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August 29, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Early fall bird migration?
Jacqueline and I went for a walk along YuLee Larner's Trail in Montgomery Hall Park this morning, and after a dull period lasting 15 minutes or so, all of a sudden we "hit the jackpot":
Location: Montgomery Hall Park
Observation date: 8/29/09
Number of species: 20
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Red-eyed Vireo 2
Blue Jay 5
American Crow 8
Carolina Chickadee 4
Tufted Titmouse 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
Carolina Wren 3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 2
American Robin 12
European Starling 40
Black-throated Green Warbler 1
Black-and-white Warbler 2
Eastern Towhee 1
Northern Cardinal 5
Common Grackle 2
Baltimore Oriole 3
American Goldfinch 1
This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)
All of those species are known to breed in this area, except for the Black-throated Green Warbler, so its presence may indicate that the fall bird migration season for songbirds has already begun.
Hardly any birds of interest to report out back lately, but at least the hummingbird(s) appear(s) up fairly regularly.
You don't see these two birds together every day: a male Brown-headed Cowbird and a Mourning Dove, in our back yard last month.
August 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Wood Stork in Woodstock!??
Is this news item a mere coincidence with the 40th anniversary celebration? Two rare birds were spotted several times near Woodstock, Virginia (an hour-plus drive from here, unfortunately) this past week: a Little Blue Heron and a Wood Stork. Both species breed in the southeastern United States, but like other birds inhabiting shorelines and wetlands, they sometimes stray to the north. That was true of the Roseate Spoonbill in June, and the Glossy Ibis in August 2006. Perhaps the Little Blue Heron and Wood Stork were injured and had to take refuge in Woodstock. It's just idle speculation, but it made me think of a poem:
How many storks could to Woodstock soar, if a Wood Stork could soar sore?
There could soar as many storks as the Wood storks could, if a Wood Stork could soar sore.
Try saying that three times in a row!
August 17, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Divisional races start to heat up
As the 2009 baseball season enters the "fourth quarter," the races toward the postseason are showing signs of heating up. The situation has changed markedly since I went on vacation at the end of last month. In the AL East, the Yankees have opened up a 7.5 game lead over the Red Sox, who are now behind the Rangers in the AL Wild Card race. The Yankees are finally playing like a unified team, and are second only to the Angels in terms of batting average in the American League. Derek Jeter has shaken off his lengthy slump, batting .323, and just passed Luis Aparicio as the all-time leader in hits as a shortstop, with 2,674; see MLB.com. Robinson Cano is right behind Jeter in batting average, and represents the next generation of Yankee greats. Both of those infielders have made a number of clutch hits that decided the outcome of several games. In the AL Central, the Tigers and White Sox continue to slug it out, and in the AL West, the Angels are maintaining a comfortable lead over the Rangers.
In the National League, the Dodgers got a big upward bounce last month when Manny Ramirez returned to the lineup after his suspension over banned substance abuse. They still have a comfortable 5-game lead in the NL West, but the Colorado Rockies are steadily creeping up on them, and currently lead in the NL Wild Card race. In the NL Central, the Cardinals likewise enjoy a 5-game advantage over the Cubs, who were going into a slump just as I saw them play in Denver last week. The situation in the NL East is the most interesting, as the Phillies are facing serious challenges from both the Marlins and the Braves, both of which could also be Wild Card contenders. At the proverbial "bottom of the barrel," the Washington Nationals have rebounded from an awful first four months of the year, winning 11 of their last 14 games. They are now at .369 for the year, getting closer to the "threshold of respectability" (.400). Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman, and Josh Willingham have proven to be a powerful slugging trio, with 31, 24, and  home runs, respectively, while the pitching staff shows continued improvement over their horrible early-season performance.
The Strasburg quandary
The Washington Nationals already offered their top draft pick Stephen Strasburg a record-breaking deal for a rookie player, but it apparently wasn't good enough for him. (See MLB.com.) I really don't think it's worth investing so much in a single player, so even though I hope Strasburg signs with the Nats, I won't fret about it if he declines. The deadline is midnight tonight.
MIDNIGHT UPDATE: According to ESPN (no permalink yet), Strasburg agreed to a four-year $15.67 million deal just before the deadline. Well, what do you know... This report was just confirmed by MLB.com [link updated], but without [exact] dollar amounts. For details on the final-day negotiations, see wusa9.com (Channel 9 in D.C.), which has been running an online poll. (I voted "yes," of course.)
Talkback Opinion Poll
Would you still support the Nationals if Strasburg isn't signed?
Camden Yards update
My visit to Orioles Park at Camden Yards on August 1 was very pleasant, even though the "wrong" team won. I couldn't find any significant discrepancies between my diagram(s) and the Real Thing, but I may do some microscopic tweaking later on. In any event, I have added five (5) brand new photos to the Camden Yards page, but not including this one of my friend Dave Givens and me:
August 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Veteran pitchers get shuffled
All around the majors, it seems, teams are unloading and/or acquiring senior-level big-name pitchers at a breakneck pace. The Red Sox acquired 38-year old Billy Wagner from the faltering New York Mets, who used him in only two innings this year. He had been their closer for the last three years, and a superb one at that, with an ERA well under 3.00. He had Tommy John surgery last year, however, and his career seemed to be over. Now he's on a comeback. He will serve in the Red Sox bullpen, and he is so eager to play again that he said he'd be their water boy if necessary. To make room for Wagner, Boston released Brad Penny. See MLB.com.
The Cardinals will put John Smoltz on the mound when the Washington Nationals arrive in St. Louis tomorrow evening. Smoltz had a rough time in Boston earlier this year, going 2-5. One of those losses was in Washington, on June 25, when he gave up four runs to the Nationals in the first inning. His career hangs in the balance, but bounced back from near-oblivion once before, missing the 2000 season due to an arm injury and starting over as a relief pitcher for the Braves -- the only team he ever played for from 1988 through 2008.
The Washington Nationals are desperate to get better, more experienced pitchers, so it made perfect sense when they signed veteran starter Livan Hernandez, who had just been released by the New York Mets last week. He was the Nationals' ace for their first two and a half years, back when pitching was their strong point. Livan was a reliable workhorse who could routinely go seven or eight innings -- exactly the kind of pitcher the Nationals need right now! To make way for Hernandez, Collin Balester was demoted from the starting rotation to the Syracuse farm club. The Nationals front office is looking to acquire a veteran to anchor the pitching staff for next year. See MLB.com. In his first game with the Nats, on Wednesday night, Livan went six innings and allowed only two runs, but then of course the bullpen collapsed and the Cubs won, 9-4.
Welcome back, Livan!
Morgan out for the season
The Nationals' recently-acquired outfielder Nyjer Morgan suffered a broken hand while sliding into third base today, and he will miss the rest of the season. It's a tough break for him and for the team, which has benefitted immensely from his hustle since he came over from Pittsburgh in a mid-season trade, but his replacement Willie Harris has just as much spunk, and considerable talent as well. See MLB.com.
The Nats took two of three games from the Cubs in Wrigley Field, as the slugging trio of Dunn, Zimmerman, and Willingham continue to pound away home runs. Both teams are in desperate straits, and I had mixed feelings. Tomorrow the Nats begin their first and only series they will play at Busch Stadium (III) this year.
What ails the Cubs?
