Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Hitting School
2008-04-10 06:20
by Alex Belth

When I was at the Stadium last week with Jay Jaffe two kids, must have been about six or seven-years old, sat nearby. They were dressed in Yankee gear, down to the batting gloves. I wondered what they would actually remember of Derek Jeter or Mike Mussina when they get older. It is possible to watch so many more games on TV today, I wonder if kids of this generation will have more than fleeting impressions of the stars of their childhood.

Probably not. I don't know how many times I actually ever saw Willie Stargell or Joe Morgan or Yaz actually play. But to this day, I can imitate their batting stance. It's like being able to do an imitation of Ed Sullivan or Richard Nixon--it doesn't necessarily have to be good or even competent to be recognizable. In a simple motion of twirling the bat around and shaking your ass you can instantly become Pops Stargell. It is something that you will be able to do until the day you die.

After work last night I walked from midtown through Central Park and east to the Frozen Ropes hitting cage located on York Avenue and 90th street, a place my father would have called "the ass-end of the planet." On the way, I passed an apartment building on 89th street between 1rst and 2nd avenues where, one summer in the early 80s, my father subletted an apartment for the summer, the year the USFL folded and I became addicted to Sports Center (Remember the days when Bill "Doran" Doran, Jose "Can You See?" Cruz and Chris Berman's other quips were something that you actually looked forward to hearing?).

Soon, I was standing over a tee with a ball on it in a mesh cage with a bat in my hands, imitating Don Mattingly's stance and using one of Mattingly's bats. Joe Janish, a public relation's man for Mattingly's line of "V-Grip" bats, met me at the hitting cage to demonstrate the product. Janish explained that when Mattingly played, he would shave the sides of his bad near the handle so a "V" shape was formed. This helped him keep his knuckles lined up on the bat and prevented him from holding the bat in the palms of his hands, which robbed him of his power and he met the ball. Later, when Mattingly saw his boys struggle with keeping their knuckles lined up properly he had the idea of designing his own line of bats.

This is the second season that Mattingly's bats have been on the market--almost all of their business comes from alumninum bats made for kids. Joe and I had a catch and then I hit off a tee and used a series of Mattingly's bats, as well as some regular ones--both wood and aluminum. I found the V-Grip to be perfectly agreeable.

Joe Janish is one of those resourceful men who has tried his hand at a lot of different things--editor and writer for a magazine about dogs, public relations man, writer, and web designer in the wine industry, coach and hitting instructor to young kids, Met blogger--and yet gives the impression that while he's good at many things he'd trade it in for being great at one thing.

Janish, 38, played baseball in college and still plays in a semi pro league (19 and up), "the guys don't really know how old I am," he says. "During my junior year in college I had scouts coming out to see me," says Jannish, a tall, athletic man who looks unremarkable but is not unhandsome. "Then I hurt my ankle, the scouts went away and they never came back. I was told that I was too old when I was 23. Can you imagine that? 23. I couldn't accept that."

So Janish continued to play baseball and has been a catcher to boot. Still is. "A glutton for punishment," he says with a shrug and smile. In his early twenties, Janish, a native of New Jersey, caught Jim Bouton (one of his childhood heroes), then over fifty and throwing mostly all knuckleballs, for two seasons, "maybe fifteen, twenty games in all."

I asked him if he had a hard time getting over not making it.

Jannish smiled sheepishly. "Why do think I'm still playing today?"

Most guys who continue to play hardball into their thirties, even forties if they are truly obsessed, cannot let go of the dream. The dream they once had of making it. Or maybe it was their father's dream of them making it. I have a friend that I went to high school who still pitches on the weekends. His father drove him hard when we were young, he internalized it, and won't let it be. He'll continue playing until his body quits on him.

What stands out most about these kind of guys is not so much that they are resentful or even desperate, it is that they truly consider themselves ball players. Luck and health and ambition and drive is what separates the success stories from the failures when you get to a certain level. But the ones who don't make a career out of playing the game can't just give it up. It is still an inherent part of how they define themselves, how they comport themselves.

"I'm so happy when I'm around baseball," says Janish. "I don't know what to do with myself in the off-season. A day without baseball is like missing a meal. Something is missing."

