“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”
Dateline: Retirement…press play…
It is very simply, time.
Retirement was always just a thought, a someday way far away, that someday was always just smoke in the wind, you know, out there somewhere.
Pages on the calendar constantly flipping, day after day, month after month, year after year.
“You know, we’ll see, someday.”
This year, someday, came.
“There is no real ending, it’s just the place where you stop the story.”
I took this out of focus photo on Christmas Eve 2007, I was sitting alone in the dark in our living room, sitting in my favorite chair when I took this picture of our Christmas tree.
Softly, songs of the season, a compilation LP played on the stereo. Christmas Eve day began green outside, but as I sat alone I had a ringside seat to the white Christmas show happening outside.
In the morning out there it would be a Currier & Ives painting come alive.
It is the one night of the year where I indulge in an “adult” beverage of Bailey’s Caramel Irish Cream, on the rocks in a fancy glass with a red and green swizzle stick.
It is my time to look back at the year, to judge the present, and to wonder about the future.
I was then 55 years old.
I was then 15 years with ESPN.
I had just agreed, as they say, to put “Bristol in the rearview mirror.” In 7 days I was about to join a thing called Bassmaster, I was about to become a full time columnist on the internet, no less.
I was going to write about the outdoors.
I was going to write about fishing.
I don’t fish.
I don’t like being inside the outside.
I had more than one “adult” beverage that night.
“Everything has to come to an end, sometime.”
L. Frank Baum
The Marvelous Land of Oz
This is the very 1st photo I took at my very first Bassmaster Classic.
I had no idea what a Bassmaster Classic was and yet I was standing on the floor of it, like amongst it…I learned all about it not by watching the people in the spotlight, but instead, watching the people in the stands.
Especially the children.
Especially the families…entire families.
Especially all those in uniform…military men and women.
Especially the Grandma’s, the Grandpa’s.
I watched them stand for the National Anthem, mouth the words with hands over their hearts, watched them clap and cheer for the anglers who came into the stadium, watched them go silent as the fish were lifted out of the bag…
…heard them scream when the weight was announced.
I knew then…24 hours into this gig what I would write about.
Not the fish.
Not the weight.
Not the gizmos it took to catch the fish.
I knew then, right then, I would write about the people.
The people who fish.
And the fans that love them.
I knew right then as I looked at this kid that I would empty the tank for the humans of this sport.
Would leave it all on this field.
BTW…this is my last Classic photo I’ll ever take…
From then to now.
I’ve been with the anglers and the fans in 30 states, hundreds of events and stories, a little over 5 years on the road when you add up all the days.
Throughout these years I’ve made so, so many friends, but I’ve lost some too.
Forever in my heart will be:
“Mad-Dog,” those who know, know.
Ken Cook…one of the first to take this guy named “db” under his wing.
Uncle Buff… a big man with an even bigger heart.
Joe Higgins: VP of Sales at BASS…a sidemouth talker who always made me laugh.
Jerry McKinnis: Boss, we fought, we hugged, a friend I’ll never forget.
Jim Copland: An owner who was a kind man and a true gentleman.
Max: He bumped the fish, and healed my bumps as well. As he told me many times he was forever grateful that I introduced him to “Custard Ice Cream.”
Aaron Martens: I knew a wizard once, and this was his name.
Know this please, I am a better person because these people came through my life, know this as well, I couldn’t write these names in this story without shedding tears.
I’m going to take a break right now, I’ll finish this story in a day or so.
Every year we hang our children’s baby shoes on the Christmas tree.
I wasn’t there when the shoes were bought.
I don’t remember seeing them wear them.
I was a here and there father, not a 9 to 5 dad. I can’t go back in time and change that, it is what it was.
My wife and I have a grandchild coming in March, in time that child’s baby shoes will also be on this tree.
I’m healthier now then I have been in years, lost 31 pounds so far, the road beat me up, home is healing me.
I can never make up the time I was gone from my kids, I will try and make it up to them by respecting their choices as adults, opinions when asked, smiles when not.
As for being Gramps I will tell the Grandchildren how lucky they are to have the parents they do. Will tell them as well, it was Grandma who did it…not me.
It is at this lake, Champlain, it is at this dock, Plattsburgh where this gig with the mothership began way back in 2007.
And so at full circle, it is here where I end all this, here where I say Thank You:
To Norby and Marsha at ESPN for starting it all. To Bob Ley for instilling Journalism in me and taking all those Tupelo calls.
To the anglers who at the beginning circled the wagons around me and bought me time to learn this sport, you know who you are, love you.
To all the anglers past and present a simple thank you doesn’t seem enough but please know that each and every one of you have a place in my heart.
To all those at Bassmaster, past and present, especially Don Logan, Jim Sexton and Chris Mitchell you were the strength that kept me going…and corrected all those spelling issues.
To my great friends, the backstage crew, past and present, Trip, Chuck, Lisa, Chris, Gretchen, Emily, to all those who put the stage up and took it down, for the hundreds of breakfasts and dinners together, my heart, my smiles, my thanks for always having my back.
Big thank you to my buddies in the service yard who keep the boats in the water and the anglers fishing. Special thanks for so many years of breakfasts/lunches with one of my best buds, “Daddy” Lee Robertson of Skeeter (ret). Hey guys, Andy and crew, you were always a safe haven, great at what you do, jokers every one of you. Thank You, miss ya.
To Eric, Jesse, Ben and crew, thank you for being the best at what you do…and the special parking pass.
To Bowman, Overstreet, Seigo and all the talent at JM, simply, the best.
To St. Croix and especially all those so very talented people who do such a very good job, every cast I make will be with you.
To you the fan, to you the readers, none of this would have been possible without your support, your reading, your clicks. Simply put my career here was in your hands and I will never forget that.
To Mike Sechrist, thank you for believing in stick figures.
To my children who sacrificed so much to allow me to get so far, it will be impossible to make it back up to you, but I will try.
And to the love of my life, my wife Barb…not one second of any of the accomplishments in my life would have been possible without the strength of you behind me. For a Buffalo, NY Bartender & Waitress we done pretty good babe, ALL BECAUSE OF YOU.
I wish you all a very happy holiday.
I wish for you peace, happiness and kindness to those you love, to those you like, to those you don’t understand.
I wish for all of us to be the Kind in Man and somehow leave this place better than how it was given to us.
I wish for hugs, I wish for more smiles than frowns, I wish for laughter to echo around the planet, and for more munchkins in the box.
“So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending.”
J. R.R. Tolkien
Editor’s Note: Read some thoughts about Don Barone from B.A.S.S. staff and anglers here.