It was a real letdown when the Cubs practically gave away the game that I saw with my father in Denver two weeks ago, but that was rather typical of how the North Siders have been playing this year. In fact, the Cubs may soon drop out of postseason contention unless something changes real fast. Manager Lou Pinella can't seem to figure out what to do. In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell finds there is plenty of blame to go around, including:
Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley, three toxic outfielders with 40 homers and 131 RBI. Those would be great numbers for one player. Unfortunately, those are for the whole outfield combined. If this were a house inspection, the Cubs would have termites, mold and lead paint; you could cancel the contract.
Unassisted triple play!
By now just about every fan know that, at Citi Field last Sunday, Phillies second baseman Eric Bruntlett recorded one of the rarest feats in all of baseball: an unassisted triple play. It was only the 14th time such a thing had ever happened, and was only the second time that it was the game-ending play. And so, the Mets lost again, 9-7. Bruntlett had a great day hitting, but committed a key error on defense, so that clutch play was important for him. For a full report and some historical background, see MLB.com.
Bruntlett's amazing play happened during a particularly busy time for me, or else I would have mentioned it sooner on this blog. I remember when Rafael Furcal achieved this remarkable feat in August 2003 (as shortstop), and since then, Troy Tulowitzki (of the Rockies, April 2007) and Asdrubal Cabrera (of the Indians, May 2008) have repeated the feat. It's odd how (relatively) frequently such plays have happened in the last few years, given that for 41 years (1927 to 1968) nobody did it! When I visited the ruins of League Park in 1998, I learned that Bill "Wamby" Wambganss execute an unassisted triple play on October 20, 1920, helping the Cleveland Indians defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers five games to two in the World Series. (See the historical marker photo .)
August 23, 2009 [LINK / comment]
The Nationals finally win
After the six-game home stand winning streak two weeks ago [plus two road victories, making eight total], hopes were rising that the Washington Nationals had finally put their losing ways behind them. Then came the awful home stand of the past few days, as the "D.C. 9" were swept by the Colorado Rockies and lost two games to the Milwaukee Brewers. The defeat last night was on one hand hard to take, as the Nats wasted a nine-run offensive outburst, including a grand slam by Ronnie Belliard, but was also encouraging, as they refused to buckle after repeated adversities and kept slugging away until the very end. What did them in was John Lannan's worst outing of the year, giving up seven runs in only two innings.
This afternoon's game was much more satisfying, and left fielder Josh Willingham got things started right on the first play of the game with a great grab of a fly ball hit to the warning track. In the bottom of that inning, the Nats took advantage of an error, after Ryan Zimmerman knocked in a run with a single, and made it to second base which had been left vacant. Runners on second and third with nobody out! Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham both flied out, but then Ronnie Belliard hit a clutch two-run single to give the Nats a comfortable three-run lead that got bigger in later innings, thanks to home runs by Dunn, Zimmerman, and Cristian Guzman. Craig Stammen pitched a fine six-plus innings, and Nyjer Morgan successfully bunted in rookie Mike Morse on a suicide squeeze play. Classic! See MLB.com.
It is gratifying that Belliard is finally hitting like he used to, as he gets more at-bats. He is a reliable hustler, with years of experience, and deserves the chance to prove himself.
Sale of Cubs is finalized
The Tribune Company finally completed the transaction by which the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field are being sold to the Ricketts family, for about $845 million. The Ricketts founded TD Ameritrade, which is presumably not part of the Wall Street sleaziness that brought American capitalism to its knees. The process of selling the Cubs began way back in early 2007, and MLB owners began to consider approving the deal last month. (No problems are expected.) According to Yahoo News, completion of the sale "was slowed by CEO Sam Zell's efforts to maximize sale profits, the collapse of the credit markets and Tribune's 2008 bankruptcy filing." Link via Bruce Orser.
August 28, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Mr. Deeds comes to Staunton
Creigh Deeds paid two visits to downtown Staunton over the past 24 hours. Last night, he held a rally at the Mill Street Grill (see the News Virginian), then he spent the night back home in Bath County, and this morning (Friday), he spoke to a small gathering at the Black Dog bicycle shop. Since I needed to buy a replacement tire anyway (27" x 1.25"), I attended the latter event. About twenty people were present, including local journalists; see the News Leader and augustafreepress.com.
In his remarks, Deeds almost sounded like a Republican, emphasizing his support for business and fiscal responsibility, and somehow the controversy over health care didn't even come up. Deeds made a big point about auditing state agencies to cut out wasteful spending, which is nice but state legislators have been pursuing that avenue for years (e.g., Del. Chris Saxman's Cost-Cutting Caucus), to little avail.
One curious aspect of this campaign is that both candidates are putting a strong emphasis on helping small businesses, widely regarded as the most efficient "engine" of job growth. In McDonnell's case that means streamlining permit procedures and minimizing paperwork burdens, while Deeds wants to give tax relief on a selective basis. It sounds good, but any time such breaks are targeted there is always a risk of favoritism, which is the first step toward cronyism and ultimately corruption.
Creigh Deeds speaks about his support for small business, etc.
After speaking to the group in bike shop, Deeds answered questions from reporters. On the left wearing a red tie is City Councilman Bruce Elder.
Deeds is about ten percent behind Bob McDonnell in most polls, and recently began to run new TV ads that attack McDonnell on various fronts. Last week he tried to portray McDonnell as an extremist on the abortion issue, a gross distortion of his opponent's record, and this week he has played up Deed's connection to former Governor Warner, a moderate who emphasized balancing the budget. (It is interesting that he says very little about the current governor, Tim Kaine, who has turned into something of a partisan hard-baller during the latter portion of his term in office.) The one aspect of those ads that might resonate with independent voters is the Bush administration's poor record on economic policy. McDonnell is not known as a strong Bush loyalist or as a member of the zealous tax-cutting crowd, however, so that line of attack may not have much effect. See the Richmond Times Dispatch.
While Deeds came across as intelligent, sincere, and committed to his goals, his speaking style leaves a little to be desired. Most people expect their government leaders to be forceful and articulate, and I'm not sure that Deeds measures up in the "gravitas" department. With over eight weeks to go, Deeds still has time to polish his image and make stylistic adjustments, but he'll have to hurry if he is going to catch up to McDonnell.
Republican Bob McDonnell came to town a week and a half ago (Aug. 17), and since then has paid a visit to Weyer's Cave. Does all this attention from the gubernatorial candidates mean this area has become a pivotal "bellwether" region?
Honesty on health care
I got a warm and fuzzy feeling from reading the op-ed piece by John Mackey in the Wall Street Journal. He is the president of Whole Foods, the organic/health food grocery store chain that caters to upscale counterculture folks. He is well aware that entitlement spending is going to explode as Baby Boomers retire, raising the risk of inflation or even national bankruptcy. "Obamacare" would simply hasten our economic demise, so he offered an alternative based on common sense and market principles. He calls attention to the various pointless legal obstacles to reform that hardly anyone talks about, and all the Federal mandates that constrain choice and inflate costs. I had problems with this paragraph, however:
Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits. Now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible, but individual health insurance is not. This is unfair.
I strongly agree with the point he is trying to make, which every self-employed person in America ought to understand by now, but he is wrong to state that "employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible." In fact, such benefits are not even reported as income in the first place. That's why hardly anybody really knows the full amount of the health benefits they are receiving. Hat tip to Anne ("Bad Rose") for alerting me to this cause via Facebook, and to Dan, who came across the same item independently.
