This time last year, I didn't know Baker from Adam. But after working and often traveling with Baker since the 2013 Classic, we've grown to be friends. How close? Well, we've shared a hot tub.
That last statement begs for an explanation. Between the Sabine River and Falcon Lake Elite Series events last spring, Dave Mercer, James Overstreet, Baker and I were pulling two boats to Falcon and had an opportunity to stop at Lake Austin for two days of fishing before we had to be in Zapata.
We found a vacation rental home in Austin that had a driveway big enough for the boats and a four-person hot tub. Especially for Overstreet and me and our old, cranky backbones, the hot tube was especially inviting. So one evening after a good day of bass fishing at Lake Austin, we made a massive man stew – all four of us in the tub – rub-a-dub-dub. Out of respect for the readership at Bassmaster.com, I'll post no photos of that event, but some were taken.
Baker has become the GoPro camera expert on the Elite Series, although there were no GoPros in the hot tub, thankfully. If you want to see just how good he is and how good the fishing was at Lake Austin, check out this link.
But all of this is just a way of explaining why I was rooting for Baker to win at Okeechobee last week. He caught the biggest bass of his life (a 9-1) and the biggest bag of his life (29-8) on Day One and had a 5-13 lead going into the final day. His mother, father and girlfriend made last-minute plans to be there for the Saturday weigh-in. He was one eight-hour day from completing a lifetime goal – fishing in the Bassmaster Classic.
As you know, Baker didn't complete that goal. But he handled an agonizing third-place finish with more class and maturity than many men twice his age – 27 years. It was an eye-opener for me, and I think I know him pretty well after all the time we've spent together over the past year.
It had to hurt. But on the weigh-in stage, a smiling-through-the-pain Baker put it in the proper perspective, "With all that's going on in the world today, if catching fish is the biggest thing you've got to worry about, then you're doing okay."
Amen, brother, amen.
Finally, to my good friends Trip and Hank Weldon, who often test the bounds of friendship with their Alabama Crimson Tide chest-thumping, there's this one:
Did you hear what Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said to Alabama coach Nick Saban during the final minutes of that Auburn victory over the Tide?
"Hey coach, have you got a second? There's something I want to run by you."