COLUMBIA — After Tom Klepac bowled a perfect 300 game Monday night at West Park Bowl in Columbia, another bowler came over and asked, "How many 300's does he have?"
Walt Rich, Klepac's longtime bowling teammate and friend, held up four fingers.
"The guy said 'Oh, that was his fifth one, huh?"' Klepac said. "I thought that was kind of funny. He was holding up four fingers and getting ready to say, 'Forty,' and this guy was thinking that five was a big deal."
Klepac bowled his 40th 300 game on Monday night, an achievement that took him 34 years.
"It was a personal milestone for me, and somewhere I wanted to get," Klepac said.
The perfect game was the middle game in a 711 series between a 211 game and a 200.
Klepac ended the first game with a 9-count, leaving the 10 pin. He stared the third game with an 8-count.
"I literally had a 12-strike sandwich between two non-strikes," Klepac said. "That's all it took."
Klepac said he had no real close calls during in his 300 game.
"Actually, all of the shots that I threw were pretty good," Klepac said. "The ball that I threw in the 10th was a little high, but it carried. The 11th and 12th were very good shots."
Klepac, 58, of Columbia, had been chasing the final piece of that milestone for 13 months. He bowls twice a week year round except summer when he bowls once a week.
"Quite frankly, it became a big deal to me when I got to 39," Klepac said. "I really wanted to get to 40. I probably pressured myself more to get to that goal. There were a lot of games where you'd get the first nine or 10 strikes, and then you wouldn't strike on a ball where you made a bad shot or got a bad break. I think for the most part staying relaxed and making good shots is what is going to get you there."
Klepac said his teammates -- Danny Monterusso, Larry McIver, Dave Mann, Mike Harrington and Rich -- know how to keep him relaxed.
"You still get nervous in the 10th frame even though you've been there a lot of times," Klepac said. "The thrill and the excitement of it never goes away. The guys that I bowl with, we've been together for about 25 years. We've bowled together long enough that we know each other's games. We know: You need to move, you need to change balls, you need to do this different. You're too fast, you're too slow. Things of that nature. There is a little interteam coaching that goes on that I think has helped. I think we gel very well together. Collectively on the team, we probably have more than 125 three-hundred games."
In baseball, pitchers with no-hitters get the silent treatment. Klepac said that wasn't the case for him on Monday night as he continued to string strikes together.
"It's not a situation where everybody is ignoring you or everybody goes and stands in the back," Klepac said. "They give you a hard time. They make jokes like, 'That wasn't a very good shot.' Or, 'You got lucky on that one.' Then they'll talk about something completely unrelated and it takes your mind off of it.
"Years ago, if you had a string, the whole bowling center stopped. It's not really like that too much anymore."
Klepac said that a little of the luster has worn off bowling a perfect game.
"I think the rarety of the 300 is not today like it was back in the '60's. My father bowled in a league when I was 5 or 6 years old, and I remember from watching him play at that age that a 200 game or 215 game or a 220 game was a big deal. Scores where obviously lower than they are today. There are a lot of people who probably have 8-10-15 three-hundred games, but when you start getting into the 40 range, I think that puts you in a little bit of an elite group."
Klepac, who works as a key account manager for Summit Beer Distributing in Earth City, Mo., has averaged slightly more than one 300 game per year, but they've actually come in bunches.
In the summer of 2005, Klepac bowled three 300s in four weeks.
Klepac's all-time-high series was 865 with games of 277, 288 and 300 on Jan. 14, 2000, at West Park Lanes.
"Ironically, it was on my father's birthday, and he'd passed away," Klepac said. "One of the biggest regrets that I've got is that him being a bowler ... I never had a 300 while he was alive. He probably would have thought it was a big deal."
When Klepac bowled his first 300 game in September 1980, at Panorama Lanes in Belleville, his wife, Patti, didn't believe him. She thought the score sheet was a prank cooked up by him and his friends.
This time, she missed the text message from her husband about bowling the milestone game.
Fortunately, the couple's 18-year-old daughter, Kelli, got the message and had a cake and balloons on hand for her father when he got home.
Klepac thought that bowling 40 perfect games would be the epitome of his bowling career. Now he's rethinking that.
"At this age, I'm still doing well, so if I can hang in there another 10 years and get one per year, then it'll take me to 50," Klepac said. "I guess I better make my goal 50 now."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.