Playing baseball is something he is good at, something that makes him feel good about himself. Guys like Janish, or Bob Klapisch even, the columnist who is a committed semi-pro pitcher, feel and think like athtletes even if they weren't blessed with the talent, health, good fortune or mental fortitude to make it to the big leagues. And just because they are not professionals who says that they aren't entitled to define themselves as ballplayers? In fact, their commitment is almost more impressive than that of a professional because guys like Jannish structure their lives around the game, they don't get paid, they just get the satisfaction of playing.

I like talking about the game with jocks like Joe because they are unable not to give great players their due. Janish is not a fan of Alex Rodriguez on some level, but on another level he can't not be a fan because Rodriguez's talent is so compelling to a fellow player.

I also liked the camaraderie of being around a jock, of Janish placing ball after ball on the tee as I drove the ball into the net, the unspoken rhythms of me swinging, him placing another ball on the tee, us chatting, and then both of us bending down and picking up the scattered balls and putting them back in the bucket.

I did not have the confidence or physical stature as a kid to be a very good player, but I always had good mechanics and could at least fake being a good player. I looked like I knew what I was doing, at least at the plate. I was far more confident in the field.

It felt good being with Joe, hitting balls for the better part of an hour. I left duly impressed with Mattingly's bats and feeling good about hitting. Which is more than the Yankees can say. The Bombers were shut-out, 4-0, on a soggy night in Kansas City. The field looked like the Crash Davis and his pals had left the sprinklers on all night. But that didn't stop the young and energetic Royals from giving their fans--especially the brave souls who stuck it out for the entire game--something to cheer about. According to the Post:

"You look out there and those kids are run ning around like maniacs," [Jason] Giambi said of the youthful Royals, who have swiped six bases in nine attempts in the two games. "And we are looking like old men."

I keep figuring today will be the day that the offense wakes up. With a weekend series in Boston looming, it would behoove our boys to shake, rattle and roll over the Royals today, wouldn't you say?

Comments (52)
Show/Hide Comments 1-50
2008-04-10 06:25:08
1.   Shaun P
I don't know if its better for the offense to get shut out again, so they are good and angry going into Boston - or if that will just make them press over the weekend. They know they can score some runs, we know they can score some runs - now they just have to score some runs.
2008-04-10 06:34:12
2.   Yankee Fan In Boston
i'm 32 and play in a hardball league. i realized at an early age that i would never, ever enter a ballpark without paying admission. i didn't even play in high school, but when i moved to town a few years ago a friend asked if i wanted to play.

i am terrible. i hit a lofty .185 last season, but i can't express how much fun it is to put on a uniform and play a game of baseball with a bunch of great guys. win or lose, it is the perfect way to spend a sunday afternoon.

2008-04-10 06:34:34
3.   Alex Belth
It sure seemed like they were pressing some last night. Giambi swinging at the first pitch in the 9th with two men on and just one out? That's not you, G-Man, that's not you, Meat.
2008-04-10 06:35:47
4.   Alex Belth
Somewhere along the way I lost my desire to compete physically. Maybe it was breaking my foot playing pick up hoops ten years ago that got me gun shy. I'd like to go and watch some semi pro guys this summer. Like to see Klapisch pitch some time.
2008-04-10 06:38:51
5.   Andre
I'm hoping the early season matchup of yanks/sox wakes them up. Of course, it may do the same for the sox, but these yanks need some spark. Seems like this is the biggest problem with having all of these old guys on the team. They may be great ball players but it seems like they treat it like their job. They come to the park and play, but there's no fire there for most of the time. That's why they need stupid stuff like fights, HA!, etc. to wake them up.
2008-04-10 06:43:33
6.   liam
i dont know what to say about this start.. luckily i've had a full night to cool off. matsui, needs to DH. im sorry, its over for him. unless they want to teach him to catch a fly ball again, it needs to end. and the giambi experiment makes any team feel like they have a chance against us. trade him to san francisco, they love their washups there.
2008-04-10 06:43:37
7.   Sliced Bread
Nice piece of hitting and writing there, Alex. Friend of mine's father owned a batting range when we were in high school. A few of my friends worked there too, and my buddy's dad who owned the place would treat us to free hacks.
I don't think it made us better hitters because even at the high school level, live pitchers had a lot more going on than the pitching machines. Still we couldn't think of a better way to burn a summer night.

