August 16, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Baseball road trip 2017
For a variety of reasons, my baseball road trip this year was less ambitious than last year's, but it was definitely worthwhile. I took AMTRAK out west from Virginia (one way), and as we pulled into Chicago, I saw (and photographed) Guaranteed Rate Field, previously known as "U.S. Cellular Field," and before that "Comiskey Park" (second incarnation). While in the shopping mall that occupies the Union Station building, I bought a Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series championship flag, intending to place it at the grave site of my father. (See below.) I spent a few days in Kansas City, where my brother Dan and I visited the site of Municipal Stadium, but didn't make it to Kauffman Stadium since the Royals were out of town. Next I headed north to South Dakota for a few more days, and then headed back east again.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Wrigley Field, Great American Ballpark, Crosley Field historical site marker, Guaranteed Rate Field, Victory Field, and Municipal Stadium (K.C.) historical site marker.
The timing of my (return trip) visit to Chicago was dictated by the Washington Nationals' schedule, and I had the choice of three consecutive early afternoon games. I was going to buy a ticket over the phone but balked at the $20 service charge. Hell no! Driving into the Chicago area from the northwest late on Saturday morning (August 5), I looked for the PACE terminal in Schaumburg from which buses to Wrigley Field depart, but couldn't find it. So, I took my chances on parking in the "Wrigleyville" neighborhood, as I had done five years earlier, and this time I got lucky big time. Heading east along Irving Park Road (Rt. 19), I saw signs for Cubs parking, and lo and behold there it was just east of the Chicago River -- about two miles west of the stadium. To my utter amazement and delight, both the parking and the shuttle bus were FREE!!! I arrived at Wrigley Field about 20 minutes early, but the last upper-deck tickets had just been sold out, and having learned from five years ago how poor the obstructed-view lower-deck seats can be, I opted for a standing-room-only ticket which cost $39. That would be outrageous were it not for the free parking. In contrast to the hazy, grim lighting conditions during my visit in 2012, this time the skies were mostly bright blue, almost perfect for pitcture-taking.
Wrigley Field ticket windows, showing the fancy new exterior trimmings. This and other photos (including some stunning panoramic images taken with my iPhone) will soon be posted on the Wrigley Field page.
While the National Anthem was being sung, I walked up the recently-built staircases extending from the west (third base) side of the stadium, and started taking photos from in the lateral walkway of the upper deck on the third base side. I was in perfect position to see Bryce Harper at bat in the top of the first inning. But then some people walked in front of me, just as Bryce launched a solo home run into the new scoreboard above right field. I missed it!
Bryce Harper crosses home after hitting a solo shot in the top of the first inning.
Pitching for the Nationals that day was Edwin Jackson, acquired in a trade last month to fill the void left by Joe Ross, who had Tommy John surgery. The first two Cubs to bat in the first inning both doubled, and Wilson Contreras hit an RBI single, and Alex Avila hit a two-run homer just over the center field wall. Three innings later, the Nats closed the gap by staging a nice two-run rally, thanks to a sac fly by Anthony Rendon (scoring Ryan Zimmerman) [and] an RBI single by Matt Wieters.
Ryan Zimmerman safe at home on a sac fly in the fourth inning.
To his credit, Edwin Jackson recovered from the first-inning mess and pitched four scoreless innings before he exited, but then the Nats' bullpen reverted to their old ways, giving up two runs in the sixth and one in the seventh. Harper singled and later scored in the eighth inning, and then came up again in the top of the ninth inning, when the Nats had runners on first and second with two outs. Talk about high tension! Unfortunately, the mighty Bryce struck out. I took a photo which shows that the ball skipped in the dirt, so technically Bryce could have tried to run to first, but in the end, it wouldn't have mattered. Final score: Cubs 7, Nats 4.
Bryce Harper strikes out to end the game; roll mouse over the image to see a closeup of the ball.
