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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tennis Column: A Holiday Wish List for Santa

Chris Howard
Courier Columnist
 Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 35 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or

Christmas is only two days away and Santa hasn't received this special list of wants and needs from some of his local tennis players.

The Courier has been nice enough to run this column knowing that Mr. Claus has his own comp subscription to "Everyone's Hometown" paper - encouraging his elves to work overtime adding a few gifts to his bag before heading out on the 25th.

As the top board member of the Prescott Area Tennis Association, president Lisa Cook would like to see each person in the area find the time to pick up a racquet this year and play some tennis. From 4-year-olds to 84 year-olds, this game is one for a life-time. If you haven't tried it yet, it's time.

If Santa could find it in his heart to make sure all the courts are in good playing condition, nets at the right height, with racquets and balls ready to use, all able-bodied people in the Tri-city area will have no excuses not to see what they've been missing.

Mentioning playing, all the tennis professionals who teach the game day in and out would like to request on their list that each public and private tennis facility take the time and effort to use their talents in creating programs for their current and futuristic patrons.

Why even have a court or set of courts if there's no one to care for, teach and promote the game, put programs in place that enhance the cost and effort of those courts being built and to help with the enjoyment, exercise, enthusiasm, skill development, and social aspect of what the game of tennis really has to offer?

George Reynolds and his merry band of volunteers have been pretty good again this year managing the court safety, filling cracks and resurfacing those repaired areas with paint and lines, but soon it'll take more than that at the Yavapai College courts known as Roughrider.

One of the big items on the Christmas list would be to make sure that after 40 years of use, the capital improvement line item for replacing this facility stays put. If the replacement is done right, with post-tensioned concrete, the maintenance for the next 75 years or so would be almost non-existent except to repaint the surface every 6 or 7 years.

If anyone wants to see what happens when nothing is done to a tennis facility that at one time cost about $300,000 dollars to construct, go by the courts at Granite Mountain Middle School. It's like a one-time expensive present that now needs hauled to the dump, very sad indeed.

The elementary schools through the efforts of their after-schools program, PATA and Quickstart coordinator Barbara Briseno, and trained instructors, have made an inroad in letting Kindergarten through 5th graders learn the game of tennis at very nominal costs this year.

It would be nice to have all elementary schools in all area incorporate after-school programs so each area of kids would have the opportunity to learn tennis and so many other wonderful tools of life that aren't provided in normal classroom curriculum. Please Santa, add that to your list for all the kids to have available and enjoy.

It's been tough to see the loss of sports at the college level, don't you think Santa?

Education, social skills, work ethic, book and street smarts come in so many ways.

Athletics and the arts teach in a way that normal classrooms can't, that's not good or bad, it's just a fact. Job skills, staying fit, creating a healthy and prideful school atmosphere and learning center, consists of body, soul and mind.

If during this down economic cycle where we can't afford traveling teams and paid staff for a variety of sports, can we add to the holiday wish list a wide set of intramural sports and teams that take up some of the slack until we can implement normal school athletics once more?

We've had so many people benefit from having nice tennis facilities and other athletic facilities in the area, as well as fun and varied programs, professional instructors, and reasonable costs. It's easy to see why people from all over the country want to raise their families or retire here.

The last wish is to just keep on doing what you've already implemented Santa, taking care of what's in place and growing at a reasonable pace.

We'll try to keep doing our part too.

