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February 6, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Fall bird migration season 2015

CATCHING UP (EXTREME!): I have been so busy teaching at Sweet Briar College since last August, that I failed to do any blog posts on the fall bird migration season. Little by little, I'm getting caught up, in big chunks going in reverse chronological order. After this birding post, I'll do one tomorrow (?) on my trip to South Dakota last summer, and that will be that.

On August 23, Jacqueline and I hiked along The Slacks Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway, 18.5 miles south of Rockfish Gap. There weren't many birds, but we did get nice looks at a Acadian Flycatcher, some Black and White Warblers, and some Canada Warblers, among others.

A week to remember!

The third week of September featured some of the nicest weather we had had for a long time, and I made the best of it. On Tuesday, September 15, I walked the boardwalk loop around Augusta Springs, hoping to spot some fall migrants. But all I managed to see was a Magnolia Warbler, a Redstart, and a family of Wood Ducks on the pond. Kind of a letdown a such beautiful day.

But two days later, another great day to be outside, it was a different story. I drove out west to Ramsey's Draft, which was fairly uneventful, so then I went up the mountain to the summit known as Confederate Breastworks. From there I hiked south along the ridge-top trail which straddles the Augusta-Highland County line. Many, many birds, including eight (8) Warblers! Among them was a Kentucky Warbler, which is pretty special for me, but it was either a female or a juvenile, thus rather dull in plumage. I got some of the best-ever photos of a Tennessee Warbler and a Blackpoll Warbler. The following list is not complete, but only shows the highlights.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler, on top of Shenandoah Mountain south of the Confederate Breastworks, September 17, 2015.

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler, on top of Shenandoah Mountain south of the Confederate Breastworks, September 17, 2015.

Two days after that, September 19 (Saturday), I drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and went for a short hike east of the picnic area near Humpback Mountain. I saw an Eastern Wood Pewee, a Tennessee Warbler, some Black-throated Blue Warblers (male and female), and Dark-eyed Junco. Stopping at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch on the way back, I stayed just long enough to see and photograph an Osprey. Once I got home again, I got some nice photos of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and a Sharp-shinned Hawk in the back yard!

The next day, I went up to the Hawk Watch again, and saw a Broad-winged Hawk but not much else. I did get a great photo of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, however:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female), September 20, 2015.

Red-necked Phalarope!

After that extremely busy week, I did hardly any birding at all for the next three weeks. It must have been bad weather, or preoccupation with baseball perhaps. Anyway, on the morning of October 10 (Saturday), I heard that a Red-necked Phalarope had been seen on Leonard's Pond, in Rockingham County. Jacqueline and I were planning to drive up to Northern Virginia for a birthday party, so it was a convenient 15-minute detour to which my wife graciously consented. The time we spent paid off very quickly, as I soon spotted and photographed the bird in question. (Unfortunately, it was overcast, not good for photos.) That marked my 461st life bird! It was also my fourth and final life bird of the year 2015; see my life bird list.

Red-necked Phalarope

Red-necked Phalarope, Leonard's Pond, October 10, 2015.

Coincidentally, it was almost one year previously that I saw the closely-related Red Phalarope in a pond east of Dayton. The next day the skies were sunny, so we went back to Leonard's Pond hoping to get better photos. We saw Diane Holsinger there, but the Red-necked Phalarope was already gone. We did have better luck driving at Silver Lake near Dayton, however: An Osprey which had been reported there was still present, and I was able to get close enough for a beautiful, well-lit photo.


Osprey, Silver Lake in Dayton, October 11, 2015.

One of the few times that I went birding at Sweet Briar College was on October 20, when I saw my first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the season during my lunch hour. I also saw a Downy Woodpecker and some Chipping Sparrows.

Bell's Lane: new kiosk!

At the suggestion of Augusta Bird Club president Penny Warren, a wooden kiosk with a chalkboard, protective roof and hinged clear plastic doors was built near the south end of Bell's Lane last spring. The purpose was to let nature lovers share their sightings with each other, so that folks would know what to look for. It's mostly birds, but also butterflies and unusual mammals. It has proven to be a big success.

