HARVARD — Worcester Tornadoes third-base coach David Smith spent an afternoon promoting baseball and reading at Harvard Elementary School. Linking athletics and academics, he said reading is exercise for the mind.
“It improves language and writing skills It’s all related,” he said.
Smith said he talks to students across Massachusetts during the team’s off season. The Tornadoes, managed by former Red Sox all-star Rich Gedman, belongs to the Canadian-American League. The playing season is Memorial Day to Labor Day. In addition to the talks, the off-duty roster includes a summer baseball camp at the park and after-school baseball clinics on the road.
“We care about you and what you do in school, your community and at home,” said Smith.
The team’s home field is Hanover Insurance Park in Worcester on the campus of College of the Holy Cross. The Tornadoes played its first home game in 2005 and won. It’s an independent team, Smith said, not tied to any major-league organization.
Thousands have seen the Tornadoes play over the last two seasons, but the team isn’t widely known.
“Believe it or not, some people don’t know we exist,” said Smith.
At one school he visited, in uniform as always, a first-grader said, “I know you You’re from that baseball team, the tomatoes!” Smith said it was nice to be recognized.
Smith drew parallels between sports and learning.
“I’m 45. Do you think learning stops then?” he asked.
The children answered, “No!”
Testing word power, he asked, “What does fluency mean?”
A boy answered, “To make something go smoother.”
Then Smith asked what it takes to be a good baseball player or a fluent reader. The answer is practice.
Smith said he planned a cruise to Alaska and read a book about it. The idea, he said, is to “expand knowledge” about history, people and places of interest.
“I don’t just read to read,” he said. “I read to learn.” There’s time, even in a busy schedule, said Smith.
“Just set aside 20 minutes at bedtime,” he said.
Smith had one more point to make about the lessons a story can teach. He read a story about a boy named Zach who went to a baseball game with his father. When a ball was batted into the stands, Zach’s dad caught it and gave it to him.
Suddenly, in his imagination, Zach was a pitcher on the mound. It was a memorable moment. Then he went home with the autographed ball. He treasured it for years, but one day it was gone.
Years later, Zach was walking by the park when a ball whizzed over the wall. He reached up. It landed in his hand. The ball looked familiar. It was his long-lost ball, and this time he’d caught it himself. He couldn’t wait to show his father. But then he saw a little girl with her dad. He gave the ball to her.
“What’s this story about?” Smith asked. Sports? Imagination? Yes, and one more thing.
“Generosity,” a student said.
“That’s right,” said Smith.