Roebuck memorial: Mike Coward's speech

Speech by renowned cricket commentator Mike Coward at Peter Roebuck's memorial service yesterday.
Good afternoon. We are here today to farewell Peter Roebuck, humanist, social justice crusader, cricketer, cricket captain, cricket coach, mentor, writer, broadcaster, educationist, polemicist.
My name is Mike Coward and I worked alongside Peter in the press boxes of the cricket world for the past 25 years. And as president of the Australian Cricket Media Association and a director of the LBW Trust, the charity inspired by Peter, I welcome you today. Thsi is not intended to be an elaborate occasion or an event. Those of you who knew Peter well know how he hated events - the evaborate, the superficial.
All of us are here because we want to remember the Peter we knew and thank him for his time among us and for a remarkable body of work.
In all probability each of us knew a different Roeby, or Roebers, or Rupert.
Ralph Emerson, the 19th century American poet, essayist and notable student of philosophy and divinity, famously observed that: "One has as many personalities as they have friends." In Peter's case this was undeniably so.
At the same time it must be said that when talking friendship with Peter, the term needs some qualification. In essence, most of us were associates or allies rather than friends in the purer sense.
Of observations to this end in the many written tributes to him, there was none more telling than from Peter English, a writer and teacher who once lived in a Roebuck household.
He wrote: "Roeby didn't do friendship. But he was a cherished friend of mine."
Many here this afternoon will identify strongly with this insight.
Such was the suddenness of Peter's death we needed to come together to share with honesty our memories and stories.
While such openness was anathema to Peter, for us it might help to ease the hurt. Perhaps by evening each of us will have a more complete picture of this complex and fascinating man.
And we do crave a more complete picture for we are deeply troubled by his death and the fact none of us could prevent it.
But he would hate us to be maudlin. As Jim Maxwell reminded me the other day, Roeby wouldn't want any waffling sentimentality this afternoon.
We were together in India 10 years ago when Sir Donald Bradman died. Roeby thought the reaction to Bradman's death was, shall we say, extravagant.
Roeby said: "Bradman was a great cricketer. That's all he was ... not Gandhi or some famous statesman."
Roeby was a great cricket writer, that's all he was ... not Gandhi or some famous statesman.
He would want that said today so there is it. We have given him no excuse to snarl from above.
Remember the good times. I will remember quiet times away from cursed deadlines: of a stroll through the Botanic Gardens at Nuwara Eliya in the high tea country of Sri Lanka; of sharing a bottle of wine with him in the garden of his 'straw hat' farm high above a verdant valley dotted with baobab trees outside Pietermaritzburg in his beloved Africa; of playing cricket alongside him in a match that pitted writers against publishers; of hearing him welcome Indian students and their disenfranchised parents to the LBW fold.
He was happiest in the company of the young and ambitious who were prepared to listen and learn. A child of teachers he was himself an outstanding student and he believed fervently in the right of every man, woman and child to an education.
And while we have lost a friend and colleague we should remember that the young men and women he was guiding have effectively lost a parent, a guardian.
Tatenda Chadya, the current head of household at the 'Sunrise' house in Pietermaritzburg, said: "It's not that he was like a father to us - there is no 'like', he was our father."
So our thoughts today are with Tatenda, and Tendai, Prosper, Abraham, Justice, Darlington, Calvin, Given, Munya, Integrity, Pride and Miraculous and so many other of his charges, often bearing names that inspire and make you smile. Certainly they made Peter smile.
He was fiercely proud of the students he nurtured and, as with any parent, found forgiveness for any charge that let him down or lost their way.
When we repair to the bar you will have an opportunity to support Peter's students when his battered and emblematic straw hat is passed around.
To this end it is wonderful news that, with the support of his mother and family, Peter's superannuation fund will be able to meet the needs of Peter's students for the next few months.
These have been desperately difficult weeks since Peter's death.
I don't need to dwell on Roeby's brilliance as a writer and broadcaster. He will be read as long as the game is played.
It is troubling that we all have so many unanswered questions. This hurts. For those of us in the press and broadcassting boxes the hurt is acute.
Of course, these questions will remain unanswered. How can you explain the inexplicable?
Within the framework and conversation of cricket, politics and social justice, Peter was at ease, at peace, in his element.
Often, demonstrably so. He was a seductive, even charismatic, personality in many ways and he loved to hold court.
He drew people to him but at the same time constructed an unbreachable boundary.
Outside the framework and conversation of the game, politics and social justice, he was a solitary man. He lost the sense of certainty. He was as unsure and insecure as all of us when we lost that sense of certainty. Perhaps more so.
My sense is that he paid dearly for being unconventional, eccentric, for being different. A profoundly conservative game and a judgemental community can be unforgiving.
He gave everything to the cricket community as a player, captain, coach, writer, broadcaster and champion of the game's charities.
He was generous to a fault with his time and advice to those starting out, be it in the realm of cricket, education, journalism or social and political activism.
And when it came to his students in Africa and his sponsor children in Sri Lanka, he was generous with his money - to the tune of about $100,000 a year.
He was worldly, yet hopelessly unworldly. He loved people talking about him and his work but hated being the centre of attention. He was so certain and fearless in his writing and commentary yet so unsure and perhaps fearful away from the keybaord and microphone and his extended family in Africa.
Paradox after paradox after paradox.
He was never the same man after the trauma he lived through in England 10 years ago and it is important to know this.
If he had a confidant among his colleagues in the press and broadcasting boxes it was Jim Maxwell.
And it is now my pleasure to call upon Jim to reflect on the Peter he knew and the times they shared at and outside the world's great cricket grounds.

