January 1, 2015 [LINK / comment]
Winter Classic: outdoor hockey in D.C.!
As a fitting way to observe the Happy New Year, the 2015 edition of the National Hockey League's Winter Classic is about to get underway at Nationals Park. The Washington Capitals are hosting the Chicago Black Hawks, with the game starting at 1:00 P.M. So, of course I had to make a new hockey diagram, which happens to be the fifth such diagram I have done. It's based on photos I've seen in the Washington Post.
Other than Dodger Stadium, all stadiums listed above were hosting the Winter Classic. The inaugural (2008) Winter Classic was played at Ralph Wilson Stadium in suburban Buffalo, New York, the 2011 Winter Classic was played at Heinz Field in Philadelphia, and the 2014 Winter Classic was played at Michigan Stadium (football capacity 102,000) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There was no such event in 2013 due to the NHL lockout. (See wikipedia.org.) This all got started in 2003 when the Edmonton Oilers hosted Montreal Canadiens in the Heritage Classic played at Commonwealth Stadium (football capacity 56,000) in Edmonton, Alberta. That's 300 miles north of Montana: br-r-r-r!!! The Heritage Classic was revived in 2014 and may renew Canadian interest in outdoor hockey.
In addition, there was a hockey match at Progressive Field in January 2012, with Ohio State hosting the University of Michigan, so I'll probably get around to doing a hockey version of that as well.
Dude, where's the bowl games?
Has anyone else noticed how few bowl games there are on TV today? It used to be that New Year's Day was chock full of such collegiate football extravanzas, but today all I see scheduled are the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Citrus Bowl and the Outback Bowl. (Corporate sponsor names are omitted in the interests of brevity.) I don't understand why they have been spreading out bowl games throughout late December and early January. For what it's worth, the very first official, bona fide College National Championship football game will be held on January 12, between the winners of the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl. Good riddance to the FBS!
January 10, 2015 * [LINK / comment]
Four stars get tapped for Hall of Fame
Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Craig Biggio were chosen by the Baseball Writers Association of America for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. They received 97.3%, 91.1%, 82.9%, and 82.7% of the 412 votes, respectively. (A player needs to get 75% to be accepted into the HOF.) According to MLB.com, "It was the first time in 60 years that the BBWAA has elected four players from the same ballot and the first time three pitchers were elected in the same year." The three pitchers were elected in their first year of eligibility, while Biggio was elected in his third year.
Johnson ("The Big Unit") spent most of his career with the Seattle Mariners and then moved to Arizona, helping the Diamondbacks win the 2001 World Series, sharing the World Series MVP award with Curt Schilling. Johnson retired as a Giant, which was appropriate for his height. (!) He received the Cy Young Award five times, striking out 4,875 batters in his career. Martinez played for the Montreal Expos, and then of course the Boston Red Sox (1998-2004), helping them win the 2003 World Series. He won three Cy Young Awards. Smoltz was part of the famed Atlanta Braves trio (with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who entered the HOF last year), helping his team win the 1995 World Series. Unlike them, Smoltz played a full 20 seasons for the Braves, who went to the playoffs in 14 times during his tenure. Biggio (the only non-pitcher) is the first-ever Houston Astro player in the Hall of Fame; he played his entire 20-year career there, amassing 3,060 hits. He was a key factor in the Astros' first-ever World Series appearance in 2005. As for the other two "Killer B's" (famed Astros sluggers of the last decade), Jeff Bagwell received enough BBWAA votes to remain eligible for future HOF consideration, and Lance Berkman was not listed.
Mike Piazza missed the 75% cutoff by a small margin, and is all but assured of getting in next year. Several big stars who were tainted by the doping scandal were well below the needed threshhold, and probably will never make it.
Curt Schilling was reportedly miffed at not being chosen, blaming media bias against his conservative political activity. Or maybe he was just kidding! See Rob Neyer at foxsports.com. Schilling's a pretty classy, sensible guy, and grousing like that would seem out of character.
