TULSA, Okla. — Jimmy McMillan should be here this week with his son, Brandon.
He should have been able to make the 20-hour, 1,200-mile drive from Lake Okeechobee hauling Brandon’s boat, and he should be at the BOK Center Friday screaming louder than anyone as Brandon makes his entrance during the first round of the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.
But things don’t always go the way they should.
In 2012, Jimmy was gunned down by a 19-year-old who was attempting to rob the McMillan family grocery store in Belle Glade, Fla.
It was the type of grocery store that exists mostly these days on The Andy Griffith Show and in our memories. It was a family business that remained largely unchanged as the neighborhood around it deteriorated. Jimmy died defending it at age 49.
Brandon should be able to wave to Jimmy from the Classic stage this week. But since he can’t, he’ll honor him with the song he chose to have playing as he enters the arena.
That song, by country music star Cole Swindell, is appropriately titled “You Should Be Here” – and it says exactly what Brandon and his family are feeling this week.
“He was the one who got me into fishing,” said Brandon, who earned his Classic berth by winning the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open last year on Lake Seminole. “We did a lot of bass fishing back when I was little, but then we switched over for a while and did more saltwater fishing. When we got back into bass fishing, we kind of did it together.
“A lot of good things have happened for me in my career since he passed away. So as you can imagine, we’re missing him this week.”
Jimmy had his own list of accomplishments in professional fishing, with 10 career Top 10 finishes on the FLW Tour, including a victory in an FLW Series event on Lake Okeechobee in 2009.
He lived long enough to see Brandon win an FLW Tour event himself on Okeechobee in 2011. So he knew the kind of talent his son had.
Still, his first Classic is something Brandon would have given anything for his father to see.
Like the song says…
It’s one of those never-forget, got-to-stop-and-take-it-in kind of scenes. Everything’s just right, except for one thing. You should be here.
Standing with your arm around me here. Cutting up, cracking a cold beer, saying cheers…
It’s one of those moments that’s got your name written all over it – and you know if I had just one wish, it’d be that you didn’t have to miss this…You should be here.
I know it’ll be a tough crowd full of burly outdoorsmen.
But I don’t expect a lot of dry eyes when Brandon enters to that song.
It’s something he’s thought about.
He doesn’t want his entrance to be a downer – and because of that, he seriously considered going with a different song.
“I was washing my truck one day, and that song came on,” Brandon said. “That was long before I made the Classic, but it just really made me think.
“The email we got about picking a song for the weigh-in said it should be something upbeat, and we looked for something else for two months. We finally just decided we were going with it.”
Brandon will have about 30 family members in the crowd this week, including his wife, Brianna.
“A part of playing this song is that it's a way for the family – for all of us – to still have dad here,” Brianna said. “Fishing is a constant reminder of him and something that brings us all together.”
With his overall finish in the Southern Opens last year, Brandon, 32, actually qualified to fish the 2016 Bassmaster Elite Series, but he turned down the invitation.
He and Brianna are within range of some major financial goals – and he figures if the Elite Series is meant to be, it’ll still happen somewhere down the road.
“I’ve been at my job almost 10 years, and I’m nearly vested in the company,” Brandon said. “We’re $30,000 away from having our house paid off. I figure if I’m good enough to fish the Elite Series, I’ll qualify again – and if I don’t qualify again, I probably wasn’t good enough to start with.”
There’s no doubt Jimmy McMillan should be here this week.
But wherever he is, he should be proud of his son.
As a fisherman and as a person.