Opening Day(s)

April is the greatest month. Not simply because I was born on the first day of this month, but April marks the beginning of two of the best things in life: Baseball and Trout fishing. Within a week of my birthday, PA and several neighboring states have their trout opener and also in that time the words, “Play Ball” are echoed throughout ball parks all across this country (and the one in Canada) as teams begin their 162 game battle for the world series. Kevin mentioned the other day, I’m getting to do the PA trout opener right and enjoy it with his family, I couldn’t be more excited or appreciative. I also had the chance to go to opening day and see the Phillies take on the Pirates…the Phils at least won that one…it’s going to be a long season until Howard and Utley are back… At least there’s fishing. There are no greater exclamation points on spring being here than play ball, and fish on! In honor of both of the best opening days in the greatest of months, I thought I’d write a little something about some guys who are or were as passionate about fishing as they were playing our nation’s pastime.

Every baseball conversation seems to begin or end with George Herman Ruth, the Babe, the Bambino, The Sultan of Swat…you’re killing me Smalls! The man was larger than life on and off of the field. He may have been ringing up dingers on a frequent basis, but he enjoyed his time off of the field in a lot of ways, most of which earns him honorary patron sainthood with Bug Chuckers, Inc and in particular fishing.

A bucket of beers is well deserved after putting a stringer like that together, Babe. Beer and Omega-3 oils must have been the secret to hitting 714 home runs.

Ted Williams. The greatest hitter of all time (allowed into the hall of fame). The last player to bat over .400 for an entire season. A fighter pilot in WWII and Korea. A real son of a bitch at times. One hell of a fisherman. Read Stu Apte’s account of their first meeting along the Miami canals fishing for snook while Ted was in Florida for spring training. A classic story involving two larger than life personalities. Check out Stu’s Memoir “Of Winds and Tides.” After Ted retired in 1960 he became a tv personality and helped create the fishing show genre. Ted’s show and his fishing exploits became so popular that Sears Roebuck licensed his name for much of their hunting, fishing, camping and boating equipment…back when they still sold the stuff. Search your grandparent’s attics, garages and basements, you’re bound to come across some of that stuff. Ted was also on Pflueger’s pro staff once upon a time and lead most of their R&D long before Pure Fishing got their greasy fingers on that brand.

If you remember from last fall, I fished one of the Redbone tournaments down in Key West. Ted along with Gary Ellis founded that celebrity, charity tournament series to help raise money and find a cure for Cystic Fibrosis after Gary’s daughter was diagnosed with the disease. In talking to Gary I learned how big of a heart Ted had and helped to soften the man’s image in my mind. Ted was a great ball player, great fisherman and a great man.

Ok, so the next two guys are a bit self indulgent since I am a Phillies fan, but their on the field and on the water accomplishments are worthy of this discussion.

First, the greatest Third Baseman to every play the game.

Michael Jack Schmidt, #20. In my family three men were never spoken ill of: Jesus Christ, John F. Kennedy and Mike Schmidt…well that depended on how Schmidty was hitting…In addition to helping legendary Phillies broadcaster, Harry Kalas perfect his famous, “That ball is ouuuuttttta heeeree,” 548 times and turning play at the hot corner into an art form, Schmidt liked to drop a line in the water from time to time. He does that a lot now.

It’s a good thing that there isn’t a whole lot of fishing going on in Florida during February or March, or else the Phils would need a new special hitting instructor during spring training. Schmidt is big into salt water fishing, and hosts his own bill fish tournament affiliated with Redbone, the Mike Schmidt’s Winners’s Circle Challenge out of Grand Bahama. Gary Ellis guided #20 to his first tarpon on the fly. Michael Jack also hosts a show on the World Fishing Network called “Ultimate Fishing Town.” Tight lines #20!

Next, the best pitcher in the game today.

Doc. Roy Halladay. Two time Cy Young winner. A perfect game. Throws a no-no in his first post season appearance. Owns the first pitch strike, makes batters look silly. Prepares for each season and every start with the commitment and determination of a monk. What does he do to chill out? Fishes, and well too. Back in 2010 when Doc threw his perfect game against the then Florida Marlins, he could have gotten a flashy car, a lavish vacation or some other big ticket thing. What did this guy want? He wanted to go fishing with his favorite bass fisherman, Skeet Reese. Seriously, dude wanted to go fishing, gotta respect that, look up the award ceremony the team threw for him before a game, thousands of people left the Banks that day wondering who the hell Skeet Reese was. Anyway, The two guys hit it off and now fish whenever their schedules permit. One of those events was this past November.

Yeah, that’s Roy and Skeet with a peacock bass from their trip to the Amazon. Not sure if it was taken before or after Roy saved a native stranded along the banks of the river after being attacked by an anaconda. For most people fishing isn’t about saving lives, with Roy, it is. That’s how passionate he is about it. The great thing about this trip, from the accounts I’ve read and heard was that he went down there with the man that ended his season last year in game 5 of the NLDS, Chris Carpenter. Best friends coming up through the Blue Jays system only to face each other head to head in a play off elimination game. Carp won the game 1-0 over Doc and the Fightings then went on to win the World Series. Nothing like a little fishing trip to the other side of the world to iron out that kind of wrinkle in a friendship. It’s not confirmed but Doc most likely out fished Carp that trip, and really, that’s all that matters.

Well, that’s it. I could have talked about Wade Bogs, Tim Wakefield, Chipper Jones, a bunch of the current Pirates and many others, but I wanted to talk about a few guys who have a real passion about fishing and who are, and will be hall of famers that embody greatness in baseball. Who would you add to the list? Let us know and why.

Now back to the count down to PA opening day! Go fish and watch a ball game!



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