Category Archives: Reads

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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Terry Pratchett—”bystanders to byrunners to bystampeders”

I will miss the writer Terry Pratchett.

He was a master.

I came to the Pratchett game late. I don’t know what rock I lived under, but I did eventually see the light and find his work. The Discworld novels, the Tiffany Aching books, DEATH, Hogfather, the collaboration with Neil Gaiman, GOOD OMENS. It makes my head spin to consider the volume of outstanding art he produced.

He was a master.

There’s been this vision in my mind of a huge two story wall existing in some secret location which served as a Discworld storyboard. I imagine illustrations of characters, storylines, locations, and a sapient pearwood trunk—all on an octarine background floating on the back of the Great A’Tuin. Truly a piece of wall art one could spent a decade studying. Maybe someday…

Terry Pratchett died March 12, 2015 from his Alzheimer’s. His speech on his Alzheimer’s is magnificent and can be read in a past post. It is a bit depressing to think of the stories he did not get to paper. The volumes of ideas nature kept for itself and we will never see. I think a good life goal will be to read every Terry Pratchett book published. I will give it a try, I believe.

Here’s an example of Terry Pratchett’s genius. It is from his latest (and 40th) Discworld book, RAISING STEAM.

“Most of them arrived in time to see something heading out toward them, panting and steaming, with fast-spinning wheels and oscillating rods eerily appearing and disappearing in the smoke and the haze, and on top of it all, like a sort of king of smoke and fire, Dick Simnel, his face contorted with the effort of concentration. It was faintly reassuring that this something was apparently under the control of somebody human—although the more thoughtful of the onlookers might have added “So what? So’s a spoon,” and got ready to run away as the steaming, dancing, spinning, reciprocating engine cleared the barn and plunged on down the tracks laid in the field. And the bystanders, most of whom were now byrunners, and in certain instances bystampeders, fled and complained, except, of course, for every little boy of any age who followed it with eyes open wide, vowing there and then that one day he would be the captain of the terrible noxious engine, oh yes indeed. A prince of the steam! A master of the sparks! A coachman of the Thunderbolts!”

RaisingSteamCover

Bystanders to byrunners to bystampeders…

Nobody can do it like Terry Pratchett did.

Rest in peace, Sir.

You will be missed.

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Roadkill Monkey

There’s been a lot of roadkill lately. I know these things. I have maybe the calmest, quietest 42 mile commute around and I’ve been driving it for 27 years. A couple weeks ago, on one morning alone, I counted seven skunks dead on the side of the highway. Seven! It was a bad night for skunks and highways.

Today, I was in the middle of my drive eastward and I felt a little sleepier than usual. The blinding orb of the newly-risen sun was head-on square burning the retina of the poor eastbound commuter. This forced visual focus to the white highway line to my right in order fight the road glare and stay on the asphalt path.

About a quarter mile up the highway, I see a mass of misshapen, twisted, grey and brown fur lifeless in the gravel of the highway shoulder—the all-too-familiar shadow of a dead animal on the shoulder. I move closer, and, for a brief moment, I think I see a dead monkey on the side of the highway.

Swear to God.

The body was stretched and curved—the back of the furry head facing me with the front left shoulder stretched at an odd angle as if reaching to block the bright headlamps of the racing vehicle. You could sense the pain and anguish in the way the body lie there in the gravel. A roadkill monkey. In Kansas.

Monkey_batu

As I arrive at the roadkill, the sun’s angle shifted, allowing more color and detail to be visible. It was not a monkey. It was the severely twisted body of a poor raccoon dead on the side of the road. Honestly, I felt a slight disappointment.

I drove past the “wouldn’t-that-have-been-really-wild-if-it-was-an-actual-monkey” roadkill and grabbed my coffee mug from the safety of its carrier. I had just taken a quick swig when a thought occurred to me. Sure, this was just a racoon roadkill. Ordinary. We see these dead coons almost daily in this area, along with the skunk, possum, squirrel, hawk, or the occasional deer carcass. Normal local creatures, not monkeys.

But, there are places in this world where a roadkill monkey would be the ordinary thing. In such a place, the weird animal to find smashed to smithereens on the side of a highway would be a racoon or a skunk.

Where I only see monkeys in pictures and on the screen and think of a possum or a skunk mostly as a pest, there is somebody out there somewhere who only knows a possum/skunk from a book or film. The monkey is their ordinary.

I guess it really is all about your perspective and frame of reference. Life is an adventure no matter where you are.

Roadkill monkeys.

I either found a new life goal to search out or found a new name for my future garage band.

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Milestone Book Anniversaries (When Did I Get So Old?)

It’s the 40th anniversary of the release of Tuck Everlasting.

