March 2, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Assessing Harper's legacy in D.C.
Bryce Harper was with the Washington Nationals for exactly half the team's (reborn) existence: 2012-2018. You might think that he has dominated the team's offensive output during those seven years, but by most measures at least, you'd be wrong. Only once during those seven years (2015, when he was NL MVP) did he lead the Nationals in batting average: .330. Daniel Murphy did so twice, and only spent two and a half years with the Nats. What about Harper's specialty, home runs? Yes, he led the team twice in homers during that time, but so did both Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman. What's more, Zimmerman had the most homers (including one tie) twice during the team's first seven years, 2005-2011. Harper's peak year in terms of home runs (2015) was 42, which was four less than Alfonso Soriano hit during his one year with the Nationals in 2006. Finally, Harper led the team twice in runs batted in from 2012 to 2018, but Adam LaRoche did so as well. Ryan Zimmerman has had the most RBIs for the Nats four times in his career. But what is really striking is that in none of the four years in which the Nationals won the NL East Division (2012, 2014, 2016, 2017) did Harper lead in any of the main offensive categories. It's almost as if when he was at his best, the team was not -- and vice versa. See the Washington Nationals page, from which the following data are extracted.
Washington Nationals: best annual batting records (2012-2018)
|| Daniel Murphy
|| Daniel Murphy
Years with red borders: Nationals won the NL East Division.
None of the above is meant to detract from Harper's immense contribution to the Nationals in terms of pursuing championships and as a commercial franchise, however. Baseball is more than just winning and more than just money, it is a form of popular entertainment for the masses, and Harper gave Washington-area fans a thrill like none of their team's other players had done before. Yes, Harper has a tendency to be cocky sometimes, but with the talent he possesses, it's probably fitting. After all, sports fans love prima donnas!
Lerners defer salaries
In today's Washington Post, Barry Svrluga had a rather harsh column about the Lerner family's habit of deferring salaries paid to many of the Nationals' top stars. I mentioned this two days ago, but I put the blame on the tight cash situation created by the unfavorable TV rights contract with the Baltimore Orioles. (That was a key condition for owner Peter Angelos to approve the relocation of the former Montreal Expos to Washington in 2005.) Svrluga suggests that it's just the Lerners' way of doing business, and it's not good. We still don't know for sure how much of the compensation offered to Bryce Harper last fall consisted of deferred salaries, but if it was as big as some rumors have indicated, that might have been a blunder of historic proportions.
Rockies keep Arenado
On Wednesday, two days before the news about Bryce Harper broke, the Colorado Rockies announced that their star Nelson Arenado had signed a new contract. He will be making $260 million over a period of eight years, a stupefying $32.5 million annually. It is the highest annual salary in history for an MLB position player. He can opt out of the contract after three years, but why in the heck would he? Having hit an average of 40 home runs and 126 RBIs over the last four seasons, he no doubt commands a high price on the market, but for a small-market team like the Rockies to be making that kind of commitment does raise eyebrows.
Off to the races!
The recent update to the Polo Grounds page included an auto racing diagram for the first time, corresponding to the 1958-1961 period following the New York Giants' departure and preceding the creation of the New York Mets. That reminded me that another MLB stadium once hosted auto racing events: Philadelphia's Baker Bowl, after the Phillies left in 1938. So I added a racetrack diagram to the Baker Bowl page just for fun.
Foro Sol update
But wait, there's more! Auto racing also takes place in Mexico City's Foro Sol, a strange combination of a Grand Prix race track with a ballpark. So, I updated the Foro Sol diagrams for the first time since 2011; April 11 to be exact. The grandstand is now about 12 feet deeper than before all the way around, and details such as entry portals are included for the first time. There is also a new diagram showing details such as the press box underneath the roof. Diagrams for other "Miscellaneous" (non-MLB) stadiums will likewise will brought "up to standard" in the months to come...
Am I ever going to do diagrams showing stadiums in a configuration for "monster truck" rallies or moto-cross races? Not bloody likely! Eventually, however, I may need to indicate which stadiums featured such events. There's more than you might think...
March 4, 2019 [LINK / comment]
West by Southwest: Desert scenery travelogue
CATCHING UP: It has been nearly five years since my grand summer vacation into the desert southwest, and here at last is a full trip report. It was an ambitious adventure that included (of course) baseball, birding, and family affairs. I posted separate blog accounts related to those two special topics in July 31, 2014 (baseball) and August 25, 2014 (birding), but this task somehow got relegated to the back burner during my extremely hectic year of 2015. Slowly but surely, I'm getting caught up with things. Over the course of six weeks from mid-June through July, I drove over 6,861 miles, which is more than a quarter of the Earth's circumference. I had long hoped to finish my goal of visiting the "lower 48" states of the U.S.A., and I did that at last by going to Arizona and New Mexico. (Louisiana may not count, since my only time there was during a brief stopover at the New Orleans airport in 1985, and I didn't even get off the airplane. Same thing with Panama in the 1990s and El Salvador in 2017.)
