Beginnings & Big Innings

The remarkable thing about Sports is how they bring people together. Left, Right, Middle, Black, White, Latino, Asian, it doesn’t actually matter when the game is on the line and you’re holding your breath to see what happens. The unrestrained joy or shared disappointment will overcome pretty much everything else.

I guess for me, sports is more than just a game, especially Baseball. I love the game – second only to my family. And since 2008, it has become even more dear to me as I have been privileged to sit beside my friend, Zack, and watch some of the biggest names in today’s game make their way from High A Stockton to MLB diamonds all over the country and the world. After fourteen years in the minors, Zack got his reward yesterday. And it was glorious.

Meanwhile, Baseball once upon a time had a big problem with Steroids. The problem wasn’t what most people think it was. As it turns out, big league Academia has virtually the same problem…


The conclusion of this paper is not that stars are bad, It’s just that, once safely ensconced at the top of their fields, maybe they tend to overstay their welcome.

Publishing leads to poverty


Paleontologists Discover The Largest T-Rex on Earth: A Towering 8.8 Ton Dino – Physics-Astronomy2

Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Canada.

Source: Paleontologists Discover The Largest T-Rex on Earth: A Towering 8.8 Ton Dino – Physics-Astronomy2

Nicknamed Scotty, the record-breaking Tyrannosaurus Rex is the biggest dinosaur skeleton ever found.

With a weight averaging 8.8 tons, paleontologists have excavated the fossilized remains of what is considered the largest T-Rex on Earth.

The ‘Rex’ of ‘Rexes’ lived in prehistoric Saskatchewan some 66 million years ago and measured 13 meters, according to University of Alberta paleontologists.

“This is the rex of rexes,” explained Scott Persons, a U of A paleontologist who led a study on the once formidable dinosaur, nicknamed Scotty.

“There is considerable size variability among Tyrannosaurus. Some individuals were lankier than others and some were more robust. Scotty exemplifies the robust. (He) comes out a bit heftier than other T-Rex specimens.”

Paleontologists have revealed it had massive leg bones indicating it had a living weight of more than 8,800 kilograms, which is much larger than all other carnivorous dinosaurs.
Although exact details about Scotty were only recently revealed by scientists from the University of Alberta, the specimen was actually discovered in 1991.
The Dinosaur’s skeleton was encased in sandstone and it took experts more than a decade to clean.
Only recently, and after years of putting Scotty back together like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle were paleontologists able to study the specimen, revealing its massive size.
Scotty is the oldest T-Rex known,” Persons explained.
By which I mean, it would have had the most candles on its last birthday cake. You can get an idea of how old a dinosaur is by cutting into its bones and studying its growth patterns. Scotty is all old growth
Experts estimate that the gigantic dinosaur was around 30 years of age when it died.
By Tyrannosaurus standards, it had an unusually long life. And it was a violent one,” Persons revealed. “Riddled across the skeleton are pathologies—spots where scarred bone records large injuries.
As noted by experts, a new exhibit featuring the skeleton of Scotty is set to open at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in May 2019.

Supervolcano facts and information

Though supervolcanoes like Yellowstone pose real dangers, their threats are often misunderstood and greatly exaggerated.

Source: Supervolcano facts and information

SUPERVOLCANOES ARE LIKE the supervillains of the geologic world, as stories of their looming threat grow ever more exaggerated. Though massive eruptions do pose real dangers, misconceptions about them abound.

According to the United States Geological Survey, a volcano is considered “super” if it has had at least one explosion that released more than 240 cubic miles of material—a little more than twice the volume of Lake Erie. That places it at a magnitude of eight, the highest ranking on the Volcanic Explosivity Index, or VEI, which is used to measure the explosiveness of an eruption.

These are very large eruptions, the impacts of which would be widespread—from avalanches of hot rock and gasses racing down the volcano’s flanks to global changes in climate. But there’s an important caveat about supervolcanoes that most people commonly overlook: Just because a volcano has had a super-eruption once or even twice in its past doesn’t mean its future eruptions will be just as big.

The Myth of Fingerprints | Science | Smithsonian

Over the mountain, down in the Valley,
Lives the former Talk Show host.
Far and wide his name was known.

