From heart to home plate

Don Barone
... and this is why I love the Elites ... the professional ... er ... family atmosphere ...

 

"Keep a-movin, move along, keep a moving ..."

Dateline: Between the chalk lines.

 I picked B.A.S.S. in 1958.

While sitting on a bar stool made out of baseball bats.

I picked B.A.S.S. in 1958.

While ducking a cloud of Cuban Cigar smoke.

I picked B.A.S.S. in 1958.

While holding a game-used National League baseball.

I picked B.A.S.S. in 1958.

When the giant of a man behind the cigar turned the ball over in my tiny 6-year-old hands so he could show me just three of the many signatures on the baseball.

"Donnie ... see this name? That says Bud Abbott."

The cigar bounced up and down as it hung out of the right side of his mouth.

"And Donnie ... see this name here? That says Lou Costello."

I just looked at the scribbling, sort of knew the names.

Then the cigar magically moved from right to left in his mouth even though both his massive hands gently cradled the baseball he was showing me.

"But Donnie ... this one ... see right here ... this signature ... signed right here on what we call the sweet spot? This one is special."

With that he backed up from leaning on the bar, and with a gentle underhand motion tossed the ball up in the air so I could catch it in the tiny child baseball mitt he had just given me.

And I kept my eyes on the ball as it floated in the air.

Just like he taught me.

And I used both hands to catch the ball when it landed in my mitt.

Just like he taught me.

And then, I put the mitt with the ball in it on my lap, and with my right hand I slowly turned the ball over to the sweet spot.

As I did so, the cigar started jumping up and down, and the Cuban cigar smoke rushed at me, fueled by the belly laugh of a giant of a man.

I turned and turned the ball, as he just watched, and when he smiled behind the cigar, I looked down and there in my kid baseball glove was a game-used baseball with the sweet spot, sunny side up.

And on the sweet spot — in blue ink — there was a name.

Mickey Mantle.

And then the giant behind the bar took the cigarette out of his mouth and placed it in a blue metal ashtray and leaned forward and said this.

"Donnie ... let me tell you about the Mick."

"...but when a dream is calling you..."

I picked B.A.S.S. in 1958.

Before there was a B.A.S.S.

Before I was even, me.

I picked B.A.S.S because the Sporting News Minor League Player of the Year in 1946 told me to.

Even though I'm pretty sure the man who lead me to B.A.S.S. never saw a bass in his life.

I am here at B.A.S.S. because of one man.

I am, wherever I have been, because of one man.

I am here because of my Uncle Sibby Sisti.

He was a giant of a man who played in over 1,000 major league baseball games with almost 3,000 at bats while playing every position on the team except pitcher and catcher.

A giant of a man who filled in at second base when Eddie Stanky of the Boston Braves got injured during the 1948 season as the team chased the pennant and made it to the World Series.

A giant of a man who years later was cast in the movie, The Natural, as the skipper of the Pittsburgh team, the team Roy Hobbs lit up with the home run shot into the lights. Uncle Sibby was also a consultant on the film using his tales of playing baseball in the 1930s to help keep the feel and look of the game true to the era.

I am here at B.A.S.S. because of one man.

The greatest storyteller in my life.

Uncle Sib.

"...there's just one thing that you can do..."

It was at his knee that I heard the stories of the greats and not so greats of baseball — both the majors and the minors.

But the stories I heard the most were about his "barnstorming" days.

Back in the day, Uncle Sibby and a bunch of his Major League Baseball playing friends — greats and not so greats — would pile into buses, cars, trains, and take off into America and beyond, stopping in big and not so big towns along the way to play the best — or not so best — local ball players.

When he spoke of barnstorming, he did so in the same voice I heard when he spoke of his children and my Aunt Noreen.

Love.

Passion.

And it was because of that those stories were ingrained into me — stories in my soul that I have been told all my life — that I knew that I had to do one thing and one thing only in life.

I had to be a barnstormer, too.

My soul had been molded to chase.

Chase the love of something.

Chase the passion for something.

Many, many years later, when I was all grown up and working at ESPN, Uncle Sibby would be sitting back home in Buffalo watching a baseball game, and he would pick up the phone and call me at work, always saying the same thing when I answered the phone.

"Donnie, hey Kid. It's me, Sib."

And I suddenly would be six years old again as tales of Major League Baseball in the '30s, '40s and '50s came out of the other end of my desk phone.

But every conversation would end with tales of the barnstormers.

Sometime, during the spring of 2006, I got the "Hey Kid! It's me, Sib," phone call. A short call this time, and all Sib talked about were dreams, and chasing your dreams. He said, "Chase, chase, chase."

And those three words were the last words I ever heard from the greatest storyteller in my life.

"...well, you gotta follow that dream..."

Two years after Sib passed away, I finally found the barnstormers.

I found a group of athletes who chase their dreams, their passion, lake to lake.

The anglers of the Elite Series.

And when the anglers tell me their stories, I once again hear Uncle Sib.

And when they speak of their passion for their sport, I get a faint whiff of a Cuban cigar.

And when they talk, I hear in their voices the love they have for the chase, for the chase of dreams. And in my hands I can feel the stitches of the ball and see the sweet spot and hear whispers. Tales of "the Mick."

I have covered every major league sport that you watch.

The NFL, MLB, NCAA, NASCAR and the NHL, and I give each and every one their props.

But when I came across the feet of an Elite angler sticking out of the back of his pickup truck ... the bed of which he sleeps in while competing and chasing his dream of the Elites, when I saw the tears on the cheeks of Bassmaster Classic winner Skeet Reese when he caught his dream, when I hear the stories from Rick Clunn of the soul of bass fishing, when I'm in a group hug with Kevin and Kerry Short at their first Elite win in Iowa ... I know I have found my barnstormers.

At B.A.S.S.

Because in my head, all I hear now is, "Chase, chase, chase."

From the greatest storyteller in my life.

"...wherever that dream may lead."

"Follow That Dream" — Elvis Presley

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