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Roy ignored me. "And persistent? Oh, my. He'll stay out there all day, any kind of weather. Stay and stay."
Roy nodded at the river, and we watched from our perch. Ted was alone now, moving along the near side of the Miramichi, now a silver gash—casting, moving a step or two downriver, casting, moving. Edna brought us Scotch to warm the vigil. The silence between us grew as we watched. Then, when it was almost impossible to see, there was a small detonation on the surface of the water, a flash of tumbling flesh and a quick one-sided battle. The lone figure moved to the river's edge, his rod held high in one hand, his other reaching down as he bent over.
"He's releasing it?" I asked.
"Yeah," said Roy.
"All day for one fish, and he's releasing it?"
"Yeah," said Roy. "Persistent."
It has been Ted Williams' dream to one day own a shrimp trawler, 75 feet or better, carefully appointed with gun and tackle rooms and enough of the essentials of life to accommodate a man who eats well and recreates vigorously, and then to spend the rest of his days scouring the world for fish he has never caught and animals he has never hunted. He read that Zane Grey had a boat he used for just those purposes. The image of Grey at the helm, restrained only by the injunctions of wind and tide, made the writer a hero of Ted's.
Whenever Williams talks of this dream voyage, the enthusiasm that makes him so volatile a conversationalist—he doesn't converse, actually; he competes, he challenges, he needles—is rekindled. "Being there is what I love," he says. "Away from people. Away from the telephone. I can't think of anyone who got more fun out of life than Zane Grey, traveling, hunting and fishing...."
The dream was nurtured during the early years of Ted's major league career when, as a singular hero/anti-hero who seemed always to be in the vortex of controversy, he came to rely on the rivers and streams of North America and the saltwater flats and channels of the Florida Keys and any number of wilderness areas for isolation and relief. The more Williams suffered the trespasses of his idolators and the pryings of his critics, the more he retreated until, in middle age, he had wittingly fashioned for himself an idyllic outdoorsman's life—fish where and for what he wanted, hunt where and when he pleased.
He never bought that big shrimper. He has had the money to buy a dozen like it, but he has only talked about it, dabbing at the image as if it were a favorite painting that needed constant retouching. I suspect that he'll never buy the boat, that he'll just go on talking about it forever, or at least until he's done once and for all with the first love of his life, the love that held him for 25 years as a player, seduced him, kicking and screaming, out of retirement to manage the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers for four years—"What a lousy job that was," he says—and even now, in the spring, brings him back to advise the young hitters of the Boston Red Sox in Florida. (For a fee, of course.)