Jerry McKinnis: Moments of Magic

“…years in the minor leagues…”

Dateline:  A dining room table story

How lucky we,

that in all our lives,

there comes,

moments of magic.

Sweet clicks, on the clock of Father Time.

“Two drafts, and a Whiskey Sour please.”

Seven words, maybe two or three seconds to say them, seven words that changed my life.

I was on my knees, head stuck in a cooler under the bar, I was struggling to hook up a keg of beer, the last thing I wanted to hear was an order for draft, as I pulled myself back out of the beer cooler I looked to my right to the service bar, and just saw a pair of legs, beautiful legs standing there.

How lucky we,

as I put my left hand on the bar to help pull myself up off the black bar mat, my head was like in an elevator, my eyes followed up the legs standing there…black skirt…top of the service bar…white blouse…brownish red hair…and then…

How lucky we,

…the most beautiful face I ever saw…and eyes, eyes that could see my heart,

“Two drafts, and a Whiskey Sour please.”

And that, was my moment of magic.  The first time I ever saw the love of my life, my wife Barb.

Didn’t know it at the time how important that moment would be in my life, how 40 years later I can still smell the draft beer, can still feel the cold of the ice, the wetness of the black bar mat.

Of all the moments in my life, millions of moments, a lifetime of moments, it is that moment that is frozen in my brain, my heart, my soul.

And that is what, makes it magic.

When for a moment, the clock stands still.

The gift from the universe, that changes our lives.

I don’t for think for a minute it was CHANCE, not random dumb luck, that brought me to that moment in time,

here’s why,

I was spiraling out of control, alcohol, other things, violence, gangs, on the edge of living a life of nastiness, then came, “Two drafts and a Whiskey Sour please.”


Or a silent hand reaching in, leading to a new path in life.

How lucky we,

that in all our lives,

there comes,

moments of magic.

“…ain't no place I didn't go…”

I have the picture, the photograph of the moment that this story begin to come to life in my head.  It’s the photo stuck somewhere around here on this page, of Jerry McKinnis playing catch.So I'm watching Jerry play catch and I'm thinking exactly this, once a pitcher...

Two moments, while watching him throw the ball to Mark Zona, the catcher, grabbed me.  One, the smile on his face, it’s the smile of a child playing a game they love, and the second moment, he just wasn’t playing catch, he was winding up and PITCHING the baseball.

I watched.

Took some photos of the whole thing.

Didn’t think much of it, but the moment never left my brain, got stuck up there next to my favorite episodes of the Twilight Zone.  That special place that keeps me awake at night.

Then came this, Jim Sexton, a fairly new guy to B.A.S.S. who moved in with the new owners, he’s the dude who I send my stories to, a nice guy who I’m sure had no idea of the ride he would be in for dealing with me, this Jim dude comes here, we become friends, and basically out of nowhere he tells me this,

“You know Bull Shoals is a special place for Jerry, I remember him telling a dinner of anglers and others last year at Bull Shoals how this is where he came after he left playing baseball.”

And with that, the moment of Jerry pitching woke up, and slammed into the front of my brain.

Honestly, stuff like that happens, it is just like it explodes up there, like something is screaming in my head, story….story….STORY DUMMY.

When it happens, it comes in fragments:

“…Bull Shoals is a special place…”



And then this forms up there in my head,...always a pitcher.

Jerry McKinnis…Baseball…Left…Bull Shoals…Special.

I never heard another word that Jim said to me over the phone.

Never heard because in my head my brain was screaming,

how lucky we,

that in all our lives,

there comes,

moments of magic.

“…well I gotta few hits but I never made the show…”

So this is what I knew, Jerry played baseball, Bull Shoals was a special place for Jerry. 

Trust me, I’ve done huge stories on a lot less information than that.

I’ve done stories based on this from a boss, “Something’s up, find it.”

I’ve been an investigative reporter at both the local and national level for over two decades, travelled the globe chasing, “…find it.”

Before I can find out why Bull Shoals is special to Jerry, I need to find out what it was that lead him to…special.

And with Jerry McKinnis, special begins with…baseball.

I heard all the tales of Jerry playing professional baseball, but where, for who, when, never made the stories I was told.

Time to, “…find it.”

“Dude, I need you to find Jerry McKinnis in baseball for me.”

“What did he do.”

Again, my investigative background, my baseball bookworm source is thinking who ever this Jerry McKinnis guy is, he must have done something bad, and holy heck was about to break out on him…

“…steroids again db…”

For a moment, I just sit at my desk and think…Jerry McKinnis…steroids…and then in Jerry’s voice in my head I hear exactly this, “…now golly db…”

“Ah no dude, far from it (no offense Jerry)  he played sometimes I think in the 1950’s.”

“For who.”

“Have no idea.”

“………?”  This means you know, the kind of silence that has questions in it.

Before it gets testy I do what all investigative reporters do…hang up.

I have this photo in my head that in the bowels of MLB is a room straight out of Hogwarts, and in that room is the record of every single person who ever stepped on a baseball diamond somewhere.

The guy I called, a source from way back, isn’t in that room, but if he was, he would be the head Hogwart.

In less then an hour he called back, “That Jerry dude…man, man he played way back,  like in 1956/1957 for something called the Seminole Oilers and the Pocatello A’s.”

I basically, am, blank.  Who.

“The what…the Pocahontas what…”

“Dude…like…two teams, one in Oklahoma and one somewhere in Idaho.”

“Oh cool…I just call the teams and get the info…thanks man.”

“…..good luck with that.”


“…so goodbye to the bus…”

I soon found out that maybe in the entire history of Major League Baseball there has probably never been a team named the Pocahantas-anythings.

