May 15, 2013 [LINK / comment]
May Day! Nats pull out of nosedive
After a perfectly horrible latter part of April, during which they had a 6-12 record, the Washington Nationals got back on track in early May. Winning the final two games of the four-game road series in Atlanta (May 1-2) was a huge lift, and they did the same thing in their three-game series Pittsburgh. Back home in D.C., they beat the defending American League champion Detroit Tigers twice in a two-game mini-series, and raised their winning streak to five when the Chicago Cubs came to town. That put them only one game below the division-leading Braves, who have had a pretty lousy month thus far.
But in the final two games of their series hosting the Cubs, the Nats just plain choked. The key turning point in the Saturday (May 11) game was when Ryan Zimmerman made a throwing error on what should have been an easy third out, but instead set the stage for a four-run rally by the Cubs. Stephen Strasburg had been in complete control of that game, but came unglued and never regained his composure. Final score: Cubs 8, Nats 2. In the rubber game on Sunday, the Nats took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, and really should have scored one or two more runs. It seemed like enough, however, as Gio Gonzalez had a perfect first five innings and left the game after seven without giving up a run. Unfortunately, the Nats' bullpen let the team down. Drew Storen allowed three hits in the eighth inning, as the Cubs tied the game 1-1, and Rafael Soriano allowed two hits in the ninth inning, as the Cubs took the lead 2-1, thus winning the series by the same margin. In the post-game analysis on MASN-TV, Ray Knight was about as mad as I have ever seen him. Letting what should have been easy opportunities to win slip through their fingers was simply inexcusable. That's not how teams who reach the postseason play.
On a brighter note, the Nationals set a team record for attendance at their 16 home games in April: 509,276, an average of 31,830 per game. Their previous high mark for April was in 2005, when 371,408 attended, or 30,951 per game. See the Washington Nationals page.
Harper crashes into fence
It was a scary moment on Monday night when the hard-charging Bryce Harper was chasing a long fly ball and ran full speed into the fence covering the scoreboard in right-center field at Dodger Stadium. It evoked memories of what happened to Curt Flood back in the 1960s, very strange because Harper didn't even slow down once he reached the warning track. He cut his chin but did not suffer any broken bones or a dreaded concussion. Harper says he's going to play that hard every day, no matter what, to help his team win games. Clearly, he takes "Natitude" very seriously! See Washington Post and masnsports.com.
The Nationals beat the Dodgers in that game, 6-2, as Jordan Zimmermann earned his seventh victory of the season -- the first pitcher in the major leagues to reach that mark. He has been one of the bright spots for the Nats this year, and unlike last year, he usually gets good run support. On Tuesday night, Ryan Zimmerman continued his hot streak at the plate since returning from the disabled list, going 3 for 4. The rest of his team could hardly hit at all, however, and a fine outing by starting pitcher Dan Haren was wasted. Final score: Dodgers 2, Nats 0. In tonight's rubber game, which just ended, Ross Detwiler gave up a run in each of the first two innings, and left after the third inning, with some kind of ailment. The relief pitchers held the line after that, and in the eighth inning, the Nats had a golden opportunity to catch up or take the lead, with runners on first and third, and nobody out. But then Adam LaRoche flied out to short left field, Ian Desmond struck out, and Kurt Suzuki (usually a clutch hitter) flied out. In the bottom of the eighth inning, relief pitcher Drew Storen let the bases get loaded with one out, and was lucky that the Dodgers only scored one run. In the top of the ninth, Danny Espinosa (who has been struggling lately) hit a timely single, but the next three batters (including the wounded Bryce Harper in his first pinch-hit at-bat this year) grounded out to end the game. Final score: Dodgers 3, Nats 1.
But at least the Braves lost again tonight, so the Nationals (21-19) are still just one game out of first place. The NL East is looking rather mediocre all of a sudden.
[The Nats' recent slump can be chalked up in part to missing players: Jayson Werth is out (15-day DL) with a pulled hamstring that seems to have been aggravated somehow by a stomach virus. Weird. Minor leaguer Eury Perez was called up to replace him. Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman have also taken rest days after getting banged up. Unfortunately, the Nationals' bench players aren't batting nearly as well as they were a year ago, when their lineup was severely depleted. Second-stringers such as Roger Bernadina, Chad Tracy, and Steve Lombardozzi got clutch hits that kept the Nats in first place through May, but that's not happening this year.]
