Mind’s Eye

Originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Baltimore magazine

On Valentine’s Day 1961, his mother sat near the foot of his hospital bed and the light was almost gone. “Son,” the doctor had told him a day earlier, “you’re going to be blind tomorrow.”

Sandy Greenberg was just 20 when he first heard those gut-punching words in a Detroit exam room, but they remain seared in his mind, just like the lasting image of his wife of 55 years, Sue. Or the memory of the patch of illuminated New York City grass that one of his college roommates and lifelong friends, Art Garfunkel (yes, him), pointed to freshman year and said “Look at what the light does to the color” during a walk on the corner of Amsterdam and 118th streets on Columbia University’s Upper West Side campus.

Everything else is a picture he has to paint in his imagination, like his three children and four grandchildren. Or his sense of the beloved Rembrandt that hangs in his Washington D.C. apartment. And, more recently, the presumed shocked expressions of board members and faculty at Johns Hopkins’ world-renowned Wilmer Eye Institute, when, six years ago, an impeccably dressed blind man who had grown up poor walked up to a note-less podium and issued an astonishing challenge. He eventually announced it publicly: The Sanford and Susan Greenberg Prize, $2 million in gold to whomever does the most to end blindness by the year 2020. This was his moonshot.

“This is our destiny,” Greenberg said. “End it, end it, end it.”

His story is a cruel irony and a fascinating paradox rolled into a remarkable life, powerful and inspiring enough to rally a group of the world’s top doctors and scientists, and undeniably audacious enough to garner the world’s attention.

Yes, Dr. Sanford Greenberg, chairman of the board of governors of one of the best eye institutes on the planet, is blind.

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More Than Meets the Buckeye

Originally appeared in March 2017 issue of US Lacrosse magazine

Eric Fannell’s reputation — intimidating, aloof, with the lore of an unseen Canadian talent — preceded him. And in some ways, people were right about him. The kid dressed in all black and wore his hat low, covering a buzz cut. He kept answers about himself to one word, avoided eye contact.

Fannell, as Ohio State men’s lacrosse captain Tyler Pfister put it, was “rough around the edges.” That was Pfister’s first impression, at least, when he met his new teammate and helped him move into a one-bedroom apartment in August of 2015.

Coach Nick Myers tabbed Pfister, an Ohio native, to help with Fannell’s transition from St. Catharines, Ontario — by way of tiny Division III Adrian College in Michigan — to Columbus. Gradually, over the course of lunches three to four times a week, usually at Asian restaurants like Mark Pi’s on High Street, Fannell’s tough outer layers peeled away like flaky crust falling off an egg roll.

Fannell’s father, Steve, a former Team Canada member and National Lacrosse League pro, as many people in the tight-knit, blue-collar St. Catharines lacrosse community already knew, was and is a drug addict, and no longer in Eric’s life. They haven’t spoken in seven years. And, yes, while some teammates probably still don’t know, the younger Fannell battled addiction problems himself. He drank, he says, two to three times a week at age 14. It was enough that his grandfather, Lincoln, took him to Alcoholics Anonymous when Eric was in high school.

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On The Ropes

Originally published in Baltimore magazine

It’s near dusk on a weekday in late summer, and at 1901 Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore that means work is about to begin. Dozens of kids and a few adults, too, will soon arrive at the Upton Boxing Center to train, spar, and take in the advice that coach Calvin Ford and a partially volunteer staff dish out nightly at this city-funded recreation facility.

“You ain’t nobody until you beat somebody,” Ford says while preparing stations, drills, and matchups for the next few hours. Sage words float around this place, much like the pops from leather gloves smacking training mitts, the beats of 92Q on the radio, and the late afternoon light piercing through a run of high windows in the converted basketball gym.

There are tires to flip. Boxes to leap. Ropes to pull weight. The boxing ring in the center of it all represents a sport, yes, but in the bigger picture, also a refuge from the realities of what’s outside.

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Surviving Heart of the Storm, and Aiming for the Peak

Originally published in The New York Times:

COLORADO SPRINGS — For now, Christy Carlson has traded in a storm-chasing partner for a racecourse navigator.

