Here’s an interesting notice in the Winchester Star’s most recent “Out of the Past” column from August 11, 1947. It seems that the temperature that day reached 97° at 2:00 p.m. The paper called the Winchester Research Laboratory and “opened the conversation with ‘Isn’t this a scorcher?’ Dr. A. B. Groves shot back, ‘This is nothing brother, back in 1930 the temperature in Winchester shot to 107 during August.’”

Dr. Groves then stated “in rapid fire order” that the temperature had hit an even 100° in 1936, 1937, and 1943 and “in August of 1932 the temperature rose to 102, in 1924, 103; and in 1918 and 1926 it reached 106.”

Winchester citizens had an interesting name for this phenomenon of extreme heat in August back in those days: They called it “summer.”

Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
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Stories Over Stats

While on our way to breakfast Saturday morning, the subject of former Oriole, now newest member of the Houston Astros, Trey Mancini, came up. All of Orioledom was sad to see Trey go, but happy that his first three hits for Houston were all home runs, including a grand slam. You don’t even have to be a baseball fan to know that Mancini had to sit out the 2020 season while undergoing treatment for Stage 3 colon cancer. I remarked to Martha that “Baseball needs more Trey Mancinis and fewer Alex Rodriguezes.” And therein lies the core problem with Major League Baseball.

MLB seems to think that the sport is all about glitz and glamor and launch angles and spin rates and clown costumes for uniforms (hello, San Diego). The ad men who run the sport don’t realize that baseball has never been about that. It’s always been about the stories, which are always more interesting than statistics.

I have nothing against Shohei Ohtani. A strong case can be made that he’s the best player in baseball today and that he and Babe Ruth are the two greatest two-way players in baseball history. He seems like a nice kid and I’ve never heard anything bad about him. I’ve never heard his story, either. If he has one. Same with his teammate, Mike Trout, a future Hall of Famer, but what do I care about him? I wish him well, but frankly, he’s just not that interesting. Mickey Mantle, on the other hand, now he was interesting! Here was this 19 year old switch-hitting country boy, named after Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane, who was so fast, he was dubbed the “Commerce Comet,” his home town being Commerce, Oklahoma, playing under the brightest of lights in Yankee Stadium. So fast, yet powerful enough to hit balls completely out of ballparks. Off the diamond, New York’s bright lights overwhelmed the kid and his demons often threw high-hard ones past him. But in the end, there was redemption and thousands—more like millions—of middle-aged kids wept at the news of his death.

If Ohtani and Trout and most of the current crop of ballplayers have stories, start telling them. Otherwise, they will be remembered, but not revered, and if baseball loses its sense of reverence for The Past, it loses an important part of itself.

Every season is a new chapter in a never-ending book that requires interesting characters if we’re going to keep reading. For the past five years, Oriole fans couldn’t bear to watch the team, but we all rooted for Trey Mancini because of his compelling story.

This past week, all of baseball mourned the death of Dodger play-by-play man, Vin Scully. He was so beloved because he was a master-story teller. His description of each game—and each game is a story unto itself—bordered on poetic. He called Dodger games from the time Jackie Robinson played through the Clayton Kershaw era. Is anyone going to stand up at his funeral and say, “Boy, the statistics he could spout”?

The average spin rate on a major league four-seam fastball is 2,143 RPM. What does that even mean? I have no context for that. On the other hand, when Chuck Thompson, Baltimore’s own, beloved wordsmith, would say of Cleveland’s Lee Stange, “He can throw a strawberry through a battleship,” I knew what he’s talking about! And, I have remembered that image for going on 55 years now. It was a one-line story, but a powerful story, nonetheless.

If you want this game to thrive, tell us the stories. Give us the story of Nolan Ryan’s fastball at age 45; give us more Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer. Tell us the tale of what might have been with Steve Dalkowski and Pete Reiser. Tell us about the momentary glory of Gomer Hodge. Tell us about how Trey Mancini overcame Stage 3 colon cancer and how he hit a home run his last time at bat in Camden Yards and how he started the next phase of his career in Houston with three long balls.

Tell us good stories if you want us to stick around.

