Like baseball, reading is a summer pastime still cherished

I see where they are now playing the state Little League tournaments, which always reminds me of once having been a boy during summertime.

My team played in the state tournament 46 years ago. I still remember the score — we lost 4-0 to a bunch of farm kids from Dyer, Ind. So we didn’t make it quite as far as the Mountain Ridge kids made it last year.

But what I really remember most about those summers were two prized possessions: an old Louisville Slugger with a couple of nails in the handle wrapped in electrician’s tape, and a blue library card with my name on it.

A Louisville Slugger with a cracked handle the big guys on the local American Legion team had discarded was perfect for playing choose-up-sides baseball on a sandlot.

The blue library card was for when it rained.

The blue library card was for checking out books in the 700 category — the arts and recreation section in the Dewey Decimal System. It seemed all the books about baseball and the other sports started with 796. Sometimes they’d stick a book about Mickey Mantle or Jackie Robinson in the 921s — the biography section. You had to know where to look.

Our library was small, so you could zip through the sports books before the All-Star break if you were so inclined.

It was then you discovered the treasures of the fiction section — “Falcons to the Fight” and “Go Navy, Go” and myriad similar stories written by a guy named Joe Archibald, which explains why to this day I remain a staunch supporter of service academy football.

And Duane Decker’s series of baseball books about the made-up Blue Sox, also geared to teenage boys.

I still can recall the Blue Sox lineup: Mike Jaffe in left field, switch-hitting Russ Woodward in center, the rookie Danny Redd, the “Rebel in Right Field.” Johnny “Good Field, No Hit” Madigan at third base, Handy Andy Pearson at shortstop, Bud Walker, the “Fast Man on a Pivot” at second base, Stretch Stookey at first. And Pete Gibbs, “The Catcher from Double-A.”

I seem to have forgotten manager Jug Slavin’s pitchers. Or maybe the local library branch didn’t have the books about the Blue Sox pitchers.

There were morals to these stories, lessons to be learned. Unlike the books about Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson, you never knew how these would turn out, only that the Blue Sox would win.

Maybe I remember it wrong, but it seemed kids of my era spent a lot more time in the public library and read a lot more books about baseball, and the other sports, than today’s kids do.

Maybe it’s because out here, it never rains. And maybe it’s because whereas we only had pinball machines and Strat-O-Matic, today’s kids have awesome special ops video games with multiple levels.

Stubbornly undeterred by all of this, I spent a couple of hours driving around Friday morning looking for kids choosing up sides.

I didn’t find any.

Perhaps the best young players in town were resting up for their state tournament games, or waiting for their parents to tell them what to do. Maybe the utility infielders were cooling off at the swimming pool.

We don’t have lawns here, so kids couldn’t have been mowing them.

A trip to the sprawling Clark County Library on East Flamingo Road would reveal nine kids reading books and/or milling about the stacks. Eight were girls. Prediction: You’re going to see more female CEOs and chairmans of the board during the next generation.

I felt a little weird being upstairs with the kids, but they had this book about IndyCar racing on display, and it had a lot of pictures inside.

Downstairs in the adult library were a lot more people than I thought there would be. Many were seated at the lighted tables that run down the wide middle aisle, perusing laptop computers. This apparently is what happens when another Barnes & Noble closes.

I couldn’t find the 796 section. The Clark County Library uses the Library of Congress Classification system. The sports books were in the GV section on the shelves in the very back.

I noticed Jose Canseco’s book was resting just two away from Roberto Clemente’s, which somehow didn’t seem right, and that there were four copies of Andre Agassi’s book not checked out, but five of Jimmy Connors’. There were a lot more books about tennis than I remember.

I spent about an hour back in the GV section. Only one other person, a young man with a wispy mustache, meandered back to the sports books. He pulled a book from the shelf about soccer, opened the cover and put it back. He meandered off.

I stayed a little while longer.

I noticed the spine of a book called “This Ain’t Brain Surgery.” It was a baseball yarn penned by or told to someone by Larry Dierker, the former Astros pitcher and manager. I opened the cover. It had that great and familiar old book smell.

There was solitude back in the GV section, total solitude, and it smelled of old books. And I actually was holding one in my hand.

But I did not apply for a library card with my name on it.

That night before I went to sleep, when I pressed the button to light up my Kindle, I sort of felt guilty.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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