Library Love

Note: As public funding becomes tighter and less reliable, I am concerned about the future of our libraries in communities, universities, and school districts. The library is as important to the health of a community as schools, sports facilities, public service departments, etc. Please support your local libraries with your time, your talent, and your treasure.

Don’t you just love libraries? I know, dumb question coming from a sports geek, but don’t you? I am a fan of the library, especially my local library, the Clay Center (KS) Carnegie Library.

I fondly remember my branch library in my hometown of Kansas City, Kansas. I remember the book smell, the quiet, and not being able to fathom the number of books there must be in the world if we could have this many books in our little library. I was fascinated by the old-school checkout card machine where the librarian would masterfully align and feed the three cards into a slot and the due date was printed on each card. The card stack exited from another slot and the librarian would insert them into the books. It was magic. I was happy I came from a big family so I could watch the librarian run the cards from the giant stack of Hays family books. The sound of that old machine was music to my ears.

As a kid, I was a husky, could-not-sit-still introvert, slow-developing reader of a boy. Without a tremendous amount of help and patience from the adults in my young academic life, I may never have grown up a reader. I always liked the library, though. I liked to graze the shelves looking at the book spines, book covers, and flipping through the pictures. I am a better reader now, but roaming and searching the book stacks is still a favorite activity.

One of the earliest memories of being completely, totally PO’d in life was when I was about six or seven and my onerous older brother told the librarian I probably lied and didn’t read all of the four or five books (a major accomplishment for me at the time) I’d listed on my summer reading program sheet. I remember the sheet vividly, it had a drawing of a genie riding a magic carpet on the top and blank lines for what seems like 50 books. I will never forget the look the librarian gave me when she thought I had cheated. I was so embarrassed and so mad at the possibility of my first real reading success melting right before my eyes, I crumpled into a ball on the library floor and had to be dragged out wailing and screaming.

Libraries.

CCPL

I had the honor in 2013 to be the keynote speaker at our local Friends of the Library annual meeting. It floored me to be invited to speak as a writer. I talked about libraries, the role of libraries in the 21st century, eBooks and the middle-grade book I wrote called, THE YOUNGER DAYS. Through this wonderful opportunity, I attempted to convey how important lending libraries are to a community, regardless of size.

I believe libraries and museums are the two vital community institutions. No other community institution, be it police, fire, or city hall, reflects a community like the library and the local museum. These two cultural institutions define the collective communities we live in; they tell us:

  1. Who we were as a community – our history and past is defined in the collections.
  2. Who we are now – our present values are defined in the current acquisitions and direction.
  3. Where we need to go – our core community values serve as an anchor for future decision-making.

Libraries are a center of gravity in our communities. The early leaders of our country knew the importance of knowledge to the dream of democracy. In a second floor room of Carpenter Hall in Philadelphia, just a floor above the room where the first treasonous talks between the traitors to the crown took place, Benjamin Franklin started one of our first new world lending libraries.

“It (the library) was Ben Franklin’s idea. At the very beginning comes the idea of learning, of books, of ideas.”                                             -historian David McCullough.

Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie’s personal philosophy revolved around the importance of knowledge to the self-made man, knowledge gained through books. Through his donations and foundation, just under 1700 libraries were started in the United States. The Carnegie Foundation set the standards and groundwork for community lending libraries for the common man. One of the more interesting innovations of the Carnegie Library was the establishment of the open stacks, where patrons could browse the books themselves. Previously, the patron had to rely on a librarian to retrieve a requested book from the stacks located behind the counter. The true library for the common man was established through Andrew Carnegie’s vision and access to knowledge made more accessible than it had ever been.

Libraries serve a major role in our society, below is an ALA list of recommended minimal functions of a library.

