Dateline: The Ramp, 3:50 a.m.
I didn't know what a Skeet was.
Outside here, I cover lots of things I don't know about, but at the very least I have some idea of what kind of SPECIES it is.
Zoologists get crazy about this naming animals thing, breaking them up into all sets of groups with names that just sets my spell-check wheel to spinning.
Animal naming dudes, PLEASE just call a spider a spider for Pete's sake, that's all I need to know to get the hell out of there. I don't need to know the last name of the scientist guy who first stepped on it in some rain forest.
If you must give them names use these: Spider-you-should-run-slow-Arachnosomething, or Spider-you-should-run-fast-Archnosomething. Try giving OUR species a clue once in awhile will ya.
So to make it easy on myself as a writer about the outside I have broken all animals down into just two species:
On this entire planet we only have TWO species ... those who are wet most of the time ... and those who are dirty/smelly most of the time. It's not a complicated thing.
And BTW, it pretty much covers most of the humans I know, too.
But where do you put a Skeet?
Are Skeets wet?
Or are Skeets dirty?
In the interviewing business, THIS IS A KEY POINT.
So I did what any outside writer who used to be an investigative journalist would do ... Dictionary.com.
00000.34567 seconds later I find out I'm taking a Clay Pigeon tuna fishing.
Not what I was hoping for.
So I email the boss guy who told me to go do the story with a Skeet. Here's my email:
- Boss Dude:
What the hell is a Skeet?
And this is what I get back:
The AOY. The story is due Friday.
(I'm not putting the name here because he still may be a boss).
What the hell is an AOY? And it better not be a spider.
Do Skeets bite?
In the basement of an ESPN building, I'm about to come face to face with an AOY Skeet.
Whatever it is, it's in a conference room.
I'm in the hallway, the AOY Skeet thing is in a room and the door is shut. Outside there are bosses leaning up against the wall, and they are looking at me. One has eye-locked me and is giving me that universal look with his eyes flicking toward the door that says ... GO IN THERE.
I don't want to. I have a very species-specific contract, and frankly we are in a gray area here. If the species is in question, like this Skeet thing is, I get comp days for doing it.
Suddenly the eye-to-eye-locked boss has moved up to the next stage and is moving his head in violent jerks toward the door.
I give him back the OK, the Ok I'm going in but I'm taking this as a comp day look right back.
I go to the door, turn the handle, and step in.
While scanning the floor, walls and ceiling looking for the AOY Skeet, I see two guys sitting at the end of the conference table, one an ESPN radio dude, the other, a tanned guy with blonde hair.
The radio guy gets up and says, "db ... come here."
I do, but with one eye on alert looking for that Skeet thing ... I'm not touching anything, not knowing how big the Skeet is, or more importantly, if the Skeet bites.
This has quickly crossed into a two comp day story.
The radio guy stands up, grabs his microphone and portable radio thing and starts to walk out the door as I watch behind him hoping to get a glimpse of the Skeet's attack.
Then the tanned blonde dude stands up and puts out his hand to shake mine, and I do, while utterly amazed the Skeet passed up attacking the radio guy.
I'm shaking the blonde dude's hand while watching the door close, leaving me alone with the Skeet's when suddenly I hear this.:
"Don Barone, dude, I love your stuff, great to meet you, I'm Skeet Reese."
And even though I clenched and tighten up ... I didn't get bit by the Skeet.
Skeet is a people.
Not a species after all, just a human type guy.
A Bassmaster Elite pro fishing dude.
This, my first encounter with a Skeet, took place a couple of years ago right before I took Skeet Reese Tuna fishing off the coast of Massachusetts with my butt-replacement doc, Mac.
It was the year Skeet won AOY ... which is the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year (which btw Bass boss dudes should be called AOTY) and is a very prestigious award in the pro bass fishing community that is very much like getting the league wide MVP vote in the NFL.
