Flyfishing, Baseball, Ted Williams, and Me

(The Virtual Angler has been in hibernation but has been roused from his slumber by the distant sound of bat striking ball and the unmistakable scent of Spring in the air.)

The day after the shock of Super Bowl LII plunged Patriot Nation into a darkness deeper than a CMP blackout, the sun rose at its cosmically appointed moment and Red Sox Nation awakened in a brighter world. Baseball season began that day, not with the crack of bat on ball but with the roar of a diesel engine. It was Truck Day at Fenway Park. A big-ass semi driven, for the 21st straight year, by Al Hartz of Milford, Mass., pulled up beside the ballpark on Van Ness Street to the cheers of hundreds of fans who needed no bobbin’ robins to tell them that Spring had arrived. The Fenway stevedores loaded the truck’s 53-foot trailer with the crates and boxes and bags that held the tools of the Summer Game. According to the Boston Herald the bill of lading listed “20,400 baseballs, 1,100 bats, 20 cases of bubble gum and 60 cases of sunflower seeds,” among other necessities. Once the trailer was loaded, Hartz nosed his big rig onto the Mass Pike and rumbled off on his familiar 1,480 mile drive to Fort Myers, Florida, the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox.

In a few weeks, my evenings at camp will be accompanied by the voices of the venerable Joe Castiglione and his newish sidekick, Tim Neverett, doing the play-by-play of the Sox games. Baseball and radio are a happy marriage, consummated in the early days of radio in the 1920s and never to part.

Ye Olde Hallicrafters

Another match made in heaven: baseball and fishing. Their seasons are perfectly aligned, and the two have been inseparable in my life since grammar school, when I began catching fish on baited hooks, following the box scores in the daily paper, and listening to Red Sox games on the Hallicrafters radio the Old Man had given me.

When I first started listening to Red Sox baseball on the radio, Ted Williams, The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived, played left field for the Sox. I had not yet become a fly-fisherman, but I became aware that Ted Williams was as great an angler as he was a hitter. When I took up flyfishing, at age 12, I felt Ted and I were brothers of a sort (I’m sure he felt the same). Many years later, when I fished for Atlantic salmon on the fabled Miramichi River, 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. The feeling was sort of holy.

I mentioned to my guide my adulation of 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.” The next day my fishing pal, Trout Boy (not his real name) and I drove to where the Renous meets the Miramichi and entered Routledge’s homely little fly shop. Amid the shop’s 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, flyfishing, Ted Williams and me.

George Routledge in his shop on the banks of the Renous.

“Did you really tie all his flies?” I asked. George, gray and gaunt but warm and easygoing, replied, “Nah. He was a good fly-tyer. But,” he added, and George Routledge may have been the only man who could make this boast, “I did beat him in a casting contest one day.” George is gone now, and I thank my stars that I met him.

April, come she will. Baseball season and fishing season will begin. A day on the water with a flyrod, then an evening at camp with bourbon on the rocks and baseball on the radio. Happiness.


Nick Mills

About Nick Mills

Full disclosure: I was not born in Maine, alas! I was born in Massachusetts, but the family moved to Maine when I was eleven, and I grew up in Thomaston. My dad was skipper of one of the draggers that sailed out of Rockland, in the days when it was a rough-tough working fishing port. When he came in from the sea his favorite activity was freshwater fishing with me and my brother, Peter. We learned together to flyfish for trout in the Alder Stream in Eustis. Once hooked on the sport, pun intended, I fished at every opportunity in every place I could -- in the rivers, streams and ponds of Maine; in the mountain ponds of Utah, where I was stationed for a year in the Army; in high Andean lakes in Colombia, where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer; even in a lagoon that surrounded one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad. I tried once to go trout fishing in northern Afghanistan, when the U.S.S.R. occupied that country; a landslide blocked my path, but that led to a more interesting adventure, which I will tell you about in a future post.