Do you remember Mickey Mantle?
Sure you do. Center fielder for one of the greatest sports dynasties ever. Won the American League MVP award three times, the Triple Crown once, twelve World Series titles, sixteen-time All Star. Dialed up the league’s pitchers for long distance 536 times.
Do you remember Mickey Mantle Jr.?
Probably not. Like dad, he was a switch-hitting center fielder. Knocked around the minors for a bit, but didn’t even get a cup of coffee in the show.
A name can weigh you down like an anchor.
That could be a problem for young Alton Jones, a name usually preceded by the word “Little.” As in “Little Alton” or, more frequently, with no pause “Little. Alton” as if it’s one word. You see, his dad has a pretty stellar record on the cast-for-cash circuits, the same field that L.A. wants to enter in the near future. He already had plenty to live up to before February, but then the old man went and won five hundred large in the Classic, and all of the hype and hardware that goes with it.
At first, he won’t concede that the name is a problem: “His name is Wendell Alton and my name is Alton Neal,” the teenager says.
In the most technical sense, he’s right….but everybody calls them the same thing. Not only that, they look like twins who’ve been separated by a generation. The resemblance borders on scary. But at an age when most kids would rather be anything at all but the spitting image of their parents, the son wants to rise up to his father’s level, and that’s been the case since he was three or four years old, when dad brought home a 30 pound catfish he’d caught on a guide trip.
“I thought it was the greatest thing. After that, I started fishing as much as I could, mainly for bass, but also for anything that would pull on my line.”
Shortly thereafter, he caught the tournament bug. Father and son entered the Skeeter Owners Tournament in Michigan and finished in the money. It was an intoxicant.
Now he’ ready to take it up a notch. At Clark’s Hill, he’ll finally be of age to fish a BASS event on the co-angler side. The self-professed power fisherman is spooling up his braid and getting ready to jump in the boats of dad’s competition. It could be a letdown — going from fishing with the world champ to the back seat of some untested rookie’s boat – but that’s a risk he’s willing to take. He’s already fished with several of the other pros and knows that they may approach the water differently, but that can only fine tune the skills and tendencies that his champion coach has instilled.
Little Alton gets nothing handed to him. He may get to rear back on a few of the strikes he receives in practice, but after that his father cuts his hooks off. There he is, in the boat with the world champ, on some of the best lakes in the country, and he’s not allowed to rip lips.
Dad doesn’t cut him any slack, either. Even when they fun fish, Big Alton is hard charging. “Occasionally if I get really lucky I can compete with him,” his son says. That’s saying something — there are plenty of anglers on tour who can’t make that claim with a straight face.
So how long will this co-angling gig last?
“They’ve encouraged me (to pursue a pro career),” he says. “But they also want me to go to college and save up a little money.” His parents have stressed the economic realities of life as a professional angler and he knows it’s no walk in the park.
“When we fish a tournament (together), we split the gas and the entry fee, and we also split the winnings.” The most they’ve won was $2,000, but he didn’t contribute to that one and didn’t reap the benefits. He did get his share of a $400 prize, though. He hopes to make it to the Elites by 2015, when he’ll be 23.
He already knows what life is like on tour, as anyone who wants to keep up with the Joneses knows that they travel as a family in a large motorhome – World Champ, mother, son, and two daughters.
“It beats hotels,” Little Alton says. “We can take along the dog and my bike, and I’m not there much anyway since half of the week I’m out fishing. But after six weeks on the road it can get cramped. It feels like we’re together 24/7. So when we get home, it seems like we each pick a different corner of the house and claim it as our own.”
He’s already been to the best lakes in the country, like Falcon, where he landed a personal best 11 pounder on a Yum Sooie. And he admitted that he could envision himself on stage at the Classic, perhaps even winning the whole deal, but he also recognizes that it can be a long and difficult road to get there.
And if the pro career doesn’t work out, or if he decides it’s not for him?
Like dad, he’s “eaten up with snow skiing” and also spends a lot of time on his mountain bike. But it all comes back to fishing.
“I’d probably do something with weather,” he says. “I like to sit outside and watch storms. One time at Lake Champlain we were up at the north end in a bay when a big storm rolled in. We pulled off against the bank and 70 mile per hour winds came in and lightning struck a tree so close to us that I could feel it tingling.”
They wandered up the bank and found a tiny decrepit shack. There were three older gentlemen inside and they invited father and son inside. But the interior didn’t look much better. “They had duct tape on the ceiling to keep out the leaks,” he said. “But we waited it out and we made three new friends that day.”
New friends are good, but Little Alton has more than most. He has close friends at home in Waco, Texas, close friends on the Tour, and he makes a few new ones at every stop. But his best friend is named Alton Jones. Strike that….Wendell Alton Jones. And he wants to follow in his best friend’s footsteps.
“I hope I can have a career like his someday. Then I’ll know I accomplished something,” Little Alton says.
“If that happens, he’ll be extremely happy for me. But if I can’t do this and have to try something else, he’ll still be happy for me then.”
Apparently the kid doesn’t feel any burden at all. Look out in 2015 and beyond.