Category Archives: Writes

TLW Batting Cages #ClayCenterBaseball

(Part 2 of the Campbell Field Renovation Project focuses on a special place, a very special family, and the memory of a very special baseball player.)

Out of great tragedy, rises hope.

 

One of the greatest upgrades to the Campbell Field field baseball complex is the addition of the TLW Memorial Batting Cages. One of the things I am most grateful for in this whole field renovation project is this wonderful area donated to the baseball community following the tragic loss of one of our own.

I remember TLW coming to our Clay Center Baseball clinics when he was barely big enough to hold a bat up. He was my kind of baseball player. Ornery-awesome, to coin a Coach Hays phrase. Ornery as all get go, but willing to do the work to be the best ball player he could be. He’d be acting like a fool between drills, but once it was time to work, he soaked up what you were teaching him and attacked the skill with gusto. He was a kid who was right up my alley. I like ornery-awesome players and TLW was a classic.

As a baseball community, we can never do enough to show our gratitude to TLW’s people. Wendy, David, Jared, Janae and the rest of the family, THANK YOU!

Thank you for giving us a great place to hit baseballs and to coach hitting. But most of all, thank you for giving us a place to remember the TLW in his element. Every time I’m at the cages, I am reminded of that little baseball player with the big glove, the big bat, and the big heart.

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The Beginning. #ClayCenterBaseball

This is the first in a series about the Campbell Field Renovation Project. As we wind down on our renovation’s goal of having an acceptable place to play high school age baseball, I’ll give a bit of history in story and pictures, lament on some of the trials and tribulations involved in such a project. But most of all, I’ll try to convey our gratitude and joy for the community’s support of this project. Today we start at “The Beginning”.

The Campbell Field Renovation Project. It officially started in September of 2013. It actually started about a little over a month earlier than that, though. It all started with Lody Black’s nose.

Yes, Lody Black’s nose.

We had started a baseball workout group in mid-July of 2013. We had about 6-10 kids showing up for the workouts. It was a good thing. Except for the field. It was in poor shape. The lip was so high around the infield/outfield grass line from years and years of blowing dust because there was no decent irrigation system that when you stood in center field, you couldn’t see anything below the knees of the batter in the batter’s box. That was problem 1 of 1000.

Well, another problem was rocks. I know you folks who spent time on or around Campbell Field think the rocks are bad now, but you should have seen them then. Imagine years and years and years of dust blowing off the infield only to be replaced with dirt from highway and roadside ditches. Needless to elaborate further, there were rocks. And glass. And rebar. And chunks of asphalt. And…

On this particular night in late July of 2013, we were doing a ground ball fielding drill. We tried to clean off an alley in which to field ground balls relatively rock free. We are cooking in the ground ball drill. I am hitting fungoes from home plate the kids are fielding and dropping the ball into a bucket. On about the fourth bucket, the line of kids begins to shift geographical location. (Anyone who’s worked with kids in lines before will understand this phenomenon.)

As I hit ground balls, the line shifts slightly from 3B to SS area. I hardly notice and keep hitting grounders, one after the other. Lody is up next. He’s the oldest one there. He’s going to be a senior. He was one of my favorite local baseball kids ever since he was a wee tyke. I hit a screaming grounder. Lody moves left to field it. I see a line of big white limestone rocks in the path. Lody sees a big white baseball coming his way. The ball hits a rock, veers upward like a missile and hits Lody directly on his nose. His nose bursts open in a fountain of blood and flattened across his face. Fortunately, Lody was okay. In fact, he may be a little more handsome after this event.

We decided then it was time to do something. The condition of our premier high school baseball facility was anything but premier; it was totally unacceptable. So, myself, Rex Carlson, and Larry Wallace, Jr. talked to our mayor about the problem. Mayor Thatcher agreed something should be done and deemed us the ad hoc committee for Campbell Field Renovation.

 

We accepted the challenge. I went home, opened up a Google search and found out that “ad hoc” means, “No money.” But, that didn’t matter. We live in this great community of Clay Center, Kansas. Through the generosity of this community, we were able to get donations of materials, talent, equipment, and money to get the job done. Thank you!!!

We made a document of all the projects we needed to do and presented it to the Clay Center City Council in September of 2013. It was a plan set in three phases, mapped out in a logical order to improve the field and do it around the high school and summer team’s use of the field. This week, we finished Phase III. We had the final few sprinklers in the infield irrigation system and an automatic control system installed. (No more us manually turning on the system every morning before work and every evening during hot spells. The older I get, the tougher it gets to do this every day.) 