Speaking of pitching machines, this Farnswacker's something, isn't he?

and that Giambi quote makes me want to beat my computer with one of Mattingly's V-Grip jobs.

2008-04-10 06:47:11
8.   rbj
It seems, not just this year but the last few, that the Yankees have been giving away at bats at times, swinging at first pitches, just going up there to hack. There doesn't seem to be a concerted effort to wear down the opposing pitcher as they did during the championship era. I realize there are going to be many 1 2 3 innings, but a four pitch inning like the other night?

Anyone know what the pitches per plate appearance stat is for the last few years?

2008-04-10 06:48:48
9.   weeping for brunnhilde
My first apartment in Manhattan was on 89th and 2nd! 300 East 89th St.

Fifth floor, railroad, $700 a month (1992 dollars), which I shared with a friend from high school. There was a wretched, wretched old lady across the hall. Deranged. Collected garbage. If we had the ill-fortune to come out of the apartment when she was active and her door was open, we had to endure one of the most powerful stenches you can imagine: urine mixed with God knows what else.

It was profoundly sad and disturbing.

2008-04-10 06:54:11
10.   weeping for brunnhilde
1 Joe II looked pretty perturbed last night taking questions, fwiw.
2008-04-10 07:05:51
11.   OldYanksFan
Another shocker:
"Orlando Hernandez is out indefinitely with a strained tendon in his troublesome right foot, another blow to the New York Mets' pitching staff."
2008-04-10 07:06:03
12.   horace-clarke-era
8 I have a different take on this. Yankees are well-known for taking pitches (most of them) and wearing pitchers down. As a result, pitching coaches urge their guys to deal dead-strikes on pitch one a LOT. Swinging early is an anticipatory adjustment for someone like Giambi or Posada. And I'm not sure it is such a bad idea to go up with that awareness. The issue, obviously, is that - as Ted Williams said - hitting a baseball is the hardest thing in sport.
2008-04-10 07:08:33
13.   Josh Wilker
Enjoyable piece, Alex. When I think of Mattingly's physical stance I always think of his "mental stance," which I recall him describing as being something like a prelude to an attack. He was ready to rip the pitcher apart. This stood in stark contrast to Boggs, who was on record as saying he was up there thinking that he was on defense, trying to stave off an attack. I always thought this was a fundamental difference in the two men that showed itself in '86, when Boggs protected his batting title lead over Mattingly by being "hurt." I was at the last game of that year, and Mattingly batted leadoff and drilled balls all over the yard, but still fell a little short to the Chicken Man.
2008-04-10 07:10:55
14.   horace-clarke-era
I didn't see the Girardi conference but if he did look or sound agitated or upset I think it is just wrong. I have no idea how a get-it-going manager attitude helps people hit. I have said here before that Torre deserved Manager of the Year last year for keeping his and the team's cool during a MUCH worse start. That equilibrium and experience is what led directly to the surge (maybe a loaded word these days!) later.

Last night we had a mangled pitching situation (over managing) and faced a possibly legitimate ace (and a feel-good story, actually). We are 4-5 not 1-7. If our pitching holds, the hitting will arrive. Ommmm.

2008-04-10 07:10:59
15.   Yu-Hsing Chen
god, it's early but this have been pretty frustrating to watch. though if the pitching stays good and the offesnse to suck for the whole year they should be fine.
2008-04-10 07:11:23
16.   Sliced Bread
12 probably one of the hardest things to coach, too, especially to a veteran hitting corps(e).
2008-04-10 07:13:16
17.   3rd gen yankee fan
Last night, when I arrived at Kaufmann and looked out onto the field, I got the same old excitement and had the same old thought: "There's my boys!" I thought last night was the night when they would kick it into gear. I thought the rain was supposed to hold off until 9pm. I thought Ian couldn't possibly be as bad as his last start. I was wrong in so many ways. Now I have to go to work and face those KC cretins who still haven't forgiven us for 1977. Yeah you won two games in a row, you're well on your way to the playoffs.

But no I'm not ready to explode the team. It's April after all. I just wish they'd start hitting!

2008-04-10 07:20:18
18.   Yankee Fan In Boston
16 well played.
2008-04-10 07:25:15
19.   weeping for brunnhilde
2 Hey, YFB, you have all my admiration. That's great!