He said there’s no doubt about it,
It was the myth of fingerprints,
That’s why we must learn to live alone…

-Paul Simon

Police today increasingly embrace DNA tests as the ultimate crime-fighting tool. They once felt the same way about fingerprinting

Source: The Myth of Fingerprints | Science | Smithsonian

At 9:00 a.m. last December 14, a man in Orange County, California, discovered he’d been robbed. Someone had swiped his Volkswagen Golf, his MacBook Air and some headphones. The police arrived and did something that is increasingly a part of everyday crime fighting: They swabbed the crime scene for DNA.

Normally, you might think of DNA as the province solely of high-profile crimes—like murder investigations, where a single hair or drop of blood cracks a devilish case. Nope: These days, even local cops are wielding it to solve ho-hum burglaries. The police sent the swabs to the county crime lab and ran them through a beige, photocopier-size “rapid DNA” machine, a relatively inexpensive piece of equipment affordable even by smaller police forces. Within minutes, it produced a match to a local man who’d been previously convicted of identity theft and burglary. They had their suspect.

DNA identification has gone mainstream—from the elite labs of “CSI” to your living room. When it first appeared over 30 years ago, it was an arcane technique. Now it’s woven into the fabric of everyday life: California sheriffs used it to identify the victims of their recent wildfires, and genetic testing firms offer to identify your roots if you mail them a sample.

Yet the DNA revolution has unsettling implications for privacy. After all, you can leave DNA on everything you touch—which means, sure, crimes can be more easily busted, but the government can also more easily track you. And while it’s fun to learn about your genealogy, your cheek samples can wind up in places you’d never imagine. FamilyTreeDNA, a personal genetic service, in January admitted it was sharing DNA data with federal investigators to help them solve crimes. Meanwhile consumer DNA testing firm 23andMe announced that it was now sharing samples sent to them with the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to make “novel treatments and cures.”

What happens to a society when there’s suddenly a new way to identify people—to track them as they move around the world? That’s a question that the denizens of the Victorian turn of the century pondered, as they learned of a new technology to hunt criminals: fingerprinting.

* * *

For centuries, scholars had remarked on the curious loops and “whorls” that decorated their fingertips. In 1788, the scientist J.C.A. Mayers declared that patterns seemed unique—that “the arrangement of skin ridges is never duplicated in two persons.”

It was an interesting observation, but one that lay dormant until 19th-century society began to grapple with an emerging problem: How do you prove people are who they say they are?

Carrying government-issued identification was not yet routine, as Colin Beavan, author of Fingerprintswrites. Cities like London were booming, becoming crammed full of strangers—and packed full of crime. The sheer sprawl of the population hindered the ability of police to do their work because unless they recognized criminals by sight, they had few reliable ways of verifying identities. A first-time offender would get a light punishment; a habitual criminal would get a much stiffer jail sentence. But how could the police verify whether a perpetrator they hauled in had ever been caught previously? When recidivists got apprehended, they’d just give out a fake name and claim it was their first crime.

“A lot of that is the function of the increasing anonymity of modern life,” notes Charles Rzepka, a Boston University professor who studies crime fiction. “There’s this problem of what Edgar Allan Poe called ‘The Man of the Crowd.’” It even allowed for devious cons. One man in Europe claimed to be “Roger Tichborne,” a long-lost heir to a family baronetcy, and police had no way to prove he was or wasn’t.

Faced with this problem, police tried various strategies for identification. Photographic mug shots helped, but they were painstakingly slow to search through. In the 1880s, a French police official named Alphonse Bertillon created a system for recording 11 body measurements of a suspect, but it was difficult to do so accurately.

The idea of fingerprints gradually dawned on several different thinkers. One was Henry Faulds, a Scottish physician who was working as a missionary in Japan in the 1870s. One day while sifting through shards of 2,000-year-old pottery, he noticed that the ridge patterns of the potter’s ancient fingerprints were still visible. He began inking prints of his colleagues at the hospital—and noticing they seemed unique. Faulds even used prints to solve a small crime. An employee was stealing alcohol from the hospital and drinking it in a beaker. Faulds located a print left on the glass, matched it to a print he’d taken from a colleague, and—presto—identified the culprit.

