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A Thank You to Santa Claus and Manny Ramirez

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Let’s meet Jack Keffer, one of our new Minor League Ball staff writers

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Los Angeles Angels Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

When I was 10 years old, my family moved to a different neighborhood where I would meet my two best friends. The cold December air kept us inside, coped up in the basement, where we were held to activities like Legoes and indoor soccer.

Our mutual love of baseball was a hidden secret until that Christmas, when Santa gifted my friend a GameCube and MVP Baseball 2005, possibly the greatest video game of all-time. Those winter months flew by as we obsessed over Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, and Ichiro Suzuki, the three unstoppable hitters of the game.

Come spring, we shifted our interest to the backyard, smashing tennis balls for hours on end. It came as no surprise that we mimicked our favorite players: my short, left handed friend swung and ran like Ichiro; the other rhythmically tapped the bat and his front foot like Pujols; and I wrapped the bat around my head and dropped my bat at the end of my swing like Ramirez.

We always had other neighborhood friends join us, but the three of us were the glue. And while Little League, Legion ball, and high school varsity all entrenched my love of baseball, I think back to those backyard whiffle ball days as some of the best memories baseball has ever brought me.

In college, my soccer talent outweighed anything I could do on a baseball field, but I was still a baseball player at heart. I coached in the summer, wrote about the Phillies, took the only baseball class at Franklin & Marshall my first semester, and looked for opportunities to get back to the game. I found out my habit of talking too much translated to broadcasting, and I immediately immersed myself by broadcasting for every F&M sports team.

This past summer, I fell in love with the Cape Cod Baseball League, not only because of its intimacy but also its vulnerability. You could feel the best amateur players go through ups and downs on high school fields that you might have played on years ago.

Our “broadcast booth” during away games was a folding table pressed against the backstop, the only separation being a thin metal fence between us and the field. This year, with the Wilmington Blue Rocks, I’m farther up past the netting, but still close enough to see players improving and growing. They are a step ahead, but the road is still long.

It’s funny that as talent rises through the ranks, you find yourself sitting farther away from the game. It still stays close in our minds, but sometimes it requires us to have a catch or hit a ball to truly appreciate what drew us to the game.

I think back to hours I’ve spent taking batting practice and playing pickup baseball while I look forward to those who have the luxury to do so as a living. They deserve to be recognized, and I hope to write about the ones that someday inspire 10-year-old kids to swing like they do and find the friends to play with.