Tell me, though, how do you manage the fear of getting drilled when you're up at the bat?

Because whenever I get grand ideas of finding a hardball league, I imagine my 35-year-old, 6-foot, one-hundred-fifty-five pound frame getting drilled (the arm the shin, to say nothing of the head) and that's the end of that fantasy.

I wince just thinking of it.

Do you get drilled? And does it kill?

Also, what do you attribute your low average to? Striking out? Fear of the ball and stepping in the bucket?

I'm curious because my five-year old and I play in the backyard so I'm always trying to improve my coaching eye.

2008-04-10 07:34:16
20.   dianagramr
Giambi's 2008 pitches per plate appearance lowest of career, swinging strikes highest of career (small sample size alert)

2008-04-10 07:39:02
21.   dianagramr
Yankees 2008 hitting, by # of outs (small sample size alert)

0 outs .299/.359/.477
1 outs .200/.240/.300
2 outs .222/.293/.300

2008-04-10 07:39:12
22.   Yankee Fan In Boston
19 y'know, it doesn't really hurt all that much. we make an effort to cap the talent level in the league (especially for pitchers) in an attempt to limit injuries, but these guy throw it as hard as they can.

i get hit at least once a season. you just walk it off. it stops smarting by the time you're standing at 1B.

plus, the bruises that show the seams of the ball get a lot of sympathy out of the wife, so there are benefits.

my low average is probably due to over thinking at the plate. i can't shut my head down. i also tinker with my stance way too much. if i could just get myself to walk up there and swing, i could soar to new heights...

...i'm talking .250 territory. yes. i dream big.

2008-04-10 07:41:29
23.   Schteeve
I firmly believe that the offense will warm up with the weather. Hopefully, the weather warms up soon.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of losing Posada, or having Posada be nothing but a shadow of his 2007 self. It will be profound.

2008-04-10 07:44:28
24.   dianagramr

ya know .... there's this thing out there called HGH ... :-)

2008-04-10 07:54:01
25.   Sliced Bread
23 I hope it's not the weather that's keeping the bats down. I mean, the other teams are finding ways to hit, and score runs against them, plus, it ain't exactly balmy on October nights around here.
I hate to think of this team as a thin-blooded, warm weather squad, or worse, an indoor team -- but some of these older guys might be better off at room temperature.
I prefer to view this as a collective slump that will be over soon.
2008-04-10 07:54:31
26.   Yankee Fan In Boston
24 keep talkin', i'm listening...

re: lack of yankee offense

i am clinging to the notion that all it will take is one high scoring game to turn this around.

also, if they can string together a solid stretch while the captain and jopo are shelved, the team's spirits will improve, possibly providing the spark people have been looking for.

(i hope.)

2008-04-10 07:54:53
27.   Raf
Why do we still play?

"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." - Jim Bouton

0 I was standing over a tee with a ball on it in a mesh cage with a bat in my hands, imitating Don Mattingly's stance

Which one? :)

2 I play in a hardball league myself (I'm 33). In my high school days, my coaches thought I was good enough to at the very least get a scholarship to a college (even back then, at that level, people were looking for lefties), but I was too busy chasing girls and drinking to commit to playing ball.

I've retired every year since 2000. But every year, when I am cleaning up around the apt, I come across a baseball. I pick it up, start rolling it around in my hand. Futzing around with it. Then I find my glove, put it on, pop it a couple of times. Go through my windup a few times. Then I pick up my bat. Start taking a couple of practice cuts... All this is usually followed by a phone call to one of my boys that #11 is back :)

Anyway, at this stage of the game, my arm hurts every time I throw. I wrecked my shoulder playing racquetball when I misjusged my location in relation to the wall. I've suffered pulls, strains and tears to my quad, hammies, calves and groin. I have a bone spur coming in my right heel. I have the range of a basset hound, due to all my leg injuries, as well as the weight I gained since I moved back to NYC.

But I am still addicted to the game. I will probably play until they bury me. Or at least until I can't hit the fastball :)

13 To be fair to Boggs, while I was annoyed at the time, I understand that he was resting for the playoffs, and it made no sense for him to potentially injure himself for a batting title. Had the Yanks been a bit closer in the standings, I could see him playing, but it wasn't really necessary.