How reliable were prints, though? Could a person’s fingerprints change? To find out, Faulds and some students scraped off their fingertip ridges, and discovered they grew back in precisely the same pattern. When he examined children’s development over two years, Faulds found their prints stayed the same. By 1880 he was convinced, and wrote a letter to the journal Nature arguing that prints could be a way for police to deduce identity.

“When bloody finger-marks or impressions on clay, glass, etc., exist,” Faulds wrote, “they may lead to the scientific identification of criminals.”

Other thinkers were endorsing and exploring the idea—and began trying to create a way to categorize prints. Sure, fingerprints were great in theory, but they were truly useful only if you could quickly match them to a suspect.

The breakthrough in matching prints came from Bengal, India. Azizul Haque, the head of identification for the local police department, developed an elegant system that categorized prints into subgroups based on their pattern types such as loops and whorls. It worked so well that a police officer could find a match in only five minutes—much faster than the hour it would take to identify someone using the Bertillon body-measuring system. Soon, Haque and his superior Edward Henry were using prints to identify repeat criminals in Bengal “hand over fist,” as Beavan writes. When Henry demonstrated the system to the British government, officials were so impressed they made him assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard in 1901.

Fingerprinting was now a core tool in crime-busting. Mere months after Henry set up shop, London officers used it to fingerprint a man they’d arrested for pickpocketing. The suspect claimed it was his first offense. But when the police checked his prints, they discovered he was Benjamin Brown, a career criminal from Birmingham, who’d been convicted ten times and printed while in custody. When they confronted him with their analysis, he admitted his true identity. “Bless the finger-prints,” Brown said, as Beavan writes. “I knew they’d do me in!”

* * *

Within a few years, prints spread around the world. Fingerprinting promised to inject hard-nosed objectivity into the fuzzy world of policing. Prosecutors historically relied on witness testimony to place a criminal in a location. And testimony is subjective; the jury might not find the witness credible. But fingerprints were an inviolable, immutable truth, as prosecutors and professional “fingerprint examiners” began to proclaim.

“The fingerprint expert has only facts to consider; he reports simply what he finds. The lines of identification are either there or they are absent,” as one print examiner argued in 1919.

This sort of talk appealed to the spirit of the age—one where government authorities were keen to pitch themselves as rigorous and science-based.

“It’s this turn toward thinking that we have to collect detailed data from the natural world—that these tiniest details could be more telling than the big picture,” says Jennifer Mnookin, dean of the UCLA law school and an expert in evidence law. Early 20th-century authorities increasingly believed they could solve complex social problems with pure reason and precision. “It was tied in with these ideas of science and progressivism in government, and having archives and state systems of tracking people,” says Simon Cole, a law professor at the UC, Irvine, and the author of Suspect Identities, a history of fingerprinting.

Prosecutors wrung high drama out of this curious new technique. When Thomas Jennings in 1910 was the first U.S. defendant to face a murder trial that relied on fingerprinted evidence, prosecutors handed out blown-up copies of the prints to the jury. In other trials, they would stage live courtroom demonstrations of print-lifting and print-matching. It was, in essence, the birth of the showily forensic policing that we now see so often on “CSI”-style TV shows: perps brought low by implacably scientific scrutiny. Indeed, criminals themselves were so intimidated by the prospect of being fingerprinted that, in 1907, a suspect arrested by Scotland Yard desperately tried to slice off his own prints while in the paddy wagon.

Yet it also became clear, over time, that fingerprinting wasn’t as rock solid as boosters would suggest. Police experts would often proclaim in court that “no two people have identical prints”—even though this had never been proven, or even carefully studied. (It’s still not proven.)

Although that idea was plausible, “people just asserted it,” Mnookin notes; they were eager to claim the infallibility of science. Yet quite apart from these scientific claims, police fingerprinting was also simply prone to error and sloppy work.

The real problem, Cole notes, is that fingerprinting experts have never agreed on “a way of measuring the rarity of an arrangement of friction ridge features in the human population.” How many points of similarity should two prints have before the expert analyst declares they’re the same? Eight? Ten? Twenty? Depending on what city you were tried in, the standards could vary dramatically. And to make matters more complex, when police lift prints from a crime scene, they are often incomplete and unclear, giving authorities scant material to make a match.

