A Doug's Life: Having a Ball is an Adventure

The ritual has begun anew.

We're barely into February and the rites of spring are upon us. All around Menifee, wherever there's a park big enough to have a dirt infield and four bases, you'll see them.

Baseball. Softball. Little League. Pony League. ASA. Fast pitch. Slow pitch. Travel ball. T-ball.

It's a way of life. Sometimes exhilarating, sometimes aggravating. Almost always addicting.

I know. I've been there. And as a recovering youth baseball and softball addict, it's interesting to watch these people from the outside this time.

Driving past Wheatfield Park on Menifee Road the last couple weekends, I have noticed the crowds. Not just the young people in tryouts and practice sessions. Also the "older" folks -- i.e., parents, grandparents and assorted other "fans" of the ballplayers.

They pack the stands. They wander about. Some volunteer. Others just cheer.

Work the snack bar? No problem. Need a team mom? Right here. Short of coaches? Sign me up, as long as my kid is on my team.

Some stay for a couple hours, others seemingly days. RVs line the street, as if setting up camp through the summer.

Ah, those were the days. Youth baseball. I played it, then coached it, then served on the board of directors. I wouldn't trade the memories for anything -- nor would I wish it upon any adult with high blood pressure or a quick temper.

So while I take a couple more years off before returning to the field to watch the grandkids play, I offer from afar a few suggestions for the adults who will be supervising and supporting the young ballplayers of Menifee the next few months:

Find the silver lining: Help the kids find something positive in the experience. If they lost the game, praise them for the big play they made in the field or their improved hitting skills. If those don't apply, buy them a hot dog and tell them you love them.

Throw out the stat book: Does it really matter what a 9-year-old's batting average is? Stats are for the adults, not the kids. Who's playing this game, anyway?

Don't give special privileges to your child: If you're the coach, it's likely your kid has received more mentoring than half the other kids on the team. Is that a reason to give your son or daughter the best field position, best spot in the batting order, and all the innings in the starting lineup? Be fair. Once you see little Irving the right fielder beaming after his first hit, you'll know why.

Don't deny standard privileges to your child: Now we're talking the flip side. Say you're the coach, your kid has pitched three hitless innings and you're winning, 10-0. Don't take him out just to give some other kid a chance when your only other decent pitcher is out of town. It might result in an 11-10 loss and a heartbroken son. Trust me, I know.

Don't leave the taquitos in the microwave too long: No one said that, when working the snack bar, you'd have time to actually watch the game.

Give the umpires a break: C'mon, half of them are teenagers and the other half can barely see. You're lucky they find anyone willing to subject themselves to that kind of abuse.

Watch what you say: When shouting from the stands, "Get a hold of one, Billy!" is acceptable. "Stick it in his ear!" is not.

Keep things in perspective: Notice the reaction of the different generations after a tough loss. You and your friends might be yelling at the umpires or second-guessing the coach. Meanwhile, the kids have already put it behind them and are laughing at each other through their snow cones.

It's a fun life, this youth ball stuff. Or at least it can be, if you let it. So play ball in Menifee, but remember this:

They call it a game for a reason.

A Doug's Life: Just Read, Baby

They say you can't judge a book by its cover. That's OK.

I'd rather judge it by the words inside anyway.

This came to mind the other day, when I was privileged to be guest speaker at a meeting of the Friends of the Sun City Library. It was my first time inside the beautiful building, which is only a couple years old and gets plenty of use.

My message to those in attendance was about the value of the written word, whether bound in published book form, assembled in a three-ring notebook, printed in a newspaper or magazine, or floating about somewhere online. Maybe I was preaching to the choir, but I never grow tired of talking about the value of diversified communication.

That has become a hot topic these days, whether you're talking about communication via the Internet on a laptop, on an iPhone, in a text message or in the pages of a good old-fashioned hard-bound book. Each day, people debate which form of written communication is more valuable and whether any of them should be diminished or eliminated.

If you ask me, the bottom line is this: Each format serves a useful purpose, should be valued for what it is, and should be used efficiently as a supplement to the others.

Think about it. You're reading this Menifee 24/7 column on a website, right? You won't find this article printed on paper you can pick up at a news rack. It isn't sitting somewhere on the shelf of the Sun City Library. But you can access it at that library and anywhere else that has an Internet connection. Does that make it more or less valuable than a printed article?

I say neither -- just different. Menifee 24/7 and all the information published here serves a valuable purpose in informing and entertaining members of the community. It distributes news that is covered nowhere else by traditional print media, primarily because of the limited resources of some newspapers in today's economy. Even so, print publications that cover Riverside County communities continue to serve a useful purpose.

Having worked as a professional journalist for 30 years, I never thought I would see the day I would rather read the news on my iPhone than by unfolding a newspaper with the same content. Why? Because I can stuff my phone into my pocket and easier than I can a copy of the L.A. Times. Also because my phone updates every few minutes and the print paper only once every 24 hours.

Even so, there are purposes served by the print version of the news that I can't get anywhere else. Have you ever tried pasting a copy of your iPhone screen into a scrapbook for safekeeping?

