"I’m only a man in a silly red sheet … "
Dateline: The L.P. of Michigan
Wherein lies power?
Wherein lies courage?
Wherein lies Superman?
Is the strength of a man measured in muscle mass, or is the soul of a man his greatest strength?
Wherein lies fellowship?
Wherein lies brotherhood?
Wherein lies Superman?
Is the value of a man measured in what he collects for himself, or what it is he collects for others?
Wherein lies humility?
Wherein lies compassion?
Wherein lies Superman?
Is the vision of the man measured in what he sees, or where he looks?
Wherein, lies the man, in Superman?
" … digging for kryptonite on this one way street … "
I was writing something else.
My Christmas story, 2011.
Wasn't going well … made the mistake a couple days ago of giving a new boss, me being new to him, new bosses getting old to me, gave the dude a choice, A CHOICE between a couple stories … a comedy routine I do about the KVD cookie I had cemented in Lucite … and some other story thing … some massively poignant thing that I can't for the life of me remember.
New boss picked the cookie. Didn't actually blame him. If I ever got to be the boss of anything, old or new, I would always, ALWAYS, go with the cookie story … kids … dogs … cookies … as storylines, not much downside.
Then came the time to not speaking the story as a comedy routine, but writing it as a story … and it stunk. Stunk so bad I closed the door to keep the dog out of the office.
I kept thinking about that new boss dude … gave him a choice … said I would do it … story stinks so I send in a whole totally new one he's never heard of all the while he thinks a cookie is coming through the email … a magically KVD cookie on top of everything.
I've made these kind of career moves before.
Now you know, explains things, like selling my blood to make money when people would only buy the stuff of my veins and not the stuff of my stories.
I ain't doing that no more … new boss or not.
So I'm at my desk concentrating with two cans (headphones) on my head, one headphone (the left one) playing a song from my iTunes on the laptop into my left ear, the other headphones (the right ones), a completely different set of cans are plugged into my iPod and are playing a whole other song into my other ear.
Beatles in the right.
Rolling Stones in the left.
Not for everyone, but it relaxes me. You take it where you can get it.
It's 8:33 p.m. … my head is on the desk … banging on my desk as I say to both Paul and Mick … help.
At which Paul, or possibly Mick … actually … help.
My phone rings and I see on the 'droid … numbers … and the numbers begin with this … 269 … and while I'm sure there are a few people in that area code … I only know one …
"Hey db … it's me,Kevin."
That would be the one I know in that area code.
And that would be … KVD.
" … only a man in a funny red sheet … "
Step back here a minute.
KVD to me is not the KVD he is to you.
I have never spent a moment with the dude on a boat, and I've seen the TV shows and the speed he drives the boat so I should rephrase it to say, I will NEVER spend a moment with the dude on a boat, I have never asked him a fishing question because even if I did, and even if he answered it, I would have no idea what it was he would be talking about, and wouldn't be caring much when he was speaking about what it was he did that I didn't know nothing about.
This upcoming adventure 2012 that I'm about to have with the Elites may or may not be my last ride with the guys, and because of that I told myself this would be the year of The Why.
Done with hows … everybody doing how this … how that … and I wish them well … me I'm looking the other way … looking for why it is they do what they do … and to do that I've taken a step I've only dreamt about … dreamt about since I first read Hunter S. Thomspon's "Hell Angels," since I first read Studs Terkel's "Working … since I first read Kurt Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions," since I first read George Plimpton's "Paper Lion."
I'm going in.
Inside … really inside … next season I'm ROOMING with two Elites, who may at this moment be rethinking that decision. Shaw Grigsby and Paul Elias.
I am possessed, double secret possessed to bring you the story of the men and women in the fast boats who chase dreams, chase life, chase no-fame, very little if any fortune, lake by lake throughout America.
I owe it to them, not as a reporter, not as a sports journalist, but as a story teller given the incredible trust and access into their world.
And I owe it to me to not blow the greatest story of my life.
But, and this is the most important owe it to, I owe it to you. You the fan, you the reader who might not yet be a fan but who will be once you know these folks.
And I owe it to your children. Owe it to them, devoted to them that when I leave this field of play, instead of selfish, stuck-up, athletes who don't give a damn 'bout nothin' but their wallets, I owe it to your children to at the very least introduce them to a group of athletes who love what they do and who care about the fans who love their sport as well.
I owe it to your children to bring them Babe Ruth.
I owe it to your children to bring them Mickey Mantle.
Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio.
Owe them a chance to glimpse the essence of sports, the passion of those who play the game because they CAN NOT not play it, owe them a chance to see the best at what they do, do it with respect for what they are doing.
For your children, in lieu of athletes, I'm sending heroes.
And I'm beginning with …
" … looking for special things inside of me … "
269 area code.
Let me tell you straight up, you, whoever you may be, you don't intimidate me. I have spent the better part of my life chasing the most despicable people on this planet all around the planet. Chased liars, thieves, crooked this or crooked that, rapists, abusers, murderers be they single or mass, mobs, gangs, psychos … if it is for a story and you are a bad guy, I will come for you whereever it is you may be hiding in the slime.
A good friend of mine and a sometime partner in chasing bad guys, Mark Malone, a former Pittsburgh Steeler QB and ESPN reporter, once told someone that, "somehow Barone's mind thinks the body it is attached to is that of a 6-foot-4,260-pound middle linebacker."
So when I hear on the other end of my cell phone, "It's Kevin … Kevin VanDam," I don't get all butt puckered.
