Jack Wilson turned out to be a better shortstop than bowler. Yet he wasn't too shabby doing the kegler routine.

"I was pretty good back in the heyday," the six-year veteran Pittsburgh Pirate said. "I would get up there pretty good. I had a 299 a couple of times. I strung 15, 16, 17 (strikes) in a row in between two games but never could get it in the same game."

Wilson is certainly among the Pirates' stars on the diamond, too. But while guys like Jason Bay and reigning NL batting champ Freddie Sanchez are the featured hitters in the Pirates lineup, Wilson considers himself the team's best bowler.

"I see myself first, then Freddie, then Zach Duke," on the team's list of top bowlers, he said.

Why is Wilson talking bowling? It's the sport that provides the fundraising apparatus for Wilson's involvement with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Wilson runs an annual bowling tournament in Pittsburgh. May 20 was this year's event.

"As you get more years in the big leagues and make a little name for yourself, you're able to organize some events people want to go to," Wilson said.

"It's been really easy for me because I've been bowling since I was 2-3 years old. Other people on our team enjoy bowling, so we started up a bowling tournament three years ago. The Make-A-Wish Foundation is such a great cause.

"We like to do it before the trade deadline so we have all our players. We usually hold it after a day game."

Fans pay $150 per person to bowl three games with a Pirates player.

"The whole team shows up," Wilson said. "Players flip-flop lanes so we're constantly moving around to meet everybody. There's also an autograph session. Our big-money thing is an auction with jerseys, baseballs, bats. We have special limited-edition jersey editions made for the event. Mostly Jason Bay, Freddie Sanchez batting title stuff.

"It's a perfect fit for Pittsburgh. Something the whole family can enjoy. A lot of kids come out and bowl with us."

So do serious bowlers, so Wilson is not upset when a fan bests him on the lanes.

"I'm beaten all the time," he said. "But I think I won both last year, 220 and 230."

Wilson won't go so far as to take a bowling ball on the road with him. That was the routine of closer Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams of Rangers, Cubs and Phillies fame. Williams would bowl on the road and eventually was a partner in a New Jersey bowling alley after his career ended.

The Cubs' Kerry Wood has run an annual offseason bowling tournament to benefit Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. That event has raised several hundred thousand dollars for the hospital.

But Wilson has not been limited to bowling in his community efforts. He is involved in the Westmoreland County Tobacco-Free Coalition. He thus earned the Pirates' 2005 and 2006 nominations for the Roberto Clemente Award in honor of community service.

Wonder what they'll award Wilson for his next community gig? A "healthy donut?"

"Yeah, a healthy donut is being brought out in Pittsburgh," said Wilson. "It's a pretty big deal, they asked me to be the cover guy. The proceeds go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation."

-- Red Line Editorial