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April 24, 2024

Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers star, describes how his passion for bowling led to baseball success

LOS ANGELES — On a recent Saturday night, Los Angeles Dodger Mookie Betts was smiling as he welcomed hundreds of friends and fans to a dimly lit establishment, where several wore jerseys bearing the name of their favorite outfielder turned second baseman.

But few expected to talk baseball.

On this night, crowds came to see Betts and support the seven-time All-Star’s passion for another sport, where three strikes in a row are cause for celebration.

“Bowling is in my blood,” said the two-time World Series champion, who said he picked up a bowling ball before ever touching a baseball.

Mookie Betts bowls during the 50/50 Foundation charity bowling event at Lucky Strike LA Live in Los Angeles on Feb. 3.Mat Hayward / Getty Images for Mookie Betts 5050 Foundation

The 31-year-old says some of his baseball success can be traced to time spent in bowling alleys. Betts’ mother, Diana Benedict, was a competitive bowler he says was at the lanes the night he was born in Nashville, Tennessee. He joined her soon enough, when Betts said his crib was brought into the local bowling alley.

He credits his mom for helping him to excel in both sports. After coaches of other Little League teams said Betts was “too small” to play, Diana started a new team. In the bowling alley, she made sure he was equally talented, helping Betts win his first tournament at the age of 8.

While it is true Diana named her son Markus Lynn Betts so his initials would match those of Major League Baseball, the other sport was always present.

“Bowling is so complex,” Betts explained. “You have to be creative. There’s a lot of visualization when it comes to bowling, just like baseball.”

After being drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 2011 as the 172nd overall pick, Betts has made a name for himself in both sports. In 2017, he wowed fans at the World Series of Bowling by rolling 12 strikes in a row for a perfect game.

He’s lost count of his perfect games since then and credits bowling with keeping his competitive edge during the off-season. Even during the long baseball season, Betts says he’ll sneak into a local alley to help stay in his lane mentally.

Betts’ middle school sweetheart and now wife, Brianna, has learned that if he’s not home or on a baseball diamond, there’s a better chance he’s meditating over pins than over recent pitchers.

The couple is now using both sports to give back. The two teamed up to create the 50/50 Foundation, which works to provide opportunities to help inner-city children break barriers in athletics, education and life.

Last September, Betts worked with Crete Academy, a charter school for grades K-6 in South Central Los Angeles, to invite more than 600 students to Dodger Stadium for a game day experience.

Following the inaugural Mookie Betts + Friends Bowling Tournament and fundraiser, he and Brianna visited UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital to announce the first of several donations. They’ve also created the “Betts on Us” fund to help families with children in need of medical care.

“Our main goal is to be a supporting cast to children in need,” Betts said in a past statement.

This year, it was the foundation’s second bowling tournament where Betts welcomed hundreds back on Feb. 3, swapping a Dodgers jersey for a custom bowling shirt.

The foundation helped pave the way for the inaugural Mookie Betts + Friends Bowling Tournament in 2023, which he built upon when he hosted this year’s event.

“It makes it easy,” Betts smiled. “I get to do two things I love, bowl and raise money to help others.”

Betts warmed up with a few spares before a smooth release provided the perfect spin required for a strike.

Morgan Chesky

Morgan Chesky is a correspondent for NBC News.

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