An Angel Tree Package for the Office

As the company has done for a number of years, a Christmas tree was put up in the lobby and, a few days after Thanksgiving, Angel Tree stockings were hung.

I had decided long ago to participate in the Angel Tree program this year and, when I was passing by the lobby area on other business and saw they were up, I stopped and spent a few minutes deciding upon which one to pick.

I chose, similarly to last year, a boy, eight years-old.  I signed my name to a sign-up sheet on the front desk, and, with a spring in my step, back to work I went.

There wasn’t any guidance with the stockings as there were with the Angel Tree tags a few years ago.  Those tags indicated ideas for toys and clothing sizes.  I had to operate blindly, but I was fine with that.  You see, I already had a half-dozen items at home for my Angel Tree recipient.  I wouldn’t say I had a plan for the recipient, per se, but I knew this was something I wanted to do, and since I knew it was something I wanted to do I saw no reason not to start buying items.  And if there had been guidance, the recipient was still going to receive the things I had bought.

I didn’t have a budget.  Instead, I was going to buy strategically.  Like last year, I was going to do a box of stuff.  If I was out at a store and I saw something that intrigued me, I would buy it.  In October, then, I started buying items here and there, so by the time the stockings were hung on the tree I had a box of stuff ready to wrap.

That was my strategy, then, and when I was done the recipient would receive a wrapped box, he would unwrap it to find the box was filled with more wrapped boxes, and he would then unwrap another half-dozen interesting things.  An eight year-old, receiving an Angel Tree package from the Salvation Army, probably wouldn’t be looking at the brightest Christmas. Every little bit helps.

With the Angel Tree gifts due at the office on Monday morning, Wednesday night after work I sat down and started wrapping.  I gathered up the wrapping paper out of my coat closet — most of it Peanuts related — and found my Scotch tape.  plugged in my Christmas tree, and queued up Christmas-themed episodes of The Thistle & Shamrock to really get the festive spirit going.  Time to go to work. :)

This is a complete overview of the items I had on hand:

For those who wonder about these things, the part of my living room bookshelf you can see holds part of my Beatles library.  (There are more Beatles books in my bedroom.  And my dining room.  I have Beatles books everywhere.) From the left, there’s Philip Norman’s Shout!, then Mark Hertsgaard’s A Day in the Life, and next to it is Bob Spitz’s biography of the Beatles.  Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In is on that shelf, as is Ray Coleman’s Lennon.  The missing book (seven spots over from the left) is Ian McDonald’s Revolution in the Head Third Edition as that’s presently in my bedroom; I was rereading the entries on “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” recently due to the 15th-anniversary of George Harrison’s death.

Let’s take a look at the items individually, and I will muse upon them as I go.

First up, a Rey puzzle based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Rey puzzle

I also had a Finn puzzle.  The Rey and Finn puzzles were actually the last two items I bought for the package.

Finn puzzle

One of the first items I bought was an Australian collection of Peanuts comic strips.  I found this at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, and it was all of two dollars.  “This is nice,” I thought, and I thought it would make a good Angel Tree gift.

Peanuts collection

Also found at Ollie’s, but not on the same trip, nor the same Ollie’s, was this Matchbox-esque car!  They had all of these baseball die-cast cars, and I couldn’t find any for any team I liked.  If I wanted the Phildelphia Phillies or the Texas Rangers or the Miami Marlins or the Houston Astros, they had plenty of those.  Cubs or Nationals?  Heaven forfend!  But they also had this 2012 World Series car.  “Why not?” I said.  “Kids love Matchbox cars.”  And yes, I’m well aware that this one is by Lionel, not Matchbox. :)

World Series Lionel car

Next up, a coloring book!  I picked this up on the same Ollie’s trip where I picked up the Peanuts collection.

Justice League coloring book

Coloring books require crayons!  This was one of the last items I bought.  I picked these up at the 5 Below across the street from Diamond’s offices.

Crayons

While I was at 5 Below, I also picked up this Spider-Man action figure.  Kids love Spider-Man, and kids love action figures. :)

Spider-Man action figure

A DVD!  This is the Babar movie from a few years ago.  (Come to think of it, I’m surprised there hasn’t been a live-action Babar movie along the lines of the recent Paddington Bear.) When I was young, I loved Babar, so this was an easy choice.  I think it was three dollars at Big Lots.

Babar movie

Kids need stuff to build with, and I was intrigued by this Mega Bloks set.  This also came from Ollie’s, and it was the most expensive item in the box (at seven dollars).  I got this at the same time as the World Series Lionel die-cast car.

Mega Bloks Jeep

And we need a book!

Also from the Ollie’s trip where I get the Mega Bloks set, I found a book on baseball for young readers — Michelle Green’s A Strong Right Arm, a biography of Negro League pitcher Mamie Johnson, a woman who played for the Indianapolis Clowns in the 1950s.  I read it after I bought it — it’s not very long and it’s written for young readers — and I quite enjoyed it.  The book talks about growing up in the segregated South in the 1940s, discovering one’s talents, and pursuing one’s dreams.  Though I don’t know who is receiving the book, I saw important messages in the book for everyone.

A Strong Right Arm

And with that, my wrapping was done!

Oh, I still had the Sega All-Stars die-cast of Tails, but I had no idea how to wrap that due to the shape of the package and, as I would soon discover, I wouldn’t have had room for it in the box.

Pile of presents

Then I selected a Christmas card out of my collection and began to pen a letter from Santa Claus.

This is something I’ve done with the two Angel Tree packages I’ve done.  I was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas, and the first two I did were quite elaborate.  They weren’t illustrated like Tolkien’s — I’m a shite artist — but I spent time talking about what life was like for Santa Claus.

For this card I wrote about how the elves were loading the toys in the sleigh, how the gnomes were making the final pre-flight checks, and how Mrs. Claus was shoving Santa out the door.  Christmas, after all, is the one time of year he gets him out of the house. :)

The card written, I filled the Diamond shipping box, used a little bit of filler paper, taped it up, and wrapped.