On Saturday October 24, I finally had enough time to get outside and do some serious birding today, and it really paid off. Hiking up Mary Gray Hill in Staunton, I saw several Golden-crowned Kinglets (FOS)*, Blue-headed Vireos, Towhees, and a distant (probable) Hermit Thrush (FOS). Then I drove out to Bell's Lane, where I saw White-throated Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows (FOS), as well as Dark-eyed Juncos (FOS), Field Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets (FOS), Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-rumped Warblers*, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (FOS), some Phoebes, and a Goldfinch. I just about filled the kiosk chalkboard with those sightings.

* FOS = first of season (excluding Juncos, etc. seen in the mountains during breeding season).

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Bell's Lane, October 24, 2015.

I went back to Bell's Lane on November 3, after walking south of downtown Staunton to on Sears Hill, where I saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker. It was just a beautiful day for taking pictures. On Bell's Lane in the afternoon, I finally saw some Palm Warblers (FOS), among other nice birds and one not-so-nice bird: a Sharp-Shinned Hawk! It was duly recorded on the kiosk chalkboard.

Montage 03 Nov 2015

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Palm Warbler, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Mockingbird, White-throated Sparrow, Flicker, and Bluebird, on Bell's Lane, November 3, 2015.

Chimney Hollow field trip

On Saturday morning, November 7, I led a field trip for the Augusta Bird Club to the Chimney Hollow trail, in western Augusta County. I was joined by Penny Warren and new member Ann Pontius (sp?), who persevered in hiking along the stream in spite of very wet conditions. It varied between light drizzle and light rain, but we braved the elements like true adventurers. Our efforts didn't really pay off, however, as there were hardly any birds to be seen, just glimpses of Chickadees and a flock of (probable) Cedar Waxwings up above. We heard Golden-crowned Kinglets and Crows, but that was about it. At least it was a pleasant hike in a nice setting.

Because of school, I wasn't able to join Jo King's very successful ABC field trip to McCormick's Mill on November 11, so the next day I went there on my own. I didn't find as as many birds as they had found, but I did see some female Green-winged Teals in the upper part of the upper pond, which was finally refilled after a year or more during which is was empty and dry. There were also some Gadwalls on the lower pond in front. Then at nearby Willow Lake I saw nearly a hundred American Coots plus some Pied-bill Grebes, Ring-necked Ducks, and American Wigeons. Finally, I drove out to Camp Shenandoah (Boy Scout Lake), and saw several Killdeer but not much else.

After work on Friday the 13th of November, I got lucky seeing an adult Bald Eagle flying over the Tye River, which divides Amherst and Nelson Counties.

On November 15, a Sunday, I joined a group of friends from church (and some of their friends) for a short hike in the Blue Ridge, to a scenic overlook called Dripping Rock. It was sunny and mild, a perfect day to get outside. Unfortunately, the only birds I saw were some Chickadees and Vultures (both Turkey and Black), but someone spotted a colorful spider along the trail, and I got a nice photo of it:

Marbled Orb Weaver

Marbled Orb Weaver, in the Blue Ridge, November 15, 2015.

Autumn turns to winter

I went out to Bell's Lane on December 3, and spotted some Hooded Mergansers (FOS). Two days later they were there again, along with Bluebirds, a Great Blue Heron, and Ruddy Ducks. There was also a Sharp-shinned Hawk in "our" back yard.

On Sunday December 6 Jacqueline and I drove out to Swoope, in hopes of seeing Bald Eagles or Harriers, but not much was going on until we were leaving the Boy Scout Camp. Then, in rapid succession, we saw a whole assortment of different birds, most of which are pictured here:

Montage 06 Dec 2015

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pied-billed Grebe, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, American Kestrels (male and female),and White-crowned Sparrow, around Swoope, December 6, 2015.

On December 10, I went back to Chimney Hollow, site of the infamous field trip of November 7. Incredible as it may seem, I saw even fewer birds than the time before: exactly one (1) bird! It was a good one, however: a Winter Wren!

On Wednesday December 16 (after the end of the semester), Jacqueline and I drove to Leonard's Pond in hopes of spotting some rare bird that had been reported, but the only bird worth noting was a Ruddy Duck. Later on, in a muddy field about two miles to the northeast, near the intersection of Oak Ridge Rdoad and Pleasant Valley Road in Rockingham County, I spotted about two dozen Wilson's Snipes. It was the biggest group of that species I had ever seen!

Wilson's Snipes

Wilson's Snipes, in Rockingham County, December 16, 2015.

As usual, the above photographs and many more can be seen on the Wild birds yearly photo gallery page.

