Chris Baker sets up for a strike at Yongsan Lanes in South Korea.

Chris Baker sets up for a strike at Yongsan Lanes in South Korea. (Greg L. Davis / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Last year, Chris Baker was a little intimidated in a national bowling tournament when the field included college-aged competitors.

Baker, 14, was battling in the Junior Olympic Gold National Bowling Championships in New Haven, Fla. This year, he again qualified for the tournament, which will be held July 12-19 in St. Louis.

“I feel pretty lucky, and I feel pretty happy too because not that many have the opportunity to go to St. Louis,” said Baker, who will be a freshman at Seoul American High School this fall.

The tournament’s entries come from Canada, Puerto Rico and Europe, and there are special military zones for children who live on bases overseas.

Baker made the cut in the Far East Military Zone Tournament on March 16-17. He grabbed first place after winning a roll-off, 224-183, over Josh Pierson, the 2001 Far East 12-and-older champion.

In 2002, the Junior Olympic Gold tournament was a bit frustrating for Baker because other players ranged in age from 13 through college age. But size doesn’t really matter much in bowling, he said.

“It’s how you concentrate,” Baker said. “I just pretend that I am by myself and just bowling for fun, and I’m concentrating at the same time.”

His father, Bill, has filled a scrapbook with his son’s accomplishments.

It starts off with a photo of Baker grabbing a blue ball off a rack he’s barely taller than. At that time, he was just 4, following his father to bowling alleys at Camp Long and Camp Red Cloud.

Baker took up bowling in 1994 and always wanted to go to the alley. Now, you can’t keep him away, his father said.

“He didn’t say he wanted to do it,” Bill Baker said. “He just picked up the ball and started rolling it down the lane.”

Baker usually bowls on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. His father’s scrapbook has an impressive array of scholarships his son has received during his bowling career, money that will be awarded when he reaches college.

Baker said he’s considered Nebraska and Washington, which offer bowling schools as well as academics. He plans to study computers but wants to remain competitive in the sport.

“I’m going to stick to this until I get tired of it,” Baker said.

“Sure,” said his father. “Whatever pleases him — as long as he gets good grades in school.”

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