Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Life Lessons in the Game's Essentials

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Life Lessons in the Game's Essentials

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Woods, The Times-Union

Peter Bragan Jr., the Jacksonville Suns' general manager, stood in the library of Hyde Park Elementary on Wednesday morning, wearing a baseball uniform and holding a bat. As he prepared to talk to about 100 fifth-graders, he told the story behind what has become an annual tradition in Jacksonville -- a tradition that has led to hundreds of recitations of a poem, thousands of children reading tens of thousands of books and, last but hardly least, two adults falling in love.

The Casey Challenge.

It started in 1989, when Bragan talked to Carolyn Kantor, then the Duval County director of media specialists. He had seen where the Richmond Braves put bookmarks with the team schedule in libraries. He wanted to do the same in Jacksonville. Kantor had another idea. Speak to the kids, she said.

After initially resisting, he went to Brown Elementary School and gave a speech. A long, boring speech. Or at least that's how he remembers it.

When Kantor thanked him later, he apologized and said that he wanted to come back sometime with something different.

He just wasn't sure what that would be. Then one day, as if by fate, he was reading a book and it flipped open to a page with the words that the children at Hyde Park heard him begin with Wednesday morning.

"Casey at the Bat, by Ernest Lawrence Thayer."

These days there is a lot of talk about what to do to improve childhood literacy. And while this is nice, Bragan Jr. has been doing more than talking for 15 years. He has been reciting.

He says it's a tribute to Miss Sparks, the third-grade teacher who grabbed him by the ear on the playground, told him to read his books and turned him into a voracious reader.

With each visit, he emphasizes the importance of reading and presents the children with challenges. …

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