Arlington Stadium update
Yesterday I updated the Arlington Stadium diagrams, with entry portals displayed and a few other enhancements to detail and accuracy. That page now include a hypothetical version diagram, in which there would have been a roofed upper deck extending for two-thirds of a circle around the foul poles. That page explains, "A matchbook with the 1968 schedule for the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs shows an artist's conception of the 'The Ultimate Turnpike Stadium,' from which the above hypothetical diagram is derived." It's a real shame that was never done, forcing the Texas Rangers to cope with a minor-league stadium for over two decades.
Eventually I'll have to do a page devoted solely to stadium expansions or modifications that were never built.
My apologies for not doing any blog or diagram updates for the past month, but teaching duties can get overwhelming this time of year.
May 25, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Nationals struggle in California
After winning seven of their first eight games this month, it looked like the Washington Nationals had put their disappointing first month of the 2013 season behind them. But then they proceeded to lose eight of their next eleven games, putting them back at .500, about where they started the not-so merry month of May. Losing the latter two games of the four-game series in the San Diego is hard to comprehend. The Padres won 2-1 on May 18 mainly because of the Nationals' cold bats. Jordan Zimmermann pitched splendidly once again, but committed a throwing error late in the game that allowed the Padres to take a 2-1 lead, and that was the final score. The next day the Nats looked horrible, as the Padres dominated them with a 13-4 victory. The only bright spot was a home run by Ryan Zimmerman, who is continuing to recover from his off-season shoulder surgery.
The day after that in San Francisco went about the same, as the Giants won 8-0. Since Ross Detwiler went on the DL, the Nats called up Zach Duke to perform as starting pitcher, and that was a big mistake. Manager Davey Johnson said he didn't want to give up Craig Stammen as the valuable long reliever, a questionable decision in many peoples' minds. The latter two games in San Francisco both went into extra innings. On May 21 Rafael Soriano blew another save, while on May 22 Bryce Harper homered and then sparked a tenth-inning rally that put the Nats on top, 2-1. That was a huge relief for Nats fans.
The four-game losing streak put the Nationals [back down to] .500 for the second time this season, falling to 4 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. It wasn't quite a "California Nightmare" (as opposed to "California Dreamin"), but it was close.
Last night in Our Nation's Capital, the Nats had a very encouraging homecoming, beating the Phillies 5-2. Once again, Jordan Zimmermann was superb on the mound, [lowering his ERA to 1.71.] The surprising star of the evening was bench player Steve Lombardozzi, who went three for four, including a clutch two-run double that provided a margin of comfort for the relief pitchers. Tonight Dan Haren is starting for the Nats.
UPDATE: The Nats and Phillies battled back and forth tonight, tied 3-3 going into the eighth inning. That's when the Phillies scored two runs, on a walk and two hits given up by relief pitcher Drew Storen. The Nats had two base runners and nobody out in the bottom of the eighth, but failed to get anyone across home plate. Final score: 5-3. Dan Haren threw ten strikeouts, and Adam LaRoche hit a home run, but not much else happened.
Espinosa on the DL
We learned why one of the Nationals has been hitting so poorly this year: Danny Espinosa has a minor broken bone in his right wrist; it is described as a "bone chip." It happened on April 14, when he was hit by a pitch thrown by Paul Maholm of the Braves. See MLB.com. In his place, the Nats called up Jeff Kobernus from the franchise's Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse.
Milwaukee County Stadium update
For no particular reason, I updated the Milwaukee County Stadium diagrams. The main change is the inclusion of entry portals, which are especially noticeable in the new upper-deck and lower-deck "exposed" diagram versions. If you squint you can see the support columns adjacent to many of those entry portals. I had the field dimensions correct at the time of the last diagram update, March 6, 2011, but I made the bleachers slightly larger again. Why the difference? There are (were) 31 rows of bleachers (each of which is typically a bit more than two feet deep), but I failed to account for the four or so feet of lateral walking space in the front.