19 I stand off the plate so I don't worry about getting drilled. But it's not really a thought that enters my mind. Always look fastball, and if one gets away, I'm quick enough to move. Matter of fact, I can't remember the last time I was hit.

2008-04-10 07:59:57
28.   weeping for brunnhilde
24 Ha ha ha hah aha ha ha!!!
2008-04-10 08:00:59
29.   Yankee Fan In Boston
27 "I can't remember the last time I was hit."

i don't always make a whole hearted effort to avoid getting plunked. especially if there are 2 outs. i have to be somewhat creative when it comes to getting on base.

2008-04-10 08:06:07
30.   weeping for brunnhilde
27 That's a great picture, Raf! It makes me smile.

You're a rockstar up there!

Yeah, the pain. I get that from softball but I just will myself through it.

One game I was so lame I couldn't play the outfield but refused to come out of the game so I pitched, which I suck at.

Adrenaline and whatnot, though, I was lunging all around out there like a crazy person, practically stealing balls from the third baseman and popups from the catcher.

Oh, God, I miss it. I hope I get to play again this summer.

2008-04-10 08:10:24
31.   weeping for brunnhilde
27 That's cool. My kid's really good (I especially love his defensive swing--he's got a great way of fighting off tough, inside pitches. Does the old man's heart good.), and he's not afraid of the ball at all and sucks it up when I drill him (I'm really not a pitcher but I through hard, so this is one brave kid), but he does step in the bucket a lot.

Yesterday I had to reprimand him because he butt and the bat were going in two totally different directions.

Man, but he's gonna be a star someday, mark my words!

2008-04-10 08:16:41
32.   unmoderated
if you guys can ever find a cheap copy of "All We Had Was Us - " by Bob Whittemore, pick it up. (it goes for upwards of $400 on amazon)

Excellent story of our local semi-pro team the Milford Macs. (local as in Cooperstown NY area)

2008-04-10 08:16:59
33.   YankeeInMichigan
3 It's bad enough that LaTroy Hawkins takes over Paul O'Neil's number. Now Jason Giambi has to take over Carl Pavano's nickname?
2008-04-10 08:18:20
34.   unmoderated
also by Whittemore is "Oneonta: A Baseball Town," which is the history of the minor league clubs of my little town. Great stories in there about Mattingly, Bernie Williams, and John Elway.

I have a funny Elway story involving strippers, Jack Daniels, and quarters that I'm saving for the next rain out.

2008-04-10 08:23:05
35.   dianagramr

Is it as funny as #467-#470 from last night?

... which made a dreary game a little easier to survive ...

2008-04-10 08:24:34
36.   unmoderated
35 i heard that, too.

the elway story is better, i think.

2008-04-10 08:24:36
37.   YankeeInMichigan
I turned on radio last night during the 8th and was impressed that Kennedy was still pitching. It wasn't until this morning that I learned that he had entered the game in the 6th.
2008-04-10 08:27:39
38.   tommyl
The hitting will come around. I've noticed they've just been missing a lot of the so-called "timely" hits. Best example I can think of off the top of my head is the AB with Cano with the bases loaded two days ago. He punches even a single there and the game is broken wide open. There have been a few other instances. That sort of thing just can't keep up. They've also hit some really hard hit balls that have been caught and I have yet to see a weird bloop single/double. I believe their BABIP is really low right now.

It'll come around, and I'm encouraged both by the pitching and Girardi's use of the pen. The bench on the other hand, well, why exactly wasn't Morgan Ensberg hitting for Giambi against the left last night? It'd be one thing if Giambi was raking, but he's on the wrong side of .100 at this point. What does he have, 1 hit?

Just remember guys, this time last year, Wang was on the DL, Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano were in our rotation and Mariano Rivera was giving up game winning HRs to Marco Scutaro. That should give some perspective :).

2008-04-10 08:31:52
39.   Adrian
Let's hope the Sox/Yanks rivalry heats up the bats a bit, huh?
2008-04-10 08:39:32
40.   Knuckles
Random random theory.
Most of the Yanks position players have not had to fight for a spot on the field (or even particular spot in the lineup) in years. With very few exceptions, they have all had solid to MVP caliber seasons within the past couple years…do you think this can, even subconsciously, lend itself to complacency through Spring Training and the early part of the season? They know they're in for a 162 game grind, and I wonder if some of them are mentally up for it yet.

