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Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney

June 30, 2005


Do kids still get summer reading lists assigned to them? I remember back in high school I got to read some good books, only because I was forced to read them or face the wrath of Brother Shea in September. A Separate Peace and Catcher In The Rye were two books which struck a chord in my adolescence.

I had already developed a taste for reading during elementary school, despite having never seen my parents reading anything other than The Newark Evening News. Understandably my reading interests focused primarily on sports. I devoured every book in the Chip Hilton series by former LIU basketball coach Clair Bee. Chip Hilton was a three-sport star in the fictional town of Valley Falls. He and his running mate Speed Morris were two high school stars who continued their careers at the local university. I stumbled on two of these books in a used books store in Aniston, Alabama while on a road trip. I wish they were still in print. I'd be interested in hearing what a 12 or 13 year old boy in 2005 would think of those stories.

For some reason I was immediately drawn to biographies and historical works. Perhaps it was because the young readers' section in the Cedar Grove Public Library had a great series by Landmark Books. I read the history of the U.S. Marine Corps, the travels of Lewis and Clark, and biographies of Francis Marion (the Swamp Fox), Benjamin Franklin, and many others. I reached a point where the only books in the series left to read were biographies of women. Since this pre-dated the Women's Liberation movement, my choices were slim. I was surprised to find that Clara Barton, Marie Curie, and Betsy Ross, actually had led interesting lives.

College is a difficult time to read for the pure enjoyment of the process. There is too much required reading and work to be done. That's my players' story, and their sticking to it! I can relate, because the demands of two young children have ended the days of settling down to enjoy a book by the pool or after dinner. Now my reading is condensed into the baseball season. Bus and plane rides, coupled with days in hotels waiting for games, provide my window of opportunity to pursue my interest in a good book.

All that is a summer reading list for those of you with the time and interest. These are some of the books I count among my favorites, with a comment or two on some.

Ball Four by former Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton was the first "tell all" book in baseball. It made the author a pariah among the baseball establishment because it was felt that he betrayed the confidence of the clubhouse. It is a great read and still is funny today. Interestingly, the use of "greenies" is discussed for the first time. Today, over 30 years later, Major League Baseball continues to turn a blind eye to the abuse of this substance in clubhouses throughout baseball.

The Summer Game was written by Roger Angell in 1972. I read it during my first summer in professional baseball, and Angell's love for the game came through on every page. It was a perfect book at a perfect time in my life. I had to speak in front of 500 people in my hometown that fall, and Angell's prose helped me verbalize how I felt about the game.

Sports In America was James Michener's foray into the world of sports. It was an impressive work by an author used to writing historical novels of grand themes. Most of Michener's warnings back in the summer of `72 have come true.

Men At Work by the conservative writer and commentator George Will is probably the best baseball book ever written. It is a work that probes into all aspects of the game, giving the reader an inside look into the game of baseball. The section on managing features Tony LaRussa and his staff. The reader learns that for everything new, there is something old that still holds sway in the game. The insight into first and third offense, with LaRussa quoting Billy Martin, has helped FAU score some big runs.

3 Nights In August was discussed earlier this year. Author Buzz Bissinger focuses on a crucial three-game series with the Cubs and Cardinals. His full access to LaRussa and his players and staff proves priceless.

Dollar Sign On The Muscle by Kevin Kerrane will educate you on the business of scouting. Read this and you will understand it truly is a business, and that all those guys standing around with stopwatches and radar guns are doing more than talking about the best places to eat.

Trinity by Leon Uris, has always been one of my top three books. If you want to understand a little about the relationship of the Irish and the English in a great fictional story- read this one.

Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier's story of a confederate soldier trying to get back to the woman he loves is another of my favorites. I've never seen the movie, but it would be tough to match the visual imagery of the book.

They're Killing Mr. Watson is a good read for any Floridian interested in the history of early 20th century Florida. Peter Mathessen's work has made me look differently at the west coast of the Sunshine State.

Lincoln by Gore Vidal is a historical work of fiction. It's a good read, but mixing fiction with history can be dangerous and confusing.

The Cardinal Of The Kremlin is my favorite of the Tom Clancy books I have read, although Hunt For Red October is my favorite movie.

The Gold Coast is arguably the most literary of all Nelson DeMille's works. You can pick up virtually any book by this author and not be disappointed. If you are familiar with the "old money" of Long Island, or know something of Organized Crime, this book will hold your attention.

Watership Down is not the story of a naval disaster. It is about rabbits. Richard Adams' book about Fiver, Hazel, General Woundwort and a cast of heroes and villains is my favorite piece of fiction. I have read this book at least three times. The tale of a group of rabbits fleeing their home because of an impending tragedy is an exciting allegory for the state of Europe during the rise of Hitler, yet it is essentially an exciting adventure.