Closer to home, I recently learned (via augustafreepress.com) about a new enterprise that seems to be a brokerage services to help businesses and individuals get the most appropriate, cost-effective health insurance coverage: Infinite Insurance Solutions. They seem to specialize in advising people on the ramifications of various health care reform proposals.
Repealing the Federal Income Tax Amendment (#16, ratified in 1913) sounds like a nice idea, but I'm afraid it would pose too big of a financial risk at a time when the Federal budget deficit is mushrooming out of control. Anyway, take a look at the28thamendmentproposal.org; hat tip to Stacey Morris. I would go a step further and just eliminate (rather than cap) the corporate income tax, which amounts to double taxation and creates all sorts of market distortions.
August 27, 2009 [LINK / comment]
R.I.P. Edward M. Kennedy
The passing of Teddy Kennedy from the world stage has been a long time coming, and almost everyone made up their mind on him many years ago. As a ferocious, zestful crusader who made helping poor and disadvantaged people his life's mission, he left a mark that will be remembered for many decades to come. Burdened with trying to uphold the political legacy of his two fallen older brothers John and Robert, both of whom were almost universally revered, Teddy sometimes faltered and stumbled, but he always got back up and started pushing once again. No one can imagine the pain and the agony that he must have suffered from the awful way they both perished, both on a personal level and on the level of political leadership. The Kennedy mantle was thrust upon him, and it was simply inconceivable that he would not carry it forward.
Kennedy was larger than life, figuratively speaking, and it would be hard to compare him to any other leader in modern America. He meant for the Democratic Party about what Ronald Reagan meant to the Republican Party: he was the source of rhetorical inspiration, and the touchstone by which all policy initiatives had to be evaluated. While he had an ample record of legislative accomplishments from nearly a half century on Capitol Hill, during the prime of his career he was out of step ideologically with the nation as a whole. Many of us baby boomers always assumed that Kennedy would eventually win election to the U.S. presidency, but it never happened. Given the polarizing figure that he became over the years, we are probably better off that he never lived in the White House.
Kennedy's various moral shortcomings are well-enough known not to need recounting here. Those vices may even have been a result of the enormous pressure he was under. It should be pointed out, however, that deep character flaws such as Kennedy exhibited are not so easily separated from the public figure himself (or herself), as many people seem to believe.
Many conservatives loved to hate Kennedy, but some of them learned how to work with him. For example, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) often collaborated with Kennedy to hammer out bipartisan compromises in the Senate. In today's Washington Post, Dan Balz noted that Kennedy left a dual legacy:
He was the vibrant symbol of American liberalism in an era of conservative ascendance. He was also the vigorous embodiment of a pragmatic legislator in an era of deep partisan divisions and political polarization.
Many on the opposite side of the political spectrum have paid graceful respect to Kennedy's life, which is indeed fitting, but we shouldn't let such gestures cloud our judgment. While it is true that he could be dignified and civil toward his adversaries, Kennedy frequently went overboard in denouncing some of them. He could not seem to understand that those with different opinions were not necessarily evil or corrupt, and some of his rhetorical statements needlessly inflamed his supporters and caused greater division in our country. In this respect, Kennedy fell far short of the standard set by Ronald Reagan, who was also hated by people on the other side, but hardly ever let it get under his skin or showed animosity, such as Kennedy did.
It is quite a coincidence that Kennedy passed away just as the country is at a crossroads, deciding whether to make Teddy's fondest dream come true: nationalized health care. Some say that he would have helped to forge a bipartisan compromise, but I think it is more likely that he would have sided with those Demorats who favor the "nuclear option" of ramming through legislation by suspending the U.S. Senate's procedures by which a 40-seat minority bloc can stage a filibuster. Health care was Kennedy's life mission, and his name will be invoked both by supporters and opponents of "Obamacare" as the moment of legislative truth approaches.
Whether history judges him favorably or not, Kennedy's career in the U.S. Senate will serve as an epochal frame of reference. The United States is now in the transition from the old-style Kennedy liberalism, an enduring alliance between Eastern cultural elites and industrial labor unions (which "succeeded" in putting themselves out of business), to the new-style Obama liberalism, in which sophisticated media manipulation is crafting a utopian image of an America in which class and ethnic distinctions wither away. Hold on to your hats ... and your wallets!
August 22, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Coors Field: family friendly
It took a lot of time, but I finally selected and edited the best of the photos I took at Coors Field two weeks ago. As with PNC Park (see ), I must admit that I got carried away with the stunning scenery, and I posted nine (9) photos altogether. The first one shown below (slightly reduced) is on that page, but other four are "special interest" in nature, and are hence excluded from that page. It was perfect weather for the afternoon game, and I took almost sixty photos. (In contrast, the game I saw in 1998 was in the evening, and we arrived late, making it hard to get any good pictures.) I will make a couple minor corrections to the diagram(s) based on my thorough inspection of the stadium.
As for the "fan experience" (the way normal, non-geeks evaluate ballparks), Coors Field ranks very high. The Clem family had seats in the lower deck not far third base, and yet fairly close to the concourse, where we had many choices of food and beverages. It was a very convenient location, and on a sunny day such as we had, being in the shade made a lot of difference.
The Rockies took an early lead in the game, scoring three runs in the first inning, and the Cubs kept wasting run-scoring opportunities. They actually out-hit the Rockies, 17 to 14, but three errors contributed to the home team's greater number of runs scored, which is what counts. Final score: Rockies 11, Cubs 5. Coincidentally, it was the same pair of teams that we saw play there eleven years ago, when the Cubs won, 11-10.
This was an especially meaningful game for me: It was only the second time I had ever seen a major league game with my father. The first time was at Wrigley Field in 1963, along with my brother Chris. He and the other younger brothers couldn't make it to this game, unfortunately. Even so, it was a great day at the ballpark, and afterwards we drove around Denver to see old family places of interest.
Coors Field in all its glory, from the top of the upper deck behind home plate.
Sister Connie, Dear Old Dad, and Yours Truly at Coors Field.
Kudos to Connie for arranging to have this message displayed:
"Alan 'Cub' Clem Welcome to Coors Field!"
A happy family of Rockies fans in the very highest row behind home plate at Coors Field; they've got a lot to cheer about this year. This is what baseball is all about. (If I can find the scrap of paper with their names, I'll update this piece later on.)
Cubs manager Lou Pinella was ejected in the top of the second inning after arguing with umpire Chris Guccione, who made a horrible call at second base.
Two blowouts in Beantown
Another round of the perennial "holy war" between the Yankees and Red Sox is taking place in Boston this weekend, and not even the approach of Hurricane Bill could interfere with the games. Last night the Yankees overwhelmed the hapless home team, 20-11, as Hideki Matsui hit two 3-run homers. Today was a completely different story, however, and the Red Sox got revenge, 14-1. Tomorrow night is the rubber match, broadcast on ESPN... With a lead of 6.5 games in the AL East, the Yankees are playing better than they have this late in the season for several years. Love 'em or hate 'em, whenever the Yankees do well, baseball as a whole does well.
August 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]
R.I.P. Bob Novak
The veteran journalist and commentator Robert Novak passed away yesterday after a year-long battle with cancer. He was one of my favorite columnists, and I cited him regularly in my blog over the years. Full coverage of his life and death can be found in the Chicago Sun-Times, where he was employed for many years.