One day before, the Nats had beaten the Cubs 4-2, thanks to Daniel Murphy's two home runs, and the next day they won 9-4, thanks to Matt Wieter's grand slam and Brian Goodwin's home run, both in the eighth inning. That huge five-run rally tipped the series balance in the Nats' favor.
I spent most of the game in a vacant seat in the very top row of the upper deck near the right field foul pole, along with a few other fans who apparently had "SRO" tickets. But such "Bob Uecker seats" at Wrigley are better than upper-deck seats just about anywhere else, so I was satisfied. I was eager to see Wrigley Field in the brand-new configuration, with the former bullpen areas along the foul lines now occupied by new rows of seats. (The bullpens are now located underneath the bleachers, out of sight.) I am already working on diagram revisions, and a recalculation of foul territory, so stay tuned!
I had pondered continuing straight east to Cleveland, in order to see the reconfigured Progressive Field, but decided to put that off for another year. The next morning I walked around downtown Indianapolis, getting a look at Victory Field for the first time. That's the home of the Indianapolis Indians, and is the third prominent minor league park I have seen. (The others are The Diamond in Richmond, Virginia, and Coca-Cola Field in Buffalo, New York.) I also took some photos of nearby Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL Indianapolis Colts.
I arrived in Cincinnati early in the afternoon, just as the Reds hit three home runs to take a 3-0 lead over the Cardinals in the bottom of the first inning. I visited the site of old Crosley Field, and was surprised to learn that the former building has been replaced by a new "City Gospel Mission," with a detailed historical sign for Crosley Field. I had thought about attending the Cards-Reds game, but I'm glad I didn't, as the mood of the crowd quickly turned sour. The Cards scored four runs in the top of the second and then nine (9) runs two innings later, and the final score was a humiliating 13-3. Ouch! I contented myself with some photos of Great American Ballpark from across the Ohio River in Covington, Kentucky. Then I resumed my eastbound drive toward home.
Welcome to D.C., Howie Kendrick!!
As the July 31 trade deadline approach, most of the attention was directed toward Washington's shaky bullpen. They had acquired Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle in a trade with Oakland in mid-July, and at the last minute, obtained Brandon Kintzler in a trade with Minnesota. Those deals have made a huge impact already, giving the team some much-needed confidence that they can hold onto leads late in the game. But another late July trade has turned out to have almost as dramatic of an effect: the Nats got Howie Kendrick from Philadelphia. He missed several weeks due to injury earlier in the season, and at age 34, his value as a player is a question mark. At first he served as a pinch hitter for the Nats, and has been playing left field since Brian Goodwin went on the disabled list. With a batting average of .341, Kendrick is proving to be invaluable to his new team.
In the second game of a double-header with the Giants at Nationals Park on Sunday evening (a make-up for the rained-out Friday night game), it went into extra innings with a 2-2 score. Having lost the afternoon game (4-2), and having lost Bryce Harper for at least a couple weeks the day before (see below), the outcome of this game would have a crucial psychological impact as the team approaches the final six weeks of the season. In the 11th inning, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman led off with back-to-back singles, and then Anthony Rendon was walked to load the bases with nobody out. All Howie Kendrick had to do to win the game was hit a long fly ball sac fly, but he smacked that ball right out of the park for a grand slam. It was exactly seven days after Matt Wieter's grand slam, and was the fourth walk-off grand slam in Nationals history!!!
- May 12, 2007 -- Ryan Zimmerman; WSH 7, FLA 3
- Sept. 30, 2009 -- Justin Maxwell; WSH 7, NYM 4
- Aug. 19, 2011 -- Ryan Zimmerman; WSH 8, PHI 4
- Aug. 13, 2017 -- Howie Kendrick; WSH 6, SF 2
I posted that list (extracted from the newly-updated Washington Nationals page) on Facebook, and was reminded by Sean Grogan who the pitcher was when Zimmerman hit the grand slam against the Phillies in : none other than Ryan Madson, one of the newest Nats!
