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McGraw makes big pitch for summertime reading


PHILADELPHIA -- Tug McGraw remembers getting his first library card, along with a whole bunch of other good stuff, badges and sashes and the scent of responsibility.

"Fourth grade, probably," the Phillie-turned-newsman recalled, standing in the lobby of the Free Library to help make the first pitch for a reading program called "Grand Slam Summer."

"You signed up for crosswalk patrol, paperboy, fire-safety patrol, where you snitched on your parents, told the school about all the violations at home, early stages of communism kind of thing.

"First book I ever borrowed was 'Beautiful Joe.' A book about a dog. A dog who had a terrible owner who cut his ears and tail off.

"Had a beautiful ending, though, which is why they called it 'Beautiful Joe.' "

McGraw was wearing the ugliest pair of sunglasses he could find, knowing the kids from Masterman and Girard and Hallahan and Southern would find them cool. They did.

"Kids don't dig all these coats and ties," he said, glancing at Phillies president Bill Giles, former outfielder Garry Maddox, current outfielder Ruben Amaro Jr. "Somebody's got to play this for fun."

McGraw has always danced to the tune of his own fiddler. When he told the kids about his first book, the book about a dog, Mark's eyes brightened.

"I read a lot," the Masterman fifth-grader said earlier. "Sports books and books about dogs.

"Got my first library card at 6. First book I took out was 'Pain in the Great One.'

"About a sister and brother who both think their mom and dad like the other one more. Pain does some weird stuff."

Julie, another fifth-grader, started with a more traditional book. " 'Green Eggs and Ham,' " she recalled. "I was about 5 when I got my card. My mom took me."

Kyle, a classmate, had brought a legal-sized pad, for autographs.

"I get to the ballgames often," he said. "My dad is a beer distributor. When he goes to the Vet, I come along. Penthouse suites, mostly."

"The Masterman kids just automatically read," said Cathe Zepernick, a parent who taught her son to read when he was 2.

"But, for other kids, this program will be very important. I live in the Spring Garden section. Lots of those kids come to the library during the summer. This will encourage them."

Amaro recalled getting his first library card as a second-grader.

"Field trip," he said. "To the Frankford Library. You were required to take two or three books out that first trip.

DTC "Can't remember the name of the first one. Probably about baseball though."

An excellent student at Penn Charter, he got a baseball-academic scholarship to Stanford. Lugs books on the road now.

Maddox didn't speak as part of the program, although he had the most meaningful story to tell.

"Got my first card when I was 9 or 10," he recalled. "Class trip to the library.

"It was quite a few years after that before I ever took out a book. Probably junior high or even high school.

"It was just the environment I grew up in. There was no great interest in academics."

Maddox has been catching up ever since, reading voraciously, taking a wide range of college courses, running a successful business, being involved in the community.

Bill Brown, of Conrail, and Roland Bullard, of Fidelity Bank, did speak, representing the essential corporate sponsorship.

So did Herman Mattleman, the former school board president.

They all used the word "future" often, warning the kids that they ought to read because they represented the future of the city, of the country.

And then it was Tug's turn and he recited 'Casey at the Bat' theatrically, with the Phillie Phanatic doing his frantic mime.

"Those guys have been putting a heavy load on you," McGraw said. "If you don't read, the country's going down the tubes, that kind of thing.

"Hey, read to learn about yourself. Then worry about the country, the city, later.

"Please, go for it."

Will it work?

"This isn't like a business," McGraw said bluntly. "You can't track ROI, return on investment."

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