The four HOF-members-to-be appeared on David Letterman's "Late Show," doing the Top Ten list. For those (like me) who missed it, watch the replay at CBS.com. The induction ceremonies will take place next July 26 in Cooperstown. That will be one heck of an occasion!
Congratulations, Randy, Pedro, John, and Craig!
PNC Park major update(s)
I took care of another glaring deficiency in my lineup of stadium diagrams yesterday*, with a set of new exquisitely detailed renderings of PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It's not for nothing that they call it "The Best Ballpark in America." Once again, the inclusion of entry portals and structural members between the grandstand sections led to significant revisions in angles and positions. Going through my copious stock of photographs which I took there in August 2009 made possible a vast improvement in accuracy. One obvious difference compared to the old version (December 2010) is that there is no lateral walkway in the upper deck. There are, instead, a series of wide open flat areas, connected by a barrier between the upper and lower parts of the upper deck. Rigid "segregation" of fans is enforced in Pittsburgh!
I actually uploaded the newly revised images on Thursday night, and then discovered a few minor glitches during Friday, necessitating a series of fixes and uploads. Then in the late afternoon I came upon a significant discrepancy involving the scoreboard and adjacent seating sections. For example, by closely scrutinizing the photos I took there in 2009, I learned that the 2-3 rows of seats in the third level behind left field are directly beneath the scoreboard, and hang slightly over the second level. One thing led to another, until I finally got everything just right -- or so I thought. Today (Saturday) I found a discrepancy relating to the profiles, and had to change all of those. The key clue? The
circular heptagonal (!) rotunda pedestrian ramp near the left field corner. Each level is the same height, which meant that the height of the lower deck equals the vertical distance between the main concourse and the [lower-] upper concourse [-- as opposed to the upper-upper concourse]. That raised the total height of the stadium by about eight feet. So everything is perfect -- for the time being, at least. Am I a perfectionist? Guilty as charged.
I added a "new" photo to that page, taken from the lower deck behind home plate, toward left field. It was a cloudy day, which is why the image is only so-so, but it vividly depicts the incomparably awesome scenery of the ballpark and the urban backdrop. I hope it's sunnier the next time I go there.
* Actually posted early Sunday morning the 11th.
January 16, 2015 [LINK / comment]
Mile High Stadium update
Just in time for the AFC playoff game last Sunday,* but without having the desired good luck effect, I updated the diagrams for Mile High Stadium, home of the Colorado Rockies and Denver Broncos. There are two noticeable differences compared to the last revision in September 2011: first, the entry portals are now shown (that greatly enhances accuracy); and second, the bleachers on the south side are much bigger than before. Since it's a pretty basic rounded rectangle shape, you'd think the revisions would be easy, and so did I. Wrong!
Note that there are now two early-era baseball configuration diagrams (1948 and 1965), along with a new 1968 football configuration diagram. That was the year that the grandstand was triple-decked (but on the west side only), and when what used to called "Bears Stadium" assumed the new name. Previously, I had thought that that only the second deck was built in 1968, and that the third deck was added in 1976-1977. Wrong!
The "combined" version diagram has side notes that explain exactly when which parts of the stadium were built, and has a profile that pertains to the east (movable) grandstand, where the ground was at field level (or vice versa). On the north and west sides, in contrast, the rear of the grandstand lower deck was at ground level. That is why the profile of the other Mile High diagrams show just the slab of the lower deck without any suggestion of subterranean structures. Other than the dugouts, clubhouses, and tunnels, I'm pretty sure there weren't any. (I did the same thing for Dodger Stadium last month, and may do likewise for other stadiums, where appropriate, in the future.)
* The Indianapolis Colts beat the host Denver Broncos in what might have been Peyton Manning's last game in the NFL. If so, it's too bad he couldn't go out on a more upbeat note. Ironically, the Colts were his team until his contract was allowed to expire three years ago, and the new quarterback seems to have had more Luck.
