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Students report for spring training

Nobody leaves Marlene Logemann's third-grade class without learning at least a little something about baseball.

It's not that Logemann, a veteran teacher and former softball player, feels a responsibility to enlighten her students about America's national pastime. She puts "sinker" on her vocabulary list for a far less patriotic reason.

Come springtime, her students' minds start wandering, some of them to the ball fields where they play after school. Talking about baseball, she says, is a surefire way to hold their interest during reading, writing, math and geography lessons.

"By this time of year, the kids are like, "Ah, I don't want to do anything,' " Logemann said. "The kids like this."

For a few weeks each spring, the class book becomes Skinnybones, the saga of a scrawny Little Leaguer. Geography lessons focus on cities with Major League ball teams, while a discussion of percentages revolves around batting averages.

And when it's time to write, the Bauder Elementary students inevitably craft essays on the taste of ballpark hot dogs, the crack of the bat and, this year, the excitement of rooting for the home team at Tropicana Field.

For 9-year-old Nicole Nolan, nothing could be better.

"I think it's really fun because I play softball and my brother plays baseball so I like it," Nicole said.

The highlight of this year's baseball unit was a recent trip to Tropicana for a Devil Rays game. John Zimnik of American Express Financial Advisors Inc. got the students free tickets and a free ride to St. Petersburg on a double-decker bus.

The next day, Logemann had them writing about the experience. First, they penned thank-you letters to Zimnik.

Later, they practiced for the important Florida Writes test by describing their favorite part of the trip.

"Mine was when Quinton McCracken caught two fly balls," Chris Jenkins wrote, explaining that McCracken is his favorite player.

In their essays, the students had to follow the structure of the Florida Writes test, which the state uses to measure school performance. The timed essays must be organized and detailed, and Logemann asked the children to include similes.

"Boring as when a TV breaks," was the simile Nicole used to describe sitting through nine innings. But she said she would never refer to her class work that way.

"We all enjoy it," Logemann said. "And you know they're learning, because they can relate to it."