So that takes us from late summer right up until the Christmas Bird Count, which I previously recounted. All's that's left is a report on my birding adventures in South Dakota last summer.

February 11, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Yankee Stadium II update

Yankee Stadium II

It wasn't high on my list of Coming_Attractions.gif (priority tasks), but I decided to make an update to the Yankee Stadium II diagram, perhaps because it was relatively easy. It's been three years since the last such update, so why not? There are a few notable changes: The arc of the bleachers is several feet broader than before, such that the bullpen in right center field is several feet wider on the right side than on the left side, i.e., the side which is adjacent to Monument Park. That area is now rendered with detail for the first time. Also, the entry portals in the rear of the lower-tier outfield seats are now show. Finally, in the upper deck, the forward (lower) tier of seats is a few feet bigger (about two rows), and the lateral walkway is correspondingly smaller.

I'm hoping to finally see a game at the New Yankee Stadium this summer, so there is a possibility that I will discover additional details that need to be corrected.

Shibe Park tweak

Shibe Park

Soon after completing the updates to the Shibe Park diagrams on January 31, I realized that a few additional corrections needed to be made. In particular the "new" (post-1926) upper deck, the part which extends beyond the infield, was about four feet higher than the "old" upper deck, so all of the profiles have been adjusted to reflect that. Also, the infield grandstand was a few feet longer than I previously estimated,* meaning that the "alley" which lay between it and the extended grandstand was a bit narrower. Unless you're a fanatical purist like me, it's no big whoop.

* That change was based on Bruce Kuklick's fine book To Everything a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia, 1909-1976. On page 26, it says that the original infield grandstand was 251 feet long, and 77 feet deep.

February 13, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Testing 1-2-3: Going (semi-) mobile!

Today I took another step toward reformatting my Web pages using HTML 5, incorporating a provisional work-around so that users of mobile devices can read the blog pages. Just click on the link beneath the banner that says "Toggle desktop / mobile display mode." In case of any compatibility glitches (of which there are always a few), there is a link to the old baseball blog page near the top of the (reformatted) baseball blog page. If anyone encounters a problem, please contact me via e-mail.

For the time being, I'm not relying upon a "browser sniffer" which would make the formatting automatic, depending on device, etc. From what I understand, that approach is not always reliable. In any case, I expect to be tweaking things for the next month or two. Once I get it figured out well enough so that all the Web pages get transitioned to the new format, I'll have a more complete explanation.

Ballpark news roundup

Here are a few news items concerning ballparks, most of which are courtesy of Mike Zurawski:

At Target Field, they are building a new private club and club-level pub above the center field batter's eye; see The artist's renderings remind me of what they have in center field at Yankee Stadium II.

At Progressive Field, they are building a new video scoreboard, as well as a new out-of-town scoreboard embedded in the left field wall. "The main video display will measure approximately 59 feet high by 221 feet wide..." ; see Of course, the scoreboard is being installed by the folks at Daktronics, headquartered in beautiful Brookings, South Dakota. (!)

On the Saturday Today show, they showed some awesome images of a ski jump that has been built in Boston's Fenway Park. (With these frigid temperatures in the East, it's certainly appropriate.) No, I do not plan on doing a diagram for that! On a related note, there was a college football game there in November; see

In Denver, meanwhile, they are building a hockey rink for an upcoming match between the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings, as well as a college-level match or two. Those events will take place later this month.

In San Diego, PETCO Park is undergoing further enhancements. Most notably, the "beach" area beyond deep right center field is being converted into a bar of some sort, and the sand is being moved to the rear, apparently. See

Speaking of Petco Park, there is a legal dispute over who holds the title to the property. It involves a man named Derris Devon McQuaig who somehow bluffed his way into acquiring the deed after filling out a form at the San Diego County Recorder's Office. Because McQuaig has been declared mentally ill, he is unable to stand trial and therefore there is no process for getting the deed back. Very weird. See, via Facebook.

Hopefully, I'll get caught up with ballpark news in the next week or two...

Harper: "Don't sell me short."