And, that the Seminole Oilers and the Pocatello A’s, don’t answer their phones, because they haven’t had phones connected since about 1959ish.

In the investigative journalism business we have a name for this turn of events….hosed.

Obviously, since I actually thought there was a professional baseball team out there named Pocahantas, I’m not quite up to speed on minor league baseball of the 1950’s, which believe it or not, is not a problem.

When it comes to investigatin’ many times it is not WHAT you know, but WHO you know…


First stop, the Smithsonian, and mucking around in their records.  If it is old, it is in this place, catalog heaven for old stuff…

…but this, old stuff.


Next stop, The Library of Congress…these are the guys all those who save EVERYTHING try to be like.  I’m sure somewhere in this joint they have cataloged every shopping list ever written.

And then,

up comes this,

Baseball in the Cross Timbers: The Story of the Sooner State League by Peter G Pierce, 2009

I wouldn’t have paid a second of time with this book information had I not saw “…of the Sooner State League…” because way up in the corner of the historical records of Jerry’s baseball career I saw that the team he played for, the Seminole Oilers played,

in the Sooner State League.


of magic.

“…goodbye to payin' dues…”

Two days later, I had the email address of this Peter G Pierce, so I email him this:

I'm doing a story about one of the owners of B.A.S.S., Jerry McKinnis who used to play in the Sooner State League with the 1956/1957 Seminole Oilers.

Just hoping if you would have a team picture from back there…or the logo of the team…anything we could use that would run in the story.

We will of course give you and your book massive credit for anything you may have.

A shot in the dark, hold your breath and hit…send.  I didn’t expect much but the email went to this Pierce dude on April 9, 2013 1:59PM

At 3:12PM, April 9, 2013, as I was working on my laptop on another story my computer went…ding…and when I opened the email this is what I read:

McKinnis was 11-11- for the 1956 "Miracle" Seminole club who went from 8th in July to 4th at season end and won the pennant from front-runner Ardmore in the playoff.  I've attached a 1956 team photo, some shots of the ball park (still in use) and a shot of the 1956-57 Seminole home flannels.  They were a Kansas City farm club so wore old Phila A's hand-me-downs.   McKinnis is mentioned at p. 292 of Baseball in the Cross Timbers.  He had, like most of the 1956 club, been promoted to Class C Pocatello for 1957.

"After appearing in eleven games at Pocatello, Jerry McKinnis was sent down. After three appearances for Seminole, he quit baseball.  One season in Class D was enough."

Hope this helps.


And as I scrolled down in the email,

I first saw a photo of the uniform that Jerry would have worn back then,

...seems I was right...

then the ballpark he would have played in,

...because in this stadium, Oiler Park in Seminole, OK


then, a black and white team photo of the 1956 Seminole Oilers,

and I found myself staring into the eyes of my boss, when he was just 19 years old.

...a 19 year old Jerry McKinnis, kneeling 2nd from the left, was a pitcher for the 1957 Seminole Oilers. And playing pro baseball.

Believe it or not, at that moment,

tears came to my eyes.

We had just found,


From experience I knew, that not far behind would be,

moments of magic

“…goodbye to the cheers…”

“Golly db….I’m just overwhelmed…what did you do hire a private investigator to look into me.”

Uh, sort of.

A trick from my investigative days, you don’t ask to do the story until you have all the facts, know all the answers to the questions you will ask.

Knowing Jerry as well as I do and knowing how he will give me a hard time for calling him a Co-Owner of B.A.S.S., knowing this very public man prefers to be very private, the story is always about others, not him, knowing this going into the story…I had to have everything in place before I asked him for an interview.

Some call it boxing the person in.

I prefer to call it being…thorough.  Politer that way.

Jerry is the second guy from the left kneeling down in the photo.  He is 19, and he is a pitcher then…and 57 years later, was still a pitcher, while playing catch.

Where this story began.

“db…I was just a child…it was a great time in my life…I got to see and do things I never would have been able to do…it was like my college education those years.”

We talked baseball some, but I could hear in his voice, moments of the 19 year old, moments of the Sooner State League, were bouncing around in his head…

“You see that guy kneeling next to me on my right…that’s Chico…Flash…Gordon…man he could put a hurt on the ball hitting…he was from Cuba, about 5 years older than I was…”

Then the moment in time slowed down for Jerry, heard it in his voice as he began to tell me about his, “college education”…

“…you know db, back then they still practiced segregation and whenever we would go to a restaurant Flash couldn’t eat with the rest of the team…”

It was what he said next to me, what he said showed me that even as a child, he had the same heart as the 76 year old guy, boss, co-owner, friend talking to me know, and that his heart, was long ingrained,

“…they would make Flash go eat by himself in the kitchen, so I thought that just wasn’t right, so I would go and eat with Flash in the kitchen, the two of us, so he wouldn’t be alone.”

Probably the best “college education” I have heard in a long time.

“…and goodbye to the boos…”

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.”Jerry sitting on his first courtesy of Forrest L Wood who may or may not have taken the shot.

How lucky we,

that in all our lives,

there comes,

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.”Read the caption of this photo sent to Forrest from Jerry. That's the Lower Niagara River he's on, not very far from my hometown of Buffalo, NY

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.

“…for a…”

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.”


Dear Jerry.

Dear Forrest.

Forrest L Wood sent me this photo of him and Jerry on a fishing trip...the photo is in Forrest's museum.One last thing, I want to tell you, quote you, what you both independently told me when I asked, ‘when was the last time you guys went fishing together.’

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,

there comes,

moments of magic.

All because, you put down a baseball bat,

and picked up a…

“…fishing pole.”

Laughing River

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.

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