Novak became known as the "Prince of Darkness" during the 1980s, when he emerged as a leading opinion-maker in support of the Reagan Administration. He did not pull any punches, and his columns often caused enormous grief to many politicians. (Most of them probably deserved it.) His snarly voice and combative personality were perfectly suited to his profession. In the 1960s Novak began to collaborate in writing columns with another investigative reporter, Rowland Evans. They later appeared on TV many times together, especially on CNN. (Evans died in March 2001, also of cancer.) Novak's strong opinions often put him in an awkward position, however, as his roles as objective journalist and political entrepreneur became blurred. In 2003 he became entwined in the scandal over the leaked identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, which escalated in July 2005 and August 2005. Nevertheless, he eluded legal jeopardy for whatever part he may have played.
In spite of his occasional role as a protagonist, Novak kept a clear focus on the ultimate purposes of political action, which helped him retain a keen analytical mind. As the Republican Party strayed from its principles during the Bush administration, passing pork-barrel spending bills with no sense of restraint (see August 2006), Novak called its leaders to task. In November 2006 he criticized Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) for "viewing the Republican Party as a private club where personal loyalties must transcend all else." His willingness to defy powerful figures in Washington earned him widespread respect -- and enmity. In January 2007, he criticized Republicans for being "in denial" about the reasons for their declining fortunes. In March 2007 he assailed the Bush White House for its incompetent style of management and the extreme isolation of President Bush from the outside world.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Chicagoan Novak was in a special position to scrutinize candidate Barack Obama. He was one of the first reporters to draw attention to Obama's connections to Tony Rezko, who epitomized the corruption that lay at the heart of the mortgage banking crisis. (See the Washington Post from March 2008.) Last August Novak was diagnosed with brain cancer and retired from his writing career, a major blow to conservative policy wonks.
In sum, Robert Novak served to stimulate and energize political debate in this country, and until the very end he showed a zest for getting at the truth and debunking politically correct notions. He may have been gratuitously irritating to many people, but he consistently strove to keep the Republican leadership honest. The party and the country would have been in much better shape today if only more people in positions of authority had paid closer attention to him. It is a tragedy that he passed away just as the cause he espoused was beginning to shake off defeat and regather its strength.
August 21, 2009 [LINK / comment]
The Nationals welcome Strasburg
Newly signed future superstar Stephen Strasburg was the object of attention at a special welcoming ceremony this afternoon at Nationals Park. Ryan Zimmerman put the #37 jersey on his team-mate-to-be, and said a few nice words about how Strasburg should not worry about the sky-high expectations people have of him, but rather just be himself and have fun. Strasburg is a bit shy, and one can hardly imagine how a kid his age can handle the sudden onslaught of a media feeding frenzy. He seems level-headed, and at this point in his career, a calm, unflappable disposition is worth a lot more than a strong arm. Some rookies burn out under the intense heat of competitive pressure, but I'm sure that he is getting plenty of advice on how to pace himself for a long, successful career.
The Lerners tried to promote the momentous occasion by selling tickets for only a dollar, but attendance at the evening game was still only 26,000. The welcoming ceremony was broadcast on MASN and Webcast on MLB.com.
Nationals retain Rizzo as GM
Contrary to rumors that he was about to be replaced, Mike Rizzo was retained as General Manager of the Washington Nationals, or rather promoted from "Acting" General Manager to full General Manager, and was also given the slightly upgraded title of "senior vice president of baseball operations." Perhaps that will give him more negotiating clout. Given the huge success of just getting the Strasburg contract signed and sealed, it would have been awful not to get more credit for his work in assembling a decent roster. Obviously, there is a lot of work left to be done, but Rizzo seems to have the proper qualifications and resourcefulness. See MLB.com.
Unfortunately, the auspicious occasion of Strasburg's welcome and Rizzo's retention was marred somewhat by another defeat, as the visiting Milwaukee Brewers beat the Nats, 7-3. In the bottom of the first inning, Adam Dunn crushed a monster solo shot to right field that nearly reached the third deck. After that, however, the Nats' bats fell silent, mostly. Once again, the Nationals scored in the bottom of the ninth (Ryan Zimmerman's 25th home run), but the rally was cut short.
August 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Road Trip 2009 photos: D.C.
Lest anyone think that all I care about is baseball, birds, and politics (more on those topics very soon!), I have assembled a page full of highly scenic photos I took in Our Nation's Capital on the first day of this month, as I was beginning my Great Road Trip. The weather was perfect, and I hastened to make the best use of my brief time available, walking for at least
three five miles altogether. My tender feet paid the price with severe blisters later on, but it was worth it, as I hope you will agree. Below is a montage taken from the all-new Washington, D.C. photo gallery, including a few places that are less familiar to most people:
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, OAS Building, World War II Memorial, Meridian Hill Park, U.S. Capitol, Memorial Bridge, White House.
August 23, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Road Trip 2009: The Birds of August
It had been several years since the last time I was in the Rocky Mountains, and I made the best use of my brief time in Colorado two weeks ago with two day-long visits to the upper elevations. Perhaps the most unusual bird I saw was the Three-toed woodpecker, which was, coincidentally, reported in this area just last month. (False alarm.) Altogther I saw nine (9) life birds during my trip, all of them in Colorado. I have updated my Life Bird List accordingly, making a few small corrections to the previous annual totals. I managed to get a fair number of decent photos, which are previewed below; see the Birds of August photo gallery page. My life total now stands at 398.
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Great egret, Bushtit, Red-breasted nuthatch, Clark's nutcracker, Gray-headed junco, Yellow-rumped warbler, Three-toed woodpecker, Mountain bluebird, Bald eagle, and in the center, Mountain chickadee. CLICK ON that image to see the full-size photos of these and other birds.