It all began on Wednesday June 18 when I hit the road westbound from Staunton on I-64, stopped to view the Greenbrier Resort before driving through West Virginia and then Kentucky. I reached Louisville in the late afternoon and St. Louis at dusk. (I took advantage of the fact that daylight is a maximum during the third week of June.) By the next morning, almost exactly 24 hours from the start, I was at my brother Dan's house on the outskirts of Kansas City! We had to be at our nephew Aaron's wedding in South Dakota on Friday, and I suddenly realized I didn't bring dress trousers. So, the first stop that day was the Sears store at a mall which has since been demolished. Dan and I made it up to Vermillion after about five hours of driving, and family activities commenced. The photos below are just scraping the surface of the amazing variety of sights that I experienced. There are many, many more photos on the Chronological (2014) photo gallery page.
Dad and me driving through Texas on June 24, 2014. Today (March 4) would have been Dad's 90th birthday, but he passed away three years ago.
Getting there is half the fun!
After all the weekend fun had ended, my father and I embarked on a long journey that fulfilled multiple objectives -- baseball, birds, and family matters. We began by driving from South Dakota south to Kansas City, and visited with Dan overnight. The real adventure began the next morning on Monday June 22, when we resumed our southbound course. The first stop was in Joplin, Missouri, where there is a historic Route 66 mural adorning a downtown building. I was impressed with the historical significance, but just couldn't persuade Dad to get out of the car and take a look. This became standard procedure for much of the trip; he was getting old (85 at that time) and was having more and more back trouble. I was curious about the damage caused by the devastating tornado that struck there a couple years ago, but in fact I saw no evidence of any damage. Our next stop was in Springdale, Arkansas, where some of the Clem ancestors had lived during the early 20th Century. Dad had often expressed curiousity about the town and its part in the Clem family story, so we headed into the fringes of the Ozark Mountains. Unfortunately, it started to rain heavily, and we didn't have a clear destination in mind, so we gave up after driving around the town for just a few minutes. From there we drove west into Oklahoma and then southwest across the Red River into Texas, where we soon found suitable accommodations.
Route 66 mural in downtown Joplin. (NOTE: There are no saguaro cacti in Texas; they are found exclusively in Arizona and northwestern Mexico.) (June 23)
The next morning we drove into Dallas and stopped at Dealey Plaza, where President Kennedy was assassinated. It's a familiar sight to most Americans, but actually being there is rather chilling. We encountered a few hucksters and conspiracy pushers along the sidewalk. After a while we drove west to Arlington, since I wanted to see Globe Life Park, home of the Texas Rangers. We parked on the south side where at this very moment a new stadium is being built to replace the one that is only 25 years old. Once again, Dad declined to join me in a brief inspection, so I had to make my visit quick. Then we headed west through Fort Worth and then oil country, as the terrain gradually changes from grassland to desert. We made it to El Paso around midnight and arrived at his sister Connie's house in Las Cruces, New Mexico about an hour after that.
Dealey Plaza, in Dallas, Texas. (June 24)
For the next five days, Dad stayed with his Connie and brother-in-law Bill for a few days while I continued even farther west into Arizona. It was an ingenius plan that combined multiple objectives between Dad and me, and fortunately, everything worked without a hitch. (Well, almost.)
By the Time I Get to Phoenix ...
Early on June 25 I departed Las Cruces heading west, with the goal of getting to Phoenix that evening to see a baseball game at Chase Field. To my surprise and annoyance, just west of Las Cruces I had to go through a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint, even though Interstate 10 was at least 30 miles from Mexico at that point! My first encounter with the Chihuahuan desert in southwestern New Mexico was quite dramatic. It's fairly flat, and you can often see for ten or twenty miles, with the blazing hot atmosphere producing mirage effects. I saw a few "dust devils," which are like mini-tornadoes that emerge out of clear sky. (Jacqueline and I had seen one of those at Monte Alban in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2003.)