That year, Skeet Reese was the Brett Favre of his sport.
Once I knew AOY's don't bite either, I was very impressed.
In the couple of years since that meeting I've become more impressed with the AOY feat, and Skeet Reese has become a friend.
A close one.
If you look at this California native called Skeet and see the flashy white teeth, the bright yellow and black boat and uniform, the YELLOW sneakers (which even kind of gets me), the huge Skeet-mobile monster truck and you think HOLLYWOOD, you would be wrong.
Skeet lives on your street, except of course if that's in Hollywood.
This is a family man: A wife of 10 years, Kim; two daughters, 6-year-old Lea, and Courtney, 3. "They are my pride and joy, the true driving force behind me," Skeet says
That's Main Street talking, not Hollywood Boulevard.
A quick true story:
This year when Skeet won the Bassmaster Classic, I wasn't anywhere near the stage, I was back in my hotel room sick as a dog. It didn't make me feel better that I wasn't there when he came down off the stage.
In truth, I'm glad I wasn't.
The next morning as I was packing to leave Shreveport and head back to Connecticut. I took one final early morning walk through the boat yard, then over to the river and the boat launch.
And there sat Skeet in his huge F-650 truck.
This was a guy who had just won the equivalent of the Super Bowl in the final last-second drive, the MLB World Series in Game 7, Daytona 500 out of turn 4.
When he saw me, the door swung open and he jumped down out of the truck, came up to me and grabbed me in a bear hug, and on the ramp, two guys jumped up and down like little joyful kids.
And when we parted, we both had tears in our eyes.
For his accomplishment. For friendship.
It was a moment in my career with a Hall-Of-Fame worthy athlete I will never forget.
The view from the Monster Truck
I am standing eye-to-eye with the passenger side door.
The BOTTOM of the passenger side door. The door handle is ABOVE my head.
And I have to get in the thing.
The AOY and Bassmaster Classic champion is next to me trying to give me a boost into it.
It's a losing battle.
Fortunately the truck is parked real close, REAL CLOSE, to a normal size car ... that's empty.
So I put my replaced butt up against it, no alarms go off, and in a reverse Spiderman move inch my way UP THE SIDE OF THE CAR using my feet on the Monster truck gas tanks for leverage, get door handle level, grab it and climb into the passenger seat.
In one move Skeet is up and into the driver's seat.
It's then I realize: my notebook is back down there, in my minivan. Skeet's out of the truck in a flash, over to my van, gets the notebook and brings it to me.
It's 4:30 a.m. ... Game day ... the first day of the Mississippi River tournament and I'm basically in the locker room ... that's the kind of access ... and Skeet tells me that only one other person has ever sat in that passenger seat on game day ... legendary Bass Pro, Rick Clunn.
Every tournament Skeet is basically the first one there, along with Rick Clunn, and he uses the hour-and-a-half to prepare himself for the event ... that is after getting up at 3 a.m. and doing 45 minutes of stretching exercises, yoga and meditation.
Skeet: "Up here early in the morning I watch all the activity go on, listen to a variety of music and pretty much just think about fishing, life and family"
"I strategize what I have to do for the day to win. I internalize my instincts, I think I have very good instincts BUT I still have to learn to trust them. I'm thinking all the time, where do I start, where do I go ... I sometimes go against my instincts ... get greedy ... and it hurts me. I have to learn to trust my gut more."
Below us, at around 4:45 a.m., the other Elite pros are starting to show up. Skeet is watching it all, constantly hitting the button on the stereo, at one point the music is so loud the seats are shaking.
I watch his eyes, they are fixed on the front windshield, but I know it's his past that he sees.
"This is a long way from the bait shop I used to work at ... the last 10 years have been a blur."
That would be the Outdoor Pro shop in Rohnert, Calif. Skeet was the manager there for about 6 years ... he came to it via Subway Restaurants ... and laying tile.
