September 5, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Are you ready for some football?
Well, here we are in the month of September, that exciting time of the year when fans of postseason-contending baseball teams ramp up their enthusiasm for the big battles to come! This year, however, fans of the Washington Nationals are -- barring a miracle -- left out of that elite club. That leads many such fans to pursue other interests and passions, which in my case means putting in long hours on diagram revisions (stay tuned!!!) and paying a bit more attention to other sports.
This fall the Washington Redskins have a "new" starting quarterback, veteran Alex Smith (formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs), as well as a "new" running back, Adrian Peterson (formerly of the Minnesota Vikings). Will those acquisitions lead to an upturn in the team's (mis-)fortunes? Not according to the Washington Post, which in a special section today forecast that the Redskins will come up short in eight out of their 16 games this season. Yikes. Personally, I think the Redskins would have been better off giving their former quarterback, Kirk Cousins, a multi-year contract. But Redskins owner Dan Snyder essentially slammed the door in his face, and Kirk will be playing for the Vikings this year. He just turned 30, and is in the prime of his career.
Well, given those somber prospects and all the divisive nonsense over players kneeling in protest while the National Anthem is being played, maybe I should pay more attention to college football rather than the NFL. That means enduring the laughably unbalanced matchups of Week 1, when most big colleges pick some hapless underdog as an opponent. But there were a few upsets: For example, in Tallahassee, Virginia Tech got the last laugh, beating Florida State.
It so happens that while in Annapolis a couple weeks ago, I paid a brief visit to the home field of one of the most legendary teams in college football history: Navy! Unfortunately, the University of Hawaii beat Navy 59-41 in the opening game last Saturday; see dailymail.co.uk.
USNA Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. (August 19)
Football in (former) Turner Field
In Atlanta last Thursday (August 30), the Georgia State hosted Kennesaw State, winning in a game that went down to the final minute. (See georgiastatesports.com.) For the second year, they played at Georgia State Stadium, which is the newest incarnation of what baseball fans used to know as "Turner Field," former home of the Atlanta Braves. Before that it was Olympic Stadium, for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. See
A month or two ago, I came across some excellent photographs of the reconfigured Georgia State Stadium, and that was all I needed. Not surprisingly, I felt compelled to make drastic changes to the football-version diagram on the Turner Field page. Note that when I first posted a football diagram for Turner Field on January 19, 2016, I was under the assumption that the gridiron would run along the first base side, maximizing the number of seats with good sight lines for such an arrangement. Instead, as this image shows, it lies roughly parallel to the old third base line. I wonder if they contemplate demolishing the no-longer-used grandstand around what used to be the right-field corner?
WNBA final series!
Last night the visiting Washington Mystics beat the Atlanta Dream to win the fifth and deciding game of the Women's National Basketball Association Eastern Conference series. On Friday they will play against the Seattle Storm, who beat the Phoenix Mercury that same night. (May I interject my personal opinion that it's just dumb for teams to be named after collective phenomena -- such as "Miami Heat" -- rather than discrete entities?) Washington won the Eastern Conference in 2010, but they have never won the WNBA championship. Could this be the year that two Washington teams became champions? (The Washington Capitals won their first-ever Stanley Cup trophy in June.) The WNBA was launched in 1997, and there are currently six teams in each conference.
Nats get revenge on Mets
In spite of their negligible post-season prospects, the Nationals still show competitive spunk from time to time. After getting shut out by the Mets twice (making it three straight shutout losses), the Nats roared back with a vengeance on August 26. A solo homer by Wilmer Difo broke the 30+ inning scoreless streak, and they piled on more runs in the last couple innings, including a grand slam by Mark Reynolds, his first as a Nat. Final score: 15-0. The Nats could have used some of those surplus runs in the three previous games, when their opponents scored a total of eight runs.
Nats beat Phillies twice
The Nats carried that momentum from Queens to south Philadelphia on the next two nights, beating the Phillies 5-3 and 5-4. The Phillies just didn't play with much enthusiasm, and the small crowd sizes (averaging about 22,000) may have been part of the reason. The Nats had hopes of a sweep, but Gio Gonzalez had an off day in the final game of the series, and they lost, 8-6.
Brewers prevail over Nats
Back home in Washington on the final night of August, the Nationals lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 4-1 even though they out-hit the visitors 9 to 6. As is typical of this year, the Nats were 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position. Tanner Roark gave up all four runs in the first three innings, and then pitched three more innings. And thus, the Nationals ended up with yet another losing record (14-15) in the fourth month out of five so far this season. The Washington Nationals page has been duly updated.
The first game of September wasn't looking good when rain interrupted play in the latter innings. But maybe that break was just what the Nats needed, as they staged a clutch rally in the bottom of the eighth, capped by a two-run single by Juan Soto. The Nats held on to win that one, 5-4, thus taking Steven Strasburg off the hook for what would have been a loss.
The rubber game game of that series was going well enough early on (especially given that rookie Jefry Rodriguez was pitching for the Nats), but things went south in a hurry in the fifth inning, when the Brewers scored seven runs. Keon Broxton's homer put the visitors ahead 5-4, and soon Tim Collins took the mound as a reliever. One walk later, the bases were loaded, and Christian Yelich hit the first grand slam of his career, giving the Brewers a 9-4 lead. Neither team scored after that.
Cardinals pound Nats
On Monday the St. Louis Cardinals came to town, and Max Scherzer once again rose to the challenge by striking out 11 batters over seven innings, while allowing just three runs. But the Nats were behind two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, when Bryce Harper smashed a home run to tie the game. In the tenth inning, he came to bat again, with runners at first and third, and he played the hero role again, with a long sacrifice fly to left field. Nats win, 4-3!
But after that momentum of exhiliration, the Nats had another relapse. In both the Tuesday night game and Wednesday night game, they showed a lot of spunk in spite of adverse circumstances. Erick Fedde did OK as starting pitcher, giving up four runs over five innings, but rookie reliever Austen Williams somehow gave up three home runs in the sixth inning, while Sammy Solis (just called back up from the minors once again) gave up a grand slam in the ninth inning, giving the visitors a six-run lead. The Nats tried their best in te bottom of the ninth, getting three runs and had the potential tying run in the batter's box, but a hard ground ball hit by Matt Wieters was snagged by the second baseman for the final out. Cardinals 11, Nationals 8.
Tonight (Wednesday), Tanner Roark started the game by giving up two singles and a home run -- by none other than Matt Adams, who was recently traded away by the Nats! Adams hit another homer in the fifth inning, giving his new team a 6-0 lead. Once again, the Nats showed spunk with a late rally, getting four runs in the seventh inning thanks mainly to a bases-clearing double by Ryan Zimmerman. The Nats outhit the Cards 16-15, but wasted a huge opportunity in the ninth inning (runners on first and second with nobody out), and fell agonizingly short in the 7-6 loss.
But the Braves lost to the Red Sox in Atlanta this afternoon, as the visiting team scored twice in the top of the ninth to win, 9-8, so the Nationals remain 7 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East race. Ironically, they have a better chance at the division title than the New York Yankees, who are now nine games behind the Red Sox, but a virtually cinch to be a wild card team -- unlike the Nationals.
Goodbye to Gio Gonzalez
The series against the Brewers was marked by a awkward transaction: Gio Gonzalez was traded to the opposing team just before the trade deadline on August 31. So the next day he appeared in the other dugout, wearing a Brewers uniform, and waving wistfully to the crowd. The trade was no surprise, since he was in the final year of his contract and as an aging veteran, there wasn't much chance the Nats would sign him again. Gio has caught some flak in recent years for flinching in high-pressure situations such as last year's NLDS Game 5. For the most part, however, he was a rock-solid, durable pitcher who made a big difference in the Nationals' rising fortunes from 2012 (when he was acquired) until this year.