Dust devil, in southwestern New Mexico. (June 25)
After passing through a broad valley, I encountered a mountain range that more or less coincided with the Arizona state line. The topography of Arizona is unique and hard to describe, with isolated mountain ranges that rise out of flat deserts and divide the state into distinct ecological zones. (That is what makes it such ideal habitat for diverse bird species, and is therefore a haven for bird watchers.) I was impressed with the high quality of the rest stops, one of which was the point from which I took this photo:
Big rocks and the distant Dragoon Mountains in Arizona. (June 25)
I was already aware of the four major desert regions in the southwestern U.S.A. (Chihuahuan, Sonoran, Mohave, and Great Basin), but didn't know much about what makes them distinct or what the dividing lines are. As I descended from the mountain range toward the city of Tucson, I entered the Sonoran desert and that is where I saw saguaro cacti for the first time. About 70 miles after passing the city, I stopped at a rest stop in Gila River Indian Reservation, and was soon bedazzled by all the bird species and saguaro cacti all around. I couldn't help myself lingering at that location, even though I had to get to the ball game in Phoenix. I was worried that I would arrive very late, but fortunately I only missed about an inning of the game. I didn't realize that Arizona does not go by daylight savings time, so in effect it is part of the Pacific Time Zone from March to October. I was in such a rush I didn't even think to take photos of downtown Phoenix during the brief time I was there. After the game at Chase Field, I spent the night in a motel south of Phoenix.
Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, from the northeast side. (June 25)
From Phoenix to Tucson
With more time on my hands the next day (June 26), I took full advantage of my second visit to the Gila River Indian Reservation rest stop on my way back south to Tucson. Further south I exited Interstate 10 at the town of Marana, where there are pecan orchards and an aircraft "graveyard" where they salvage parts. I had heard of such places in the southwest, but seeing with your own eyes dozens of big old jetliners in the middle of the desert is rather strange. (Marana Aerospace Solutions provides such services as "heavy maintenance, overhaul, commercial storage, component repairs, paint, interior, detailing, and end of life options.") Next, there were some particular places I wanted to see birds, using a guide book that my brother John lent to me. I was impressed by the irrigation canals, but I soon realized how the influence of agribusiness often results in environmental depletion: water diverted to keep pecan and almond trees growing harms the natural habitat in other places. Late in the afternoon I spent about an hour at Saguaro National Park, just east of Tucson, and then found a motel in town to spend the night.
Cacti at the Saguaro National Park. (June 26)
Tucson, Arizona is an attractive city in many ways, but some people might prefer the "California grass." (Get Back!) My first stop the next day (June 27) was the Sabino Canyon visitors center, a few miles northeast of the city. It features an amazing variety of cacti in a desert "garden" of sorts. After birding there a while, I continued north into the Santa Catalina mountains, which rise abruptly out of the flatlands. I ascended to an elevation of over 9,000 feet near the summit of Mount Lemmon, which was the culimination of that day's travel. Pine trees were everywhere, and it reminded me of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It was delightfully cool at the top, almost chilly, and quite a contrast to the 100+ degree temperatures down below. It was late in the afternoon, and I had to hurry to get back out of the mountains before dark.
Santa Catalina mountains, with Tucson, Arizona in the distance. (June 27)
South to Mexico, and back
The next day (June 28) I headed straight south from Tucscon toward Mexico. Oddly, the distance markers along that part of Interstate 19 are in kilometers rather than miles, evidently catering to Mexican tourists and/or truckers. (Under the terms of NAFTA, truckers from Mexico can only drive so far into the United States.) My first stop was at the Titan Missile Museum, located at a former Titan ICBM (intercontental ballistic missile) silo. I was utterly enthralled, and would highly recommend paying a visit. Until the Titans were decommissioned late in the 1980s, there used to be dozens of such missiles with huge multi-megaton nuclear warheads in that area. Quite a sobering reality to absorb. Then I resumed my southbound trek and entered the city of Nogales, where I was pleased to find an old community baseball park in good repair with two uniformed teams getting ready to play a game. About a half mile away, I could see the actual border wall, and some Mexican people huddled in the shade perhaps contemplating how to get across. From Nogales I headed east and stopped at a nature preserve near the town of Patagonia. (No relation to Argentina that I know of.) The town itself was pleasant, and some kind of festival was going on. But I had to keep going and find a motel in the town of Sierra Vista, adjacent to the Fort Huachuca Army base.
The Mexican border at Nogales, Arizona. (June 28)
San Pedro River
I had several destinations on Sunday June 29, beginning with the San Pedro River natural area. It is an incredible refuge of lush, wet greenery in the middle of hot, barren emptiness, obviously a major birding hot spot. I spent almost five full hours in that desert paradise! From there I went east to Bisbee, Arizona, which features a huge open-pit copper mine that is apparently operating much less intensively than it used to. I gathered that the copper ore has been depleted. But it was interesting, and I spent some time at a mining visitor center and gift shop.