After four years, we are turning the corner. We are winding down the activities of the ad hoc committee for Campbell Field Renovation. The little ad hoc group has expanded to include a couple of guys (Butch Swihart and Brian Moon) who know what they are doing and are the main reason that things got done. (Note: You need a job done right, call Butch and/or Brian.)

The city has a couple more little projects we’d like to see finished. We need your help. We need to apply some good old citizen pressure on the city to come up with a smart solution to this problem. And fast!

  • Scoreboard. Our scoreboard is broken. It’s the second most thing people “inquire” to me about on Campbell Field. This is a major piece of equipment to replace, with “major” meaning “expensive”.
  • Press box/bathrooms. The bathrooms are an embarrassment. It’s the numero uno point people talk to me about on Campbell Field. It is past time for something to be done.

If you haven’t been out to see the upgrades, stop by and have a look. It’s a great, little high school sports complex. Campbell Field and Otto Unruh Stadium.

Clay Center Pride.

And if you happen to run into Lody Black, thank him for taking one for the team. But most of all, tell him he’s got an all-star nose…

 

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Colossus 7-4-2017

We are a nation built on a dream.
A state the Fathers could not and would not live.
We are a nation built on blood and forged in fire.
A violent overtone to obtain the ground we walk upon.
We are a nation with scars, deep and ugly.
An abuse of our power on many fronts and turns.
We are a nation set in the discomfort of change.
A pained evolution toward the dream of equal creation.
We are a nation still young, still growing.
A nation moving forward making mistakes along the way.

We are a nation built on a dream.
A promise of The New Colossus
We will take the tired.
A place will be made for the poor.
We are all part of the huddled masses yearning to be free.
A people different, a people similar.
We will turn the wretched into hope
A secure shore in a world of tumult.
We will be the dream, bound as one nation indivisible.
A lamp beside the golden door.

 

By Gregory F. Maxwell via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Sports Fields

There’s something special about a sports field. I could go Wide World of Sports and talk about the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” types of activities which occur on a sports field but it goes beyond that.

It’s something visceral.

It’s something old and ancient.

It’s about community and people coming together.

The “Friday Night in America” feeling.

There’s something special in the field I played little league baseball on and the fields where we practiced baseball and football. All those other fields where we’d show up on a hot summer morning or a fall/winter Saturday to play pickup games.

I will always be tied to those fields as much as I am tied to the house I was born and grew up in. They are as much a part of me as my school or my church.

Now, I am old.

I live in an entirely different place than where I grew up. Worlds away, it often seems.

But there are still sports fields.

And they still grab ahold of me.

They grab me and anchor me to the essence of what my adopted hometown means.

A football stadium that oozes the history of this town through the memories of sons, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers who played there. A stadium built of limestone quarried on a farm just outside town and hauled stone by stone to be placed by local workers during the depression.

A baseball field with more frustrating problems than solutions. But a field getting a little bit better every day thanks to the generous and caring individuals and businesses in town. A field of remembrance as well as a field to play ball on.

Those are the two places in Clay Center, Kansas that pull me into their strong orbit. Places I’ve grown to care deeply about. Places to appreciate every single thing done to preserve and improve upon them. From the city and the baseball field renovation project to the school district’s improvement projects on Otto Unruh Stadium (especially the masonry restoration done by Jan Kissinger’s company and crew), I, for one, am grateful.

Community

Connections

Competition

That’s what sports fields do.

That’s why they are special places.

 

 

 

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#MeReadBook: JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY’S MINE

I was a slow reader and struggled as a kid. In 6th grade, I went down to the reading help session in one of the school’s storerooms. A parent volunteer gave me a mimeographed copy of “To Build a Fire” by Jack London to read. I sat down at a folding table placed between walls of textbooks boxes and ran my finger over the first line “Day had broken cold and grey, exceedingly cold and grey…”. Everything in the room disappeared. I found myself in the Yukon looking over the shoulder of the “new-comer” in his struggle for survival. I was transformed. The locked door to the world of books was kicked open and snapped off its hinges. Life would never be the same again.

JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF THE RILEY’S MINE by Caroline Starr Rose has the power to be that type of a transformative book for middle-grade readers, particularly among young readers who might struggle to find their bookish “sweet spot”. Plenty of action and adventure are woven into the history of the Klondike Gold Rush. I enjoyed the ride with Jasper and his older brother, Mel, through the trials and tribulations as they escape from their abusive father with dreams of gold driving them forward. Rose draws the reader in and sends them up treacherous mountain passes, down the icy water of a raging river, and into the gold fields, where danger and deceit lurk at each turn. Jasper’s fantastic story is enough to give each reader their own case of gold fever.

jaspercover

I received an advanced reader copy from the author for the purpose of an honest review and, honestly, I highly recommend this book!

Check out more about #MeReadBook.

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Civil Disobedience

The power of Google tells me today is the anniversary of Louisa May Alcott’s birth 184 years ago on November 29, 1832.

Fantastic.

Really?

No, not really.

I can’t say I’m a fan of Louisa May’s work. I know her work is beloved by generation upon generation of readers and is a staple of the American educational literature canon.

Not for me.

In the 8th-grade, I ventured a few pages into the assigned LITTLE WOMEN and dove headfirst off the LMA train traveling on a steep, narrow mountain pass inhabited by rabid grizzly bears.

LITTLE WOMEN was directly responsible for my first, but not my only, academic career emergency. Well, let me back up. LITTLE WOMEN + Ms. Teacher-Who-Did-Not-Care-For-Me-For-Some-Reason almost resulted in this stubborn, young man flunking 8th-grade English class.

I was a struggling reader growing up. I still read pretty slow. If fact, I probably would have completely taken the life path of non-reader if not been fortunate to have adults who helped me trudge along the reading path or have found Jack London’s short story, To Build A Fire, in 6th-grade. I would have given up.

In 8th-grade, said Teacher assigned the entire class LITTLE WOMEN. I read a little bit. I decided it was stupid. I refused to read any more of it. Too many girls, not enough struggle against the elements on the Yukon.

Our school split a grade into the classic 1970’s leveled system. I was the dumbest kid in the smart group. I ain’t lying. Every day, I was scratching and clawing while the others floated casually down the academic river of knowledge sipping fruity drinks and eating exotic cheeses. Frustrating. Character building. I’m sure this contributed to my stubborn streak.

Said Teacher told me to read. I replied in the negative.

Said Teacher called my parents. Said Teacher met with my parents and said I would flunk. I did not care.

Said Teacher compromised with my parents. She would LET me read LITTLE MEN. Mom was happy. Dad was happy. I took one look at the cover illustration, flipped quickly through the pages and gave it back to Said Teacher. I wasn’t falling for that one. The old bait and switch. Listen, I had two ornery older brothers, I knew a con game when I saw one. LITTLE MEN was just LITTLE WOMEN in different clothes. Nice try, LMA. But, nope.

So I didn’t read either of the books. I failed the section. I scrambled the rest of the year to keep my head afloat. And I survived.

Civil disobedience. An important skill to have.

I often wonder if Said Teacher ever looked at me and dreamed I would be both an avid reader and writer of books.

I highly doubt it. She saw a shy, stocky, sports-crazed boy and that is all she allowed herself to see.

But I am a writer and a reader.

And I am damn proud of it.

Sorry, Louisa May and Louisa May fans. Have a great birthday anniversary celebration. Eat, drink, and be merry.

Just don’t expect me to read LITTLE WOMEN.

800px-louisa_may_alcott

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A Circle

We once vehemently thought the world was flat. Wrong.

We thought the world revolved around us. Wrong.

We shift as we discover we are wrong. We rewrite the history of our mistakes and move on. Yet, we keep using the same tools to make new mistakes.

As The Who most succinctly wrote in 1971’s We Won’t Get Fooled Again,  “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”.

We have our mistakes playing on repeat.

  • Manifest Destiny.
  • Our current United States polarized political climate.
  • Climate change (yes, it is a real, scientific thing.)
  • Cultural disrespect.

We continue to think of ourselves as masters instead of as members. In our psyche, we are the whole part, not part of the whole.

Maybe it’s time to flip our approach. Maybe it’s time to go team first. We all win when we all win. THIS is the way we “Make America Great Again”.

Either way, we need to make a long overdue switch from the flat-world philosophy to a philosophy of the circle.  Social, political, economical, educational, institutional. You name it, we can make it better. And make it better for generations to come. 

Oglala Lakota spiritual leader, Black Elk spoke to Joseph Epes Brown about the peace and fulfillment within the sacred philosophy of the circle.

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Every-thing the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.”

blackelk_authors

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