Random Links: August 31

A couple of interesting links I’ve read the last two days.

Header image “The National Mall” by Shella Thomson, licensed Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

Found in the Grass

Wednesday night after work, I went to a baseball game. It was the week of publishing deadlines, Wednesday had been a long and often frustrating day, and the Baltimore Redbirds, a team in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, a summer wooden bat league for college students, was playing their home opener in Towson. It was something that I would have liked to go to, but the demands of work made that unlikely, only in mid-afternoon it looked like it might be possible with a little luck and a bit more pedal to the metal, so to speak, and I was able to leave the office at 6:30 instead of the more typical 7:30 or 8 during Hell Week.

I missed the first three innings, but that couldn’t be helped. I counted my fortunate that I only missed three innings.

The crowd was sparse — maybe fifty people attended? — but the baseball itself was pure.

After the game, walking back to my car, I found a foul ball in the grass. In the late innings, someone had smacked a ball up and over the grandstand, and there it was, just sitting there in the twilight. “This ball needs a home,” I said. It was the first foul ball I’d ever found . I had my hands on one at a Harrisburg Senators game in 2014, but I couldn’t grasp it; it bounced off my palms and darted away, leaving my fingers stinging for a day.

I put it on my dining room bookshelf, next to a Harrisburg Senators victory ball, which isn’t really a baseball, though it looks like one. (It’s a squishy ball the Senators players throw into section 207 after a victory. Another relic of 2014.)

For those who care about such things, the books on my dining room bookshelf that are visible, from left to right:

  • An adaptation of Beowulf illustrated by Alan Lee, an artist known for his Tolkien work.
  • A redaction of Beowulf by the actor Julian Glover (The Empire Strikes Back, Game of Thrones), which is the basis of his one-man show.
  • A book on the Lewis Chessmen.
  • Another book on the Lewis Chessmen.
  • Pierre de Teilhard’s The Phenomenon of Man.
  • D.T. Suzuki’s An Introduction to Zen Buddhism.
  • Volumes 1-3 of Matt Wagner’s Grendel Omnibus. (And the fourth would be out of the picture.)

Exploring Cemeteries

Last weekend, after the Mid-Maryland Celtic Festival, I drove home by way of Eldersburg, mainly because it was easier to head north to Liberty Road instead of south to I-70. As I approached Eldersburg, I decided, entirely on a whim, to visit the church graveyard where my great-uncle and great-aunt are buried, coincidentally quite close to the anniversary of my great-uncle’s death.

I patted the headstone, like an adult patting a child’s head, put my hands on the ground where they were, sort of my way of saying “you’re remembered,” and continued on to home. And I decided that I would visit my grandfather’s grave in Baltimore the following Saturday, yesterday; the anniversary of his death was coming up, too.

I had the idea of making a day of it in Baltimore. I could do some other things I’d been meaning to do, and maybe I could go to the Orioles game and get the free Maryland flag jersey they were giving away. Well, going to the Orioles game didn’t happen; tickets for that game have been sold out for weeks, and though I checked Stubhub, Standing Room Only for 70 dollars-plus was flat out insane.

So, what were those “other things”?

I’ve wanted to visit Loudon Park Cemetery, where my grand-grandfather Allyn, after whom I’m named, obviously, is buried. I had been there, as best I can remember, once in my life, shortly after my grandfather’s funeral, a day or two later, when my mom and my grandmother took flowers from my grandfather’s funeral to my great-grandparents’ grave.

And I wanted to go to Peabody Heights Brewery, a craft brewer on the site of Oriole Park, the home of the International League Orioles, a minor league team who won seven consecutive pennants in the 1920s, a feat never repeated in professional baseball. They brew a line of beers called “Old Oriole Park.” Beer and baseball — how could I not?

Well, Saturday turned out to be the eighteenth anniversary of my grandfather’s death. Not in the ballpark. The exact day. So I was doubly glad I went.

Continue reading “Exploring Cemeteries”

The Sights and Sounds of Wrigley Field

Diamond Comic Distributor‘s 2017 Retailer Summit was held last week in Chicago, in conjunction with the C2E2 convention. I had long been asking to go on some sort of work trip like this — I wanted to see a different side of the industry and meet the retailers — and this year the production schedules on the catalog aligned in such a way that I could attend a Diamond retailer event.

Before the Summit began, some of us from the Marketing Department made a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field to see the Chicago Cubs play the Milwaukee Brewers. I’ve been a Cubs fan for a very long time, and while I’ve seen the Cubs in person at Nationals Park, this was the first time I had ever been to Wrigley. Continue reading “The Sights and Sounds of Wrigley Field”

Of Stumptown and Opening Day

It’s April. Spring is officially here. Baseball is back.

Opening Day is more like “Opening Days” — three games yesterday, a few more today, a few more tomorrow, and then the season and the daily grind begins in earnest on Wednesday.

Nothing says baseball more than Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, what with Charlie Brown and his baseball team. Heck, the day I was born, the day’s Peanuts strip was about baseball.

The official Peanuts Twitter account posted this:

When I shared the image on Facebook, I added a caption: “There’s always hope on Opening Day, even for Stumptown in the Green Grass League.”

The baseball legend of Joe Shlabotnik goes through Stumptown of the Green Grass League. Shlabotnik was a fringe player at best; after batting an astonishing .004 in a season and being sent down to Hillcrest, he’s later traded to Stumptown, a team that sinks ever deeper in the standings of the Green Grass League. When it’s clear his playing days are over, he accepts the managerial job for the Waffeltown Syrups and, when that doesn’t pan out, he travels the sports memorabilia circuit.

Where was the Green Grass League based? Where was Stumptown? I have no idea. Charles Schulz never said, as far as I can tell.

Last summer, when listening to A Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor’s monologue, one that involved a game played by the Lake Wobegon Whippets, Lake Wobegon’s baseball team, I decided then and there that it made perfect sense for Stumptown and Lake Wobegon to be part of the same league.

There is, of course, no reason why the Lake Wobegon Whippets should play in the Green Grass League against Hillsdale and Stumptown. It seems quite improbable, and the facts we have are few. Hillsdale and Stumptown are clearly part of organized baseball, specifically the farm system of minor leagues that support the major league teams, since Joe Shlabotnik was “sent down.” But Lake Wobegon? They could be part of the affiliated system, or they could be a semi-pro town team made up of local players who play for the sport of it, for the love of the game, instead of the dream of reaching the big leagues and playing in the big cities in stadiums that seat tens of thousands under the lights. It’s likelier than not that Stumptown and Lake Wobegon would never meet on the fields of green.

Yet, in my imagination they do, for no better reason that Charles Schulz was a Minnesotan and Garrison Keillor is a Minnesotan. The absolute silliest reason in the world, absolutely no evidence whatsoever, but it made a kind of intuitive sense, that these two great storytellers who worked in two very different mediums could share a common mythology, one that arose from minor league baseball teams in the backwaters of America, played in small towns in front of tiny crowds, in places where baseball was pure and simple and innocent. That sufficed for me, and I will forever think that Stumptown and Lake Wobegon have played an intense rivalry for at least fifty years in ancient wooden ballparks that were throwbacks to an earlier time even when they were built before the war.

No matter who you root for, whether it’s Stumptown or the Chicago Cubs, Opening Day brings with it the promise of hope and the belief that anything is possible.

Play ball!

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.

20160717_130326

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. :)