San Pedro River dry grass, trees. (June 29)
Next came the town of Douglas, which is right on the Mexican border. Under different circumstances, I would have loved to cross the border into Mexico, but I had to content myself with just getting close. I was driving my Dad's car (much more comfortable for two people than my old compact Hyundai Accent would have been), and I didn't want him to take undue risk on my account. I was like a kid looking in the window of a toy store, yearning for something he can't have. While in Douglas, I was amused to observe how the local economy works: there is a WalMart store two blocks from the border, and most of the customers come from Mexico to buy huge bundles of things they can't get in their own country. Many of them take the shopping carts away from the premises, in spite of big signs and some kind of wheel lock system that is supposed to prevent such misuse. At the border station itself two blocks away there are several dozen abandoned shopping carts, and I suppose every day the WalMart employees have to retrieve them, over and over again.
After observing the border for a while, I drove northeast toward the Chiricahua Mountains, my next destination. On the way, I stopped at a monument marking where Indian rebel Geronimo surrendered. Unfortunately, I didn't arrive there until very late in the afternoon, forcing me to scramble for lodging. My habit of improvising travel arrangements runs into snags.
On my way to the Chiricahua Mountains on June 30, I stopped at a couple places along the road, and saw my first Roadrunner as well as a Gambel's Quail in that area! I passed several pecan orchards and According to tucson.com "Arizona's 2013 pecan production was an estimated 22.5 million utilized pounds, up 13 percent from 2012 and 22 percent higher than 2011... Arizona is the nation's fourth-largest pecan producer, with about 7 percent of the market share in 2011, the most recent figures available."
Pecan orchard, with the Chiricahua Mountains in the distance. A few miles ahead, I saw my first Roadrunner! (June 30)
Once you enter the Chiricahua Mountains, you find yourself in a network of canyons, and the main road takes you to a medium-elevation spot that provides good views as well as some interesting birds. I came across some kind of research station with barracks for students and researchers. The combination of trees with various kinds of yucca plants is very distinctive. It was my final destination in Arizona, and I was sad to leave it behind. But I to get back to Las Cruces to pick up my father at his sister's house. Late in the afternoon, I made it back to Las Cruces.
Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains. (June 30)
Northeast by north
After saying goodbye to Aunt Connie and Uncle Bill the next day (July 1), Dad and I headed north toward Santa Fe. I had ambitious plans to cross New Mexico and reach Kansas in one day, but that turned out to be unrealistic. There was just too much to see along the way! We passed the town of Truth or Consequences without stopping, but spent two full hours at the Bosque de Apache National Wildlife Refuge. It's a huge wet oasis in the middle of hot, dry flatland. I had thought about stopping in Albuquerque, the biggest city in the state, but decided against it. We did stop in the historic city of Santa Fe, and I photographed the state capitol building. But there was no place to park in the charming downtown, so we just kept going. East of Santa Fe we inadvertently got diverted onto a side road looking for a gas station, consuming more valuable time. That part of the state is higher elevation, with moderate temperatures and lots of pine trees. We spent the night in the town of Las Vegas -- New Mexico, not Nevada!
Looking from the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge toward the town of Las Vegas, and the mountains beyond. That's Dear (now departed) Old Dad sitting on a park bench. (July 2)
In the morning (July 2) Dad and I visited the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, where I was lucky to see and photograph a Burrowing Owl! We finally exited New Mexico later that morning, and entered Oklahoma for a second time, the "panhandle" region to be precise. We were taking Route 56, which came within a mile of the northwest corner of Texas and within about five miles of the southeast corner of Colorado. It is sort of a geographical anomaly. The The terrain became more typical of southern plains, with arid grassland, with irrigated crop fields. Right across the Kansas state line we stopped for gas and food in the town of Elkhart, and then visited the nearby Cimarron National Grassland. To my surprise, there were several functioning oil wells within that protected area. I got a map from one of the park rangers, and thought I could navigate some rough roads to get to some good birding spots, but along the way we briefly got stuck in a patch of loose sand. Fortunately, I kept my head and we got out alright. No more back roads! Then we resumed our northeast course along secondary highways, stopping at a historic marker Dodge City (home of the fictitious Marshall Matt Dillon) and later at a vast wetland area called the Cheyenne Bottoms, where we saw a number of Avocets and other wading birds.
