Dateline: Not There
Today was a first.
Possibly one of my hardest days doing this B.A.S.S. gig.
In now a decade of covering this sport I figure I have been to probably 100 or so Elite events.
Been to probably close to somewhere near 400 Elite weigh-ins.
Have missed some weigh-ins.
Never an Elite event. Not a one since 2008.
That changed today, today I was home in Connecticut with health issues that will keep me here throughout the Texas Fest and the Elite tournament at Lake Dardenelle in Arkansas.
It was a rough day, a day filled a sense of failure, in my entire career as a columnist/reporter/producer I have never had to come off the court, come out of the game, worse yet, watch it from the bench.
I will never forget this day.
This is how it went…
I must have hit refresh on this page every ten minutes or so all day long, from this moment on I will always have empathy for the wives, girlfriends, and family of those Elite anglers, while covering the event I would sometimes look at it, most often not, today I couldn’t keep my eyes off it.
It was in some small way, my way of being there, my way of supporting the guys even if they would never know.
At 5:27PM East Coast Time I was upstairs in the office/used to be the kids room waiting for the weigh-in to begin.
I have Bassmaster.com bookmarked dead center up on that “favorite” line on Safari and when I hit it got a bit of a punch in the chops because there staring at me was one of my on the road roomies, Paul Elias, holding a big fish.
Normally when that happens I know I’m going to get a free or three Root Beers at dinner that night after weigh-in.
At 5:30PM East Coast Time I hit the button that said “Weigh-in” and hoped the feed from the location was up and working, remote spots sometimes can be tough to get out of and then…
…there was the stage, to be honest I’ve never seen it like this, not the part that there wasn’t any scale to weigh the fish, most of that in this tournament was done out on the lake in the boats as the fish were caught and then released on the spot, but I had never watched it on live video because mainly I was live standing behind the thing.
…Emcee Dave Mercer and Tournament Director Trip Weldon walked out.
Both good friends, Trip and I have become close over the years, he had txt’d me early to “hang in there,” he knows how tough this is, he missed a couple of tournaments a few years ago for health stuff, and I know how hard it was on him, friends who spend 3 months a year on the road working with each other, breaking bread with each other, laughing and telling of family back home we know.
Seeing them helped.
Had to smile when Tommy came out looking all grumpy like. If you only get to see these guys on video please know this about Biffle, he’s hilarious and a smile that always makes me laugh as soon as he breaks into it.
Back a couple gigs this year I did a story with him and he still gets on my case about it, and get this as for why, nothing I quoted him wrong saying, not because I threw some curveball question at him like “boxers or briefs,” nope, this is why, I said he “double dipped a French Fry in the bowl of shared bowl of ketchup,” and he keeps telling me “I never did that there at dinner.”
This is what he did, you be the judge, he picked up a French Fry, dipped it in the ketchup, bit it in half, turned the same French Fry around and then dipped the remaining half back into the ketchup bowl.
That’s a Biffle Dip, a double dip if there was one.
Britt Myers was the first angler I saw hold up a fish, there’s a size limit that the bass has to exceed to be brought up on stage. I was happy to see Britt up there smiling with a fish in his hands, last year he became an Elite Champion winning an event, I picked it as my story of the year pretty much hands down.
Britt is the kind of athlete you want all athletes to be like, humble, courteous, and who plays the game as the game is supposed to be played. Pretty much every day since it came out that I wouldn’t be at the next couple events Britt’s wife, Missy, has txt’d to see how I was doing and said that if I, or my wife Barb, needed anything she would hop a plane and be here to help in a second.
You wonder why I feel like I’ve let the team that is B.A.S.S. down.
Kelly Jordon, another great friend, next to Rick Clunn probably the deepest thinker of all the elites.
Watching him come onstage, with a fish as well, I heard Mercer say that Kelly was one of the people who years ago came up with this Texas Fest event in his home state to help the Texas Parks & Wildlife people and while I didn’t know that, it didn’t surprise me none.