And in last night's game against the visiting L.A. Angels, Kendrick did it again! He hit two solo homers, while Gio Gonzalez had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning. The Nats later got an insurance run, and as usual (of late), the bullpen held on to win the game. Final score: Nats 3, Angels 1.
Howie Kendrick, at Wrigley Field on August 5.
Harper injured, but not too bad
I was watching in horror late on Saturday night when Bryce Harper slipped on a wet first base, twisted his leg, and fell in agony in the first inning of the game. I've seen enough season-ending injuries on TV to fear the worst, but in this case it seems the Nats have dodged a bullet. MRI tests revealed that there is no damage to Harper's knee ligaments, just a bruise to a bone. Obviously, the Nationals will be extremely cautious as Harper heals for the rest of this month, but hopefully he will be ready to play again by September. With a 14 1/2-game lead in the NL East, the Nationals are focused on October.
Other Nationals news notes
On July 27, the Nationals made history by hitting back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs (plus a fifth non-consecutive one) in the third inning. Unbelievable! Altogether they hit eight home runs in that game, beating the visiting Brewers by a score of 15-2. That was the third and deciding game of that series.
In Miami on July 31, Gio Gonzalez had a no-hitter going into the top of the ninth inning, when Dee Gordon spoiled everything. Gio was relieved by Sean Doolittle, who induced Giancarlo Stanton to ground into a double play, then gave up a hit to Christian Yelich, and then got the final out. Whew! Nats 1, Marlins 0.
In the first inning of the game on August 1, Max Scherzer hit his first career home run (in Marlins Park, of all places!), as the Nats took a 6-0 lead over the Marlins. But that big swing apparently aggravated a pinched nerve in his neck, as Max had to come out of the game in the second inning, and the Marlins scored seven runs against the relief pitchers, while the Nats failed to score any more at all. Final score: 7-6. How weird is that? Fortunately, Max was only out of action for a few days.
In Washington on August 9, Ryan Zimmerman hit two more home runs, raising his season total to 27, as the Nats beat the Marlins 10-1. The Nats also won the next day, 3-2, thus taking three of the four games in that series.
[UPDATE: I was so focused on getting this blog post done that I completely forgot the Nationals were playing an afternoon game! Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run homer (#28!) in the first inning, but the Nats failed to capitalize on run-scoring opportunities after that. Meanwhile, Tanner Roark had a solid seven-inning outing on the mound, but gave up two home runs. And so, the Nats lost to the Angels, 3-2, splitting the two-game series.]
Tribute to a late Cubs fan
As mentioned above, in Chicago I bought a Cubs 2016 World Series championship flag, for the express purpose of placing at the grave site of my father, Alan L. Clem, who passed away on April 11, 2016 -- seven months before his favorite team finally won the World Series for the first time in over a century. The glorious triumph came just a little too late for my dad to enjoy it...
Yours truly with the Cubs flag at my father's (and mother's) gravesite, adjacent to The Bluffs Golf Course in Vermillion, South Dakota. (Photo taken by Dan Clem, later retouched.)
August 20, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Stadium capacity changes for 2017
I recently compiled the current-year seating capacity figures for each of the 30 MLB stadiums and calculated changes in capacity for 2017. One of them, SunTrust Park in Atlanta, is brand new, so the net reduction of 8,086 is compared to Turner Field, of course. It's sometimes hard to compare one stadium to another because of inconsistencies among the franchises, but I'd say they are generally accurate to within 5,000 seats or so. (The main exception is Dodger Stadium, which has had the same nominal capacity since it first opened in 1962, in spite of numerous changes over the past two decades.) I will be updating several of the affected stadium pages in the near future, in cases where significant changes took place.