So even as fingerprints were viewed as unmistakable, plenty of people were mistakenly sent to jail. Simon Cole notes that at least 23 people in the United States have been imprisoned after being wrongly connected to crime-scene prints. In North Carolina in 1985, Bruce Basden was arrested for murder and spent 13 months in jail before the print analyst realized he’d made a blunder.

Nonetheless, the reliability of fingerprinting today is rarely questioned in modern courts. One exception was J. Spencer Letts, a federal judge in California who in 1991 became suspicious of fingerprint analysts who’d testified in a bank robbery trial. Letts was astounded to hear that the standard for declaring that two prints matched varied widely from county to county. Letts threw out the fingerprint evidence from that trial.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to use fingerprint testimony again,” he said in court, sounding astonished, as Cole writes. “I’ve had my faith shaken.” But for other judges, the faith still holds.

​* * *

The world of DNA identification, in comparison, has received a slightly higher level of skepticism. When it was first discovered in 1984, it seemed like a blast of sci-fi precision. Alec Jeffreys, a researcher at the University of Leicester in England, had developed a way to analyze pieces of DNA and produce an image that, Jeffreys said, had a high likelihood of being unique. In a splashy demonstration of his concept, he found that the semen on two murder victims wasn’t from the suspect police had in custody.

DNA quickly gained a reputation for helping free the wrongly accused: Indeed, the nonprofit Innocence Project has used it to free over 360 prisoners by casting doubt on their convictions. By 2005, Science magazine said DNA analysis was the “gold standard” for forensic evidence.

Yet DNA identification, like fingerprinting, can be prone to error when used sloppily in the field. One problem, notes Erin Murphy, professor of criminal law at New York University School of Law, is “mixtures”: If police scoop up genetic material from a crime scene, they’re almost certain to collect not just the DNA of the offender, but stray bits from other people. Sorting relevant from random is a particular challenge for the simple DNA identification tools increasingly wielded by local police. The rapid-typing machines weren’t really designed to cope with the complexity of samples collected in the field, Murphy says—even though that’s precisely how some police are using them.

“There’s going to be one of these in every precinct and maybe in every squad car,” Murphy says, with concern. When investigating a crime scene, local police may not have the training to avoid contaminating their samples. Yet they’re also building up massive databases of local citizens: Some police forces now routinely request a DNA sample from everyone they stop, so they can rule them in or out of future crime investigations.

The courts have already recognized the dangers of badly managed DNA identification. In 1989—only five years after Jeffreys invented the technique—U.S. lawyers successfully contested DNA identification in court, arguing that the lab processing the evidence had irreparably contaminated it. Even the prosecution agreed it had been done poorly. Interestingly, as Mnookin notes, DNA evidence received pushback “much more quickly than fingerprints ever did.”

It even seems the public has grasped the dangers of its being abused and misused. Last November, a jury in Queens, New York, deadlocked in a murder trial—after several of them reportedly began to suspect the accused’s DNA had found its way onto the victim’s body through police contamination. “There is a sophistication now among a lot of jurors that we haven’t seen before,” Lauren-Brooke Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the New York Times.

To keep DNA from being abused, we’ll have to behave like good detectives—asking the hard questions, and demanding evidence.

This Minimally Invasive Technique Could Reduce the Need for Open-Heart Surgery | Smart News | Smithsonian

My retired neighbor, a USMC Veteran, just had this (or something very similar) done last week. He was home that day and is resting. Getting better!

Clinical trials suggest TAVR is just as beneficial as, or perhaps even better than, open-heart surgery for low- and high-risk patients alike

Source: This Minimally Invasive Technique Could Reduce the Need for Open-Heart Surgery | Smart News | Smithsonian

urrently, the majority of individuals who undergo transcather aortic valve replacement (TAVR)—a minimally invasive alternative to open-heart surgery—are elderly or subject to compounding complications such as kidney disease. Thanks to a pair of new studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, however, TAVR is poised to become an increasingly accessible option for low-risk patients, including the young and generally healthy.