Goodbye and good luck in Milwaukee, Gio!
Thanks for helping make the Nats a winning team!
Gio Gonzalez in Citizens Bank Park on August 31, 2016, when the Nats edged the Phillies 2-1, thanks to a Jayson Werth solo homer and a Wilson Ramos RBI. (See September 7, 2016 blog post.)
September 11, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Insane rain delays help Nats win
As Hurricane Florence approaches, the ground along the eastern seaboard is already soaked from the on-and-off rainfall over the past week, and from the wet summer before that. The Nationals welcomed the Chicago to Our Nation's Capital last Thursday, for what was supposed to be a four-game series. The Cubs won 6-4 in ten innings, taking the lead on an RBI single by pinch hitter David Bote, the same guy who hit a walk-off grand slam against the Nats as a pinch hitter last month. That brought the Nats down to 69-72, three games below .500. On Friday the rains came, and for some reason they started the game in a drizzle in spite of a bleak forecast. The game was called after two innings, nullifying everything that had happened, and so they played a traditional (non-split) double-header on Saturday.
The afternoon game's start was delayed by over two hours due to rain, and Max Scherzer pitched a soggy complete game in the 10-3 victory, with two of those runs coming in the ninth inning. The Nats only had six hits, but took full advantage of the nine walks given up by the Cubs. In the nightcap, Nats' rookie starting pitcher Jefry Rodriguez was doing pretty well until the fifth inning, when virtual rookie catcher Victor Caratini hit a grand slam. It was yet another unexpected punch in the gut, but the Nats gradually came back thanks to a homer by Anthony Rendon, and a double and a triple by rookie Adrian Sanchez. Bryce Harper hit a clutch two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning, which put the Nats on top, 6-5. But then came another rain delay in the eighth inning, and frankly I got tired of waiting and fell asleep around midnight. The next morning I woke up to learn that play resumed after an hour and a half, and that the Nats held on to win, 6-5. Whew! But seriously, why play baseball after 1:00 in the morning? Why not just suspend play until the next day??
Well, maybe that wouldn't have worked either. It rained all Sunday afternoon, and around 4:00 they finally announced that the game would be postponed until this Thursday, when the Cubs and the Nats both had off days. Unfortunately, that's about when the hurricane might start having effects on weather in the mid-Atlantic states, so who knows? It has all been very surreal.
The Nats were supposed to begin a three-game series in Philadelphia yesterday, but the infield at Citizens Bank Park was a huge mud pit because they didn't want to keep the tarp on the field for too long. Stupid! So instead, they played another traditional double-header today, in which rookie catcher Spencer Kieboom had his first career home run to give the Nats the lead in the fifth inning. Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman each had an RBI single, and the Nats vaunted closing pitcher Sean Doolittle (who was recently reactivated after nearly two months on the DL) struggled in the ninth inning but finished the game successfully. Nats 3, Phillies 1. In the nightcap, Juan Soto hit an RBI double in the first inning and his 17th home run of the year three innings later. Starting pitcher Tanner Roark did OK until the fifth inning, when he just seemed to fall apart. The Phillies got hit after hit off him, and all of a sudden they were ahead, 5-3. In the eighth inning, aging veteran Jose Bautista homered, his first HR since being acquired by the Phillies in a trade with the Mets two weeks ago. (That was the first batter faced by rookie pitcher Kyle McGowin; in each of his two MLB outings he has given up a home run.) So, the Nats were behind 6-3 going into the ninth inning, and it didn't look too good. But the Phillies' relief pitcher Seranthony (!?) Dominguez gave up three walks and two hits, and the Nats had the game tied 6-6 with the bases loaded. Bryce Harper had a chance to give the Nats the lead, but he swung at a couple bad pitches to end the inning. In the top of the tenth inning, the amazing Juan Soto hit another home run (#18), getting his fourth RBI of the day, and aging veteran pitcher Greg Holland came in to save the game in the bottom of the inning. Nats 7, Phillies 6. Both of those were very satisfying wins, even though they don't mean much as far as the divisional race. The Nats can pull within a half game of the second-place Phillies in tomorrow's game. They've been stuck in third place since June 22.
Century race: Baltimore "beats" Boston
The big question in baseball last week was whether the Orioles or the Red Sox would reach the triple-digit level in the win-loss records this year, and thanks to a rare pair of losses by the team from Boston, that ironic "honor" went to Baltimore, which lost its 100th game of the year on Friday, losing to the Tampa Bay Rays, 14-2. After getting swept by the Rays in St. Petersburg over the weekend, the Orioles lost again tonight, this time to the Oakland A's. So with a record of 41-103 (.285), they need to win at least eight of their last 18 games to reach the .300 mark. The Red Sox won their 99th game of the year tonight (vs. only 46 losses, for a .683 percentage), welcoming the Blue Jays to Boston, and have clinched at least a wild card spot with 17 games left to play in the regular season. The Yankees (90-55, .621) are nine games back, and the Red Sox' magic number is likewise nine. Not much drama in the AL East.
How about those Athletics?
On the west coast, meanwhile, the Oakland Athletics (88-57, .607) have surged into contention for the postseason, coming to within three games of the world champion Houston Astros (91-54, .628). (It's worth noting that none of the the National League teams have win-loss records over .600; the Cubs come closest, with .583 at present.) The Athletics' offensive leader is Khris Davis, who has 41 homers and 109 RBIs but only has a .250 batting average. The A's rank third in the majors in home runs, with 199 total. (The Yankees lead in homers and the Dodgers are in second.) Otherwise, neither the batting statistics nor pitching statistics are especially noteworthy for the A's, so it must be an extraordinarily efficient use of their resources to win games by a close margin.
September 14, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Ebbets Field BIG update!
I took a brief diversion from my planned diagram updates to do Ebbets Field, legendary former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. I paid a visit to that location two years ago, and included some of the photos I took on that page. For the first time, there are diagrams of the upper and lower decks, showing where the support beams, grandstand "creases," and entry portals were. As with other stadiums, those architectural "benchmarks" proved very useful in getting other parts of the diagram just right. The ramps are shown in the new lower-deck diagram (note in particular the ones in the northwest and northeast corners), the press box behind home plate is shown in the new second-deck diagram, and the light towers are shown for the first time in the later (1938 and 1948) diagram variants. Believe it or not, this is the first Ebbets Field update since 2006!
Perhaps the most notable change was the slight widening (about one degree) of the overall grandstand angle compared to my earlier diagrams. That resulted in a slight counter-clockwise rotation of the other two sides (left field and right field) relative to the diamond. I used the exterior dimensions along each street that were shown in an old street map/diagram, and applied trigonometry to determine the main grandstand angle, which is (or was) almost exactly 70 degrees.
There are many small changes as well, mostly stemming from "discoveries" I made while peering at photos in the various books I have, as well as some photos available online. Often, such discoveries ended up forcing me to make some rather significant changes. For example, I realized that there were about two exposed rows of seats along the left field side from 1932 to 1947, contrary to my earlier estimation that the outfield wall was perfectly aligned with the front edge of the upper deck and the roof all the way from the left field corner to the right side of center field. It was in fact that way (zero exposed rows of seats) in center field, but not to the left of the bend. The big clue which led to that discovery was that, prior to the addition of new seating rows in 1948, the bend in the outfield wall did not align with the "crease" in the grandstand when viewed from a low angle behind home plate. From 1948 on, they did align, which means that they must have added about three more rows of seats in the center field area than they did in the left field area. That in turn accounts for some of the apparent inconsistencies in dimensions to various parts of the outfield between the 1932-1947 period and the 1948-1957 period.
