In a small town in Connecticut, there is a very happy young man.
Now, to be fair to all the town folk , there may in fact be several very happy young men in town, but I'm not writing about them.
I'm writing about, Victor.
And his baseball cap.
His signed baseball cap.
And just what that there signature means.
To this kid.
And to me.
It means the world.
To this kid.
And to me.
For Victor, it was a signed hat from a hero of his, someone he wants to be just like. Those who gave him the hat told me that, "it made his day, he was stunned, and in fact Victor was so happy that the school gave him permission to call home to his parents and tell them about it."
For me, it means the world because it showed an athlete had respect for his fans, but equally as important, it showed he had RESPECT FOR HIS SPORT.
How special is it that a signature on a hat, a program, a baseball card, can make a day for someone.
Hey athletes out there, listen up because I'm going to tell you just how special it is.
Victor will remember that moment for the rest of his life.
THE REST OF HIS LIFE!
One kid, one signed BASS hat. For Victor, the stuff of dreams.
And for me.
I wanted to be Glenn Bass (freaky on that last name thing now huh), a wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills of the 1960s.
I was 10 years old.
Bass as a rookie for the Bills caught what I thought was about 4,000 passes that first year, what with my cheap plastic transistor radio being what it was back then and the internet not being anything back then.
Information was a bit more difficult to come by.
My father took me to the first ever Buffalo Bills football game in the old War Memorial Stadium — known locally as the Rockpile — and when I came home my mother asked me exactly this: "Donnie, what did you think?"
Donnie: "I had blue — BLUE cotton candy. It was great."
For some unknown reason, my father actually took me back to other games.
Until it snowed, then he bought me a transistor radio.
And as I laid in my bed up in my room listening to the game, imagining it, and the cotton candy, in my head I kept hearing this over and over, "Glenn Bass for 14 yards ... FIRST DOWN," or "TOUCHDOWN ...Glenn Bass ... boy that rookie out of East Carolina University ..."
It was because of Glenn Bass that one Monday I walked over to the Kenmore-Tonawanda Library to find out just what the hell a "University" and "Carolina" was.
So this one day I'm sitting in the kitchen, cabbage and beef stew is cooking on the stove, Mr. D'Auria, the guy next door, is shoveling his driveway and cursing about not living in Florida, my pile of several layers of snowclothes and "Artics," what my parents called snowboots back then before shoes actually got a marketing agent, were lying in a puddle down in the basement, when the backdoor opens, I hear the stomping off of the snow at the bottom stair before coming into the kitchen, and then my father appears shaking the snow off his felt hat.
After a conversation with my mother about how many refrigerators he may or may not have sold that day (he also sold Air Conditioners for Sears but in the winter time my mother would give him a pass on those sales figures) he comes walking over to the kitchen table, sticks his hand in his left pocket, then his right, then the inside coat pocket, and finally from one of the outside coat pockets he brings out a somewhat crumpled piece of paper.
Then he hands it to me. And this is what it said:
To this day I remember exactly what was written on that piece of paper, even though I wasn't quite sure what exactly the "good work" I was doing, I was doing.
Turns out dad had a good day that day in Sears. Sold Glenn Bass a refrigerator. And for me, had the Buffalo Bills player he knew I liked, sign a napkin.
That was then, and will forever be, my Victor's cap.
It helped start a young child to looking beyond his kitchen, his snowed-in driveway, beef and cabbage stew, and to actually realizing that there was a world out there beyond home, and that I just had to go get it.
And it took Glenn Bass about 10 seconds to do that.
Some athletes/famous folks don't get that, or if they ever got it, have long forgot. I know one though who hasn't.
His name is, Mike Iaconelli.
I told Ike the following story, and he laughed, so it's fair game I can tell it to you as well.
When I was told I would be doing a story with the Bassmaster Tour, I was very excited and thankful, then I went home to find out what the heck the Bassmaster Tour was.
As I'm standing there trying to explain something I don't know about to my wife, who was equally as unknowledgeable, my son Jimmy is in the dinning room on the computer.
"Dad, here come see this."
Both the wife and I go in case we are about to see something we need to do some parenting about.
When I get there I see Jimmy has Youtube all pulled up and locked and loaded. Bang, he hits play, and suddenly there's this guy screaming and rolling around on some boat holding a fish.