Magee Marsh, Ohio
My first birding stop was at Magee Marsh (see photo ), in Ohio, where the Augusta Bird Club had made a very successful long-distance field trip last May; I was unable to attend, unfortunately. It is renowned as a stopover point for thousands of warblers and other neotropical migrants every spring. It happens to be adjacent to the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, which Jacqueline and I visited a few years ago. Here are the highlights:
- Yellow warblers
- Indigo buntings
- Purple martins
- Red-wing blackbirds
- Great egret
- Bald eagles
- Warbling vireo
S.E. South Dakota
I didn't spend much time in South Dakota on this trip, and with one exception, the following "highlights" were thus rather ordinary:
- Nighthawks (FIRST OF SEASON)
The Rockies, Colorado
The terrain and habitat in Colorado is extremely varied, and most of the birds listed below are restricted to either the highlands or the lowlands. All nine of the "life birds" were seen on Monday, August 10 at Brainerd Lake (see photo ). It is located about 20 miles northwest of Boulder, at an elevation of about 10,500 feet, near the town of Ward. Later that day, I stopped at Hall Ranch, southwest of Lyons, and was surprised to see a number of interesting grassland-dwelling species. On Tuesday morning, I walked around Walden Ponds, a nature preserve northeast of Boulder. It quickly became very hot, however, and I would have seen more birds if I had begun earlier in the day. On Wednesday, my father and I drove through Rocky Mountain National Park (see photo ), stopping frequently at the scenic overlooks on the way up to the Alpine Visitor Center, our destination. I saw a few more bird species along the way, but none of the tundra-dwelling Ptarmigans, unfortunately. Because there was so much overlap from one location to the next, I just decided to lump them all together in the list below. I have included ordinary species that are routinely seen in the east, but one might not expect to see in such a different habitat. Besides the first-ever sightings ("life birds") I have indicated which species I had not seen for several years, of which there were [twelve] altogether. Here is the combined list, in rough chronological order; click on the camera icons () to see a photo:
- Broad-tailed hummingbird (LIFE BIRD) *
- Mountain chickadees
- Black-capped chickadees
- Blue jays
- American Goldfinches
- Lark sparrows (FIRST IN YEARS)
- Red-tailed hawks
- Pygmy nuthatch (LIFE BIRD)
- House finches
- Mourning doves
- Eurasian collared doves (FIRST IN YEARS)
- Common grackles
- Red-shafted flicker (FIRST IN YEARS) #
- Chipping sparrows
- Bushtit (LIFE BIRD)
- Eastern kingbirds
- Western meadowlark (FIRST OF YEAR)
- Sage thrasher (LIFE BIRD)
- Steller's jays (FIRST IN YEARS)
- Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) warblers (FIRST IN YEARS) #
- Three-toed woodpecker (LIFE BIRD)
- Red-breasted nuthatches (FIRST OF YEAR)
- Dark-eyed "Gray-headed" juncos (FIRST IN YEARS) #
- Gray jays (FIRST IN YEARS)
- Pine grosbeak (LIFE BIRD)
- Brown-capped rosy-finch (prob. - LIFE BIRD)
- Ruby-crowned kinglets
- House wren
- Hermit thrush
- Wilson's warblers (A, J)
- White-crowned sparrows
- Mountain bluebirds (M, F) *
- Spotted towhee (M) (FIRST IN YEARS) #
- Western kingbirds (FIRST IN YEARS)
- Juniper titmouse (LIFE BIRD)
- Lark bunting (LIFE BIRD) *
- Lesser goldfinches (FIRST IN YEARS)
- Cedar waxwings
- Yellow warblers
- Great blue herons
- Double-crested cormorants
- Belted kingfisher
- Barn swallows
- Cliff swallows
- Black-billed magpies (FIRST IN YEARS)
- Clark's nutcrackers (FIRST IN YEARS)
* (asterisk): Bird species that I had probably seen before, but was not certain.
# : Subspecies of birds that are common in the East.
Platte River, Nebraska
Driving across Nebraska can be rather dull, but birders know that millions of Sandhill cranes congregate along the Platte River every year during spring migration. So, late on Thursday afternoon, August 13, I decided to take an exit from I-80 near the town of Alden where a nature center (see photo ) is located, and it was wonderful. Highlights:
- Red-wing blackbirds
- American Goldfinches
- Sharp-shinned hawk (prob.)
- Warbling vireo
- Eastern Kingbird
- Swainson's hawk (FIRST IN YEARS)
- Wild turkeys (F, 4 J)
In sum, it was a very successful trip in terms of bird-watching, but I wish I had had more time to spend at some of the places I passed by. Maybe next time...
August 17, 2009 [LINK / comment]
McDonnell comes to Staunton
I learned about Bob McDonnell's visit to Staunton just in time to be present for the campaign event this morning. McDonnell was joined by Congressman Bob Goodlatte, the new GOP candidate for the 20th District House seat Dickie Bell, and the man he hopes to replace, Delegate Chris Saxman, as well as several campaign staffers. The weather was hot, but spirits were high, in part reflecting the latest Washington Post poll showing that McDonnell has a seven-percent lead (47%-40%) over the Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds. McDonnell is not at all complacent, however, and he showed every sign that he will wage a vigorous campaign focusing on the issues. I'm pretty sure that he will stay "on message," and not get distracted by emotional wedge issues like GOP gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore did in 2005. Because of the short notice, not as many people showed up as might be expected, but there were plenty of reporters. After answering their questions, McDonnell and his entourage walked into several stores along Beverley Street in downtown Staunton. He let the business owners know that he is aware that the vast majority of new jobs that are created every year come from small businesses, and they deserve at least as much attention as big businesses. At every place of business that I entered, McDonnell was received very warmly.
McDonnell keeps pounding away at the theme that he intends to tackle real-world problems and wants both parties in Richmond to cooperate with each other. That is exactly what most independent voters want to hear, and is a stark contrast to the stubbornness that both parties' leaders have exhibited in recent years. A perfect example of this was the shutdown of rest stops along Interstate highways in Virginia for budgetary reasons (see July 22), and McDonnell's challenge to Governor Kaine to get the rest stops reopened was right on target. I remain very encouraged about his prospects.
Bob McDonnell answers questions from reporters, with Dickie Bell on the left, Chris Saxman in back, and Bob Goodlatte on the right. On the left edge is McDonnell's press secretary Crystal Cameron, a former news anchor at WVIR NBC-29 in Charlottesville.
The official Bob McDonnell campaign van, parked outside the Clock Tower Tavern in downtown Staunton.
Will Obama back down?
President Obama has been chastened by the widespread, intense public opposition to his health care "reform" proposals. Now he has hinted at a compromise, saying that the "public option" is no longer an essential part of the package. (See Washington Post.) Conservatives should be wary about claiming credit if Obama fails to get his full legislative package passed by Congress, however. "The Devil is in the details," and I would be very suspicious of any seemingly-innocuous provisions that are aimed at making the status quo mixed public-private health care system even more dysfunctional than it already is, as a sly first step toward a comprehensive national health insurance program.
Even though I am dead-set against anything resembling nationalized health care, I have mixed feelings about the recent wave of protests. Many opponents of "Obamacare" seem unware that the current health insurance laws and practices embody a variety of implicit subsidies, creating massive inefficiencies and inequities. This cannot go on forever. Thus, Obama is right that the status quo is unsustainable, but he seems pretty much clueless about what needs to be done.
August 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]
"Intensive care" for Princess
Our female canary Princess got hurt again recently, apparently startled by noise outside, and her one good foot is now in rather bad shape. For the past several months, we have had to spend more and more time tending to her routine needs, as in a hospice. (See January 1.) In spite of everything, she still has a healthy appetite, and eagerly munches on basil flowers (see below) and other treats, depending on what is available in the garden; see May 18. I must say, the tiny little thing remains as brave and spunky as ever as she copes with physical adversity. She may not be around with us for much longer, and when she goes we will miss her greatly.
The young guy, Luciano, is doing well, though he went through a strenuous molting season this summer. He lost a lot of feathers, draining his energy reserves so much that he stopped singing for a couple months. That is normal for canaries. He is clearly distressed by the fact that Princess is ailing, but he recently began [singing] again, which is a good sign.
Luciano (top) and Princess (bottom) enjoy munching on basil flowers, which are abundant this time of year.
August 31, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Kauffman Stadium update (!!!)
At last! By popular demand, I have finally taken care of revisions to the diagrams of Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals. Needless to say, the revisions were more extensive than I had envisioned. In addition, I found several minor errors in the old diagrams that needed to be corrected. Most notably, the upper deck was about 12 feet (five rows) shorter than it should have been. Is it "perfect" now? (Some people actually ask me that.) No, I'm afraid not. I'll probably make some minor adjustments before long, but for the time being it is much more accurate than before.