Diagram progress report
Ironically, the relative paucity of my blog posts this month is a reflection of how much time I have spent on revising ballpark diagrams. It's a lot easier to do the ones I have actually been to, since I always take lots of detailed photos that reveal the mysterious "innards" of baseball stadiums. Would you believe I have had to make some significant changes to the Comerica Park diagrams? Of course you would. In the next few days, I plan to release a major "State of the Diagrams" report, to coincide with the President's "State of the Union" address.
Baseball blog plug
Take a look at Timeless Baseball, which features occasional articles by George Case related to baseball during the World War II era. You can also get a DVD full of rare images of games, players, and stadiums from that long-ago time.
January 16, 2015 [LINK / comment]
Pintail in Bridgewater
Jacqueline and I drove up to Bridgewater yesterday, and we stopped at the North River to see if any of the interesting waterfowl reported there recently were present. There were just the usual Mallards, plus some Coots and Pied-bill Grebes the first time we stopped there, but as we were crossing the bridge on the way back home, I caught a glimpse of a Northern Pintail and yelled "STOP!" I got out of the car, walked back over to the bridge, which has sidewalks for pedestrians. I managed to get close enough to get some very nice photos, which made my day. At Silver Lake in nearby Dayton, there were a dozen or more Gadwalls, some Redheads, a Canvasback, a Mute Swan, and all the usual Mallards and Canada Geese.
Northern Pintails are elegant birds that are more abundant in western states. They are "dabbling ducks," like Mallards, and are related to Gadwalls. When I took that photo, I didn't realize that it was in breeding plumage, an added bonus. Their non-breeding plumage is rather dull, as is the case with many other birds.
Northern Pintail (male), in Bridgewater, January 15.
The above photo and others can be seen on the Wild birds yearly photo gallery page. I thought the Pintail might have been a life bird for me, since I knew I hadn't seen that species in years. In fact, the last two times were January 2009 and February 2007, on the (private) farm pond on Bell's Lane in both cases.
Other recent bird outings
Jacqueline and I celebrated New Year's Day by taking a drive through the countryside, passing through Waynesboro along the way. The highlight of the day was at the Eagles Nest Airport pond west of Waynesboro, where we saw a male Canvasback and a pair of Ruddy Ducks. Otherwise, not much going on.
Canvasback (male), Eagles Nest Airport pond, January 1.
On Christmas Day, Jacqueline and I went looking for a Cackling Goose that had been reported on Heston's Pond south of Waynesboro, to no avail. But we did see a few Hooded Mergansers on the Invista (formerly DuPont) pond in Waynesboro. There wasn't much activity in the Bell's Lane area in December, but that may reflect my busy exam schedule and being "under the weather" for about a week. I saw a Northern Harrier on Bell's Lane on December 8 and 21, but none since then. On December 5 I went to Lake Shenandoah, and saw a pair of Common Loons, as well as some Coots and a Kestrel. The previous day I went to the water treatment pond in Stuarts Draft, and some several Ruddy Ducks, a Coot, and a Kestrel. On December 1 I drove out to Swoope in hopes of seeing unusual sparrows, but failed in that endeavor. I did see an adult Bald Eagle, however, as well as some Kestrels. And finally, on November 25, the day after my last blog post about birds, I saw several Kinglets of both species, and got a nice photo of Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
Life bird list recount
At the end of my November 24 blog post, I noted that I had already tied my second-best year in terms of seeing new birds: 1997, when I saw 47 (including one in Peru). I was hoping to do one better, but as noted above I was too busy (or sick) in December to do much birding. Just today I went over my records again, and discovered that I had actually seen 48 new species last year (including a probable Hooded Oriole in Arizona), so I have revised my Life bird list to show that 2014 was indeed my second-best (birding) year ever! [Obviously, my big trip to the desert southwest last June accounted for the vast majority of those species. I saw three life birds in the early winter months, a nice side-effect of the "polar vortex," and three life birds in the Virginia Beach area in November.] My current lifetime total now stands at 456 bird species.
