August 5, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Ballpark blitz: 4 stadiums in 2 days!
Even though I didn't see as many baseball stadiums as I did on my "Great Baseball Road Trip" one year ago (when I saw seven), this year's trip through the Upper Midwest was almost as satisfying. "S-weet," you might say. Much like my whirlwind tour of New York and Chicago stadiums on three successive days in October 2008, I saw four stadiums in three cities over the course of two days, including two for the first time ever, as well as one "semi-retired" stadium. Unlike that trip, however, this time I saw an actual game. In addition, I also walked on the ground (asphalt, now) where two much older stadiums once stood.
On Sunday afternoon, the first day of August, I watched the Twins host the Mariners at gorgeous, wide-open Target Field, which opened just four months ago. It was raining almost all morning as I drove from North Dakota through central Minnesota, and I feared that my plans would be foiled by Mother Nature. What a cruel irony that would have been. (The first rained-out Minnesota Twins home game since the Metrodome opened in 1982 happened on May 7, and was made up one day later. The game on May 25 was suspended after five innings due to rain, and was completed the next day.) Fortunately, the overcast skies dissipated as the game progressed. To my surprise, the game was sold out with hundreds of fans still waiting in line, even though it was against a non-contending, non-rival opponent. The official attendance was 40,374, and given that the seating capacity is only 39,504 (less than I had thought), that implies that about 900 standing-room-only tickets were sold. The Twins' starting pitcher, Francisco Liriano, had a splendid outing, striking out eleven batters and giving up only two hits over seven innings. The great Ichiro Suzuki struck out and did not even reach base. The only scoring took place in the sixth inning, when the Twins' designated hitter Jason Kubel smashed a ball to right center, coming within a foot or two of getting a grand slam. Veteran Jim Thome is the usual DH, and I had wondered aloud why he wasn't in the lineup that day, but then had to eat my words after Kubel hit that bases-clearing double. (He then scored after a hit by Danny Valencia.) I was also disappointed that neither of the Twins' big stars, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, were playing that day. In the end, it didn't matter, as the Twins beat the Mariners, 4-0, thereby completing a three-game sweep. See MLB.com.
[After the game, I drove to the other side of downtown Minneapolis and walked around the Metrodome, which the Twins called home for 28 years. Officially, it is now called "Mall of America Field." It is adorned with Vikings symbols, but I noticed that there are a couple outdated signs that indicate that the Twins still have their offices there. Given the tight squeeze of surrounding streets, any future expansion of the Metrodome aimed at raising ticket revenues for the Vikings would appear very difficult.]
On Monday morning I arrived in Milwaukee and paid a visit at Miller Park, one of the most awesome and imposing structures I have ever seen. You can see those huge roof arches from several miles away. I took a variety of pictures outside and then went inside to have lunch at T.G.I. Fridays, which gives one a good view from the balcony above the left field wall. By amazing coincidence, at the very same moment there was a press conference in center field, announcing that Farm Aid 25 benefit concert will be held in Miller Park on October 2. The leading performers will be Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Dave Matthews. (See the official farmaid.org Web site.) After I was done taking pictures, I went over to the monument honoring the Milwaukee Braves at the site of Milwaukee County Stadium. There is an elaborate little league field, evidently at the same spot as the diamond used to be.
Then I drove south along I-94 into Chicago, which was horribly congested, just so I could see U.S. Cellular Field up close for the first time. (Since I had visited Wrigley Field in 2008, and time was of the essence, I decided to pass it by this time. That same evening, the Cubs were trounced by the visiting Brewers.) At the main entrance at the northwest corner there is a monument to the White Sox' three World Series championships (1906, 1917, 2005), featuring manager Ozzie Guillen holding up the trophy. (Ozzie had just made a controversial comment about Asian ballplayers getting better treatment than Latinos, and the White Sox front office cautiously disavowed his opinion on that.) I took a variety of pictures, walked across the street to see the home plate historical marker at old Comiskey Park, tried in vain to get inside The Cell to take pictures, and then headed back home to Virginia.
The montage below is just a preview of the many photos I plan to post in the near future. For the time being, I have added five new photos to the Target Field page, including two panoramic views. I will add photos to the other five stadium pages over the next few days. I'll have more to say about those four stadiums that I saw in the days and weeks to come.
Clockwise, from top left: Miller Park, Target Field, U.S. Cellular Field, the Metrodome (now called "Mall of America Field"), and the historical markers for Milwaukee County Stadium (1953-2000) and Comiskey Park (1910-1990). Roll the mouse over this image to compare it to the corresponding one from last year.
Favre un-retires again?
Coincidentally, on the very next day after I passed through Minneapolis, the Vikings' quarterback Brett Favre let it be known that he is retiring. But then "after further review," he decided that he is not so sure. What a "facre"! (Spelling joke.) There is a huge banner with Favre's face and the words "Fueled by determination" on the outside of the Metrodome / "Mall of America Field," and workers may have to hurry and take it down before the football season starts in about a month. Or maybe they can change the words to "Fueled by equivocation."
