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Pete Weighs In

"Welcome to My World"

Pete Robins
by Pete Robbins

 

Louisiana Lightning

Mar. 13, 2008

Growing up in my household, you had no choice but to cheer for the New York Yankees.  Dad had been a rabid fan since his childhood in New York, and it was a non-negotiable requirement for his two sons.  There were things that he held dear to his heart that we were permitted to take or leave (his taste in music and art, his love of sushi), but the blue and white pinstripes were not among them.

He also had a favorite player, Yogi Berra, who had been the cornerstone of many championship teams when my father was a kid in the 50's.  But he professed that the reason he had always liked Yogi was because they were both left-handed and had ears that stood out.

So it seemed perfectly normal to me to choose a favorite player.  Fortunately, I was born in 1970 and the teams that played around the time that I learned to read a box score had a lot of great players to choose from.  If you were a total front-runner, then Reggie Jackson and his candy bar zoomed to the top of your list.  If you were a 12 year old girl, then Bucky Bleeping Dent was the subject of your shrieks and screams. 

If you were mad at the world, then Thurman Munson was a good choice, although his tragic death in 1979 really gave his fans reason to be mad.  We attended bat day at Yankee Stadium in 1977 or 1978 and I was fortunate enough to get a Munson bat.  I remember hordes of kids trying to trade me their Elliot Maddox models for the faux Louisville slugger with Thurman's name engraved on it in a blocky machined print.  I still have it, but regret the fact that my brother and I used it for backyard batting practice over the years and much of the outer coating has peeled away. 

One other side note: what the hell was Yankee management thinking giving out 40,000 bats on a summer day in the Bronx? 

Even though I didn't fish all that much as a kid, my favorite player was chosen because of his affiliation with fishing.  No, it wasn't Catfish Hunter, the North Carolina boy given his nickname by A's owner Charlie Finley and then signed by the Yanks as a free agent a few years later.  I vaguely remember a print ad of the Catfish in his hunting clothing with two German shorthair pointers.  The memory may not be 100% accurate, but clearly the powers-that-be wanted it to be clear that although he made his dough in the Bronx, his heart remained in a more rural environment, just a country boy who could chuck the ball.  This theory gained some credibility when I recently read that he had lost a toe in a hunting accident before the MLB draft.  A few years back I had the opportunity to fish the Chowan River near his boyhood home in Hertford and felt some appreciation for his background – the 7 pound largemouth I caught on a Slug-go didn't hurt, either.

Maybe if Finley had nicknamed him Largemouth or something more evocative of a species I cared about, I would've liked him better, but it didn't turn out that way.  As I implied above, I hadn't even caught many bass yet at that point, but for some reason I still identified them as my favorite fish. 

My favorite player was a Louisiana fireballer named Ron Guidry.  It was a safe choice because in the championship year of 1978, he was 25-3, with a 1.74 ERA and 248 strikeouts. 

Those numbers earned him the Cy Young award as baseball's best pitcher, but they weren't what impressed me.  What I liked about the man they called Gator or Louisiana Lightning is that I heard he towed his bass boat to spring training in Florida. 

We visited Yankee spring training several times as kids and I don't ever remember seeing Guidry's boat but somewhere I had read about it or heard about it.  I don't think I imagined it.  What I mostly remember from those spring training trips were young players like Bobby Brown (the center fielder, not the "My Prerogative" guy) giving autographs.  One young infielder, Andre Robertson, whose career was tragically derailed by an auto accident, seemed to hunt kids down asking if we wanted autographs. The big dogs didn't seem to make themselves quite as available.  In other words, I had no interaction with Guidry.  But the bass boat rumor had been enough. 

Years later, I happened upon a Guidry autobiography that he'd written with baseball writer Peter Golenbock in which he also shared some of his favorite Cajun recipes.  No doubt he was a hell of a guy to have at your lake house.

Do kids today have favorite players?  If so, do they just choose the ones that the league sells them on or is there equal reason to like some of the lesser lights?