|3||Yankee Stadium II||49,642||+173|
|6||Globe Life Park in Arlington||48,114||0|
|8||Oriole Park at Camden Yards||45,971||0|
|9||Busch Stadium III||43,975||0|
|10||Citizens Bank Park||43,651||0|
|12||Great American Ballpark||42,319||0|
|14||Minute Maid Park||42,060||+486|
|22||Guaranteed Rate (U.S. Cellular) Field||40,615||0|
SOURCE: Box scores published in the Washington Post
Jeter to "buy" Miami Marlins
Rumors that former Yankee (and future Hall of Famer) Derek Jeter was planning to buy the Miami Marlins were confirmed last week. Actually, Jeter serves as the public face of a group led by Bruce Sherman, the presumptive controlling owner. The purchase price of the franchise was $1.2 billion, no doubt considerably boosted by the construction of Marlins Park five years ago. The deal is pending formal approval by MLB owners in September. See foxsports.com; source thanks to Mike Zurawski.
This situation is similar to when George W. Bush, son of president-to-be George H. W. Bush, served as the public face of a group that purchased the Texas Rangers in 1988. Bush's stake in the team was only a few percent, mostly from borrowed money. In due course we may find out how much of a real equity stake in the Marlins Derek Jeter will have.
A local Cuban businessman named Jorge Mas also bid for the Marlins, and may still join the ownership group. (miamiherald.com) The new group may do away with the center-field home run sculpture, a signature feature of the glitzy sports palace. (local10.com; these sources also thanks to Mike Zurawski.)
Jeffrey Loria has been the lead owner of the Marlins since 2002, when he sold the Expos in a complicated transaction under which former Marlins owner John Henry acquired the Boston Red Sox. Loria announced his plans to sell the Marlins franchise earlier this year. This would seem to mark the exit from baseball of Loria, whose involvement with the faltering Montreal Expos franchise paved the way for the relocation to Washington in 2005.
Strasburg back home in San Diego
Nationals eked out a 2-1 win in San Diego on Thursday, thanks to a clutch late-inning home run by Ryan Zimmerman (his 28th!), and and then handily beat the Padres, 7-1. In both cases it was backup starting pitchers came through in dramatic fashion: Edwin Jackson won it on Thursday (seven innings!), and Matt Grace went four-plus innings on Friday without giving up a run. Grace was subbing for Max Scherzer, who has another pain in the neck. Then on Saturday, Stephen Strasburg had a fine outing (six innings, two earned runs) in his first game since being put on the disabled list. The one mistake was a fastball in the first inning which was knocked out of the park, giving the Marlins a 2-0 lead. It was the first time he lost a game pitching in his home town of San Diego. This afternoon, the Nats will try to nail down another series win, as the over-achieving Gio Gonzalez takes the mound. I'll be chasing the solar eclipse down south, but it doesn't look like I'll get to see a game in Atlanta's new stadium as I had originally hoped. Maybe next month!?
Very short home run
While vacationing out west late last month, I noted in the Kansas City Star that on July 29, the Royals' Lorenzo Cain hit the shortest home run in the major leagues since at least 2015. This was in Fenway Park, where the ball landed right next to "Pesky's Pole" down the right field line -- only 302 feet!
August 23, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Totally awesome * eclipse of the sun!
On Sunday morning, Jacqueline and I embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime (?)** pilgrimmage to witness one of the most amazing marvels in all the natural world: the total eclipse of the sun. Here in Staunton, the sun was expected to be about 85% covered, but we were both eager to see the glorious totality for the first time. So, we hit the road and drove southwest to eastern Tennessee. (The journey down there and back was an adventure in itself, and will be the subject of a separate blog post.)
In preparation for the eclipse, I had gone to several local retail outlets (on August 13-14) in search of the special eclipse glasses, striking out each time. Then last Friday (August 18), I went up to the library in downtown Harrisonburg, where they were handing out free eclipse glasses, and once again, they ran out just before they got to me. Fortunately, we found another source on Saturday, just in time.
Yours truly and Jacqueline trying out our "cheap sunglasses" (ZZ Top!), manufactured by the Lunt Corporation specifically for the 2017 eclipse.