A-Rod hits HR #600
Alex Rodriguez finally broke through the psychological barrier that was apparently hindering his bat, hitting a home run to center field in New Yankee Stadium yesterday. It was fitting that it landed in Monument Park, or on the protective netting, that is. It would have been a little tacky if the ball had just cleared the fence in the short right-center field, as another of his recent homers did. Say what you will about his past use of performance-enhancing drugs (or his ego), at least he did make a frank admission and an apology, which is more than you can say about Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa. Or Pete Rose, for that matter. If the Hall of Fame were to exclude A-Rod, they would have to exclude just about everybody from the Steroid Era. I say, let him in, maybe after an extra wait of a year or two.
Nats put Dunn on waivers
As the trading deadline approach, I was deathly afraid that the Nationals would trade away Adam Dunn, their star slugger and first baseman. Fortunately, no other teams made a good enough offer to justify letting him go, which means there is a good chance he will at least finish the season in Washington. The Nationals put Dunn on waivers, MLB.com. I wish they had signed Dunn to a new multi-year contract earlier in the season, and I'll bet Nats GM Mike Rizzo feels the same way now. After hitting two more homers at Chase Field last night, leading the Nats to a 7-2 win over the Diamondbacks, Dunn now leads the National League in home runs, with 28. That plus his very solid batting average (.276) means that Dunn will command a high salary during postseason negotiations. The Lerners have deep enough pockets, and if they really want to generate fan enthusiasm over the long run, they ought to pay Dunn what he deserves.
Nats trade away Guzman
Veteran infielder Cristian Guzman was put in an awkward situation this year, as a promising youngster -- Ian Desmond-- proved his worth at the plate. To Guzman's great credit, he didn't object to being moved over to second base, and on many days he didn't play at all. It was thus not a big surprise when it was announced last month that he was being traded away to the Texas Rangers. They are currently leading the American League Western Division, and will need a reliable hitter as the postseason approaches. The franchise is in bankruptcy proceedings right now, and it could be sold in the next month or so, pending approval from the MLB owners. It's a supremely embarrassing situation to succeed on the field while failing at the ticket office.
August 7, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Great Plains road trip, 2010
On my trip out west this year, I had a clear and specific objective: explore the northern lakes region, which abounds in wildlife and geological peculiarities. I had never really taken the time to get to know that part of the country, and my desire to see the brand-new home of the Minnesota Twins, Target Field, made such a northward excursion very convenient.
The landscape of southeastern South Dakota is virtually indistinguishable from that of Iowa, or from Illinois, Indiana, or much of Ohio, for that matter. But the farther north you go, the fewer trees, cornfields, and cattle feedlots you see, and the fewer signs of human habitation. Instead, there are wide-open expanses of wheat and other small grains, not much different from the virgin prairies that Lewis and Clark first encountered in 1803. My first stop was at South Dakota State University, in Brookings. I toured the McCrory Gardens, drove around the campus (much of which was under construction), and finally walked to the top of the Coughlin Campanile, which at 165 feet high is one of the tallest structures in the Dakotas. Great exercise, and great views from the top. Then I continued north to Watertown, and soon came across lakes of all sizes. I remember people talking about Lake Kampeska way back when, and was astonished to discover that it is an intensively developed resort, ringed by vacation homes that stretch for miles. I had to take a detour to get to my next stop, Waubay National Wildlife Refuge, as the road into Waubay was closed due to the steadily rising level of Bitter Lake over the past decade or so. (Climate change?) At the refuge I climbed a lookout tower that seemed even higher than the one at SDSU, and was definitely more nerve-wracking. I seem to get more acrophobic as I age. But the skies were clear blue, just perfect for taking pictures, and I couldn't pass up the opportunities. Another visitor told me there is a herd of buffalo in that refuge, but I didn't see them. Later in the afternoon, I passed through a hilly zone that abruptly terminated at the edge of a vast flat, lowland plain, in the northeastern corner of the state. If I understand correctly, that vast ridge is a remnant of the Ice Age glaciers that carved out the lakes that cover the Upper Midwest today. I was especially curious about the North-South Continental Divide between Lake Traverse and Big Stone Lake, which mark the border with Minnesota. Unlike the better-known Continental Divide which passes through Rocky Mountain National Park (which I didn't quite reach during my trip to Colorado last year), the watershed divider which passes near Browns Valley, Minnesota is almost imperceptible. It's quite an intriguing anomaly.
Having grown up in South Dakota, it would probably come as a shock to most people that I had never even set foot in neighboring North Dakota. Well, I finally made up for that omission, though just barely. The eastern half of the state is extraordinarily flat, and as I crossed the Red River into Minnesota the next morning, I recalled the huge floods that plagued Fargo and Grand Forks this past spring. (Contrary to what Homer Simpson guessed while watching a TV quiz show, the capital of North Dakota is Bismarck, not Hitler. ) As I drove southeast toward Minneapolis, I noticed more trees (especially spruce and pines), and the terrain became more rolling. I wished I had set aside more time to explore the north woods countryside, but it was raining that day, so it probably didn't matter. After spending most of the afternoon watching the Twins host the Mariners, I drove through the University of Minnesota and some older neighborhoods of Minneapolis.
