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Sox invite puts TV host Mark Zona back in familiar waters

Mark ZonsHomewood host Outdoor Channel’s ‘‘Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show’’ shows his White Sox roots fishing trip. | For Sun-Times Media

Mark Zona, son of Homewood and host of Outdoor Channel’s ‘‘Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show,’’ shows his White Sox roots on a fishing trip. | For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 23, 2012 10:46AM

Mark Zona said his twins were wearing Gordon Beckham and Paul Konerko jerseys as we talked last week.

For a guy who left to chase his dream of professional fishing the same night he graduated from Homewood-Flossmoor in 1991, Zona has kept his sports roots, even as he has grown into a national media star in fishing.

The host of ‘‘Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show’’ returns Aug. 11 to throw out the first pitch at the White Sox’ game against the Oakland Athletics on ‘‘Outdoor Channel Night at U.S. Cellular Field.’’

‘‘Growing up in Chicago, I was the oddball of the kids I hung out with because the outdoors was not something my buddies did,’’ Zona said. ‘‘To see the White Sox and Outdoor Channel team for the first time in my lifetime in something that promoted the outdoors to that area, it was desperately needed.’’

I absolutely agree. Part of that unique meshing of the outdoors and the Sox on Aug. 11 will be a custom camouflage White Sox hat, commemorating the special day, given to the first 20,000 fans.

That’s a piece of sports memorabilia I want.

Like many of us, Zona’s dad, Alan, led him into memory-making outdoors.

‘‘The most important thing my dad did was put a fishing rod in my hand,’’ Zona said.

He determined early that competitive fishing was his direction in life, especially when he won $2,200 in a tournament before he was even a teen.

‘‘That was the start of what I do now,’’ he said.

His father worked at Illinois Bell, outside of Alsip, but they fished primarily in southwest Michigan.

‘‘Honestly, he thought that is where I would end up working,’’ Zona said.

Instead, he became one of the more flamboyant hosts of a modern fishing show. In 2004, he became a co-host on ‘‘Loudmouth Bass’’; in 2005, of ‘‘The Bassmasters’’ television show.

On the surface, Zona being an ‘‘on’’ performer, perfect for TV, seems odd considering his mother, Bonnie, was a respected Homewood librarian. Then again, maybe not.

‘‘I can tell you she is not the quietest librarian you’ve met in life,’’ Zona said. ‘‘My mom is shoot first and ask questions later.’’

His dad was the quieter one and the one who led him to fishing.

‘‘I was absolutely eaten up with fishing,’’ Zona said. ‘‘A pond on any golf course throughout south Chicago, and I could get to with my bike, wasn’t safe.’’

Even his early baseball combined with fishing at Izaak Walton. One of his great Sox memories is playing an all-star game at old Comiskey Park in Ron Kittle’s rookie year.

‘‘He told me, ‘Nice hit,’ ’’ Zona said.

Considering he has never thrown out a first pitch, any worries about a return to what is now U.S. Cellular Field?

‘‘It caught me off guard,’’ he said. ‘‘When they asked if I was interested. I thought they were messing with me.’’

But he will be ready. He makes thousands of casts each week, and there is lot of backyard baseball with twin boys. So he is not worried about his arm and being able to throw. Nerves might be another matter, especially with one of his childhood heroes, Harold Baines, still with the Sox as a coach.

Zona has fished with such sporting stars as bass and pass maven Randy Moss, but never with a Sox player.

‘‘There is an open invitation for any White Sox player to fish,’’ he said.

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