Another discovery was that the crease in the lower deck near the left field foul pole was about 20 feet closer the home plate than was the crease in the upper deck. For a long time I simply assumed that the upper and lower decks coincided vertically, not having seen any clear photos of that area indicating otherwise, and then I noticed in the detailed seating diagram showing that there were several more rows of seats in the portion of the grandstand wrapping around the left field corner. Another detail is only hinted at in the diagrams: about ten feet above the concourse in back of the lower deck there was an elevated concourse to which the ramps led, and from which the catwalks to the upper deck originated. (Wrigley Field has a similar arrangement.) I have seen old photos with "standing room only" fans crammed onto that elevated concourse.
As I was making what I thought would be the finishing touches on those diagrams, I made yet another discovery. For example, an excellent color photo that appears on page 195 of the excellent book The Glory Days: New York Baseball 1947-1957 (edited by John Thorn, 2007) reveals that (for the last decade of its history) there were two sets of lateral walkways exposed to the sunlight, with three rows and five rows in front, respectively. To avoid undue clutter, I only included the forward such walkway (located where the front of the grandstand had been until 1947) in the 1948 diagram; all three such walkways are properly depicted on the lower-deck diagram.
There are probably a few other juicy details and discoveries that I have neglected, in which case I will mention them in a later blog post. Finally, I added football diagram since Ebbets Field was the home of a pro football team called the Brooklyn Dodgers, and added it to the Football use page.
Nats sweep the Phillies
The Nationals kept up the momentum after that encouraging come-from-behind win against the Phillies on Tuesday, with a convincing 5-1 win on Wednesday. Stephen Strasburg had a superb seven-inning outing, backed up by home runs by Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Juan Soto. The Phillies ace Aaron Nola, who is in contention for the NL Cy Young Award, was roughed up early by the Nats. It was the Nationals' sixth series sweep (3 or 4 games) of the season, but the first one since May. That right there says a lot about how this season has gone for the Nats. They were briefly only a half game behind the Phillies in the NL East race, but what happened next spoiled their hopes of moving into second place.
Cubs edge the Nats
Interrupting the road trip to finish the four-game series against the Cubs last weekend (which had been rudely interrupted more than once by inclement weather), the Nats played a hard-fought duel on Thursday afternoon, and came up just a little short. In his first outing in more than a year (after recovering from arm surgery), Joe Ross did just fine on the mound, giving up two runs over five innings. The Nats tied it 3-3 in the eighth inning, and could have won it in the ninth if Bryce Harper had gotten a hit. "Doctor" Sean Doolittle pitched in the ninth and tenth innings, which was probably a mistake since he only recently returned from the disabled list. His command wasn't what it usually is, and in the top of the tenth, he gave up what turned out to be the game-winning RBI hit (a weird bunt that got past Ryan Zimmerman), and the Cubs won it, 4-3.
Clash of (rookie) titans in Atlanta!
Notwithstanding the approach of Hurricane Florence, the Braves welcomed the Nats to Atlanta tonight, and the showdown between rival Rookie of the Year contenders Juan Soto and Ronaldo Acuña more than lived up to expectations. The Nats took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second, sparked by a double hit by Ryan Zimmerman. But the Braves came right back to tie it, thanks to a two-run "Texas League" bloop single by Ronaldo Acuña. Juan Soto homered while Ronaldo Acuña hit a triple, a double, and two singles. Wilmer Difo got two RBIs, on a double and a sac fly, but Adam Eaton and Bryce Harper failed to get hits in clutch situations late in the game. The Braves tacked three more runs on in the eighth, two charged to Jimmy Cordero and one to the often-shaky Sammy Solis. That 10-5 loss put the Nationals 9 1/2 games behind the Braves, back down to .500 (74-74), essentially ending their last faint hopes of making it to the postseason.
Max Scherzer almost got out of the second-inning jam, but that showdown with pitcher Kevin Gausman, who kept fouling off pitches and finally drew a walk to load the bases before Acuña's RBI single, started to wear him down early. Scherzer only lasted four innings, giving up six runs, the worst outing of the year for him. He did get six strikeouts at least, bringing his season total up to 277. It seems more than likely that his previous game (see below) undermined his readiness to pitch well tonight. With three more probable starts, he is still in position to reach 300.
Nats' complete-game shutouts
In his previous outing (September 8, against the Cubs), Max Scherzer pitched a full nine innings for the second time this year (the only National pitcher to do so), even though there was no shutout or no-hitter on the line. The Nats had a 10-1 lead after seven, so the decision to leave him in was probably to give him a chance to ramp up his strikeout total in the quest for the magic 300 number. (The closest he has come in his career was 284 in 2016.) He did get 11 K's that night, reaching 271 for the year, but at a cost of two extra runs by the Cubs, thus raising his ERA just a tad. Max had a complete-game shutout this year, on April 9 (Nats 2, Braves 0), reminding me of my August 15, 2013 blog post that tabulated Nats' complete-game shutouts, and my long-deferred plans to put a more complete such table on the Washington Nationals page. Well, I finally did it! Two pitchers have thrown four complete-game shutouts while with the Nats: Max Scherzer (with two no-hitters) and Jordan Zimmermann (with one no-hitter). Nats pitchers threw three complete-game shutouts in each of three consecutive years: 2013, 2014, and 2015, but only two since then, oddly. They threw exactly one such game in six of their first eight years (2005-2012), the exceptions being 2007 and 2008. It's odd that they didn't achieve any such games in 2016, one of their best years otherwise.
Jayson Werth gets due honor
Between the two games with the Cubs in Nationals Park last Saturday (September 8), the Nationals honored their former star slugger Jayson Werth, who announced his retirement in midseason after a stint in the minors with the Seattle Mariners organization. His name was the first of a Nationals player (as opposed to Senators or Expos) to be added to the Nationals Park "Ring of Honor," the de facto Hall of Fame for former Washington and Montreal baseball players. I would have loved to have been there, but the rainy forecast made that too much of a risky proposition. But I paid rapt attention to the ceremony and to the video replays of Jayson's biggest moments with the Nats.
It was in early December 2010 that the Nationals acquired free agent Jayson Werth, who had played a few years with the Phillies after beginning his career with the L.A. Dodgers. It was one of General Manager Mike Rizzo's biggest roster coups up to that point, and it signified a big turning point in the franchise's history. The Nats made a huge leap from 69-93 (.426) in 2010 to 80-81 (.497) in 2011, and of course one year later came their breakout year when they first won the NL East division title with a 98-64 (.605) record. Without a doubt, the biggest triumph in his career with the Nats came on October 11, 2012, when he hit a ninth-inning walk-off home run to save the Nats and send the NLDS to Game 5. (Let's ignore that for the moment.) I happened to be present for a similar game-changing home run by Jayson about a month earlier, on September 8, 2012:
Jayson Werth launches a game-tying home run (diagonal streak in upper right), to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, after a long rain delay had emptied the stands of all but a small cadre of hard-core Nats fans. The Nats went on to beat the Marlins in the tenth inning.
In one of his interviews, I was pleasantly surprised when Jayson said his second proudest moment was when he hit a double in the bottom of the 12th inning to beat the Cubs and win the series June 15, 2016. That series was a big showdown with Cubs, who were likewise serious postseason contenders that year. Perhaps as memorable as the double itself was when he blurted out "Holy $#!+" in the postgame interview with Dan Kolko, who was often the butt of Jayson's gibes. He had been getting lots of criticism for underperforming and for getting too old, and his exultation is easily understandable. Jayson is perhaps not the best role model for young kids, and he showed off his roguish impulses when he was arrested for driving over 100 MPH on the Capital Beltway in August 2014. (He actually spent a few days in jail in early 2015.) But sometimes those qualities are needed in sports, where leadership plays a big role in inspiring players to do their best.
