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Since one of my Facebook friends asked me to dig up my first-ever column for the Baltimore Sun -- from way back on Feb. 4, 1990 -- I figure the least I can do is also post it here, which is either a public service or just a way to post a really long item without actually doing any work.

This column was written at the request of sports editor Marty Kaiser soon after he hired me away from the Orange County Register (a decision he would come to regret). He thought an explanation of my odd name was necessary or the readers might think my arrival was just some kind of journalistic practical joke.

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So, without further adieu, is that column, which you'll have to click once more to read:BALTIMORE -- First of all, let's dispense with the obvious questions.

Yes, it is my real name. No, I never considered changing it. And yes, it's kind of tough to order a pizza over the phone, which is one of the reasons I moved to Baltimore instead of Chicago.

Pardon the first-person narrative. It won't happen again, but when you arrive in a new city with a name like Schmuck, it's usually a good idea to explain yourself.

I'm one of the thousands of Southern Californians who watched the Macy's Parade on Thanksgiving Day and decided to move to a colder climate. Baltimore seemed like the perfect spot, though it would be even better if it had a giant inflatable Bullwinkle for special occasions.

I left California because I could no longer tolerate a state that once turned down my request for a personalized license plate on the grounds that my surname is "obscene and offensive to public decency." True story. You can look it up. The Department of Motor Vehicles eventually relented, but it soon became obvious that there are better places to raise your kids than Southern California.

I realized that about the time my 5-year-old son started greeting me with "Hey, dude" instead of "Hi, Dad." There definitely are better places to cover baseball.

For 11 seasons, I watched the Los Angeles Dodgers and California Angels combine to draw nearly 6 million fans a year. But I also watched about 5 million of them head for the parking lots in the seventh inning. Even the night Jim Abbott pitched his first major-league shutout -- matched against Roger Clemens, no less -- it was just like clockwork. They came. They yawned. They conquered the urge to stay past 9 p.m.

Perhaps in an area that has nine major professional teams situated on the same 110-mile stretch of over-priced real estate, people can afford to be blase. Not so in Baltimore, where baseball is king and the Orioles are on the rebound. That's why I jumped at the opportunity to cover them for The Sun. Baseball always has had a special place in my family history, though no Schmuck ever made it to the big leagues (unless you count Reggie Jackson).

To my knowledge, no Schmuck ever even made it to the high school varsity. I certainly didn't. My father, as a teen-ager growing up in St. Louis, used to work on Dizzy Dean's car. That ought to count for something. My brother was a promising young player, but traded his baseball future for a surfboard in about 1965. Only in California.

I had no baseball talent whatsoever, so I did the next best thing. I gained 40 pounds and became a sports writer. What a country. There are certain advantages to having a strange name. No one ever forgets it, and even total strangers seem to know who I am whenever I do something stupid in traffic. My brother got so tired of the constant ribbing that he changed his name and moved to a small town in Central California. But don't be fooled. He's just another Schmuck.

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