Category Archives: Reads

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!”

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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.

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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.

 

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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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A Past Post – “Game Of Tears: September 14, 2001″

(Author’s Note: Of all the things I’ve written on this blog, this post from 2013 is something I am probably most proud of. I really had forgotten about the football events around the 9/11 disaster until last year. For some reason, it all came flooding back in a full-bore emotional wave. It was tough to revisit; it struck an emotional nerve, a serious emotional nerve. This 9/11, say a prayer, take a moment to remember, be a little nicer to your fellow man, and smile away the small problems in life.) 

It was Football Friday Night in America. Maybe it shouldn’t have been. Believe me, it was hotly debated before the decision was made to move forward with the week’s scheduled games. This was no ordinary Football Friday Night, this was the Football Friday Night a mere 80 hours after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It was also only one of two times I’d been brought to tears associated with a football game, either as a coach or a player.

CONTACT/S: 30 Exhibition -ACP

In the grand scheme of things, football is not life. Sure there are ups and downs, wins and losses, injuries and triumphs all associated with this great game. Even so, I’ve never really felt the need to cry over a sport, even one I am so passionate about. But on that night, September 14, 2001, standing on a football field in my homeland of Wyandotte County, KS, tears streamed down my face from the emotion of that awful week in American history.

The powers that be in the state decided to go ahead and play the scheduled games that Friday. I don’t envy the people who made that decision; it had to be a difficult one to say the least. But we needed to move forward, we needed to establish a normalcy in our own backyards. We needed  to find some way to accept the inexplicable tragedy and restore some means of logic into our lives.

At Tuesday practice the evening of the tragic events, all I remember is that we were shell-shocked. I don’t recall much from that afternoon except trying to establish some sort of normal practice within the quagmire of shock. And these poor teenage boys asked question after question of which there were no answers to.

After we watched the horrific images on television, we tried to cope with the unimaginable event as best we could for the next two days. America was attacked on its own soil by terrorist. As hard as it was, we tried to keep this on the periphery and keep a football focus in order to give the kids a place to escape the tragedy, if only for a few hours.

Friday came. Game day. We made a two and a half hour bus trip to Kansas City Piper High School. The normal pre-game preparations ensued as game time crept closer. I was looking forward to this trip because this game was in Wyandotte County. I was born and raised in Wyandotte County, it is in my blood. It is a tough-minded place that produced tough-minded people. The whole Kansas City family was there and my own family made the trip also. I felt a great sense of pride coming home coaching the visiting team against a school I really hadn’t liked since the misguided days of my youth.

Both teams lined up before the game in the middle of the football field. Uniform color did not matter one bit as the kids and coaches and officials stood together for a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks. So there I stood in silence, the soil of my homeland holding me onto a planet tipping wildly out of control, questions and chaos threatening to punt me into the stratosphere of despair.

The moment of silence seemed to last forever and a day. There was nothing but stillness and quiet. No whispers and no jokes from even the most immature of teenage boys. No noise from the large crowds gathered, the traffic seemed to freeze in time and even the sun dove for the horizon in hues of orange across the cloud-tinged blue sky. Solemn. The very meaning of the word.

Then the National Anthem began and I think everyone within a ten mile radius of the stadium sang the Star Spangled Banner that night. It was beautiful. It was meaningful. Of the hundreds of times I’ve sang it in school and the thousands of times I’ve heard it at various events, it has never really hit an emotional string. But, this time, on Piper High School Field, mere days after terrorists attempted to destroy the very heart and soul of America, the national anthem hit home.

We sang it loud and we sang it poorly. Nobody cared. We were united. When we hit the last three lines, I think the true spirit, emotion, and meaning of the Star Spangled Banner flooded across me for the first time ever.

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

I understood. The meaning was crystal clear. Our flag was still here, our country was still here, and it would take more than an act of terrorism to squash our spirit. The flood of emotions pent-up all week flowed down my cheeks in the tears. The horror, the sadness, the loss, the pain, and the total helplessness dripped with each salty tear from my eye.

I wasn’t sure whether it was right to play those games on the Friday night until that moment. It was the right thing to do. By moving forward with these sporting events it not only provided a distraction away from 24 hours of news coverage, it gave a reason for Americans to congregate and spend time with their community. It gave us a chance to begin the healing process.

We won more than a football game that night. We, as a group, learned to persevere and to move forward.

God Bless America!

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