Wrapped box

Again, for people who care about such things, the bookshelf to the right is my graphic novels bookshelf.  It’s largely alphabetical, and you can see my Hellboy and Invisibles collection at the top (there’s a Batman shelf above it), Lucifer and The Maxx on the next shelf, and my Sandman boxed set below that.  On the bookshelf to the left, there are Doctor Who books visible at the top (with a shelf of Sherlock Holmes books above that), Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books (in their Dark Horse editions) and Michael Moorcock’s Elric books (in their Del Rey trade paperback editions of a few years ago) on the shelf below that, and Fantagraphics’ Peanuts Every Sunday collections and my Harry Potter collection, with a selection of Panini’s Doctor Who collections in between.

I didn’t keep track of what I spent, but it was right around thirty dollars.

I killed one roll of wrapping paper.  I had bought a new roll just in case — Peanuts, unsurprisngly — then never used it.  The roll of Scotch tape was much diminished when I was finished.  And I limited myself to a single bottle of Highland Brewing‘s Oatmeal Porter as I wrapped.

Satisfied with my work, I sat on my couch and listened to Archie Fisher talk about Christmas in Glasgow on The Thistle & Shamrock.

Thursday morning I took the package into the office and dropped it off with Human Resources.  I had done my duty, I had brightened a stranger’s Christmas (or would, two weeks hence), and I could get on with the business of sending my publications to press.

Publishing.  It is merciless with its deadlines. :)

Joe Buck, a Jeremiad

Last night, I reached my limit with Joe Buck.

I’ve never really minded Buck.  As broadcasters go, he’s wallpaper to me.  I think I even felt a little sympathy toward him because he so often had to share a booth with Tim McCarver and then Harold Reynolds, either of whom was prone to incoherent babble.  Listening to McCarver or Reynolds call a baseball game, I knew what it was like to be tormented for all eternity by the Elder Gods.

This World Series, partnered with John Smoltz, he hasn’t been bad.  If I had a criticism of his work through the first five games, it was his tendency to push the “narrative” of the game, as though it were a novel with a linear plot, and his singling out of certain players and showering them with man-crushes (cf. Kyle Schwarber, Corey Kluber) whether appropriate to the situation or not.  (Buck’s man-crush on Schwarber is so out of hand that someone has set up a joke wedding registry for Buck and Schwarber on Bed, Bath, and Beyond’s website.  Seriously.) But I overlooked these things, as they brought Buck out of his wallpaperish, droning monotone.

Last night, because the game was out of reach of the Indians by the start of the second inning, Buck had nothing to do but yammer incessantly.

And yammer he did!

Buck was like listening to Vogon poetry.

It was as though he felt a need to be the star of the show because the show itself — the World Series, Game Six — wasn’t going to hold people as the outcome was never in doubt.  (And, to be fair, I wasn’t watching intensenly after the fourth; I sketched out some WordPress ideas and wrote out my to-do list for work.) Did a lightbulb go off in Buck’s head?  Did he think to himself, “I have to hold the audience on my own, with the Power of My Voice!”  Because that’s really what it felt like.

Joe Buck is not Sir Christopher Lee.  He can not hold, has never held, anyone with the power of his voice.

The pictures can tell the story.  Silence has its place, and it’s a powerful narrative tool.

Game Seven Buck is going to be a monster, isn’t he?  If it’s close, if there are lead changes and two-out rallies, he’s going to be like a wind-up monkey toy.  And if it’s out of reach, he’s going to spend his time talking about the historical import of the inevitable victor.

I wonder if there’s a radio station carrying the game locally, because I don’t know that I can handle any more of Buck’s Vogon poetry…

My Wild Card Predictions

This weekend I was rooting for UTTER CHAOS!  I wanted a four-way tie for the American League wild card and a three-way tie for the National League wild card.  I wanted the Tigers to play a make-up game today.  I wanted tiebreaking games 163 and 164.  I wanted CHAOS!

Instead, the season ended quite calmly.  The Giants secured the second wild card in the National League with a win over the Dodgers (and watching Cardinals fans explode on Twitter with accusations that the Dodgers threw the game because they were afraid of the Cardinals in the post-season was hilarious).  Meanwhile, the Orioles secured the second wild card in the American League with a win over the Yankees.  The teams who controlled their fate did what they had to do.

The post-game celebration by the Orioles (and, really, any wild card team) seems absurd to me.  All the team did was to advance to an artificial game 163, a Baseball Thunderdome.  They go wild and trash a clubhouse because they get to play one more game.  Go wild and celebrate when you win that Baseball Thunderdome and advance to the Division Series.  The post-game celebration seems wildly out of proportion to the accomplishment.

Preface out of the way, here are my Wild Card predictions, fully cognizant that the Wild Card game (and baseball’s postseason in general) is a crapshoot.

American League: Toronto over Baltimore, but if you ask me ten minutes from now I can easily pick Baltimore; that’s how evenly matched these two are.  I feel that Toronto has an edge in pitching, while Baltimore has an edge in offense.  If Toronto can keep the Orioles from smacking the ball out of the park, then Toronto will control the game.  This is the game that can really go either way, but I think, right now, it will be Toronto’s game.

National League: New York over San Francisco.  The Mets have been on a roll in the month of September (only a few weeks ago I’d have thought they would miss the postseason altogether), while the Giants squeeked in by winning three must-win games after an historic epic near-collapse.  (Seriously, they were running away with the National League West.  And then they couldn’t remember how to win.) So, I expect the Mets to continue to roll, with Asdrubel Cabrera powering the Mets attack on the Giants.

Rebel Rebel

Today was Purple Friday at the office.

As will many more Fridays over the coming months.

It baffles me at times that, at the office, whenever the Baltimore Ravens play a home game we can were Ravens gear, but Orioles gear happens only once a year, on Opening Day.

