Dateline: Forever ...
If you want your name to hang in the rafters, you have to shoot for the stars.
Dreams, won't get you there.
Wishes won't get you there.
Hope won't get you there.
Just ask them ...
Warren Moon, Dan Fouts, Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Steve Largent, Ozzie Newsome, Dan Dierdorf, Merlin Olsen, Dick Butkus.
Football not your game.
Just ask them ...
Ernie Banks, Joe Torre, Andre Dawson, Edgar Martinez, Rod Carew, Ryne Sandberg, Gaylord Perry, and Ken Griffey Jr.
Just ask these guys, arguably some of the greatest names to have taken the field in the NFL or MLB, just ask these guys this one question:
"How bad does it hurt?"
And no matter what they say, you will see it in their eyes.
And no matter what they say, you will see it in their body language.
And no matter what they say, it will always be in the back of their mind.
It is the asterisk of their professional life.
Moon, Fouts, Campbell, Sanders, Butkus ...
Banks, Carew, Sandberg, Junior ...
Some of the best who have ever played their game.
But, just ask them, what it feels like to be one of the best, but to have never played ...
... in a World Series ...
... in the Super Bowl ...
As none of them have.
If you want to really know how important hoisting the championship trophy above your head is ...
... just ask those who never have.
And only then will you realize how important winning the Bassmaster Classic really is.
Just ask them ...
... those without a ring ...
... a Championship Ring.
In the hundreds of tales he told me, he never spoke of this one.
Not a mention, not a whisper.
As a child I had not yet earned the right to be told. Tales of between the baseline perfectly fine to be told to the kid, tales of the secrets in a man's soul, not for the young.
It was the missing pages of the story of his life. It was the silent chapter.
This night, all that, would change.
Mid-April-something, I was sent home to Buffalo to cover some sort of story. Mileage plus $40 a day per-diem. New lined SportsCenter jacket worn from one end of the Thruway to the other. From Bristol head north, to Mass Pike ... turn left ... 350 miles later ... stop.
Welcome to Buffalo.
Spring in Buffalo, blue sky, angel hair clouds, stubborn snow banks tucked into the shadows, corners of homes and buildings. Tulips in the front yard, potholes in the street, a breeze still holding the whiff of ice.
Here's the deal ... Denny's Grand Slam in the morning ... four cups coffee ... black. A meal that would pretty much last all day, if lunch was needed, two Butterfingers drowned by Vernor's.
If the story kept me there overnight, dinner was always at Aunt Noreen's and Uncle Sibby's, "Just call us Aunt Per and Uncle Diem, kid." I was on the outside pitch of 40-something, closer to the something, than the 40.
I was always the kid. Kid got a kiss on the cheek from Aunt Noreen. Kid got a calloused handshake from Uncle Sib, who always looked down at my hand before he shook it, looking I'm sure for that first child baseball mitt he gave me back some three decades before from their porch I now stood on.
Meatballs, spaghetti, salad, root beer and cigars. Sib the cigars, me the root beer. Doing talk, who in the family is doing what, not doing what.
Then this, "So kid ... how'd ya make out? Did ya win?"
Uncle Sibby played Major League Baseball for a dozen or so years, but he never put the scorecard down. Life measured in R, H and E -- runs, hits and errors.
Between the Italian Bread and salad, I was once again the kid, I never took my eyes off the cherry tomato, and with the fork speared cucumber midway to the mustache I said this, "No," and chomped the 'cuke.
I heard the cigar smoke, saw his napkin leave the side of his plate, all while never taking my eyes off my plate in front of me and the single tear that made a lake in the lettuce leaf.
"Come with me kid."
Another kiss on the cheek from Aunt Noreen, and then I followed Uncle Sib down a long hall to his television room/baseball museum.
With a head jerk that sent cigar ashes onto his shirt, he said, "Sit kid." And when I did, he relit the stogie, licked his lips, cleared his throat, spit out a tiny cigar leaf, and said, "Let me tell you about the 1948 World Series ... "
And with that, all the pages of his life, opened.