I admire what these guys do, but I am in no way all "ga-ga" over them, in fact if I was younger, and could fish, I'd love the chance to get out there and knock heads with them … and if given the chance to be out there I would advise them to wear helmets; it would be full contact fishing because I believe that "my water" begins with the puddle in the parking lot and ends with the oceans of the planet.
I'm cranky that way.
But I want to tell you two stories about KVD that you probably don't know, and I'm going to begin with doing this … out with the KVD stuff … in with the Kevin stuff.
Out with the persona, in with the person.
Gone the "HOWs," in the "WHYs."
Meet the young, skinny, slow running … Kevin VanDam.
" … I’m only a man in a funny red sheet
I’m only a man looking for a dream … "
"db, growing up I loved baseball, played baseball from Little League through High School. I was pretty good, I could hit, I could catch, play the infield, play the outfield, but db … I just couldn't run … I was slow, real slow."
Me too, exactly me too, and I had an uncle, someone very close to me that I loved, and who loved me, Uncle Sibby Sisti, a former player in the Big Leagues, who would always say, "Donnie … Donnie … " while shaking his head at my apparent ability to run in glue on every field of play I took to.
“One day db, my dad took me, just me, not my brother, not my sisters, just me to my first real Major League baseball game … just me and him, I was 12 … and it was a doubleheader -- couldn't get any better than that."
I'm just sitting listening as Kevin talks, both "cans" are off my head. For the first 20 minutes of the conversation I just sit there, listening, trolling eBay, eating Christmas cookies, but as he talks he is drilling down to his core.
I don't know where the story will lead, but I can feel this in my bones, at the end there will be a "why."
And there is.
"So db the first game is done, most of the people in the stands leave but my dad bought tickets to both games. He also bought me a baseball mitt and a ball, and as the two of us are sitting there, all the seats around us are empty, there are two MLB players coming walking by and they are close to where we are sitting, and my dad asks them if ‘Hey will you sign the ball for the kid?’ … and both players just keep on walking … say they are too busy … they just kept on walking."
I have a pen in my hand, it's how I listen best.
"It crushed me. Crushed me that athletes in the sport I love wouldn't sign an autograph for me, crushed me."
I can tell you this … to this day … Kevin sits in the stands with his dad as a 12-year-old … and it still crushes him.
You want to know WHY he signs so many autographs.
You want to know WHY he walks up to the crowd at the fence.
You want to know WHY he tells me, "I try my best to get to everyone who asks, EVERYONE … young … old … men … women."
Now you know WHY … because behind it all, sits a 12-year-old Kevin VanDam in the bleachers with an unsigned baseball. Shunned by a sport he loves.
And on a mission to never let that happen to anyone else.
Told you, WHY, is more interesting.
" … I’m only a man in a funny red sheet … "
Let me tell you the exact moment I turned the corner on this guy … this theory of KVD.
It was during a very private moment of a very public guy.
It was off where, even if you were looking, you wouldn't have seen it.
There came an elderly man, a seriously ill elderly man.
His name David Davis.
South Carolina … 2011 … the temp that day, easily 400 degrees, with 1,000 percent humidity.
It was a day you felt like you were walking around in a steam bath, a hot shower that ran down your back and made your toes squeak.
Some Bosses of B.A.S.S. came up to me and said that this elderly man, David Davis, wasn't doing well healthwise, but that he traveled all the way here to meet Kevin VanDam … and that it was going to be a private meeting behind the stage, away from the crowds, and that maybe I would want to be there when it happened.
I said to them OK, said to me, "Let it go db, let it go," so I just went over to the meeting just to thank David Davis for coming to the event.
Up until this moment I never wrote a word about it.
Never said a thing because it tore me up.
David Davis was not in good shape, the weather wasn't helping much. Kevin had just stepped off the stage from all day on the water in tournament mode … but David Davis asked me to take a "picture with me and my man here, KVD."
So I did … took a few … never showed them to anyone, until now.
Kevin spent a bunch of time with David Davis … a bunch … even though he had a bunch of other places he was probably contractually obligated to be.
As Kevin was leaving he asked David Davis if there was anything "else I can do for you."
"Ah yes … boy I can't never find me a KVD jersey … any chance I can get that one you are wearing."
Kevin just sort of smiled and told David Davis that he had to leave now and had to have a bunch of photos taken and interviews done.
Then he left, and as Kevin turned to face the crowd David Davis wearing a freshly signed KVD autograph turned and looked directly at me and the eyepiece of my camera suddenly had water running out of it and down the back of the Canon.
It was the look of a man who got a rare chance to fulfill a dream, and who knew what was coming next.
I put the camera down, and hugged the stranger in front of me.
Mr. David Davis.
RIP Mr. David Davis.
And thank you for the gift you gave me.
For it was you Mr. David Davis, who sent me, a crusty old sports reporter dude, it was you who in lieu of athletes, sent a hero.
After all the signing, all the contractual obligations, all the interviews, Kevin VanDam walked back up to Mr. David Davis, and standing before him, took his tournament jersey off and handed it to Mr. David Davis.
And the Mean Joe Greene commercial … became true.
Because an elderly Mr. David Davis asked KVD for his jersey.
And a 12-year-old Kevin VanDam …
… gave it to him.
In lieu of athletes, I'm sending you heroes.
" … it’s not easy ... wu ... hoo ... hoo ...
It’s not easy to be ... me."
Five For Fighting