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Recalling a home run fishing trip of sorts

Sometimes a fishing trip can be a home run even when the fish fail to show up.

For retired Mathews High School teacher Mike Miller, a long weekend of frustration on Pymatuning Lake with his father and brother turned out to be one of the best days of his life.

Mike’s dad, Gerry Miller, was a hard-working man who toiled at two jobs to support his family in Vienna. When Gerry did finally make time to go fishing, the trips often turned into three-day expeditions that were — in Mike’s words — “fish, fish, fish.”

Summer was waning in 1968 when Gerry announced to Mike and younger brothers Tom and Pete that they were going fishing over the weekend. The dog days of August made the prospects of success seem remote, and Mike had other ideas for that weekend.

“It was going to be Mickey Mantle’s last-ever game in Cleveland, and I really wanted to see him play,” Mike recalled 54 years later.

The Miller boys pled their case, but Gerry stood firm. They were going fishing.

“Dad had a 9.5-hp Evinrude, and we’d rent a boat at Pymatuning and fish hard for two days hoping to catch walleyes and crappies,” Mike said. “Sometimes we didn’t do well — just a catfish or two — so after two days we’d pack up and go to Conneaut to fish for perch just to have fish to eat.”

The Yankees, meanwhile, were on the field at Cleveland Municipal Stadium and Mantle was heading into the final month of his storied career in pinstripes.

“I hated the Yankees, but Mickey Mantle was bigger than life to me,” Mike said. “I thought it would be great to see his last game in Cleveland.”

Instead, Mike found himself on another grueling trip with the Miller men.

“We went to Pymatuning like we always did, and the fishing was slow. Like he often did, Dad said he had another spot to try up on Lake Erie. I figured we’d go up and catch a bunch of perch and then head home.”

The journey to the new fishing spot was unusual, however, as the brothers noticed they were heading further west on Interstate 90 than typical for their perch excursions. Soon the Cleveland lakefront was flying by and then Municipal Stadium loomed into view with the oversized Chief Wahoo sign providing the final clue that the Millers were going to see Mantle’s final at-bats in Cleveland.

“For family reasons, it really was the best day of my life. I don’t even remember how Mickey Mantle played that day or even who won, but I know that I got to see him one last time and we had a lot of great memories.”

Another of Gerry Miller’s fishing getaways turned out to be another memorable, albeit sad, day for Mike. Gerry’s father had been hospitalized, but his doctor assured the family he would be OK, so Gerry decided to go fishing.

It was 1974, long before people could be readily located in emergencies, so when the time came to track down Gerry, Mike and his friend drove around Mosquito and Pymatuning lakes several times over two days before they finally found him fishing on the Pymatuning causeway.

“I remember how difficult it was to tell Dad his father had passed away.”

Mike retired after 35 years teaching social studies, American government and history in Mathews schools. He also coached volleyball, softball and golf.

“I haven’t done a ton of fishing over the years, but I think it’s pretty interesting that the best and worst days of my life involved fishing.”

Jack Wollitz’s book, “The Common Angler,” dives into the highs and lows that combine to make fishing a passion for so many people. He appreciates emails from readers. Send a note to jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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