Trey Mancini has lots to smile about these days.
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Here’s to the joy-bringers

Upon our return from a ballgame in Harrisburg, PA—more on that further on—I found a package in our mailbox from Marisa Messina of Philadelphia. For a second, I stood there pondering, but then I realized what it contained—two West Chester University Golden Rams shirts for Al and me. It contained shirts, but it was a package of joy.

You may recall from my June 14 post about the Division II College World Series, that we were adopted by the West Chester parents because when we walked over to their side of the stands, the Golden Rams immediately scored their first run of the game and now trailed by only two, 3-1. We were informed that we couldn’t leave as we had obviously brought the team good luck. An inning or two later, West Chester scored again and the parents were beginning to view us as two rabbit’s feet. Marissa, and her family whom we had met the night before in Danny’s Barbecue, now dared to hope that the Golden Rams might even come all the way back and take the lead. They’re West Chester fans because son, Joe pitches for WCU.

“If we come back and tie this game [notice, it was we, now], you’re going to owe us a couple of shirts!” I joked.

“Well, you’re going to get ‘em!” Marisa responded. I told her I was just kidding, but with a smile, yet quite seriously, she said, “No, I’m sending you guys shirts. It will bring me great joy to do that. What’s your address?”

The shirts have been delivered, and the joy we had rooting for West Chester that day has been multiplied.

As I said, the shirts were waiting for us after returning from Harrisburg, where it was Gregg Mace Bobblehead Night at FNP Park. Gregg was the sports director for ABC 27 for 40 years before dying of cancer in 2019. Our daughter, Sarah, went to work for ABC 27 in 2018 and she and Gregg immediately formed a close connection. She referred to Gregg as her “TV Dad” and we were always grateful that he took such a strong interest in our fledgling reporter. The Harrisburg Senators, a team he had covered since the team moved to the Pennsylvania capital in 1987, inducted Gregg into its Hall of Fame. The mentor to so many Sarahs had his life-sized bobblehead unveiled along the left field concourse Saturday, and the first 1,000 fans received a regular-sized bobblehead. Sarah, of course, wanted to go and so did Martha and I. Sarah remains close to Gregg’s wife, Caroline, and their son Kyle and helps with the Gregg Mace Foundation, an organization that “aims to provide scholarships and mentoring to students interested in pursuing a career in sports media,” according to the website.

Sarah and Gregg had their photo on the scoreboard, Opening Day at FNP Park, April 2019.

We wanted to honor Gregg by just being there, but, of course, I wouldn’t truly be honoring Gregg if I didn’t announce the following: The Senators beat the Altoona Curve, 2-1, at FNB Field behind 6.1 innings of outstanding pitching from Luis Reyes. Harrisburg scored single runs in the 2nd and 3rd for the victory.

And there was more. It turned out that our seats were five rows behind Allyn Gibson, a friend of mine. We got connected when he read Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley. He had already emailed me to say that he knew Sarah had worked for ABC 27 and that if we couldn’t make the game, he would be glad to give her his bobblehead. As it turned out a diehard fan in the next section arrived too late to receive one and Allyn gave her his. And when his scorecard contained a lucky number, he turned around and gave that to us. In case you see Martha walking around in a Harrisburg Senators t-shirt, you’ll know how she came by it.

A great deal of joy was passed around on Saturday. To Marissa and Gregg and Allyn, thank you.

And to all the joy bringers out there, don’t stop doing what you do. So often, even momentary connections create life-long memories and small gestures become large treasures.

The 7th inning portended a storm, but it passed and as we exited the stadium, we turned to see this, which seemed to sum up our day.
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Roger Angel predicted MLB’s predicament, 57 years ago

I didn’t watch the All-Star game on Tuesday night, but I wasn’t making a statement. I forgot that it was on. I suppose that’s something of a statement in and of itself. The game has become a celebration of Major League Baseball’s gimmickry rather than a celebration of the players– witness the awful uniforms, for example. Part of the fun used to be seeing all those players in their own uniforms gathered in the same dugout. You might even see Cardinal Lou Brock sporting Billy Williams’ Chicago Cubs helmet. A small detail, but a cool one, nonetheless.