What’s especially baffling is that our semi-retired owner is a part owner of the Orioles.  (I didn’t know that he still was, but the fact was mentioned in a recent Washington Times article about the Orioles’ poor attendance this year.) We support the Ravens, but not the Orioles.

Baltimore is, I suppose, a football town rather than a baseball town.

I’ve turned Purple Fridays into an act of civil disobedience.

I wear Washington Nationals gear.

I use the jersey as an excuse to wear a plain-colored t-shirt underneath.

The jersey hardly gets worn; I don’t want to work all day at my desk in a baseball jersey.  Instead, it goes on a clothes hanger.

And I get a dress-down day.

Sure, it’s a violation of the letter of Purple Friday.  But not the spirit.

I’m showing team spirit.  Just not for football.  And not for Charm City. :)

An Irish Weekend

Over the weekend, I went to the Annapolis Irish Festival, an annual event held near Annapolis in mid-July.

This year, the scheduling caused some agony as the festival coincided with Shore Leave‘s weekend, back in July for the first time in a hemidecade, and Carbon Leaf, who are taking a sabbatical year, were playing a rare gig.

As friends were arriving at the Hunt Valley Inn for Shore Leave, I was heading down to Annapolis for a weekend of fun.

There was music.  There were bagpipes.  There was beer, though not a great selection; the only stout was the Armchair Nitro Stout which I found uninspiring.  It was what I needed.

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Friday night’s headliner, of course, was Carbon Leaf.

On drums for Carbon Leaf was Scott Devours, a session musician who’s worked on tour with Roger Daltrey and The Who. He looked like someone who was having the time of his life.  The band’s drummer, Jason Neal, recently (as in, within the last two weeks) became a father.

When Carbon started to play, I felt so tremendously happy.  They played a nice mix of songs over the two hours.  One surprise was “Lake of Silver Bells.”

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Near the end, Scythian came out and joined them for two songs, a ten-ish minute jam on “Let Your Troubles Roll By” and then the rarely played “Oi” from Ghost Dragon Attacks Castle.

I bought the USB stick with a live recording.  It has some glitches (three files won’t open and there’s a speed issue on a fourth), but the rest is solid.  Totally worth it. Any misgivings I had about skipping Shore Leave were gone.

Saturday morning, before The Annapolis Irish Festival resumed, I checked out a cemetery that was on a triangular piece of land where three busy roads met in Annapolis.  While cars whisked by, I took some photos.  It’s well-maintained, and I noted there were flowers and other momentos that had been recently left at some graves.

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There was a Greek Orthodox cemetery about a hundred feet away.  That one was fascinating as many of the monuments were written in Greek rather than English.  I did not take photos in that cemetery.

Saturday morning, there were again bagpipes from Chesapeake Caledonian.

There were a number of bands I saw — Barleyjuice, Scythian, Poor Man’s Gambit, and Cleghorn.

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Cleghorn was quite interesting.  They reminded me, sonically, of the 1960s mod rock band The Creation, but with some Pogues influence.

Other than the heat (95-ish degrees) and the humidity (easily 5,000%), Saturday was a wonderful day.  Even if I did feel physically grotesque and prone to melt.

Later in the day, I met a cousin!  My great-grandfather had several older siblings, and this cousin is descended from one of his older sisters.  She discovered me on Ancestry.com several months ago.  I knew there was a possibility of cousins down that line, as I’m aware of the possibility of other cousins from my great-grandfather’s siblings, but I had run into the wall of not knowing where to go.

Sunday morning I met some friends for breakfast in Hunt Valley, then went to the Hunt Valley Inn for the final day of Shore Leave.  I’d run into people who reacted with some surprise that I was there… then they’d tell me that they were leaving at that precise moment.

I didn’t have any real plans for Shore Leave.  The schedule for Sunday, to be frank, was a bit on the thin side, and I didn’t blame anyone for leaving early; had I been there all weekend, I would have left early, too.

Karen Gillan and her handler walked past me; I didn’t realize how tall Gillan was.

I attended John Noble’s talk, which isn’t the sort of thing I normally do.

I was telling someone this Sunday morning — I don’t collect autographs, I don’t usually attend the actor talks.  These things don’t interest me.  The one time I hopped in an autograph line, it was at Farpoint and it was because I wanted to talk one-on-one with Harve Bennett and tell him how much his work meant to me.  So why did I attend John Noble’s talk?  Even now, I’m not entirely sure.

Then I worked up the courage to ask Noble a question.

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Unfortunately, the woman in the question line in front of me asked roughly the question I’d intended to ask — would you like to return to Elementary and reprise the role of Morland Holmes (Sherlock Holmes’ father) and what direction would you like to take the character?

So I had to come up with a question on the fly.  And after rambling about how I’d been a Sherlock Holmes fan since I was a wee lad, how Elementary had built up Sherlock’s father as a dark unseen presence over the preceding three years and I wasn’t sure that any actor could live up to that, I was sold completely on Noble as Morland from the moment he first appeared with Jonny Lee Miller due to their chemistry, and could he speak to what it was like working with Miller and Lucy Liu.

Noble said that I paid him “a huge compliment,” then described Miller as “intense” and “not fuzzy”; he’s an intense actor playing an intense character and very focused, and after a scene he’d shake Noble’s hand.  Liu, on the other hand, is “all fuzzies” and “a great friend,” not to mention “fiercely talented.”

I’d love for Noble to return to Elementary.  In response to the question before mine, Noble said he expected Morland Holmes to die at the end of the season when he took the role, was surprised by how the season ended, and thinks the producers may have a follow-up arc in mind but they’ve not told him or contracted him.

I know how I’d want to see him return.  Sherlock Holmes’ father is now, essentially, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a role he’s taken on for the best of reasons — to destroy an international terrorist organization from the inside — and the question is, can Morland control the power at his disposal without succumbing to its temptations?  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Noble, by the way, is immensely personable and charming.

After Noble’s talk, with nothing else on tap, I went into Towson to see another Cal Ripken League baseball game — the Baltimore Redbirds were playing the Vienna Riverdogs in a double header.