Thank you, Jayson!
You will NOT be forgotten in Nats Town!!!
Jayson Werth in a spring training game against the Boston Red Sox at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in March 2017.
September 15, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Utter "chaos" at Bedlam Brewing!
In preparing for my latest gig at Bedlam Brewing [a little over two weeks ago (August 31)], it dawned on me that their "embrace the chaos" theme was particularly appropriate for me, so I put an updated version of my "word cloud" on a Mandelbrot Set background. (See my Chaos page for an explanation.) That theme had added meaning, as the show came soon after the 50th anniversary of the the violence in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. Chaos in the streets!
The "psychedelic" Mandelbrot Set, as an illustration of Chaos Theory.
Indeed, the first four songs I played had a direct connection to the social and political tumult of the late 1960s. "Revolution" and "[Chicago]" both sounded very good, I thought, especially considering I hadn't played either one in public before. "Gimme Shelter" fell short, however, partly because I really didn't practice it enough and partly because I had my songbook binder turned to the wrong page. Likewise, U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" refers in part to [the assassination of] Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968. I started that one a little bit sloppy and then got better. The next three songs were not political but rather had a common theme of loneliness and alienation stemming from the rapid social change of that era. I was really getting into the spirit of things, and they sounded fine.
I was eager to play the tenth song, Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath," which I had done very effectively at a Queen City Brewing open mic event earlier in the summer. But somehow I got started in the wrong key (C minor played as A minor with the capo on the third fret), whereas it is supposed to be F minor played as D minor. I fumbled around for almost 30 seconds before I got it right, which spoiled the building tension that the intro of that song is supposed to yield. The rest of the song was fine, but it could have been better. Next came a CCR tune I have played before and Supertramp's "The Logical Song," which I only learned recently. I closed the first half of the show with three songs by Paul McCartney or the Beatles, and I was pretty happy with how they went. The audience was appreciative and friendly, but there weren't as many folks as I had hoped.
After a ten-minute break, I shifted gears and played three relatively "recent" songs, i.e., ones that have come out since the 1990s. The song "Iris" is familiar to most people, but amazingly enough, until this year I was barely even aware of who the Goo Goo Dolls were! "Rhythm of Love" got hearty applause, as did the next two songs when I went back to the early 1970s. Then came more songs from that period, including BTO's "Let It Ride," which is not the sort of song one expects of a solo acoustic guitarist. I had fun with that one, and did pretty well on Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" as well. The intro part wasn't 100% clean, but it was close.
For the final portion of the show, I shifted gears once again, with somewhat more serious song themes. The Moody Blues' "The Voice" sounded fine, but the only Ozark Mountain Daredevils song I played ("It's How You Think") didn't elicit as much audience response as I had hoped. You never know. The late Tom Petty's "Here Comes My Girl" and Sheryl Crow's "My Favorite Mistake" went without a hitch, as did the Eagles' "Lyin' Eyes," which marked the grand finale. Was it the best choice for a last song? I'm not sure. Anyway, I felt good as I thanked the crowd for being there and being good listeners. Then I relaxed with a tasty IPA and chatted with friends for a while before unplugging, packing up, and heading home. In sum, it was a very satisfying night.
|2||Bob Dylan||The Times They Are A-Changin'||G|
|3||Rolling Stones||Gimme Shelter||A|
|5||U 2||Pride (In the Name of Love)|
|6||Simon & Garfunkle||America|
|7||Bee Gees||Lonely Days|
|9||Jethro Tull||Locomotive Breath|
|10||Creedence Clearwater Revival||I Heard It Through the Grapevine||C|
|11||Supertramp||The Logical Song||Bb|
|12||Paul McCartney||Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey||G|
|13||Beatles||A Day In the Life|
|15||Goo Goo Dolls||Iris||G|
|16||Gin Blossoms||Follow You Down||G|
|17||Plain White T's||Rhythm of Love|
|18||Doobie Brothers||Listen To The Music|
|19||Eagles||Take It To the Limit|
|20||Kansas||Dust In The Wind||G|
|21||Fleetwood Mac||Blue Letter|
|22||Bachman Turner Overdrive||Let It Ride|
|23||Pink Floyd||Wish You Were Here|
|24||Moody Blues||The Voice||G|
|25||Ozark Mountain Daredevils||It's How You Think|
|26||Tom Petty||Here Comes My Girl|
|27||Sheryl Crow||My Favorite Mistake|
Some of my friends at the show complimented me on the song selection, which I appreciated. I always put a lot of effort into choosing songs and putting them together in an appropriate way. I was conscious of the need not to waste time between songs, and played for a little over two hours altogether: I started five minutes late, took a ten minute break, and finished about 20 minutes after 10:00 PM. I only left out one song from my planned set list: "Invisible Sun" by The Police. The above set list will eventually be incorporated into the recently-compiled "public repertoire" table on my Music page.
As for future shows at Bedlam Brewing, it will probably be at least three months hence because of the modest turnout that evening. I really need to promote my shows more actively if I'm going to get music gigs on a regular basis.
Recent open mic events
I couldn't even remember for sure if I had been to the open mic event on August 1, but after looking at my Facebook archives, I saw that Fritz Horisk tagged me as one of the performers that night, so I must have been [there]. After looking through my repertoire spreadsheet and song lyric documents (dated by when I saved them, implying that's when I learned them), I figured out with reasonable certainty what I played that night. As I recall, I did OK for the most part, but missed some of the words on the last song, which I was just learning. As usual, the hashtag symbols ( # ) refer to my use of the harmonica (along with the guitar), and the asterisks indicate songs that I played for the first time in public.
- Have a Cigar * -- Pink Floyd
- Hey Hey, What Can I Do * -- Led Zeppelin
- You've Got To Hide Your Love Away ( # ) -- Beatles ( ??? )
- Summer In the City * -- Lovin' Spoonful
On August 8 there was a virtually full slate of performers, including John Dull, who has become a regular at the QCB open mic nights, specializing in Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, one of my favorite groups. For the first time, I heard Sissy Hutching and Travis Weaver, the new proprietors of Fretwell Bass, the music store that I frequent in downtown Staunton. They sounded great together. Of the two "new" songs I played, "It's Too Late" was the more technically challenging, and I was happy I did pretty well on it. "Daniel" could have been a little better; it's one of those songs that is hard for me to sing in the original key. As usual, the hashtag symbol ( # ) refers to my use of the harmonica, along with guitar.
- Mother's Little Helper * ( # ) -- Rolling Stones
- Aqualung -- Jethro Tull
- It's Too Late * -- Carole King
- Daniel ( # ) -- Elton John
After missing the next week, on August 22 I called attention to the anniversary of the solar eclipse in the first song, and also the appearance of three planets in the southern skies: Venus, Mars, and Saturn. (I'm not aware of any song about the Ringed Planet.) "Venus and Mars" led logically to two other Paul McCartney tunes, which sounded pretty darned good if I do say so myself. The encore ("Us and Them") was not quite as good as I would have liked, somewhat annoying since I have practiced it so much.
- Invisible Sun -- The Police
- Venus & Mars * ( # ) -- Paul McCartney
- Band On the Run * ( # ) -- Paul McCartney
- Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey * ( # ) -- Paul McCartney
- Us and Them -- Pink Floyd
I was unable to play on August 29 because of a hospital visit, which fortunately did not impinge upon my big show on August 31. At my next open mic appearance on September 5 I played some of the same songs I had done at Bedlam on the Friday before (see above), noting the 50th anniversary of the the violence in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. All the songs went very well, except that I switched octaves while singing "Chicago," and that probably sounded a little off. Getting the guitar riff and vocals on "The Logical Song" was a minor triumph, and it got some nice applause. For the "encore" song I picked a standard Eagles tune that I had only done there once before, and it was also very well received.