Responding to a question about a potential $400 million contract on Friday, Bryce Harper told Washington D.C.'s 106.7 FM The Fan, "don't sell me short." Well, I guess the reigning National League MVP is entitled to be a little cocky. Unless the Nationals get him to sign a contract, he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. Harper will almost certainly exceed the total amount of the biggest-ever baseball contract, between the Florida Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton for $325 million over 13 years. See

Former Nats sign elsewhere

Former Nats closing pitcher Tyler Clippard signed a $12.25 million two-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was traded by the Nationals to the the Oakland Athletics for Yunel Escobar a year ago, and was then traded to the New York Mets. He had a pretty good regular season, but had a 6.75 ERA in the postseason. See ESPN.

Doug Fister signed a $7 million, one-year contract with the Houston Astros, who surged during the second half of 2015 and could be a contending team this year. The deal includes performance bonuses worth up to $5 million extra. Fister did very well with the Nationals in 2014, but was mediocre in 2015 and dropped out of the rotation. See ESPN.

Finally, Ian Desmond is still on the market as a free agent.

Strike three for Mejia

Former New York Mets pitcher Jenrry (pronounced "Henry") Mejia has been given a lifetime suspension from baseball, after failing a drug test for the third time. That makes him the only current or former player other than Pete Rose to receive the maximum punishment. See

February 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Surprise: Baker Bowl update!

Baker Bowl

I bet you didn't see this one coming: I updated the Baker Bowl diagrams, for the first time in nearly ten years! (To be exact, the last such update was on April 27, 2006.) Like many of the early-20th Century stadiums, the diagram for this one was in dire need of correction and enhancement. As with all such updates, there are now separate upper-deck and lower-deck diagrams, showing where the support columns were located. (In this case, the entry portals were mere notches in the top two rows of the upper deck, behind the support columns.) There's also a football version, since that is where the Philadelphia Eagles originally played, as well as 1900 and 1910 versions. I'm still a little unsure about exactly when some of the changes took place, so I may have to redo those versions later.

As a result, all four baseball stadiums from Philadelphia are now fully up to standard! That is the first city that was home to a baseball team in the early 20th Century for which that is the case.

Mobile display glitches

Thanks to Bruce Orser and Chris Knight for pointing out problems stemming from the recent reformatting, which is an ongoing effort. As a reminder, if you are using a mobile device, please click on the link under the banner that says "Toggle desktop / mobile display mode."

February 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Life bird: Virginia Rail!

Thanks to an e-mail alert sent out by Gabriel Mapel, who went birding with Allen Larner yesterday, I managed to see and photograph my first-ever Virginia Rail on Bell's Lane this afternoon. I was looking all along the wetland stream that parallels the road, not having any luck until a lady passed by in a car and told me where it was. So, I went over to another stream just past the sharp corner and after 15 or 20 minutes of waiting, the bird popped into view. I was amazed and delighted by the stunning appearance of the Virginia Rail, and count myself as lucky that there were ideal sunlight conditions for taking photos. It was my first life bird of the year, and my 462nd overall, so of course I had to update my Life Bird List page.

Virginia Rails nest in the northern states and Canada, and they winter in the southeast, so they aren't seen in Virginia very often, mostly during migration season. Perhaps the relatively mild winter (until this month at least) accounted for this bird's appearance here in the Shenandoah Valley.

Virginia Rail

Virginia Rail, on Bell's Lane, February 20, 2016.

Ross's Geese

On Thursday, I went looking for some Ross's Geese that were reported by Allen Larner and Penny Warren just east of Staunton (on Route 254), and sure enough I quickly saw four of them in a field. In one of my photographs, it seemed that one was bigger than the others, which might indicate a Snow Goose rather than a Ross's Goose.

Ross's Goose

Ross's Goose, east of Staunton, February 18, 2016.

The above photos have been posted on the Wild Birds yearly page, along with a few others.

February 21, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Spring training has begun!

Pitchers and catchers reported for duty on Thursday, marking the preliminary phase of spring training. In a few days, the rest of the players will arrive. For the Washington Nationals, there remains some question about the catcher's position. Wilson Ramos had an off year, and his backup Jose Lobaton wasn't that effective either. The Nats' starting rotation looks fine:

It's the final year of Gio Gonzalez's contract, so as with Ian Desmond last year, the pressure will be on the perform. Hopefully, the Nats' new manager Dusty Baker will provide just the right amount of positive motivation. Another big uncertainty is whether the new relief pitcher acquisitions will constitute a solid bullpen. Speaking of which,

Papelbon says he's sorry

In a session with reporters, Nationals closing pitcher Jonathan Papelbon apologized for the infamous incident in which he lunged at Bryce Harper's throat near the end of the 2015 season. See Well, that's a start. Maybe if he backs that up with a sincere and contrite attitude, showing that he's a team player, everyone will forgive and forget. It looks like the Nats are stuck with him for this year, so let's just hope that he performs at the level of effectiveness that was expected of him.