  • Collect Circulate
  • Borrow Catalog
  • Provide access to catalogs Provide reference service
  • Offer reader advice Provide access to technology & the Internet
  • Serve children Serve teenagers and young adults
  • Serve adults Provide exhibit space and offer exhibits
  • Provide reading rooms Provide meeting rooms/convene meetings
  • Serve as a community center Serve as a community symbol

As as we dive into the digital age, providing access to technology & the internet jumps out from this list as one of the most important function of a library. Look at these recent numbers from the Institute of Museum and Library Services:

  • 67% of libraries offer access to e-books.
  • 64% are the only source of free Internet access in their communities
  • 169 million people used one of 16,000 public libraries in the study year; 77 million of them used a library computer
  • 86% of public libraries provide free Wi-Fi

With the rise of the digital world, some tend to think the library is a dinosaur. To the contrary, libraries are as important and will be as important as ever in the 21st Century. Libraries will serve will not only to provide access to physical knowledge, but to digital knowledge, as well. Libraries will increasingly by becoming hubs for access and training in digital media and become a major tool in the fight to reduce society’s digital divide.

In their report, Confronting the Future, the ALA defines four major issues on which a library’s staff, a library’s board, and a library’s patrons must find a balance as they move into the digital age.

  • They must find a balance between how much of a physical and how much of a virtual library they want to be.
  • A balance must be found between serving the individual and the community.
  • Develop a philosophy and implement practices that balance being a collections library and a creations library.
  • Finally, a library must find the best fit within their budget, patron needs, and infrastructure to balance their role as a portal for information and/or a site for archived information.

The intersection of all these decisions will determine the sweet spot of a library’s future directions and priorities.

I love libraries. Big libraries, medium-size libraries, school libraries, university libraries, technical libraries, small-town libraries, or a small birdhouse sized wooden box in someone’s front yard to exchange books, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the information, what matters is the content, what matters is the reader.

Update: I have successfully gone over forty years without breaking down in a sobbing mass of goo on the library carpet, but my wife still has to drag me out of the library on occasion.

References

Levien, Roger E., Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library,  ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, Policy Brief No. 4, June 2011.

http://www.ala.org/offices/sites/ala.org.offices/files/content/oitp/publications/policybriefs/confronting_the_futu.pdf

Miller, Elizabeth R., Exploring the role of the 21st century library in the age of e-books and online content. Knight Blog, February 25, 2012.

http://www.knightfoundation.org/blogs/knightblog/2012/2/25/exploring-role-21st-century-library-age-e-books-and-online-content/

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Be Indelible

I used to confuse the word indelible with the word inedible. So when I’d see a permanent marker with “Indelible Ink” printed on it, I’d think, “No $#@!, Sherlock! Who would want to eat a Sharpie anyway?”

Now I’m slightly smarter…well, enough smarter to know that inedible and indelible are completely different things. Indelible means to make a lasting mark—it means that something will not be forgotten or removed.

I like that.

Indelible.

I want to coach and develop indelible athletes.

I want to produce indelible writing.

I want to make an indelible impact on my communities.

I want to be indelible.

MarkerParticipate or Compete?
As an athlete, or as part of any organization, which are you choosing to be?

The participant shows up most of the time and, more often than not, jumps into the wagon to go for the ride.

The competitor is the one who pulls the wagon and makes everyone around them better. The competitor is the very definition of indelible. The competitor is never satisfied with their current efforts and performances. A competitor does the things the participator refuses to do.

What does a competitor do? Well, in high school sports, in my opinion, the competitor is the athlete who puts in the extra offseason work to improve at least 4 or 5 days a week.

  • Baseball – 50 throws & catches, 50 swings, 50 ground balls/pop-ups.
  • Football – Explosive power development, 25 starts and footwork reps, routes, and throws.
  • Basketball – 250+ shots a day, ball-handling skills, explosive power development.
  • Tennis, golf, volleyball, etc. – All need skills reps

All In
I am a firm believer in playing multiple sports and being involved in multiple activities, hobbies, etc. But, the work and the commitment to all these activities requires a monumental effort. The key is to, as the wonderful Mrs. Hays often says about life and work and parenting, “Be present.” Pay attention to the needs of the situation staring you in the face. Focus 100% on the task at hand and not 60% with the other 40% worrying about the next activity on you agenda.

Be Present = Go All In

Whatever you do in life, go all in. Jump into the fray feet first with a fully-focused effort. Don’t straddle the border with one foot in and one foot out. Hit the accelerator and give your drive and desire full throttle to make your world a better place.

That is the very meaning of indelible.

Go all in.

Compete, don’t just participate.

Leave a lasting mark.

Be Indelible

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Herding Cats

Sometimes coaching high school kids feels akin to an attempt at wrangling a dozen cats out the backyard gate while avoiding a fully-functioning sprinkler head. In other words…utter chaos.

