"He is absolutely the finest young bowler I've seen come along since Marshall Holman [who joined the tour in 1974]," says John Jowdy, pro tour consultant for Columbia Bowling Balls. "Ninety percent of the bowlers feel the same way."
Ninety percent of the pro bowlers ordinarily don't agree on anything, but most of them do seem to share Jowdy's enthusiasm.
Bob Handley: "He's going to be a star. He has a chance to become the next dominant player out here."
Mark Roth: "He can bowl, no doubt about it. I like everything about his game."
Mark Baker: "He's the best talent to come on the tour since Petey [Pete Weber] in '79. Columbia signed him to a contract before he became a pro. That should tell you something."
You can't tell much from a casual glance. There was Steelsmith, a video-game whiz, killing time recently by making bleep-buzz-kerboom noises with joysticks and firing buttons in the basement recreation center of the Wichita State student union. The emerging star of the pro bowling tour? In his stonewashed jeans, windbreaker and sneakers, the 5'7", 140-pound Steelsmith could have passed for a freshman. "A lot of people think I'm 18 or 19," he says. "Mark Baker calls me Kid. I don't think he's ever called me Rick."
Steelsmith doesn't want for other nicknames. Some of his tour buddies call him Ironjones, a play on Steelsmith. Others—including Handley, the veteran pro whose van Steelsmith shares on rides between tour stops—tease him with the name Ricky-Rookie-Rabbit. Jowdy, in a press release, even tried to dub him the Kansas Kranker, but the name didn't stick.
So what does one call Steelsmith? "A class act," says Baker. "Not cocky at all." "He's what bowling needs right now," says Handley. "He's very personable and doesn't speak out of turn."
With a backswing so high that his right arm approaches the vertical, Steelsmith combines remarkable power with near-perfect balance and accuracy. "I've never seen such power on a ball with so little effort," says Jowdy.
And Steelsmith has heart. During warmups for the 1986 national college championships in Houston, a towel on an overloaded return rack caused a ball to fall on Steelsmith's left foot. When he got his shoe off, he found a bloody mess: His big toe was broken, and the nail on the toe was mangled. His Wichita State teammates faced disqualification if he couldn't compete, because their coach chose to bring only five bowlers for the five-man team competition. Steelsmith had a piece of his shoe cut out over the injured toe and bowled hurt. He finished third and was such an inspiration to his team, which also finished third, that he was voted tournament MVP.