November 17, 2008

CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT...:

Going Fishing With The Kid: No longer a splinter, Ted Williams (right) is just as splendid—and brash—as ever when he turns his skill against another worthy opponent, the leaping tarpon of the Florida Keys
John Underwood, 8/21/67, Sports Illustrated)

The Kid said it was about time we showed up. It was 5:15 in the morning. The sun had not yet begun its assault on the Florida Keys . By 10 o'clock it would be 85�, and Charley Trainor, the photographer, would have his freckles double-coated with a petroleum compound made for World War II aviators marooned at sea. The Kid had bacon—a good two pounds of bacon—bubbling and spitting in twin skillets on the stove, and the coffee was hot. "All right," he said, "get the hell out of the road."

We were standing there like children who have awakened to strange events. "Just sit your behinds down and stay out of the road. We're making history here. How do you like your eggs?"

There was some ponderous shuffling as the three of us who were now his subjects found seats at the large dinette table. There were Charley the photographer and Edwin Pope, the writer from Miami , and myself, and however improbable our status as fishermen, we were there to go for tarpon with The Kid, who is an expert at it, who may be, in fact, the best at it, the way he used to be the best at putting a bat on a ball. He had invited us to an early breakfast, because he said he did not trust us to find our own at that hour and he wanted to be at the fishing spot no later than 7. He had it scouted.

The Kid said his cooking would not win prizes, but as a man alone after two aborted marriages he knew some of the mysteries of steaks, chops, broiled chicken and roast beef. "I do a pretty fair job with them," he said. "I do not make pies," he said, raising his eyebrows and the side of his mouth.

He had on the red Bermuda shorts I have come to think of as his home uniform in Islamorada, and a faded red shirt that had a few character holes in it. He wore Sears, Roebuck tennis shoes without socks, and his copper-brown calves stuck out prominently from the tails of the Bermudas. In 1938, when he was 19 years old and a pitcher-outfielder in San Diego , just starting as a professional ballplayer, he was 6'3" and weighed 168 pounds. Eventually, when he had been exposed to major league regimens, he got up to 200 pounds, but it was still appropriate to call him The Splinter. The Splendid Splinter , to be sure, because there was more to him than attenuation. His own particular preference for a nickname was always The Kid. Occasionally in conversation he still refers to himself as The Kid. It is a pleasing way of taking the edge off the first person singular.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 17, 2008 6:58 AM
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