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Farewell Roger Angell, you helped me fall in love with baseball and writing

Roger Angell, the American essayist who wrote about baseball with insight, compassion and penetrating humor, died Friday at his Manhattan home. He was 101 years old.

He was one of my childhood heroes. I always dreamed of writing like him.

My father, Dusty Saunders, the longtime Rocky Mountain News reporter, who is 90, introduced me to Angell’s writing when I was a teenager. Over the years he gave me a number of Angell books. On Christmas morning 1988, her gift was Angell’s collection of essays, “Season Ticket”. My dad inscribed it with the words: “Love on Christmas, 1988. To my favorite sportswriter – Pops.”

I met Angell many years ago at Scottsdale Stadium before a Cactus League game between the Rockies and Giants. With his baseball cap, white mustache and round-rimmed glasses, I recognized him quickly. I introduced myself as a fellow baseball writer and tried to impress him with my memory of his words.

“I loved ‘The Summer Game,’ especially your 1962 Mets chapters,” I told him. “I still remember your line about Choo Choo Coleman, how he caught curve balls like a bee fighting man.”

He smiled at me, and at my effort, then corrected me. A little harshly.

“I believe I wrote that he handles curveballs like a bee-fighting man,” he said. “But thank you for reading my book.”

He was right, of course. I went back and looked at:

“The Mets capture is embarrassing. Choo Choo Coleman and Norm Sherry, the two receivers, bat .215 and .119 respectively. Neither can throw and Coleman, who is impatient and combative, handles a curveball like a bee-fighting man.

“He’s quick on the basics, but that’s an attribute that’s about as essential for catchers as neat handwriting.”

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