January 22, 2015 [LINK / comment]
Nats sign Scherzer, Max out their payroll
In one of the biggest bombshells of the entire winter season, earlier this week the Washington Nationals signed former Detroit Tiger pitcher Max Scherzer to a seven-year contract worth $210 million. That includes an incredible $50 million signing bonus for the man who had been the object of much speculation since becoming a free agent in October. Today Scherzer was formally introduced to the media in Washington, with grinning General Manager Mike Rizzo and Manager Matt Williams at his side.
After being traded to the Detroit Tigers by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009, Scherzer won 82 games over five seasons, and received the American League Cy Young Award in 2013. (See MLB.com.) There's no doubt that he will make a huge impact wherever he plays, so it's mainly a question of whether he will stay healthy.
As a perpetual skeptic, I confess to having mixed feelings about the Scherzer acquisition. Is he really worth that much? Washington Post columnists Barry Svrluga and Adam Kilgore think so. The Nats' starting rotation was already one of the best in baseball already, merely lacking a superstar of Scherzer's caliber. Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Stephen Strasburg are potential superstars who could yet achieve that status, and if Gio Gonzalez gets back in the groove he showed in 2012, the same for him. Even the fifth pitcher, Tanner Roark, abounds with talent and competitive spirit. For me, keeping Jordan Zimmermann as part of the Nats' rotation should be a top priority.
This mega-deal raised immediate questions about whether the Nats could afford to keep their current star players whose contracts are nearing expiration. But the front office on South Capitol Street says they are planning to keep their core starting pitchers, as well as shortstop Ian Desmond. Owner Ted Lerner obviously has deep pockets, and at age 89 he be motivated to win a World Series while he's still alive. Hmmm... See MLB.com. If so, they really are in "World Series or bust" mode. This is shaping up to be one heck of a year for the Nationals, but the future is far less certain...
Other deals by the Nationals
With a deep, well-balanced roster full of (mostly) young talent, the Washington Nationals have only one clear need: a top-notch second baseman. Asdrubal Cabrera (acquired in August to fill the void when Anthony Rendon replaced Ryan Zimmerman at third base) was OK, but he was clearly not the best choice for a long-term contract. But I was as surprised as anybody that rock-solid relief pitcher Tyler Clippard was traded away last week, for a fair but not stellar Yunel Escobar. (See MLB.com) Was that really the best deal they could get?? Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wondered what General Manager Mike Rizzo was thinking. Maybe this was part of a brilliant scheme by Rizzo to reshape the pitching staff, anticipating the Scherzer deal, but if he thinks Tanner Roark is going to accept a demotion from the pitching rotation to the bullpen, look at how the once-promising pitcher Ross Detwiler took that treatment last year. Human beings crave respect as much as money, and sometimes more so.
With his goofy goggles and unique delivery style, Clippard was a popular player in Washington, and kids at Nationals Park were delighted to get the bobblehead doll in his likeness last fall. Now that "Clip" is gone, there are lots of sad faces in Nats Town.
Earlier this month, the Nats signed former Marlin infielder Dan Uggla to a minor league contract, apparently taking a chance that he might regain his former slugging prowess. He's been declining for the past couple years, so that was another puzzle.
In a complicated multi-team trade last month, the Tampa Bay Rays got former Nationals rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., the guy who saved Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter last September 29. (Have I mentioned that before?) In return, the Nationals got right-hand pitcher Joe Ross and a "player to be named" (Trea Turner) from the Padres. See MLB.com.
Werth gets surgery on shoulder
Two weeks ago, Jayson Werth had surgery to repair on his right (throwing arm) shoulder, which started ailing him last August. It was feared that it might take him until mid-April or May to fully recover, but he says he'll be ready by Opening Day. I sure hope so. See MLB.com. Werth is 35 years old, and has three years left on his contract.
Get well soon, Jayson!