I had studied maps and had a good idea of where to go to see the total eclipse for the longest possible interval: about two and a half minutes. My choice of destination depended on the weather forecasts, and we were fortunate that clear skies were expected throughout Tennessee and South Carolina. While in Knoxville on Monday morning I got a tip from a friend (Peter Van Acker), who was already in the town of Sweetwater, Tennessee, so that's where we went. But by the time we arrived (about 10:30), it was already crowded and hectic, so we weren't able to meet up with Peter and his wife. Instead, we found a suitable location at the Flea Market just west of town. We met some nice folks who offered us seats at a picnic table in the shade.
At about 11:30 I took a test photograph of the sun with my Canon PowerShot SX-50 camera (covering the lens with my eclipse glasses), and I was thrilled that sunspots appeared clearly. Just after 1:00, I spotted the moon intruding upon the sun for the first time, and all the folks around me quickly went for a look with their own eclipse glasses. The passage took a long time, nearly an hour and a half before the sun was completely obscured. As the eclipse progressed, I took photos of the partial phases about every 15 or 20 minutes, with fairly consistent results. (I also took some video footage, which I will probably edit and upload to YouTube soon.) At about 2:00 we all moved away from the building and into an open field to make sure the parking lot lights wouldn't detract from our view of the impending total eclipse.
Fortunately, the skies remained bright blue, with just a few scattered clouds. I was a bit surprised that the ambient brightness didn't seem to decrease by all that much, even after the sun was over half covered. You could tell it was dimmer than usual, but the human eye compensates for brightness, making the apparent difference much less than one might think. Then, as the final sliver of sun disappeared and the total eclipse phase began, it got very dark in a hurry and the air cooled noticeably. The crowds ooh'ed and ahh-ed as the black disk of the moon appeared, surrounded by the dazzling, shimmering bluish-white corona. In my whole life, don't think I have ever seen anything as beautiful. Unfortunately, my camera just wasn't up to the task of capturing the sun's corona. Knowing that there would be only had 2 1/2 minutes of eclipse totality, I decided beforehand to relish the moment and not fuss with camera settings. It was at least gratifying to get photos of two planets in the sun's vicinity: Venus, a ways off to the right, and Mercury, fairly close on the left side. There was light along the horizon much like at dusk, but extending all the way around for 360 degrees, making it seem as if the sun was setting in all directions at once!
I was looking up at the entrancing spectacle just as the famous "diamond ring" effect was manifested, when the first bit of direct sunlight peeks along the edge of the moon. That's when it's no longer safe to look directly at the sun, so we had to put our eclipse glasses back on as the solar crescent got bigger and bigger. We noticed small groups of birds acting strangely, obviously confused by the brief period of "night": There were 6-8 Killdeers noisly circling and landing not far from us, and soon I saw a few Common Nighthawks flying several hours ahead of their normal schedule. After a few more minutes, we said our goodbyes to the
Below you can see a montage that summarizes the eclipse phases (which I posted on Facebook), as well as separate, larger versions of those images. For two of them, I also made double-sized images, which you can see by clicking on the adjacent links with exclamation marks. In summary, Jacqueline and I strongly agree that it was well worth the travel effort, in spite of hellish traffic on the way back. But we'll leave that part of the story for a separate blog post...
** There will be another solar eclipse in the United States on April 8, 2024, seven years from now. The path of totality will extend from Texas through Ohio and into Maine. So maybe we'll get a another chance for such a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience!
Roll over (or click) these links to see the progression of eclipse phases (percentages are approximate):
~5% ( ! )
~15% ( ! )
* On Facebook, I posted a "Public Service Announcement" along with one of the total eclipse images: The phrase "totally awesome" should be reserved for occasions such as this!
Solar eclipse watchers, near the Sweetwater Flea Market, at about 2:08 PM, when about 70% of the sun was obscured by the moon.
Jacqueline (left) and some folks we met at the Sweetwater Flea Market, during the total eclipse at about 2:28 PM. The sky was dark blue except for all along the horizon, much like after dusk. To see many more photos, please go to the Chronological (2017) photo gallery.