I think it's harder and riskier today for a kid to choose a favorite.  With free agency, few long-term pros spend their entire career with a single team.  Think of Roger Clemens – no doubt thousands of young Red Sox fans despise him now that he's plied his trade with rival teams.  Additionally, as a result of 24/7 media coverage, we know every sin that every athlete has ever committed, and that makes for few unscathed personalities.  If you pin your hopes on a big leaguer and he's proved to be a fraud, it's like a house of cards for your whole young value system. 

Despite the fact that I've always had certain preferred players in most professional sports, guys I admired for their skills on the field of play or (as in Guidry's case) some off-the-field attribute, I don't have a favorite pro fisherman.  That strikes me as odd because I'm much more interested in fishing than I ever was in baseball, both as a participant and as a fan.  Certainly there are pros who I admire, and whose fishing style I seek to emulate, but there's not the same reverence that I had for the ballplayers of my youth. 

Is it that I've been around more of them and that's diminished the aura? 

Is there some difference because it's an individual sport?  That question doesn't ring true to me.  Certainly NASCAR is an individual sport, but you see a lot of #3, #8, #24 stickers on trucks.  With no offense to KVD and his peers, you're not going to see their initials or number on the back of my Avalanche.

If I liked a baseball player based on the rumor that he fished, shouldn't I choose a favorite bass pro based on his other interests?  Timmy Horton played college level ball.  Russ Lane played in the minors.  I recently read that Elite Series rookie Billy Brewer had a cup of coffee with the Yankees.  But I don’t feel any particular affinity for those guys.  I don't cheer for them to win.  There are, on the other hand, a few pros who I actively root against, but that's based more on personal friction than on anything else.

Rationalizing it after the fact, I think I still like Ron Guidry because he represents two very distinct points in my life. First, the 70s, when I was a pre-teen and pretty happy-go-lucky.  I didn’t have much to worry about other than what cartoons to watch and whether I wanted Cocoa Puffs or Froot Loops for breakfast.  Guidry, not yet 30, may have had the weight of all of New York's expectations on his shoulders, but I didn’t see it.  To me, the rumor that he had brought his boat to spring training seemed to indicate that he was giving a giant middle finger to everyone who said that he could only focus on baseball.  He wasn't a troublemaker, but there might've been a smirk behind that 70's porn mustache.  I wanted to believe that baseball was an afterthought to him – that he'd prefer to be out on the water chasing little green fish around the Atchafalaya Basin, but that in order to make a living he'd take the mound every fifth day to strike out a few American League hitters.  Afterwards, he'd head back to the room for a bowl of etouffee and an issue of Bassmaster.

As I think back to that, I picture him frozen in time.  Yes, I've seen him more recently, most notably while he served as a pitching coach for the Yankees in recent years.  But the idea of Louisiana Lightning in a modern 20' bass boat doesn't appeal to me.  I think of him in a potato-chip light Hydra Sports, or, perhaps more appropriately, in an old Cajun bass boat, Fenwick Lunker Stik in his hands, chunking one of those newfangled Lunker Lure buzzbaits or a scuppernong Jelly Worm. 

The second period in time in which I remember Guidry playing is the mid-80s.  He'd had some arm trouble, but in the 1985 season, which spanned the end of my freshman year of high school and the first half of my sophomore year, he compiled a 22 and 6 record.  But he hadn't done it with the overpowering heat that had led him to the 1978 Cy Young.  Instead, he changed his stuff and relied more on off-speed pitches, ball movement and fooling the batters with his mind as much as with his arm.  I don't know what the equivalent would be for a professional angler – KVD consistently giving up his run and gun spinnerbaiting for ultra-slow seining of limited areas?  Denny Brauer putting away the flipping sticks and winning the Classic on a dropshot and a darter head?  I can't think of a successful pro angler who has had to adjust his game so dramatically and then experienced equal success after the change.  Am I missing an obvious example?

Guidry didn't win the Cy Young that year.  He finished behind Kansas City's Bret Saberhagen.  The '85 team was so much different than the '78 team, both in terms of its makeup and my perception of it.  The memories I have of the older group are grainy, dated looking footage, while the more recent one seems to have occurred in a totally different era, even though they were only seven years apart.  Thurman Munson died the year after Guidry's Cy Young, and that set a lot of trades and restructuring in motion.

Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, was gone, and his place in the limelight was manned by the more subdued Dave Winfield, who George Steinbrenner cruelly labeled "Mr. May."  Stars like Munson, Goose Gossage and Mickey Rivers were replaced by the eminently forgettable Butch Wynegar, John Montefusco and Henry Cotto.  Fans who had jubilantly stormed the field to celebrate post-season home runs by Chris Chambliss and Reggie were leaving nails in the driveway of the reviled pitcher Ed Whitson.  The Yankees still had a Berra, but unfortunately it was the underachieving (or perhaps under-talented) Dale, Yogi's son. 

The Yankees didn't make it back to the World Series until 1995, a full decade after Guidry's last great season.  By 1995 I was already out of law school, long past my awkward high school years and into an equally awkward period as an attorney in private practice.  It was also the year that I started fishing competitively and the bastards at my firm didn't understand the need to be on the water. 

Guidry had been gone since after the 1988 season, when he retired from pitching, hitched up the boat and headed back to Louisiana.  In some respects, I can measure the changes in my life through these three snapshots of time – late 70's, mid 80's and mid 90s.  Now another decade has gone by, I've left the law firm, settled into a job I like, and have notched probably a thousand more days on the water.  But just like the 8 year old Pete Robbins, if you told me a player was going to spring training in his Suburban or pickup instead of a blinged out sports car or Benz, I'd gain a little respect for him, and if I found out he had a bass boat in tow, I'd look for him in the box score every day.

I Only Buy It For the Articles

Mar. 7, 2008

Symptom #278 that you have a bad tackle addiction: You subscribe to a fishing magazine that you can't even read.

When I visited my brother's family in Japan last year, I bought tons of bass magazines: Lure, Basser, Rod & Reel, etc. I heard there was one called Lure Freak, but I never managed to find it. They are truly a different animal than the American magazines; 200 pages, lots of bling, even the ads are virtual porn for an American basser.

Because I couldn't read the magazines, I tended to leaf through them pretty quickly. Combined with the fact that my brother's apartment had heated toilet seats, that meant I needed a lot of magazine to fill the typical "seat time" I require daily.

During the trip, my friend Matt Paino introduced me to Hideyuki Nomura (known to his friends as "Michael"), the editor of Lure, who took us to the magazine's offices, where the staff was hard at work putting together the issue commemorating the Yokohama and Osaka tackle shows. They gave me more magazines, DVDs and some baits.

When I got back stateside, I decided that a subscription to Lure would be a wise investment, and some good folks on the forums at Tackletour.com told me that I could obtain one through the Kinokuniya bookstore (www.kinokuniya.com), which fortunately turned out to be true. Simple as that, I was signed up.

So the first issue arrives, in a plain brown wrapper, and the wife is looking a little suspicious. "No, honey, it's just a fishing magazine," I said. She still had the furrowed eyebrow look.

I popped it out of the package to show her.

"But it's in Japanese," she said.

"Right."

"And how much does that cost you?"

"Just twelve bucks," I calmly replied.

"That's not too bad for the subscription," she said, still suspicious, but less so.

"No," I corrected her. "That's per issue."

"Let me get this straight. You just spent $144 for a year's subscription to a magazine you can't even read?"

"Right," I said once again, glad that she understood what a bargain it was. She walked away, which was fortunate, because I was worried that she was going to ask to read it first.

Twelve months have gone by, and I just sent another payment to my good friends at the book store for another year of issues. Just got the latest one, too.

Here are a few tidbits from this issue:

I don't know about you, but I think I got one heck of a bargain.

 

Sometimes A Power Pole Is Just A Power Pole

Feb. 28, 2008

But what does it mean if you have 2 of them?
 
Chris Lane - Inside Line Online Magazine
 
The picture below is a prototype Lucky Craft crankbait -- can anyone hook me up?
 
Lucky Craft Crank Bait - Inside Line Online Magazine