College baseball has begun!

Outside there are still piles of snow melting away, and there is one more month of winter left to endure, but as far as college baseball goes, spring is here! Last year's college baseball national champion Virginia Cavaliers played their first game on Friday, beating Kent State by a score of 8-6. It was the first of a three-game weekend series played at Pelicans Ballpark in Myrtle Beach, S.C. On Saturday they beat Appalachian State 8-0, and today they somehow lost to Coastal Carolina, 5-4. The Cavaliers' home opener at Davenport Field in Charlottesville will be this Tuesday at 3:00, facing the Virginia Military Institute.

New infield at Rogers Centre

Mike Zurawski informs me that workers are busy tearing out the concrete floor in preparation for a new infield at Rogers Centre. As of Opening Day, the home of the Blue Jays will feature a complete dirt cutout infield, as is the case at Tropicana Field. (That's the only other MLB stadium that still has artificial turf.) If you've been hoping for a real grass field in Toronto, you're going to have to wait a couple more years, at least. See and What I'd like to know is, when are they going to get rid of that stupid reddish carpet that serves as a "warning track"? It would be nice to have a real dirt/sand/cinder material surrounding the field.

So, I revised the basic ("exposed") diagram on the Rogers Centre page, and added a new 1989 diagram, without the extra rows of box seats which were installed in 2000. For the time being, I'm leaving all the other Rogers Centre diagrams the same, with the old infield configuration. While I was at it, I added a new normal-sized "grand view" photo, since the existing "grand view" photo is one of those super-sized panoramas.

Rogers Centre grand view

Rogers Centre, during a Rays-Blue Jays game on July 19, 2015. Roll your mouse over that image to see what it will look like this year. smile

[UPDATE: I forgot to mention that I updated the (Artificial) Turf page, highlighting the changed artificial turf layout at Rogers Centre this year.]

Trigonometry 101

In my attempts to reconcile Baker Bowl dimension data with my diagrams, I had to rely upon my Outfield trigonometry page. In the process, I realized that it did not include foul line distances of less than 290 feet, so I added four rows going down to 270 feet. I also realized that I had made a computational error in two of the columns, so I made the necessary corrections.

I need to update the text on the Baker Bowl page* more thoroughly, but for now suffice it to say that the true center field distance during the last 15 or so years was about 397 feet, not 408 or 412 feet. Those numbers probably referred to the most distant corner, to the left of straightaway center field. I will explain all this in greater detail on that page in due course.

* NOTE: I forgot to include the warning tracks when I first posted those diagrams yesterday, so I did that today, and made a couple other minor corrections.

February 21, 2016 [LINK / comment]

2016 primaries: populists propel polarization

If there's one thing that Americans of all political stripes agree on this election year, it's that the Washington political establishment is rotten to the core, and must go! In both parties, populists are leading the charge -- but in opposite ideological directions.

We have already been through two primary elections and two state party caucuses, and the relatively moderate "establishment" candidates are withering under heavy fire from the ideologically-charged "Bases" of the respective parties. Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton won the Iowa caucuses, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, and then yesterday, Trump won the South Carolina Republican primary by a handy margin, while Clinton did likewise in the Nevada Democratic caucuses.

Among the candidates on the Republican side whom I consider to be serious (see January 31), Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, and Jeb! Bush have already withdrawn from the race. (Technically, they have "suspended" campaign activities, perhaps being available in case of a deadlock.) Man, that is brutal! So, it comes down to whether the level-headed faction within the party can rally behind either Marco Rubio or John Kasich. Would Kasich accept the V.P. position from the youthful Rubio, as has been rumored? I seriously doubt it. Could Kasich appeal to enough "Base" (anti-"Establishment") Republican voters? I doubt that too. It's going to take something like a miracle for the Republicans to unite behind a candidate who might appeal to independent voters and therefore win the November election.