It was raining in Manhattan that night. Urban drizzle, cold, sharp, tiny drops the color of concrete. Even now, more than 15 years later, I still remember the sharp pricks of drizzle as it slammed into my face.
Still feel the tie tight around my neck, still see the raspberry sauce lines across the dessert plate, see the steam coming out of the silver coffee pot. Can feel my friend Bob's red silk tie between my fingers as I helped straighten it.
And can still today feel the shaking inside.
And can still today feel the crushing weight.
And can still today hear.
" ... and the Sports Emmy goes to ... to ... to ... HBO Sports."
And still today typing that I taste the bile of 15 simmering years.
Still taste the vomit.
"So kid, here I was, sitting on the bench, and suddenly the skipper is pointing at me, telling me to get ready, saying ... 'You're up next, Sisti.'"
The 1948 World Series ... Boston Braves vs. Cleveland Indians. Uncle Sibby was 28, and he was about to enter Game 6 ... bottom of the ninth ... pinch hitting for his good friend, Braves pitcher Warren Spahn.
"Kid, I remember every step I took from the dugout to the batters box, to the plate. I remember the gravel on the bat handle," as he said that he was rubbing his hands together still trying to get rid of the dirt almost 50 years later while sitting in an overstuffed recliner.
"I spit, and it was like years before the spit hit the dirt, everything was like slowed down kid, I didn't hear the crowd, only heard me breathing."
And then Uncle Sibby looked to third base for the call, and it came ... bunt.
"Donnie ... I thought the ball was going to hit underneath the bat, but at the last second the ball just floated up, and came off the top of the bat ... "
And I knew then that not even 50 years would get the taste of bile out of your mouth as Uncle Sibby sat quietly, and could only smoke, and look at me.
Uncle Sibby's sacrifice bunt hung in the air and was caught for an out that was turned into a double play when the man on first, who Uncle Sibby was trying to move into scoring position, got thrown out.
The next man up for the Braves hit a pop fly. And that ended the World Series for the Boston Braves, and my Uncle Sibby.
Cleveland Indians 4 ... Boston Braves 3.
Sibby never made it back to another World Series.
Sibby never left the 1948 World Series.
In 1948 there were 146,631,302 people living in the United States. Of those 146 million people, about two dozen got to step on the World Series ballfield.
Uncle Sibby was one of those. Think how special that is.
And then know this, for Uncle Sibby it wasn't special at all, because he was there to do only one thing ... WIN.
It wasn't enough to be IN the World Series, for Uncle Sibby ... the only enough he ever spoke about was to WIN.
Now know this ... there is something like 40 million fishing licenses in the United States right now.
But of those, only 50 fishing licenses will cross the Bassmaster Classic stage.
And only one license, specifically, the man who owns it, will raise the Classic trophy.
Only one out of 40 million will get to wear the Bassmaster Classic Championship ring.
On the way home from Manhattan that night I said nothing, looked at no one, only stared out the window, counting I-84 mile markers, trying to will them to speed by.
My silence getting into bed that night told my wife Barb all she needed to know. I remember her gently rubbing my shoulder, saying nothing, as I buried my head in the pillow to try and hide the sniffles.
It only took me almost 20 years out of my life to get to that point of crying into a pillow to fully realize what "ONE SHOT" means.
Classic anglers, nothing feels worse than to be on the backside of a chance of a lifetime. I felt gutted, cored, hollow.
Even now, after three wins, I still wake up covered in sweat after hearing this in my dreams, "to ... to ... HBO Sports."
Wins go on the mantle. Loses go in your soul.
Being nominated is not an honor.
Making the Classic is not an honor.
Honor comes with a win.
Be not satisfied with just being in the Classic, be only satisfied when you win the Classic.
This is your shot, this is your moment in time that will stay with you for all time.
The rafters await you.
The trophy awaits you.
The ring awaits you.
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.