Car salesman was once a PBA star

April 23, 2009

By Greg Lindberg

Sports Journalism class at USF St. Petersburg

Some only know him as Steve, the guy who owns a small used car dealership in Hudson, Fla. Others recognize him as one of the top professional bowlers of the last 20 years.

Steve Hoskins first started bowling at age nine after his family moved from Woburn, Mass. to Tarpon Springs in 1973. He received his first bowling ball shortly after that and literally “grew up” in bowling alleys, bowling on leagues and improving his game. He finally became a member of the Professional Bowlers Association in 1987. He joined the tour full-time two years later and quickly made his mark as Rookie of the Year in 1989.

“It was an honor to get that, obviously, especially when you’re recognized by your peers,” he said. “But you put the trophy away and then go back to making a living.”

Hoskins, 40, won his first national title in January 1993 in Grand Prairie, Texas at the Quaker State Open. He defended the title by winning the same tournament again the next year.

In 1997, Hoskins became the 11th pro bowler in history to roll a perfect 300 game on national television. He did it at the Ebonite Challenge in Rochester, N.Y. The ESPN-televised match was against Walter Ray Williams Jr., widely considered the greatest bowler of all time.

“It was probably the neatest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “It’s definitely up there. It’s nice to own a piece of history.”

The flawless effort came in the semifinal match of the event and earned him an extra $10,000. Hoskins would go on to defeat Rick Steelsmith in the final match to win his fifth career title. Following the tournament, according to the PBA’s Web site, Hoskins said, "This is what every pro dreams about. My children and my marriage are the only bigger things in my life than this night."

Jason Couch, a 15-time PBA titlist, is good friends with Hoskins. The two first met at a tournament in 1988 when Couch was an amateur. He said he looked up to Hoskins, even though the two are about the same age.

“He’s really one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met,” Couch said.

But on the lanes, Couch said Hoskins’ personality changes.

“He wears his emotions on his sleeves when he bowls,” he said. “He’s a fierce competitor. You can really see the fire inside him. It’s not very fun bowling against him.”

Hoskins said his most rewarding title came at the 1997 Touring Players Championship – his first major title. He talked about bowling under the bright lights of television – something that only happens if a bowler advances to the championship rounds of a tournament. He said it is more thrilling than nerve-wracking.

“Pressure is self-imposed,” he said. “It’s actually more fun. You’re more anxious than nervous.”

Hoskins appeared on national TV over 30 times in his career. The former pro now only bowls three games a week on a league with his father at LaneGlo Lanes in New Port Richey.

“I actually enjoy it,” he said. “It’s one of the places I grew up in when I was younger. So I’m extremely comfortable there, and everyone treats me with the utmost respect.”

He will offer bowling tips to others if they ask but mostly keeps to himself. His current average on the league is 230 – much higher than it was on tour because lane conditions for leagues are much easier to bowl on than the tricky oil patterns of the PBA tour.

Hoskins, who served as PBA president in 2003 and left the tour in 2005, won 10 national titles and is a candidate for the PBA Hall of Fame. The hall, located in St. Louis, currently has 82 inductees. But the rules for induction have changed in recent years.

“They’ve changed the rules three times since 2002,” Hoskins said. “It’s getting to be kind of a joke. Quite frankly I should have already been in it.”

Couch said Hoskins still has a good chance of getting in.

“He’s pretty much a lock,” he said. “Without question he should be in.”

Hoskins is currently the president of CarZone, a small car dealership in Hudson that sells pre-owned vehicles. He also works as a salesman for the company. He said he is comfortable with his current job and lifestyle despite its low-key nature compared to the national spotlight and competition on the tour.

The father of three admitted that he is surprised by how many customers recognize him when they come in to buy a car.

“I’m kind of shocked how many people have said something,” he said. “Some will look at me with that puzzled face like they know me, and then once they know my name, that bell goes off. It’s quite flattering.”

On tour, Hoskins had several roommates while traveling from one city to the next and staying in hotels. He talked about the drawbacks of a living companion.

“A roommate can make or break you,” he said. “If you’re around someone who is negative all the time, you’ll take on their habits, and it can destroy you rather quickly. It’s like picking friends – if you pick the wrong ones, good luck.”

Hoskins has also bowled in several foreign countries, including Canada, Saudi Arabia and Japan. He said the Japanese have great respect for pro bowlers whenever they go there for tournaments.

“Japan was my favorite place by far,” he said. “We were treated extremely well. The hospitality was second-to-none.”

In response to critics who say bowling is not a sport, Hoskins offered a simple suggestion.

“Try it,” he said. “Try it at the level I did it at. See how sore you get.”