Man, boy catch big one in golf course fishing trip

June 16, 1995|By MIKE ROYKO

Standing by the golf course pond with a fishing rod in his hand, the man felt foolish.

Not that there is anything foolish about dangling a nightcrawler in a golf course pond. It's more relaxing and less costly than hacking a ball into the water, and you can eat what you catch. Who eats a score card?

But catching fish wasn't his real reason for being there. He was engaged in what detectives, spies or journalists would call a stakeout.

While he appeared to be spending some quiet time in the shade of an old oak tree, pulling out an occasional bluegill or small bass, he really was furtively watching and waiting for a certain person to walk by.

When that person appeared, the man would do something that he had never done in his entire life and never thought he would do. He would ask a celebrity for an autograph.

The prospect filled him with shame. He would have preferred to dive into the pond or run to his car and roar away with his pride intact.

But he couldn't. The reason was standing next to him and holding a fishing pole -- his 8-year-old son.

The boy was dressed in his Sunday best, his Monday best, Tuesday best and 24-hour-a-day best.

Deep red Chicago Bulls shorts. The very latest in basketball shoes fashion. And a Bulls jersey with the number 45 on the back.

A few days earlier, the man had been tipped off that the world's greatest basketball player and a few friends might be playing golf that morning on that golf course.

The course and clubhouse would be closed that day for weekly maintenance with only a few workers there.

The basketball star and his group would have something rare and precious -- total privacy. No gawkers, intruders and no autograph hounds.

The man had casually mentioned this to his wife, and the boy had overheard them talk.

From that moment on, it was, "Dad, can we? Can we, Dad? Mom, ask Dad, please? Dad, Mom says it's up to you. Dad, puleeze?"

There are things a parent must do. Cheerfully change fragrant diapers. Smile happily while burping a child who drools milk down your shirt collar. Sit through musical assemblies.

And that's what had the man squirming more than the worms he put on the hooks. He was asked to barge in on a privacy-seeking celebrity, to be the gawker, the intruder, the autograph hound.

But how do you say no to a kid who, since he was 3, has been chanting along with the team introductions: ". . . And from North Carolina, . . ."?

So there the man stood, already feeling like an ass, while hopefully telling himself: "Maybe when he sees the fishing rods, he'll ask how we're doing. People always ask fishermen how they're doing. And that will be the ice-breaker and . . ."

Suddenly they were there, teeing off, then walking briskly down a path near the pond, not 10 feet from the man and his son.

The man blurted, "Good morning." Surely they'd pause and ask how they're biting.

Not a word. Not a glance. Eyes squinting, long strides, the Great One nodded once he was past them. It was something he's had to learn to do instinctively, or he'd never get where he was going. Even on a deserted golf course, there was some bozo coming out from under a tree with a felt-tip marker in his hand.

The man took a deep breath and said, "Michael?" The Great One stopped, turned and gave him a cold look that might have been taken to mean: "Person, just what is it that you want?"

"Uh, Michael, could I have a second of your time?"

Without hesitating, he said: "You've already had a second."

It wasn't exactly a slap in the face. More like a little poke in the eye. The man had an urge to back off and grab a fellow worm.

But the smiling, wide-eyed boy was looking up, as if at a god. So the man stammered: "Look, he hasn't worn anything else since you came back. He sleeps in that outfit. Could you maybe just initial . . .?"

A slight hesitation, then he stepped forward, took the marker and made a long squiggle on the jersey.

With a slight smile, he said: "There you go, my little man. Nice uniform." Then he shook the boy's hand, turned and headed up the fairway.

The boy looked down at his jersey, then looked up with a huge smile and moist eyes. "I'll never wash this. I'll never wash my hand. Dad, let me have the marker. I'll never let anyone write with it. Wow, Dad, wow."

Later, in the car, the man told his wife: "He said, 'There you go, my little man.'"

"Why, that's really nice," she said.

"Yeah. But I wonder if he was talking to me."

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