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January 9, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Polo Grounds: a massive update

As befitting the massive size of the original structure itself, the just-completed Polo GroundsPolo Grounds diagram revisions were of a truly monumental scale. Ironically, the overall size and shape of the stadium and field did not change very much compared to the last Polo Grounds diagram update in August 2007 (11 1/2 years ago!!??), but the inclusion of numerous new details and additional diagram variants for different years really added up. As always, historical information (photos and text) from Bruce Orser proved invaluable, and for the first time, I got some helpful tips from Angel Amezquita.

So, what changed? For one thing, the light towers (eight of them in all, built in 1940) were included for the first time. Note that three of the four pairs were laterally symmetrical, but that two of them (overlooking the power alleys) differed from each other, for reasons to be explained. Second, I discovered after doing some careful measurements that the bleachers and adjacent grandstand in center field were about 15 feet deeper than I previously estimated. As if they needed more seats in those extremely remote parts of the ballpark! When games were sold out, some fans had to sit over 570 feet away from home plate! Third, many more peripheral structures are now depicted: the small buildings behind the center field bleachers in the 1913 diagram, and the access ramps leading down from "The Speedway" that ran along the crest of Coogan's Bluff.

For the first time, the diagrams include multiple profiles, to more clearly illustrate how different parts of the grandstand differed from each other. There are now separate diagrams for the upper deck and lower deck, showing where the entry portals and structural beams were located. One detail in the upper deck is worth highlighting: the diagonal lines which separated the relatively steep portion (about three-fourths of the stadium) from the much shallower portions in the left-center and right-center corners. Those lines were angled in such a way so as to enable the fans in the more distant seats to at least see home plate, even if first base or third place were blocked from their view by the steeper-graded seating section to their right (or left). Finally, I have yet to finish a diagram for "the site today," but that will appear in due course. (Likewise for Metropolitan Stadium, as I indicated recently.)

Clearly depicting the awkward situation in which part of the field is covered by an upper deck of seats has long been a challenge for me. As with the recent diagram updates for Tiger Stadium and Shibe Park, I am experimenting with new graphical cues in the Polo Grounds diagrams to indicate that the outfield fence, foul line, etc. lies underneath. Some diagrams depict overhangs with lavender color, and others retain the color of the roof, etc., depicting details below with black or dark gray lines.

[According to Philip Lowry's Green Cathedrals, [home plate] at the Polo Grounds was moved forward in some years, and backwards in others, possibly accounting for the variations in the distance to center field over the years. But it also states that the foul poles remained in the same place, which would mean that the diamond would no longer be a square, and I find that rather hard to swallow. For the time being, I'm "agnostic" on changes in Polo Grounds dimensions other than those in 1962, when the New York Mets were born. Those changes in dimension seem consistent and very plausible.]

[Finally, note that only the first-deck diagram shows details in the bullpens. With the overhanging second deck, trying to depict all the details would result in confusing clutter.]

College football bowl games

Congratulations to the CLEMson Tigers for winning the College Football National Championship game in Levi's Stadium (home of the Santa Clara / San Francisco 49ers) on Monday night! It was their second win in the last three years, and it was the third year of the last four that the two same teams were featured in the final game. This time the Tigers literally crushed the Alabama Crimson Tide, 44-16. Clemson had beaten Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl (which hasn't been played in the stadium called the "Cotton Bowl" since 2009), and Alabama had beaten [Oklahoma] Miami in the Orange Bowl (which wasn't played in the stadium called the "Orange Bowl" from 2000 until it was demolished in 2009).

One of the recent Christmas season traditions is the proliferation of often-irrelevant college bowl games, which serve in effect as "participation trophies" for the also-ran teams. For example, on December 20 Marshall beat South Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl, formerly called the St. Petersburg Bowl, and probably other names before that. For the first time since 2008, when that bowl was launched, that it was played in Raymond James Stadium rather than Tropicana Field. I believe the only current MLB stadium that hosts college football bowl games is Yankee Stadium II, where the Pinstripe Bowl was played on December 27. This year the University of Virginia (which briefly reached the national Top 25 last fall) played in the Belk Bowl in Bank of America Stadium in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. The UVa Cavaliers swamped the South Carolina Gamecocks, 28-0. Wa-hoo-wa!

Harper: waiting game

According to rumors circulating over the past week, the Washington Nationals made a significantly bigger contract offer to Bryce Harper. At this point, he seems more likely to stay with the Nationals than join some other team, but it's really anybody's guess. The signing of Alex Rodriguez by the Texas Rangers in [January 2001], and of Albert Pujols by the L.A. Angels in [December 2011], are just two examples of how owners can do serious damage to their franchise by wasting money on superstars who no longer have the motivation to perform at championship caliber. I think Bryce Harper is better than that, but spending over $300 million on a single player is extremely risky. Plus, inflated payrolls lead to inflated ticket prices.