D-Day, and Citizen Soldier, are two outstanding World War II books by Steven Ambrose. What struck me most reading these two books, was the realization that this war was won by kids the age of my players.

Band Of Brothers is the third of four Steven Ambrose's works on this list, but stands as a riveting tribute to the American fighting man. If you saw the mini-series, you should still read the book.

Undaunted Courage, also by Ambrose is the story of the exploration of the American West by Lewis and Clark. What those men and women faced and observed is incredible. It's a long but easy read that is well worth the time.

A Sorrow In Our Heart- The Life Of Tecumseh is one of the longest books I ever read. It's also one of the best. Alan W. Eckert's account of the great Shawnee chief was, for me, a life altering experience. No one can read this book and view the history of North America and its native people, in the same way ever again.

A Rumor Of War is the one book about the Vietnam War that should be read if you could only read one. Philip Caputo's account of his experience brings the personal horror of that war home to any who read his story.

Jarhead, by Anthony Swofford, gives you a great view of a U.S. Marine in the Gulf War.

Spare Parts is the tale of the same war experienced by the author Buzz Williams. The difference, and what makes it topical today, is that Williams was a Marine Reservist who went from campus to combat in 38 days.

The Lessons Of Terror should be required reading for the American public. Caleb Carr details "the history of warfare against civilians", in such a way that you realize few civilizations are exempt from having used the tactic that has become our rallying cry for evil in the world.

Ghost Soldiers is Hampton Sides' story of the historic rescue of the survivors of the Bataan Death March of WWII.

Black Hawk Down is a book that reads like a movie. The fact that it came before the film makes it better. Mark Bowden's tale of the battle in Somalia is heart wrenching and inspiring. It also provides one of my favorite quotes, "The difference between a coward and a hero isn't being scared- it's what you do while you're scared."

Theodore Rex is the account of Theodore Roosevelt's presidency, told by Edmund Morris. Where has this type of president gone?

An Unfinished Life- John F. Kennedy 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek provides information about Kennedy that had never before been available. Mostly in the area of his medical records, this information makes one wonder how JFK lived long enough to ever get elected. The information that was hidden from the public regarding the candidate and subsequent President's health is staggering. Greater insight is also provided into the sordid side of Camelot, not from a tabloid approach, but rather an interesting telling of the Kennedy family, and his father's contribution to the dark side of his character, as well as the greatness that was John Kennedy. Anyone who grew up hiding under their desk in school during air raid drills, or held their breath during the Cuban Missile Crisis, will enjoy this book.

Down The Highway by Howard Bounes, is a biography of Bob Dylan which I read during the Regional in Alabama in 2002. For that reason alone it remains a favorite.

Angela's Ashes made me feel as if I was reading a part of my life. Frank McCourt's story of his mother and family rang true with many of the facets that make up an Irish-Catholic family. I must add that our family was nowhere near as poor or dysfunctional as the McCourts.

The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel takes an investigator's method of determining the historical existence of Jesus Christ.

Constantine's Sword by James Carroll is easily the best and most influential book I have ever read. This study of the history of the Catholic Church (and Christianity in general) and the Jewish people is something that everyone should read. It's a long exhaustive book, rich in footnotes and history, but never, ever boring. It has had a profound affect on me as a person, to the extent that it has helped me clarify the place of religion and God in my life. This book will hurt to read if you are Catholic, but read it you must. Only after learning the historical facts of what transpired over centuries, will you be able to make an educated analysis of your faith. As you read the horrors and duplicity practiced against a race of believers that should been allowed to remain brothers and sisters with Christ and his followers, your heart will ache. Throughout the course of the book I became angered and confused. What, now, of my faith? My question was shared by the author, and answered at the end of the book:

"This has been the story of the worst thing about my Church, which is the worst thing about myself. I offer it as my personal penance to God, to the Jewish dead, and to my children, whom I led, by accident, to the threshold of Hitler's pit. Nietzsche warned that if we stare into the abyss, it may stare back, and this book proves Nietzsche right. My faith is forever shaken, and I will always tremble. The Christian conscience- mine -can never be at peace. But that does not say it all. This tragic story offers a confirmation of faith, too. God sees us nevertheless. When the Lord now turns to me to ask, `Will you also go away?' I answer, this too with Simon Peter, `Lord, to whom shall I go?' "

So, with the College World Series and its images of all that is best in College baseball, having faded from our television screens, maybe it's time to pick up a book instead of watching reality shows and reruns. For all the coaches hitting the recruiting trail, or heading out for a short vacation, I hope you find something here you like.

The Cooney's are packing up and heading for the farm in Tennessee tomorrow. I doubt there will be time to read. Luke has tractors for me to ride with him, and Maggie needs someone to lead her around, as she rides Mac the horse. There are fireflies to catch, and hay to mow. The hills of Tennessee are calling. I hope everyone has a great summer. KC



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