June 25, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Players reject MLB's final offer, then accept terms
Just last week, hopes for baseball in 2020 were hanging by a thread, after the MLB Players Association head Tony Clark turned down (on June 13) the owners' proposed 72 games at 70% prorated salary. He said there was no further point to any further discussion, and indeed the owners fourth and final offer (60 games with 16 teams in an expanded postseason) was rejected almost immediately on Monday. But now it seems we are going to have a real baseball season this year after all. One month from today, more or less, according to the plan announced by Commissioner Manfred on Monday and accepted by the players on Tuesday, MLB games will resume. Is our long national nightmare really almost over?
So, in case you haven't read a complete account of the plan, here are the essentials, as reported by the Washington Post:
- Players will report to work on July 1, and a 60-game regular season will commence on July 24 or 25.
- Teams will play 40 games against division rivals (10 each) and 20 interleague games against teams from the corresponding division in the other league.
- Teams will begin with a 30-man roster, going to 28 after a week, and 26 after another week.
- Players will be paid a full pro-rated salary, which means 37% (60 ÷ 162) of the regular salary.
- All games will have a designated hitter, so that no National League pitchers will bat.
- In any games that go beyond nine innings, each team will begin their half inning with a runner on second base.
- The trading deadline will be August 31, rather than July 31.
- Games will be played at the teams' home stadiums, but it's doubtful that any fans will be allowed to attend.
I suppose any baseball is better than no baseball at all, but this framework will be hard to get used to. Many very strange situations will be created, no doubt. Is it possible that fans could attend on a limited basis after a few weeks? Last month I suggested a staggered seating arrangement, reducing stadiums' capacity to about 40 percent of normal, but at this point we'll be lucky if they allow even 25 percent of the seats to be filled. And why will it take a full month to get ready for Opening Day? Three weeks ought to be plenty.
Most importantly, why in the world did it take so long to get to this point? Baseball fans have endured agonizing uncertainty for over 100 days, and a number of lukewarm fans may lose interest, as was the case after the 1994 players' strike. Why did the players consent to a plan so soon after turning down a proposal that would have been -- from what I can tell -- more advantageous to their side? Something just doesn't add up, but I suppose it has more to do with maintaining a good public image than any concrete benefits. The players seem to have "won" the PR battle, for whatever that's worth.
Belated championship rituals
It's a shame that the Washington Nationals weren't able to unfurl their championship banner and do the World Series ring ceremony as scheduled this year. When those events do finally take place, it will be in a "virtual" setting, televised but otherwise out of the fans' sight. After all they went through to reach the pinnacle of baseball success, the Nats players were robbed of the reward of sharing the joy with 40,000+ cheering fans. What's more, some of their senior players such as Ryan Zimmerman and Howie Kendrick may not return after their contracts expire at the end of this season. I thought about that sad possibility when I saw Ryan's image on the wall of the northeast parking garage at Nationals Park when I drove past it yesterday. Chain link fences surrounded the whole stadium, and it didn't look like the team store was open.
The parking garage on the northeast side of Nationals Park proudly displays a World Series championship banner; this is a closeup view. (Photo taken yesterday.)
Gradually getting caught up
Since I missed the first four months of this awful year, blog-wise, it will take some effort to even get partly caught up with other "normal" baseball news items. All I can say is that I'm doing my best, under trying circumstances. Here is a modest example of what I have been working on, but there's more to come soon:
Exhibition Stadium tweak
Thanks to a photo posted on Facebook by photographer Bob Busser, I made a slight correction to the outfield fence in the Exhibition Stadium diagrams, former home of the Toronto Blue Jays. (I actually completed the work ten days ago, hence the discrepancy between the indicated date of the update and today's date.) The power alleys are a few feet shorter, and the total estimated amount of fair territory is now 106,700 square feet, or 600 less than the previous estimate of 107,300 square feet. There is also another profile in the diagram, showing the grandstand behind home plate, where the press boxes and luxury suites were. Additional details include the pitchers mounds and plates in the bullpens, and the zig-zag ramps leading up to the entries along the sides of the roofed portion of the grandstand in left field. The text now mentions that the "dugouts" were actually at ground level, i.e., not dug out. Exhibition Stadium was one of nine stadiums with such a characteristic that I listed on May 31 last year.
