My talk with Jerry McKinnis
“It's the heart…”
"If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always got."
Where better to shoot for the stars then Houston, Texas…the home of NASA’s Mission Control.
When I heard that the 2017 Bassmaster Classic was being held in Houston, I thought not about attendance numbers, thought not about the venue of a baseball stadium, thought not about traffic, or technical stuff.
I choose dreams, over details.
When the announcement was made I was suddenly 12 years old again.
I was whisked back to the floor of my parent’s house glued to an RCA black & white TV.
A piece of green shag carpet twirled between my thumb and fore-finger, I was transfixed not on politics and cold war dominance but on a room filled with white shirts and ties in some far away from Buffalo city called…Houston.
I remember moving up as close as possible to the TV, remember my mother as she walked through the room telling me “you’re to close you’ll go cross-eyed,” but thinking, I needed to be closer, needed to be in that room…and I wiggled closer.
The wavy lines of “Live” 1960’s TV, the crackle of 1960’s audio, closer and closer I got, crossed-eyed or not.
And then at first I didn’t understand what I heard, I leaned into, almost touching the brown and gold speckled fabric that covered the console speakers, I put one finger in the ear furthest away and held my breath, please, please, please what was said, please…
…and then the voice came through, came through and the room erupted, grown men jumping up and down, grown men with their face cradled in their hands, grown men cheering.
And to 12 year old it was magical.
And to a 12 year old it only took one word heard within the crackle.
As I sat back from the TV and watched it came to me that dreams in fact do come true, we had just launched a man towards the stars, something called an America Astronaut had just left Earth.
And to this day some 52 years later whenever I think of trying something new, whenever I dream of pushing the limit in a story, to this day as I put the pieces together in my mind there rests faintly the memory of a 12 year old sitting on green shag carpet, and way back there in the spot where childhood clings to the brain I hear, crackle.
I hear one word.
And know, all things are possible, and to Houston, both me and the child still within say simply this: Thank You.
Thank you for the crackle that became the soundtrack of my dreams.
“…afraid of breaking…”
I know what he is looking at, and it is not me.
There is a young man on the pitcher’s mound, a kid in a minor league baseball uniform, the baseball twirls in his hand as he waits for the sign, not a child, not a man, alone on a tiny hill for all to see, and he gently shakes his head no, shakes it again no, but then licks his lips, bangs hand and baseball into his leather glove, moves his feet, and leans back so far the ball hand and ball almost touches the dirt as the pitch is cocked and..
…and slowly Jerry McKinnis turns from looking at the ghost of him as a young man playing in the minors hoping to make the “bigs” on the mound, to me sitting next to him and says only this, “If I had a fast ball, life would have been different.”
We sit in an empty stadium, two old men now who through the ups and downs in life, through success and failure in life, still allow for the dreams of childhood to cling tight.
It is impossible to know, to know well and understand, Jerry McKinnis without knowing and understanding the young man within him who still stands on the pitcher’s mound and dreams of throwing the high inside heat.
Had there been a fastball this conversation would never have taken place.
“I had a 73 pitch game once, won it, but they really wanted me to throw hard, just couldn’t do it db, couldn’t do it, and…”
Jerry has never once finished that sentence to me, not sure he can.
Here’s the link to the story I did several years back about Jerry’s baseball career: https://www.bassmaster.com/blog/jerry-mckinnis-moments-magic
So we sit, two old men with baggage and dreams.
Between us almost 100 years in the business of communicating stuff to other people.
Before this event began Jerry was quoted saying that this will be, “…the most important Classic ever.”
I don’t know if that’s true or not.
I do know this, for Jerry we are weighing in fish on a Major League Baseball diamond.
I do know this, we are sitting in the city where I first heard the crackle of dreams.
Don’t discount the importance of those two facts, if you know us, the real us, you know it’s the us we normally hide.
“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”
~ Babe Ruth
“So boss, how do you think it went.”
“It,” being the 2017 Bassmaster Classic. It’s 10am on Sunday morning, all that is left is the hoisting of the trophy by the next Classic champion.
“db how do you think it went.”
To do this interview we both agreed on one and only one guideline…both be open and honest with each other.
“Well since we are in this ballpark I think this Classic BASS hit a stand-up double and made the turn to 3rd base.”
“Huh, okay I can accept that, I think as a pitcher I would say I lasted 6 innings, left leading 3 to 2 with 4 hits and 2 runs, one rough inning but won the game.”
For those of you who don’t know baseball both those roughly equate to a 7 out of 10 on the number scale.
