A new series of children’s books, titled The Woodstock All Stars, by local business owner and Little League official Kevin Christofora, aims to stir fresh interest and participation in two beloved but possibly endangered pastimes, baseball and reading.
Written by Christofora and illustrated by fellow Woodstock resident Dale Tangeman, the debut volume in a projected series of 20 books, Nick’s Very First Day of Baseball (ISBN 978-0615578651), is available for $7.99 at the Golden Notebook, at amazon.com, and through Amazon’s self-publishing affiliate, CreateSpace. Amazon is expected to release a downloadable version of the book for its Kindle tablet reader, Christofora noted.
The 28-page paperback seeks to acquaint children aged 3 to 6 (and the parents or grandparents who may read it to them) not only with basic baseball equipment, rules, and lingo, but also with the excitement and anticipation that often attend a kid’s first formal brush with the game — joining a team, donning a uniform, whacking a ball off a tee, and rounding the bases.
In short, simple sentences, the narrative escorts the protagonist, Nick, through his growing infatuation with baseball and his team’s first day of practice. A smiling cartoon character, Billy Ball, appears in the pages’ corners, amplifying the subject at hand (“Your shirt and hat are called a uniform”), popping a quiz (“How many baseballs can you find in this picture?”), or, on the back cover, reviewing a list of baseball terms (“Here are some words we have learned so far”). The text includes a ten-item questionnaire and a page for the autographs of favorite players.
For Christofora, who operates the family business, Woodstock Meats, and is president of the Woodstock Little League, the book series is both a labor of love and a mission to spread the gospel of baseball at a time when the Internet increasingly dominates the recreational lives of youngsters. “Today, most kids know more about Angry Birds than they do about the national pastime,” said the author in a news release.
“When I started coaching tee ball, five years ago, parents dropped off their kids and I would teach them the game,” said Christofora in a recent interview. “I enlisted the parents to help, but they lacked a background in baseball. That was a real eye-opener: My kids had played at home, but others’ hadn’t. It wasn’t because the kids didn’t want to play. They just had too many other things to do.”
The Christofora clan’s immersion in baseball is multigenerational. As it happens, the family tree includes a major leaguer, Kingston native Richard F. (Dick) Johnston (1863-1934), an outfielder who played for the Boston, New York, and Cincinnati teams from 1884 to 1891, compiling a career batting average of .251 with 33 home runs. Johnston, whose distinctive ivory bat now resides with a relative in Detroit, where he died, is the great-great-grandfather of Christofora’s mother, the former Arlene Zeeh.
Kevin himself got hooked early, guided by his father, Vince. “My dad threw pop flies off the back porch to me until his arm was tired,” he recalled. All of Kevin’s three children — Julianne, 11; Nick, 9; and Joey, 6 — play organized baseball, with Julianne also helping her father coach a team in the Little League’s tee ball division, for kids aged 4 to 6. (Children aged 7 and 8 participate in the minor league division, while the major league division serves those from 9 to 12 years old.)
If children’s interest in baseball is faltering elsewhere, it’s booming in Woodstock.
Under Christofora’s stewardship the Woodstock Little League is thriving, with about 150 kids playing on 11 teams in the three age divisions. Participation has grown in recent years.
The baseball “buzz”
“Baseball is the buzz around town,” said the local author, who is in his third year as the Little League’s president. “Our board of directors and other volunteers create the buzz by visiting local elementary schools and making sure that the Little League participates in community events like the Memorial Day parade.”
According to Christofora, townwide attendance at the annual Memorial Day observance has tripled in recent years. The Little Leaguers, for their part, place flags on the graves of veterans at the Woodstock Cemetery. “The community supports the kids, so the kids do what they can to give back to the community,” he said. In addition to its role in the town’s Memorial Day program, the Little League conducts fund-raising events to benefit causes such as local families in need of assistance and women with breast cancer.
The Little League raises funds for its own activities through the annual Humongous Raffle. The last raffle generated proceeds of $16,000, which the league will apply to the maintenance of the municipal baseball facilities at Rick Volz Field and Andy Lee Field. One of the volunteers who help keep the Little League afloat and robust is Tangeman, the illustrator of The Woodstock All Stars, who donates his services as a graphic artist. An Ohio native who has resided in Woodstock for over 20 years, Tangeman is retired from a career in advertising.
Toward the goal of publishing 20 books in the series, Christofora and Tangeman hope to complete the second and third volumes within a year. If the books succeed in igniting new interest in the game among youngsters, larger-scale spinoff ventures could ensue.
“Ultimately, these books could be produced with different logos, for regional appeal,” said Christofora. “It could be a Peanuts-type publication that is distributed at the World Series.” The author’s vision doesn’t end there. Christofora can foresee not only a television show based on the books, but also a baseball theme park at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The theme park might include a replica of the Hall of Fame and as many as three baseball fields, with one field hosting an annual Hall of Fame game, featuring major leaguers, and another serving as the site for an international Little League competition.
For the moment, however, Christofora’s attention is focused on the book series, for which he credits Bob Salomon, a contributor to another children’s book on baseball, A Glove of Their Own, for inspiration and consultation; Abbe Aronson, for marketing and promotional assistance; and Lauryn Tervenski, who edited The Woodstock All Stars.
Christofora believes that his baseball books will appeal to readers of the Maisy Mouse “story time” series for children aged 3 to 5.”When I read the Maisy Mouse books to my children, at four years old they would finish the sentences,” he said. “Repetitive reading that was also fun reading was educational for my kids, and the same should be true for The Woodstock All Stars.”
With spring training under way and Opening Day around the corner, a literary rookie may have cleared the bases.++