At first I was afraid to look straight at it, fearful that the fish seemed to be biting his hand off, what with all the screaming going on, and the fact the guy was just flailing his arms and legs all which way.
And as I was about to explain to my son about the evils of taking/watching videos of people in peril, MUSIC HAPPENS, and I see a montage of this guy screaming and flailing, which gets me to thinking, "How nuts is this guy that he keeps letting fish eat his hand/arm over and over?" when me son turns to me and says:
"You going to cover this guy?"
"Who ... the guy getting bit?"
"He's not getting bit ... he just caught that fish. He's a BASSMASTER guy and he freaks out when he catches a fish. Cool, huh?"
My son, who at that point in his life had never been within miles of a bass fish, and I'm assuming, a Bassmaster Elite pro, somehow knew who Mike Iaconelli was.
I was impressed.
Which is why I ignored Iaconelli for a year or so.
The more you don't pay attention to someone, the more you learn about that someone.
And by not paying attention to Ike, I began to respect Ike. While not noticing him I saw something extraordinary — his way with people, with fans.
I saw him give respect, and get respect back.
While still ignoring him I got to know his fiancé, Becky, a fellow member of a close-knit Breakfast Club that pretty much consists of some of the anglers wives, me, and the Costa shooter, "Mick."
When Becky told me this, I knew I had to go talk to the dude.
"There was one time up at Lake Erie, Buffalo, where after the event Mike spent THREE HOURS talking with fans and signing autographs. I had to pull him away because we needed to get on the road to head to the next event at Oneida Lake and it was GETTING DARK."
So a couple of days ago I get to go to Media Day to meet the anglers I have been hanging around with for the past two years now.
I pretty much just ate the BBQ and drank the sweet tea.
There's media everywhere.
But before I escape I go up to Ike and say exactly this: "Dude, I hate this, meet me in the hotel lobby so we can talk, and BTW, the chicken BBQ is to die for."
Ike nods his head and says, "OK." Seems he's been ignoring me for the past couple seasons as well.
Ike and I stop ignoring each other
Ike was pretty much on time, seeing that I didn't actually give him a time to be over there in the hotel lobby.
I was sitting with Becky when her cell phone rings, and it's Ike and they start talking when Ike walks in the hotel front door, spots her, smiles, and keeps talking to her on her cell phone even though she is all of about 5 feet from him.
Becky doesn't miss a beat and keeps up the conversation.
I like this couple.
We find a table in the lobby and in our first formal conversation I say something akin to this to Ike: "I've been spying on you the past year or so and I have great deal of respect for what you do with fans."
And Ike says something akin to this back to me without any mention whatsoever about restraining orders: "Thank you, and I love it. The fans deserve it."
Ike: "Because I was a fan once myself standing on the other side of this. I remember as a kid going to the Garden State Exposition Center and listening to Jimmy Houston and what an impact that made on my life."
db: "But for 3 hours dude."
Ike looks at Becky, she smiles, I smile, he smiles ... I'm still safe here. He doesn't say anything, but his look says it all — I just caught the dude with his hand in the cookie jar.
Becky speaks up: "You know I'm thankful for the fans, too, especially after a bad tournament. It brings him back to earth, calms him down, limits the busting up of lights in the hotel room."
Ike looks at me, smiles. I don't say anything since I used to throw typewriters out of windows back in college when they wouldn't type what I wanted.
And then a cool thing happens.
We start talking. Me, Ike and Becky. Not note taking or columnisting. Just folks. Two Northeast city guys, and a lady from Richmond, Va.
And what they tell me makes me respect this guy and his lady even more.
Ike & Becky
The two of them met at ICAST (some sort of big fishing convention thing I've never been invited to) in Las Vegas three years ago.
Becky had never heard of the guy: "Ike who?"
Becky was there as a tourist; Ike was there as a professional fishing guy.
"We went out to dinner with some mutual friends and I asked him, 'Can you pay your bills doing that?'
Becky was working for a liquor distributor and could pay her bills.
Blah, blah, blah, later during the week they meet for dinner.
"And I get all snippy with him because here I am trying to figure out just who this guy is, and he keeps getting up to meet people, sign things ..."
October 3 of this year, they are getting married.