May 29, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Zimmermann squanders Zimmerman's three home runs
So I get home from work this evening, turn on the TV to check the Nationals-Orioles game score, and was pleased to learn that the Washingtonians had a 6-2 lead, in the bottom of the fifth inning. Then I find out that Ryan Zimmerman had already hit three home runs, and my jaw just about hit the floor! With ace pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (prominently featured in today's Washington Post) on the mound, the Nats were cruising toward a second straight victory!
Or so I thought. An inning later, Zimmermann gave up a solo home run to Nick Markakis, but there was no further damage. In the top of the seventh, Ryan Zimmerman was called out on strikes. It was a fastball down the middle on a 1-2 count, and I cannot understand why he didn't swing and try to hit a fourth home run. In the bottom of the seventh, the first four Orioles batters hit safely, including a home run by Steve Pearce, and all of a sudden it was a tie game, 6-6. Zimmermann was clearly exhausted, and manager Davey Johnson called in Tyler Clippard from the bullpen. He couldn't do any better, however, and the Orioles scored three more runs, including a home run by the phenomenal Chris Davis. It was his second of the game and his 19th homer this year, leading the majors! It was the same kind of sickening feeling I had when the Nationals blew their ninth-inning lead against the Cardinals in NLDS Game 5 last year. The Nats failed to get anybody on base in the final two innings, and that was the ball game, 9-6. Un-BLANK-ing-believable!
And so, instead of raising his win-loss record to 9-2, Jordan Zimmermann is now 8-3. Well, we all have bad days some times, but this one was just a dirty rotten shame. How must Ryan Zimmerman feel, with a career-best day going for nought? (He also made some great defensive plays at third base.) For the record, Roger Bernadina (subbing for Bryce Harper) crushed a monster home run to right field, sailing out of the park and onto Eutaw Street, the 68th time that has happened. See MLB.com.
After the game, Davey Johnson mentioned the small, slugger-friendly ballpark six or seven times, and Jordan Zimmermann brought it up as well. Since Johnson used to manage the Orioles, he is all too familiar with that venue. But it got me to thinking that I ought to measure the size of the playing field, and here is what I found:
||107,400 sq. ft.
||108,300 sq. ft.
||23,200 sq. ft.
||23,300 sq. ft.
In other words, there really isn't much difference between the Orioles' home field and that of the Nationals in terms of total playing area. It just happens that, because of the geometry, Camden Yards has a below-average left-center field power alley: 364 feet. To a lesser extent, the same thing is true of Nationals Park on either side of the center field corner.
Stadium statistics update
To put such measurements in comparative context, see the thoroughly revised Stadium statistics page, which now includes data on seating rows in each main deck, and the total area of fair territory and foul territory. It is still a "work in progress," however, and for the time being has many gaps in data. As it says in the notes at the bottom of that page, "ALL data in these columns are subject to revision."
I made a major revision of that page back on November 25 last year, adding to it total MLB lifetime, years in "hiatus / limbo," backstop distances, and the overhangs in the upper deck and lower deck of each stadium.
And while I was at it, I updated the data table on the Camden Yards page, showing that the seating capacity is about 2,300 less than it used to be. I also plan to add a new lower deck diagram of Camden Yards in the next few days. I should have done that when I revised those diagrams last December 4.
May 31, 2013 [LINK / comment]
R.I.P. YuLee Larner (1923-2013)
I took this photo of YuLee at the dedication of the trail named in her honor in Montgomery Hall Park, in conjunction with the Augusta Bird Club annual picnic in May 2005.
My former good neighbor and renowned local birding authority YuLee Larner passed away last month at the age of 89. She was a founding member of the Augusta Bird Club in the 1960s, and for the rest of her life worked tirelessly to promote public understanding and appreciation for wild birds. She also served as president of the Virginia Society of Ornithology, a tribute to her remarkable accomplishments as a self-taught bird expert. Most people in Staunton knew her from the weekly columns she wrote for the News Leader going back to the 1970s. Far fewer people knew about her accomplishments as a musician: she played the organ at Covenant Presbyterian Church for many years.