Next I crossed into Wisconsin, where there were more hills and more trees. I noticed some striking large rock formations at several points, like little Gibraltars. Those were a prelude to the truly spectacular Wisconsin Dells, a vacationer's haven. All the amusement parks and commercialization reminded me of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, adjacent to Smoky Mountain National Park. Continuing east into Milwaukee for the first time in my life, I stopped at Miller Park for lunch and a "photo op." If the skies hadn't been so hazy that day, I probably would have stopped to take pictures of downtown. [Likewise for the state capital city which I bypassed, Madison.] Then I drove south to Chicago, got stuck in traffic for a long while, and paid a brief visit to U.S. Cellular Field and the surrounding neighborhoods. They seem to be working hard to improve that part of Chicago, which has a rough reputation. Then I got back on the expressway, forked over a few more dollars at the toll gates, and headed to Virginia, via Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Huntington, West Virginia, which was my final "tourist stop." I took pictures of the state capitol building, which features a gleaming gold-plated dome, as well as the Kanawa River.
I have compiled a couple dozen new photos from my trip on the 2010 Summer photo gallery page, summarized in the montage of rural scenes from South Dakota below. I included on that page one photo of each of the four baseball stadiums which I visited on this trip, but there will soon be multiple photos for each of them on the respective stadium pages. (Only a true baseball fan would understand why.) There are also four new photos of birds, including the Pheasant and Pelicans seen in the montage, as well as butterflies. I should note that when I left Virginia, the state was in the midst of a severe drought, and the countryside was parched and brown. The farther west I traveled, however, the greener the landscape became. It was the exact opposite of the normal situation. While I was in South Dakota we had heavy torrential rains on at least three occasions, even though the ground was already saturated from previous rainfall. As I was leaving town, the lower portion of The Bluffs golf course in Vermillion was severely flooded. That, too, has been duly recorded via digital photography.
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Spirit Mound, bell tower at South Dakota State University, Burbank Road, Pheasant, Sisseton-Wahpeton Community College, Waubay National Wildlife Refuge, Wheat field and lake, Lutheran Church, and in the center-right, a Tiger Swallowtail and Pelicans.
August 10, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Nationals lead in home runs (!?)
Believe it, or not!!! Even though their road trip to the southwest last week ended up in frustration, going 3-4 when they really should have won five of those games, the Washington Nationals at least drew attention in the home run department. During the seven days of August 2-8, they hit a total of 15 home runs, more than any other team in the major leagues. (The Toronto Blue Jays were second, with 14.) Neither Chase Field nor Dodger Stadium are known as being friendly to sluggers, making the feat by the Nationals even more noteworthy. Adam Dunn hit five of those four-baggers, including two each on Wednesday and Friday, raising his season total to 30, second only to Toronto's Jose Bautista, who has 34. Meanwhile, Ryan Zimmerman hit four homers, including two on Thursday. The Nats had a total of four homers that day, but they were all solo shots, and the team lost to the Diamondbacks, 8-4. For the year as a whole, the Nats have hit 105 home runs, tied with the Florida Marlins for the 14th rank in the major leagues. The Blue Jays totally dominate in homers, with 175. The Nationals' overall batting average is .256, rather mediocre, but not much different from either the Padres or the Braves, both of whom are currently in first place! This year, pitching is what counts.
Monday, August 2, was a day to remember, as Pudge Rodriguez hit his 300th career home run as a catcher, becoming only the fifth player in major league history to do so. The others were Mike Piazza, Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, and Yogi Berra -- pretty good company, I'd say! Another fine outing by Livan Hernandez got the series in Arizona off to a good start. (See Washington Post.) It was only Pudge's second home run of the year. Even though his batting average has fallen from the upper .300s to the mid-.200s since the early part of the year, he feels like he can play at least two or three more years in the majors. It would be great if he could stay in Washington to close out his superb career.
So why aren't the Nats winning more often? Too few reliable pitchers, too many men left on base, and too many errors. The team ERA is 4.07, tied at #17 in the majors with the Blue Jays, who are in fourth place in the AL East. In strikeouts, they rank #26, with 699. Without Stephen Strasburg's 75 K's, they would be in last place in that category. Pretty awful. The Nationals have committed 89 errors this year, more than any other team in the majors. Shortstop Ian Desmond leads the team with 26 errors, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman comes in second, with 11. Next on that list is second baseman Adam Kennedy, who in Los Angeles on Saturday night got confused and threw a ball to first base, not realizing that Adam Dunn wasn't there. Mike Morse had just caught what would have been a grand slam over the fence in right-center field, a spectacular play, but Dunn was near the pitcher's mound, in position to cut off a throw to home plate. Kennedy's error allowed a second Dodger run to score, tying the game, which went into extra innings, and the Nats eventually lost, 3-2.
