash at No. 7 after bowling games of 247 and 241 yesterday at Wayne Webb's Columbus Bowl.
Round two of match play continues today at 10 a.m. and round three at 6 p.m. The top four will face off on Saturday.
"The PBA and other people have tried to bring in a personal aspect into this," Belmonte said. "Sean does his thing and I'll do mine, and we'll see who knocks over the most pins."
Although both downplayed any form of a rivalry, they never professed to be fond of each other, with Rash going as far to add, "I don't like him (Belmonte)."
"He's a liar, he's a cheater," Rash said. "He doesn't think anybody does anything for him. I don't like talking about him. … He needs to understand the sport is bigger than one person. All he cares about is himself."
Added Belmonte: "We don't necessarily have to like each other, but everyone is trying to start this personal thing. We're not going to buy it."
Whether Belmonte or Rash buy it, the PBA and others around the sport are. And for the PBA, it certainly doesn't hurt the sport's visibility. This year, it announced a five-year contract with ESPN in addition to an existing one with the CBS Sports Network.
Saturday's finals will be televised on ESPN.
Rivalries like this can help boost the sport, said Clark, especially when the bowlers are winning. And both certainly have. Belmonte has seven PBA Tour titles and Rash six.
"Through the history of sports, rivalries are what define eras," Clark said. "Sometimes the great players need a rivalry to push them even farther."
The hope for Clark and the tour is that - like rivals Pete Weber and Walter Ray Williams Jr. during the 1990s and 2000s, and Mark Roth and Marshall Holman during the 1970s and 1980s - Belmonte and Rash can push the sport just as far.