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The Redbirds won game one, 2-1.  I didn’t stay for game two.  It had been a long weekend.  A good weekend.  But also a long one. :)

Celtic Festivals and Baseball Games

Yesterday I was in Mt. Airy, Maryland for the Mid-Maryland Celtic Festival.

I attended two years ago, when it was the Frederick Celtic Festival.  Same location — the Mt. Airy Fire Department Fairgrounds — just a slightly more accurate name.  Two years ago, a sudden torrential squall developed mid-afternoon, and it was so thoroughly soaking that my sneakers were never wearable again (not even after they dried) and my mobile phone fried.

This year, there were rain showers and thunderstorms in the forecast, so I went prepared — I had extra socks in the Beetle, and I had a Ziploc baggie where I could stash the mobile in case of downpours.

Though I didn’t buy a ticket for the Mid-Maryland Celtic Festival until last week, this had been on my radar for a while.  I skipped Shamrock Fest in March this year, and the Annapolis Irish Festival falls on the same weekend as Shore Leave this year.

The Mid-Maryland Celtic Festival is more Scottish-focused than Irish-focused — there are representatives of many of the Scottish clan organizations, there are Scottish games (caber tossing, hammer tossing, sheep tossing), and the opening ceremony features massed pipe and drum bands.  The Scottish saltire and the Royal Standard were far more common sights than the Irish tricolor, though it wasn’t absent, and the Welsh dragon and the Manx flag were also seen.

I was in Mt. Airy roughly when the gates opened at 9 o’clock. 

The field was populated with tents for the Clans, and beyond that were tents for the vendors.  As they did two years ago, Gordon had a Winnie-the-Pooh plush in a tartan; Milne is a sept family of Clan Gordon.

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In the activity field below, athletes were already competing in Scottish games.  They were throwing hammers this early in the morning.

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The bar apparatus for the sheep tossing was also set up.  Don’t worry, they didn’t use real sheep.  They used some stuffed thing that looked vaguely like a sheep.

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All in all, it looked like it was going to be a lovely day in Mt. Airy.

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Yes, the Beetle is in that picture.

One of the bands performing at the Mid-Maryland Celtic Festival was Barleyjuice.  I’ve seen them several times (Shamrock Fest, Annapolis Irish Festival) and they put on an energetic show.

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After the Barleyjuice set, the festival held the Opening Ceremonies on the athletic field.  Various groups were lining up to enter the field of ceremonies.

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First, the colors were presented.  The flags — a 15-star Ft. McHenry flag, the very striking flag of the Scottish American Military Society, and a POW-MIA flag — were paraded onto the field. 

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There was a definite martial aspect to the festival.

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The flags were followed by the pipe and drum bands.

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The pipe and drum corps were followed by the Clans.  As they paraded in, the bands struck up “Scotland the Brave.”

This parade also included Irish, Welsh, and Manx representatives, as well as Clan Woof-Woof, a “clan” of dogs.  There were a number of rescue organizations at the Festival, and dogs were a common sight throughout the grounds throughout the day.

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Each clan, when introduced, would shake their banner and shout out their war cry.  It stirred the heart!

After the Opening Ceremonies, I had lunch!

The Scottish Cottage of Asheville, North Carolina had a food truck at the festival, and I bought their Celtic Combo — Shepherd’s Pie, peat-smoked pulled pork, and haggis.  I’d never had haggis before, and I can think of some disgusting ways to describe how it looked, but no one ever told me that it tasted so good!

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There were some interesting cloud patterns moving in from the west.  During the opening ceremonies, two of the tents in what I termed “Military Row” blew over in the increasingly strong winds.  (“Military Row” was an area where various military organizations, like the Scottish American Military Society, had set up.)

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After lunch, I also tried mead!

I’ve had mead before — when I lived in Raleigh, World Market sold Chaucer’s Mead and, out of curiousity, I bought a bottle one day.  It was fine.  (That was also where I bought Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale which, let me be frank, is utterly wretched and should be an eternal embarrassment to whichever Python gave their approval to it.)

Boudica’s Uprising Honey Grail Sparkling Mead had a booth set up.  You bought a wooden tankard (which, despite the stainless steel interior, was more decorative than functional) and, at the beer booth, you received a pour.

It was nice.  Not really something I would drink regularly.  The tankard is now with my Maryland Renaissance Festival tankards.

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That tankard, by the way, was my only souvenir from the festival.  I didn’t see anything that I needed, nor did I see anything that I felt that I wanted.  There were kilts and other clothing.  There were jewelry and weapon vendors.  There were even vendors who had Scottish foodstuffs and Outlander-branded shortbread.  (There was a lot of Outlander stuff.) Nothing that I really wanted.  Nothing that I couldn’t do without.

By 1:30 — just an hour after the opening ceremonies — there was clearly a storm brewing.

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As the wind picked up, the Clans began tearing down their booths — one handed me a bunch of Walker’s shortbread saying, “Please take it” — and the vendors began to put up their sidebars on their tents.  The athletes in the Scottish games tore down the sheep tossing towers and stowed away the cabers.  People began to stream out of the gates, and there were traffic jams in the fields where people parked.

But the pipe and drum bands soldiered on!

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The winds were strong and biting, the rain began to fall, and they played on!

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I, myself, took shelter.  I caught the set of Craggy Island, named after the location in Father Ted.

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Rain fell, sometimes heavy, and Mt. Airy saw truly Scottish weather.

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About 3:45 the rains stopped, and the storm clouds blew through, with clear sky emerging in the west.

This was a good thing, as I had other plans for the day — since I was going to be in the Frederick area, I’d decided to take in a Frederick Keys baseball game.  The Keys, the High-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, were playing the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the High-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.  Baby Cubs and Baby Orioles!

So, after seeing some of Barleyjuice’s second set, I left the Mid-Maryland Celtic Festival and drove over to Frederick.