Instead of following a severe storm in the Midwest and hearing, “You need to take a right on Highway 77,” as she put it, the person sitting on the right side of her black-and-gray 2002 Subaru WRX on Sunday will bark different information: descriptions of the 156 curves that lie ahead on the 12.42-mile gravel-and-pavement road running to the summit of Pikes Peak.

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Heart on the Line

Originally published in Baltimore magazine:

The digital clock in the studio reads 11:45 and it’s Friday night, which means it’s time for Fran Lane to entertain her longest-tenured caller, a happily married, 59-year-old Annapolis college professor who goes by The Captain. Each week for the past 22 years, give or take a rare miss, The Captain dials in and plays a faux cat-and-mouse love game with the WLIF 101.9 nighttime host of Love Songs with Fran Lane, who does her best to play along. It started with his first request, “Nightshift” by the Commodores, way back when.

“It goes out to you and anyone else who may be working,” he told Lane across the airwaves, flirting with the woman who brings five hours of love-song requests and dedications to Baltimore every weeknight.

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Casey Carroll’s Homecoming Season

Originally published in Lacrosse Magazine:

Casey Carroll would rather it not be about him.

Plenty of Army Rangers and other military personnel continue to put their lives at stake in Iraq or Afghanistan or somewhere else where there’s a threat to the U.S. And there are 43 other members of the Duke men’s lacrosse team, he said, that deserve their time in the spotlight.

It’s hard to realize the weight your story carries when you are living it, but as Blue Devils defenseman Henry Lobb said, “I’ve never heard of a story like it in college athletics.”

At 29 years old, Carroll is a sixth-year, redshirt senior defenseman at Duke. With four Middle East deployments behind him, a wife and two kids at home, two season-ending knee injuries and a two-year graduate business degree nearly complete, he’s not exactly a college kid.

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Top Ravens Staffer Had To Convince Tom Brady He Actually Won Super Bowl

Originally published on Baltimoremagazine.net:

No, the Ravens weren’t in the Super Bowl. But, yes, that was the guy who works for them shadowing Tom Brady at midfield on Sunday night, amid the confetti, photographers, and reporters in the moments after the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl win over the Atlanta Falcons. His name is Chad Steele, now in his 15th year working in media relations for the Ravens. He’s tall—6-foot-7—and a former star basketball forward at Winthrop University in South Carolina in the mid-1990s. You might normally recognize him from post-game TV cuts, as the guy in the suit next to Joe Flacco when he marches onto the field to shake hands with an opposing quarterback and do interviews. “I get it quite often,” Steele said when asked if he’s recognized around town.

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Ray Lewis Says He’s Never Seen Joe Flacco’s Passion

Originally published at Baltimoremagazine.net:

In some ways, saying Joe Flacco doesn’t have passion is not breaking news. Even Flacco admits he’s certainly not the life-of-the-party type. In fact, he said exactly that in a podcast on BaltimoreRavens.com this week. But to hear the biggest icon in Ravens history say it, in the context of a critical analysis, is somewhat jarring to hear.

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Restaurant Review: 8 Ball Meatball

Originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Baltimore magazine

National Meatball Day—yes, there is one of those, too—seemed like the perfect time to visit the Fells Point restaurant that celebrates the round mounds all year long. And, apparently, we weren’t the only ones who thought so. On a spring evening, a pair of out-of-towners glanced at the sidewalk A-frame sign—featuring a chalk-drawn bowl of the namesake comfort food—and decided to give it a try.

Meanwhile, at a table in the spacious main dining and barroom, a group of middle-aged women merrily finished their meals. “You gotta live that meatball life,” said one, sounding particularly pleased. Soon Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman arrived with his wife, Cindy. They saddled up to two stools at a 14-seat marble island table and ordered to go.

At 8 Ball, there is something for everyone. And just to be clear: These aren’t your grandmother’s meatballs. These modern, golf-ball-size takes are better, and will leave your mouth watering until you return. The setup is deceptively simple. There are five main “balls” (get comfortable with the word here; it’s even on the bathroom doors —“Balls” for the men’s room; “No Balls” . . . you get the drift) that comprise the mix-and-match offerings, along with six sauces, including mushroom gravy and tomato.

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