KJ is the real deal friend, I remember sitting with him when he told me he was going to get married, sitting with him when he told me he was going to be a Daddy…Twice, sitting behind that very BASS stage when he told me he had skin cancer.
Someday Kelly and I are going to do a story together that we always talk about, it’s about the migration of hummingbirds across the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Texas every year and how one year he was out fishing in the middle of the Gulf and a hummingbird landed on his boat.
We want to call the story, “Hummingbirds at Sea,” and talk about “heart,” heart of the tiny little birds and the heart of people who do extraordinary things with most odds stacked against them.
On other thing, I bet you a Root Beer that when KJ reads this he will “gift” me an iTunes song he thinks I need to listen to…I have a whole playlist on my iTunes called simply, “From Kelly,” because he does it a lot.
John Crews & Jared Lintner two other great buds.
John is a board member of Tackle The Storm Foundation, his father, Bill, helped start it along with Skeet Reese and Judy Kelly.
No bigger heart out there than John’s, the Elite tournament before this one John spearheaded the tie in between the tournament and Autism Awareness, props to both John and BASS for doing that, I believe that if you are going to take center stage, take to the stage to do good, take the stage to spread kindness, and John does exactly that.
Jared, who I refuse to call “The Milkman,” because he works back home driving a milk truck, I don’t expect to be called db “The Bartender,” of db “The Numbers Runner,” if I put a moniker on Jared it would be simply, “The Family Dude.”
I know Jared well, he’s a good bud, know his wife Keri well too, but I also know their children and the two of them have raised amazing kids. It’s a tough job on both, Jared who lives in California but fishes mainly across the continent, is away from home a bunch their children are smart, are caring, and loving.
Props to both Jared and Keri, great friends, great parents.
Steve Kennedy, from here on it got emotional for me, that’s Steve on stage talking to his wife, Julia, back home in Alabama.
It is my humble opinion that Steve is in the top 5 of BASS anglers that I’ve been around. If there is a natural out here, you are looking at one of them now, Aaron Martens would be my pick for the other.
I have been flat out adopted by the Kennedy’s almost from day one, Julia is pretty much an adopted sister, along with Kerry Short, Steve pretty much and adopted brother always searching me out, always there with a hug and, “where are we going to dinner, how’s lasagna sound.”
It got tough when he walked on the stage.
Got even tougher though…
…when Paul Elias and…
…Shaw Grigsby came on stage.
These are my two on-the-road-roomies, been that way now for 5 years, half my time covering this gig.
We have gone though family births, illness, marriages, ups and downs together.
We have probably spent an entire year, 365 days, easy staying with each other.
Every day that I have been home and going through the health stuff, they have called, called when going out for practice, called when going out to dinner, called when on the road driving to another place.
Paul is 66, I’m 65, Shaw is 61…we are like brothers facing the same stages of life together, failing health, competition in the career, loneliness, frustration, questions about life, about faith, about doing what it is we do.
Believe this we have a bond that will outlast tournaments.
I have covered a bunch of sports in my career and throughout, change happened, sometimes I would be switched to another team or sport, I would move from one long investigation to another and sources and contacts would change, I’m okay with change, but this one hit hard.
These people who I watched today on my laptop, these people I’ve highlighted here, and dozens of others I didn’t get a chance to mention, in honesty I turned it off when Shaw walked off stage, I was just drained, these people are more to me than just another story.
Know this please from me, you won’t hurt yourself becoming fans of this sport, and fans of many of those who play this game, I have written that many times but it never got to me like it did today watching from the bench.
I’m shooting to be back with the Elites at the two upcoming New York State events in July, I have a monitor strapped to my heart now 24 hours a day for 30 days so I’m guessing it will be the one that decides if I will reach that goal.
Even as disappointed as I am this first night of Texas Fest I will tell you this from my heart, I am so, so happy that I came to all of this, and no amount of disappointment will ever change that no matter how this shakes out.
“I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”