- Chicago * -- Graham Nash
- Lonely Days * -- Bee Gees
- The Times They Are A-Changin' * ( # ) -- Bob Dylan
- The Logical Song * ( # ) -- Supertramp
- Take It To the Limit -- Eagles
And this past Wednesday night (September 12), I followed up with more Eagles songs, since people really liked "Take It To the Limit" the week before. Percussionist Craig Austin joined me on "Witchy Woman" and "Strange Way," which helped a lot. I had a hard time singing two of my "new" songs ("Hollywood Waltz" and "Madman Across the Water") in a consistent octave, so I'll have to work on that. Attendance by musicians and regular patrons was down compared to recent weeks, so we each had more time to play songs. The first two ["encore" songs] went well, as did the third, [a first-time public song for me,] "Tin Man." If I recall correctly, it was only the second song by America that I have played in public.
- Witchy Woman ( # ) -- Eagles
- Hollywood Waltz * ( # ) -- Eagles
- If I Fell -- Beatles
- Madman Across the Water * -- Elton John
- Strange Way -- Firefall
- Heart of the Night ( # ) -- Poco
- Tin Man * -- America
The hashtag symbols ( # ) refer to my use of the harmonica (along with the guitar), and the asterisks indicate songs that I played for the first time in public.
September 16, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Field trip to Dowell's Draft
"It was a dark and stormy morning..." Such a description could apply to almost any day this month, as birding activities have been curtailed by persistent rainy weather. But on Saturday September 8, I managed to lead an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Dowell's Draft during a relative brief respite from the rains. I first "discovered" Dowell's Draft, located near Braley Pond in western Augusta County, on June 30 while working on the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project; see my July 15 blog post. The skies were mostly cloudy except for a few interludes of sunlight, so it was hard to get good photos. We spent about ten minutes along the road by the trail head looking westward toward where the gas pipeline will be built, and saw a few birds at the tops of dead trees. Some people thought they were Eastern Wood Pewees, but I'm inclined to think they were Eastern Phoebes. To my surprise, a Red-eyed Vireo landed there briefly.
As we started hiking, I mentioned that I had previously seen a variety of birds just a short distance ahead, and very soon one popped into view. I'm certain that it was one of the "Empidomax" flycatchers, probably a Least Flycatcher, but it was too elusive for me to get a good photo. After that encouraging start, there wasn't much to see or hear for a while other than a Pileated Woodpecker flying overhead. The trail (actually a fire road) was in pretty good condition considering all the rainfall, except for a short section crossing a stream where we had to avoid big puddles. Shortly thereafter, we saw one or two small yellow birds in a tall tree about 75 yards away, uphill. At first I thought it might be a female oriole or Scarlet Tanager, but after looking at the photos, I think it was probably a Prairie Warbler, or perhaps a Pine Warbler. It was the same location that I saw some Prairie Warblers earlier this summer. Then we continued on, and turned left along an abandoned fire road which I had not explored before. After about 100 yards we turned back, and then did likewise along the main fire road, stopping as it approached a very wet stream crossing. We heard a few birds in that area and glimpsed some, but the only clear sighting was a pair of Eastern Wood Pewees. It was disappointing that this "hot spot" from my previous visits turned out so empty. We had better luck with mushrooms, however; see below.
Afterwards, we went over to Braley Pond, which is less than a half mile away from the trailhead. On the way, there were a dozen or so American Goldfinches along the road. The lake was unusually brown, fill of silt runoff from all the recent rain. We didn't see any birds around the lake, and the only notable sightings were a Ruby-throated Hummingbird flitting about the meadow flowers and a few Worm-eating Warblers in the trees above the parking area.
The following list is NOT complete, but merely shows the highlights of what we saw at the two locations:
- Eastern Phoebes (probable)
- Eastern Wood-Pewees
- Least Flycatcher (probable)
- Red-eyed Vireo
- American Redstart (F/J)
- Prairie Warbler (probable)
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird
- Pileated Woodpecker
- American Goldfinches
- Worm-eating Warblers
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Wood Pewee, Eastern Phoebe (juv.) (prob.), American Goldfinch (F), Least Flycatcher (prob.), and Prairie Warbler (prob.). (September 8, 2018)
Cloud-covered Braley Pond, brown with silt from all the runoff from the recent heavy rains. (September 8, 2018)
Given the wet conditions, it was no surprise that we saw many mushrooms along the way. One of those in attendance, Diane Holsinger, identified some of the mushrooms, including this attractive one below. We also saw a wildflower which Diane identified as "Ladies' tresses."
Chanterelle mushroom, which is supposed to be edible.
Ladies' tresses, a kind of wild orchid.
Red caterpillar, species unknown.
On the way back to town, we stopped for a nice lunch at White's Wayside restaurant, which features locally-produced food. It was delicious! There is a nice, homey atmosphere inside and the owner is a big advocate of environamental causes. Their electricity runs on a big solar panel out back.
Recent visits to Bell's Lane, etc.
In the morning on August 28 I went to Bell's Lane, and noticed on the blackboard that Penny Warren had seen a Blue Grosbeak in that area. (I had spotted one there exactly one month earlier.) Sure enough, I heard the distinctive song at the Ford farm entrance, spotted the male at a distance, and lured him closer with my iPhone. I thought I saw a juvenile of that species on the driveway, but it was probably a young or female House Finch. I also saw some Warbling Vireos in that same big tree, but the photos were only so-so. Earlier I had seen many Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher by the lowland stream crossing, as well as 6-7 Killdeers flying overhead.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: House Finch (F/J), Ruby-throated Hummingbird (JM), Blue Grosbeak (M), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Warbling Vireo, and Killdeer. (August 28, 2018)
My next visit to Bell's Lane was in the afternoon of September 6 (quite hot), and the highlights included two House Wrens (one being a juvenile), a Common Yellowthroat or two (mere glimpses), a Great Blue Heron, and two Green Herons (one being a juvenile). I also saw a flock of Canada Geese, an indication that fall migration is underway. I photographed a couple Common Nighthawks on the evening of September 2, but didn't seen any more after that.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Blue Heron, Northern Mockingbird, Ruby-throated Hummingbird (juv. male, in "our" back yard), House Wren (juv.), Canada Goose, Downy Woodpecker (F), Green Heron (juv.), and in center, Green Heron (adult). (September 6, 2018)
On the morning of September 12, there was a Waterthrush out back, but I couldn't get a good photo, so I'm not sure whether it was a Louisiana or a Northern; we have had both species here before. Jo King thinks it was a Northern Waterthrush, based on the photo below. In the afternoon I went to Bell's Lane and saw the usuals plus a Killdeer and a probable Spotted Sandpiper or two at a distance.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Green Heron (adult), Wood Ducks (F), Gray Catbird (juv.), Eastern Phoebe, Northern (or Louisiana?) Waterthrush, and Blue Jay (juv. or molting adult?). (September 12, 2018)
A brief visit to Bell's Lane as it started to rain on Friday September 14 yield a nice surprise: a Great Egret in the beaver pond! I also saw Killdeer, a Wood Duck, two Green Herons, and an Eastern Meadowlark in the distance.
Great Egret, at the Bell's Lane beaver pond, September 14.