Speaking of Mike Morse, he accounted for two of the Nationals' 15 home runs during that amazing week. He is currently batting .316, and has eight home runs in only 116 at-bats this year -- a 7.0% rate, nearly as high as Dunn's 7.5% rate. Not only that, Morse has committed ZERO errors this year! With such an impressive performance record, he is well positioned to become a regular outfielder next year, along with Josh Willingham and (probably) Roger Bernadina. Josh has been in a slump lately, stuck at 15 home runs, but he should have no trouble reaching the 20 mark in the remaining seven weeks of the season, and maybe even the 25 mark.
The Nationals are in desperate need of good pitching, as Sunday's ill-fated return of Jason Marquis to the rotation demonstrated so plainly. He gave up four runs in the first inning, during which he bobbled what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt. Jordan Zimmermann may yet return to the rotation this year, but hopes that Chien-ming Wang will make an appearance are fading fast. The phenomenal rookie Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to pitch tonight against the Florida Marlins, after resting a sore shoulder for the past two weeks.
U.S. Cellular Field update
My recent visit to the home of the Chicago White Sox made me realize that the U.S. Cellular Field diagrams were in need of some minor corrections and additional detail. Done! Most notably, the ramps and "appendage" structures around the periphery of the stadium are now included. As usual, it took longer than expected to get it all done just right. I slightly changed my "suggested alternative," with a small barrier in front of the right field and left field seating sections to prevent fan interference, and an expanded middle deck, taking the place of one of those awful luxury suite levels. In addition, I have added three new exterior photos to the U.S. Cellular Field page, including a panoramic view, and have enhanced three of the older photos as well. In looking closely at the photos I took, it appears that the playing field is less than ten feet below the level of the surface outside the stadium. In contrast, nearly all baseball stadiums built over the past two decades were excavated at least 20 feet deep, so that fans don't have to walk uphill to reach the main concourse at the rear of the lower deck.
August 13, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Nationals lose five straight
Somehow the Washington Nationals have fallen into another bad slump, with five consecutive losses. On Wednesday Stephen Strasburg had the worst outing of his first ten starts in the majors, giving up six runs in less than 4 1/3 innings. He is now 5-3. Well, nobody's perfect. Last night Livan Hernandez gave up three runs in 6 1/3 innings,
So, it's a perfect time for me to head up there and rally support for the "D.C. 9"! I just hope it doesn't rain like it did last night...
Reds brawl with Cards
Tension is mounting in the NL Central Division, as some pre-game trash talk escalated into virtual gang warfare on the field. MLB suspended Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto for seven games, and gave shorter suspensions to both managers, Dusty Baker (Reds) and Tony La Russa (Cardinals). See MLB.com.
Rays ballpark drama
I learned from Mike Zurawski that the owner of the Tampa Bay Rays, Stu Sternberg, is ramping up the pressure to get a new stadium built. He says that the Rays will consider any ball park in the Tampa Bay area; the Rays will "rise above municipal boundaries to find an optimal site." He even hinted that the Rays might not honor the contract to play in Tropicana Field until the end of the lease, which expires in 2027. He says "baseball will not work in Downtown St. Petersburg." See wtsp.com.
More stadium news to follow...
August 14, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Friday the 13th: Nats get lucky
It was a dark and rainy day (Bulwer-Lytton!), and the calendar date only added to the foreboding sense of doom and futility. But for long-suffering (and long-deprived) fans of baseball in Washington, the mere hope of seeing an actual ball game is reason enough to make the trip, bad weather or not. Besides, the Nationals are hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks (another last-place team) this weekend, so at least there was a better-than-even chance for a win, after five consecutive losses. ¡Vamonos!
Fortunately, the rain stopped long before we reached Washington, but the skies remained very cloudy all day and into the evening. We arrived at Nationals Park two hours early, wanting to experience the special Friday afternoon party that takes place at the "Miller Lite Scoreboard Walk." It was a fun time as more and more people showed up, and the band was quite good as well: White Ford Bronco, "D.C.'s premier 90s cover band." (Remember O.J. Simpson's farcical car chase on the streets of L.A. in 1994? It serves an apt symbol of the absurdities and excesses of that decade.)
Pregame music at Nationals Park was provided by "White Ford Bronco." The back of the scoreboard features Ryan Zimmerman after one of his many walk-off home runs.
Another reason for trepidation was that John Lannan was the starting pitcher, just back from a stint in the minors after a very disappointing 3-5 record during the first half of the 2010 season. It must have helped him out, because he had one of the best outings of his career. He got the first six batters out, and gave up just two runs and four hits over seven innings, with five strikeouts and just one walk. He was one of the Nationals' best pitchers last year, and it is relieving that the pitching rotation may yet stabilize, with Lannan as a key part.
Meanwhile, the Nationals got wood on the ball with great consistency. In the first inning, Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run single, reached second, and later scored on a hit by Mike Morse. In the second inning, backup catcher Wil Nieves surprised everyone by hitting a lead-off solo home run into the Red Porch in deep left-center field. It was only the fourth home run of his career, and during a post-game interview he said the fact that his wife (who is expecting a baby) was at the game may have helped. Wil isn't having a very good year in the batter's box, but he is steadfastly upbeat and hard-working. Nationals fans will long remember his game-winning home run against the Chicago Cubs in April 2008.