I have been harping about the pathology of polarization for several years, but the problem has gotten so bad that not many people in either party are willing to listen. In their minds, it's perfectly clear: polarization is the other side's fault! On the Republican side, we have Donald Trump, who delights in blurting out profanities and getting into a polemical exchange with Pope Francis over the issue of a border wall. The other candidates have rightly challenged Trump's many flip-flops on policy issues over the years, but for many of his supporters, that's beside the point. What they want in a candidate is someone who can channel their own pent-up rage at what is happening to America. It's a combination of nativism, populism, and xenophobic nationalism -- none of which have anything to do with authentic conservatism. As I have written in the past (see, for example, the bottom of my November 9, 2011 blog post), the populist element in the Republican Party embodies a sinister "pseudo-conservative" tendency.

Ted Cruz also makes a populist appeal, but he's more of a theocrat than a fascist. "Values voters" flock his way, and once again, there is a problem with consistency on issues. That's one reason the top two GOP candidates have been accusing each other of being "liars" -- both of them are shamelessly loose with the facts and change their positions to suit their immediate political purposes. Aside from his disagreeable personality, what bothers me the most about Cruz is his record of disruption in the U.S. Senate. He has filibustered and tried his best to prevent budget bills from being passed, threatening a shutdown of the U.S. government more than once, just to score political points with right-wing voters. It's totally irresponsible and utterly disgusting.

On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders continues to attract a huge following of voters, but it's doubtful that he can overcome the entrenched Democratic establishment which favors Hillary Clinton. (Unlike the Republican side, there really is a party "establishment" on the Democratic side.) The effect will be to pull Hillary toward the left, and that may help the Republicans in November, because the appeal of socialism is not yet that widespread in American. Maybe if there's an economic collapse in China and unemployment shoots back up in the U.S., that could change...

In sum, it's a very dismal outlook this year for rational-minded conservative voters. For the time being, I will refrain from commenting futher on the prospects of particular candidates.

The Virginia primary

In Virginia, we're going to have a primary election on March 1, a.k.a. "Super Tuesday." There was a big kerfluffle over whether those voting in the Republican primary should have to sign a statement affirming their party allegiance. Why is that such a big deal? Why in the world should anyone who is not a Republican have a say in who the party chooses as its nominee? This is one side-effect of the open primary system which Virginia uses, and which should be abolished, in my view.

In the end, it didn't matter. After a legal challenge, the RPV State Central Committee voted to rescind that requirement, after many thousands of taxpayer dollars had already been spent on printing the necessary forms. Never mind! This was all little more than silly posturing by those who want to pretend that the GOP welcomes folks from all walks of life. Reality is somewhat different... Stupid, stupid, stupid.

February 28, 2016 [LINK / comment]

New Nationals at spring training

Position players began reporting for spring training last week, and practice games will begin as soon as the calendar page turns to March. The Washington Nationals have undergone some major roster changes during the off-season, in fact, the biggest changes since 2011. (That was when the Nats acquired Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, and several other players.) Here are the most important new faces on the team, starting with the new (if not exactly young) manager:

Baker is highly respected and well-liked as a manager, and thus far at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida, he seems to be operating in a loose fashion. Creating a positive atmosphere to rebuild team spirit after the disaster of last year (July in particular) seems to be his priority mission. Murphy and Revere offer potential offensive advantages, but their net effect on the defensive side remains to be seen. I have updated my Washington Nationals page with the new projected defensive positions and pitching rotation, with smiley faces in lieu of the players' actual faces. smile

Will those new guys fill in the big void left by former pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (now with the Tigers), former center fielder Denard Span (Giants), or former shortstop Ian Desmond? "Desi" is still a free agent, and it's a surprise that no other team has snatched him up.* He won the Silver Slugger award three times, but his reputation took a dive after his mediocre performance in first half of the 2015 season.

[* UPDATE: Ian Desmond reportedly just signed a one-year contract worth $8 million with the Texas Rangers. Strangely, he is expected to play in left field until Josh Hamilton's left knee heals. See; hat tip to Darien White, on the Facebook group "Washington D.C. Baseball - Yesterday & Today." The Nats made a "qualifying offer" of $15.8 million in October, which he surely regrets having rejected. He should fire his agent. ]

But the biggest question this year is whether veteran players Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman will get over their various health issues and live up to the high expectations that were held for them. For next year, the biggest question is whether the Nats will sign Bryce Harper to a contract with a big enough salary to keep him in Washington. He'll become a free agent after next year, and the Nats could not afford to get into a bidding war.

