One year, Jerry batted .200.
Another time the record shows he hit .500. Came to bat twice, hit the ball once. If you want to read more Jerry stats you can do so by going here.
“You know db, we rode the bus all over the place to games, so I would get to the bus maybe 15-20 minutes early so I could get a window seat…I got that so that on the way to the next game, the next town, I could sit and look at all the streams and rivers we passed…fishing was always on my mind…always.”
So in 1957 or ’58…with his baseball career going backwards in the alphabet, Jerry gave up baseball and moved to the Bull Shoals area, to fish the White River.
But being new to the river, he needed a guide to show him the honey holes, so he hired one to take him around,
“When I looked up, I saw this skinny guy walking down the dock to me.”
The guide who looked up and told me the story is…Forrest L. Wood.
Yeah…that Forrest L Wood, the guy who founded Ranger boats, the guy with the tournament organization that bears his name, er, initials FLW.
From Forrest: “I was guiding the White River that day, drew Jerry as a customer, we were both about the same age, we were both nobodies, but boy did we hit it off, in fact I even brought him home to have dinner with me and Nina (Forrest’s wife), and I never ever did that before.”
From Jerry: “I still to this day remember walking down the ramp, remember walking up to him, and I can still hear in my head db, and I’m not kidding, still see and hear him look up and say to me, “Hello, I’m Forrest Wood, and I’m going to be your guide today.”
How lucky we,
that in all our lives,
moments of magic.
“I can honestly tell you db…tell you db…golly I can hardly get the right words…but right then in those 10-15 seconds it took Forrest to say those words…wow…a lot of things got lined up if you know what I mean.”
I do. “Two drafts and a whiskey sour please.”
“…I can only say…wow…it was a major moment in my life.”
“I could tell that first day out with Jerry, that, how you say, he loved fishing so much…he kind of lost the crop when he went fishing, you know what that means Don.”
I do Forrest.
It means, simply this, somehow, some way, an invisible hand has lead you to where you were meant to be.
And in Jerry’s case, where he was meant to be, was off the baseball diamond, and onto the water…and more importantly on that fairly new invention…Television.
From a five minute fishing report on a local Little Rock television station…to the Arkansas Sportsman Show…to the Fishin’ Hole show on ESPN…that invisible hand, that walk down the White River ramp…lead to an amazing 40 year run of talking fishin’ on TV.
The crops loss, was a gain for million of television viewers.
“…I'm trading in this old bat…”
Forrest: “Jerry and I have been on a bunch of fishing trips together, we became lifelong friends, went to British Columbia to fish for Steelhead…in fact you know the first TV commercial I ever did, I did with Jerry, he always told me that if I come by his cabin, ‘if the gate is open, come on in.’”
It was Forrest L Wood who sent me the photos he has kept of Jerry, and to this day they are still great friends, last year at the Bull Shoals event Forrest and Nina both showed up for their friend’s weigh-in…it’s where I took this photo of the two in the crowd.
Forrest buddy, huge shout out man, for taking my call, for taking the time to tell me stories, for helping us frame this moment of magic.
It is times like this that I have to take a moment to myself, and thank the mysterious hand that leads, need to take the time to shake the hand that leads,
that has lead me to a life as a reporter, writer,
led me to a lifetime of hearing people telling me of the moments of magic in their lives.
It is not so much the details of the moments of magic that is so special to me, the sweetness is being there when the person telling me realizes that magic moment.
You can hear it in their words, their speech, you can feel it in the electricity of humans that we all share. The stardust that unites us.
When all is said and done with me and this writing thing, the magic moment moments will be what I remember the most…
…and on that list will be what Jerry told me about how much Bull Shoals means to him.
Bring it home, Jerry…bring the story home, as is your right.
“Golly db…don’t know how to put that…”
I have asked Jerry this, “Tell me how important Bull Shoals is to you.”
And then stepped back.
“…for a while I sort of took it for granted, as you do when you are young…”
There are pauses, long pauses, Jerry is thinking, remembering, I have just hit the dude upside the head with a 56 year old team photo…with quotes from the guide who helped launch it all…lot to take in…so I just shut up and wait…when he gets the words, I will hear them…
“…now…I realize how important this area was for me…”
There is a long pause, I put down my pen, experience has taught me that what will be said next I won’t need to write down…I’ll remember it for the rest of my life…those moments of magic…
“…db…this area built my whole life.”
And that right there was worth the year it took to be able to hear it said. Maybe even worth it to the person saying it. I think it was because this was the next thing Jerry told me.
“I’ll never, ever, ever, be able to repay this area for what it has done for me.”
First, Forrest: “Been longer than you think, wish it wasn’t like that though.”
Now Jerry: “Been a long time, wish it wasn’t, you know we are both very healthy, but you just never know at our age.”
Wish it wasn’t. Squared.
Please do this,
take the time, maybe this week, to once again float down the White River.
Do it to say thanks to that invisible hand that brought you together.
Do it to say thanks to each other for the lives that played out for you both.
There is a circle in every life,
when we come around once again,
when the invisible hand is gone,
and all we see are the moments of magic we were given.
Climb aboard guys, for one more fishing trip.
Because somewhere in the gentle current of the White River, you will catch,
how lucky we,
that in all our lives,
moments of magic.
All because, you put down a baseball bat,
and picked up a…
Robert Earl Keen
PS: Some huge shout outs…
To Paul G Pierce for his book “Baseball in the Cross Timbers,” all those old time baseball photos came from this dude, clapping for you my friend…thank you.
To Forrest L Wood…for being a friend to Jerry and not a rival…for being a huge gentleman to me and opening his heart and telling me of his moment of magic…hope to sit in a boat with you some time myself.
And finally to my nameless sources, thank you for being there for me for the past 30 years, I have never told you this, but all of you have also been moments of magic in my life. My career has been in your hands.
And I thank you.