From the mezzanine level, we had a very good view of the infield.
After the home run by Nieves, the Nationals loaded the bases, but nobody scored. Not much happened in the next two innings, but in the fifth inning the Diamondbacks put together a rally, aided by a walk and an error, and only a double play prevented more than two runs from scoring. To my surprise, Jim Riggleman kept Lannan in the game for two more innings, and to my even greater surprise, Lannan didn't allow any more batters to reach base. In the seventh inning, the Nats had runners on first and third, but neither of them reached home. Leaving eight men on base was the only negative aspect of the game for the Nationals. Sean Burnett came in as a relief pitcher in the eighth inning and stayed through the ninth, striking out four of the six batters he faced. He got his second save of the season, and he is pitching better than his win-loss record of 0-6 would indicate. And that's how the Nationals ended their losing streak ... on Friday the 13th!
To "celebrate" Friday the 13th in a macabre fashion during their regular fourth-inning race, the four presidents donned Freddy Krueger masks.
I'm not taking credit or anything, but I should point out that when I attended the August 2, 2009 Nationals-Pirates game in Pittsburgh, the Nats snapped a four-game winning streak and began an eight-game winning streak. Unfortunately, the D-backs got revenge earlier this evening, beating the Nationals 9-2. They had four home runs, including two by Miguel Montero. As for the Nats, Ryan Zimmerman had his 23rd home run.
Hall(s) of Fame
On thing I noticed at Nationals Park is that there is a new set of names on the front edge of the second deck behind home plate, the newly-created "Nationals Park Hall of Fame." Reflecting the tortured history of baseball in Washington, it encompasses three separate franchises, and potentially four, counting the second Senators team. There are ten players from the Washington Senators, six from the Homestead Grays, and two from the Montreal Expos. The newest member is Andre Dawson, the former Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs player who was just inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Here is the complete list:
- Cool Papa Bell (HG)
- Ray Brown (HG)
- Gary Carter (ME)
- Joe Cronin (WS)
- Andre Dawson (ME)
- Rick Ferrell (WS)
- Josh Gibson (HG) *
- Goose Goslin (WS)
- Clark Griffith (WS)
- Bucky Harris (WS)
- Walter Johnson (WS) *
- Harmon Killebrew (WS)
- Buck Leonard (HG)
- Heinie Manush (WS)
- Cumberland Posey (HG)
- Sam Rice (WS)
- Jud Wilson (HG)
- Early Wynn (WS)
* Asterisks denote players who are memorialized by statues in the plaza beyond left field. One of the three players so honored has not yet joined the Hall of Fame: Frank Howard.
Take the baseball boat!
While at the game gazing out at the Anacostia River, I noticed a boat at the dock across the street from Nationals Park, with a banner: "baseballboat.com." That redirects you to www.potomacriverboatco.com. I knew this was planned for the future, but to my surprise the boat taxi service recently began operations, ferrying fans from Old Town Alexandria to the stadium and back. It runs for most evening games and costs only $20 for a round trip -- a great way to beat the traffic!
Sale of Rangers OK'd
On Thursday MLB owners unanimously approved the sale of the Texas Rangers from Tom Hicks, who is bankrupt, to a partnership led by attorney Chuck Greenberg and former Rangers' pitcher Nolan Ryan. The leading investors are Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, and the sale price was $593 million. The new owners pledged to install a new scoreboard at the Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. The situation is similar to that of the Chicago Cubs, who were purchased last year by the Ricketts family for about $900 million, after the Tribune Company, owned by Sam Zell, declared bankruptcy. See MLB.com. The Rangers are currently 7 1/2 games ahead of the Angels in the AL West.
Soccer at Fenway Park
A fan named Bill reminded me about the exhibition soccer match held at Fenway Park on July 21. a seating chart at tickets.com, but it misleadingly shows that the soccer field is aligned parallel to the right foul line. I came across some photos that indicated that the soccer field was actually skewed by about four degrees clockwise.
August 15, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Nats win series vs. Arizona
The Washington Nationals absolutely had to win today's "rubber match" game against the Arizona Diamondbacks if they were going to maintain enough self-respect to remain competitive heading into the final quarter of the 2010 season. Stephen Strasburg was pitching, and no one knew if he would be shaky like his last outing (on Tuesday, when the Marlins clobbered him) or dominant like nearly all of his outings before that. He got started on the right foot, striking out two of the first three batters he faced. In the second inning, however, Adam LaRoche hit a lead-off home run, and an errant throw by Strasburg over first baseman Adam Dunn's head resulted in two more runs. Fortunately, Josh Willingham hit a two-run homer to tie the game in the fourth inning; it was his 16th of the year and his first one since July 2. The Nats took the lead on a clutch single by Ian Desmond in the seventh inning, and added an insurance run when Ryan Zimmerman smashed a huge home run several rows beyond the bullpen in left field. Tyler Clippard pitched two solid innings in relief and got credit for the win, his ninth of the year. He was superb early in the season but lost his command in June and July; I'm glad he's back on track. The victory was an all-around team effort, with hits by almost everyone in the lineup. See MLB.com finish the season on a positive note. And so, the Nationals can enjoy their day off tomorrow, as they prepare to visit Atlanta and then Philadelphia -- two very daunting opponents.