I first got to know YuLee via e-mail about 12 years ago. My wife and I were moving from Blacksburg to Staunton, and I sent a general inquiry to a Virginia-wide birding e-mail list about where to go bird watching in the Staunton area. To my surprise, I received multiple replies, and among the people who were kind enough to give me tips were Allen Larner and YuLee Larner. I assumed they were either a married couple or part of the same household, but I guessed wrong, and that led to an amusing bit of awkwardness after I responded to them. But the truly serendipitous part about getting to know YuLee was that it turned out she lived in the very same apartment complex to which my wife and I were moving into! As next-door neighbors, we became good friends as well as fellow bird enthusiasts.
Two years after arriving in Staunton (March 2004), I made a stupendous discovery of a rare bird on our back porch: It was the first Western Tanager ever seen in the Shenandoah Valley! I announced it to other birders via e-mail, and dozens of people from near and far soon came to our neighborhood just to see that bird. YuLee was disappointed that didn't see it the first day, but she finally did get a good view of it the next day. I accompanied her on occasional bird-watching walks along Bell's Lane and the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad.* In conversations with YuLee, I learned about the hardships she endured as a young girl in Sangerville, in the north part of Augusta County. Her father died when she was young, and the surviving family members had to scrimp and work extremely hard. But she was a person of deep faith with a desire to learn, and those character traits paid off when she married Mathias "Sy" Larner, and raised a family of her own.
As YuLee got along in years, she found it necessary to move to the assisted living facility at Baldwin Park. As her health declined in recent years, she stopped attending the Augusta Bird Club meetings, and her absence was sad. In March she was admitted to the hospital, and I visited her there on March 30, the day before Easter. I gave her a batch of photographs I had recently taken with my new Canon digital camera, and she really appreciated that. As I left, I told her I would make sure and pay her another visit at Baldwin Park after she recuperated. Less than two weeks later, however, I was stunned to learn that she had passed away.
I attended the memorial service for YuLee at Covenant Presbyterian Church on April 12. (By remarkable coincidence, it was on the same day that I attended a tribute to a former professor at the University of Virginia: Kenneth W. Thompson.) Well over a hundred people were there to pay honors to YuLee, and it was a real joy to meet (or get reacquainted with) so many of them, especially her daughters. YuLee had an enormous impact on the community, and was cherished and admired by countless numbers of people. Hers was truly a life well led. See the obituary and opinion piece about YuLee that were published in the News Leader.
Covenant Presbyterian Church, where YuLee played the organ for many years, and where the memorial service for her was held. It is also the current meeting place of the Augusta Bird Club.
Spring migration comes to an end
I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of warblers and other neotropical migrants this year, since I bought my new Canon PowerShot SX50 digital camera. Ironically, I have become so wrapped up in taking bird photos over the past six weeks that I have not even had the time to post anything about it in my blog. I did upload many photos to my Web site [see the Wild birds yearly photo gallery], and brought them to the attention of other bird club members via Facebook, but I just could not devote enough time and energy to write text descriptions of what I have been seeing and photographing. You might say that I have reached the point of "singularity," [a term coined by author Ray Kurzweil]where the speed of change accelerates to such a high speed that human awareness and response to such change essentially collapses. So, what follows is a belated attempt to get caught up, with a brief summary of the most important bird outings I have been on, and the best of the photos that I have taken since the middle of April.
Blue Ridge, April 18 & 25
It didn't take long before I got to see several species of warblers, my favorite group of birds. I took the long way home from CVCC in Lynchburg on April 18, and spotted three species for the first time this year: Prairie Warbler (at Piney River), Palm Warbler (at the Rockfish Valley Trail, in Nelson County), and a male American Redstart (at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway). I even got decent photos of all three. One week later (April 25), I headed west from Amherst on Route 60, and heard two Hooded Warblers singing near the Appalachian Trail. After some patient stalking, I finally got excellent closeup pictures of one.
Hooded Warbler (male), on the Appalachian Trail, in Amherst County. (April 25)
I made a couple other trips to the Blue Ridge Parkway, including an Augusta Bird Club field trip on May 2, but there just weren't many birds on those days.