After spending the night in a motel on the outskirts of Salina, Kansas, on the last day (July 3) Dad and I spent a couple hours touring the city where he lived as a boy. He was happy to show me the cathedral where he and Mom were married, as well as the country club on the east side of town where his father taught him golf. We drove through downtown and past the old train station and some huge grain elevators. (Every town of any size in Kansas has at least one such storage facility.) But the main attraction that day was St. John's Military School, where Dad attended elementary and high school. There is a building named for my grandfather, Remey Leland Clem, and a bronze bust is outside. Tragically, we recently learned that St. John's will be closing down for good at the end of this school year. After talking to some people there, we resumed driving, this time straight north. We stopped in the small town of Gresham, where my grandfather lived as a young boy. We spent some time paying respects to some Clem ancestors at a cemetery near the town, and then got back on the road. The final tourist item of note was in the city of Norfolk, Nebraska, which was home to comedy legend Johnny Carson. I took a photo of a "Johnny Carson Blvd." sign, and a couple hours later we were back home in South Dakota.
In sum, it was truly the adventure of a lifetime, and I count myself as so blessed for taking the opportunity to make a trip like that with my father before it was too late. Two years later, Dad was gone. As noted at the top, I have been meaning to finish this travelogue for a long time, and I figured that since today (March 4) would have been Dad's 90th birthday, it is an appropriate occasion. It was a great opportunity for us to share memories of years past along the way. Here are the states Dad and I traveled through, in chronological order, including Arizona, which he did not see.
- South Dakota
- New Mexico
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
To see many more photos, please go to the Chronological (2014) photo gallery.
March 15, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Olympic-sized Olympic Stadium update
It took yet another sustained Herculean effort stretching over nearly two weeks, but I stuck with it and finally "got 'er done." Yes, the Olympic Stadium diagrams have been revised, on a massive scale befitting the massive size of the structure itself. The tragic, misbegotten former home of the Montreal Expos (who relocated and became the Washington Nationals in 2005) still stands as a monument to wishful thinking by public officials eager to establish a legacy. The public debt needed to finance construction of "the Big Owe" was not retired until after the Expos had departed. It still hosts occasional football and soccer games, as well as monster truck shows and assorted conventions, but for most intents and purposes, it is in a state of limbo.
Aside from minor corrections and detail enhancements, here are the more notable changes since the last diagram update in June 2012, nearly seven years ago:
- The overall shape of the stadium is slightly compressed from side to side.
- Entry portals (including side stairs) in the grandstand are shown for the first time.
- There is a lower-deck diagram for the first time, showing a rear set of entry portals.
- The lower deck (as seen in the profiles) is about 13 feet (five rows) deeper than before; the upper deck remains the same size.
- The roof is rendered much more accurately, with the structural beams properly coinciding with the grandstand seating sections.
- The dugouts in the 1992 version(s) now consist of two straight segments with a slight bend.
- The bleachers beyond the north end zone in the football and soccer diagrams extends at least 20 feet behind the scoreboard (1992) which is suspended above ground.
- In the 1976 Olympics diagram, the front eight rows of seats were only installed along the west side of the track. (Previously I couldn't figure out how there was room for four flagpole on the south end of the track.)
- Also, the permanent roof front edge apparently coincided vertically with the "front" row (ninth row for baseball) of seats.
- The profile is more accurate than before, revealing that the lower-deck concourse is smaller than the upper-deck concourses.
- Last but not least, the roof turns out to be much, much bigger than I thought before:
The profile of Olympic Stadium, before and after today's diagram revision.
The photos I have seen suggest that the rear of the roof, which covers the concourses behind the grandstand, is not directly supported but is suspended by balancing tension in the structural members. I may have to check on that to make sure. Or maybe I'll just drive up to Montreal this summer! In any case, I replaced the old profile with the new one on the Stadium profiles page, which I'll update as soon as the three remaining diagrams are completed.
Note that, for the time being at least, I opted not to render the lights which are attached to the front of the permanent roof. Too much clutter. I may do that later, and I may do a "combined" diagram, showing the football gridiron and temporary seats superimposed on the baseball playing field. Finally, I may add a 1980s diagram, without the original wide Olympic track behind home plate and the bleachers in center field. (I estimate it was about 495 feet to those bleachers from home plate!)
Spring training notes
For what it's worth, the Washington Nationals have won four games in a row, with lopsided wins against the Twins yesterday and the Mets today. Adam Eaton and Ryan Zimmerman both homered in today's game, while Victor Robles and Juan Soto are continuing the slugging peformance that they exhibited as rookies last year. (Soto played for 116 games last year, whereas Robles has only played in 34 games total over two years.) Hot infield prospect Carter Kieboom has hit three home runs already, and may be ready to replace Brian Dozier at second base next year. Anthony Rendon, whose contract expires at the end of this year, had a slow start this spring, but went four for four at the plate today. Michael A. Taylor, who is fighting for the center field position, got hurt while making a diving catch today, but it doesn't appear to be too serious. On the mound, starting pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Stephen Strasburg have been very impressive, while Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer are only fair to middling so far. Opening Day in Our Nation's Capital is now less than two weeks away!