Home of the Braves renamed
While I wasn't paying attention in January, the Atlanta Braves announced that their semi-new home in Cobb County, Georgia has been renamed Truist Park. following the merger of SunTrust Bank and BB&T Bank which resulted in the creation of "Truist Bank." (See the Stadium names chronology page.)
Globe Life Field
Now that baseball is almost guaranteed to be played, the Texas Rangers' new home (Globe Life Field) will officially open next month. That's enough time for me to finish the diagram(s).
More fake turf: yukh!
The center field fence at Marlins Park has been moved in by about ten feet, and the former grass surface has been replaed by artificial turf. So I added a slightly modified new diagram to that page. See
The installation of artificial turf in Miami plus the new stadium in Arlington, Texas means that the number of MLB ballparks lacking genuine grass has risen from three to five this year. For 13 years (from 2010 through 2018) there were only two such ballparks, and for a while it seemed possible that the Toronto Blue Jays might put real grass in the Rogers Centre. Such as not to be. The Turf page has been updated accordingly.
June 28, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Birding last August and September
Little by little, I am getting caught up on blogging about the subjects that interest me, and in some cases I am way behind schedule. Three entire seasons have passed -- fall, winter, and spring -- since my last birding blog post, August 2, 2019. So instead of writing normal prose, I'm going to concentrate on the highlights, listing in brief fashion the dates, places, and notable species that I saw. For special occasions I will write a short paragraph.
The dog days of August
- Aug. 1: Shenandoah Wetlands (Stuarts Draft) -- American Goldfinches tending to a nest
- Aug. 3: Augusta Springs -- Great Egret wading close to the boardwalk
- Aug. 7: Bell's Lane and Montgomery Hall Park -- American Redstart (F / J)
- Aug. 9: Leonard's Pond -- Spotted & Solitary Sandpipers
- Aug. 10: south of Buena Vista -- Swallow-tailed Kite
- Aug. 17: Madison Run -- Acadian Flycatcher, E. Wood Pewee
- Aug. 24: Ramsey's Draft and Dowell's Draft -- Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided Warbler
- Aug. 31: Switzer Lake -- Black-throated Green, Magnolia, & Blackburnian Warblers
The month began as I was preparing to teach at Blue Ridge Community College, which made it convenient for me to stop at Leonard's Pond (about five miles northeast) every so often. Most of my bird outings were to Bell's Lane, but I did make a special trip to Rockbridge County on August 10 in hopes of seeing a rare Swallow-tailed Kite, which I had seen in Florida in March 2017. The bird had been reported near a river about five miles south of Buena Vista, and after about a half hour, the folks had gathered there spotted it. That was quite remarkable!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Common Raven, Green Heron, Swallow-tailed Kite (twice), Red-shouldered Hawk, Barn Swallow. (August 10, south of Buena Vista)
Among my other noteworthy outings in August was my first-ever visit to Switzer Lake (a bird hotspot in the mountains of western Rockingham County) on the 31st. I was fortunate to run into William Leigh, a prominent birder in that area, and he showed me around.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler, E. Wood Pewee, Cedar Waxwing, Scarlet Tanager (F), Red-eyed Vireo, Canada Warbler (?), Magnolia warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Blackburnian Warber (head not shown). (August 31, Switzer Lake)
September: "peak" migration!
- Sept. 7: Elliott Knob (ABC field trip) -- American Redstart (F / J)
- Sept. 15: Turk Mountain, SNP (with Jacqueline) -- Spotted & Solitary Sandpipers
- Sept. 18: Leonard's Pond -- Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper
- Sept. 18: Riverheads High School (ABC field trip) -- hundreds of Chimney Swifts
- Sept. 21: Blue Ridge Parkway (ABC field trip) -- Common Nighthawks, Chestnut-sided Warbler
- Sept. 22: Montgomery Hall Park & Bell's Lane-- Common Yellowthroat, White-throated Sparrow (?)