But a team needs and each individual kid needs direction–they need to know where they are supposed to go and some idea of how to get there. One of the knocks from I hear way too often from coaches is today’s kids don’t care, they don’t “buy” into what the coach is selling.

The truth is, today’s kids are probably brighter and sharper and have an increased problem-solving capacity than we ever did. They want to know what you are asking them to do, why you are asking them to do it, and where is it going to take them. Kids today have very well-honed bullshit meters.

They are skeptical and need to be convinced the plan and vision you present to them is the real deal. Where us grumpy, old folks used to accept what we were given and did what we were told, these kids want to know the bigger picture and see what is beyond blind acceptance. And they have the collective power of the internet and social media for information.

One of the first coaching lessons I learned from Paul Lane in football and Rex Carlson in baseball was to be upfront and be honest. These two fine coaches taught me the athletes cannot read my mind and need to be told and shown what I need them to do. Tell the kids what we are going to do, why we are going to do it, and how it will make them better as an individual and as a team.

Another knock against the kids is they just don’t get it. “They spend too much time sitting in front of their video games or have their faces glued to their phones.” You all know the attitude. The grumpy old man, stay-off-my-lawn you juvenile, drug addicted, delinquent” attitude we often have toward the habits of youth.

Kids today want a vision. They want (and desperately need) someone to recognize their potential and help them map out a path to achieve it. I’ve said this a hundred times, but everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to be a success. They just need the plan and the guidance.

That’s what the successful coach is able to do.

Dream the plan.
Devise the plan.
Sell the plan.
Implement the plan.

And then drive the individual and the team in the right direction and never let them take their eyes off the prize.

Just like successfully herding a dozen of the cutest, most well-behaved cats out of the back yard, your athletes will eventually find their goal—but you’ll always end up worn to a frazzle and sporting a few fresh scratches.

Vision.
Direction.
Communication

The keys to the kingdom.

“Cats on Beach” by haitham alfalah – haitham alfalah. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cats_on_Beach.JPG#/media/File:Cats_on_Beach.JPG

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Load. Step. Swing

The title is absolutely correct;. “Load (Period) Step (Period) Swing (Period)”

It’s not “Load, step, swing” or what I see way too much from young players, “loadstepswing”.

A good and consistent baseball swing consists of three distinct and separate parts.

  1. The load.
  2. The stride.
  3. The swing.

bat_tee3

Why is “Load. Step. Swing.” so important? Because it’s vital to develop solid fundamentals in young hitters so they will be fundamentally solid older hitters. Fundamentally solid older hitters are able to enjoy success against better quality pitching as they mature and enjoy playing the game longer.

Do you know why most kids quit playing the game of baseball? They say the game is not fun for them. The game is no longer fun for them because they usually struggle to hit the baseball at the advanced level. Hitting a baseball is fun. Period. Ask any kid, they’ll back me up at an almost 100% clip.

Here is the simple method I used to instruct hitters. I use this same basic philosophy to help hitters from preschool kids up to the collegiate level. It works, It’s basic. It makes hitters able to hit laser shots from the left field line to the right field line. And when one hits the ball hard, good things happen.

Get Bouncy

Athletes move on the balls of their feet, not flat-footed or with weight on the heels. Relax the body and get bouncy to be a better athlete.

Hitter’s Rhythm

Stand up. Go ahead, get off your rump and stand with feet comfortably about shoulder width apart. Now get bouncy off the balls of your feet. Feels good, right? Next, rock side to side. When one heel comes off the ground the weight shifts to the other heel on the ground. Do you know what this is? It’s your body’s natural, relaxed motion of hitting a baseball. It is hitter’s rhythm.

Hitters should naturally rock with this rhythm almost unconsciously, even when just standing around. (It’s how we find each other in the crowd…look for the guys rocking back and forth in hitter’s rhythm).

Load

When weight rocks to back foot, the hands load to the back shoulder and lock into place.  It’s like shooting a rubber band at your sister. Be honest, do you take that big, thick, Sunday morning paper rubber band and only pull it back an inch before firing it in the direction of their beloved sister? Heck no! You pull that rubber band back as far as you can so you can fire it at that beloved sibling with explosive speed and power. Same for loading up in your swing. When a hitter loads, the rubber band has been pulled and now you are ready to release that locked and loaded power onto the ball.