Finally, on Saturday September 15 Jacqueline and I went for a drive in the country, hoping to beat the impending rain, but we faced intermittent drizzle almost the whole way. The big find was a Northern Harrier swooping low over a field along Cattleman's Road in the Swoope area. That species breeds north of Virginia, so this was certainly an early migrant returning south. I backed up and tried to get a photo, but it got away. Perhaps it decided to leave after seeing the Red-tailed Hawk in the photo below. At the Smith pond* there was a lone Great Blue Heron, but nothing else. There were many swallows (Tree, N. Rough-winged, and Barn) and Mourning Doves in various locations, but little else until we returned to the Bell's Lane beaver pond, where there were several Killdeers and a Solitary Sandpiper plus many more swallows.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Solitary Sandpiper, and Great Blue Heron. (September 15, 2018)
Other recent photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
* That pond is near the recently-fallen tree where the resident pair Bald Eagles have nested for the past several years. Allen Larner shared the sad news with the local birding community a few days ago. Hopefully the Bald Eagles will find another suitable (and visible!) nesting location next year.
September 21, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Nats close in on Braves, then choke
It's too late in the season to really matter, but it was heartening nonetheless that the Washington Nationals bounced back from the loss on Friday with two wins against the Braves in Atlanta. In the Saturday game, Juan Soto was the star, as he went one for two, took three walks, scored two runs, and became the first teenager ever to steal three bases in one game; see MLB.com. The Nats won that one, 7-1. And on Sunday, it was a close, hard-fought match as Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon both homered, and the Nats won it, 6-4.
The Nats thus closed the gap from 8 1/2 games to 7 1/2 games, postponing the all-but-inevitable elimination in the NL East race. (To my surprise, the weather wasn't much of a factor in that series, as Tropcial Storm Florence veered northward and barely affected the Atlanta area.)
In Miami on Monday evening, Eric Fedde started off well enough as starting pitcher for the Nats, but had to be pulled in the fifth inning. The Nats took an early lead, puncuated by Victor Robles' first career home run, but Miami came back with multiple rallies and won it, 8-5. The Nats bounced back the next day at least, as Anthony Rendon put on another display of clutch hitting with a home run. Bryce Harper drew five walks, while Stephen Strasburg threw eleven strikeouts. Final score: Nats 4, Marlins 2.
After a day of rest (and travel), Max Scherzer took the mound and was near the top of his game, throwing a total of 13 strikeouts. That put him at 290 for the year, all but guaranteeing that he will reach the 300-K milestone in his next two scheduled appearances this season. But the Mets took advantage of his tendency to challenge batters with predictable fast balls, and hit two home runs off him in the third inning. The Nats tied it 4-4 in the eighth inning thanks to an RBI double by Juan Soto, but the Nats wasted run-scoring opportunities again. In the 11th inning, Ryan Zimmerman hit a lead-off double but the Nats just couldn't get him home. That was sadly typical of this year. In the 12th inning, Jefrey Rodriguez gave up a single and two walks to load the bases, and former National Jose Lobaton hit a sac fly to center field, scoring what turned out to be the winning run. Mets 5, Nats 4.
For the first time this year, I'll be attending a Nationals game later today, and I don't think I have ever done so under such bleak circumstances. The Nationals could get eliminated tonight, and this might be the last time I see Bryce Harper in a Nationals uniform. Just wait till next year?
Mariners extend Safeco lease
I was informed by Mike Zurawski that the Seattle Mariners have agreed to a 25-year extension of their lease on Safeco Field, where they have played since 1999. The city will provide $135 million in subsidies for renovations instead of the $180 million the team asked for. See ballparkdigest.com. That's good news for anyone who opposes the stadium rip-offs of which the "Atlanta" Braves are the most recent example. Safeco Field is unfortunately one of the oversized stadiums of the early Neoclassical ballpark era, others being Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Coors Field, Chase Field, Globe Life Park (or whatever they are calling it at the moment), and of course Turner Field.
September 24, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Braves & Red Sox clinch*; Nats are eliminated
It was in both cases a forgone conclusion, but the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox both clinched their respective division titles over the weekend, enjoying large leads over the second place teams with one week of play left to go. The Red Sox have become a virtual dynasty over the past 15 years, winning three World Series and five divisional titles (including the three most recent), whereas the Braves have only won a single divisional title (2013) since 2005, the final year of their prolonged "dynasty." It occurs to me that a Braves vs. Red Sox World Series matchup would be interesting from a historical standpoint, since both franchises originated in Boston. Whereas the Red Sox have had the same home stadium for over a century (106 years), the Braves have moved into new stadiums five (5) times since Fenway Park was built: in 1915, 1953, 1966, 1997, and 2016!
But the Washington Nationals were eliminated from the divisional race on Friday night, and from the astronomically-improbable wild card race the next night. That somber milestone was a long time coming. It so happens that I was there on Friday night as the Nationals played the Mets for the second game of a four-game series, the one and only Nationals game I saw in person this year. Even though the end result was rather disappointing, there were a few exciting moments. It was the first time I had seen the Nats' red-hot Rookie of the Year contender, Juan Soto, and the first time I had seen their closing pitcher, "Doctor" Sean Doolittle. (Since the Nationals were behind in the ninth inning, however, he did not pitch.)
One of the most exciting moments came two hours before the game, when I went to the "Top of the Yard" bar situated on the roof of the Hampton Inn, across the street to the northeast from the Nationals Park parking garage. The skies were overcast, detracting from the visibility, but I was still happy to get a "birds-eye" look. As you can see in this photo, the perch is at least 10-20 feet higher than the roof of Nationals Park, so you can see the Potomac River, National Airport, and even the city of Alexandria, Virginia.
TOP: View of Nationals Park from the "Top of the Yard" bar on the roof of the nearby Hampton Inn.
BOTTOM, FROM THE LEFT: Juan Soto, Jacob deGrom, Victor Robles, Sean Doolittle (with Sammy Solis in back), Bryce Harper, and the recently-placed tribute to Jayson Werth on the "Ring of Honor" near the right field corner.
Construction on the north side of Nationals Park, showing the crowd waiting for the main gate to open at 5:00. Note the rooftop banner on the right: "#JuanPursuit" -- a reference to the Nats' 2017 (or 2016?) marketing theme of "One Pursuit."
In that Friday game, my old friend Dave Givens and I were fortunate, in an ironic sense, to see the leading candidate for the 2018 National League Cy Young Award, Jacob deGrom. Over and over, he kept shutting down potential Nats rallies, and went seven innings while only giving up one earned run. Joe Ross was pitching for the Nationals, in his second start after returning from surgery more than a year ago. The game didn't start well, as Amed Rosario swung at the very first pitch and hit a double. He soon scored and the Mets came close to adding on more runs. The Nats evened the score in the bottom of the second inning on a walk, a hard-hit single to right field by Juan Soto, and then a sac fly to deep center field hit by Ryan Zimmerman. (From where I was sitting under the scoreboard in right center field, I couldn't see where the ball came down.) But in the third inning it all went bad for Ross, who gave up three doubles (including a second one to the Mets' catcher Devon Mescoraco), and the Mets scored three runs. Todd Frazier was thrown out at the plate to end the inning, on a great throw by left fielder Juan Soto. Not much happened for the next five innings, just a lot of groundouts and a few strikeouts. In the bottom of the fifth, Spencer Kieboom singled and I was shocked when manager Dave Martinez let Joe Ross bat rather than put in a pinch hitter. Ross was called out on strikes. The Nats staged s small rally in the bottom of the ninth inning, when Trea Turner hit a leadoff double and then scored on a single by Anthony Rendon. But then Juan Soto struck out and Ryan Zimmerman flew out to the right field corner, and the Mets held on to win, 4-2.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Anthony Rendon hit a clutch RBI single (note the streak above the letters "OR"), but the Mets' closer Robert Gsellman didn't buckle as the next two batters failed to reach base, and the game ended with the score 4-2.