There is much talk about which team will end up signing closing pitcher Craig Kimbrel to a contract. I was initially opposed to the Nats making him a big offer, partly because I think Sean Doolittle is more than satisfactory in that role already. But apparently "The Doctor" says he'd welcome Kimbrel joining the Nats bullpen, so maybe it would work out OK.
The new star slugger of the Philadelphia Phillies, Bryce Harper, has yet to get a hit in five at-bats this spring, but he has reached base a few times on walks.
The mail bag
Mike Zurawski informs me that the Oakland A's are trying to jazz up their aging Coliseum with a new "Fan Stomping Ground" located in the middle level of the outfield grandstand on the right field side. Apparently it's a family-friendly place to hang out and amuse each other when the action on the field slows down. See MLB.com.
And speaking of Oakland Coliseum, the NFL Raiders are still not 100% certain where they will be playing football next fall. One possibility was Oracle Field (formerly called AT&T Park, home of the Giants), but the "San Francisco" (Santa Clara) 49ers vetoed that idea. The Raiders are being sued by the city of Oakland because of their plans to relocate to Las Vegas, once the new stadium is ready in 2020 or 2021. Awk-ward!
Terry Wallace sent me a photo of Forbes Field with temporary bleachers for the 1925 World Series; he seems eager for those diagrams to be updated, and I can't blame him!
And finally, Angel Amezquita sent me some images of the Canadian Football League Baltimore Stallions playing in Memorial Stadium in the 1990s, suggesting that I include a CFL gridiron diagram on that page. Anything is possible!
I'm going to take a short break from all the exhausting diagram work, and will try to get to other recent e-mail messages in the next few days. Thanks for your patience, as always!
March 18, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Life bird: Evening Grosbeak(s)!
After two previous attempts (December 29 and February 4) ended in frustration, on Saturday I returned to the Shank family residence in Union Springs [Rockingham County] in hopes of seeing the fabled Evening Grosbeaks for the first time. There were lots of Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, Goldfinches, etc., and even a Fox Sparrow, but none of the target birds. After two hours of vigil I was on the brink of despair. Just as I was about to leave, I heard an odd call in the trees and soon spotted the Evening Grosbeaks up above. YES!!! Eventually they came down to the feeder, where I got some pretty good photos. I was hoping to get a little closer, but just then someone came out of the front door and all the birds scattered. No matter, I still achieved my goal of seeing an Evening Grosbeak, and I was quite satisfied with that. "The third time's a charm!"
[Evening Grosbeaks breed in Canada and the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains, all the way down into Mexico, in fact. Some of them migrate south into the northeastern U.S.A. during the winter, but seldom do they migrate as far south as the mid-Atlantic states. They used to be more common in the winter in Virginia, but have become extremely scarce in these latitudes since the 1990s. Last fall, ornithologists predicted that there would be a major southward "irruption" of Evening Grosbeaks (as well as Red-breasted Nuthatches) during the winter because of a reduced output of tree seeds in their usual range up north. There have been more reports of that species this past winter, but not as many as we were hoping. I'm lucky to have seen them at all.]
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Purple Finch (M), Red-bellied Woodpecker (M), Evening Grosbeak, Fox Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Pine Siskin; at Union Springs, Rockingham County, March 16. Roll your mouse over the image to see a larger image of the Evening Grosbeak.
Of the five or six Evening Grosbeaks that I saw, all seemed to be females or immature males. Adult males have a bold orange, yellow, black, and white plumage, and it's too bad none of them were present. In any case, this was my first life bird since March 8, 2017, when I saw a Swallow-tailed Kite near Immokalee, Florida. That's according to my Life bird list, and I have updated that page accordingly. The Evening Grosbeak is my 504th life bird.
I'm very grateful to the Shank family for being such gracious hosts to all the visiting bird enthusiasts like me. Kevin Shank is the editor of Nature Friend magazine, a wonderful publication that the whole family can enjoy.
Birding in February: eagles!!
On February 6 I saw the Loggerhead Shrike on Bell's Lane for the third time, but not since then. Other birders saw it occasionally later in the month. On February 9 I saw two adult Bald Eagles perched on fence posts in the same area, on the back side of the ponds. It raises the possibility that they are a mating pair with a nest nearby, but there haven't been any follow-up reports. On February 19 I saw the new Bald Eagle nest in Swoope for the first time; it is about a mile southwest of the old one, which was in a tree that had been toppled by high winds in November. Also that day, I saw my first Red-winged Blackbirds of the season.
