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Put me in, coach: Retired Angels players celebrate kids’ love of reading

Angels alum Chuck Finley lunches with children at the fourth annual “Readers in the Outfield” literacy day at Angel Stadium of Anaheim April 14 to celebrate the Literacy Project.
(Photo by Spencer Grant)

The former professional baseball player saw a winning team in the distance and began to cheer them on.

“Here they come!” shouted Clyde “Skeeter” Wright, a retired left-handed pitcher who played for the Angels from 1966 to 1973. “Congratulations!”

Wright, 77, joined fellow Angels legends Rod Carew, Chuck Finley and Bobby Grich April 14 at the Diamond Club of Angel Stadium to celebrate over 100 second-graders who graduated from the Literacy Project’s reading program and succeeded in raising their reading scores from far below basic to class average.

“We are so proud of all of you young people taking part in this program,” Grich, 69, said to the students from Santa Ana and Anaheim elementary schools. “Reading is powerful and will give you more opportunities in life.”

The Literacy Project, a Newport Beach-based organization founded by Sue Grant nine years ago, supports struggling second-grade readers with specialized teacher instruction in an interactive environment.

Eric Manning conducts a phonics game by calling out word sounds.
(Photo by Spencer Grant )

The program, co-developed by the UC Board of Regents, provides in-classroom, six-week reading instruction at no cost to schools and qualified second-graders. The project has helped more than 6,500 struggling readers throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties and the Coachella Valley and has plans to expand to Utah and Illinois this year.

Grant collaborated with Dennis Kuhl, chairman of Angels Baseball, and asked to bring a greater awareness to literacy. Together, the Literacy Project and Angels alumni have hosted the event for four years.

“Reading is a skill for a lifetime,” Grant said. “We want to give them this gift and tell them they can dream for anything — they can do anything they want to.”

Arriving children walk past two rows of greeters as they arrive at the Diamond Club of Angel Stadium on April 14 for the Literary Project celebration.
(Photo by Spencer Grant )

Finley, 55, said he learned of the literacy day event through Kuhl and has attended it for a few years. His life had been dedicated to baseball — he was the first pitcher in Major League Baseball history to record four strikeouts in a single inning more than once — and he has developed a passion and love for giving back, especially to children, he said.

“I’m proud of your accomplishments,” he told students before he sat down with them at a table and ate hot dogs. “Whatever you want to be — a fireman, a weatherman, a teacher, a doctor — reading will take you there.”

Carew, a former Major League Baseball first baseman, second baseman and coach who is one of the few ballplayers to get a 3,000th base hit, said his motivation is to serve children. He told the recent graduates that reading will take them places and make their teachers, moms and dads proud.

“Programs like these are important to kids for their future,” Carew, 72, said. “We’re just here to help encourage them. This is amazing work.”

kathleen.luppi@latimes.com

Twitter: @KathleenLuppi


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