Interestingly, while updating Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley, I came across this quote from Roger Angel, one I had forgotten I had used:

Baseball’s clock ticks inwardly and silently, and a man absorbed in a ball game is caught in a slow, green place of removal and concentration and in a tension that is screwed up slowly and ever more tightly with each pitcher’s windup and with the almost imperceptible forward lean and little half-step with which the fielders accompany each pitch. Whatever the pace of the particular baseball game we are watching, whatever its outcome, it holds us in its own continuum and mercifully releases us from our own. Any persistent effort to destroy this unique phenomenon, to “use up” baseball’s time with planned distractions, will in fact transform the sport into another mere entertainment and thus hasten its descent to the status of a boring and stylized curiosity

This is taken from The Summer Game, written in 1965, i.e. 57 years ago.

There has been a “persistent” and sadly, successful effort to destroy baseball’s continuum and now we are stuck, at least on the major league level, with mere entertainment. And what is the main complaint of the suits who run the game? It’s boring, just as Angel predicted over half a century ago.

Ladies and gentlemen of MLB, you have made it so.

AL All-Stars, Washington, 1969. Frank Howard was the only guy who made Boog Powell look small.
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Our granddaughter, Riley, has coined a great word that should immediately enter our lexicon because it is so descriptive, yet succinct. Riley has trouble with exact concept of yesterday so, she uses her own word—lasterday.

This is a perfect description for a phenomenon common to her grandparents and their friends. As I’ve written before, the past now falls into three categories: yesterday; when I was a kid; and the other day. And “the other day” can be anytime between yesterday and when I was a kid. Lasterday covers that entire span of time perfectly. It’s perfect for folks Riley’s age because they don’t need to measure time so precisely. It’s perfect for folks my age because so much has happened in my lifetime you’re lucky if I remember that it happened much less when. I mean, I still refer to the “turn of the century” as the turn of the 19th century even though we are 21.5% through the 21st century. “Where does the time go?” is a familiar refrain from old folks of every generation.

Furthermore, I’m often left with an uncomfortable feeling when forced to calculate exactly when some event took place because it almost always turns out to have taken place further into the past than I remember. Usually, much further. No more. From now on if it didn’t happen when I was a kid or yesterday, it will be simply be categorized as having taken place lasterday.

Thanks, Riley, but I have a question for you? How did you get to be five years old already? Guess that happened lasterday.

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Footloose and Fired in Kansas

What was it about dancing that bunched the bloomers of the busybodies a century ago? Yet, again, the “Out of the Past” column of the June 10, 2022 Winchester Star features an entry noting that 100 years ago, in 1922, Mrs. Clara White of Eminence, Kansas, had her teaching certification revoked by the state superintendent because “she permitted a dance to be held in the village school house.” Mrs. White claimed that a school was a perfectly legitimate place in which to hold a dance “outside of teaching hours.” Miss Lorraine Wooster, the state superintendent disagreed, stating that dancing “is particularly heinous in a school teacher, especially when the offense takes place within the very portals of the school.”

If there has ever been a busier body than Miss Lorraine Wooster of Kansas, I can’t think of who it might have been, but as it turns out, this was her downfall. According to Wikipedia, our girl Lorraine was the first female elected to statewide office in Kansas after being voted Kansas State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1918. She began her teaching career in a one-room school house at the age of 16 and by 1907 had established a publishing company in Chicago that cranked out the plethora of text books she was writing. Although she brought several improvements to Kansas schools, she was known for her “strict moral code” insisting that teachers not “smoke, drink, dance, or wear makeup.” (Most teachers I know today would disqualify themselves on one of these counts. At least one.) Reelected in 1920, she went down to defeat in 1922 “after controversially attempting to fire teachers in Cimmaron for attending a dance.”

Miss Wooster became a lawyer, eventually moved to Chicago in 1934, and died in 1953. Chicago hardly seems the place to which a moralist would move in the 1930s, but maybe she caught Shimmy Fever and turned over a looser, but happier leaf.

Of course, you know there had to be a bunch of junior busybodies racing one another to the Eminence telegraph office trying to be the first to wire Superintendent Wooster about Mrs. White’s deplorable behavior. Funny though. When you look up Eminence, KS on Wikipedia you find a one-sentence description: “Eminence is a ghost town in Finney County, Kansas, United States.” No wonder. Who would stay in a town where you can’t dance in the school house?

