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Pope told of his son's sacrilege anyway, risking it, and Williams laughed the loudest. He has an almost limitless enthusiasm for spontaneity, for getting the most out of a moment. He reacts. Getting the most sometimes means to ignite his famously combustible temper, to engage his iridescent vocabulary. If, however, he ever had the egotist's inability to laugh at himself he surely does not have it now.
"Hell, it's been almost seven years," he said to Pope. "Your boy is a new generation. Listen, listen, I'm a grandfather. Isn't that something? Isn't that funny? A grandfather." He said he could tell he must be getting old by the way he was getting so critical of young hitters. "I remember when Cobb criticized me for not trying to punch the ball to left field away from Boudreau's shift. Boy, I thought Cobb was an old crab, and here I am getting older, and I find I'm more critical." He did that little thing with his mouth and eyes, denoting scandalous behavior. "I try not to knock anybody," he said, "but some of these guys just aren't hitting what they should be. Listen, you know I have a lot of respect for hitters like Mays and Kaline and Clemente, and I like some of these young kids—Rico Petrocelli of our club and that kid in Houston—Staub—I'm impressed with him. But they all could be better.
"So many of them get up there just to swing. You see them all the time, hopping after that first pitch. Dammit, take a strike. See what the guy's got. I'm talking about the first strike in a ball game. I bet if you checked you'd find the guys who swing at that first strike hit about .050 on that pitch. Do they learn? No, hell, no. They keep swinging at it. You sure as hell ought to be able to remember what you learn. I think, I know I can tell you the exact pitch and pitcher I hit every one of my first 250 home runs off of."
Jack Brothers arrived almost simultaneously with a little black cat that began to mew at the back door in response to the aroma of Williams' cooking. "Where the hell you been, Bush?" said Williams to Brothers. "We're trying to make history and you're sleeping. Pour yourself some coffee."
Brothers said Ted would be pleased to know he had already eaten and was ready to go, but he took a cup anyway. More often than not Williams fishes alone; he just gets into his custom-made 17�-foot open boat with its 100 horses and goes out and finds his own. But he also likes to patronize the guides and has firm friendships with many of them, and there were too many of us for one boat. Brothers has been an Islamorada fishing guide for 15 years. He is from Brooklyn. Williams had known Brothers a long time but had not fished with him prior to the day before, when we had also chartered young Billy Grace's boat. Today Grace would meet us at the fishing spot.
The little cat was now mewing in earnest at the back door. "Damn cat," said The Kid. "I hate cats. Been trying to run him off for weeks. I've thrown things at him—for crissakes, I've done everything but drown him." He began to gather up the leftover bacon. There was enough to feed 10 cats. He opened the screen door and fended off the cat gently with his foot. "Get the hell out of the road," he said. He laid the platter of bacon down on the concrete floor of the porte cochere and the cat went to it hungrily. "No sense letting it go to waste," said The Kid.
"All right, let's go," he said. "Let's get serious. It's time to start thinking about fishing. Bear down, Bush. Let's start bearing down."
Islamorada is the jewel inset of a two-mile key called Upper Matecumbe, 68 miles south of Miami and 82 miles north of Key West. Until the word got around about the fishing, it was mostly inhabited by a tribe of big-hearted, hard-headed, industrious white natives called Conchs who years ago had infiltrated from the Bahamas after first having fled the American Revolution as supporters of the Crown.
The Gulf Stream runs by five miles offshore to the east, a playground for sailfish, dolphin, marlin, wahoo and king-fish. On the coral reefs there are snapper, jack, barracuda and grouper; on the flats of the Gulf side, or Florida Bay side, there are snook, bonefish, permit, redfish and the champion fighter from prehistoric days, Tarpon atlanticus, the silver-king tarpon.
Bonefish drew Ted Williams to Islamorada years ago, and the Conchs have helped keep him there. The best thing about Conchs, Williams found, was that they did not make a fuss over him. They took him for granted. He was just "Hi, Ted" to them. He could bonefish in peace. As the years went by, he ran his box score to more than a thousand bonefish. Satiated, the thrill fading, he switched to tarpon as the principal quarry. He became hooked on tarpon. In 1964 he needled the Islamorada Fishing Guides Association into putting together a highly selective invitational tarpon tournament called the Gold Cup, which he won in 1965. The guides say it is the best fishing tournament in the world, and one of the most heavily gambled on. The Kid was using our trip to get himself tuned up for the tournament.