The walls of my home office are lined with bookshelves holding hundreds of my favorite books. Some are paperback; most are original hardbound copies. I have accumulated these over the course of a lifetime and I refuse to get rid of them, even if I've read them several times. Ask my wife, who gets dizzy just walking in there.

I think the thing that aggravates her most is that I keep adding to the collection. Sure, I have downloaded a few books to my phone for convenience's sake, but I suspect I will never grow tired of the feeling of turning pages in a book and reaching into the shelves for a favorite title I can both see and touch.

The epitome of publishing is when electronic communication and traditional print communication complement one another. You may not realize it, but it happens all the time.

When I first started researching my family history several years ago, I began with family journals and handwritten letters. That led me to Internet search engines and message boards, which contained listings of library collections.

Many of these private genealogies have not been converted into digital form. Some are handwritten or typed and are the only surviving copies, sitting on a library shelf somewhere. But using the vast resources of the Internet, I can find them and go where the words are.

That is why I spent hours poking through the shelves of libraries in North Carolina a few years ago, reading the words written by distant cousins I discovered first through the Internet, then in detail through the actual printed document.

So whether you're into eBooks, dog-eared paperbacks or that precious decades-old reference book, do yourself a favor and just keep reading. Read at home, at the office, at your local library or wherever possible.

And remember to give thanks for people like Jim Dunlevey, who this week completed a 12-year stint as president of the Friends of the Sun City Library, and Linda Denver, the group's new president. Through the hard work of these individuals and others, the Menifee community has a new library building, a wonderful library collection, and many community programs promoting reading.

One of those will take place this Saturday, Jan. 21, when the library hosts its first meet and greet event featuring local authors. Fifteen authors from the Menifee area will be at the library from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., giving residents a chance to meet and chat with them.

Take advantage of such opportunities. Visit the Sun City Library when you get a chance. And most of all ... read, read, read.

A Doug's Life: Can't We All Just Get Along?

And here all this time, I thought I was moving to the peaceful outskirts of society.

Oh sure, it's nice and quiet around my place at night. I can look up and see the stars, which rarely make an appearance in the night skies of the San Gabriel Valley. An afternoon stroll around the neighborhood is quiet and restful. Even in the more crowded "downtown" section, people generally are friendly and polite.

But you know what else I found? You folks can be downright feisty when you've a mind to be.

Donna complains on this website about the lack of dining choices in Menifee. Sam says it's not an issue. Jane wishes for a Panera Bread cafe in town. Josh whines that this would just add to the traffic problem.

The city announces that Panera Bread is coming to town. Jordan says, "It's about time." Jenny responds, "Not in the Marketplace! Where are we supposed to park?" Gloria says, "Our community needs the business." Chris responds, "Hey, mind your own business!"

(OK, so the names have been changed to protect the innocent and some of the comments have been embellished. But you get the idea).

Mary wants a Wal-Mart. Joe hates Wal-Mart. Rick says to widen Newport Road. Sue says that's a waste of time; build a freeway overpass at Holland Road.

Hector says they're all wrong. Just head south to Scott Road, make a right, make another right, turn left at the railroad tracks, hike across the creek bed, skateboard down Haun Road, and you'll avoid a lot of the traffic.

More housing. Less housing. Compete with Temecula. Don't become another Temecula. Where's the theater? Who needs a theater?

And of course the latest controversy: Should we allow a tattoo shop in Menifee? Does it matter if it's near a church? Will it be a "bad influence?" Are those who oppose it simply ignorant?

Jason: "It will be a haven for drugs." Julie: "Your drug-dealing neighbor is the one you should be worrying about. Jack: "You're an idiot." Jane: "AND SO'S YOUR OLD MAN!"

Welcome to paradise.

Actually, I'm not surprised. In fact, it's kind of refreshing to realize that no matter where you live -- and no matter how many horses there are per square mile, or tattoo parlors, for that matter -- people are people. Get two or more of them together and the conflict ensues.

I suppose if I had continued to settle into the peaceful existence of Menifee without ever hearing so much as an argument over a parking spot at the Super Target, life would've become boring sooner or later. And believe me, having worked as a journalist for more than 30 years, I'm used to people complaining.

So in that regard, I feel like I'm getting a little slice of home cooking from the old neighborhood. It's kind of like reality followed me out here. Maybe that isn't a bad thing.

But to all the rest of you, as an "outsider," I would say this: Exercise your right to free speech, but respect the other guy and avoid name-calling. OK, so you're convinced you're right and he's wrong. In the end, the two of you alone are not going to decide things. Once you, the other other guy and several thousand others make their feelings known, these issues are decided by city officials, in a courtroom, or by someone who has a lot more money than the rest of us.

I'm not here to pass judgment on how many businesses we should have in town, what those businesses should be, or how long the left-turn lanes at Newport and Haun should be. I haven't been here long enough to make an informed decision on a lot of these things.

I'm just a guy who found a town with a lot of things I like -- enough things to make up for the few I don't like. If I can help change the negatives into positives, I will. But in each and every issue, I will continue to play the role of the objective journalist and try to see both sides.

I wish more people would try to do the same.