By Justin George, The Baltimore Sun
3:12 PM PDT, April 12, 2013
The funeral procession for Matthew Hersl crawled through the tight streets of Southeast Baltimore, moving past the Milan restaurant, the Inner Harbor Travel agency and the Little Italy parking garage. Steve Hersl, Matt's brother, blared his car horn as he inched along.
A blue passenger van with a Baltimore Orioles hat resting on the dashboard led the convoy through the 45-year-old city finance supervisor's neighborhood. As the procession passed his home, Steve leaned out his black Hyundai and yelled, "I love you, Matt!"
More than 200 came to remember Hersl, a dedicated Orioles fan, who was standing downtown Tuesday when a car coming off Interstate 83 struck and killed him outside City Hall.
The horn blared again as the mourners arrived at St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church, city officials, family members, neighbors and co-workers emerging from parked cars in black suits, blue city uniforms and orange Orioles jackets. In the small church, Hersl was remembered by relatives and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as "generous and kind."
"On behalf of the people of Baltimore, I send my sincerest condolences," said Rawlings-Blake, who frequently saw the 28-year city worker in city hallways. "It's a loss I know for your family but also for the city of Baltimore."
City Councilman James B. Kraft, who represents Little Italy, told mourners that for years he was a "victim of many of Matt's calls" about neighborhood issues. Hersl, who did not own a car, walked everywhere, and Kraft said he made his presence felt all over Baltimore as if "there were clones of Matt, like that movie 'Multiplicity.' "
Despite working well together numerous times, Kraft said Hersl once campaigned for his opponent. When the councilman asked why, Hersl replied: "The money was good."
The crowd laughed.
Hersl last called Kraft just hours before the accident, reminding him to attend a neighborhood association meet-and-greet event that night. "Make sure you're there," Kraft said he told him.
The Maryland State Police continue to investigate Tuesday's fatal crash. The 43-year-old Baltimore man who drove the car that struck Hersl has not been charged, and prosecutors are waiting for the police investigation to conclude before deciding whether to prosecute him.
An agency spokesman declined to comment on the progress of the investigation Friday, he said, out of respect for Hersl's family and to preserve the integrity of the investigation.
Hersl served on safety committees in Little Italy, where he lived for 15 years. He often led neighborhood cleanups and helped recruit new members.
He was also a mainstay at Camden Yards, where he lived for hunting down fly balls and home run balls. He collected more than 100 a season and developed a reputation nationally among collectors and hobbyists.
He was single and had no children, but family members said he spoiled his nieces and nephews with baseball tickets and baseballs.
In the pews Friday, a woman wearing an Orioles scarf wiped her eyes as the Rev. Salvatore C. Furnari tried to help people understand how Hersl could die "through no fault of his own." He told mourners they live in an imperfect world filled with sickness and death but that Hersl's resting place now is "perfection."
Steve Hersl gave a eulogy describing his brother as someone who always put others first. In death, he said, his family learned much more about him from stories that friends told about his volunteer work with Little Italy neighborhood associations and his willingness to get others baseball tickets whenever they needed them.
"Matt touched so many people's lives," he said. "We are humbled and blessed by our brother and will miss him forever."
The Mass ended and mourners spilled onto South Exeter Street, where the city Honor Guard greeted them, stone-still in the middle of the intersection. People hugged each other and departed, many walking past Hersl's home, just three blocks away. A small shrine at the front door had blossomed with Orioles paraphernalia over the past three days.
Signed baseballs, T-shirts, Camden Yards postcards and flowers were mixed with cards and baseball caps people had left.
"Matt you were a great uncle and incredible person," a nephew wrote on the brim of a cap.
A card attached to a vase of orange flowers said, "See you in life's post season."
On the door, someone had taped a baseball ticket to seat No. 13 in section 34, row 6.
"Last Sunday," someone had written, "we sure had some sweet seats but now you've got the best view. Save me a spot."
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