Menendez' newest family member

Caroline Menendez and Jim Hardy meet the new Menendez Frankie Marion/Largemouth Mafia.com

To millions of people the world over, the name Barkley is synonymous with a loveable character on a children's television show. To bass fishing fans all over the world, the name was that of a loveable yellow lab that would accompany Elite Series pro Mark Menendez on tour. To Menendez, his wife Donna and their two kids, Caroline and Max, Barkley was family.

To Menendez himself, Barkley was love personified; his best friend.

When Barkley passed away in October 2009, Menendez was away attending a writer's workshop for his sponsor Strike King Lure Company. At the time, Bassmaster.com published a tribute to Barkley; and upon the announcement, the Menendez family reported an outpouring of response from the passing of their cherished family pet.

That was when Menendez' wife Donna began making plans to bring a new yellow lab puppy into their Paducah, Ky., home; not to replace Barkley, but to provide the kind of love and companionship that only a canine companion can for her husband.

Thanks to the help of several family friends, Menendez will meet his new friend on Saturday, Day 2 of the Classic. He'll meet the newest member of his family on the Classic weigh-in stage; he is scheduled to be the second angler to weigh-in.

"Our whole family loved Barkley," said Donna Menendez. "He was a gentle dog who looked after the kids and really made it a joy to have him at home. I know how much Mark loved Barkley, and wanted to do something special for Mark."

When family friends began to hear of the secret plans, they began to figure out ways to help Donna arrange for delivery and housing of the puppy. They went so far as to have Bassmaster Opens angler Jim Hardy, a long time angling friend of Menendez, help keep the new puppy in his room at the Birmingham Sheraton, the host hotel for the Bassmaster Classic.

Many of those friends made plans to be at the Classic in Birmingham to take part in introducing Mark to his newest team member. All told, six additional people, besides his wife, children and their accomplice Hardy, will be on hand at the Classic weigh-in on Saturday; Don and Kathy Schell, from Paducah, Ky., Randy Rousseau from Starkville, Miss., Kelsey Holland, a University of Kentucky student who often served as a babysitter for the Menendez children, and Hal and Denise Gilbert, also from Paducah. The Menendez family's long time veterinarian, Dr. Gene Ceglinski, also wished to attend, but was unable to due to a family illness.

Together, the group of friends all expressed their joy at being a part of the introduction process. "We're all excited to be here, to share Mark's accomplishment of qualifying for the Classic, and to see his face when he meets the dog," they said. "This little guy could not have come into a better home, and he will undoubtedly be a great addition to their family."

Whatever the outcome of his performance, Menendez, whose 7-pound, 9-ounce limit on day one found him in 26th position, will have a memorable 2010 Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham.