Dear Mr. 150-to-1

“You might slip…”

Dateline: Got me the blues…

Got Etta James on the spinning vinyl.

Got B.B. King on the MP3.

Got the downstairs Chicago smoke-filled, shot glass, red leather stools, basement bar blues.

Got me the cigar with no match, got me the leaky bottle cap,

blues.

Comes the tenor sax, music up full, cat.

“…you might slide…”

Got me the blues, because I met a man today at registration for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic, a dude from Montana, a beautiful state of vistas and people, dude is a Nurse Anesthetist, dude is a B.A.S.S. Nation angler who won the B.A.S.S. Nation West championship.

Dude been picked, odds placed on the dude of 150-to-1 to win the whole shebang, 150-to-1 to hoist the Bassmaster Classic trophy, 150-to-1 to have the name Tim Johnston hang in the rafters.

Got me the blues, because in the 22 years that I have been covering professional sports, I have refused to, and frankly don’t believe in, put odds on human beings.

So when Tim Johnston tells me that he was picked as having 150-to-1 odds to win, I got all spittle from the mouth mad, and pounded my chest right there where I think the heart sits, and I say to him, and I quote, “#@!*!# don’t you listen to that, that statistical #@!^*# doesn’t take into account this…”

And then I coughed some because I may have hit my lungs too hard, but the “this” that I was banging on…was my heart.

HEART.

You can play around with all your numbers, explain it all away with that new math stuff, put up all the charts and algorithms you got on all your computers, but you ain’t got squat, in my book, because you are missing one variable in that measurement morass you got going,

and that measurement variable you are not accounting for may in fact be the most important variable in the whole dang unfathomable equation:

The Human Spirit.

Show me the numbers on that.

Until you can account for that, you just are doing Voodoo Math.

So this open letter to 150-to1 is actually a letter to all of you, all of US, who have been told, “the odds are against you, son,” or “the odds are against you, honey,” to all of those who wrote us off, who gave us no chance, who thought we were only speed bumps on the road to success, to them I say,

there is magic in every human being whether you can see it or not, and this magic is a spark that you can’t put out, a spark that you can’t measure, a spark oblivious to the odds you place on me, and this spark is called,

SPIRIT.

Who got them blues now.

“…you might…”

Let me tell you about this dude from Montana. Tim Johnston. At the age of 13 he went around his town of Kalispell mowing neighbors’ yards, and then he took the money earned from that and bought A LIFETIME MEMBERSHIP IN B.A.S.S. That was 35 years ago.

“I love the history of the sport, the last thing I did before I left home in Montana was to watch the 1994 Bryan Kerchal Bassmaster Classic.”

Bryan, also a Nation angler, finished last in the 1993 Classic, but won the Classic the next year…wonder what the odds on that feat were.

“I feel like I’m in a fog, especially when I saw that gold Bassmaster Classic trophy, but I did get my KVD handshake out of the way. I went up to him and shook his hand and said thank you.”

“Thank you for what.”

“I thanked him because without him and all the others like him, I wouldn’t be here, none of us would be here, and KVD wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those who came before him. I just had to say thanks.”

And then, “db, it was always my dream to be able to attend a Bassmaster Classic, and now I’m fishing in it.”

The human spirit is the spark that lets a person with 150-to-1 odds STILL GET IN THE BOAT and compete.

That spark is what lets Tim still launch.

“…stumble and fall by the road side…”

He drank Scotch Whiskey, chewed on cheap cigars, and in the summertime breeze of Buffalo, N.Y., he played a grease stained Gibson guitar and sang the blues.

The blues of a junkyard worker who spent a lifetime pulling $20 used generators out of junked cars.

He smelled of tire fire and antifreeze-stained shoelaces.

But he was a master mechanic by heart, but not by Scotch Whiskey, and he would bring home stray wrecks like stray cats, fix them up with parts found in other cars, or on the junkyard ground, and he would drag them, and me, to a local racetrack, a 5/8-mile asphalt oval.

I drove because I was 30 pounds lighter than his son. I was 16.

All the other drivers, years older than I was, laughed, told us we had no chance, “the odds of that kid winning, a million to one.”

First came the smell of scotch, then the stink of the cigar, then his face as he leaned in the car and looked down at me strapped into the seat. “Bones (my nickname as a kid because of my lack of weight). Bones, listen to me, it’s not always the biggest and strongest who win; if you are in the race, you have a chance to win the race…”

And then he said to me something I have taken to heart my entire life, and to all the 150-to-1s out there, please you do the same:

“…when that green flag drops, everybody has 1-to-1 odds…”

“…but don't you ever let nobody…”

“db, I figure B.A.S.S. gave me a bat, gave me a chance to be, at bat, and you know what, I’m going to take a swing, swing for the fences.”

Mr. 150-to-1, swing.

Launch to win, leave nothing behind.

There are moments in every sport that transcends the sport itself:

The batter limps up to home plate, as he loosens up he favors one leg, as he swings there is a hitch in the swing as he adjusts for two bum knees, and yet he manages to jack one out of the park, and as Kirk Gibson rounds the bases in the 1984 World Series he pumps his fist in jubilation.

How about almost 200-to-1 odds…that was the book on the 1999 NFL St. Louis Rams chances of winning Super Bowl XXXIV. In 1998, they finished in last place; on January 30, 2000, the Rams were Super Bowl champs.

It is for these kinds of moments that we watch sports – us, a nation of just regular guys and gals, who somehow manage to succeed against all odds.

As Tim and I sat talking, Ken Duke, the Bassmaster writer who made Tim the 150-to-1 angler came by and I told him what the story was going to be about. Ken and I are good friends; we just see differently on odds. And I know he has nothing personal against Tim; in fact, after joking around with both of us, as he left,he said, “Anyone can win this tournament.”

To all the 150-to-1s out there,

the odds of being an astronaut are 13,200,000 to 1,

yet we have footprints on the moon.

To all the 150-to-1s out there,

the odds of winning an Olympic medal are 662,000 to 1,

yet as I write this we have 23, 2014 Olympic medals heading our way.

Bowling a 300 game: 11,500-to-1 but a couple of my in-laws do it all the time.

A hole in one: 5,000 to 1 but I saw my father do it TWICE.

To the 150-to-1s out there, here are the only odds that matter,

I read once that the odds of life forming on Earth were something like a billion, trillion, gadzillion to 1,

basically, we shouldn’t be here,

but we are,

so in fact the odds of us being here are,

1-to-1, because here we are.

And here, we beat the odds.

And here, when we tell a dude from Montana, that he basically faces the longest odds to win,

he still launches,

when it is his turn at bat, he will still swing,

because we live on a planet,

with 1-to-1 odds,

where all of us,

given the chance,

given the hope,

can win.

Good luck Mr. 150-to-1, wherever you may be,

may the spark,

may the spirit inside of you,

beat all the odds.

“…drag your spirit down.”

“Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down”

Eric Bibb, Maria Muldaur, Rory Block

db