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Wow!
Tuck Everlasting is one of those books that galvanize readers. One of those books you read (skim) as an obnoxious pre-teen when you knew everything and just wanted to slip a few quick points in the school reading program in order to get a pizza. A book you read again as an adult and it triggers a desire to read all the kidlit you were too cool to read as an obnoxious pre-teen.
A classic.
But is it really 40?
Was I really only 10 when it was published?
Ha! That means it’s timeless also.
Tuck Everlasting isn’t the only awesome book celebrating a recent milestone anniversary. This year, Alice in Wonderland turns 150 and is just as awesome now as it was in 1865.
Last year, Charlie and the Chocolate Factor, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and The Giving Tree turned 50.

charlie and the chocolate factory
Maybe I’m getting old and tired, but these great, old books stay fresh and vibrant and still find a way to hook readers.
We have all aged well.

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This Is Our House

“This is our house.”
You hear this quite often in sports.
Home field.
The home field advantage.

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At the western gateway of Clay Center we have our sports houses.
We have Unruh Stadium for football.
We have Kelly Campbell Field for baseball.
Our home fields. Our houses.

Campbell Shack Unruh Scoreboard 2

But our sports houses have not been taken care of very well.
Sports fields need maintenance. Almost daily maintenance.
Our fields and stadiums have not been maintained well.
They need some care.
They need us, the community.

Unruh Stands South

Campbell 1B Dugout

There’s been a lot of finger pointing about these problems.
Lots of blame, lots of ideas, very little action.
It reminded me of a phrase Coach Dail Smith would tell our football kids.
“When you point the finger of blame, remember three of your own fingers are pointing straight back to you.”

It was time to become part of the solution.

In late 2013, Rex Carlson, Larry Wallace, Jr. and I took on a project to renovate Campbell Field.
The mayor gave us the fancy title of the ad hoc Committee for Campbell Field Renovation.
Why in the world would we take on such a daunting task?

First, there was the eye test.
Things had fallen apart.
The playing surface was a mess.
Dugouts, mounds, bullpens, fence…all a mess.
Lack of daily maintenance, lack of water, and lots of Kansas wind did major damage.

Second, there was the ear test.
People were saying a lot of bad things about our baseball field. Many of these people were the same people who failed to raise a finger to help, who failed to hold up their promises and turned away from their commitments.
Their words stung. Their words lit a fire.
Their words fueled a change.

Third, we opened our own eyes and saw the work being done for area youth baseball. We saw kids enjoying the game of baseball all around us. We saw teams practicing and working to get better. We saw youngsters smiling and playing the game.

We knew these kids deserved a decent place to play the game.

We also knew the most important thing to accomplish was a renovation plan that could be maintained within the limited budget and resources of the city and the city recreation department. The plan needed to be smart, it need to be maintainable and it needed to maximize every dollar graciously donated by people and businesses of our community toward the project.

With the blessing and support of the city, we are working toward making Campbell Field a safe, playable, rural Kansas 4A high school baseball field. This is our goal. Our goal is not to build a professional or collegiate field. Our system could never maintain such a dream field.

Campbell Infield

In all honesty, facilities aren’t not the best of investments. The more resources you spend on them, the more resources it takes to maintain them. Our philosophy is to take care of what we have so our community can spend the bulk of their  limited resources on programs, not facilities.

We are getting closer to our goal and have set up a fund for donations through the Clay Center Community Improvement Foundation to help the common sense renovations of Campbell Field, Schaulis Field, and Montel Field. If you are interested in helping the cause through  a greatly appreciated donation or an in-kind donation, please contact Rex, Larry, me, or the CC Community Improvement Foundation for information.

I hope a similar, common sense financial approach will be taken with Unruh Stadium renovation.

Unruh from scoreboard

A plan to fix the structural problems and maintain the facility for the long-term. A plan to address the ADA compliant issues with perhaps ramp/viewing areas (30-40 feet across) at the ends of the stands following the basic design Oakley, Kansas used on their WPA-era stadium renovation a few years back.

 

Oakley Stadium1

 

Maybe even redesign the player and fan space in the stadium by turning the current home locker room, men’s restroom, storage room,and referee room at the south end into a new men’s and women’s restrooms/concession area in that space. At the north end of the stadium, expand the visitor’s locker room into current women’s restroom and add additional showers in that space. A new metal building could be constructed for the home locker room/referee room/storage room in the grass area south of the stadium where the team bus currently parks. The fencing behind the stadium needs a face-lift anyway and could be moved to accommodate this structure.  If funds are available or raised, a limestone arched entryway/ticket booth addition would look great attached to the north and south end of the stadium.

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I thoroughly appreciate my years enjoying this view while coaching football.

It was a blast to have coached football and baseball in Clay Center.

It was an honor to be a part of something so special.

We do have something special in Clay Center. Believe me, coming from a 6A city school, what we have in Clay Center, with our fields, our fans, and our kids are all very, very special.

I think it’s time to go to work. It’s time to keep our special things special.

Purpose. Pride. Passion.

The Clay Center Way.

