Michael Fagan will scan his surroundings Thursday morning in AMF Babylon Lanes in West Babylon, and he'll feel at home on those lanes. Discouraging words will seldom be heard because his family and friends will all be there.
When the PBA Tour makes stops in Long Island, as it will Wednesday in the GEICO Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship, it's Fagan's return to his stomping grounds.
"I love being home, being in my own bed," said Fagan, a Patchogue resident, Greenlawn native and St. John's alum. "There's nothing like seeing people I haven't seen in a while. Most of the places we go, I feel like the outsider. But in Long Island, it's like the crowd is on my side."
That atmosphere takes him back to his high school and college days - before the pressures of profession, money or national ESPN-TV audiences.
Fagan, 29, began bowling at 6 in the Saturday morning bumper leagues at East Meadow Bowl. He starred at Harborfields High School, averaging a 215 as a senior and was part of the Section 11 state championship team in 1997. He turned pro after college in 2002.
He's won pro two events, made 11 televised finals, has $445,000 in career earnings and is currently fourth in average.
The plastic balls are a throwback, paying homage to the style of yesteryear. Each bowler is limited to two balls and they're required to use equipment from the 1970s in the 64- owler bracket format.
Fagan placed second in the Long Island Classic last season, edged, 215-201, by Jason Belmonte, and was fourth in the Plastic Ball Championship in Colorado. But he's been on a roll in 2010. He won the Dick Weber Open in January and if the season ended today, his 219.46 average would be a career-best.
"I think it's maturity," he said. "There's a million scenarios and you have to experience them and prepare accordingly."
His home-alley advantage will be countered by the caliber of competition, though. Fagan will face elites including, Jeff Carter, last season's plastic ball winner, Bill O'Neill, who leads the Player of the Year race, and 12-time champion Chris Barnes, whom Fagan considers his toughest rival.
But there is that ol' New York swagger.
"I'm not feeling any tension at all," he said. "I bowl well with plastic and in Long Island, so put 'em together . . . I'm looking forward to this for sure."