I’ve driven past Harry Grove Stadium many times on I-70, so it was interesting to see it up close.  I know some people, both personally and at a distance, who rave about Harry Grove Stadium.

The seating bowl is certainly nice.

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The Great Wall of Advertising is not.

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I like baseball stadiums with character, that acknowledge and embrace the world beyond the stadium and the outfield wall.

I didn’t find a lot of character to Harry Grove.  The concourse is cramped and far too small.  The outfield wall lacks dimensional quirks and closes off the game from the world beyond.  If it were up to me — and, thankfully, for all concerned, it’s not, I’d take down the top row of advertising.

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The Keys produced a very nice program booklet.  (I especially liked the smell of the paper and ink.  Working in publishing, that’s almost the first thing I notice.) The copyediting on the booklet left something to be desired, but all in all, it was an attractive package.

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As we neared the 6 o’clock game time, interesting and fast-moving cloud formations approached from the west.  Nonetheless, it was certainly shaping up to be a lovely evening for baseball.

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Ten minutes before the game, we had the ceremonial first pitches, including a former Washington football player.

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Then, at 6 o’clock, when the game was scheduled to start, they rolled out the tarp.

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Those fast-moving clouds had turned dark and stormy.

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We entered an hour-long rain delay.

The tarp was taken up and, at 7 o’clock, Rashad Crawford stepped into the batter’s box for the Pelicans.

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Light rain began to fall during the first inning.  Ironically, no rain fell during the hour-long rain delay.

Frederick’s starter — whose name I do not have, as the rosters in the program book are out of date — went three innings.  I have no idea why he only went three innings, as he wasn’t pitching a bad game.

Max Schuh came on in the fourth.  He gave up a lead-off single, but then got two fly outs and a ground out.

In was in the fifth inning that everything went to hell for Schuh.

It was a comedy of errors.  Single.  Single.  A bunt single that loaded the bases with no outs.  Single.  (Run scored.) Another bunt single.  (Run scored.) A broken bat single into center.  (Two runs scored.) A pop fly into center… that the center fielder dropped!  (Scored an error, bases loaded.) A double off the center field wall.  (Two runs scored.) Then, a 6-3 groundout (the first out of the inning!) that Myrtle Beach’s manager tried to argue should have been a foul off of his foot.  The tenth batter of the inning — Walk, loading the bases again.

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Schuh’s night was done.  Ten batters faced.  One out.  Six runs allowed, four earned runs allowed.

Ivan Hernandez came on in relief.  Quick three-pitch strikeout, for the second out of the inning.  Then he gives up a two-run double into the right field corner, followed by a walk.  Ian Happ, the fourteenth batter of the inning, with runners on first, hits a ground ball to second, and the runner from first was forced out.

This inning was interminable.  By now it was nine o’clock, the wind was whipping up, and the temperatures were plunging.  People had been leaving since the second inning, like the family in the row in front of me.  I’d seen enough of this garbage game — there’s no other term for it, the Keys played a garbage game — so I also gathered up my things and left.  I’ve stayed through some terrible baseball games in my life, I’ve stayed through some baseball games played in unspeakable weather, but there was no upside to staying for this game.

Among those things?  A twenty-five dollar gift certificate to Buffalo Wild Wings’ Frederick location and a bottle of BWW-branded barbeque sauce.  Before the game, circa 5:30, on the video board they announced “Tweet Your Seat” — take a selfie and tweet it at the Keys’ Twitter account with your seat location.  I did, out of an “Oh, why not?” impulse, and, in the third inning, some Keys staffers came to me with a dopey crown I had to wear and a bag of stuff.

I’ve never been to a Buffalo Wild Wings, so I guess that sometime I’m passing through Frederick I’ll have to stop and use my gift certificate.

All in all, Saturday was a lovely outing.

Springtime is for Baseball

Baseball.

It’s been away, far too long.  Spring has come, flowers are beginning to bloom, trees are starting to leaf, and on delicately maintaining fields of grass boys and men take up the ball, the bat, and play nine innings.

Last night was my first baseball game of the year.  The Reading Fightin’ Phils were in Harrisburg to play the Senators, a match-up of the Phillies and Nationals’ AA squads.

It was also Vladimir Guerrero Bobblehead Night, as Vlad was being inducted in Harrisburg’s Life-Size Bobblehead Hall of Fame.

The gates opened at 4:30 for a 6 o’clock game. I got to City Island a little past four, not because I wanted the Vladimir Guerrero Bobblehead giveaway (honestly, I could have gone either way on this) but because I like getting to the ballpark early.  I like seeing the ballpark empty (or almost empty), I like to see a little of batting practice, I like to see the grounds crew get the field ready for play.

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The Fightin’ Phils were on the field, taking batting practice.

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A new concession at the ballpark this year — the RJ Harrisburger.

It’s a half pound chopped steak hamburger patty cut in two, topped by pulled pork, grilled onions, and grilled peppers, stuffed in a 6 inch sub roll.  Supposedly, there’s also melted pepper jack cheese. I say “supposedly,” because if it were there I could neither see it nor taste it.

I wouldn’t have ordered this had I not been famished.  I neglected to eat lunch, so this doubled up.  The burger patty was very dry. The pulled pork was nice and had a sweet sauce.  Overall, it worked.  Obviously, given its toppings, it was also very messy.

Would I recommend it?  It’s not a bad meal, by any means, and it stuck with me until breakfast. 

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Metro Bank Park has been renamed FNB Park.  Last year, Metro Bank was bought by First National Bank, hence the rebranding.  The logo for FNB Park works; the flag theme of the logo works with the Senators’ own branding quite well.

And, it’s always nice to see the Stephen Strasburg banner over the stadium entrance. :)

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On the outfield wall, the Senators have a banner commemorating their 30th-anniversary.  The current incarnation of the Senators (there were earlier ones) returned to City Island 30 years ago.  (I bought a baseball cap yesterday with the anniversary logo.)