Compared to traditional open-heart surgery, which involves cracking the chest open and stopping the heart, TAVR is a relatively simple procedure. Cardiologists use a catheter to insert a replacement valve via an incision in the patient’s groin, Michelle Cortez writes for Bloomberg, and then thread the device into place. According to The New York Times’ Gina Kolata, recovery takes days rather than months.

As Peter Loftus reports for the Wall Street Journal, two clinical trials sponsored by competing valve makers Edwards Lifesciences and Medtronic suggest TAVR is just as beneficial as, or perhaps even better than, open-heart surgery for low- and high-risk patients alike. The Edwards-funded study found that TAVR offers lower rates of death, stroke and re-hospitalization than surgery, while the Medtronic-funded study revealed similar incidences of death and disabling stroke amongst those treated with TAVR versus invasive surgery.

Of 1,000 healthy, lower-risk patients who received an Edwards Sapien 3 valve, 8.5 percent died, suffered a stroke or were re-hospitalized within a year of treatment. Comparatively, Bloomberg’s Cortez observes, 15.1 percent of surgery patients experienced these same consequences during the first year post-procedure.

Turning to the more than 1,400 individuals treated with Medtronic’s Evolut valve, Cortez notes that 5.3 percent—as opposed to 6.7 percent of surgery patients—died or had a disabling stroke within two years of treatment. This difference is not considered statistically significant, according to Reuters’ Tamara Mathias, but still managed to meet the company’s stated goal of “non-inferiority” to open-heart surgery.

To date, Loftus points out for the Journal, nearly 200,000 U.S. patients have undergone TAVR. As the Times’ Kolata adds, some 60,000 intermediate- and high-risk patients receive the treatment annually. If the Food and Drug Administration approves the technique for use in lower-risk patients—Michael Reardon, a co-author of the Medtronic study, tells the Houston Chronicle’s Todd Ackerman this may happen as early as June—an additional 20,000 individuals per year will become eligible for the operation. Within several years, Reardon predicts, the number of TAVR procedures performed in the U.S. annually could jump to 100,000.

“This is a clear win for TAVR,” Michael J. Mack, lead investigator of the Edwards study, says in an interview with Kolata.

Moving forward, Mack continues, “we will be very selective” about who must undergo open-heart surgery.

As Ackerman writes, the key question remaining is biological versus mechanical valves’ longevity. Although mechanical valves last for decades, they require the lifelong use of blood thinners and, of course, carry the physical toll exacted by invasive surgery. Biological valves, on the other hand, don’t require blood thinners but likely won’t last as long as mechanical ones. If a patient’s biological valve wears out, he or she will need to undergo follow-up procedures.

Still, Reardon tells Ackerman, he thinks that most patients, if given the choice, will opt for TAVR over open-heart surgery.

“With TAVR, most patients are home within 24 hours and back to normal within a week,” Reardon concludes. “The evening after I do a morning procedure, I’ll find the patients sitting in a chair in their room having dinner, chatting with family and wanting to know when they can go home.”

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Could This Sideburn-Sporting Scientist Crack the Autism Gene Puzzle? | Rising Stars | OZY

Using stem cells, Brian O’Roak is figuring out how genetic mutations affect brain development – and how we might treat the disorder.

Source: Could This Sideburn-Sporting Scientist Crack the Autism Gene Puzzle? | Rising Stars | OZY

Brian O’Roak loves Gaelic football, a fast-paced game with 15 players; a round ball that can be carried, kicked or passed; and a bunch of complex rules. Which makes perfect sense when you discover that O’Roak has managed some of the most complicated studies of autism genetics to date, involving the sequencing and analysis of DNA samples from thousands of individuals. “I was looking for something that was really hard, but potentially with a path forward,” he says, recalling the moment in grad school when he decided to focus on autism research.

At Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland, the 37-year-old assistant professor of molecular and medical genetics is still wrestling with big, complex challenges. Known for his pioneering work on the genetic risk factors for autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects about 1 in 68 children, O’Roak is now investigating what those genes are doing as the brain develops. The ultimate goal? To devise gene therapies that could fix the mutations leading to autism and restore healthy brain development.

