Howell casts a strike for CastingKids

A free CastingKids event will be held Saturday, May 10, from 8 a.m. until noon at the Walmart Supercenter located at 4208 Pleasant Crossing Blvd., Rogers, AR 72758.

SPRINGDALE, Ark. — Bassmaster Classic champion Randy Howell took the mound at a minor league baseball game Thursday night to cast the ceremonial first pitch. Yes, cast. There was a baseball involved – attached to 70-pound-test braided line on a baitcaster reel and a 7-foot, 4-inch extra heavy flipping stick.

"I slowed it down, and it curved over the corner of the plate," Howell said. "If I could have had a practice cast, I really could have fired it in there."

Having a celebrity throw the first pitch of a baseball game isn't a novel idea. Everyone from U.S. Presidents to local TV weathermen has participated in this baseball tradition over the years. But Howell put a different spin on the ceremony at Arvest Ballpark prior to the Class AA minor league game between the home team Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Kansas City Royals affiliated) and the visiting Springfield (Mo.) Cardinals (St. Louis Cardinals).

"You can pop the (catcher's) glove pretty hard, or you can slow it down by thumbing the reel," said Howell, who had previously cast first-pitches at three Birmingham Barons' minor league games. "You can also stop it right before it gets to the catcher's glove. The players get a kick out of that."

Howell's appearance on the pitcher's mound was part of the publicity for Saturday's Bassmaster Casting Kids event at the Rogers (Ark.) Walmart Supercenter. Youngsters will have an opportunity to meet and receive casting instruction from Howell, 2012 Classic champion Chris Lane and fellow Elite Series anglers Fletcher Shryock and Charlie Hartley.

B.A.S.S. co-owner Jerry McKinnis (right) offered Howell a few tips for his honorary pitch.This free event is for boys and girls. They will compete in three age groups: beginners, ages 7-10; youth, ages 11-14; and high school, ages 15-18. Competition will be held Saturday from 8 a.m. until Noon, or longer if needed to accommodate every young angler. Prizes will be awarded in each age group.

"There will be some fun competition, but primarily we're trying to teach everyone how to cast," said Jerry McKinnis, who hosted The Fishin' Hole on ESPN for 28 years and is now one of three B.A.S.S. owners. "If you're confident in your equipment, there's a better chance of you catching a fish. If we do that, we've done our job.

"How many times do you get a chance to cast with two Bassmaster Classic champions standing next to you, coaching you and educating you?"

CastingKids isn't a new program for B.A.S.S., but Saturday's event is bigger than usual. For instance, competitors in the youth and high school age groups will flip, pitch and cast from the front deck of the pros' custom-wrapped tournament competition boats. Portable stairs will be set next to each boat.

Anglers have the option of bringing their own rods and reels, or using fishing equipment that will be provided at the site.

Speaking of fishing equipment, Howell doesn't need anything out of the ordinary to make an accurate cast with a baseball. A Daiwa Steez 7-foot-4 extra heavy rod provides enough backbone to fling a baseball.

"It's a frog rod, and this is a heavy, fat frog I'm throwing, too," said Howell of the 5-ounce official size baseball that he used. Howell drilled a hole through the center of the ball before tying 70-pound test Daiwa braided line to it with a Palomar knot.

"I've got a youth-size baseball at home," Howell said. "It's a little bit lighter and you can control it better. But not knowing I was going to do this, I didn't bring it with me. It's really easy to throw that (lighter) baseball."

Even with the heavier ball and no practice session, and while standing front-and-center before the 3,910 in attendance Thursday night, Howell was able to find the strike zone with his first and only cast.

What else would you expect from a Bassmaster Classic champion?

The CastingKids event will be held Saturday, May 10, from 8 a.m. until noon at the Walmart Supercenter located at 4208 Pleasant Crossing Blvd., Rogers, AR 72758.

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