While passing through Kansas City two weeks ago, I stopped for a while to inspect Kauffman Stadium, where renovations were completed earlier this year. Even though I didn't have time to take a tour like I did in 2002, I got enough visual information to be very useful in refining the diagram(s). Once again, I was dumbstruck by how darned good the photos I took with my new (well, one year old) Nikon digital camera look. Full disclosure: the panoramic profile view that combines photos taken from two separate locations was heavily edited, but the end result looks very natural. Can you detect the inconsistencies?
Kauffman Stadium from the north side, on a sunny morning: August 15, 2009.
Also, I bought a copy of the Kansas City Star while in town, and learned that Arrowhead Stadium next door underwent thorough renovations as well. From what I could tell, they won't be finished in time for football season, but we'll see.
For detailed information on all the renovations that were done prior to this year, see MLB.com
August 16, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Great Baseball Road Trip 2009
I accomplished most of my baseball objectives during my recent journey out to the Wild West -- and back to the "Tame East." Whereas I saw six stadiums in two cities (but no games) over the course of three days last October, this time I saw nine stadiums (including two minor league parks and one "retired" major league park) in nine different cities (and three games) over the course of two weeks. I learned a lot during the SABR annual convention in Washington, which was the first objective of the trip. On Friday I listened to former Washington Senator Frank Howard and former Baltimore Oriole Rick Dempsey, along with former Channel 4 sports anchor George Michael. Afterwards, Mr. Howard was gracious enough to sign his autograph for me. The next day I attended several research presentations and was fascinated to hear the reminiscences of three men and one woman (!) who used to play in the Negro Leagues during the early 1950s. Their testimony of hardship and triumph was very moving.
During the convention, I was pleased to meet some prominent figures in the world of baseball research, including Ron Selter, who wrote the recently-published Ballparks of the Deadball Era, which is chock full of detailed information about the various configurations of the classic ballparks of the early 20th Century. It will be of great use in revising my diagrams of stadiums from that era. Gary Gillette, who has been active with the Tiger Stadium Conservancy project , was chosen to lead the Ballparks Committee, in which I plan to become active.
Aug. 1: D.C.-Baltimore
During some free time on Saturday, I went over to take some pictures at RFK Stadium, which now serves merely as the home of the D.C. United soccer team. It's too bad I didn't have a high-quality digital camera back when the Nationals played there, from 2005 to 2007...
After the SABR presentations concluded that afternoon, I joined my old friend Dave Givens for a game at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Our drive up along I-95 was delayed by multiple traffic jams and took over an hour, reminding me of how foolish it was to expect that Washington fans would forever remain content to see "home games" in Baltimore. It was the first time I had seen the Red Sox play, and now I now what "Red Sox Nation" is all about. Boston fans seemed at least equal in number to Baltimore fans, nullifying the home field advantage. I was wearing my Yankees ball cap, but nobody gave me a hard time about it, to my surprise. The second batter in the game, Dustin Pedroia, hit a home run, and that turned out to be enough to win the game. The Orioles showed occasional moments of excellence at the plate and in the field, but the Red Sox dominated them, and the final score was 4-0. Attendance was 49,384, exceeding the seating capacity, meaning that several hundred fans paid to watch the game standing up.
Aug. 2: Pittsburgh
Early on Sunday morning I drove up to Pittsburgh to see the Nationals play the Pirates at PNC Park, which fully lived up to the high expectations I had of it. (If I had had enough time, I would have stopped at the site of Forbes Field, but I can always see that another time.) Not only was the scenery wonderful, the game outcome was a big thriller, as the Nationals edged the Pirates 5-3. I was lucky to take a picture just as Josh Willingham hit a home run (with Ryan Zimmerman on first base) that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. That one blast turned out to be one of the biggest turning points of this entire season, as the Nationals ended their four-game losing streak and beginning an eight-game winning streak, their longest string of consecutive wins since June 2 - June 12, 2005. For one brief, glorious moment, the Nats were the hottest team in baseball, a much-needed consolation for Washington-area fans. Speaking of which, I was pleased to see a number of other Nats fans up in Pittsburgh, and it's just possible that the expression of fan support may have tipped the balance in Washington's favor.
Aug. 9: Denver
One week later I found myself in spacious Coors Field, along with my father and sister Connie. Dad is a life-long Cubs fan, but that day was not a good one for the visiting team, which lost, 11-5. Amazingly, the Cubs outhit the Rockies, 17-14. Even more amazingly, none of those 31 hits were home runs, which must have been a record for slugger-friendly Coors Field. It was the first time I had seen Alfonso Soriano play; he happened to be out of the lineup both days I saw the Nats play in 2006, his only year in Washington. For the Clem family, the most memorable aspect of that game was the message board in the right field corner welcoming Alan "Cub" Clem to Coors Field. (Thanks, Connie!) I had a nice chat with a guy sitting in the very back row of the upper deck while I was taking a "grand view" photograph, and took a picture of his family, to be posted later. I had seen a game in Coors Field 11 years ago, but that was at night, so this gave me a much better chance to inspect the stadium's "innards." The concourses are very spacious, and fan access is quite easy. It is a truly beautiful ballpark. Coincidentally, the score the next day was the very same: Rockies 11, Cubs 5. Troy Tulowitzki hit for the cycle, helping the Rockies to take a 3-1 series win over the visiting Cubs. The Cardinals thus widened their lead over the Cubs in the NL Central for the next few days.
Aug. 14: K.C.-St. Louis
On the return leg of my trip, I. At the break of dawn, I stopped at historic Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, where the College World Series has been held for about as long as anyone can remember. 2010 will be the last year for that ballpark, which will be replaced even though it has an excellent location and appears on the outside to be in fine shape. Later that morning I passed through Kansas City and spent some time taking pictures of Kauffman Stadium, where major renovations were recently completed. I couldn't see much from the outside, however, and I didn't have enough time for another tour, like the last time I was there seven years ago. I learned from the Kansas City Star that Arrowhead Stadium (home of the Chiefs) next door is now undergoing major renovations as well.
After a few hours of driving along I-70 across Missouri, I reached St. Louis and drove past Busch Stadium III for the first time. All those red bricks and steel roof arches look very impressive from the outside, but it would help appearances if they could fill the vacant lot where the previous Busch Stadium used to stand. The Cardinals were hosting the Padres that evening, so parking was very tight, as was my schedule, so I had to content myself with a few quick snapshots. I had thought about seeing that game as well as the Reds-Nationals game in Cincinnati on Saturday night, but decided that was too ambitious. My revised plan was to reach Cincinnati in time for the Friday night game, but such was not to be. With all the construction delays along I-64, my optimistic plan was just not possible. As dusk was about to fall, I passed by Louisville Slugger Stadium, where the home team was hosting the Toledo Mudhens. I thought about stopping to see it, and in retrospect I wished I had done so.
Aug. 15: Cincinnati
Although I wasn't able to see the Friday night game in Cincinnati, the Nationals beat the Reds, 2-0. (The home team had won by a score of 7-0 the night before.) I drove into the city on Saturday morning to visit the site of Crosley Field and take some quick photos of Great American Ballpark, where I had seen a game five years ago. The Nats went on to win the next two games (10-6 and 5-4), racking up another series win (3-1) and raising hopes once again that they can end this season on a respectable note. Today, Ryan Zimmerman batted in the go-ahead run as a pinch-hitter, an unusual situation for him.