Step

The step, or stride, will vary between hitters depending on where the hitter is comfortable in their stance. If the hitter likes a narrow stance and longer stride is usually more natural. If the hitter likes a wide stance, then the stride is usually short. If I see a kid having problems controlling the stride or being consistent with their stride, the I’ll put them in a wide stance and have them just pick up their front foot and post it down right where it was. The whole purpose of the step is to shift the energy from the load into the barrel during the swing.

I like to teach hitters to “stick” the ball of the front foot into the ground with the outside of the foot pointed toward the pitcher. The hitter needs to post the front leg to stop the forward body momentum shift so the hitter doesn’t slide through the front hip and waste all that loaded up power. A solid step movement should be relaxed, quiet and stick the perfect hitting position. (see Hitting Position for an explanation on the importance of starting a swing from a consistent hitting position.)

Swing

You’ve loaded, you’ve stepped, and now you are in perfect hitting position. What’s next?

Simple, it’s a swing.

Take your front hand (the bottom hand) and pull the knob toward the ball in a quick, compact, powerful swing. By developing a consistent hitting position, a hitting only needs to learn the one swing which is directed toward the pitched ball. The swing needs to start from the back shoulder and go directly to the ball, no matter where it is pitched. Inside, outside, high, low, or right down the middle. A hitter with a good fundamental swing can hit any of these pitches with power to all fields and makes for a dangerous hitter who is very difficult to pitch to and defend.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Sounds like something we all want, right?

So, repeat after me.

“Load.”

“Step.”

“Swing.”

Say these three words hundreds and hundreds of times in your head and out loud. It is the rhythm of a hitter. It is the rhythm of baseball.

Three separate words, not one.

Three separate parts, not one.

Load. Step. Swing

Hitting a baseball is one of the great things in life.

Enjoy life!

Happy Hitting!

bat_tee1

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Double Buck & Shoot the Sauce

There I sat.

In Texas Tom’s.

Late at night, almost midnight.

After one of the first Legion Post 199 doubleheaders of the summer.

Sitting there staring at the red tray holding two Buckaroo Basket orders on the white, shiny table in front of me.

Contemplating. Contemplating not only how hungry I was after a night of baseball, but contemplating the very future of this collection of baseball talent Dennis “Harpo” Hurla had put together for the summer’s Fegan’s Cafe team.

If there was ever a time I needed a clutch hit, this was it.

It was my second season playing for Harpo. I was one of only a handful returners, and, once again, the only player on this talent-laden team from Washington High School. The previous year was a conglomeration of talent from a wide variety of area high schools. This year, though, almost all the players were from Bishop Ward, all from one very successful high school programs that spring season and my school’s most hated rival, no less.

I knew many of these kids and played baseball with many of them coming up through Christ the King Catholic School. Still, I wondered how and where I would fit within the hierarchy of this baseball team. I didn’t wanted to be pushed out to the fringes of the team–I wanted to the hub this team turned around.

This may sound arrogant to you, but it’s part of being a confident athlete. My arrogance and ego as an athlete probably failed me in life 99% of the time, but on the sports field, that other 1% was MINE. That 1% was pure magic. I wanted to be dependable to my new teammates in any situation. I wanted them to rely on me.

There I sat in Texas Tom’s—a greasy, local fast food joint in the heart of Bishop Ward territory—ready to mark my place with my new teammates. I remember as a kid, driving by Texas Tom’s, with the cartoon cowboy painted on its sign, on the way to my grandparents house. We’d never stop there to eat. Never. The Ward guys talked about TT’s all the time. They even told the legend of how several big time Cyclone athletes had achieved rare air through their one-sitting consumption of a two Buckaroo Baskets.

In case you never had the pure, artery hardening experience of the Buckaroo Basket at Texas Tom’s, here’s what you got in your half-a-football sized red plastic basket lined with TT’s paper. One cheeseburger dripping in greasy goodness, one fried burrito made with the finest of synthetic protein sources, copious amounts of steaming french fries, a taco, and to top thing off properly, a handful of crisp deep fried onion rings dropped over the top. Oh, let’s not forget the spicy, red taco sauce served on the side packed in sealable white styrofoam cups due to potential negative environmental impact and ability to eat its way out of a normal paper serving cup.

Double Buckaroo Basket was twice of all the above.

So with a half-dozen set of eyes upon me, the outsider, and the clock close to striking midnight, I snarfed down one Buckaroo Basket and then proceeded calmly to the second. The second Buckaroo Basket proved little challenge as it went down with the expert fashion as only a 17-year-old highly active, Bubba athlete can do.

I finished to smiles, congratulations and many pats on the back. I was cool in their eyes. But, to me, that wasn’t enough. I wanted to be the workhorse of this team. I wanted to be the guy they looked to get the big hit, make the big play, and be the rock the team could be built on. I wanted my new teammates to not only let an outsider into their circle, I wanted them to hook their wagons to me. And I wanted to do justice to Dennis Hurla. Harpo gave me, an unknown from Washington High School, the opportunity to play for Fegan’s Cafe and I didn’t want to let him down.

I told the guys to sit back down in their seats. They did. I reached through the trash on the tray in front of me and fished out the two sealed containers of the taco sauce. The taco sauce the Ward guys said nobody EVER eats. I popped the lids off carefully and every chair in the vicinity slid away from me a few yards. Looking into the eyes fixed upon me and the cup of red goo in my hands, I threw back one after the other and shot down the sauce.

Eyes bulged around our little group and their stomachs turned over. But, I held strong. I stood, picked up my tray and deposited the trash into the can. I turned to my paralyzed, gawking teammates.

“Boys, let’s get the hell out of here. We have another game tomorrow night.”

I had forgotten all about that night 33 years ago. For some reason, the memory popped out of my neural network the other day.

Double Buck & Shoot the Sauce.

It quickly became a team battle cry.

How can one forget something like that?

Probably brain damage from too many containers of Texas Tom’s Taco Sauce.

Buckaroo Basket

(Note: We made to the Kansas American Legion state tournament that year for the first time in many years. Once Harpo survived coaching us crazy SOB’s, he went to several regional and national Legion events before becoming head baseball coach at Bishop Ward where he has won more Kansas 4A State Baseball Championships than he has fingers. I am forever grateful of the time spent playing for Dennis. I know we, the first couple groups of kids he ever coached, are better human adults because of the experience.)

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Still Waters

One of the best teams we ever coached was a group of kids who were magnificent running down the rapids. Virtually unstoppable and an honest-to-goodness tour de force when the current flowed swiftly in their direction. But, we would lose focus and intensity when the current became easy and let up. When things should have been easy, when the game should have been packed away neatly under the “W’ column, we’d struggle to tread water and keep our heads above water.

Handling success and maturity means you must learn to navigate the still waters to keep afloat and continue to move in the desired direction. It is one thing working to succeed, but it’s a whole other thing to achieve success and then stay successful. One of the true joys of being good is the scramble, the character, and the discipline invested in order to stay good.

Tom Osborne, the legendary football coach at the University of Nebraska, said that everyone wants to win; it’s human nature. The difference between winners and losers often depends on how willing one is able to go all in and put in the work necessary. And in order to stay a winner, one has to work even harder and with greater efficiency to stay on the mountain.

One needs motivation, an edge. Some sort of carrot to dangle just out of reach in front of you that keeps your motivated. My favorite edge as a player and a coach is the “Chip on Shoulder” approach. Succeed despite the barriers you face. Suceed because there are people who don’t believe you will ever accomplish anything.

The edge. When you choose to play on the edge you have to be careful of two things.

  1. It’s easy to fall over the edge, so you must stay balanced and anchored.
  2. Key an eye on those who will push, nudge, or flat-out kick you over the edge.

The KC Royals in the first month of the season are a good example of this. They found a chip-on-the-shoulder edge which worked very well. But, when this motivator went too far, they fell over the edge and lost their composure. Fortunately, it appears they were able to step back and reboot under control to be successful. Use the edge to motivate your habits and performance, not lose emotional control. Be motivated without becoming consumed by the motivation.

Use the edge to motivate your habits and performance, not lose emotional control. Be motivated without becoming consumed by the motivation.