The game was marred by a political stunt right after Stephen Strasburg batted in the [fifth] inning. It was evidently well-planned, because the security guards were drawn away by a diversion in left field while a couple others entered from the right field side and tried to hold up a banner protesting the controversial Arizona immigration law. See ESPN. Back in May, Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney proposed a boycott of the games against Arizona, which I called "Dumb, dumb, dumb." IMHO, baseball and politics mix about as well as religion and politics, which is to say, NOT. On a lighter note, this series put the recent federal government lawsuit against Arizona in an interesting light. Don't mess with the Feds -- or with the Nationals!
With six weeks to go in the 2010 season, the Nationals stand at 51-67, or .432. There are 44 games left to play, which means that if they want to reach the .500 mark (81-81) they will have to win 30 of those games, or 68%. Given the stiff divisional competition they face, that seems like a highly improbable outcome. Bummer. As a more realistic goal to shoot for, I would say they should narrow the gap between wins and losses to no more than ten. That is, finishing at 76-86 (.469) would be satisfactory. That would mean they would have to win 25 of their final 44 games, or 57%. That is doable ... as long as the front office is smart enough to hold on to Adam Dunn, and hopefully sign him to a multi-year contract before the season ends and he becomes a free agent.
Happy fans in Minnesota
It was two weeks ago that I saw the Twins play against the Mariners in brand-new Target Field, and I'm still buzzed by the good vibes there. That series marked an upturn in the Twins' fortunes, and they now hold sole possession of first place in the AL Central Division. Those of us with a passionate interest in the architectural history of baseball stadiums should remember that what really counts are the people who pay good money to get inside them. And so, I present some of the friendly folks from the land of Garrison Keillor, Hubert Humphrey, and Jesse Ventura:
The young lad in the red shirt and blue cap was pretty happy about the Twins' eighth straight win. Just below him in the bottom left photo, another kid carries a souvenir bat which all young fans received that day. The couple at the top right was kind enough to let me take a picture of the field from where they were standing behind the wall in center field, and I told them I'd return the favor by making them famous. (?) At the bottom right, an out-of-town fan (moi) wears a Washington cap, as a reminder of the Twins' franchise origins.
August 16, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Will Nats sign Bryce Harper?
As the clock ticks toward the midnight deadline, I'm guessing they will sign him at the last minute, but as with the drama over signing Stephen Strasburg last year, I'm not going to get all worked up about it either way. Bryce Harper has generated lots of buzz about being as good a slugger as Mickey Mantle, but how on earth can anyone know how well he will play once he reaches the majors? Speaking of Strasburg, he had a rather blunt comment about Harper (via MLB.com:
If he doesn't want to play here, then we don't want him here -- bottom line. We want guys who want to play on this team. It's really important.
It's ironic, given that Strasburg was in the same situation last year, holding out for the best deal he could get. What's going on? Two words: Scott Boras. In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell ponders the growing influence that the super-agent has on baseball in general, and the Nationals in particular. Boras represents Strasburg as well as Pudge Rodriguez, and apparently, he was part of the reason that former GM Jim Bowden was essentially fired in March 2009. Boswell also mentions that Boras is on less cordial terms with Nationals president Stan Kasten and reveals something about the Nats' manager that's news to me: "Riggleman was Boras's minor league roommate once when they were both with the St. Louis Cardinals and Boras speaks highly of his managing skill." Very interesting. Boswell concludes with a very good reason why he thinks the Harper deal will get done: "Nobody on either side wants to turn the Boras-Nats relationship into a nightmare."
At MLB.com, Bill Ladson points out that, as of this morning, 16 of the 50 players the Nationals drafted this year remained unsigned. So, Harper is not alone among the holdouts.
Finally, David Pinto writes: "The best deal for each side comes at the last minute."
Metrodome* photos, etc.
While I was busy updating the Metrodome page with two of the photos I took while in Minneapolis two weeks ago (one panorama and one closeup of the southeast Gate D), I got carried away and came up with a new diagram for an expanded football-only version. Mike Zurawski thinks that's a complete waste of time, since a "bandaid renovation" of the Metrodome wouldn't be worth it, and he's probably right. But at least it's something to contemplate.
* It is now called "Mall of America Field."
California football news
Mike also sent me news about the latest stadium maneuverings in California. In San Diego, the City Council agreed to fund a study of a new stadium for the Chargers near Petco Park, and in Santa Clara, voters approved a $114 million to help build a new stadium for the "San Francisco" 49ers. And in Los Angeles, the billionaire who has been promoting an $800 million football stadium in City of Industry, Ed Roski Jr., has hired public relations consultant Ben Porritt, who worked on the John McCain presidential campaign in 2008. He might solicit the Chargers, 49ers, Raiders, Rams, Bills, Jaguars, or Vikings to play in (or near) L.A. See signonsandiego.com. For a look at the breathtakingly innovative design at the latter site, see losangelesfootballstadium.com.