Overall, my big Summer 2009 trip was very satisfying, even though I didn't get to see all the games I wanted to. I have heard of some hardcore baseball fans who have gone on cross-country baseball treks, but I just can't devote that much time to such an endeavor. I just feel very lucky and privileged to have enjoyed games with family and friends and other fans. During my trip I saw one new major league stadium for the first time (Busch III) as well as another that I had only seen during construction phase (PNC). For two others in which I had seen games before (Camden and Coors) I took a large quantity of of good digital photographs. All of the above-cited stadium pages will up updated with the new photographs over the next few days.
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Busch Stadium III, Kauffman Stadium, Great American Ballpark, Coors Field, and PNC Park. Roll over this image to see the montage from my trip last October.
August 1, 2009 [LINK / comment]
"On the road again..."
"I just can't wait to get on the road again."
I won't be blogging much for the next couple weeks, but I will try to check my Facebook page every few days so I don't completely lose touch with "cyber-reality." First stop is Washington, D.C., where I am attending a SABR convention for the first time. Then I head "west by northwest," stopping in Pittsburgh, PA, and possibly a couple other stops before reaching South Dakota and Colorado. Target return date: mid-August.
Welcome to Virginia (not)
Speaking of travel, I hope I don't encounter states with such a dysfunctional budgetary system as Virginia that they alienate visitors. (See July 22.)
Rest area near Mount Sidney, VA: CLOSED until further notice. The sign on the left reads, "No trespassing. State property."
NOTE: This blog item is being posted in advance so that there will be at least one item for the month of August during my absence.
August 30, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Lutherans split over "gay rights"
For the past few years, the question of rights for practicing homosexuals has caused division and acrimony within the Episcopal Church, resulting in a schism. Now the same thing is happening in another mainstream Protestant denomination: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which has about 4.8 million members. At a convention in Minneapolis, it was decided to allow gay people who are in "'life-long, monogamous' relationships to serve as clergy and professional lay leaders in the church." Delegates voted in favor of that resolution, 559-451, which is not exactly a broad consensus. See the Washington Post, which mentions that the Presbyterian and Methodist churches have recently become embroiled in this controversy.
In response, two other Lutheran denominations (more conservative) sharply criticized this decision as contrary to the Word of God: the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (2.4 million members) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (390,000 members). The News Leader carried the AP story, which can be found at lacrossetribune.com.
Earlier this summer, the Episcopal Church U.S.A. decided to allow bishops to bless same-sex unions, taking another step toward schism. See Washington Post. For some reason, Episcopal leaders seem deaf to pleas and warnings from other churches in the global Anglican Communion, and are determined to go their own way if the other churches don't agree with their more liberal stance on this issue. It is a huge tragedy.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given their similar (liberal) stance on this and other issues, the the Episcopal Church and ELCA formed an ecumenical partnership, including recognition of each other's sacraments -- sharing the Holy Eucharist, etc.
As I have indicated in the past, there are few things that I loathe as much as politicians who try to win votes by pandering to people's fears of alien cultures or unorthodox lifestyles. That's why I was rather skeptical of the "marriage amendment" in Virginia; see October 2006. (That measure did in fact pass.) On that count, I am clearly out of step with prevailing sentiment in the Republican Party these days.
As for the theological issue underlying the debate over homosexuality, it's still a very close call for me. In the Episcopal Church, the basic criteria by which morality is judged are "scripture, tradition, reason," of which the first two clearly weigh against the idea of "gay rights," while the third tends to favor it. Sincere, committed people of faith have no choice but to move forward in a difficult dialogue, listening to people on the other side with open hearts and minds. In any case, this much is clear to me: Religious organizations are under no obligation to adapt to changing social mores, and indeed, those that do so eventually tend to fall by the wayside.
By the way, I usually put gay rights in quotations because I don't think "gays" have distinct rights, any more than any minority group does. We are a society of free individuals (not groups) in which we all enjoy equal protection under the law. That does not mean we are all entitled to the same privileges, however. Marriage is not a "right," it is an ancient social institution rooted in biology and tradition. Trying to define it or redefine it via legislation is likely to backfire.
Anglican or Episcopal?
As the identity of the Episcopal church undergoes turmoil in the midst of the ongoing "cultural war," the question of whether those of us who belong to that denomination can rightly be considered "Anglican" keeps popping up. For more on that, see The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, which has a strong Anglican leaning.
August 20, 2009 [LINK / comment]
"The best ballpark in America"
That is the slogan you will see displayed around PNC Park, on the souvenir plastic cups, etc., and it would be very hard to argue with that contention. Perhaps I got a little carried away with the beauty of the place: I have raised my ranking of PNC Park to second place (at 8.0 out of 9.0 possible), tied with Fenway Park (see my Stadium rankings page), and have added nine (9) photographs to the PNC Park page, including this one (slightly reduced in size) of a very memorable play:
August 2, 2009, at PNC Park: In the seventh inning, with the Pirates leading 2-1, and Ryan Zimmerman just having reached first base on a single, Josh Willingham hit a home run to take the lead, 3-2. The Nationals went on to win, 5-3, ending a four-game losing streak and beginning their eight-game winning streak.
Talk about a "turning point"! Was I lucky to take that photo at the perfect moment? You're damn right I was. Unfortunately, it was rather cloudy on the day I was there, so most of the photos I took of PNC Park aren't as sharp as they could have been. That only gives me more reason to go back and see another ball game there!
As in other ballparks, many Sunday games in Pittsburgh are promotions for young fans. On the day I was there, kids got free (mostly oversized) Pirates jerseys, and had the opportunity to run around the bases after the game was over. I was amazed that the line of kids (and their parents) waiting their turn to join the fun stretched along the concourse all the way around the right field corner, behind center field, to the bleachers in left-center field! For the young fans, it was too bad the home team lost, but the visiting Nationals were in desperate need of a win, and it sure put a smile on my face. I was pleased to exchange greetings with a number of other Washington baseball fans in Pittsburgh that day, but "Nationals Nation" pales in comparison to the fearsome "Red Sox Nation."
RFK Stadium panoramas
Speaking of Washington, the other day I posted two new panoramic photos of RFK Stadium that I took on August 1, replacing older ones I had taken in 2004, before the Nationals even existed.
Strasburg joins the Nats
Speaking of the Nationals, the last-minute signing of Stephen Strasburg obviously raises hopes for the team's future, showing that the Lerners are indeed committed to fielding a team worthy of postseason contention. The successful outcome of the negotiations with Strasburg's agent Scott Boras may have the additional benefit of making it easier to keep stars such as Adam Dunn, whose contract expires after next year. Tomorrow (Friday) the Nationals are selling thousands of tickets for just one dollar to ensure that a big crowd is present when Strasburg is officially introduced to fans at Nationals Park. See MLB.com. Maybe I should drive up to Washington real quick to see that game...
The Nationals played hard the last two nights, losing to the surging Colorado Rockies by one run each time. That is encouraging, but attendance is starting to fall again as the Redskins season approaches. The Nats need more fan support!! And so do the Pirates. In both Pittsburgh and Washington, past success by the football teams has undermined fan interest in baseball.