I know I skipped up a bunch there, but all the in-between courting stuff is personal and not something I'm wanting to ask about, 'cept for this one fact. Coming back from a fishing tournament, Ike calls Becky and says he is driving by Richmond and can he come over to her parents house to see her.
Becky: "Well I had never brought anyone over there, and my father says that at least the guy has b**ls while a brother is googling Ike."
All Becky said was her googling brother turned to her and said, "You know THIS GUY."
Been there, done that, I'm thinking brother found the fish-biting-his-hand montage.
Before the wedding, Ike is "Taking all my grooms on a wading trip, all 7 guys, to the Upper James River in Richmond, all of them are fishing guys except ..."
Becky: " ... my brother."
No one in her family fishes.
Ike: "I took her fishing for the first time ever, she never held a fishing pole in her hand ... I wanted to see how she would do ... she was very, VERY competitive. Not afraid at all. Very competitive."
Becky is just sitting there looking at Ike, and smiling.
Ike: "Becky understands me and what it is I do. She is a great balance for me, I tend to get emotional (both Becky and I shake our heads yes) and she helps me calm down ... she's my partner."
I'm sitting on a hotel couch-like thing, the two of them are sitting across from me in chairs in front of round granite cocktail tables. During the entire interview, beneath the tables, their ankles are crossed with one another.
I knew they are partners without being told.
After the wedding they plan to honeymoon in Fiji in one of those hotel-hut like things that stand out over the water.
"I've already got my packing pole ready for it," Ike says.
Problem is, while Ike has his packing pole ready, ah ..." we just don't have the marriage license yet or, you know, the passport."
"When we were coming down here from New Jersey we stopped in Richmond and met with the minister and got that taken care of, then we stopped by Becky's house and tasted the wedding cake, then we came right here for the tournament. When we go back up to New Jersey we'll stop and get the license."
As for the passport, Ike lost his, reapplied, and is following its replacement process "on-line."
It will be the first marriage for Becky, the second for Ike who has two young childen, Drew age 11 and Rylie age 9.
I have no idea how we got into this part
I'm done. Reporter's notebook folded up, pen unclicked.
Ike: "Breakin' on a piece of cardboard is the same as standing on the front deck of a Bass boat."
"Huh." Notebook unfolded, pen unclicked.
Ike: "I used to be a break dancer when I was young, used to go all over the place ... Travel To Battle."
"It was pretty much my first form of competition. We'd go to clubs all over the place when I was in sixth grade through freshman in high school and duel it out with other groups with our Battle Song."
"Huh." That's me doing the "huh" stuff as you know you would be doing the same exact thing so admit it.
"The crowd would pick the winner."
Becky: "Yeah he still pulls up some moves with the kids at the house."
The first break dancing group Ike belonged to was called, "Unique Rockers ... then I moved to DGC."
db: "What? who? Spell that."
Ike: "D ... G ... C ... stood for Devastating Ground Control."
Trust me, I have no idea how or where this conversation came from.
"Yeah we used to have uniforms and everything. Black and red Puma suits. Used to get big scraps of cardboard, tape them down on the floor and practice the moves on them. After awhile we found this carpet store and we would go in there and buy sheets of linoleum and use that as our floor."
Later, when I just happened to sort of mention this part of the conversation to Skeet, he said, in between bites of a sub, "Yeah I know, but I busted his ass twice now in a dance-off."
"Huh." Me again.
Skeet: "At some tournament, we had a dance contest. He can get me on the back spin on the floor stuff, bad back you know, but I can take him on all the other moves."
Another bite of the sandwich.
A baseball cap for Victor
That above there is what Mike Iaconelli wrote on Victor's hat.
Never Give Up.
It's a message Ike tells over and over.
And Victor, this is what I would like you to do:
Read that message every day.
Live that message every day.
And BELIEVE THAT MESSAGE EVERY DAY.
Because my young friend, it's true.
Ike is right.<
I don't know why Ike tells people that, but here's why I know he is right.
Victor, when I was growing up, about your age, NO ONE believed in me.
Just me buddy, just me. I believed in myself.
What Never Give Up means is this: Believe in Yourself.
Never, ever, EVER, stop believing in yourself.
Ike wouldn't be standing here if he didn't believe in himself.
I wouldn't be standing here if I didn't believe in myself.
And Victor, we're standing here holding a spot for you.
Believe the baseball cap my friend, believe the baseball cap.
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.