Fishing and baseball. Their seasons are aligned almost perfectly. Opening Day arrives at Fenway Park and Upper Dam in April, a few days apart. The Red Sox season just ended, in October; fishing continues at the Dam through the Sox-less World Series and Thanksgiving, for the angler who doesn’t mind flirting with frostbite. At camp there is no electricity, but there is a battery powered radio that sits, when not in use, on the highest bookshelf, beside the Buddha that came to Upper Dam via Nepal. In the event of battery failure the radio can be recharged with vigorous revolutions of a little hand crank. With its telescoping antenna fully extended and aimed roughly in the direction of Oquossoc, the radio brings in the Red Sox beautifully. The Red Sox have been lucky and wise in their choices of play-by-play announcers, going way back to the duo of Curt Gowdy and Bill Crowley, Gowdy and Ned Martin, Martin and Ken Coleman, Coleman and Joe Castiglione, through today’s team of Castiglione and Tim Neverett. I’ve heard them all.
Radio and baseball are a happy couple. The pace of the game is suited to radio. The time between pitches gives the announcers leeway for storytelling, statistics. The sequential action lends itself to narration: pitcher winds and delivers, batter swings, ball bounces toward second, fielder scoops up the ball and throws to first for the out. And I have always believed radio to be superior to television: the pictures are better on radio. The calls of great baseball moments, by great play-by-play announcers, ring in our ears and replay in our mind’s eye forever.
A day on the water, swinging a flyrod, followed by an evening at camp with bourbon on the rocks and baseball on the radio, is one angler’s definition of happy.
The fishing-baseball combo has, for me, a paragon. When I first started listening to Red Sox baseball on the radio, when my age was measured in single digits, the Red Sox left fielder was Ted Williams. I hung eagerly on his every at-bat, clipped the box score from the newspaper the next day and pasted it into a scrapbook. I had not yet become a fly-fisherman, but I was aware that Ted Williams, the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived, was just as great an angler as he was a hitter. I played baseball (not left field, but third base) and when, at 12, I took up flyfishing I felt Ted and I were brothers of a sort. Many years later I fished for Atlantic salmon for the first time, on the fabled Miramichi. My guide pointed out the modest cottage high on the right bank that had belonged to Williams. I was fishing waters that he had fished. It was sort of holy, the feeling.
A couple of years later, Trout Boy (not his real name) and I fished the Miramichi in early April in numbingly cold weather with snow flurries.
I mentioned to my guide my adulation of Ted Williams and how I felt that I was bonding with him by fishing for salmon on this river. “Oh, you should meet George Routledge. He knew Williams.” So during a long lunch break TB and I drove to where the Renous meets the Miramichi and parked outside the homely little fly shop of George Routledge and waited until he finished his lunch and opened the shop. Looking around the shop I sensed that George had probably not thrown anything away since he first opened the place. Amid the clutter of flies, flyrods, leaders, lines, and assorted ephemera I homed in on a yellowed newspaper clipping tacked on the wall beside the door. It was the story of Ted Williams’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York. Above the headline, scrawled in ink, were the words, “To George, who tied all my flies. Ted Williams.” A sacred relic, that clipping. In the presence of Williams’s old friend George I felt I was at a spiritual convergence of baseball and flyfishing, Ted Williams and me.
“Did you really tie all his flies?” I asked. George, graying and gaunt but warm and easygoing, replied, “Nah. He was a good fly-tyer. But,” he added, and George Routledge may be the only man who can make this boast, “I did beat him in a casting contest one day.”
I tuned in for one more time this season, to listen to Joe and Tim call the plays as the Sox were sent home and Big Papi took his final cuts. The fishing season is nearly at an end, as well. But April, come she will, and the fish will be in the pool and the Sox will be on the radio and a new season will begin.