So you’ve turned things around. Your team and your performance proved to be successful. Pat yourself on the back, smile, and then get back to work. You have things to accomplish. The job has just begun. Find your edge and anchor yourself to your motivation.

To be a success, you need to learn to navigate the still waters. There will not always be a swift stream to move you along, so you need to be able to put your oar in the water and pull yourself forward time and time again.

Word hard.

Work focused.

Play hard.

Play focused.

Just don’t get pushed over the edge.

Still_Water_At_Dusk

Courtesy WikiCommons

 

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Broken Bats

There was a time in my life where the world revolved around broken bats.

Baseball ruled my youth. From the time the snow melted, until the leaves turned, it was all about baseball. In our neighborhood, we weren’t the richest kids. We were from working class families in the 1970’s all trying to squeeze out the good life with lots of kids and minimal resources.

I spent a lot of time at our local baseball park. By local, I mean within bike riding distance because that was the only way to get around town for us kids. With both older brothers and younger brothers, there was almost always one member of the family playing a game on either the little field or the big field, so I was there about every night even if my team had the night off.

As a spectator, with “spectator” meaning chasing foul balls for a piece of gum and playing cup ball in the open dirt space between the fields, an eye and/or ear was always kept open for the hottest commodity around, a broken wooden bat. Yes, boys and girls, all bats used to be made of wood. Aluminum bats were around, but to hit a ball to the sound of a “tink” was not the most desirable way one wished to spend their summer. Back in the day, one might as well spend the whole of summer in the reference section of the library rather than swing metal instead of natural wood.

IMG_2357

Bats were expensive, even back then. It was a rare thing to have your own bat. I had a Carl Yastrzemski model 28-inch Louisville Slugger I got for my 5th birthday. The Yaz wasn’t for the backyard or the playground; it was a bat you held in your hands, took practice swings with and dreamt of championship winning balls flying over the Green Monster or the short right field porch of Yankee Stadium.

So, as I was saying, personal ownership of a high quality, store-bought bat was rare, which made the acquisition of batting practice, pick-up game, home run king, Indian ball bats of the highest importance. Hence, the broken bats market was vital to the game outside the game of summer baseball.

A typical summer day would start with a fine breakfast and then dress in my finest set of summer play clothes, grab the glove, the water-logged baseball an irresponsible five-year-old brother left outside in the last rainstorm and hit the road on the bike. Along the ride to the ballpark, neighbor kids would ride out of their respective driveways and fall into the line of bikers.  We’d arrive at the little league field and before we’d split off into teams for the game of the day, we’d split off into search parties.

We’d first hit the woods in the ravine behind the big kid field and search for lost foul balls. On a game night at the park, found foul balls meant bubble gum, but in the daylight, found foul balls meant we actually had a decent, real baseball to play with. Once the woods were properly scoured, it was time to fan out and check the trash cans for broken bats.

Coaches rarely threw a broken bat into the trash during a game. The busted bat was usually disposed of properly long after fans, players and parents left as the coach was packing the gear to leave. He would come across said cracked bat handle and drop it into the rusted trash cans dispersed around the stands. With any luck, I’d find a true pot of gold—a treasure. A bat with only a slight crack in the handle. Whatever the haul, though, one of us would take the bat home for repair.

Dad had taught us the fine art of bat handle repair well at the Hays house. We had an entire metal container of tiny, thin finish nails just for this purpose. We would put the broken section of the bat handle in the vise and carefully tap nails across the cracked section. Every couple of nails, we’d remove the bat from the vice and tap the knob on the floor of the workroom. If the sound was solid, it was ready. If the sound was hollow or vibrated. it needed more nails. Once nailing was complete, Dad’s handy roll of electrical tape wrapped tightly around the handle finished the reclamation and the bat was, in true Frankenstein fashion, ALIVE.

These broken bats were the heart and soul of our baseball life. Without them, who knows what we’d turned into. Gangs of street thugs? Petty criminals? Math wizards? Basketball players? I shiver to think of my life without baseball. The joy of hitting a baseball would never have been the same. The crack of the bat, even if the crack has a slightly finish nail/electrical tape ring to it, would hold no magic to my young-at-heart 50- year-old heart.

Life’s simple pleasures.

Broken bats.

The simple joy of a game.

A poor boy’s dream.

IMG_2353

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