“db, we had some glitches, some technical problems, some big city issues with other events and parking, traffic and that kind of stuff but it was all about the bar db, the bar.”
The “bar” Jerry is talking about has nothing to do with cocktails but has everything to do with sports.
“It’s like that Olympic event once the athlete makes the jump, makes the leap over the bar, they never lower it again, they always raise the bar, that to me was what I was talking about with this being the most important Classic, Raise The Bar db, raise it because when we do that we can never lower it again, it can only go higher.”
Jerry’s best boardroom is a stadium, had both of us been younger he would have been on the mound and I would have been behind the plate, two dudes playing catch and talking, put a person in the element they are most comfortable in, and you get the real story.
If you asked me how I think we did here I honestly think we did okay, we didn’t do great, but we didn’t suck, simple as that.
We are not in a business for the timid, we are supposed to go and do things that people think we can’t do, that’s how you move forward, there is no path to follow where only your footsteps are seen.
Stand up double with a turn to 3rd.
Taken out in the 6th leading and end up with the win.
I’m good with that.
“…learns to dance…”
“Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is a man with a rake standing on the dirt in front of the visiting team dugout and he has stopped raking.
He is watching the big screen.
He is watching a man in a jersey catch not a fly ball but a fish.
And the man with the rake smiles, a big smile.
And the man with the rake puts his head down and starts raking.
“Jerry back in the day when I was at ESPN we never called the people who watched us viewers, or customers, or anything like that, back then we called them…FANS.”
Jerry is watching a couple people take selfies in front of the biggest stage of BASS.
“Why,” he says never turning to look at me, he is in fact watching fans.
“Fans, never leave you, customers and viewers come and go, but fans, fans are special, I think we need to get rid of words like readers, viewers, customers…we need to treat all of those who come to us as fans, we need to know how bought in they are to us, we need to respect that.”
Jerry turns his head my way, all he does is shake his head yes, he then turns back to another couple taking selfies, you can tell they are waiting for the BASS logo to come up on the big screen before they snap the photo.
“You’re right db, we need to scratch and claw for them,” his eyes never leave the fans lining up to take photos.
“Fans db, fans of the game, fans of the game, I get that, get that, this is for them.”
And I watch as once again his eyes drift slightly right and stop as he focuses on the pitcher’s mound.
“…I get that, yep.”
“…it's the dream afraid of waking…”
“You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’”
– George Bernard Shaw
There is a place in every Bassmaster Classic where the crackle is heard, where the strive to throw the heat is the goal.
And that place is the back of the house.
The back and outside rows of the EXPO.
Mom and pop land.
Back on Friday I asked Jerry when was the last time he walked the back of the house, he thought some but didn’t really know.
I walk it at every EXPO, I see people like Dieter and Ann Stanford, a mom and pop bait making operation where Dieter tests all the baits he designs by sitting in folding lounge chair by his backyard pool and casting and re-casting into it to watch how the bait swims.
He is just one of many back here hoping, and working their tails off so one day they will be up front in the show.
“You know db, after you asked me that I went back there and walked around…”
I know that, because out of sight I followed Jerry when I saw him heading that way.
I saw the looks on those in the booths as he walked by or stopped to talk.
I saw the change in them as he moved on to the next booth.
And I saw the change in Jerry as well.
Normally he stands hands in pocket or folded together at about his belt line, he stands quiet until someone comes up to him and then the stage door opens and he steps in.
Back of the house though stood a man who needed to stand there once again because we all need to be taken back from whence we came.
Never forget those times you stood in the back of the house.
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
– C.S. Lewis
It is called a field of dreams, and so it is.
And so it was.
A 25 year old came from behind and won it all, he got here through the college ranks of BASS, something that wasn’t even there when I started this gig.
He won because when it counted…he threw the heat, his fastball came through.
Do I think this was the most important Classic ever.
Yes I do.
I’m positive that when you dig down deep, it was the most important Classic ever for at least one man.
And for one young man who stood alone on the pitcher’s mound.
For me, I was able to come to the city of the crackle and pay homage, and say thank you for showing a young child that it is okay to dream whether you are sitting on mom and dad’s shag rug, or in a booth in the back of the show.
And for you we have placed the bar a notch above, it is you our FANS who have to hold us to never let us lower that bar again.
For the man sitting next to me in this empty stadium I know this as much as I know anything, deep within him it was his chance to once again stand upon the pitcher’s mound.
And this time.
He threw the heat.
“…takes the chance.”
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”