Catch the wave: J Todd and the Wild Card

“Another season of scars…”

Dateline: I-75, Mile Marker 339

Set the scene.

It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving, traditionally “deck the halls” day at the Barone household.

Barb is downstairs decorating the Christmas tree; I’ve been outside hanging up the twinkly lights and getting the blowed-up snowman, blowed up.

I’m waiting to do an interview with my buddy, J Todd Tucker, about his participation in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic Wild Card presented by Star Tron shindig. He’s driving to the event; I’m in waiting for the Buffalo Bills to play the late game at 4:05 p.m.

I told him to call me BEFORE the game because I might not be in a mood to talk to him AFTER the game.

I was right.

So he calls me saying he is stuck in traffic on I-75, and I say exactly this to him, “What’s your mile marker sign say,” and there’s a pause, “Uh, I can’t see it right yet,”…mile marker 339 is the text I get later.

Explains the dateline for you.

Then he asks me what I’m doing, and I say exactly this: “Listening to 'White Christmas' by Bing Crosby.”

“Who?”

“Bing Crosby.”

“Bing Crosby?”

“You know who Bing Crosby is right…”

“…Bing Crosby…no…”

“…you don’t know who Bing Crosby is…”

“…no.”

Not the best start to an interview I’ve ever had.

And the Bills game hadn’t even started yet.

“…hey whatever the world keeps on bringing I’m going to keep on swinging away."

Catch the wave.

A long time ago, probably now a quarter century ago since my son Jimmy was born while I worked there and the dude is now 25, I wrote books, co-wrote books, for Rodale Press/Prevention Magazine in Emmaus, Pa.

I had my style.

They had their style.

We hated each other,

but the books sold,

one book, Doctor’s Home Remedies sold like 4 million copies or something. I didn’t really care; I was a hired gun paid to sit in an office and write stuff, no royalties. You took the gig to become an author back when I wanted to become an author and being an author meant something to some people.

Now, I could care less of being an author; things change.

My officemate back then was a big blonde dude from California/Hawaii, a nice guy, great writer, didn’t like Emmaus much; both of us lasted maybe a year or two, he lasted longer, I lasted to just before they were going to fire me for how much I freaked out the editors.

I would say, “So what,” to how the editors felt and said that while standing in the building the 4 million dollar selling book basically built.

We didn’t get along.

But my officemate and I did get along; our job was to write something like 10,000 words a week each. We would work Monday-Friday; neither one of us would touch a keyboard until maybe, maybe Wednesday.

Neither one of us ever missed a deadline.

So, basically, for a couple days we would sit and talk, and he would talk about his love of California/Hawaii, the beach, and surfing. Don’t know, can’t remember if he actually surfed or not, but whenever I got stressed, which was a lot back then, whenever I got PO’ed about something he would look over at me and always say the same thing,

“Catch the Wave…”

and then,

“…man, we don’t make the wave. It’s not our job to make the wave, to curse or get mad at the wave; it’s our job to sit there on our board and wait for our wave to come, then…

“…just catch the wave man, ride the wave your given.”

“…but I’ve got a fire in my heart and a crazy man’s grin…”

Took years before I learned to Catch the Wave, ride the wave I was given and not fuss much about the other waves, or who or what made them.

But when I finally caught the wave, a certain peace came over me, not some sort of Zen thing, more like I didn’t care a zip-a-dee-doo-dah about the wave, not here or what about it, all I cared about was the ride.

The Ride.

And there’s peace with that because it doesn’t matter to me what kind of wave gets sent my way, send your best wave, change it, swirl it all around, make it tall, make it fast, no-never-mind to me,

my only job, my only thought,

is The Ride.

And that is precisely why I have agonized over writing this column.  Legally, I don’t have to, my contract calls for 60 columns a year…this will be column 61.

I agonize because many of my friends, the Elite anglers, sit squarely on the other side of the fence from me on this issue, this Wild Card thing.

In 30 years of covering gifted athletes, professional athletes, I have never covered, or liked, the athletes as much as I do the guys I cover now, and we have formed a kinship of the road, and the struggles of the road together.

You need to know that I have never interviewed a professional athlete, until this job, that wasn’t a multi-millionaire.  I have interviewed 20-year-old kids with a 10-million dollar signing bonus in the bank.

Having millions of bucks as an athlete is a game changer.

Having only thousands of bucks as an athlete is also a game changer.

Here’s the background of where I come from, the AVERAGE salary of QB’s in the NFL (average between starters and those holding the clip board) is $1,970,982 or for a 16 game season (they are paid once a week during the season) $123,186 a week.

