City worker and Little Italy resident Matt Hersl, struck and killed April 9 by a speeding car in front of City Hall, is being remembered as a community advocate, as well as a good friend.
“He was involved in everything,” said Mel Stachura, president of the Little Italy Property Owners Association. “I told people that if you’re in Little Italy and you don’t know Matt Hersl, then you must have just moved here.”
Stachura said that Hersl, 45, had the unique ability to lead lots of projects, yet stay out of the limelight.
“Right from the get-go, he was always active in the community—addressing crime and safety issues, street lighting, street cleaning, fighting bad bars, you name it,” he said. “He was involved in everything, but maintained a private life.”
Stachura added that Hersl had a knack for gathering information.
“If we wanted to find out the status of a liquor license, he could find out about it,” he said. “If we had a crime scene, he could go and find surveillance photos and give them to the police. If I had no idea who to call, he did.”
First District Councilman Jim Kraft said that the loss of Hersl “creates a hole in our community.”
“He would help us fill it if he were here, because that is what he did,” Kraft said. “He was the personification of the word ‘citizen.’ He saw a problem; he sought a solution.”
“His family and friends will miss him,” he added. “Little Italy will miss him. I will miss him.”
Hampden resident Larry Wiczulis was deeply wounded by Hersl’s death. Wiczulis attended Hampstead Hill Junior High School and then Patterson High School with Hersl. Wiczulis grew up in what is now Butchers Hill; Hersl lived toward Highlandtown.
“I knew him for 30 years,” Wiczulis said. “I would say we were best friends. We never acknowledged it, but we spent the most time together.”
Wiczulis said that in the 1980s, Butchers Hill was a different neighborhood—“pretty horrible”—and Hersl’s “stable” demeanor helped keep him out of too much trouble.
“He didn’t have the emotional ups and downs that a lot of us have,” described Wiczulis. “He didn’t get caught up in drama.”
“He was just like a rock,” he added. “I would always try to analyze him: ‘Is he really that cool?’ It took a guy like him to be friends with a guy like me.”
One of Hersl’s favorite pastimes, Wiczulis said, was “ball hawking,” or acquiring as many game baseballs as possible at Camden Yards. Hersl often arrived to games a half hour early, Wiczulis added, a benefit of having season tickets. This afforded him access to pre-game batting practice, where he would run through the outfield stands with a few other like-minded crazies, collecting as many balls as he could.
In the process, he got to know many Orioles, including Brian Matusz, Brian Roberts, and Adam Jones.
“Adam Jones would yell, ‘Go ball boy, go!’” said Wiczulis.
Saddened by the loss, the Orioles had a moment of silence in Hersl’s honor at their April 16 game against Tampa Bay.
The players also passed around a baseball glove which they autographed and gave to Hersl’s family.
Hersl used the balls he collected to, among other things, “butter up” the ushers who then gave him access to the club level, where he hobnobbed with heavy-hitters such as Lou Kousouris, WIczulis said.
The ball hawkers, according to Wiczulis, are an enthusiastic group of about 20 who share the odd pastime. More information about the activity can be found at eutawstreetreport.com and mygameballs.com.
Wiczulis noted that before Hersl found out about ball-hawking, he would accompany him to concerts and music festivals.
“Matt wasn’t into music, really,” said Wiczulis. “I couldn’t tell you what genre he liked, let alone what song or band.”
Ball-hawking was a much better fit.
“Matt was so passionate about it that I thought it was something I should maybe back off, give him some space,” joked Wiczulis.
by Erik Zygmont