But my main concern about paying Harper too much is that it might make it hard to keep third baseman Anthony Rendon for the long term. The Nats made a qualifying offer to Rendon, who is eligible for arbitration if negotiations fail. As a very reliable slugger and fielder who probably deserved to be on the All-Star team last year, he is worth at least one-third of what Harper is worth. But will he get paid accordingly?


January 9, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Field trip to Highland County

This past Sunday, January 6 (Day of the Epiphany!), I joined Allen Larner and two other members of the Augusta Bird Club on a field trip to Highland County. (The club generally has a trip there each June and January.) The weather forecast was excellent, with clear skies and temperatures in the 50s, but it turned out to be rather breezy, probably reducing the number of birds we saw. We departed Staunton at 8:05, reached Monterey at about 9:30 and headed north to the Blue Grass area. It was slow going at first, with hardly any birds at the former home of the O'Bryans, on the Virginia-West Virginia line. After we drove a few miles to the west side of Snowy Mountain, however, we spotted three Golden Eagles in the distance. My photos of them were barely even identifiable, but soon thereafter, we spotted a young Golden Eagle swooping over a field to the west and being harrassed by two Red-tailed Hawks, with the sunlight at a perfect angle for photos! I finally realized one of my fondest photographic ambitions, getting good-quality photos of that species, at a relatively short range. I estimate the raptors were only about 100 yards away. It was almost exactly six years ago that I first photographed a Golden Eagle (from quite a distance) with my then-brand-new Canon PowerShot SX50 camera!

Next we headed south through the village of New Hampden, but didn't see much there, so we continued farther south. We went looking for a Loggerhead Shrike that was reported on Dug Bank Road, without success. Striking out again and again, we decided to go to Bath County, much farther to the south. At a farm pond along Route 220 we finally saw a big cluster of interesting birds: Common Mergansers, Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks, and various other ducks and geese. It was there that we saw a young Bald Eagle to the southeast, toward the sunlight, so it was hard to get a good view. Next we drove to Lake Moomaw, and on the way in we saw lots of Juncos, White-breasted Nuthatches, a Winter Wren (glimpse), Brown Creeper, and Golden-crowned Kinglet. On the lake itself there were seven Horned Grebes and three Buffleheads, but not much else.

Montage 06 Jan 2019

FROM TOP LEFT: Golden Eagle (imm.), Hooded Merganser (M), American Kestrel (F), Horned Grebe, Common Merganser (M), Golden-crowned Kinglet, and in center, Bald Eagle (imm.). (January 6, 2018)
Roll mouse over the image to see a larger view of the Golden Eagle.

One of the biggest surprises of the day came near the end of our visit to Lake Moomaw. We saw some strange tiny critters swooping all around the road we were driving on, and quickly realized what they were: bats! We stopped two or three times so that I could try to get some photos, but it turned out to be almost futile, as those little things are not only fast, they change direction instantaneously! But at least I captured a few recognizable images, good enough to identify the species:

Bats montage

Eastern Red Bats, near Lake Moomaw. (January 6, 2019)

Our return trip home was relatively uneventful, and we didn't even stop at Augusta Springs or Swoope, both of which we passed along the way.

Evening Grosbeaks? No.

On December 29, I drove up to the Union Springs area in Rockingham County, in hopes of seeing the Evening Grosbeaks that had been reported there by Kevin Shank. (He is a nature photographer who publishes an excellent magazine called Nature Friend.) I spent about two hours there, but it wasn't my day. I did see lots of Juncos, Goldfinches, and other birds, at least.

Montage 29 Dec 2018

FROM TOP LEFT: Black-capped Chickadee, American Kestrel (F), Tufted Titmouse, American Goldfinch, and Red-bellied Woodpecker. (December 29, 2018)
Roll mouse over the image to see a larger view of the Golden Eagle.

Additional photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.


January 13, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Brian Dozier joins the Nats

In yet another roster-building coup for Washington's General Manager Mike Rizzo, infielder Brian Dozier agreed to a one-year contract worth $9 million with the Nationals. There is no optional extension. Dozier will become the Nats' regular second baseman, with Howie Kendrick as the presumable backup, depending on his health. By next year, minor league hot prospect Spencer Kieboom is expected to be ready to fill that position. Dozier came up from the minors with the Minnesota Twins in 2012, and from 2014 through 2018 (five straight years), he hit over 20 home runs, peaking at 41 in 2016. His batting average has not been spectacular, and dropped to just .215 last year, but he does have the slugging power that the Nats will need if Bryce Harper does not sign with the team. See the Washington Post sports section for this story and for the one below.

