By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
Published October 9, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Growing up in New Jersey, you couldn't help but be a Yankees fan. I thought life couldn't get any better than in the fall of '78. Fresh out of high school, I watched the Yanks beat the Dodgers in Game 3 of the World Series.
The highlight came in the third inning, when my hero, Graig Nettles, stopped a line drive going straight down the third-base line. That memory sat locked away in the deepest reaches of my mind until a few weeks ago when I had a chance conversation with now-former Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar.
"Do you follow baseball?" LaMar asked after we had exhausted his true favorite subject, fishing.
"I used to go to quite a few Yankees games," I told him. "Especially during the summers of '77 and '78."
"Lou's era," LaMar said, referring to former Devil Rays manager and Yankee rightfielder Lou Piniella. "What a team. ... Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Catfish Hunter, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles ... "
LaMar probably could have rattled off the entire roster, but he just smiled and walked away. Two boys - one 4 and one 2 - needed his attention. Then I watched as this man, who obviously had more pressing duties, walked hand in hand with them, talking for 10 minutes about what, only they know.
Then it hit me. Chuck LaMar may leave with a "losing" record as Devil Rays GM, but to the hundreds (and perhaps even thousands) of children whose lives he has touched in the past seven years, he leaves a winner.
The Chuck LaMar Grand Slam Celebrity Fishing Tournament has raised more than $1-million for the Tampa-based Pediatric Cancer Foundation. A few years ago I had the pleasure of fishing with a young cancer patient, who one year earlier had been a typical care-free teenager, who had just returned from Costa Rica with LaMar.
I remember how that boy talked with tears in his eyes about the life-changing experience: "Chuck LaMar is one of the nicest guys you will ever want to meet."
But that is just one story out of hundreds. On the day before the tournament (scheduled this year for Nov. 11-13), LaMar's friend, Steve Yerrid, holds a Kid's Fishing Derby. For some who participate, it might be the only day they spend outside. I've stopped by, and afterward couldn't help but rush home to hug and kiss my kids.
There has been speculation about what will become of the tournament. LaMar has said he will remain committed to the Pediatric Cancer Foundation regardless of where he and his family settle next.
A spokesman for the organization said the tournament will go as planned this year and return next year with Mercury as the title sponsor. But for those of us who have been fortunate enough to be involved in this world-class event, it is and always will be "The Chuck LaMar."
To learn more about the Pediatric Cancer Foundation or the Chuck LaMar Mercury Grand Slam Celebrity Fishing Tournament, call 813 269-0955 or go to www.pcfusa.org Other upcoming charity events:
Hook'em for Health, benefiting St. Joseph's Hospitals, Oct.19, Tampa Bayside Marina, call 813 872-0979. St. Anthony's Hospital Fishing Tournament, Oct.22, call (727) 820-7859. Suncoast Kingfish Classic, benefiting Treasure Island Charities, Oct.28-29, Treasure Island, call (727) 363-0071 or go to www.treasureislandcharities.com Old Salt King of the Beach fishing tournament, benefiting Children's Dream Fund, Nov.10-12, call the Old Salt Line (727) 497-1060 or go to www.oldsaltfishing.org