So let's just make this easy and say every Monday game check is for $125-grand.

Win or lose.

Now comes the playoffs, very first round, the wild card, most players will get some sort of cash bonus for making the playoffs, but like the regular season they also get a game check.

In the Wild Card round, the winners get a game check of $21,000.

Losers, $19,000.

But here, I’m comparing apples to polar bears it is so far off.  Here, our players, pay to play, and the payout is very important, no matter what the tournament.

Many Elite anglers have a problem with the payout for this Wild Card event, and I’m not taking any stand on that, either way.

What I am taking a stand on is quite simply this; when it comes to an opportunity to get to play on the biggest field of your sport,

you catch the wave.

No matter what the wave looks like, no matter how the wave is changed, no matter who sends the wave,

you catch the wave.

Debate the merits of the wave all you want, but be on the wave.

“As soon as I heard about this tournament, I signed up. Frankly db, I don’t even know what the payout is; I’m not going down there to come in 2nd place, I’m going to fish the Wild Card to be in and win the Bassmaster Classic.”

The Tucker Family- J Todd, Emily, Landon, Chase, and Landon. Said at Mile Marker 339.

By Elite Angler J Todd Tucker.

Stuck in traffic on his way to the Bassmaster Classic Wild Card event.

“…I’m throwing smarts to the wind just to see what the wind brings…”

Again, this is very hard for me because I know of the many struggles our guys have financially to stay and compete in this sport, but if you throw a Wild Card wave at me, I’m going to catch it.

What do we say to each other, what do you say to yourself if the person standing lifting the 2014 Bassmaster Classic trophy over his head in Birmingham in February is the dude who caught the wave back in December at this Wild Card thing.

What.

“db, this is not the way I want to make the Classic. I don’t think it is the way any of us want to make the Classic, but golly, I have a responsibility to my sponsors, to myself to play the hand that is dealt me.”

One of my roommates, Shaw Grigsby, is fishing the tournament; my other roommate, Paul Elias, is not. Paul told me, “I just have a problem with the whole payout thing; that’s why I didn’t do it."

Shaw told me he also has a problem with the payout, “but I’ve got to take a shot at making the Classic.”

J Todd: “This is the one tournament you can really swing for the fences in. There is no real second place here, sure there is on paper, but the only reason you are fishing this, there are no points involved, the only reason you are fishing it is a chance to be in and win the Bassmaster Classic.”

“…you might leave me in ruins, you might crown me king…”

“Some of my better tournaments have been on this lake (Okeechobee).  I know how to win down here, I have 12 years of experience on the lake.”

J Todd has rented a cabin that he normally stays in, “It is off by itself, not around anybody so I can just concentrate. It’s very secluded.

“Is it a good time to be fishing this lake.

“db, any time in the winter or spring, 6 months out of the year it is a really good time here. December through May is extremely good.  You can catch trophy bass here this time of year. They’re setting up to spawn, moving to the next spawn with the next moon phase.”

Yeah, I know, you’re as shocked as I am that I just wrote that last sentence, probably just lost half my readers in Manhattan.

J Todd is one of 49 anglers hoping to catch the wave on Okeechobee.“Tell you something pretty cool, New Year's Day, I think it was 2007, maybe 2008, one of those, I had my best New Year's Day of my life on this lake. My dad, Butch, and I went out fishing that day, and it was the best New Year's Day ever, fishing with my father, and we both caught two 10-pounders each, we boated 4 fish over 10 pounds each. Best New Year's Day ever.”

“…whatever the reason, hey, it didn’t mean a thing less you keep on swinging…”

To all those 49 anglers fishing the Bassmaster Classic Wild Card, I wish you nothing but best of luck and skill, one of you I will see standing on the Bassmaster Classic stage.

To all those Elite anglers not fishing this, I understand. I really do. I have seen the struggle up close, and care deeply about all of you, but I wish you made the trip.

For those not there, this could be a demon lurking.

As an old guy with regrets, I can tell you personally, “What if?” sucks.

I am not a ringer for B.A.S.S., no one in the organization asked me for my opinion, or told me what to write, and part of me wonders if they will print this or not,

I am, though, a ringer for the wave.

Had any of you asked, I would have said, simply, catch the wave.

In this sport, in any sport, the only thing that matters is integrity, sportsmanship, and the Championship.

Regardless of the deal behind the wave, your way the wave comes.

Play the hand,

and when the wave comes,

and it comes with integrity,

and it comes with sportsmanship

catch it.

“…keep on swinging, nobody got nothing on me.”

"Keep On Swinging"

Brooks & Dunn

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