Also, the Senators have moved Jackie Robinson’s #42, retired throughout professional baseball, from the left field corner where the visitor bullpen is to the outfield wall.  I always thought that was a weird and little-seen place for it to be, so it’s nice to see that it’s prominent.

As an asside, when I was at a Lynchburg Hillcats game last year, they didn’t have #42 retired anywhere in the stadium at all that I could see.

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When the Senators players were stretching pre-game, I noticed they were wearing throwback-style jerseys, with script based on the late-90s design that Vladimir Guerrero wore as a Seantor.

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This was interesting, hence my need to capture it on “film” — the Senators have sponsors for the foul poles this year, Turkey Hill.

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The induction ceremony began.  The Senators’ general manager and president came out with Guerrero.  Each gave a speech about Guerrero’s career, both as a Senator and as a major league player.

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Guerroro threw out a ceremonial first pitch to former Expo and Cub, Michael Barrett.  I think of Barrett as a Cub, and his Cubs career is notable for decking A.J. Pierzynski and fighting with Carlos Zambrano in the dugout.  In recent years, Barrett has been managing in the Nationals’ minor league system, and I believe he’s currently the Catching Coordinator for the Nationals system.

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Game time approached, and starter Reynaldo Lopez and catcher Spencer Kieboom came in from the bullpen.

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That solemn ceremony, the National Anthem.

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First pitch!  My first baseball game of the year, and highly touted Nationals prospect Lopez is on the mound.  I hope, sometime this season, to see Lucas Giolito.

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Minor league baseball is notable for its weird games, both during the game and between innings.

During the game, new this year there was the Pizza Hut K Man. This is (was?) something the York Revolution do (did?) — a player from the opposing team’s line-up is selected as the “K Man of the Game.”  If he strikes out, at any point in the game, everyone present wins free breadsticks at Pizza Hut.  In York, when the Pizza Hut K Man comes up to bat, the crowd chants, quite loudly, “Breadsticks!  Breadsticks!”  Because this is brand-new in Harrisburg, there’s no fan routine.  Hopefully, there will never be; the “breadsticks” chant is annoying as heck.

We all won breadsticks, by the way.

Then there was the t-shirt toss.  This year, it was done it twice.  First, there was the T-Shirt Gatling Gun, in which an air-powered gatling gun was driven around the field to shoot out t-shirts at high speed.  Then, a few innings later, there was a more traditional t-shirt toss.  Almost exactly like last year, I had a t-shirt land in my lap.  There are people trying for t-shirts, I’m not trying, and I ended up with a t-shirt.  So, I tossed the t-shirt to a group of kids from a local 4-H group two rows down.

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Then there’s this thing, the Brew Ball Battle.  I’m not sure I can explain this.

There are four teams of two, one in that bouncy get-up, one not.  The bouncy ball people would have to run to the hula hoop (“It’s for kids!”) in the center and then run back to their partner.  But those bouncy ball things would smash into each other, and then they’d fall down and have to get up.  They had to do this three times, from the partner, to the hula hoop in the center, and back to their partner.  It was wild and weird.  I wasn’t expecting so, so I didn’t film it.  Maybe I should have.

The Natty Boh team won.

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Shadows creeped across the field.

At game time, the temperature in Harrisburg was near 75.  As the sun went down, a wind off the Susquehanna whipped up, and as the sun fell behind the bleachers it became quite chilly.

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Lopez gave up two home runs.  The Senators couldn’t muster anything against Reading’s starter.  The Senators fell to the Fightin’ Phils, 3-1.

The wonderful thing about a game that starts at 6 o’clock is that the sun’s barely set by the time the game is over.  City Island was bathed in beautiful twilight.

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The Vladimir Guerrero Life-Size Bobblehead.  Yes, the statue’s head actually bobbles.

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Guerrero signed autograph cards from 6 o’clock to 7:30 seated next to this, and the line on the boardwalk for that was very long, which is probably why the ballpark felt so empty.  (The attendence was 4,200-ish, which is a decent crowd.) I did not get Guerrero’s autograph; I didn’t want to miss the game.

On the outfield wall, another retired number joined Robinson’s retired #42 — Guerrero’s #27.

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This was the first player number the Senators have retired, and it’s easy to understand why — players don’t have careers in the minors that are “worthy” enough to justify a number retirement.  They don’t have the longevity with a single team, a player who puts up numbers gets promoted, a player who doesn’t perform gets released.

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As I left the ballpark, a man saw me with the Guerrero bobblehead box in my hand.

“I’ll buy that off of you for five bucks,” he said.  He seemed a little unsteady, a little drunk.

“Fifty and I’ll consider it.”

“Egh,” he grunted.

I never even broke stride.

I walked across the Walnut Street bridge into Harrisburg, as it my wont.  It’s a pleasant walk, and it gives traffic on City Island some time to clear.  I had nowhere I needed to be, after all, so why get in the Beetle and sit in traffic?  That’s never made sense to me. :)

I walked along Front Street, then up towards the capitol building.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral and its green dome looked amazing in the twilight of sunset.

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Then to the capitol building itself.

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There was a couple having engagement picture taken in front of the building.  It was a cute scene.

I walked along Third Street, then to Walnut, and back across the bridge.

The Senators lost, but that was okay.  Baseball was back.  Spring was back.  Springtime is made for baseball. :)

Link Round-Up: December 15

Our second link round-up!

These are things I read today that interested me, with some commentary on what I read and what I thought.

I spent some time digging into the plugin’s code last night.  I’ve identified the problem — or, rather, where the problem is happening — but my attempt at fixing the code didn’t work.  The fix I coded looks right, but for some reason it doesn’t do what it should.

I need to ponder this some more.

Scenes from a Vacation Day

On Thursday, I took a vacation day and went to Washington, DC.  The Washington Nationals were having Pet Day — with a special ticket, you received a 2015 calendar of the Nationals players and their pets, you could participate in a pre-game petting zoo, and part of the cost of the ticket went to the local humane society.