O’Roak’s work — for which he received the BRAINS (Biobehavioral Research Awards for Innovative New Scientists) young investigator award from the National Institute of Mental Health last fall — involves taking stem cells from human patients with autism and using new technology to coax them into becoming tiny brains-in-a-dish called organoids. O’Roak uses a 3D printer to create a scaffold on which the stem cells develop into brain-like structures in a petri dish. Watching these cells develop can provide clues to how a patient’s mutations affect the earliest stages of brain development.

“We can actually develop models in the lab that have the exact same genetic variants that are identified in individuals with autism,” O’Roak says, “and we can start to understand how those mutations affect the development of the human brain.”

For a kid who grew up in a small town in California’s Central Valley, aka America’s fruit basket, cutting-edge research wasn’t an obvious path. Raised by a single mom since second grade, O’Roak wasn’t exposed to advanced science until high school, when he became interested in biology and a teacher recommended a summer program sponsored by NASA at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he worked with cells from genetically engineered obese mice.

Still unsure of what he wanted to study, O’Roak was invited to join the inaugural honors program class at Cal State Fresno, which came with a full scholarship. There, he found his way into a plant genetics and molecular biology lab (and started dating a fellow honors student who would become his wife).

From college he moved on to graduate school in genetics at Yale, completing a rotation with Matthew State, who was studying genetic mechanisms involved in psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism. “He [State] gave a really compelling case about how, even though neuropsychiatric or neurodevelopmental disorders were really complex, we could develop a strategy to identify risk genes that might actually let us start to unravel some of the complexities of these disorders,” O’Roak says.

Not surprisingly, he jumped into one of State’s most demanding projects. O’Roak identified individuals with autism but without any family history of the disorder, and he searched for novel mutations that had caused it to develop. Back in 2004, it wasn’t possible to sequence genes quickly and cheaply, so he looked for individuals with chromosomal abnormalities that were visible using a microscope.

Chris Mason, a postdoc in State’s lab who’s now a researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine, says of O’Roak was not only a good colleague for brainstorming about “pedigree analysis and complex genetic variation, but also complex hop variation in beer.” With his huge sideburns, rakish eyebrows and easy smile, O’Roak looks every bit the beer-brewing, football-playing weekend warrior, but during the week, says Mason, he’s a pioneering geneticist.

After finishing his Ph.D., O’Roak became a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington. As gene sequencing technology evolved, he used the faster method to sequence the exome — the part of the genome that codes for proteins — to identify new mutations (genetic aberrations not inherited from either parent) in children with autism. Raphael Bernier, a professor at UW, took note of O’Roak’s next-level analytic skills and was impressed that he could “work with such a massive data set,” synthesizing reams of minute details — “at such a quick pace.”

O’Roak is now marshaling those skills to help steer the largest genetic study of autism ever. OHSU is one of 25 clinical sites across the U.S. participating in SPARK, an initiative recruiting 50,000 families with autism to share genetic, behavioral and medical information with the goal of accelerating autism research. By dramatically increasing the sample size, “we think we can identify a lot of additional risk genes,” O’Roak says, while also identifying more common genetic variants that have weaker effects on autism risk.

But identifying the autism risk genes is just the beginning. “We’ve kind of just got the who in our story,” says O’Roak. “We still need to figure out the what,the where, the when and the why/how to make things better.”

Ultimately, O’Roak wants to figure out how the autism risk genes affect how the brain develops. Which brings us back to the brain organoids he’s been coaxing from stem cells of autistic patients. From these organoids, O’Roak can measure the gene activity in single cells to determine how a patient’s mutation changes the gene networks over time. He also plans to use the gene editing technology CRISPR to correct the mutation in the patient’s stem cells to see if that fixes the organoid’s growth — and points toward targeted treatments for autism.

Between his faculty responsibilities at OHSU, running a lab and parenting two young children, O’Roak is sprinting like the footballer he is. And still he finds time to make beer. In fact, Homebrew Con, a home brewers conference, came to Portland in June, and O’Roak competed in the national championship with his special home brew — the result, naturally, of a intensely complex process.

5 Questions for Brian O’Roak

What’s your favorite book? Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

What do you worry about? Too many things, but mostly about my kids and finding funds to support our lab.

What’s the one thing you can’t live without? Yeast. They make beer and bread.

Who’s your hero? Master Yoda

What’s one item on your bucket list? San Francisco Giants Fantasy Camp