On February 27 I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip to McCormick's Mill, led by Jo King. It was a beautiful if somewhat chilly day, and I managed to get photos of most of the birds we saw, including an Eastern Phoebe (rare in winter months) and a Great Blue Heron. We saw two Golden-crowned Kinglets and a young Red-tailed Hawk, but they eluded my camera. Later most of us went over to Willow Lake, which was full of various ducks, as many as one hundred. Someone spotted a Bald Eagle flying overhead, but I couldn't get a good photo until it had flown some distance away. That was probably the highlight of the day.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Blue Heron, Red-winged Blackbird (M), Bald Eagle, American Robin, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Redheads (M & F), and Greater Scaups (M & F); McCormick's Mill & Willow Lake, February 27.
Birding in early March
As spring began to arrive, migratory birds began arriving as well: on March 5, I saw several Common Grackles for the first time this year. (Occasionally you will see large flocks of them in farm fields during winter months, but for most intents and purposes they are a migratory species.) Earlier this month I made a couple visits to Mill Place. The Long-tailed Duck and Hooded Mergansers had already left the pond behind Hardee's, but a few Buffleheads remained, along with the usual Canada Geese. [On March 10 I took advantage of the sudden switch from winter to spring weather and saw a male Lesser Scaup at the Hardee's pond. I also had nice, sunlit views of several birds at Mill Place and Bell's Lane. Others reported seeing Tree Swallows on Bell's Lane on March 12, but I didn't. On March 14, I saw my first Chipping Sparrow of the year on the back patio.]
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-winged Blackbird (M), Northern Cardinal (M), Eastern Meadowlark, Lesser Scaup (M), Buffleheads (M & F), and in center, Mallard (M); at Mill Place & Bell's Lane, March 10.
[As usual, more photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.]
March 20, 2019 [LINK / comment]
"Opening Day" (Japanese-style) 2019!
The real Opening Day is still eight days away, but for fans of the Oakland A's and the Seattle Mariners, today was the day! Playing in Tokyo, Japan, the Mariners beat the A's by a score of 9-7 in a game that featured five home runs altogether. The second and final game of the series gets underway at 5:35 AM EDT, less than six hours hence...
This marks the fifth time that Major League Baseball has had official games in Japan, all of which were played in the Tokyo Dome as part of a special Opening Day event. Just as a reminder, there will be four MLB games in Monterrey, Mexico over the next two months, and two more in London, England at the end of June. See the Anomalous stadiums page.
Tokyo Dome minor update
The Tokyo Dome diagrams have been revised slightly, most notably in the expanded rows of box seats between first (and third) base and the right (and left) field corners. That modification was a good idea, since the Tokyo Dome has an unusually large foul territory: 30,300 square feet before the seats were added. (I'll recompute the new value soon.) Besides that, a dark line indicating a vertical discontinuity has been added in the upper deck along the lateral walkway, and the right and left field corners are bent less sharply than before.
Trout and Angels make a HUGE deal
Assuming all the unconfirmed reports are true, the Los Angeles Angels and outfielder slugger Mike Trout have agreed to a contract extension, for ten additional years on top of the two years remaining on his existing contract, a total of twelve years. It adds about $360 million to the $66.5 million which he was already owed for 2019 and 2020, roughly $430 million altogether. It's the biggest player contract in sports history, and $100 million more than the Phillies recently committed to paying Bryce Harper; see the Washington Post. Harper had publically invited him to join the Phillies after Trout became a free agent, dreaming of a world-class offensive powerhouse in Philadelphia. Oops: cancel that!
In Our Nation's Capital, meanwhile, no word on whether Anthony Rendon will sign a contract extension with the Nationals. Now that Bryce Harper is gone, Rendon has suddenly become the linchpin of the Nats' entire offense.
Oakland stadium news
Mike Zurawski shared with me news about a slight change in the plans for the Oakland A's future home in the Howard Terminal area near downtown. In particular, the tapered terraced park descending from the left and right field corners toward center field will have a rounded shape, rather than a rectangular shape that was an apparent emulation of the Phildelphia Athletics' home at Shibe Park. See cbslocal.com for a narrative and video of the changes, and a complete set of plans released by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
And in the world of football, the Oakland / Las Vegas Raiders managed to get a one-year lease extension at Oakland Coliseum, so we don't have to worry about the team becoming "homeless" for the 2019 season. See si.com, also courtesy of Mike Zurawski.
Globe Life Park II: aerial view!