There's much more material in my mail bag, so stay tuned...
August 19, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Harper signs with Nationals
They waited until the very last minute to "git 'r done," but it was really not such a big surprise that the Nationals and reputed future Hall of Famer Bryce Harper reached a deal. The contract was signed just before midnight late on Monday evening. It runs for five years and totals $9.9 million, a record for a rookie position player, and most of that is a signing bonus. See MLB.com. Harper is in a "league of his own," in more ways than one. He took a GED test to bypass the last two years at Las Vegas High School, and enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada to get quick experience in serious baseball. Harper has played mostly as a catcher, but will probably become an outfielder. He is only 17 years old, and will presumably spend at least a full year in the minor leagues before joining the Nationals rosters.
In Wednesday's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell wrote "A franchise and a town are lucky if they have one [superstar] player a generation." ... Now, he says, with the signing of Bryce Harper, Washington has three of them, on top of Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman. I tend to be skeptical of promotional hype, but Stephen Strasburg has at least lived up to expectations so far, so maybe the Nats will get lucky again. If so, their prospects for winning in years to come will be greatly magnified.
Nats win one vs. Braves
The Nationals got beat badly by the Braves on Tuesday, 10-2, but they bounced back last night and had the game tied 2-2 for several innings. It was a classic pitchers' duel, and even mighty Adam Dunn went 0 for 4. In the bottom of the ninth, Nats reliever Sean Burnett got one out but then gave up a single, and was replaced by Tyler Clippard. He walked the first batter he faced, putting a runner in scoring position, and one out later gave up the game-winning single to Jason Heyward. Drat. Ryan Zimmerman and manager Jim Riggleman were both ejected from that game in the eighth inning after Ryan threw his bat down after striking out. It seemed he was mostly mad at himself, but the umpire took it as an insult, and both mild-mannered men were kicked out. Very unusual. Today's game was truly a team effort, as all but one position player either scored a run or batted one in. Willie Harris, who has had a horrible year at the plate, stunned the (sparse) crowd by hitting a two-run homer in the top of the ninth, providing an extra layer of insurance. The Nats won the game, 6-2, thus averting being swept for what would have been the second time in the last ten days. John Lannan, who recently returned from minor league "retooling," had another very good outing, going 5 1/3 innings. He earned his fifth win of the season, thus evening his record.
The Nationals got some bad news, however, as outfielder Josh "Hammer" Willingham was put on the 15-day disabled list because of a bad left knee. He is probably going to have surgery and miss the rest of the season, which is a real bummer, as he was having the best season of his career. At least he got one more home run during the brief time since he came off the DL last week, making 16 total for the year. Nyjer Morgan just came off the DL to take his place, and went two for five today.
Meanwhile, Wil Nieves is on temporary family leave, as his wife just gave birth to a baby girl. ¡Felicitaciones, Wil!
Fenway Park rocks!
On Monday, Fenway Park hosted a rock concert featuring Aerosmith and the J. Geils Band, both of whom come from the Boston area. According to rollingstone.com, Aerosmith's lead singer (screamer) Steven Tyler embodies Boston's underdog spirit. "That's why Red Sox fans cherish Carl Yastrzemski more than Ted Williams, who was an infinitely better player -- Yaz tried harder, and needed us more." Hmmm... What about two other superstar rock groups from Beantown: The Cars, and of course, Boston?
R.I.P. Bobby Thomson
The guy who hit "the shot heard round the world" to help the New York Giants snatch the 1954 National League pennant away from the Brooklyn Dodgers, died on Monday at the age of 86. It was in the bottom of the ninth inning on Oct. 3, 1951 that Bobby Thomson hit a line drive home run over the left field wall (279 feet down the line, about 315 feet where his ball crossed) at the Polo Grounds. The obituary in the Washington Post has a of the Giants' dramatic comeback late in the 1951 season, and a detailed description of the game situation when Thomson's bat cracked that ball, which has never been found for sure. So let's cue up Terry Cashman's nostalgic jingle, "Willie, Mickey, and The Duke":
The Whiz Kids had won it
Bobby Thomson had done it
And Yogi read the comics all the while...
Well, that should cover the baseball news for a while. Oh, oh, wait a minute...
August 19, 2010 [LINK / comment]
"Ground Zero mosque" hysteria
If there is one thing we should have learned from the Bush administration, it is that voters eventually get tired of wedge issues being exploited for political gain, and it ends up backfiring. (See Oct. 2006, for example.) Nevertheless, that is exactly what seems to be taking place in the heated debate over the proposed Islamic Center in lower Manhattan. (It is not exactly a "mosque," but almost.) There are already dozens of houses of worship for Muslims in the New York area (see citysearch.com), but this one would be within a couple blocks of "hallowed ground" of the former World Trade Center. Other establishments in that area include a strip club, various fast-food joints, and jewelry shops.