I think the lesson, one of which I’m sure Mrs. Clara White would approve, is clear: Be a dancer, not a busybody.

Couldn’t think of a better song to commemorate Clara White’s stand against Superintendent Wooster.
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Sharing joy with strangers in Cary, NC

My buddy Al and I had a blast last week in Cary, NC attending the Division II College World Series (CWS). Held at the USA Baseball Complex, we found it to be just as enjoyable in its own way as the Division I CWS in Omaha, which we attended in 2016. The USA Baseball Complex is beautiful and comfortable, and there was no admission fee—always a plus. The quality of play was excellent and proved to be better than we expected, especially defensively. It was baseball and barbecue all week.

As well as we ate, and as good as the games were, the most memorable moments of the week consisted of getting to know the players’ relatives which was easy to do because the people in the stands pretty much consisted of relatives, girlfriends, and Al and me. The DII World Series is not nearly as well-publicized as the DI extravaganza in Omaha. That ballpark seats some 20,000 fans and is surrounded by a baseball circus with tents full of t-shirts, gloves, bats, souvenirs, and food. In Cary, there was one t-shirt tent, but that was the beauty of it. We weren’t watching some random and anonymous collection of players, we were watching the sons of those fans with whom we were sitting. Their joy became our joy.

North Greenville (in the field) takes on Rollins University.

There was Chris Sutton’s mom from Southern Arkansas University whose joy when Chris hit a line drive homerun over the left field wall was so great that I had to tell her to stop smiling so hard or her face would be hurting the rest of the day. She got that homer on video, too.

Third baseman Brandon Nicoll’s great-aunt, Sandy, flew in from Vancouver, B.C. to watch him play for Southern Arkansas. She was concerned about his recent slump and when he struck out in his first two plate appearances, her anxiety grew. Still, he settled down in his third at-bat and while it resulted in a fly out to right, he had stopped jumping at the ball. We all agreed that hitting the ball the other way was a good sign and it meant that he was letting the ball travel into the strike zone. Down 7-2 heading into the top of the 9th, Southern Arkansas rallied for a run, and with two out and the bases loaded, who should come up, but Brandon. Because, that’s baseball. The Rollins University pitcher got two quick strikes on him and now we really had to root hard because none of us would have been able to bear Aunt Sandy’s disappointment for her beloved great-nephew. Brandon got back in the count at 2-2 and then lined a ball into right, barely beating the throw to second base for a two-run double. The next batter struck out leaving the final score at Rollins 7—Southern Arkansas 5, but Aunt Sandy had a wonderful moment to take back to Canada with her.

The next day, it was a Rollins dad who was high-fiving Al and me when the Tars, as they are known, hit two, two-run homers in the first inning.

Still, it was the West Chester University Golden Rams who truly adopted us as fellow fans. Having met a WCU family at Danny’s Barbecue the night before, we ran into them again the next day at the game. Moving with the shade and the breeze, Al and I made our way from the University of Southern New Hampshire side of the ballpark to the West Chester side halfway through the game. The Golden Rams immediately scored a run, at which point our new friends informed us that we weren’t leaving. (Baseball fans understand how this mojo works.) After the Golden Rams scored a second run, I think their fans assigned someone to keep an eye on us to make sure that we didn’t wander off. Nevertheless, West Chester trailed 3-2 heading to the top of the 8th and they had already squandered a couple of opportunities to tie the game. Then, some baseball magic occurred in the form of five hit batters, a walk, a wild pitch, one base-hit, and a sacrifice fly that resulted in five runs and ultimately, a 7-3 Golden Rams victory. Naturally, though, there was one more half-inning of drama left when Southern New Hampshire loaded the bases with none out, but two strike outs and fly ball sealed the victory. Al and I were as thrilled as all those purple-clad parents. Well, maybe not quite that thrilled, but we were certainly sharing in the joy—the parents saw to that.

West Chester runs onto the field in celebration of their 7-3 comeback win over Southern New Hampshire

In the end, North Greenville State (SC) defeated Point Loma (CA), 5-3 for the DII Championship, a game that took place as Al was driving back to Florida and I was driving back to Virginia.