Comiskey Park update

Comiskey Park

The Comiskey Park diagrams have been revised, with a few notable improvements in accuracy. For example, in the 1910 version, the outfield fences actually angled inward, rather than being perpendicular to the foul lines. I've been aware of that for at least three or four years, but waited to make the correction until I was ready to redo the rest of the diagrams for Comiskey Park. (That shows you how far behind schedule I am in my diagram updates.) There is a brand-new lower-deck diagram, and two (2!) upper deck diagrams. After squinting at ancient photos from every conceivable angle, I made a few interesting discoveries. The original portion of the upper deck (surrounding the infield) only had three entry portals altogther, and one of those was eventually subsumed into the press box, meaning that fans only had access to two of them. The extended sections of the upper deck were "normal," with an entry portal in between each successive pair of support beams. (They also had five more rows of seats than the original portion of the upper deck.) I noticed an oddity: the three most distant upper deck entry portals on the left side were several feet lower than the rest of the outfield entry portals. That was presumably because the ramp leading to the platform inside the upper deck from in back of the center field scoreboard was not high enough. (Those two center field ramps "wrapped around" each other, so the one on the right side was seveal feet higher.) Some time in the 1970s, the White Sox built an expanded press box and luxury suite level in the upper portion of the original upper deck.

As usual, including the support beams allowed me to get the positions of details such as the light towers more precise. It also helped me resolve an inconsistency: If you look at the corners near the foul pole, you will see two support beams that are very close to each other. As I was working on these last week, I had the "crease" in the upper deck closer to the infield than the lower-deck "crease," but a close inspection of photos led to the conclusion that the opposite is actually true. After scratching my head, I finally realized that the front edge of the upper deck was three or four feet closer to the field than I had previously estimated. There is (or was) one row of uncovered seats behind the lateral walkway in the lower deck, not two or three as I had thought.

[UPDATE: I was going to mention that this completes all the stadium diagram updates for Chicago, just a week after I did likewise for Philadelphia with the Baker Bowl update. Updates for the remaing ten MLB cities still lacking are "just around the corner."]

Dimension discrepancies

When it comes to disentangling contradictory figures on outfield dimensions, I am a strong skeptic, perhaps even an "agnostic." Why? Measurements were notoriously sloppy in the old days, and misprints in newspapers were common. According to Lowry's Green Cathedrals (2006), the foul lines as of 1927 (when the grandstand was completed) were 365 feet and center field was 455 feet. The distances then supposedly fluctuated for the next couple decades, but here is the problem: In none of the many photos that I have seen were the foul poles more than a foot or two away from the corner of the grandstand, and I am almost certain that there were no significant changes in the seating rows prior to the 1960s. Here is what one section of my Comiskey Park page formerly said, followed by the revised text:

BEFORE: During the 1930s home plate was moved four more times: 5 feet forward in 1930, 14 feet forward in 1934 (in hopes of generating more home runs from newly acquired slugger Al Simmons), another 14 feet forward in 1936, and then 18 feet backward in 1937. At some point during this period several additional rows were added to the front of the grandstand in foul territory.
REVISED: Prior to the 1934 season, home plate was moved forward by 14 feet (in hopes of generating more home runs from newly acquired slugger Al Simmons), and then it was moved back by 14 feet in 1936, to roughly the same position as before. Contrary to my earlier conjecture, I have found no evidence that additional rows of seats were added during this period.

In other words, I believe that from 1927 until 1933, and from 1936 until 1949, the foul lines were about 352 feet and that center field was about 440 feet. (It might have been 349 feet and 436 feet, figures which are occasionally listed, but no less than that.) I remain open to opposing arguments, and look forward to consulting with other experts such as Ron Selter and Bruce Orser, but for now that is my conclusion based on the hard facts that I have at my disposal.

Baker Bowl tweak

Never satisfied with just "good enough," I added a few more juicy details to the Baker Bowl diagrams. My estimate of fair territory at Baker Bowl is now 96,700 square feet, rather than 96,300 as before, while foul territory is now 28,600 square feet, rather than 31,900 as before.

February 29, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Is Trump a serious candidate?

