Hello, Baltimore

Hello. I'm new here.

But in some ways I'm not.

First, I fit one of the criteria established for being a legitimate, respected member of this august writing staff: I believe Friday Night Lights (the television series) to be among the finest offerings available today. It and The Wire (right, like I moved to Baltimore without studying that) are the only shows I've watched since my family and I stopped bonding over Home Improvement however many decades ago.


I can opine in the most reverent of tones about the complexities found in the seemingly divergent characters of Lyla and Tyra (seriously, just look at this genius: names so close, characters so far apart), and wax poetic about the moments when they, clear-eyed at last, seemed to understand each other. And I can also tell you that the high school me is in love with Julie Taylor.

But we can get into Friday Night Lights talk later.


There are other reasons that this place does not feel too foreign to me. We should go back to the beginning. It, actually, was not all that long ago.

, The Toy Department was born on March 22, 2009.  It had a rollicking first month or so, including the


But there were also serious posts,  such as this

. Or this beautiful remembrance of

A little over a month later, though, Kevin Van Valkenburg had to tap out this somber little note. A few days later, Candus Thomson offered her fond farewells. The Baltimore Sun -- beset, like other newspapers, by problems that it probably should have seen coming but can't entirely be blamed for -- had laid off dozens of employees. The Toy Department was decimated. Rick Maese and Bill Ordine were gone from The Sun, Childs Walker was shifted to another department, and with them went the original dynamic of the blog and no doubt a good portion of what made it so special.

I followed the happenings at The Baltimore Sun in those days because it was a paper I had admired growing up. By then I'd also made a habit of reading anything written by Maese and Van Valkenburg, two of the finest young sports writers in the country. In The Toy Department, they and their colleagues had created something sophisticated and hip and altogether above what to that point too many blogs had been. Theirs was neither an unruly gaggle of fart jokes and bikini pictures (though a picture of Jim Palmer in inappropriately revealing, umm, underwear did appear on the first Toy Department post; which reminds me that I once did an interview with Palmer because he was in town to discuss ... acid reflux) or a stodgy collection of what newspaper people couldn't fit in the newspaper. They'd hit that sock on the sweet spot of the stick.

The Toy Department has, as its writers said it would, soldiered on as best it could. Mike Klingaman has helped you catch up with athletes you once watched -- or introduced you to ones you never knew. Kevin Cowherd weighs in on pretty much everything. Even the head honcho, Ron Fritz, uses this blog to get rid of some of his Cleveland angst every now and again.


Which brings us to now. I arrived at The Sun earlier this week, fresh off four years covering Indiana University athletics for The Herald-Times in Bloomington. Over the final year of that time, I was the sports editor and columnist. I'm still a bit bewildered by the whole move, honestly. There's much for me to learn, be it simple things like where's the closest bathroom or the more essential stuff, such as how does that most esteemed recruiting writer/deputy editor Matt Bracken keep his hair so gloriously poofed throughout his 12-hour days? And how did mild-mannered Mike Catalini, a college pal of mine, come to be known simply -- and only -- as The Big Cat? Seems like you should either have to fight an actual overgrown feline or be known for drinking some cheap malt beverage named for tigers or leopards before you get that name.

Anyway, enough about them. Here, in the smallest bursts I can manage, is what I can tell you about me:

I grew up in Reading, Pa. Went to Penn State for undergrad. Covered Joe Paterno. Didn't understand most of what he said. Never got him to give a coherent answer to any question. Enjoyed all of it. Worked at The Patriot-News in Harrisburg for a year, then went to the graduate school of journalism at Columbia University in New York. While there I spent time hanging with drug dealers for a story, then hopped into a police car for a ride along and hoped that I wouldn't encounter the same drug dealers and get shot for being a suspected narc.

In Bloomington I covered the brief rise and much longer demise of Hoosiers basketball under Kelvin Sampson, as well as the death of football coach Terry Hoeppner. I wrote 1,661 blog posts for The Hoosier Scoop, and just now realized I never said goodbye to the people there. But maybe it's better that way.

My Baltimore ties are:

* My father grew up in the area. The only serious conversation he and I have is a debate about the best third baseman of all time. He says Brooks Robinson. I say Mike Schmidt. Dad and I don't talk much. It's a strained relationship. And if anyone mentions Alex Rodriguez in reference to this point, you'll be banned.

* For the past two years I covered John Harbaugh's brother-in-law, Tom Crean. Indiana's basketball coach and I talked frequently about the Harbaugh family and the Ravens.


*Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron played both football and basketball at Indiana, then became its head football coach. Everyone there says Cam's the perfect coordinator but not a head coach. I have no idea if that's true.

* I like crab cakes.

As noted, I'm still pretty new here. And I'm not sure what The Toy Department will become. It will need to evolve organically as I get to know the people I'm working with and writing for. We'll have meetings (at the bar) and at some point I'll ask for your input. I'm hoping we'll bring back some of the old regular features and maybe add new ones.

More on that later. Today was more about saying hello.