For the seniors, this tournament marked the end of their baseball careers. I think this realization hit the parents and grandparents and at least one great-aunt harder than it did the players. As they watched their boys walk of the field for the last time—and all in defeat except for North Greenville—I wondered how many of those parents were taken back to the first tee-ball practice or the Little League All-Star games or just playing catch in the back yard. . . .

To all those fans of the Angelo State Rams, Illinois Springfield Prairie Dogs, North Greenville Crusaders, Point Loma Sea Lions, Rollins Tars, Southern Arkansas Muleriders, Southern New Hampshire Penmen, and the West Chester Golden Rams, thanks for sharing your pride and your joy with us. It was a fantastic week.

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You deserve a Lifeathon sticker

Our younger daughter, Sarah, recently entered a half-marathon, but had to stop at mile marker six, overcome by the heat. You may remember May 22 if you live in the Mid-Atlantic—that was part of the weekend that was so hot, (in fact, our air-conditioning unit was overcome as well, and I’m waiting on our HVAC guy as I write this.) Sarah didn’t collapse, so no scrapes or worse. She did have a bad case of heat stroke, and of disappointment, but otherwise she was fine.

I think she deserves a Lifeathon sticker.

I’m sure you’ve seen those stickers on cars that have 13.1 or 26.2 emblazoned inside an oval. Those numbers signify that someone ran a half-marathon or a full-marathon, respectively. The thing is, we’re all running a marathon—call it a Lifeathon—and on a track that often resembles an obstacle course. I think we should get stickers for that race, too. “I survived a stupid thing with my sanity intact” is too long for an oval sticker, but I think Lifeathon will do nicely.

Car break down the day before you leave on vacation? That’s life. The garage will have a sticker for you.

Dishwasher break down on Thanksgiving afternoon? That’s life. The repair guy will give you a sticker. You know, on Monday.

Did junior break his arm trying to walk the top of a fence rail after you told him for the 82nd time not to? There should be a sticker waiting for you at the hospital.

We navigate all kinds of obstacle on this Journey. Most of them we get over and “laugh about later,” but I do think a sticker would help. I mean, our granddaughter, Riley, gets stickers from her dentist, and it seems to soothe what must seem to a five-year old like a very barbaric experience.

If Sarah got a sticker for such experiences, she wouldn’t be able to see out the rear window of her car. I’m sorry that she’s accumulated so many, but so proud that she’s survived them all. No one at that race gave it more than she did. I mean, when you run until you pass out, you have pulled the maximum effort from your body and exerted total willpower. She deserves a sticker. She already has my utmost admiration.

Lifeathon stickers would help bring us together one minor mishap at a time. Imagine being at the gas pump and noticing someone else’s Lifeathon sticker on the rear windshield.

You: “Dishwasher break down at Thanksgiving?”

Other person: “Kid who thought he was a high-wire walker.”

Both of you: “Ahhhh.”

And you’d give a little nod to one another, a tiny salute that recognizes someone else made it past another of Life’s obstacles.

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You may have micro-fingernailalgia

Why is it that drug companies bother to advertise prescription drugs on television? I mean, if you need a prescription, what’s the point? Big Pharma will tell you that they are merely trying to increase the general population’s awareness of undiagnosed medical conditions and to encourage folks to see their doctors. That’s very thoughtful of Big Pharma, and I’m sure it has nothing to do with trying to increase sales (sarcasm font).

Based on the depth and breadth of the prescription commercials that I see, every other person in the country must have an “undiagnosed medical condition,” and the power of that suggestion is enormous. It’s like when someone tells you that he has poison ivy and regularly scratches his arm. It doesn’t take long before you feel itchy, too. After an evening of television viewing, I am convinced that I have half the conditions listed in the Physicians’ Desk Reference. Never mind that by taking the medication for micro-fingernailalgia (MFA) for example, I might develop any one of about 12,549 side effects including, but not limited to, headaches, toothaches, backaches, heartaches, constipation, loose stool, loose change, and loose morals. But I don’t want micro-fingernailalgia—I want to throw a Frisbee in the park and meet other, nice looking people who are walking their dogs and hugging each other and who also suffer from micro-fingernailalgia. So I run to my doctor, bursting into the office, yelling, “Doc, make me a happy, micro-fingernailalgia-free Frisbee thrower! Give me some Nailzoperen!” (Pronounced “nail-zoh-perin” with the accent on the “zoh.”)

