Perhaps no city in American can equal Kalamazoo, Michigan, for bragging rights of producing two of the country's most successful and classy professional athletes.
To baseball fans, Kalamazoo is know for producing Derek Jeter, the future Hall of Fame shortstop of the New York Yankees. As "the captain" of the Yankees draws nearer to the end of his championship career, another Kalamazoo product – professional bass angler Kevin VanDam – continues his journey into nearly uncharted waters.
Last weekend, the 43-year-old tournament angler who has become known simply as "KVD" won his fourth World Series of professional bass fishing – the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Cataouatche in New Orleans. It was his second consecutive Classic title, whose $500,000 winning pushed his all-time record Bassmaster career earnings past $5-million.
Winning the title tied VanDam with professional bass fishing legend Rick Clunn for the most titles, and they are the only anglers to win the title in consecutive years. This year's winning, three-day total of 69 pounds, 11 ounces also broke the previous Classic record of 56-2 set by Luke Clausen in the 2006 championship on Lake Toho in Florida.
VanDam won this year's Classic in style with his 28-pound limit of five fish in the final round his heaviest of the tournament. Runner-up Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., was more than 10 pounds off the pace, and while his 59-0 total also broke the previous record, it left him a distance second to KVD for the second time in his career.
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the victory is it was accomplished in what ranks as an unofficial record for efficiency. Because fog delayed the start of the tournament each day, VanDam had approximately 1912 cumulative hours of fishing instead of the usual 24.
Just days after winning last year's tournament, VanDam appeared at the Greater Philadelphia Sport Show at the Greater Philadelphia Convention Center in Oaks. During that appearance, he displayed the same fan-friendly personality as when he was a rising hopeful on the Bass Anglers Sportsmen Society professional tournament trail.
VanDam began his career in 1990 at the age of 23. In '92, he became the youngest person to win the BASS Angler of the Year title at age 25 and also won in '96 and '99 to go with his current four-year run.
In qualifying for 20 consecutive Classics since '91, VanDam has won 19 BASS Tournaments to tie the record of Roland Martin. His other Classic titles were won in 2001 – when he was named FLW Angler of the Year – and '05.
VanDam scored a breakthrough for outdoors sports in 2002 when ESPN named him as its first-ever Outdoor Sportsman of the Year. He accepted that award with the same humility that has made him such a fan favorite and a true role model.
That he has been able to keep his success in perspective is evident by his reaction after winning the Classic, which can be seen Sunday on ESPN2, with Day 1 at 5 a.m., Day 2 at 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. and Day 3 at 10 p.m. His desire to compete is evident in the statements he made following the Classic.
"I don't compete to break records or for how other people may view me," VanDam said. "I love competition. I compete to win."
For all of VanDam's accomplishments, he still resides in Kalamazoo with his wife Sherry, who he met when they attended Otsego High School. When not fishing professionally, he spends as much time on the water as possible with his sons Jackson and Nicholas.