Neither one of them may ever hit a ball as far as the famous Casey, but both Hunter Owen and B.J. Wheeler now at least know there is a sequel to the famous Ernest L. Thayer poem of 1888.
The Roadrunner newcomers visited the Elsa Public Library Thursday to participate in the summer reading program’s book giveaway. The library won a grant from Reading is Fundamental (RIF) and all summer has been helping Delta youth get into books and reading with the funds received.
Dozens of kids from Monte Cristo Playschool, a local daycare, listened as Hunter read author Dan Gutman’s 2007 update on the classic baseball tale of the Mudville Nine. Both he and Wheeler autographed new, free books for the kids, with help from the team mascot, Rowdy the Roadrunner.
In part of their continuing outreach to the Valley community, the Runners came out to Elsa to do their bit in getting the youngsters into books. Hunter, from Jackson, Miss., and Wheeler, of Abilene, both said that they learned about the opportunity as the last minute, but were happy to pitch in.
Patty Flores, in charge of the summer program at the library, was encouraged by the players’ appearance.
“We have gotten a little more organized this summer, we got the grant and that helped,” said Flores, an Elsa native and Edcouch-Elsa High School graduate (1997). “The kids get excited when someone comes to visit, and sports being so big here, having baseball players come was really cool for them.”
After arriving at 1 p.m. with Runner staffer Amanda Brundige accompanying, the pair of Runners read to the group, helped them select their free books, and signed each copy for the affable crowd. Brundige, originally from Weslaco, is in her first year working for the team and is also a student at The University of Texas-Pan American.
Edinburg was scheduled to play Thursday night against Rio Grande Valley at the Stadium, and each of the newest reading experts has contributed since joining the squad.
Owen homered and had five hits his first two games three weeks back, and despite a wrist injury has been a welcome addition to the middle of the lineup. He is a 24-year-old outfielder from Millsaps College in Mississippi. Wheeler played at Cooper High in Abilene and then at Oklahoma City University. The shortstop has lent a steadying influence to the middle infield after coming to the Runners 10 days ago.
Though the pair expressed a bit of confusion at how they got to the library - Elsa is off the beaten path, down 107 heading west, and the library us tucked away down bumpy Mile 6 Road - they were good sports about the afternoon’s activities.
The pro baseballers invited all the readers out to the Aug. 9 home game, free of charge, and as the team looks to solidify its presence in the community, such events will surely earn it some brownie points.
Before the latest season began, the Runners appeared at the courthouse on the square to hand out tickets, and Rowdy showed up at the Edinburg Public Library in May to drum up support.
Additionally, several members rode in the Independence Day parade in McAllen July 4, and there was a get-together on Monday at Russo’s Pizza in Edinburg.