01/03/07 — The Big Red Read Machine meets United Way challenge

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The Big Red Read Machine meets United Way challenge

By Steve Roush
Published in News on January 3, 2007 1:56 PM

The mighty Casey might have struck out -- again -- but Jerry Narron hit a home run with more than 100 area children Tuesday afternoon.

The Cincinnati Reds manager and former big league catcher read books to local children at the Wayne County Public Library's Goldsboro branch as part of the United Way of Wayne County's Bring it On campaign.

He brought along baseball favorites "Casey at the Bat," "Mudball" and "Just Like Josh Gibson," as well as Dr. Seuss classics "Cat in the Hat" and "I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!"

The wide-eyed kids hung on the skipper's every word.

"Reading opens the doors to everything," Narron said. "For one thing, it helps you in school, but it's also great entertainment -- the enjoyment you get out of reading is so much greater than just watching TV."

Narron has hit home runs off of Hall of Famers and played with or managed some of baseball's best. He's used to arguing with umps or pulling double switches, but Narron admitted reading Dr. Seuss to an audience of children wasn't as natural as trotting out to the mound to yank a pitcher in the seventh inning.

"It's not as easy as I thought," he said with a laugh.

Narron read in red, Narron read in blue and Narron read in pickle color, too.

He just didn't do it with his eyes shut. After all, only the Cat in the Hat can pull that one off.

"I've got a lot of players who would love to see me doing this," he grinned as the big kids in the audience erupted with laughter.

"He's a great role model," said Maritza Davila, a manager at Starbucks who was on hand to help provide refreshments to the kids. "Many children perceive athletes as just bodies out there playing sports, that they're not smart or don't complete school. And for him to come out and do this, it sends a good message to the children."

Wayne County Public Library Director Jane Rustin said she hopes the message Narron delivered to the youngsters will never be forgotten.

"For somebody with the stature of Jerry Narron to be telling children how important reading is, it's a gift to the community and a gift to those children," she said. "We're really appreciative that he came here today and did that."

Assisting the Bring It On campaign, Narron agreed to do the story hour if the United Way of Wayne County raised 90 percent of its $1.44 million 2006 goal. Not more than a month ago, the total was hovering around the 60 percent mark.

It's currently sitting at 95 percent, campaign chairman Geoff Hulse said.

"The United Way does so much in our community," said Narron, who also signed autographs, posed for pictures and fielded questions from the kids. "And it's awesome the way the people in Wayne County support it. I just know, for me, what a big influence the Boys Club had on my life here in Goldsboro, and the United Way is a big contributor to that. I feel very blessed to have grown up in Goldsboro. It's got so many nice people who have helped me growing up and later in life."

For more information on donating, call the United Way office at 735-3591. Donations can be dropped off at the United Way office on William Street or mailed to the United Way at 308 N. William St., Goldsboro, N.C. 27530.