I took a lot of photos of players, some of which will be posted soon; I'll post some new stadium photos on the Nationals Park page soon.
On Saturday afternoon, Austin Voth was called to start in place of Tanner Roark, who is on paternity leave. Voth had one previous major league start, on July 14 (also against the Mets), and he gave up seven runs without even finishing the fifth inning. Prospects did not bode well for the Nats, but somehow they sprang into action. As if by miracle, Voth went five full innings only giving up a single hit, and that one didn't even reach the outfield grass! More amazingly, the four Nats relievers didn't allow any hits! Trea Turner hit a two-run homer in the third inning, and after a long count in the sixth inning, Matt Wieters hit a three-run homer to make it a 5-0 game. Bryce Harper later batted in his 98th run on a double, and the Nats won, 6-0.
On Sunday it rained or drizzled the whole game, and the quality of play matched the bleak weather. The Nats took a 3-1 lead in the third inning, after a home run by Victor Robles (the second of his career), an RBI double by Bryce Harper, and a bases-loaded walk by Spencer Kieboom. But starting pitcher Eric Fedde had no better luck than in his previous outing, and was replaced in the fourth inning after loading the bases. Wander Suero gave up a triple hit by Michael Conforto, and the Mets were on top, 5-3. Suero gave up two more runs in the fifth inning, and once again I was surprised that Dave Martinez didn't take him out sooner. In the eighth inning, Victor Robles hit a two-run triple and then scored after Trea Turner hit a double. With nobody out, the Nats were in excellent position to tie the game or retake the lead, but it didn't happen. Final score: Mets 8, Nats 6.
And thus the Nationals finished the season series versus the Mets with an 8-11 record, which is not very impressive. The Nats were 9-11 versus the Braves this year, and 11-8 with the Phillies. Tonight they began their final home series of the year by defeating the Miami Marlins, with whom they now have a 11-6 record this year. (I'll discuss that game later on, but for now suffice it to say that for the first time since June 20, the Nationals have surged into second place! Whoopee.) On Thursday they travel west for the final three games of the year in Denver (against a highly motivated Rockies team, scrambling for a postseason berth), and that's it.
* Evidently I failed to call attention to the fact that the Cleveland Indians clinched the AL Central Division title over a week ago. After beating the Boston Red Sox in extra innings last night (averting being swept at home), they now have a 15 1/2-game lead over the Minnesota Twins.
The end is
No doubt, Washington Nationals fans have been spoiled by the success of the past several years, coming to expect division titles almost as an entitlement. In 2013, the Nats were eliminated on September 24, with four games left to play in the season, and in 2015, they were eliminated on September 26, with eight games left to play in the season. (Coincidentally, I had seen games in Nationals Park three days before and one day before those respective elimination dates.) Anyway, this got me to do a year-by-year compilation of the late-season performances of the Nationals, including their good years and their bad years. I'll post that table in the next few days...
What is FedEx Field's capacity?
Several miles to the east on Sunday, the the Washington Redskins hosted the Green Bay Packers in what seemed like a mismatch. I overheard somebody at the Nats game on Friday night say the Redskins would win because they always do the opposite of what you expect -- and he was right! They beat the Packers easily, 31-17.
That game came on the heels of a flat performance by the Redskins in their home opener against the Colts at FedEx Field one week before, and two weeks after a surprisingly lopsided season-opening win in Phoenix against the Cardinals. Perhaps it was fitting that in their home opener they drew only 57,013 fans -- the smallest crowd since their stadium opened (as "Jack Kent Cooke Stadium") in 1997. The rains associated with Hurricane Florence probably depressed numbers by a few thousand. But even yesterday's game, attendance was only 59,837 -- far below the stadium's capacity.
But that raises the mysterious question of how many seats are there in FedEx Field??? I guarantee, you won't get accurate numbers by checking Wikipedia (which says 82,000) or the Redskins' official releases. At least three times since 2011 they have either demolished large portions of the upper deck or have covered up empty seating sections with various signs and canvasses. With that in mind, I thought I should lay down estimates of the seating capacity numbers of FedEx Field. My previous blog posts about the capacity of FedEx Field include December 7, 2011, July 17, 2012, July 18, 2015, and September 10, 2017. After reviewing those blog posts, and the sources listed below, I believe there are about 75,000 seats at FedEx Field. The following table shows my estimates for each year in which major changes took place:
SOURCES: Washington Post April 2, 2012, June 1, 2015, and September 16, 2018. Note, however, that the most recent article is not consistent with the earlier ones.
FedEx Field, seen from the south. The bare steel girders on either end used to support many extra rows of seats. This photo was taken September 28, 2014, and 4,000 additional seats were removed from the upper deck in the following year.
Archival photos: found!
For many months I have been searching for photos I knew I had taken of various stadiums in the 1990s and early 2000s, and recently I finally found where they had been stashed away: Eureka! Stay tuned for some nice views of Tiger Stadium, Citizens Bank Park, Turner Field, and others...
September 25, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Day trip to West Virginia
Last week (Wednesday, September 19), Jacqueline and I went for an excursion into West Virginia, the first time we had been there together since late June 2010. (I have passed through the "Mountain State" on AMTRAK trains a couple times in recent years, and also while driving to or from the midwest.) But unlike our previous visit, which was focused on the town of Cass and the nearby Cranberry Glades, this time we headed toward the northern part of the state. At one point (while at Dolly Sods) we were actually within about 25 miles of the western tip of Maryland!
On the westbound leg of the trip, we drove along Route 250 into Highland County, making brief stops to enjoy the scenery. At one such stop just west of Monterey, we had a nice view in what I later determined to be the Bluegrass Valley, at the very source of the South Branch of the Potomac River! It is called "Hightown" because it lies along the divide between the Chesapeake Bay watershed (to the north) and the James River watershed (to the south). We also stopped briefly at Bear Mountain, which used to be a regular stop on Augusta Bird Club field trips to that area, and at the West Virginia state line just a few miles farther along the road. (See my separate wild birds blog post for more details.)
Soon after crossing into West Virginia, we turned right onto Route 28. We had planned to have lunch in that area, but at the only eating establishment we found the kitchen was closed that day, so we had to keep driving. Heading in a northeasterly direction, we mostly avoided the high mountain crossings that impede travel when going toward the northwest in the Appalachian mountains. We passed through a picturesque town called Circleville, and stopped to take photos, but not until we reached the crossroads of Route 33 did we find a place to have lunch: the Gateway family restaurant.
A few more miles to the north lay one of our main destinations: Seneca Rocks, a dramatic geoglogical formation that is part of a long chain of rock outcroppings that stretches for many miles. Our plan was to spend time there after reaching the other main destination (Dolly Sods), so we just took a few photos and continued on.
Seneca Rocks, during our second stop there in the late afternoon.
It took another half hour to get to Dolly Sods, a wilderness area that I had been meaning to visit for many years. It was recommended to me by a former housemate and fellow UVa graduate, among others. The name "Dolly Sods" refers to a high-elevation flat pasture land once owned by a German farm family named Dahle. The side road to the top was a little rough for my car, but wouldn't be a problem for an SUV. I was shocked to see a "Road Closed Ahead" sign, but it turned out to be a false warning. I had consulted the National Forest Service website, but had only a vague idea of exactly what to expect there. In essence, it was an exploratory venture. We finally reached the road crossing at the top and soon found an overlook with dramatic views toward the east. There are many rhododendron bushes, fir trees, and other types of vegetation that are associated with northern latitudes. In fact, with an elevation over 4,000 feet, Dolly Sods is considered to be similar to Canada in terms of wildlife. We then drove about a mile south to a picnic area, and I walked for a bit along a couple trails. (I had to take it easy because of a strained Achilles tendon recently diagnosed by a podiatrist.) Finally, we drove a bit further south to the South Prong trail head, which features a boardwalk trail and plenty of birds. That will be one of our main stops the next time we visit. Time was getting late, so we had to leave.