Throughout the summer and fall of last year, as the presidential campaign got underway, I made it a point to comment as little as possible on the rise of Donald Trump. I based that largely on the idea that attention-craving prima donnas are best ignored, lest they take advantage of the notoriety toward which the unruly mobs seem to gravitate. But now, on the eve of Super Tuesday, it appears that Trump is on the verge of building an insurmountable lead in the delegate race, and it may be too late for the party insiders to stop him. Personally, I am torn between deep dismay and a smug glee that the idiots who have been leading the Republican Party down the wrong path (stoking the fires of emotion-laden populism) for the past sixteen years are finally getting what's coming to them. Can you hear me, Karl Rove and Hugh Hewitt? I may be a moderate in some respects, but I have absolutely no sympathy for the "Republican Establishment" -- if that phrase still has any meaning. My prediction on that eve of the 2012 election that if Romney lost it would mean the effective end of the Republican Party as we know it is coming true.

I'm as keenly aware as anyone of the malignant social attitudes that underlie at least part of the rage that fuels the Trump candidacy. That is not to say that I understand or can relate to such attitudes, however. In many ways, I am deeply alienated from the mainstream of American society, which is in part a reflection of my occupation in academia. I occasional flip channels on TV and come across one of these "reality TV" shows, which is of course a ridiculous misnomer. Anyone who thinks that artificial role playing in contrived romances, physical contests, or business dealings has anything to do with "reality" is a fool. So it may be that supporters of Donald Trump are the same people who used to watch his TV show "The Apprentice," in slack-jawed awe at this powerful man in a suit issuing the condemnatory phrase, "You're fired!" It utterly escapes me how anyone could sit through those fake encounters and derive any sort of entertainment value. Apparently, submissive, authoritarian hero-worshipping attitudes are becoming more widespread in American society, which seems to be crumbling before our eyes.

In the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza explains just how dangerous Trump is to the Republican Party. The candidate routinely makes outrageous statements and claims, without ever feeling an obligation to take responsibility for either the truthfulness or the consequences of those words. To say that he's a demagogue would a gross understatement. If he were elected president, which now has to be considered a real possibility, he could get us into a large-scale war.

Among the rival candidates, Ted Cruz has lost traction and is fighting just to win his home state of Texas, while Marco Rubio is lowering himself to Trump's level, using nasty words in a desperate bid to stay in the race. John Kasich? Well, he's still campaigning, making serious speeches, but just isn't getting much attention from our sound-bite-obsessed media. (They are a big part of the problem, but not primarily for the liberal-bias reasons that conservatives routinely bemoan.) To make matters worse, meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama have both endorsed Trump, and after the elections tomorrow there may be a bandwagon. God help us...

Politics information page updates

I was busy this evening updating the information on my various politics-related Web pages, some of which [were] over a year behind the times:

On the Executive branch leaders page (and in the U.S. Cabinet box, which appears on the Politics blog page), Bob MacDonald replaced Eric Shinseki as secretary of veterans affairs in July 2014, Julian Castro replaced Shaun Donovan as secretary of Housing and Urban Development in July 2014, Ashton Carter replaced Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense in February 2015, Loretta Lynch replaced Eric Holder as attorney general in April 2015, and John King began serving as acting secretary of education in January 2016, following the resignation of Arne Duncan.

On the Congress page, I noted that Paul Ryan replaced John Boehner as speaker of the house in October 2015. I also updated the number of House of Representative seats won by the two parties in the 2014 election: 247 for the Republicans, and 188 for the Democrats.

On the Politics in Virginia page, I included the results of the 2015 statewide elections, in which the Republicans held on to a 21-19 advantage in the state Senate, and lost two seats to the Democrats [in the House of Delegates]. It's now a 66-34 GOP advantage, rather than 68-32, as before. I also noted that Steve Newman has replaced Walter Stosch [who retired] as President Pro Tem of the state Senate, based on his seniority. He and Emmett Hanger began serving as state senators in 1996, so either one of them could have been chosen by their Republican colleagues.

On the U.N. Security Council page, I included the five new rotating members that will serve for this year and next year: Uruguay, Senegal, Egypt, Japan, and Ukraine replaced Chile, Chad, Nigeria, Jordan, and Lithuania. Next December, the U.N. General Assembly will choose five new rotating members to serve for the 2017-2018 term, replacing Venezuela, New Zealand, Angola, Malaysia, and Spain.

And finally, on the Supreme Court page, I noted that Associate Justice Antonin Scalia has died, and that a successor may be chosen later this year. I will comment on Scalia's life and death, and the controversies surrounding who shall replace him, soon.

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