ESPN ASIA: Best Baseball Books in 2011

In March 2010, Little, Brown outbid seven other publishers for the rights to an unemployed author's first book, paying $650,000 to publish Chad Harbach's tale about a slick-fielding shortstop at a fictional Division III college in Wisconsin. It was a highly unusual transaction for a debut novel targeted at a male audience. The publisher was vindicated, however, by a constant flow of praise in the months leading up to the release of "The Art of Fielding," certainly unprecedented among baseball novels. The book lived up to its hype, landing a coveted place on the New York Times' 10 Best Books of 2011 list. It also tops ours, the only work of fiction to win a spot.

While 2010 saw a number of blockbusters on notables such as Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Willie Mays, Old Hoss Radbourn, and George Steinbrenner, the biography field this year was smaller, with only Neil Lanctot's account of Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella standing out. The rest of our selections ran the gamut from in-depth looks at the game in its formative years to Jonah Keri's examination of one of baseball's newest additions.

1. The Art of Fielding: A Novel, by Chad Harbach (Little, Brown)

Henry Skrimshander begins his career at Westish College as a project for team captain Mike Schwartz, who sees in him an opportunity to turn his downtrodden school into a winner. Fielding has always come naturally to the scrawny shortstop. It takes three years of grueling workouts to turn him into a prospect at the plate. With a crowd of scouts in attendance, Henry commits the first error of his college career, firing a throw wide of first base and flush into the face of his roommate, Owen Dunne, in the dugout. That errant toss sets the story into motion, swirling the worlds of Skrimshander, Schwartz, and Dunne, as well as the school president Guert Affenlight and his daughter Pella. Harbach burdens each character with real foibles and arms them with enough wit and depth to stumble through the maze that their lives have become. The bonds built among them tether them together, even when strained by acts of betrayal. Ultimately, this is a tale of five people coming to terms with who they are, woven around Skrimshander's drive to be not just the best, but perfect—an unattainable goal that nearly destroys him.

2. Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game, by Dan Barry (Harper Collins)

In the 30 years since Rochester and Pawtucket battled into the wee hours of a frigid Easter morning, the fascination with baseball's longest game hasn't waned. What began as a routine Saturday night affair, spilled into Sunday before eventually wrapping up two months later as a 3-2 Paw Sox win. Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium was packed for the game's almost anti-climactic conclusion, when the Red Sox needed only one inning to decide matters. The true witnesses to history, however, barely numbered in double digits. When the two weary clubs were mercifully shooed off the field at 4:09 Easter morning, just 19 fans remained in the grandstand. Dan Barry wasn't among them. Which makes his gripping and lyrical retelling all the more amazing, as he seems to have been everywhere all at once for the entire length of the game. Even more, Barry captures the spirit of minor league baseball in the days before the corporate ownership groups dotted the landscape with miniature versions of big league cathedrals.

3. Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, by John Thorn (Simon & Schuster)

Baseball's origins have been debated almost since its infancy. For many years Abner Doubleday and later Alexander Cartwright were credited with inventing America's pastime. John Thorn explores both men's connections—and lack thereof—in this release. Major League Baseball's official historian presents some alternate heroes, whose contributions to the early days of the sport have been overlooked for more than 150 years. The more he studied their era, the more puzzled he became by the motivation of those who were so intent on crediting others. Thorn's focus shifted over time from simply digging up the evidence to document the origins of the game to understanding why the truth was so shrouded in the first place. The result is a fascinating tale that will help inform discussion of the sport's founding in years to come.

4. Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella, by Neil Lanctot (Simon & Schuster)

Biographer Neil Lanctot speculates that Roy Campanella fell asleep at the wheel shortly before his car slammed into a telephone pole early one morning in January 1958. The wreck did not take the Hall of Fame catcher's life but did end his career, limiting him to a wheel chair the rest of his life. Most of "Campy" is devoted to his playing days, from his time in the Negro National League to his years in Brooklyn, where he played 10 seasons, capturing three Most Valuable Player awards. Lanctot faced several challenges in documenting Campanella's life, such as the catcher's habit of rounding off the truth for the sake of a good story and a lack of cooperation from surviving family members and certain teammates. In spite of those difficulties, "Campy" provides a balanced view of one of the first and most significant players to break baseball's color barrier.

5. Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway's Remarkable First Year, by Glenn Stout (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

When the Red Sox broke ground on Fenway Park in the fall of 1911, no one envisioned it would still be in use a century later. So why has it endured? Glenn Stout cites the park's ability to adapt and change. Indeed, modern Fenway looks almost nothing like the original, which opened to a standing-room only crowd of nearly 30,000 on April 20, 1912. Stout incorporates the stories of the men who built and maintained the new stadium as well as the wild, often warring, bunch that raced to a huge lead in the American League standings that first season. He masterfully intertwines their stories, reflecting the role the birth of the park played in the team's success as Boston topped the New York Giants in one of the game's greatest World Series.

6. Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Vols. 1 and 2, compiled and edited by David Nemec (University of Nebraska Press)

Weighing in at over 1,200 pages, this two-volume set includes short biographies of every significant contributor to the game in the late 19th century. The first volume focuses on key players of the professional game's first 30 years, broken down by position. The bios run anywhere from half a page to two pages and explore the player's career, breaking down his game and providing perspective, whenever possible, on how he was viewed by his contemporaries. The second volume features the era's Hall of Famers, as well as baseball's colorful rogues, homicide victims, missing persons, and a wide variety of others. Many of these men were literally lost to researchers after their careers ended, others were simply forgotten. Here are their fascinating tales.

7. The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First, by Jonah Keri (Ballantine Books/ESPN Books)

Small-market team overcomes long odds to compete with the big spenders. If this sounds at all reminiscent of "Moneyball," well, that might be by design. This, however, isn't "Moneyball." Jonah Keri wasn't embedded in the Rays draft room or hanging out in the team's video room during games. In fact, the Tampa Bay brass was reluctant to assist. Keri provides a broad view of the many challenges that confronted the Devil Rays, even aside from the obvious ones such as building a roster. He captures the entire arc of the organization's history, hitting both the often-entertaining lows of the expansion era and the inspiring highs of recent seasons. Readers looking for the heavy sabermetrics of "Moneyball" may not get their fill here, though there are several chapters that discuss some non-traditional stats the Rays have put to good use, particularly to measure defense.

8. Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure, by Craig Robinson (Bloomsbury)

While most fans find both left- and right-brain appeal in the sport, few are better at wedding them than Craig Robinson, who joins baseball and infographics to draw meaning out of a world of numbers and provide context for a boundless range of matters, many of which you never realized you were curious about—at least until you saw them sketched out in full color. Robinson's writing, like his art, is irreverent and entertaining. An Englishman who found baseball later in life, he views the game from a different vantage point than the rest of us. As Rob Neyer puts it in the Foreword, "It's not so odd to me that he sees things I don't see; there are a lot of things I don't see. What's odd to me is that Craig sees things nobody else sees."

9. The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 MPH, by Shawn Green with Gordon McAlpine (Simon & Schuster)

Despite a predisposition toward Zen teachings, Shawn Green's transcendence was unplanned, coming about only after he landed in his manager's dog house early in his career. Reduced to taking swings off a tee due to philosophical differences with his batting coach, he soon found both peace and his stroke. The former big leaguer discusses such spiritual matters as ego, space and separation, and remaining rooted in the present. He also provides rare access to the inner thoughts of a major league star, dissecting his own swing and approach to hitting, and sharing some of the unique exercises he employed to regain or maintain his stroke. He proves refreshingly candid and objective about his game, his weaknesses, and his fears and disappointments. This memoir/philosophical guide may not convert his fans into followers of Buddha, but it will almost certainly spark some introspection.

10. Pitching in the Promised Land: A Story of the First and Only Season in the Israel Baseball League, by Aaron Pribble (University of Nebraska Press)

The Israel Baseball League lasted only one season, flaming out after financial woes plagued its 2007 campaign. Thanks to Aaron Pribble's diligent journal-keeping, the league will not be forgotten. The tall lefthander, who led the circuit in ERA while pitching for the Tel Aviv Lightning, penned a memoir of his summertime adventure in the Mideast. Pribble, who holds a master's degree in political science, recounts sight-seeing trips to Jerusalem and Masada, but most riveting is his trek with a teammate into the Palestinian-controlled West Bank, where they were greeted more often than not with smiles. These rare insights into life half a world away make his story unique among recent baseball titles.