Williams had left his boat at the Coral Shores Marina on Long Key, where he has a standing 50� bet with the proprietor that every time he goes out he will get a tarpon. It would be quicker by car to Long Key and, from there, quicker by boat to the spot. We piled into Williams' Ford and he drove.
The Kid drives much the way he used to get ready to hit a baseball. When he was waiting in the on-deck circle or standing at the plate, he could not be still. He moved his arms and jerked his shoulders, pumped his bat, squeezing the handle as if to wring out the reluctant base hits. When he drives a car he is no less convulsive. He is a highly animated conversationalist and sometimes finds it necessary to take both hands off the wheel to make a point. He drives with his knees. He does not drive slowly.
To fish with Williams and emerge with your sensitivities intact is to undertake the voyage between Scylla and Charybdis. It is delicate work, but it can be done, and it can be enjoyable. It most certainly will be educational. An open boat with The Kid just does not happen to be the place for one with the heart of a fawn or the ear of a rabbit. There are four things to remember: 1) he is a perfectionist; 2) he is better at it than you are; 3) he is a consummate needler; and 4) he is in charge. He brings to fishing the same hard-eyed intensity, the same unbounded capacity for scientific inquiry he brought to hitting a baseball.
Fishing guides are, by tradition, bullies, but the guides do not bully Williams. Jimmie Albright, who has fished with him for almost 18 years and is more or less his regular companion the six months a year Williams lives in Islamorada, says that this is because Williams knows more about fishing than they do.
Williams encourages a constant ebb and flow of ideas, theories, critiques, digs, approvals and opprobriums. His favorite appellation is "Bush" short for bush-leaguer, but with Williams a mark of accreditation. If he calls you Bush, you're in. Often he confers it on the guides.
That first day we had gone with the falling tide to a spot a mile east of Long Key. Most of the time was spent situating the boat in the prospective line of the tarpon run at the edge of a channel. Naturally, Williams questioned Brothers' choice of position. Brothers asked him if he had brought his fly rod, just in case. "I think you'll find spinning gear better by 2 to 1," said The Kid. "I think you will also find I'm prepared, that I'm very well prepared." He began to switch the color of his lure from red and yellow to pink. The lures he makes himself from dyed bucktail. Brothers joked that the color of the lure was to satisfy the fishermen, not the fish; that it was a matter of "proper presentation." Williams' fingers moved nimbly, tying the necessary knots and biting off the ends with his teeth. He winked at me. "Boy, the guides would like to know how to tie that knot," he said. "That's one knot I'll never show them." He said it was a 100% knot. Brothers said there was no such thing. They argued about that for a while.
The Kid put a shapeless white hat on his head and an extra layer of grease on his lips and assumed his waiting stance on top of a tackle box, looking out across the water, his left hand on his hip, his right holding a weapon: a Ted Williams reel with 15-pound monofilament line and a Ted Williams seven-foot rod. Sears puts the Williams name on its top line of equipment, after himself approves it. He grants Sears about 60 days a year of his time, attending clinics, making films, doing promotional work. It takes another 45 days to fulfill his obligation as a Red Sox vice-president, which consists mainly of trying, in the spring, to pound into the heads of young hitters the recipe for becoming the greatest hitter who ever lived. Another 60 days are spent at his boys' camp in Lakeville, Mass. From August to October he retires to a little cabin on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick and fishes for Atlantic salmon.
From the tackle box Williams could make conversation and watch for the coming of the tarpon. In this stance The Kid allowed his stomach to take its course uninhibited, letting it stick out. Sometimes he rolled on the sides of his feet as he kibitzed with the rest of us. His stomach is no longer a splinter's stomach, but otherwise he appears in excellent condition. He is 48 now but looks 35. As a young man he had been shocked to see the hair on his chest turning silver, but only a little of the silver ever got to his head. His great curly thatch is still brown. He weighs 230 pounds. Late in his baseball career, when he was harassed by injuries, he hit four straight pinch home runs, and I suggested that he looked like he could go up there right now and make a living pinch-hitting. He said that prospect never appealed to him at all. Nor had he ever wanted to be a manager. He said it had something to do with the "knights of the keyboard," his antagonists in the press box.
Standing there, he gave the impression he did not have to talk at all to enjoy himself; that he could stand there, perfectly silent, by the hour waiting for fish, a demonstration of patience he had never exhibited waiting to bat.
"Bear down, just bear down, Bush," said The Kid.