Keeping Score: Bearing gifts for Teddy Ballgame

  • A fly fishing rod that once belonged to Red Sox legend Ted Williams. Contributed Photo

Published: 2/26/2021 7:37:35 PM
Modified: 2/26/2021 7:37:34 PM

Good morning!
Last summer, I was tramping along the Sam Richardson trail behind my house in Northfield and crossed paths with Marc Aroner walking his Labrador retriever.

The 73-year-old Aroner is a jolly-faced graybeard who makes fishing rods and knows how to spin a yarn. He told me a story that day and it’s been stuck in my craw, so I called and asked him to refresh my memory.

Granted, it’s not what parents dream of when they stare in the crib, but crafting a bamboo fly rod is a noble profession nonetheless. The prototype was made in the 1840s by a Pennsylvania gunsmith and violin maker named Sam Phillippe.

Bamboo’s bend-not-break fiber makes it ideal for an angler to whip over his head until he has enough line to either drop it out on the water, or up in a tree branch.

The industry has a strong local connection. In 1885, the Montague City Rod Company opened across from the Farren Hospital. “Most of the people who lived in the Patch worked at the rod company,” said Aroner. “They made thousands of rods a week, the largest in the world.”

Its heritage survives on the town street map where a block-long street connecting Masonic and Solar avenues is called Rod Shop Road. When rod making went belly-up in the mid-1950s, Sewell Dunton bought the inventory and founded Sewell N. Dunton & Son Rod Co. in Greenfield.

Aroner’s father built submarines and the family moved to Massachusetts. He graduated from UMass with a BFA in art education, worked in the Millers Falls Tool Company machine shop and fly fished wherever the trout were biting.

“I broke the tip of my fly rod and was directed to Sewell Dunton and a couple of younger guys,” said Aroner. “Tom Maxwell, who had a doctorate in philosophy, and Tom Dorsey, a jazz bass player who had a masters in philosophy.”

The two friends realized it was more fun crafting fly rods than teaching Aristotle around the campfire. They bought out Dunton and formed Thomas & Thomas Fly Fishing Rods.

Today their products are sold from South Deerfield to Dubai. Their first shop was on Fiske Avenue, around the corner from Carl’s Restaurant. Aroner remembers gazing at an elevator shaft filled with tea stick bamboo grown in south central China.

“Montague’s trade name for it was Tonkin bamboo,” said Aroner. “I asked them for a job and they signed me to a five-year apprenticeship.”

After six years “doing lots and lots of grunt work” he took a job with the Leonard Rod Company in the mid-Hudson Valley. “Through a series of fortuitous events I ended up with all of its production equipment at auction for $250 plus a $100 storage fee. I rented a truck and stuffed it to the ceiling with bamboo that lasted me for many years.”

Fly rods like cigars vary greatly in cost and quality. Aroner said it took 60 hours to make “the highest quality rod. I’ve made 20 each year for many years. I can’t complain, I’ve had a great run of it.”

“Do you still fish?” I asked him.

“I certainly do. I acquired a terrible affliction of fishing for Atlantic salmon in Canada.”

Twenty-five years ago he got a call from a Texas attorney representing Tony Gwynn, a left-handed hitter who played in Ted Williams’s hometown San Diego. Gwynn was one of The Kid’s two favorite modern day players together with Nomar Garciappara, according to Ben Bradlee Jr.’s The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams.

A first ballot Hall of Famer, the first sentence of Gwynn’s plaque at Cooperstown reads: “An artisan with a bat whose daily pursuit of excellence produced a .338 lifetime batting average, 3,141 hits and a National League-record eight batting titles.”

In order to show Williams he was keenly aware of his angling skill on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, Gwynn decided to buy him the rod. “They needed it quickly,” said Aroner, who crafted a 6½ -foot No. 3 Spring Creek Special, blond-colored and tempered, with engraving that said For Ted Williams Feb. 1996.

He shipped the rod to Texas with a $2,500 invoice, “and it disappeared from my view until I heard from a rod maker in Maine. He had spotted it in a Ted Williams collection catalogue scheduled for auction at Fenway Park.”

According to the auctioneer, the expected winning bid for Aroner’s assiduously crafted fishing rod would be $300. “They might know baseball cards but they don’t know fishing stuff,” sniffed Aroner.

“I called my stepson Jonas and asked if he’d go over and buy the rod back. He couldn’t do it so I grabbed my checkbook and drove 90 mph down Route 2 trying to get to Fenway Park. I parked at Alewife, got on the Red Line to the Green Line, but they were tearing up the tracks and they got us on buses. It was infuriating. I could have walked faster.

When he reached Fenway Park for the 2012 auction, “I couldn’t find the elevator so I hiked up to the luxury boxes. I got in line. I got a bidding number. I got a runner to bring (the fly rod) to me and it looked like it had never been taken out of the tube.

“I was poking around at the some of the other stuff. There was a Leonard bait-casting rod from 1903 with initials GML for George M. LaBranche. George was a seminal fisherman in terms of developing dry fly technique in North America. It’s probably why Ted kept it, but I didn’t have enough powder in my checking account to buy it.

“A baseball came up for sale. A kid was standing on a chair so the auctioneer could see him. Eventually they bought this baseball for $170,000. It was one of a kind: To my buddy Ted Williams from Babe Ruth.”

Before it came up for bid Jonas texted Aroner that the internet bidding for his rod was up to $1,200. “It opened at $1,300 and I stuck my paddle up and the auctioneer went into stall mode. Whoever was on phone bid me up. Eventually I bought the rod back for $2,700.”

Today Aroner is the head rod maker for the Spinoza Rod Company, and he partners with Jonas selling used tackle online. The Ted Williams rod is safely tucked away. A $5,000 value, it’s not for sale.

SQUIBBERS: As baseball season looms and owners push for expanded playoffs, reader Steven Sweeney comments: “The Cardinals won the 2006 World Series with an 83-78 record. Can’t wait till a losing team wins the championship.” … Red Sox GM Chaim Bloom appeared on the MLB Network and said of 6-foot-3 first base prospect Hudson Potts: “Big kid, power, good arm, there’s some swing and miss but he’s got the power.” … Jockey Flavien Prat notched his 1,000th win last week but said there wasn’t a particular favorite. “They all have a place in my heart.” … Winthrop University in South Carolina is 20-1, their only loss by two points against UNC-Asheville. Eagles coach Pat Kelsey was nearly named the UMass coach four years ago next month, but he backed out 30 minutes before his introductory press conference. The story of why has too many “allegedly” moments to tell here. … South Deerfield’s Dan Carmody corrected an item from last week’s column that mentioned Tony Conigliaro’s home town was Revere. “He was born in Revere but grew up in Swampscott and graduated from my high school St. Mary’s in Lynn,” wrote Carmody. “Locals on the North Shore would never associate Conigliaro with Revere.” … The NY Post’s Phil Mushnick: “Due to revisionist social justice pressures, Roger Goodell’s alma mater, Washington & Jefferson, this week will be renamed “&.’” … UMass hoops had a chance of finishing first in the A-10 until Richmond beat them by 14 points on Tuesday. The Boston Globe and other major media outlets had taken notice, but be it basketball or football, when it comes to playing statement games UMass always pleads the Fifth.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at
chipjet95@yahoo.com


E-Edition & Local Ads


Weather


athol forecast

Social Media




Athol Daily News

14 Hope Street,
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Telephone: (413) 772-0261

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.