“You can chase a dream…”
"db…this is my home lake, I mean, I wonder, start thinking to myself, what are people going to think of you." Dennis Tietje.
Beyond the smiles.
Beyond the handshakes.
Beyond the congratulations.
Beyond the big red bags,
sat a friend.
Way down at the end of a very long dock, way down where no one parks, sat Trudy.
Sat alone, waiting on a green and orange boat. Dennis Tietje’s boat. Her husband's boat.
Their boat of dreams.
“We have been married 28 years now, db. I told Dennis that I would support him no matter what, that this is a dream and he should live his dream. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, but it is taking an emotional toll.”
And my friend Trudy, wiped away a tear, and I had to turn away.
Once you get to know these Elite anglers, once you get to know their families, they become family to you. They certainly have to me.
We laugh together.
We goof on each other together.
We cry together.
We bicker, we snipe at each other, we are like a 100-some married couples out here.
We hug each other, and we hold each other up.
There is no couple out here loved as much, cared for as much, as the Tietjes, so when I saw Trudy sitting all alone at the end of the dock, I knew something was wrong.
And I knew exactly what it was,
Home Field dis-Advantage.
“…that seems so out of reach…”
It is not easy, to play in your own backyard.
“The media, your family, so many people watch and expect you to perform,” says Dennis as he sits on his boat in the parking lot with Trudy talking to me.
His tournament on his home lake,
Dennis Tietje, didn’t make the cut. Hasn’t made a cut, hasn’t made a check yet this year.
“I can’t understand it, I have done very well on this lake, this is where I do my best.”
I understand it fine:
“Dennis, how many people do you have here at the weigh-in.”
“Hm, 5 family members, maybe 20 or so close friends, you know real close friends, and then a dozen or so people that I know.”
I can’t tell you how many athletes over the years have told me that they love playing at home…but…there is always extra pressure on them when it’s a home game.
Pressure to win at home.
Pressure to get tickets for all the family and friends.
Pressure when they get gas, when they buy groceries, when they go out to eat, pressure when they walk outside to get the mail…every neighbor on the block asks about the Home Game.
“Everybody wants to encourage you, not just strangers but people you know, people you have grown up with, people in your home town.”
Dennis is now looking down, not at me, looking down as his finger digs a hole in the carpet on his boat deck.
I just stand there leaning up against the hull eating a grape snow-cone that his young son, Landon, bought me.
Trudy is sitting next to him just watching people go by, every couple of minutes someone shouts out a hello to both of them on the boat.
Someone in the parking lot shouts, “Hey TJ, hey man…”
Dennis looks up, nods his head, smiles, and looks back down at the carpet, “What’s people going to think of me,” and as he exhales, the digging of the carpet stops.
“…and you know it might not…”
“db, you see yourself holding the trophy on your home lake, and then it just disappears, and you have disappointed so many.”
When TJ, as many call him, says that I don’t look at him, I’m watching Trudy. She is sitting on the deck, legs bent under her, and I reach out and gently touch her knee, she reaches down and pats my hand.
I have long since stopped being a reporter to many of the Elites and their families, I have become a friend, I have become family. I go into many of my interviews telling them, “You’re talking to Don now, not db, I’m writing this stuff down.”
But when my hand gets patted, but when I’m hugged, but when I share tears, I’m just, db.
TJ: “I think I know this lake to well, in the off season I guide on it, I have won local tournaments on it but…”
But both times the Elites have been here when TJ has been fishing with us, both times he didn’t get to lift the trophy. In 2011 he came in 41st place, this year 92nd.
“…but…when I get out here for this, I just overthink it, I know so many places on the lake, that when I’m on one of my spots I’m already thinking ahead to the next spot, and the next, and…”
I’m just playing with the ice in my grape snow-cone, “I have to tell you the truth db, it hurts to see the guys really catching fish, and I’m not.”
“…ever come your way…”
This is db, now, not Don the reporter.
The greatest thing about this sport, is NOT the size of the fish caught, it’s the size of the heart of the people catching the fish.
“db, losing makes winning so much more special.”
I have been there when the last second shot was a brick, I have been there when the last second shot was a swish. I know the swish is sweeter after the brick.
I took this shot of Trudy before TJ came in:
I took this shot of Trudy as TJ weighed in:
In between those two shots, lies the dream.
Lies the nightmare.
I have leaned against the boats of good dreams.
I have leaned against the boats of bad dreams.
I have held their hands, have had their tears stain my shirts, have laughed with them, have cried with them, have been there for their wins, but more so for their loses.
I have covered sports for a quarter of a century now and I can tell you this, the greatest stories are of the losses.
In the loss, is the breadth of the human experience, it is in the loss that you get a peak into the soul of the person standing before you.
It is in the loss, where you find greatness, “db, it is still such an honor to fish the Elites, to compete at this level, just an honor.”
I have been in the winning locker room, and the losing locker room. It is in the room filled with silence where I gain hope for the human race.
It is in the rubble of the destruction of the storms all around us, where I see hope for the human race.
Dennis and Trudy, the most important thing in life is not how we fall, but how we get up.
The essence of the game is to cheer those who get up, even when they can’t.
I have always wondered, do we cheer for the athletes, do we cheer for the game, or do we cheer for the human spirit that takes to the field.
It is in the spirit, where lies the greatest stories.
It is in our loses, it is in our mistakes that we overcome, that make us great.
A couple hundred years from now, robots will take to the field and who ever programs the best code, will win.
And it will be our grandchildren in the stands, who will lose.
Lose, because they will never have a TJ, they will never have a Trudy, will never watch a finger dig into the carpet, or a tear run down a cheek, will never understand why we play the games.
We play, because the TJs.
We play, because the Trudys.
“…dream it anyway.”