Clifford "Bucky" Nance recently posted on Facebook a video of an adventure he had flying in a World War II-era C-47 "Dakota" (which became the DC-3 in civilian life) over the Dallas-Forth Worth area. The pilot was kind enough to fly over the future home of the Texas Rangers, and Bucky was kind enough to share with me a high-resolution image, which will be of great use when I start drawing a diagram of that stadium later this year. It is supposed to be ready by April 2020, but some of us (including Bucky) wonder whether the new venue might be an unnecessary boondoggle. Be that as it may, thank you, Bucky!!!
Aerial view of construction at Globe Life Park II, courtesy of Clifford "Bucky" Nance.
March 25, 2019 [LINK / comment]
Ichiro Suzuki retires in Japan
After the second of two games he played with the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo, Japan (in which the Mariners beat the Oakland A's again), 45-year old Ichiro Suzuki announced that he has retired from Major League Baseball. It was fitting that was able to make a dramatic farewell in his home country before an adoring crowd. For all the details of the memorable, quite moving occasion, see MLB.com.
Suzuki played for nine years with the Orix of the Japanese Pacific League, and then signed with the Seattle Mariners in November 2000. For the next decade, he put up absolutely stupendous offensive figures, with a batting average over .300 in every year from 2001 through 2010. He tallied 3,089 hits during his career in the majors, and could have become the all-time greatest in that category if he had played for seven or eight of his early years in the major leagues. He was a very smart, very efficient and productive player, comparable in some ways to Pete Rose (4,256 lifetime hits) or Ty Cobb (4,191 lifetime hits) -- the big difference being that he was always a perfect gentleman. He was never known as a power hitter, of course, and only reached the double digits in home runs three times. Tragically, the Mariners did not make it to the postseason at all during the 11 1/2 years he played with the Mariners. Suzuki was traded to the Yankees in July 2012, and had his first postseason experience that October. He played with New York through the end of the 2015 season, and then he signed with the Miami Marlins as a free agent, but didn't get much playing time there last year.
I had the pleasure to see the future Hall of Famer in action twice: in a Mariners-Twins game at Target Field on August 1, 2010, and in a Marlins-Nationals game on October 1, 2016.
Ichiro Suzuki, then with the Miami Marlins, at Nationals Park on October 1, 2016
Tokyo Dome MAJOR update
(Stop me if you've heard this one before.) So, I realized I needed to make a few tweaks to the Tokyo Dome diagrams, and before you knew it I got completely carried away in my relentless pursuit of extreme accuracy, yadda, yadda, yadda... Just what has changed? I'm glad you asked!
- The grandstand has been "stretched" vertically by about 10 feet, making it a rounded diamond shape rather than a rounded square, which is what it looks like in aerial photographs. Previously the air-supported roof cables were depicted as being "attached" to the support columns, but those columns would have to protrude through the upper deck in order to do so, blocking some fans' view, but that is obviously not the case. In fact, the solid portion of the roof inclined about 20 feet over the back part of the grandstand, and the roof cables attached to the front edge of it.
- As a consequence of the "stretching," the grandstand is now a few rows bigger behind home plate compared to the positions facing first and third base, whereas before the grandstand was the same depth all the way from first to third base.
- The concourse areas around the entire stadium have been expanded by 15-25 feet outward, and are now shown in all diagram variants.
- The entry portals to the outfield seats ("bleachers") are much wider than before. They are located behind the big support columns, and extend a couple feet on either side of them.
So, the previous "minor" update (March 20) in effect doesn't even count, since all that changed was a few interior details. And, for the record, I made some minor tweaks to the Olympic Stadium diagrams.
Spring training comes to an end
The Nationals beat the New York Yankees 5-3 at Nationals Park this afternoon, their first game at home in Washington this spring. Unlike the practice games featuring a motley crew of minor league prospects, this time it was an actual contest with all the first-string players in the lineup. Anthony Rendon and Matt Adams both homered for the Nats, who finished spring training with a 17-12 record, third place in the Florida "Grapefruit League." (The Yankees and Astros were first and second.) The Nats are fifth among all MLB teams in terms of power rankings; see MLB. The Astros, Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers are the top teams, in that order. Teams will rest for two days and then play the first game of the season on Thursday afternoon. Baseball is almost here!!!!
For a couple days it seemed that maybe outfielder Michael A. Taylor's knee / hip injury might take a few weeks to heal, but he has made a lot of progress and will probably be with the team by the end of next week. Likewise, infielder Howie Kendrick's hamstring pull is thought to be relatively mild, and he should be ready to go during the early part of April.
After giving him one more chance (don't ask me why), the Nationals finally let their young relief pitcher Sammy Solis go. The Baltimore Orioles picked up former Nats second-string catcher Pedro Severino, who had likewise dismissed from the Nationals' roster earlier this spring.