Open letter to Ike

“When will you realize Vienna waits for you…”

Dateline:  Homefield Philadelphia

To my dear friend, Michael….don’t light the match.

Be Mike, not Ike, here.  Here, in your hometown, here on your home waters, here with family, here with friends.

Here where the fuse can be so short.

Full Disclosure, I want you to know exactly where I come from, nothing up my sleeves.  I am great friends with Michael Iaconelli, his wife Becky, his children, his family, his in-laws.

I am friends with his kindness, friends with his talent, friends with his faults.  And if you are thinking I just called Michael out in this story for his faults, know this, and Michael will back me up on it, I call him out IN PERSON for his faults.

The moment I saw Philadelphia on the Elite schedule was the exact moment I started thinking about my buddy, at our first Elite event as we were talking I told him, “I want to talk to you about Philadelphia BEFORE the tournament, I want to help you prevent the meltdown that many people think will be coming.”

And you are correct, it is not my job to do that, my job, in fact, would be to plan ahead and be ready for the meltdown, and I spent a quarter century of my career doing just that, have a mantle full of the hardware that comes from doing that, and I think doing that is part of journalism.

But I’ve come to learn that caring about the people on the other side of the notepad is just as important, if not more so.

So yeah, I care about Michael, and yesterday, the Sunday before practice for the event, I drove from my house in Connecticut straight to Michael’s rural home in New Jersey and as his young children were in the house eating pizza with Gram and Gramps, Michael, his wife Becky, and myself took a long walk down his driveway, and in this canyon of the corn, we had a little chat.

Come join us on the walk.

“…where's the fire, what's the hurry about…”

As we walk, Michael is silent, and is to Becky that I ask the first question, and it is simply this, and it is really the only question I need to ask, the only answer I need to hear, “So Beck, you worried.”

On the gravel driveway Michael kicks stones as he walks, without those pebbles rolling underfoot, without the sound of sneaker toe on dirt, you wouldn’t know he was here, I sense he is also waiting to hear what Beck has to say.

“This event is no different, he fishes every event to win…”

I’m quiet, Michael is quiet, sometimes the best follow-up question, is the one that’s never asked.  It begins to mist, mist heavier, I can see drops of water forming on the corn stalks, perfect little clear orbs resting on green.

And then, “db…” Becky knew what the question not asked was going to be, “…yeah, this one is a little different, there is extra pressure, he has a little extra stress.”

The mist is starting to run down our backs, the pebbles are quiet, the birds in the corn are quiet, the corn is listening.

“I really don’t want him to light the match Becky, I really don’t, I don’t know if his fans can take it, if B.A.S.S. can take it, if the other anglers can take it.”

Michael looks up from the gravel, looks at Becky, Becky smiles, Michael turns to me, smiles, and nothing is said, when you are this close with people, think of how you are with your friends, nothing was said because nothing needed to be said.

The quiet spoke, said this…don’t know, hope not, hope the match wouldn’t get lit, but in a green field filled with blue drops, no one knew the answer.

Michael, included.

“…you better cool it off before you burn it out…”

Back in his garage, a two bay that’s basically a tackle store, Michael has about a dozen or so rods and reels in his arms, as he walks out to his boat, “db, before this river went off limits I practiced on it 12 STRAIGHT days.”

Becky, “Well that could be on account of how close this tournament is to our house.”

Vegas, their young son, walks up to me to show me a watermelon colored plastic worm he had been playing with on the cement floor.

Behind me as Michael walks in he says, “I have never practiced that much in my life for a tournament.”

I’m glad, but I’m also worried, maybe now, a little more so.

As he walks by me he gets down on the garage floor and starts playing with Vegas and the worms scattered about.

“Michael, how old are you, what year were you born.

As he starts to tickle Vegas he says without looking up, “1972.”

“Good, I was 20 years old when you were born so I can talk to you like a friend, but also like a father, I’m old enough, barely, but I’m old enough to have a kid your age so I’m going to talk to you like a dad, you okay with that.”

Michael looks up from the black plastic worm in his hand, and says nothing, just shakes his head, yes.

“Michael, your outburst of anger, your flipping out, believe it or not, it’s not anything new to me…” Michaels stops playing and stands up, cocks his head, and looks directly in my eyes.

“…you just don’t have a door.”

“…you got so much to do…”

I have watched a professional athlete come into the locker room grab everything from his locker, throw the stuff on the floor, kick it all around, jockstrap and all, then pick up a trash barrel and use it to batter a soda machine.

I have heard an athlete in the showers try and pull the showerhead out of the wall.

I have watched screaming, I have watched pushing matches, chalk smashed up against chalkboards, garbage cans kicked, and on one occasion, a window broken.

All behind closed locker room doors.

“Michael, you don’t have a door to close, you’re on the water for all to see, you dock for all to see, you go up on stage for all to see, you have no alone time, you are always in the public…”

I know the look on his face, I’ve got his attention.

“The door you have to close needs to be inside of you.”

I reach out and put my hand on him, “I’m not freaked with your meltdowns because I have seen some of the best athletes on the planet have the same kind of meltdowns, the public who is against you never gets to see the other athletes do it because they are not allowed inside the locker room.”

“In society opinions are made all the time, made without knowing all the facts, and nobody is more opinionated then sports fans…sport radio isn’t all over this country because no one has nothing to say.”

I don’t condone, outbursts, but I understand, outbursts.

You only begin to understand top, highly skilled athletes, when you put down the note pad. 

Whenever I really wanted to understand the athlete, I would tell them exactly what I told Michael, “Hey man, lets take a walk.”

And when Michael and I walked around his yard, I told him, exactly this, “Dude, Vienna waits for you.”

And he looked at me as if I was having some ‘60’s Bourbon fueled flashback.

“…slow down, you're doing fine…”

Vienna, waits for you.

Your future is out there, let it come to you.

My friend, hold time gently.  Yesterday, won’t come back.

Or last week, or last Christmas, or even…this morning.

Slow down.

I’ve learned, the hard way, that the faster I go, the slower I get to be where I want to be.  Frustration is the result of the lack of proper time management.

Slow down.

When I began to savor every moment, more and more moments went my way. 

I can tell you the score didn’t change when the trash can smashed the coke machine, when the shower head was disconnected, when the window was broken, the outcome remained the same.

When you light the match, the only one who gets burned, is you.

Cradle this week my friend, cradle this week.

Slow down.

Peace, and greatness, are linked.  Peace, overcomes obstacles.  Confidence trumps frustration.

But, don’t every stop being Michael.  Take it from a fellow Jersey guy…Comedian Jon Stewart:

Michael, in 2009, the Kennedy Center honored another Jersey guy…Bruce Springsteen...and during the ceremony, Jon Stewart on stage said this about The Boss, “Whenever I see Bruce Springsteen do anything, he empties the tank, every time, and the beautiful thing about the man is he empties the tank for his family, for his art…”

I love it when you empty the tank, when you leave everything out on your field of play, that’s the stuff of legends, the stuff of champions.

Empty the tank man,

but please,

just don’t do it near an open flame.

Put the match away.

“…you can't be everything you wanna be before your time.”

Vienna

Billy Joel

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