"I was a tile setter for 5-6 years, tiled Subway Sandwich Shops ... this guy, Kenny Elie needed his bathroom tiled at his house so I said I could do it. He knew I was a fishing guy and he told me he was going to open up this bait shop and I told him he was a dumb ass to do that."
But Kenny talked him into working for him and it was, "the single best move of my career ... it taught me a lot about the industry, business, tackle, equipment, meeting the public ... I'm still to this day grateful for what Kenny did for me."
In fact, should you visit that store, when you walk in the front door look down at your feet ... that tile art work on the floor, the one with the fish swimming into the store ... that was conceived, designed, laid out and installed by a "tile setter," who became the Angler Of The Year and winner of the 2009 Bassmaster Classic.
Skeet on his family
Forty-year-old Skeet has been married for 10 years now to a pretty lady named, Kim, who he met at a fishing trade show.
"I walked up to her in the booth she was working and started talking to her ... took me 3 MONTHS to get a date with her, but her Dad was helping me because he is a fisherman and thought what I did was cool."
On their first date, Skeet took her fishing.
"I proposed at her uncle's house, dude I was a wreck ... her whole FAMILY WAS THERE. Above our refrigerator at home we have a special collage of pictures of the event ... I was a wreck."
Skeet turns from watching the activity below the truck and looks right at me. "Kim has made me a much better person, taught me compassion, helped me become a better all-around person."
He hits the stereo, different songs lead to different insights.
"Up until I was 30 I didn't really want kids, then when I hit 30 it changed. I felt life wasn't complete without children, now that I have them it is the greatest thing in my life."
Lea, a gymnast, quite, smart, meticulous, excels at everything she does. Courtney in pre-school but thinks it's the second grade, very athletic. "My wife watched her play some athletic games with the boys and put them to shame, she called me and told me that Courtney is a little badass."
There's a smile on his face, I've seen it before, he's talking about his kids.
"To me, having the kids gave me a true understanding of what TRUE LOVE is. They are my pride and joy, the true driving force behind me."
His right hand is on the stereo dial, his left hand on the bottom of the steering wheel, two fingers taping it lightly. The only light in the truck cab comes from the dials on the dash. Skeet licks his lips, I'm just sitting there, listening, waiting, respectful.
"db I've been thinking of maybe retiring when I turn 45, if I can. They will be teenagers then and I want to be there for them. It's an important time in their lives and I want to be there for every moment of it, being on the road as much as I am makes that impossible."
At a certain level, some people become different than you or I.
They take what we can only dream of doing, and they do it.
It's sweet to watch.
They become Picasso, Da Vinci, Hemingway, Mozart and I think in the same breath, professional athletes.
If you think not, get on the same field with them, get in the same boat.
Or better yet, try to beat them. Compete against them.
Paint better, write better, compose better, get your body to do things better than you think possible.
Become GREAT at what you do, whatever it is.
But here's the catch ... it's not the DESIRE to become great that lands you there ... IT'S THE WILL IT TAKES TO MAKE IT.
Some got it, most do not.
The other man who sat in the passenger seat I now occupy, Rick Clunn, has it, NO DOUBT. The man in the driver's seat across from me also has it.
"My favorite thing about all this (points outside the windshield) is the competition. I love to fish, but it's the competition that fires me up."
"Growing up I never felt I was a competitive person. My brothers were the competitive ones. I was pretty laid back. Now, the older I get, I want to WIN EVERYTHING. To win is it."
A tile setter who becomes a champion, but someone who holds on to the values of a person who has got down on his knees and worked with his hands. A craftsman, on and off the water, a guy from a bait shop, still in awe of it all.
Skeet Reese: "The Classic trophy sits on a small table in my house between the couch and my leather recliner, every once in a while when I'm sitting in the recliner I kind of reach over and touch it, just to make sure it is still there, and that it's real."
It is dude, and my friend, you deserve it.
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoor writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and is also a member of the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U. K.. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com