Ravens' Hoard is hoping new game right up his alley Running back takes shot against best in the sport

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Just because Ravens running back Leroy Hoard has played in a Pro Bowl, that doesn't necessarily make him a pro bowler.

But Hoard is giving it his best shot, trading in his helmet and shoulder pads this week for a monogrammed bowling shirt and a pair of those funny-looking shoes.

An avid bowler, Hoard received a "special exemption" by the Professional Bowlers Association that has allowed him to compete along with the best bowlers in the sport in the Greater Baltimore Open at Country Club Lanes in Rosedale. Qualifying began yesterday and continues this morning.

Hoard readily admits that his bowling game isn't near the level of the touring pros, but he has set some ambitious goals that he believes are attainable.

"I want to be even, that's my ultimate goal," said Hoard, who carries a 200 average but finished 159th out of 160 bowlers in yesterday's early qualifying. "Eventually, I want to actually cash. I don't have to win, just get a check. This winter I'm going to work hard at it."

This is the second PBA event in which Hoard has competed. Last March, he bowled in the Comfort Inn Classic in Florida and did not fare too well.

"I was OK after the first six games, but the second six games, I couldn't hit the headpin with a plastic ball," said Hoard, who finished at -580 in 18 games.

After the humbling experience, Hoard had a newfound respect for the physical and mental toughness of the bowlers. To hear Hoard tell it, not even former coach Bill Belichick's infamous gassers -- sets of 55-yard sprints in full equipment after a grueling practice in 90-degree heat -- were as tough.

"I was tired, I was beat, I was whipped. I could not believe what those guys go through every week," Hoard said. 'You have TC whole different outlook once you do it. It's like a puzzle. Every shot you have to expect the lane conditions to change, but you have to know when to change your shot."

Hoard said he has the most trouble making spares, but he's been getting helpful tips from pros such as Walter Ray Williams Jr., Bob Vespi and Randy Pedersen.

Baltimore's Danny Wiseman, winner of six PBA titles in seven years, offered this assessment:

"He's strong so he can throw the ball hard, but he doesn't know where it's going," Wiseman said. "To be successful, you have to also have finesse with power."

Bowling initially served as a diversion for Hoard and several of his teammates when the team was in Cleveland.

"In Cleveland, we wanted to hang out without having to go out on the town," Hoard said. "We had started bowling on our days off during the summer. I had joined a league the year before, so I suggested we get into a league. "When we came here, I met [Country Club Lanes proprietor] Dennis Baldwin through Bob Vespi and he said we can come over and bowl. We didn't know the city very well, so we just started bowling."

Hoard has taken his interest in the sport a step further. He co-owns a pro shop in Florida with Vespi and said he is thinking about opening another one.

"I'm getting into it even more, so I guess I'm hooked all the way now," Hoard said. "Randy even gave me some shirts. I said I would never buy a shirt with my name on it, but here it is."

Pub Date: 5/23/96

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