Big Spring Day, May 5
I was under a severe time constraint from having to grade exams, but I still managed to spend a few hours helping with the annual "Big Spring Day" bird census. I covered Barren Ridge Road, Sanger's Lane, Betsy Bell Hill, and the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad trail in Staunton. *(As mentioned above, I used to go birding on that trail at least once a week, but its condition has deteriorated so much over the years that it is hardly worth the effort to traverse it any more.) The main focal point of my route was the rookery of Great Blue Heron nests on Sanger's Lane. I estimated about two dozen adults and nestlings, but it's hard to tell from over a quarter mile away. But the most satisfying part of the day was getting to photograph this superb and colorful vocalist:
Baltimore Oriole (male), on Barren Ridge Road. (May 5)
Bell's Lane, May 8
After finishing spring semester duties, I was free to bird as much as I wanted to. I got into the habit of driving through Bell's Lane every other day or so, and it really paid off on one occasion, when I saw two adult male Common Yellowthroats squabbling over territorial rights. Here is one of them:
Common Yellowthroat (male), on Bell's Lane. (May 8)
Montgomery Hall Park
It seemed to me that the Indigo Buntings arrived later than usual this year, and I didn't even see one until May 12, in Montgomery Hall Park. I'm pretty sure that is the latest first-of-year sighting of that species for me since I began keeping records in 1997. But when I finally did see one, I was able to get some good photos:
Indigo Bunting (male), in Montgomery Hall Park. (May 12)
Swoope, etc. - May 15
I wanted to check on the Bald Eagle nest in Swoope, and to my surprise there was a Bald Eagle on the ground eating a fish, less than 50 yards from the side of the road! I took a photo of the nest, but the youngsters were taking a nap, and thus hard to see. They will probably fledge some time in June, and I would dearly love to be there when it happens.
Bald Eagle, in Swoope. (May 15)
As if that wasn't enough, I took a back road known as Old Parkersburg Turnpike, where I came upon a pair of Blue-headed Vireos and (about a mile after that) a female Scarlet Tanager. In both cases, I got excellent photos once again.
Blue-headed Vireo, on Old Parkersburg Turnpike. (May 15) Roll mouse over the image to see the original, unedited version.
ABC picnic, May 18
This year, the Augusta Bird Club picnic was held a little later than usual, May 18. Like last year, it was in Ridgeview Park. Also like last year, the weather was less than ideal -- overcast and drizzly. Perhaps not surprisingly, we didn't see many birds while walking along the trails. After the picnic, however, we did finally spot some Blackpoll Warblers high in the trees, along with some late-lingering Yellow-rumped Warblers. For some reason, the Blackpoll Warblers seem unusually scarce this spirng. In almost every year that I can remember, the trees all around town are filled with their high-pitched "tsee--tsee-tsee" song, but I have hardly heard any of them this year. I hope that's not a sign of a decline in population.
Bell's Lane, May 23
After multiple attempts, on May 23 I finally got lucky in photographing a Yellow Warbler. Likewise, with Willow Flycatchers and Grasshopper Sparrows, both of which are common in that very specific open grassland habitat, but are uncommon elsewhere.
Yellow Warbler (male), on Bell's Lane. (May 23)
Big Levels, May 26
It had been a long time since I had been to the Big Levels area, and my visit there paid off almost immediately, as I heard the "k-k-kh-kh-kow-kow-kowp" call of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. After a while I finally got a good angle for taking photos:
Yellow-billed Cuckoo, in the Big Levels area. (May 26) Roll mouse over the image to see the original, unedited version.
I also heard what I believe was a Black-billed Cuckoo (with a "KOO-ooh, KOO-ooh, KOO-ooh" call), and some Pine Warblers in that area, but didn't see any. I also came across a "Do Not Enter" sign where the road to Coles Run Dam is located. They are in the process of draining that reservoir, in preparation for rebuilding the dam to meet modern safety regulations, so that birding hotspot will be closed for at least another year, unfortunately.
Reddish Knob, May 30
Yesterday, I joined Penny Warren and Allen Larner for a trip to the top of Reddish Knob, a scenic overlook which serves as the habitat for a number of very special birds. First among them are the Red Crossbills, a species which I had only glimpsed before. This time I finally got lucky, as we heard and soon saw one singing in a tree right above the road. I think I'll count that as my first "life bird" of the year.
Red Crossbill, north of Reddish Knob. (May 30)
Besides the aforementioned trips, I also visited the South River Preserve west of Stuarts Draft, where I took a fine photo of a Cedar Waxwing. Now I am officially caught up with wild bird blogging!