August 23, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Hysteria over "death panels"
Like many opponents of "Obamacare," I would not be at all surprised if, assuming the President's plan passes, budgetary constraints may some day put pressure on doctors to withhold treatment from terminally ill elderly patients. In a world of finite resources, it's inevitable. On July 30 I even alluded (albeit in an ironic tone) to the possibility of euthanasia under a nationalized health care system. That being said, the notion that Obamacare is going to "pull the plug on Grandma," as Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) suggested, is out of bounds. The last thing we need now is emotionally-charged words to cloud the underlying issues.
In Friday's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer made a plea for calm reason in the midst of the heated, hyberbolic rhetoric that is being tossed back and forth. He debunks the premises of one of the key elements of the Democrats' proposal, the "living will." He gives several example to prove that the much-ballyhooed legal document is, in almost all real-world situations, "quite beside the point..." In other words, anyone who thinks that convenient administrative procedures can put an end to the agonizing dilemmas faced by families every year is deceiving him- or herself. Krauthammer concludes that while the proposed end-of-life counseling provisions are not "death panels" per se, they do constitute a form of "subtle pressure" to encourage old people to consider embracing the Grim Reaper. Cue the Blue Oyster Cult...
Speaking of which, while I was stuck at a railroad crossing in the small
town city of Glencoe (pop. 250), in northern Kentucky last weekend, I saw this amusing sign: "Cash for codgers"!
Health care debates
As for the more general question of whether sufficient public support exists for any major health care reform package to pass, it's looking less likely all the time. Like former President Bush's misguided attempt to reform Social Security via privatization (see April 2005), Obama's push in the opposite direction has sparked a fierce reaction. Unless something radical changes very soon, it looks like we are back to square one -- the untenable status quo. A recent News Leader editorial lamented the political polarization which is undermining chances for any meaningful reform: "the far left screamed any compromise on the government plan would mean the death of the legislation. The far right just kept screaming about death panels..." Obviously, I agree with their general approach to this issue, but one sentence really grated on me, so I responded:
The editors ask, "Is anyone going to give me an affordable health insurance plan..." Many if not most other people in America view the basic issue the same (conventional) way, forgetting what John F. Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." If only more people could discard the widespread faulty premises behind the health care debate, such as the notion that the government should make insurance make "more affordable," we might just be able to enact a REAL health care reform that would result in lower costs, less regulation, and more freedom of choice. Think outside the box!
Local health care forum?
In town hall meetings all across the Fruited Plain, Americans are speaking out against Obamacare. Sometimes they make very thoughtful, compelling arguments, which is very inspiring, and sometimes they just rant against the imaginary red herring of totalitarianism. The political atmosphere at present is just not conducive to a free and honest exchange of opinions on the matter, and some of those meetings are more like a food fight. In that context, local Republican activist David Karaffa recently invited Senators Warner and Webb to appear at a forum on health care, as Steve Kijak discussed. I commented:
I read about that in the News Leader, and was left wondering, on whose behalf is Mr. Karaffa making this invitation? Does he hold some position in an organization that I'm not aware of? If not, why on Earth would anyone expect either Webb or Warner to show up for such a forum? Obviously they are both reluctant to make such a public appearance, in light of what has happened across the nation recently, so the whole idea just doesn't make sense to me.
Karaffa, you may recall, was the candidate backed by the GOP "grassroots Base" when a replacement Republican nominee for the 20th House District seat was chosen last month. (Dickie Bell won.)
August 29, 2009 [LINK / comment]
The Nationals visit St. Louis
Almost two weeks to the day after I made a whirlwind visit to the Gateway City of St. Louis, the Washington Nationals arrived. The Cardinals have a virtual lock on the NL Central Division title, and are a daunting opponent. Nevertheless, the Nats had reason for hope, just having completed a successful series in the Windy City of Chicago. Indeed, their starting pitcher John Lannan bounced back from recent poor outings, going eight solid innings during which he gave up only four hits and two runs, one of which came in the eighth inning. It was a spectacular performance, but as has so often been the case this year, one part of the team didn't support the other part, and all the Nationals batters could manage was two runs. So, they were tied with the Cardinals going into the bottom of the ninth inning, whereupon Jason Bergmann was called to relieve Lannan. (The team's regular closer, Mike MacDougall, was allowed to rest, as a reward for his superb recent saves.) Unfortunately, the very first batter Bergmann faced, Albert Pujols, then hit a walk-off home run, deflating the Nats' hopes of a minor triumph.
Playing for the Nationals at second base was Pete Orr, who is filling the roster vacancy left by Nyjer Morgan, who will be out for the rest of the season. Orr literally "stepped up to the plate," getting one of the only two RBIs for the Nats.
Busch Stadium III pix
Slight change of plans: I was hoping to finish the Kauffman Stadium diagram revisions by today, but since the Nationals are playing this weekend on the other side of the state, I decided to update the Busch Stadium III page with four of the photos I took there during my hasty "drive-by" visit there two weeks ago. I was in a hurry that afternoon (about 2:30), hoping to make it to Cincinnati in time for the evening game between the Reds and the Nationals, but without success. I should have spent more time in St. Louis, I guess.
Busch Stadium Third Base gate, on the west side. (Reduced-size photo.)
The above photo reminded me that there has been quite a coincidence between the sites chosen for the annual All Star Game, and my visits to those stadiums: three times in the very same year, and four times either a year before or after.
- 1998: Jacobs Field (year after)
- 1998: Coors Field
- 1998: Fenway Park (year before)
- 2001: Turner Field (year after)
- 2004: Comerica Park (year before)
- 2008: Yankee Stadium
- 2009: Busch Stadium III
August 29, 2009 [LINK / comment]
Woodstock, 40 years later
Last week the 40th Anniversary of the Woodstock rock festival was celebrated, providing an occasion for apostles of the Age of Aquarius to reminisce. Indeed, who can forget Woodstock? Well, I can, for one. Being in my early teens, I should have been more aware of that transcendental moment in history, but I was probably paying [too much attention] to the triumphant Apollo 11 moon landing mission (July 16-24, 1969). The three astronauts -- Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins -- had to spend three weeks in complete isolation after their return to Earth, just in case they had been infected by any deadly lunar microbes. Just as they were released from confinement, Woodstock began! Even though I was pretty much a science geek back then, I do have vivid memories of the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman," Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People," and other hits of that year.
Actually, there are probably a lot of people who were at Woodstock who have forgotten most or all of it, being in an "altered state of consciousness" at the time. Not just the fans, but the musical performers themselves! To see what I'm talking about, watch a video of Joe Cocker's indecipherable rendition of "With a Little Help From My Friends," with humorously mis-transcribed lyrics. Hat tip to Rich Raab.
Who knows how history will judge the Counterculture Movement in general, and Woodstock in particular? No one back then could have imagined the devastating impact on the lower classes stemming from the liberalized attitudes toward drug use. When you see the millions of incarcerated young people and ruined families, it makes you think that the widely-ridiculed anti-marijuana propaganda film Reefer Madness wasn't so far off base after all. But the Sixties were about more than just dope and silly utopian notions, it was a time of sincere searching for truth and meaning as well as spectacular cultural advance, in a wide range of arts besides popular music. As the Baby Boomer generation begins to retire, perhaps we will begin to see the Sixties in a more balanced light, recognizing both what was good about that era, and what was bad.
By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong...
"Woodstock," by Crosby, Stills, and Nash
TRUE CONFESSION: Jacqueline and I went to Woodstock and "got high" a year ago in June -- taking a ride in a hot air balloon near Woodstock, Virginia, that is!