 

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“Beware the Autumn People” Halloween Read 2014

Excerpt from SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury.

Chapter 39: Charles Halloway speaking to Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade in the library as they investigate and try to evade the evil Mr. Dark, the Dust Witch, and the other Pandemonium Shadow Show Freaks.

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His voice trailed off. ‘. . .Beware the autumn people. . . .’

‘What?’

‘An old religious tract. Pastor Newgate Phillips, I think. Read it as a boy. How does it go again?’

He tried to remember. He licked his lips. He did remember.

‘“For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth, there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond.
Where do they come from?
The dust.
Where do they go?
The grave.
Does blood stir their veins?
No: the night wind.
What ticks in their head?
The worm.
What speaks from their mouth?
The toad.
What sees from their eye?
The snake.
What hears with their ear?
The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks.
Such are the autumn people.
Beware of them.”’

After a pause, both boys exhaled at once.

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NOTE: If you have never read this book, or, if it’s been a long time since you have, I highly recommend it. Classic Bradbury in a spine-tingling fashion.

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Hitting Position: The Hosmer Breakdown

Hitting Position

Hitting position is a fundamental common to every good swing. The stances may vary, the styles may vary as much, or more, than the individual fingerprints of each and every batter, but HITTING POSITION IS A FUNDAMENTAL

A batter who gets to hitting position EVERY PITCH, no matter where their stance starts, makes for a consistent hitter. It’s important and it’s vital, and it’s simple. Hitting position consistency is key to being a consistent hitter. The best hitters in MLB get to hitting position every single pitch.

What is hitting position?

Hitting position starts the moment the stride (front) foot hits the ground. If you freeze frame this moment, this are the factors necessary for a proper hitting position:

  • Eyes level.
  • Front arm square or about at a 45° angle.
  • Stride foot landing of ball of foot and with a solid “stick” to stop forward slide of body. Outside of foot should be facing the pitcher.
  • Bottom hand stays in loaded position (at back shoulder level and over the back foot no more than 6 inches away from shoulder) with no lift of slide forward as weight shifts forward with stride.
  • Bat at 45° angle, do not wrap bat behind head.
  • An imaginary line drawn from the left foot to the neck to the right foot and back to the left foot should form a nice, isosceles triangle, indicating a balanced body.

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Load

In order to swing with a quick and powerful hitter’s swing, the body and bat needs to be loaded properly. Technically, it is a plyometric, pre-stretch of the muscle groups which allow for an explosive muscle fiber contraction and a quick, powerful swing. I tell hitter’s in my coaching sessions that it’s like shooting a rubber band at your sister. 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.

A baseball swing is just like this, and with a bonus. You can not only hit the ball hard every time at bat, but you can sleep well knowing that sister is not planning late-night revenge upon your person. Win-win situation.

The Load

  • Loose, relaxed grip on bat from a loose, relaxed body.
  • Bouncy – Athletes move on the balls of their feet, not flat-footed or with weight on the heels.
  • Hitter’s rhythm – rock side to side, when one heel comes off the ground the weight shifts to the other heel on the ground. 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. The rubber band has been pulled and now you are ready to stride and stick the perfect hitting position.

Offseason work

The great thing about these simple drills is the young hitter can perform them over and over and over again in front of a mirror from the comfort of the house all winter long without fear of breaking the new lamp or swinging a bat into the family’s new 52” HD television in the living room.

  • Bouncy Feet vs. Flat Feet – feel the difference between athletic feet (on ball of feet) vs. Coach Hays’s fat, old man feet (flat feet) as you hop 10 times with each style. Then do 10 side-to-side hops with each style.
  • Rock and Rhythm – a relaxed back and forth movement to train body the quiet weight shift of a hitter.
  • Rock, Rhythm and Load – check for proper load position, especially with lower hand to back shoulder.
  • Load, Stride, Freeze – check yourself for proper hitting position in the mirror.

 Hitting Position Breakdown of Eric Hosmer

 HosmerFrontViewHosmerSideView

Here are a front and side freeze frame from the Vine video of Eric Hosmer’s home run in the 12th inning in the ALDS against the Angels. Hitting position. I froze the video when his stride foot hit the ground. Almost perfect. He naturally loads his bat a little further back than his shoulder, which runs a fine line between his compact swing when he’s hot and if he loads the bat even an inch or so further back. The further back a hitter loads, the straighter his arm becomes in the load beyond 45° the longer and slower his swing.

He is also shown here landing on the ball of his stride foot. As he swings and opens up the weight shifts back to his heel. His style, but one thing Hosmer does when he’s in a slump is land more on his heel than ball of his foot. When he does that his back shoulder dips, his arm straightens and his swing is long.

Right now, he’s money. Right now, he’s sticking his hitting position.

Hitting a baseball is not rocket science.

But, hitting with a fundamentally sound, consistent hitting position is the science of hitting rockets.

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