“Why not?” I said.  Why not, indeed, and last week I bought the special ticket.

I left home the same time I would leave for work in the morning, a little past eight, and I stopped at the Barnes & Noble in Pikesville.  What I wanted was a copy of Andy Weir’s The Martian (I could remember the title, but not the author, and had to walk around the Science Fiction section until I found it), and I also bought a copy of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit, her history of the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, off the bargain table.

While looking at the bargain racks, this is a conversation I had with myself when I saw that Barnes & Noble had published a leatherbound edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.  As it was shrinkwrapped, I could handle it, but I couldn’t look at it.

“I want it!”

20150828_081053“Why?  You have three copies of Malory at home.  One is the paperback you bought and read in college.  The second is an illustrated hardcover edition you bought ten years ago.  The third is the Oxford abridgement of the Winchester manuscript you bought last summer.  You don’t need this.”

“It’s leatherbound!  I want it!”

“No, you don’t.”

“It might be illustrated!”

“It might not.  You don’t need it.  You aren’t buying it.”

“Look!  A leatherbound edition of two Doctor Who novelsThe Silent Stars Go By and Touched by an Angel!  I want it!”

“Why?  You already own both boooks.  You already have two copies of Touched by an AngelYou didn’t even like it.”

“But I want it.”

“You don’t need it.  At best you’ll clear space on the bookshelf for it, then wonder what you were thinking when you bought it the next time you move and have to either pack it or give it away.  You are not buying it.”

“You’re no fun.”

Yes, I really do have conversations like this.

I took the Green Line into DC from the Greenbelt station (and I think this is the first time I ever had to pay to park at Greenbelt, but that’s mainly a function of usually going to DC on the weekends or holidays), and hopped off at the Navy Archives stop.  It’s a good stop; it puts you in the city behind the National Mall, and two blocks you’re there.  It’s also the site of the Navy Memorial and the Navy Museum.  And since it was my late grandfather’s birthday, it was an appropriate place to be.

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From there I went to the National Gallery of Art which, in recent years, has become my favorite of the Smithsonian museums.  I don’t know how many times I’ve gone through the Dutch and Flemish collection over the last hemidecade, yet I make a point of walking through it every time I go.  There are paintings by Rembrandt and Van Dyke, and many of them are of people I remember from my college history classes.  For instance, this painting of Henry, Duke of Gloucester, the youngest son of King Charles I.

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There was an exhibition of homegoods from the Revolutionary and Early Nation periods.  I was particularly taken by this wall clock that featured an image of Perry’s victory over the British on Lake Erie:

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The museum’s main exhibition was of the work of Gustave Caillebotte, one of the minor Impressionists.  That exhibition was rather cramped and the galleries were packed.

From there I went to the Museum of American History.  Though there hasn’t been anything new displays there in what seems like a few years (one wing of the museum is under reconstruction), there was something interesting going on — Max Impact, the Air Force’s official rock band, was performing as part of a summer concert series at the museum.

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I thought about going to Air & Space, but I didn’t feel like waiting in the security line.  Instead, I walked about the Mall, much of which is under construction as they’re resodding the grass and making other improvements.

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From there I went down Pennsylvania Avenue in the direction of Congressional Cemetery.  I have ancestors that are buried there, and it’s an interesting place to visit and explore.

This time I took a look at burial slabs (because I’m not sure what else to call them) from the 1810s to 1830s.  These slabs, basically, are like tombstones but placed horizontally across the grave instead of horizontally.  There are two things of note about these slabs.  The first is that while some rested directly on the ground, others were set atop pillars.  The second is that these slabs were inscribed with long, carved messages (which ran the entire length of the slab, usually about six feet) and, surprisingly given the age of the slabs, these messages were still readable.  (Headstones of a few decades later are usually weathered and worn to the point where they’re no longer readable.)

I also did the usual things I do there — visit my great-great-grandfather’s unmarked grave, visit John Philip Sousa’s grave, visit the burial vaults, take a look at the cenotaphs designed by Benjamin Latrobe, that sort of thing.

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The day was wearing on, and the gates for the petting zoo opened at 4:30, two and a half hours before the game.  Rather than make my way to Nationals Park directly, I went west along G Street which took me past Christ Episcopal Church, an historic church which John Adams and Thomas Jefferson attended and of which John Philip Sousa was a member.  I also suspect, but could not prove, that my great-great-grandfather attended there; he and his family lived in the area and, despite its name, Congressional Cemetery was and still is affiliated with this church, which could be why he’s buried there.

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Unfortunately, the petting zoo was cancelled.

I had so been looking forward to the Pet Day Petting Zoo.  That, more than the Pet Day Calendar (which is nice, and I didn’t notice anyone else with one), was why I bought the special Pet Day ticket for the game and took off a day from work to come down to DC.  A “mental health day,” I called it.

I live in an apartment complex that doesn’t allow pets.  (I could move, but I’d leave Pennsylvania — and my job — entirely if I did.  A little move isn’t worth it to me to just have a cat.) The thought of baby goats and sheep and kittens and puppies made me happy.  And the previous forty-eight hours (Tuesday and Wednesday) were unsettling; my old high school in West Virginia witnessed an armed hostage situation (which, thankfully, ended with no bloodshed) on Tuesday, and I don’t need to mention what happened near Roanoke on Wednesday.  By Wednesday night, I felt the weight of psychic distress bearing down on me, and the petting zoo I was certain would be a welcome release.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be.  The deejay in center field was not as exciting.

Things happen and plans fall through.  Let me be clear, I’m not blaming the Nationals for this at all; the reasons were almost certainly outside their control.  The best-laid plans sometimes just don’t happen.  I know that.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel crushed.

Still, there was a baseball game to enjoy — the Nationals and the San Diego Padres.

