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Puckett's memory stems other tales told

3/15/2006

An outdoor columnist getting long in the tooth will sometimes look back at the stories that have flowed from his fingers over the decades.

Inevitably, he'll find some have withstood the test of time; others weren't all that great. There are always a few columns that probably shouldn't have been written at all or should have been written but were not.

I had reason to reflect the other day — the moment I'd heard the news about the passing of Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett, who played his entire career with the Minnesota Twins.

Kirby loved to fish. This is just a hunch, but it seems to me that Major League Baseball players tend to prefer fishing for sport compared to their NFL counterparts. who are more into hunting.

In my own case, I've written many more columns about fishing with catchers and pitchers than halfbacks and tight ends.

The day I fished with Ted Williams was a never-to-be-forgotten moment. Williams went after bonefish in Islamorada, Fla., with the same intensity he reserved for fastballs down the middle. He hated to strike out and he hated to miss a fish. If he did, Ted would rattle off swear words longer than a baseball bat.

When Billy Martin came to town, a fella named Sid introduced us. At the time, Billy was manager of the Kansas City Royals and he was in town to manage against the Twins.

We gathered one morning to fish on the St. Croix River, just Billy and me, along with a lady friend of Billy's and a famous Bloomington restaurateur, Howard Wong, who was carrying a large box of liquid refreshments.

To this day, Billy is the only fisherman I know who had a millionaire serve as his bartender.

As I recall, Billy and I had a great morning of fishing, although my memory is a little foggy. I do remember Billy nailed a walleye on his very first cast to a spot I showed him.

Billy was so excited he turned to Howard and ordered his usual and also ordered one for me. It was the last fish we caught that day.

When the Boston Red Sox came to town, Yaz became a regular fishing partner. He was good with a bat and good with a pole. Yaz made millions swinging his bat.

When we went fishing he always wore baseball pants, which normally don't have pockets. When we stopped for bait, Yaz didn't carry his millions, so I had to spend mine.

Terry Steinbach was a Minnesota-raised major leaguer who played for Oakland but never forgot his fishing roots. We went muskie fishing one day. Terry had never fished for muskies, so I made a demonstration cast to show him how to work a big topwater lure.

Holy muskie, a muskie hit the demo. Sadly I missed the fish. Even more sadly, that was the last muskie Terry and I saw that day. We never fished together again.

Kent Hrbek was a fun fishing partner on the ice or on the water. Didn't matter to Herbie; he just liked fishing.

One day at a Twins game, No. 14 and I were to have a casting contest in front of thousands of Twin fans who were all rooting for him, of course. Herbie was nervous because he'd seen me practicing on the base path, hitting third base, then the pitcher's mound, with impunity.

Announcer Bob Casey called for the casting contest to begin. Hrbek took the first cast and, shocking all in the Metrodome, hit the target. At that moment, my casting confidence slid down into the dugout.

Herbie went 1 for 3. I missed three casts by a total of 3-inches, combined. Twins fans were happy.

When I walked off the field that day, Kirby Puckett stopped me and said, "Hey, man, when we going fishing?"

I never got around to writing that column. And I'm so sad.


Ron Schara may be reached at ron@mnbound.com.

Schara's 250-page book, "Ron Schara's Minnesota Fishing Guide" (Tristan Outdoors; $19.95) is available by clicking here or by calling 888-755-3155.

Ron Schara's short feature, "The Outdoor Beat," airs at 7:55 a.m. ET Sundays on ESPN2. Click here to view this week's show descriptions.