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Area children have their reading day with the Suns

August 14, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - As the Hagerstown Suns' winningest pitcher, Jon Niese is used to reading catchers' signs and turning quick outs.

Sunday, the southpaw turned pages instead, as he read "The Other Dog" for a group of young fans at the Suns' game against the Greensboro (N.C.) Grasshoppers.

"Yeah, it's fun ... I've done it before this year. It's good for the kids," Niese said.

About 30 youngsters, most of whom were boys about 8 to 10 years old, gathered around Niese for Story Time, a program the team sponsors before every Sunday home game.

According to Joel Pagliaro, director of promotions and special events, the team and the Washington County Arts Council began Story Time last year to promote reading. The players and the children seem to enjoy it, he said.

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"It's one point when they get to interact with the fans, and they're not just asking for autographs," he said.

"Glory Days" by Bruce Springsteen and Huey Lewis and the News' "Hip to Be A Square" blared as children gathered near the away team's dugout to take part in Story Time before the game. Some boys held baseball cards and pens in hopes of getting autographs. Two boys dueled with baseball caps, whacking each other's hats as they waited.

About a half-hour before the game, the children were allowed on the field, where Niese took a seat on a folding metal chair. Speaking in a quiet voice barely audible above the stereo, Niese stumbled over one of the book's longer words, but mostly kept the interest of the children gathered at his feet. He laughed as he read a passage containing the word "froufrou."

Behind him, the grounds crew hosed the diamond in preparation for the game.

Kaylee Hovie and Julie Suchanek, both 10, of Waynesboro, Pa., said afterward they enjoy hearing stories read aloud.

"I like coming down here because I like seeing people that are famous or baseball players do stuff for little kids," Kaylee said.

For Niese, who was not scheduled to start Sunday, the activity holds mutual appeal.

"You can tell when they're sitting down, they look up to you. I'm sure they enjoy my company, just like I enjoy theirs. It's real fun," he said.

"The Other Dog," which describes the upheaval of having a new baby in the home from the point of view of a dog, provided the goods news from the ballpark. The Suns lost 1-0.

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