Seattle stadia mass update
As a tribute to the Seattle Seahawks, the defending Super Bowl champions who hosted the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game last Sunday,* I updated the diagrams on the Sicks' Stadium, the Kingdome, and Safeco Field pages. I managed to finish the first two before the game, but as usual, it took longer than expected to make all the necessary corrections to Safeco Field. So the actual updates to both Sicks' Stadium and the Kingdome were on January 18, four days ago.
* Was that an amazing fourth-quarter comeback by the Seahawks, or what? The Packers seemed to have it all wrapped up with less than five minutes to play, and then their defense melted away.
Sicks' Stadium update
The Sicks' Stadium diagrams include more detail in the outfield seating areas, where a wide lateral walkway was punctuated by stairs between each section. They also show the peripheral buildings, presumably housing maintenance equipment and/or offices, as well as the adjacent streets. But the most interesting enhancement is the the new "roofless" diagram, showing where the entry portals and support beams were located in the main grandstand. Also, the grandstand is about eight feet deeper than I previously estimated.
Yep, it's the same old story: less than a month after I made some minor corrections to the Kingdome diagrams, I noticed a small discrepancy on one of them (the removable seating sections near the right and left field corners), fixed that, and soon found other small " the wrinkles" and got carried away until I ironed them out all. The only significant change was that the upper deck in the basketball version does not extend as far toward the east (left field) as before. When the Seattle Supersonics played there the Kingdome was in the original (1976) configuration. But I figured while I was at it, I should offer a "hypothetical alternative" layout, with home plate moved straight back 15 feet. That would have yielded a more "normal" sized outfield, while putting fans closer to the action.
Safeco Field BIG update
Over a year and a half after a "premature" diagram update that left several issues unresolved, I finally completed revisions to the Safeco Field diagrams. For the first time, there are multiple diagram versions that vividly show how the retractable roof operates, including a "transparent roof" version. Compared to the July 2013 version, the upper deck extends about ten feet less toward left field, while the bend near the right field corner is a few feet deeper. The small staircases on either side of the entry portals are depicted more clearly than before, with gray shading to distinguish them from the flat balconies. Other details: The small upper deck behind the bullpens in left field are a few feet shallower, as is the similar upper deck in center field. Finally, the bends in the grandstand are depicted by gray lines. Reconciling those bends in the upper deck vis-a-vis the lower deck was perhaps the biggest headache I faced in getting everything right.
My prior haste was due to a desire to account for parts of the outfield fences being moved in several feet prior to the 2013 season.) For an explanation of the changes in outfield dimensions that year, see MLB.com. Except for left-center field, it really didn't shrink much.
Monthly links this year:
Culture & Travel
Science & Technology
January 10, 2015 ~ Four stars get tapped for Hall of Fame
January 22, 2015 ~ Nats sign Scherzer, Max out their payroll
January 17, 2015 ~ West by Southwest: Winter wonderland scenery
February 12, 2015 ~ Redistricting reform fails
February 26, 2015 ~ Life bird: Smith's Longspur!
March 10, 2015 ~ GOP senators challenge Obama's foreign policy
April 12, 2015 ~ Play ball! Opening Day Week 2015
May 21, 2015 ~ Harper's homers lift Nationals into 1st place!
June 25, 2015 ~ Hiking up Little North Mountain
June 30, 2015 ~ Virginia wins the College World Series!
June 30, 2015 ~ If it's Tuesday, this must be Bridgewater*
June 30, 2015 ~ Emmett Hanger wins GOP primary election
July 8, 2015 ~ "That's gotta hurt!" Nationals' fans share players' agony
July 18, 2015 ~ Fleetwood Mac in concert!
August 14, 2015 ~ Northwest by North: Baseball road trip, 2015
August 25, 2015 ~ Welcome home to Washington?
September 28, 2015 ~ Papelbon chokes (twice!), Nationals fall apart
November 3, 2015 ~ Hey, Hey Kansas City: Royals are triumphant
November 21, 2015 ~ Unanimous: Bryce Harper is the NL MVP!
December 1, 2015 ~ Zimmermann signs with Tigers