As a veteran who has avoided serious injury throughout his seven-year career, Dozier seems like a safe bet with a big potential for improvement. He turns age 32 in May, perhaps in the prime of his career. He reminds me a lot of Daniel Murphy, the second baseman who wasn't considered worth a big raise by the Mets front office at the end of the 2015 season. They bitterly regretted letting him go after the Nationals snatched him up. Like Murphy, Dozier combines steady reliability with flashes of excellence in clutch situations. In the 2015 All-Star Game, Dozier hit a solo homer, helping the American League to win, and in a preseason exhibition game at Nationals Park in 2016 he also homered. The acquisition of Dozier essentially plugs the final remaining gap in the Nats' lineup for 2019, leaving Bryce Harper and the back end of the pitching rotation as the only big question marks for the roster as spring training approaches. So, I have made a tentative update to the Washington Nationals page.

The fact that the New York Yankees signed free agent D.J. LeMahieu essentially rules them out as prospective suitors for Bryce Harper. He just had talks with the Phillies, and Mets have been rumored to be in the running, but this drama may drag out for a few more weeks...

Rendon, Turner come to terms

It was a big relief that Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner both came to terms with the Nationals front office. Rendon will get $18.8 million this year, while Turner will get $3.725 million. Rendon became a regular with the Nats in 2013, playing second base and then moving to third base after Ryan Zimmerman was reassigned to first base. Other than spending the first half of the 2015 season on the disabled list, he has been steady and extremely productive both in the batter's box and on the field in a defensive capacity. With a .308 batting average last year, he really should have made the All-Star Game. He will turn 29 in June. Turner has likewise proven to be a star-quality player, with the added advantage of high speed on the base paths. I was fortunate to see him debut in the majors on August 21, 2015. At age 25, he has a great career ahead of him.

[UPDATE: I neglected to mention that one other arbitration-eligible player, pitcher Joe Ross, also came to terms a day earlier and will thus avoid arbitration; he will get $1 million this year. Two arbitration-eligible Nationals could not come to terms, and their future with the franchise is uncertain: outfielder Michael A. Taylor and relief pitcher Kyle Barraclough.

Ballpark news roundup

I learned from Mike Zurawski that the Tampa Bay Rays are closing down the seldom-needed upper deck at Tropicana Field to create a more "intimate" experience. This will reduce capacity from about 31,000 to a little over 25,000. (The original capacity was 45,200.) See tampabay.com. So, I added a new diagram variant to the Tropicana Field page, with the upper deck colored gray to indicate that it's currently out of use. I may tweak some of those diagrams in the next couple weeks... The Rays are thus following the lead of the Oakland Athletics, who closed the entire upper deck of Oakland Coliseum in 2006, but reversed course in April 2017 when they resumed selling cheap upper-deck tickets once again. It's not an encouraging sign, but as Mike Zurawski points out, the Rays get a bigger-than-average portion of their revenues from television rights, and that will not be affected.

Yet another MLB stadium is in the midst of changing its name for the 2019 season: The Giants' AT&T Park will [henceforth] be called "Oracle Park" from now on, under the terms of a hefty 20-year, $200 million contract. As such deals go, this one seems pretty legit. See ESPN.com. Coming so soon after Safeco Field was renamed "T-Mobile Park," however, I became a bit annoyed at having to update the Stadium names [link corrected] page once again. It's rather unwieldy to maintain, and isn't very useful anyway, so I got ambitious all of a sudden and created a new, much improved page: Stadium names chronology. The old page (listed in alphabetical order) will remain at least for the time being.

In case you were worried about the Los Angeles Angels becoming "homeless" next year (see Dec. 1), rest assured, they agreed to terms to renew their existing lease agreement for one year. After that, who knows? See ESPN.com. [These last two news items are likewise courtesy of Mike Zurawski.]

And speaking of "homeless" pro sports teams, the Oakland Raiders may not have any place to play next year, as the City of Oakland leaders are (understandably) angry that the Raiders are leaving town in 2020 to take up residence in Las Vegas. One rumored temporary "home" for the Raiders is San Diego, where QualComm Stadium (or whatever they call it now) is in a virtual state of "limbo," hosting just a few college games each fall.

I see from the clock that it's time for football. Catch you later, sports fans!


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