Editor’s note: Rob Taylor contributed this story for NESN.com
On Saturday at 11:30 a.m. on NESN, 17-year-old Jonathan Boudreau will appear on candlepin?s first televised event in three years, Candlepin for Kids. But even seven years earlier, he belonged with the pros.
A mischievous nine-year-old Boudreau sat in the bleachers at Pilgrim Lanes in Haverhill, Mass. watching a fundraiser match between pros and kids on a Sunday morning in 2005. The professionals featured a dream team of candlepin talent, with world-champion names famous to any candlepin fan worth his mettle: Gary Carrington, Jeff Surette and Bob Whitcomb. Chris Sargent, the man whose world-record tying 245 game has never been beaten, threw a consistent powerful ball that dropped more strikes than Jason Varitek on a Tim Wakefield knuckler night. Meanwhile, the kids, featuring some of the game?s future stars, David Godwin and Steve Renaud Jr., were holding their own and keeping up with the game?s elite.
That was until the pros motioned to the stands for their secret weapon to enter their second game.
Down hopped Boudreau, with a cocky smile that he carries to this day, ready to bowl for the game?s top dogs. Parents and coaches jocularly booed and shouted in protest as the fourth grader took to the lane with a presence beyond his years. The lefty picked up a ball, spun it in his hand, and took his signature three-step approach that?s as efficient and effortless as a Brady drop back. The ball was on target. It connected in the strong-side pocket, and the pins crumbled for a strike.
The bowling center exploded in cheers, and pros drew up contracts to sign him for their teams. If Boudreau did sign a deal that day, Scott Boras should try to dig up the paper. Seven years later, the young phenom is the hottest commodity in the game.
Nicknamed ?J-Bomb? after his iconic strike, Boudreau has taken the game?s top tournaments by storm. A month ago in Bangor, Maine, Boudreau finished with the second-highest average in the World Candlepin Championships — a week-long teams tournament featuring the game?s best from the United States and Canada. A year earlier at the Easter Classic — a twenty-string marathon that is the game?s top-paying single day tournament — Boudreau finished in fourth place. In both, he took down nearly all the household names he bowled alongside that fateful day years before. Most remarkable of all is the high school senior shouldn?t even be competing in these tournaments.
Two years ago at 16-years-old, Boudreau was one of the most accomplished youth bowlers in the history of the game, with numerous scholarship prizes from state tournament victories. However, the professional game lured him, despite the candlepin requirement that he give up his youth eligibility to compete. He withdrew from two years of youth tournaments to accelerate his road to compete against the game?s best, saying that ?Some people felt the pressure would be too much to handle, but I felt like I was doing well enough to bowl against the adults and hold my own.” The rest has been just the first few pages of a story that may one day rewrite candlepin history.
His latest triumph took place at the Pro-Kid doubles tournament held at Leda Lanes, in candlepin bowling?s return to television after a three-year hiatus through the web show turned TV program Candlepin for Kids. After Boudreau tossed an impressive 382 score for fourth place, he was paired up with Dedham High School student Anthony Del Monaco, a 17-year-old just four months younger than Boudreau. The duo, formerly enemies on the lanes under the lights of the Candlepin for Kids web show, ripped through their bracket to earn a semifinal berth against the legendary New Hampshire high triple record-holder Craig Holbrook and his youth partner Josh Yaratz.
With the lights from the Candlepin Stars and Strikes ?90s WNDS television show turned on for a web episode on http://www.cp4k.com, Boudreau thrived. Holbrook threw everything he had at the youngster with a quick four marks in a row, but Boudreau answered with a clutch double strike for the victory.
Boudreau and partner Del Monaco now compete against sixteen-year-old Cameron Greene and professional John ?Urbie? Kafalas for the tournament title. Regardless of the outcome, it appears to be only a matter of time before Boudreau takes the final step to the top of the game?s pro circuit. He may already be there now.