The pitching on the other hand has been largely good, and the staff has a much different composition than the lineup- fired up young guys (Hughes/Joba), guys trying to make the squad (IPK, Ohlendorf), guys trying to prove they still have it (Moose, Pettitte), unflappable anomalies (Wang).

Just thinking out loud, but if there is any credence to my hypothesis, I hope the bats gear up, and soon.

2008-04-10 08:46:19
41.   tommyl
40 I don't think that's it. Numerous players this year showed up in much better shape. In addition, Abreu and Giambi are in their walk years, so they are in essence also playing for their next contract. The players who did have to fight for a job aren't really hitting either, though Duncan was ok (still upset he's down so Gonzo can GIDP ).

I think its just one of those statistical blips, which unfortunately has happened at the start of the season. If we had a 4-5 stretch in July with a few weak offensive games I don't think there'd be as much hand wringing.

An interesting stat on things like this concerns the Tigers. If you ask how many playoff teams have started the season 0-7, its not very many. But, if you ask how many playoff teams have lost 7 in a row at some point in the season, its a lot more, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it for a moment.

2008-04-10 08:52:58
42.   ny2ca2dc
I think Ensberg really is hurting - Ankle Sprain from running the bases... Pete Abe was playing it like it was roster shenanigans, but they did option Shelly and Ensberg is not on the DL, so maybe it is due to injury. Still odd though. But speaking as someone living with a badly sprained ankle right now, that shit hurts - and the twisting from a swing is murder.

Also, I'm hoping they're just trying to get AG a taste and try him out at the big league level - maybe see if he could stick or showcase him for a trade. Anything other than thinking he's a better regular starting option (in any way shape or form) than Wilson. Personally, I think AG sucks and is Nick Green II (Upside is Miggy Cairo).

2008-04-10 08:53:12
43.   dianagramr

re: your last paragraph ... you rang ...? :-)

2008-04-10 09:04:33
44.   tommyl
42 If Ensberg is actually hurt, and likely to miss a few games then the roster move is baffling. You shorten your bench further and its not like Ensberg missing a couple of games when he's healthy is the same as Jeter or A-Rod. If he has to miss more than a game, then why not DL him, keep Shelly up, see how AG does and reassess when Ensberg is ready to come off the DL. Then you send either Shelly or AG down.

As for giving AG a taste. He will never be anything but Miguel Cairo. He's 25 and hasn't managed to hit at AAA yet. I don't see how promoting him to the majors will do anything to change that. Duncan on the other hand has hit at the major league level, and hit well, with considerable power. He also fields RF better than we give him credit for.

2008-04-10 09:04:57
45.   Bama Yankee
27 Raf, here's a little something you might like:
2008-04-10 09:06:22
46.   JL25and3
42 "but they did option Shelly and Ensberg is not on the DL, so maybe it is due to injury."

Huh? Why does that suggest that he's injured? Wouldn't it be the other way around?

2008-04-10 09:11:34
47.   dianagramr
This was's 2007 (last year) comment on Gonzalez ...

"Venezuelan Alberto Gonzalez is an especially slick fielder who skipped a level and didn`t get blown away by Double-A, though his bat is still nothing special. He went to the Yankees in the Big Unit deal. Perhaps in a year or two he`ll be able to pry Miguel Cairo`s cold, dead hands off of the utility infield job."

2008-04-10 10:11:48
48.   Yankee Fan In Boston
45 beautiful.
2008-04-10 10:49:52
49.   Alex Belth
Dudes, Raf, Bama, you guys rock. The picture (s) are great!
2008-04-10 10:59:11
50.   ny2ca2dc
46 I know, it's a bit convoluted. Assumption would be Ensberg would be fine in a couple days, but wasn't right enough to PH last night. I don't think I'm correct, just wondering why the hell Ensberg wasn't hitting. But Joe has been real reluctant to PH thus far anyway, which is probably the real reason. Occam wins.
Show/Hide Comments 51-100
2008-04-10 11:50:33
51.   Bama Yankee
48 & 49 Thanks. I just hope Raf got a chance to see it...
2008-04-10 13:05:00
52.   Raf
45 hahaha! Thanks!

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