I tried the Samuel Adams Nats Anniversary IPA.  I have to be honest, I wasn’t a fan.  I don’t enjoy IPAs a lot.  Give me a stout or a porter any day.  I also had a frozen margarita tube, so by the time of first pitch I wasn’t feeling a lot of pain. ;)

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As the game started, I took notes as I do.  I don’t know how to fill out a scorecard, so I have a different notetaking system that works for me, which breaks the game down pitch by pitch.

The crowd continued to arrive into the third inning, and then around the seventh inning the crowd started to leave.  By the end of the game, there weren’t many people left in my section; the last people in my row left in the top of the 8th.

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The game was notable for the various defensive shifts the Nationals had to make due to injury.  Yunel Escobar was hit by a pitch and left the game, which shifted Anthony Rendon to third and brought in Danny Espinosa to play second.  Then when Michael Taylor ran into the outfield wall and banged his knee, Taylor was replaced by Bryce Harper in center, Jayson Werth moved from left to right, Epinosa moved to left, and Trea Turner came in to play second.

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The Nationals won, 4-2.  Jonathan Papelbon came in for the save with a three run lead, walked the first batter, balked him to second, and gave up a ground ball single to bring in a run.  Then he got the final out, and it was time for Happy Handshakes!

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After that, there’s nothing to tell.  A short walk to the Navy Yards Metro station, a drive from Greenbelt back to York, and then to bed.

A good day was had.  It was a lovely day in the District, not too hot, not too humid.  I walked a lot, and I have lovely tan lines at my ankles.  I should do more days like this.

Buying Harrisburg Senators Baseball Cards

Today I bought baseball cards.

I was in Harrisburg today for the Senators game, and it was steamy — 90-plus degrees and 1500% humidity.  I’m not exaggerating on the humidity.  A sauna would have been less moist than City Island today.

The Senators were playing the Trenton Thunder today.  I noted on Twitter…

Which is true; I wrote about it at the time.  (As I write this, none of the artwork links in that post work.  I need to fix those.)

At today’s game, they were giving away Michael Taylor bobbleheads, and I was at the game early enough to get one.  (Taylor played for the Senators the first half of last season, and he’s currently playing left field for the Nationals.  I know he’s about twenty-four, but he looks like he’s fifteen.)

I went in the gift shop to see if the 2015 baseball card team sets were in, and they were!  This year, the Senators actually have two 2015 sets on sale.  One is for the Senators themselves, the other is an Eastern League Top Prospects set which features two or three players from each of the twelve teams in the Eastern League.  Naturally, I bought both, as well as new OYO figures of Rascal (the team mascot) and Michael Taylor.  (OYO is a LEGO-compatible building system that specializes in sports sets and figures.)

The game was fine.  It wasn’t especially well attended (just a little over 4,000 — and I wouldn’t have guessed that many), but it was a nicely played game.  Harrisburg starter Dakota Bacus has a rough first inning, giving up two runs.  In the third, the Senators tied it up, and they tacked on two runs later for the win.

Bryan Harper on the mound

When I got home, I opened up the two baseball card packs and started putting them in pages.

I’m not really a card collector.  I have binders with a couple hundred cards from the 1969 Topps set (including Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Davey Johnson, and… yes… Hawk Harrelson), and I have a binder with my Harrisburg Senators cards.

I bought a 2013 set at one of the first games I went to, and then over the course of that season I bought the 2012 and 2011 sets.  Plus, at a late season game, there was a free 2013 set given out as a gate promo, and I have that, too.  The next year I added the 2014 and 2010 sets to my collection, and it’s interesting to me to see where certain players are.

The 2010 Senators set may be the dullest looking of the sets — they all look like mugshots — but that’s where you’ll find Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Rafael Martin, and Danny Espinosa.

2011 has a nice look; the image is the whole of the front of the card (like Topps Stadium Club), and here’s you’ll find players like Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi, Derek Norris, and Tanner Roark.

2012 features Christian Garcia and Sandy Leon.

2013, in the set you can still buy in the team store, there’s Steven Souza, Jr., Blake Treinen, Anthony Rendon, and Aaron Barrett.  (The giveaway set does not have Rendon, though it does have the other three.) The 2013 design was not inspiring.

The 2014 set is really classy, and here you’ll find A.J. Cole and Michael Taylor.

The 2015 set has a really attractive design.  You do have to be careful in the shop; the pack of the 2014 set and the 2015 both use the same image of Senators manager Brian Daubach (who looks remarkably like Paul Sorvino).  Players you’ll find here?  Joe Ross and Wilmer Difo.

In the Eastern League set, there are three Senators represented — Ross, Austin Voth, and Pedro Severino.  Non-Senators players I’ve heard of — Dylan Bundy and Mike Yastrzemski, both with Bowie.  The card fronts have a dynamic design, but the backs are fairly bland.

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I don’t feel bad for buying either set.  Into the binder they went. :)

If you noticed, I didn’t mention Bryce Harper.  Even though he played for Harrisburg, he’s not in any of the team sets.  (He was in Potomac’s 2014 team set, though, due to his rehab assignment.)

There are some players that I have many cards of through the years.  If I count the two 2013 sets, I have four cards for Matt Skole (2013 twice, 2014, and 2015), Ricky Hague (2013 twice, 2014, and 2015), Sean Nicol (2012, 2013 twice, 2014), and Paul Demny (2012, 2013 twice, 2015).  There are several for whom I have three — Sandy Leon, Devin Ivany (a player in earlier sets, a coach in the 2015 set), Justin Bloxom, Brian Goodwin, and probably one or two more I’ve lost count of.

Seeing a player in multiple sets isn’t a happy thing, to be honest.  It says, in a way, “This player hasn’t progressed.”  When you see someone in a third set, you really start to wonder if the player has reached their ceiling and there’s nowhere higher for him to go.  Then you start to think about their future prospects — “When the parent club needs a roster spot, will this multi-year vet be the first to go?”  That’s not a pleasant thought.

I’ll banish that thought and, instead, focus on the baseball cards themselves and the players who feature on them and their big dreams.  And I’ll think of the summer days those dreams represent.  That’s what it’s all about. :)