Onalaska author scores with baseball book – News & Observer

Bill Leonard has memories spanning eight decades, but few match the delight of his baseball years.

From watching a pre-Yankees Elston Howard field balls in Copeland Park to coaching opposite Jay Buckley, future owner of the nation’s largest baseball tour company, each precious recollection is preserved on the pages of his second book, “Baseball, A Love Story,” the La Crosse Tribune (http://bit.ly/2kuIt1v ) reported.

“I fell in love with baseball as a child,” Leonard said. “I played in the sandlots as a kid, in high school regionals. In college, baseball was my social life and my passion. I just loved it and I still love it.”

Leonard, 80, shares a similar love for the written word, and the Onalaska resident and former teacher, baseball coach and human resources professional became a self-published author in 2014 with “Growing up in Goosetown,” a memoir spanning 15 years of his early life in La Crosse.

“I thought, ‘I know my life — I might as well start there,'” Leonard said of his foray in the world of books. “There were many interesting things that happened (when I was growing up) and people I didn’t want to forget.”

Leonard followed his debut with “Baseball, A Love Story,” in 2015, followed by “A Tale of Two Fires” in October 2016, detailing the historic blazes of St. Rose Convent in 1923 and Lutheran Hospital in 1961. While each text is a labor of love, “Baseball” has proven both a personal and fan favorite.

“It’s definitely (the book) that gets the most reaction — it touches people because they lived that,” he said.

Indeed, the 200-some page book includes a list of 500 people “meaningful to me in a baseball or fast pitch context.” Notable names include famed players Damian Miller, Scott Servais and Chuck Hockenberry and Loggers owner Dan Kapanke.

Miller was a West Salem native who played baseball for Viterbo University. Later signed by the Minnesota Twins, he joined his first major league game in 1997, going on to earn a World Series ring in 2002 and coming “within a whisker” of becoming MVP in the All Star game that same year. Servais, who grew up in Coon Valley, played baseball at Westby High School before being drafted by the Houston Astros in 1988. He went on to play for the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies before becoming a manager in Major League Baseball. And former Onalaska High School player Hockenberry, who pitched in several games umped by Leonard, later joined the California Angels.

“There are some fantastic baseball stories in the community,” Leonard said. “This book is a celebration of a time in the late ’40s and early ’50s when baseball was really big. It was entertainment.”

During college, Leonard came close to playing professional baseball himself, and relished conducting the interviews and research for “Baseball.” The book is peppered with anecdotes and plenty of personal memories, related in his distinctive conversational style.

“When you’re writing you have to find a voice — I write the same way I talk to people,” said Leonard, who is never without pen and paper in case inspiration strikes. “My hobby is reading and writing.”

A voracious and eclectic reader, Leonard admires biographer Ron Chernow, novelist and playwright Sinclair Lewis and Charles Dickens, though he intends to continue writing La Crosse-centered non-fiction, with his current project focused on homelessness.

“Who are the homeless, how did they get that way, how can we help, who are the heroes? I’ve witnessed homelessness around the city, but when you start doing research you realize so much of it is invisible,” Leonard said. “Maybe writing about it is a way to make it more visible.”

Leonard tentatively expects the book to be finished next year. In the meantime, he will revisit “Baseball, A Love Story” during a reading, commentary and question-and-answer session, covering playground baseball through the major leagues, at 7 p.m. April 3 at the Onalaska Public Library.

“It’s like how you shouldn’t have a favorite child,” Leonard said of his treasured tome. “But “Baseball, A Love Story,” is like my favorite child.”

Information from: La Crosse Tribune, http://www.lacrossetribune.com

An AP Member Exchange shared by the La Crosse Tribune.

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