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INDIANAPOLIS – Federal health officials report a disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths occur in the nation’s nursing homes, but the agency tracking their morbidity rates maintains a database riddled with incomplete information and errors.

STILLWATER, Okla. – The governing board of Oklahoma State University Friday ordered the removal of the name of the state’s 9th governor from campus halls because of his racist reputation.

Some events have the power of a match set to a mountain of dry wood. The video from Minneapolis, showing a police officer killing George Floyd in broad daylight, his knee pressed hard onto a handcuffed man’s neck as he pleads to live, all 8 1/2 minutes of it — this has been such an event.

Let’s not sugarcoat it. Your last semester in high school has gotten demolished by a global pandemic and it is wickedly unfair. Your graduation is now a drive-thru, your prom is imaginary, and instead of spending your last semester of senior year hanging out with your friends and taking a victory lap, you spent it in your bedroom doing classwork over Zoom and making Tik Tok videos.

MOODY, Ala. – A veteran Alabama police officer was shot and killed Tuesday night in a standoff between police and two suspects at the Super 8 motel in this suburban community 22 miles east of Birmingham.

George Floyd's death at the hands – or rather the knee – of Minneapolis police office Derek Chauvin has sparked protests nationwide, including some looting and destruction of property in my hometown of Dallas. I do not condone senseless violence, but I understand some of the rage and frustration that fuels it.

“I am an old woman, named after my mother… Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery… To believe in this living is just a hard way to go.”

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Jeffrey Gerritt, editor of the Palestine, Texas, Herald-Press, has won this year’s National Headliner Award for editorial writing, one of the most prestigious honors in American journalism.

General Motors announced Friday it is bringing back 1,000 workers at two plants in Indiana to begin making ventilators for critical-care COVID-19 patients struggling to breathe and stay alive.

Health care dominated political dialogue leading up to the coronavirus crisis this month and if voters in the nation’s heartland are an accurate yardstick, the struggle over the best way to provide it will escalate on the road to November's election.

GREENTOWN, Ind. -- With their vows read and rings exchanged, Henry and Emily Riffles sealed their first moments of married life with a kiss Saturday, the wedding party and family looking on from proper social distance.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, officials connected with the state prison system said Sunday.

GLASGOW, Ky. – Ronnie Ellis, an accomplished Kentucky political reporter, died Monday at a hospital in his hometown, two weeks before his scheduled induction into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. He was 68.

ALBANY, N.Y.  -- Human remains in New York could be legally turned into compost as an alternative to burial or cremation under legislation introduced in the state legislature.

On learning Russia had staged a massive disinformation campaign in the 2016 presidential election, schools across the country began adding digital literacy classes to their course offerings.

LOCKPORT, N.Y. -- It happened again this morning. Just after dawn my youngest daughter was whisked away in a yellow bus to spend the day at one of the most socialist institutions on our city: Lockport High School. 

For decades, the nation's media have covered, and amplified, the controversies of rap music, from the hype of the East Coast-West Coast rivalry that framed the murders of rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. in the 1990s, to last year's murder of Los Angeles rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle.

CHAMPLAIN, N.Y. — Nolan LaValley, blind since birth, does not let his disability keep him from bowling and enjoying a sport he has learned from his high school coach and teammates.

OLIVE HILL, Ky. -- It had the trappings of a scene from The Natural. A hand-crafted bat made from scratch for Tim Johnson’s son J.T.’s summer season in the North Carolina North State League, showcase for college baseball players with big league dreams.

It wasn’t “Wonderboy” made for Roy Hobbs from a tree split by lightning. But it lickety-split earned the reputation of whim-wham lumber from J.T.’s Piedmont Whitetails’ teammates, including the winner of the league’s 2019 home run derby.

From there, word of mouth spread so fast that Tim Johnson’s woodworking hobby moved to the early stage of a budding bat production company, making customized and model bats for baseball and softball players of all ages.

Located in the northeast Kentucky hamlet of Olive Hill, the informally named Big Johnson Bat Company includes marketing maven Madison, Johnson’s niece and a softball player at Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Kentucky. She sells Johnson bats like they were hotcakes cooked in pork fat.

“I had to tell her to quit,” said the 54-year-old Johnson. “I couldn’t make them as fast as she sold them.”

With the assistance of his brother Shawn, Johnson fastidiously lathes blank cylindrical billets of ash or maple into sanded, customized bats, each taking three to four hours. Duplicates of non-customized bats take 20 minutes on a duplicator, a machine designed to ensure the legs on a chair are identical.

Customized bats are made to a hitter’s preferred length, weight and sweet spot. A wood-burning pen brands the barrel, then Johnson hand rubs each bat with seven or eight coasts of lacquer, a task performed in the bathroom of the family home because there’s too much humidity and dust in his workshop.

Johnson’s “plant” is his 576-square-foot garage, jammed with various machines, prototypes, raw wood, tool chests and a refrigerator for drinks in one corner. To cross the sawdust blanketed workspace, you carefully set your foot with each step.

Making bats is Johnson’s night job. During the day he’s an administrator for three area vocational schools, meaning he starts his bat-making around 4 p.m. He normally turns out two customized bats before calling it a night, though he’s made as many as five hand-turned bats in one very long night, an experience he doesn’t plan to repeat.

Johnson works on and off during the week, unless “Madison goes back to a selling rampage, then it’ll be every night.”

The Johnson customized bat sells for $125. Madison-designed bats for training, with an enlarged sweet spot, go for $75. One-handed bats cost $50. Johnson also makes long, lightweight fungo bats for hitting practice balls to fielders.

The Johnson brothers learned wood working at a young age, assisting their father, who owned a used furniture store that included refinished antiques. They also played baseball in high school and college before taking up successful high school coaching careers. That background has been helpful in bat production, said Tim Johnson.

“I know what a bat needs to feel like,” he said, “if it needs to be balanced or end-loaded, how thick or thin a handle needs to be, if you need a cupped end, a smaller taper on the barrel or a longer barrel, and what type of wood has the qualities that would be most productive with each particular swing.”

Johnson never thought his bat hobby would go this far. Yet he plans to retire from his school administrator’s position sometime next year, then decide whether to make bats for a living -- with the help of his brother Shawn, son J.T. and niece Madison.

They already have a tee-shirt slogan, “Swinging hard wood.” Now all they need is a natural like Roy Hobbs to popularize the power of the Johnson bat.

Zach Klemme, sports writer for the Ashland, Ky., Daily Independent provided details for this story.  

 

Before dying of a methamphetamine overdose early on Aug. 1, 2017, La Salle County, Texas,  prisoner James Dean Davis, aka “Country,” moaned and yelled for most of the night. Sweat dripped off him in a chilly holding cell, as vomit ran red, like Kool-Aid, on the floor. 

DUNCAN, Okla. – The police clock read 9:55 a.m. Monday when a 911 caller reported an unidentified man and woman, walking calmly from the money center in Walmart to enter their parked car, suddenly were shot to death through the windshield.

If you live in non-metro or rural America, you’ve been left behind by the economic boom cycle that came after the Great Recession. You also endured a more severe recession than people who live in bigger cities.

At a May 2016 campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia, Donald Trump, the presumed GOP nominee for president, told the faithful: “If I win, we’re going to bring those miners back. You’re going to be so proud of your president. For those miners, get ready, because you’re going to be working your asses off.”

Yogi Berra once famously gave this puzzling advice to a college graduating class, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  The quip became lore, along with other Yogi-isms attributed to the legendary baseball player.

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