This controversy didn't suddenly materialize out of thin air, it has been brewing for several months now. At salon.com Justin Elliott gives a good summary of how the situation developed since last December. He characterizes the project's organizers as "progressive Muslim-Americans," which is an interesting choice of words. The "Project Cordoba" (referring to the period of enlightened Islamic rule in Spain during the medieval era) is led by a moderate Muslim cleric, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. He was quoted as saying, "We want to push back against the extremists." It's a noble sentiment, certainly, but one questions the prudence of Imam Rauf and his associates. It was bound to generate controversy sooner or later. Elliott makes clear that much of the hubbub started in May when blogger Pamela Geller (Atlas Shrugs) began agitating people against the proposed mosque. She leads a group called "Stop Islamization of America" (SIOA). And so, another opportunity for cross-cultural understanding was wasted, and the American body politic became more divided once again.
Sadly, even many of the most intelligent and thoughtful commentators have fallen prey to taking sides on this issue. For example, Andrew Sullivan declares,
This is a defining moment -- not just for America but for conservatism as a political philosophy. philosophy. The campaign to prevent the construction of a Muslim interfaith center two blocks from Ground Zero strikes me as so dangerous in its assumptions, so pernicious in its bigotry, and so dangerous in the war on terror that it needs to be repudiated as swiftly and as powerfully as possible.
To me, what he writes sounds just as hysterical as some of the mosque opponents. Of course, Sullivan takes the opportunity to deride conservative opponents as "paranoid, infantile grasping for cultural dominance -- white, evangelical, rural -- that is only one part of America."
On the right, meanwhile, Newt Gingrich raised alarms about the project in a way that sounded like he was fishing for votes. Very tacky. Former Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie showed up on FOX News today to express caution in the way this issue is handled, but the FOX people just didn't seem to get it.
Here's what I wrote in response to Bruce Bartlett derisive criticism of right-wing activists on his Facebook page:
To paraphrase Bruce, I think this would be a winning issue for any politician with the sense not to make a big deal about it one way or another. I detest the exploitation of wedge issues just as much as I detest elitist posturing.
For a take from the Muslim perspect, watch what Zead Ramadan of the Council on American-Islamic Relations had to say, via cair.com. He considers him a "moderate mainstream" Muslim, and the Imam Faisal is to the "left" of him.
One of the most reliable bloggers I follow, Donald Sensing, casts doubt on the project's purported goal of building bridges between cultures. They turned down Gov. Paterson's offer to help them find a different site, making him look like a fool. As Sensing says, "Abdul-Rauf has steadfastly refused to renounce or denounce terrorist acts done by Muslims and has likewise refused to characterize violent Muslim extremist groups, including Hamas, as terrorist." Asserting that U.S. foreign policy was a contributing factor in the 9/11 attacks is a very troubling sign as well.
For a very fair and thoughtful take on the issue, read Sam Harris at thedailybeast.com, via Andrew Murphy on Facebook. Harris agrees with President Obama's statement that the Muslims have a right to build a mosque there, but the President fails to "acknowledge that Islam is different than other faiths." The politically correct crowd doesn't like to hear it, but there is a pathological violent aspect of Islam that is in dire need of remedy. That is one of the reasons why the freedom of religion argument needs to be balanced against other considerations, such as security. My comment:
I would like to think that a majority of Americans are sensible enough, as Mr. Harris is, to grasp the distinction between legal rights and simple decency. In today's polarized climate, of course, few leaders are willing to do so. Obama fumbled this one badly, paving the way for a brand new "wedge issue" to be exploited by the GOP. Sigh...
In conclusion, I think the best thing you could say about Project Cordoba at Park51 was that it was poor judgment. Now that the necessary permits have been granted by local authorities, I don't think there is much more that can or should be done about it. The more that opponents raise hell about it, the less likely I am to voice my concerns. I hope the Muslim organizers reconsider what they are doing, and I hope that they aren't the subversive threat that some people think they are. It was nearly one year ago that I lamented "hysteria" with regard to the so-called "death panels." My use of that term does not mean that I categorically reject the possibility of the alleged threat, it is just that the frantic tone in which many people are warning about said threats is grossly out of proportion to their actual likelihood. And win or lose, such tactics invariably detract from more important issues, making the problem of political polarization even worse. And that leaves us all weaker as a nation.
Construction site of the future "Freedom Tower" at Ground Zero, Oct. 2, 2008
Bruce Bartlett's blog
Speaking of Bruce Bartlett, he recently explained his political-ideological orientation on his blog capitalgainsandgames.com. He's a former Reagan "foot soldier" who voted for Obama, and remains deeply hostile to the Republican Party of today. I largely share his self-identification as "basically libertarian but tempered by Burkean small-C conservatism." Unlike Bruce, I have not totally given up on the Republican Party, though I seem to be moving farther away all the time. While many of his criticisms of the Party of Lincoln are very apt, I think he took the ostracism by Bush loyalists too personally and is making a vendetta out of it.
NOTE: This is my first politics blog post in well over a month. Part of the reason for that hiatus was my trip to the Midwest, but I am also reconsidering my political status. Suffice it to say that when a fund raiser for Michele Bachmann called today, I gave him an earful.