Dolly Sods spruce trees and bog, along the South Prong trail.
On the way back south, we took some photos of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction project, which we had seen just after passing Seneca Rocks on the way north. There is a large industrial facility which I learned is the "Seneca Compressor Station," a sort of relay point in the pipeline network. I was taken aback that the construction was so close to Seneca Rocks itself, less than a mile away. Supposedly, the vegetation will eventually return to its natural state. I hope so.
Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction, just north of Seneca Rocks.
Finally, we spent about 45 minutes at Seneca Rocks, but just missed the closing of the visitor center. We strolled across a recently-built bridge across the river, took a bunch of photos of the rocks, and then took a look at a historic cabin and garden. It was sunny in the late afternoon, perfect for taking pictures. We wanted to stay longer, but the long trip home dictated that we leave promptly, so we did. To save time, we took a different route on the way back to Staunton, turning east at the intersection with Route 33, which passes through the picturesque town of Franklin. We then drove uphill across the mountain ridge which defines the state line and returned to the Old Dominion as the sun was sinking in the west. By the time we got home it was almost dark. It was a fun and exciting trip, and we hope to go back to that part of West Virginia in the next year or two.
More photos are on the Chronological (2018) photo gallery page.
September 25, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Birding in (& near) West Virginia
Even though birding was a secondary purpose of the trip to West Virginia which Jacqueline and I took on September 19 (see the travel blog post from earlier today), we did have a few interesting sightings along the way. The Kestrel in the montage below was actually in Highland County, Virginia, a few miles west of Monterey. Further along Route 250 at the intersection with Bear Mountain Road, we saw another Kestrel as well as some American Goldfinches, and heard an Eastern Towhee.
It was right on the West Virginia state line that things got really interesting. I heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch but never was able to see it, unfortunately. But I did see some Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-throated Green Warblers, and other birds flitting around the tree branches. Near a picnic area a couple miles further, there were many Goldfinches and a probable Red-tailed Hawk.
Most of the rest of the birds we saw that day were in or near the Dolly Sods wilderness area, where the elevation is well over 4,000 feet and one is apt to see bird species normally found in Canada. For a while, I had just a few glimpses of birds here and there, but when we got to the South Prong trail head, I spotted some Dark-eyed Juncos and a Common Yellowthroat in the bushes. That was rewarding. On the road back down from the plateau, we stopped at a place with a lot of bird activity and I finally got close enought to photographically identify a Pine Warbler. (The black streaks raise the possibility it was a Cape May Warbler, but it was in pine trees.) I also saw and photographed an Eastern Wood Pewee, and some Black-capped Chickadees, one of which had a white spot above each eye. I'll have to find out if that is a regional plumage variation or just an aberration. Back at Seneca Rocks on the return leg of our trip, we saw several Turkey Vultures soaring past the rock outcroppings, but no hawks or eagles, unfortunately.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Kestrel (F), Dark-eyed Junco, Pine Warbler, Black-capped Chickadee, Eastern Wood Pewee, Common Yellowthroat (M), and Black-throated Green Warbler. (September 19)
With all the rain we have had this month, there haven't been many chances to go out and look for migrating birds heading back south. Fortunately, however, we have had Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at our back porch feeder fairly regularly since late August. A young male dominates it, and occasionally it chases away an interloper. A bigger find was a Cape May Warbler that showed up on September 17:
Cape May Warbler (Staunton, September 17)
After more heavy rains, several local rivers flooded last week, and as a side effect, a number of shorebirds were reported by Allen Larner in flooded lowlands east of Stuarts Draft. So I drove down there on September 18, but came up empty. Later in the day I got lucky, tallying four (4) different flycatcher species: a Willow Flycatcher and Eastern Phoebe on Bell's Lane, and an Eastern Wood Pewee and a probable Least Flycatcher in "our" back yard in north Staunton. I was also saw another warbler in the trees, but based on the underside of the tail, it was probably just a female or juvenile Cape May Warbler, the same species I had seen there the day before.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Willow Flycatcher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Least Flycatcher (?), Cape May Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Eastrn Phoebe. (September 18)
To see more photos, go to the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
September 26, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Nationals sweep the Marlins
The game began under blue skies, but it started to rain after seven innings and after waiting for about an hour, it was called by the umpires, thus depriving Washington fans of the chance to see Bryce Harper at bat for perhaps the last time in a Nationals uniform. Victor Robles was the undisputed star of the game, getting four hits in five at-bats, including his third career home run. Adrian Sanchez, playing at second base, went three for four, and Spencer Kieboom got three RBIs with his two hits. In his very first MLB outing, Kyle McGowin retired the first 11 batters he faced but was replaced after walking the first two batters in the fifth inning, due a blister. It was an impressive display by the rookies, while veterans Harper, Rendon, and Turner all went hitless. Final score: Nats 9, Marlins 3.
After the game, the Nationals players tossed goodies to the fans who remained for the hour or so after play was suspended. Then Bryce Harper came out of the dugout, and cheers erupted. Today's Washington Post column by Barry Svrluga suggests that Bryce is feeling melancholy about his impending free agent status:
I've always said: If I'm in those plans, I'd absolutely love to be here. ... But if I'm not, there's nothing I can do about it. There's nothing I can do. I would love to play next to Robles or Soto or [Adam] Eaton. I'd love to. But am I in those plans? I have no idea.
Scherzer gets strikeout #300
In one of the few truly uplifting moments in Nationals Park this year, Max Scherzer got his 300th strikeout of the season last night. It came in the seventh inning, as the Marlins' Austin Dean became Mad Max's tenth strikeout victim of the night. It was quite an emotional moment, and I made a point to record it as it was happening for posterity. Anthony Rendon led the offensive charge, with a three-run homer in the first inning and an RBI single later in the game. Final score: Nats 9, Marlins 4. Will Max pitch against the Rockies in the final game of the season on Sunday? The franchise record for strikeouts is 305 (by Pedro Martinez of the Expos in 1997), but the Washington record is 313 (by Walter Johnson in 1910), and that is probably out of reach. But you never know! Max himself holds the Nationals' season strikeout record: 284, in 2016.
In the first game of the series, referred to briefly on Monday, the Nationals beat the Marlins 7-3. Stephen Strasburg struggled mightily in the first inning, throwing over 20 pitches, and was lucky that the Marlins only scored one run. He came out after four innings, having thrown 100 pitches. Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, and Matt Wieters all hit home runs. That victory put the Nats back at an even 78-78 record, but more importantly thrust them into second place for the first time since June 20! The Phillies have been losing so often lately that the Nationals really should have taken second place several days ago.
Astros clinch AL West
In a testament to how fiercely competitive their rivals the Oakland A's (95-63) have been this year, the Houston Astros (100-58) weren't able to clinch the American League West division title until they had won 100 games! That means the slate of AL postseason qualifying teams has already been set, and all that remains is to see whether the Yankees (97-61) or the A's will host the wild card game. (Ordinarily, I oppose having two wild card teams, but this year illustrates why it can sometimes serve a purpose.)
In the National League, meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers beat the St. Louis Cardinals tonight, thus earning at least a wild card slot in the postseason. It also means that the Chicago Cubs are guaranteed a postseason berth. If the Cubs manage to beat the Pirates tonight (they just lost their lead in the ninth inning, and it's now tied 6-6), they will remain a half game ahead of the Brewers in the NL Central. Otherwise...