It must work like this or we wouldn’t see so darn many of these irritating commercials.

Now, if you now think you have micro-fingernailalgia (MFA) you have definitely watched too many of these ads because I just made up that condition, although if any R&D people from Pfizer read this, you might hear that “scientists” have discovered a new ailment in another year or two. Furthermore, television ads for prescription drugs are legal in the United States and in New Zealand and nowhere else in the world. Make of that what you will.

Of course, drug commercials on TV have been around almost as long as TV has. Here’s one for the sleep aid, Sominex, and if you’re my age, I bet you can sing the jingle without first viewing the following video, one that features the Lennon Sisters in their pajamas singing along with Mitch Miller’s bouncing ball.

They didn’t worry about mentioning the side effects back then, because the lawyers hadn’t taken over the world yet, and besides, the Sominex ad was probably followed by a cigarette ad, and sucking on three packs of Lucky Strikes a day was bound to kill you before any of the Sominex side effects.

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Saying goodbye to an old friend

Last Friday—Good Friday, ironically enough—David Stinson, a fellow baseball writer, and I said goodbye to an old friend. Even though this was a place and not a person, friend seems to be the correct term. We were always happy to be around it and we shared many warm memories, two qualities you would want in any friend, which in this case was Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown, Maryland. The former home of the Suns since 1981, it hosted minor league baseball teams on and off since 1930 when it was built, but now, Municipal Stadium is being demolished to make way for an indoor sports complex.

When we arrived, the demolition had not proceeded very far. Oh, the beer garden was completely gone as was the deck on which the Scoreboard Cowboy resided, and the third base bleacher seats had already been salvaged—only the metal framework remained—but the grandstand and the diamond were still there. Truth be told, the place has long been a dump, but a dump containing so many treasures. It was like that friend whose house smells strongly of last night’s dinner, some of which has spotted his only necktie that’s as rumpled as his shirt. You see him ensconced in his old, Mohair chair, ashtray to one side, books and papers scattered about, but the things he has seen and the stories he can tell!

This is the place where our older daughter, Becky, saw her first professional game, although “saw” may be a stretch, as she was about 18 months old and in a baby carriage, but she was there. Seventeen years later, she was working as a promo girl and dancing on top of the dugouts and tipping us off as to who would win the condiment race.

Our younger daughter, Sarah and her friend Jessa were named “Fans of the Game” one night (I kind of forget, but I think Becky had something to do with this!) which meant that they got to sit on a couch on top of the Suns’ dugout. Only they spent the night wandering around the ballpark visiting with friends while my old friend Al and I enjoyed the game in seats that were as close and as comfortable as we would ever have.

My wife, Martha, and I spent many “date nights” in this place.

This is where we would renew friendships suspended in the fall, and analyze the state of the ballclub with Tom and Perry.

Becky and I played catch in the outfield one Father’s Day.

Father’s Day catch on the field, 2006

I took part in Bryce Harper’s first press conference in the stadium’s offices when he was assigned to Hagerstown as he began his professional journey up to the Washington Nationals.

We could always count on seeing the Sun’s mascot Woolie B. with his perpetual grin showing off his snaggle tooth. There was Jay Jay before him, and Scuffy Duck before Jay Jay.

And Big Tony whose talent as a concessionaire and whose enthusiasm as a cheerleader was unmatched anywhere in minor league baseball.

It was the place where young men, most of whom you never heard of, dared to pursue a dream; or saw it vanish. I should get out all the old scorecards, but it is too soon for that.

There was the hope of all those Opening Days, and the melancholy of the last day of the season. I tried to make a point to always go to the latter in order to soak up as much summer as possible, keeping score, noting the time of the sunset, even what songs were played between innings. I had to make it last until the following spring.

The old, Mohair chair is still there, but an unsmoked pipe rests in the ashtray. Soon, that will be gone, too. Within a month, according to Adam, the man in charge of taking down Municipal Stadium, there will be nothing left but the stories.

Good Friday was a beautiful day, a perfect day for baseball in Hagerstown, but there was no game; we were attending a funeral.

So long, old friend, and thanks.
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