On Saturday September 7, I led an ambitious field trip, but somehow I got the time mixed up, and arrived a half hour late! Not only that, but I had a sudden onset of Achilles tendonitis, with sharp pain that made me doubt whether I could go ahead with the plans. But somehow, I managed just fine as three other Augusta Bird Club members (Allen Larner, Peter Van Acker, and Ann Cline) joined me on a rigorous hike of roughly nine miles, climbing about 2,400 feet to the very top of Elliott Knob (elev. 4,463 feet) and back down again. The grand expedition began at the Falls Hollow trailhead on Route 42, and proceeded up through a variety of woodland habitats. Near a lush waterfall we saw a small cluster of warblers, vireos, and woodpeckers. After turning left away from the stream and climbing for a while past thick green shrubs, there was a big "fallout" of warblers, most notably Blackburnian Warblers. Eventually, the trail intersected with the very steep Elliott Knob fire road, which leads up to the summit where there are several communication towers. That was another "hot spot," full of Dark-eyed Juncos, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and other "winter" birds that only breed in the highest elevations in Virginia. The view at the top was exhilarating, but the long descent back down was exhausting. We ended the memorable day with 39 species of birds, including 12 species of warblers and 3 species of vireos.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blackburnian Warbler (M), Dark-eyed Junco, E. Wood Pewee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler (M), Blue-headed Vireo, and in center, Cape May Warbler.
I made it to the top of Elliott Knob three previous times: July 13, 2004 (solo), August 6, 2008 (with Jacqueline), and June 29, 2013 (with Allen Larner, Penny Warren, and Ann Cline; a one-way hike going down only). In addition, I did significant birding hikes along Falls Hollow trail (with the Elliott Knob fire road as part of the loop) on August 14, 2006 May 26, 2007 June 1, 2016 ; part way May 15, 2017; Hite Hollow Road June 14, 2016
On September 15, Jacqueline and I went hiking to the top of Turk Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park. It's a modest-sized mountain, conical in shape, with rugged rocks at the summit.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (F), Cape May Warbler, E. Wood Pewee, Black-throated Blue Warbler (F), Common Grackle, and in center Common Yellowthroat. (September 15, Turk Mountain).
On September 18 I went to Leonard's Pond after teaching duties at BRCC were over, and in the evening I joined Penny Warren and other bird club members on a special visit to Riverheads High School, where hundreds of Chimney Swifts were roosting during migration season. It was a spectacular sight to see so many birds gather in one place as the sun set in the west.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Lesser Yellowlegs, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Least Sandpiper, Killdeer, and in center Song Sparrow. (September 18 at Leonard's Pond)
On September 21st I led three other ABC members (Roz Holt, Peter Cooper, and Tom Roberts) on a field trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Rt. 610. There weren't as many warblers as expected, but a big surprise made up for that: for over 15 minutes a large flock of Common Nighthawks (25-30 total) was swooping directly overhead at the southern intersection of those two roads. We were utterly dumbfounded. While birding we met a new birder in this area named Doug, and he is very knowledgeable. Later we visited the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch open house for a while.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Chestnut-sided Warbler, Swainson's Thrush, Hooded Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Common Nighthawk, and Cape May Warbler.
As is my custom, links to a full set of photos, listed chronologically, can be found on the Wild Birds yearly page. With any luck, I'll do another blog post summarizing my observations for the last three months of 2019 in the next day or two.
June 30, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Zimmerman and others opt out
Washington National veteran Ryan Zimmerman is among the MLB players who announced that they are opting out of playing this year, on the grounds that they or their families have special factors putting them at greater risk to covid-19. Joe Ross, who was the main contender for the fifth spot in the starting pitching rotation, did likewise. Zimmerman signed a one-year $2 million contract last winter, and that money is subject to the murky conditions that MLB owners and the players agreed to when it was announced that the season would be postponed in March. Other noteable players opting out include former Astros pitcher Gerritt Cole, now with the Yankees, and Mike Leake of the Diamondbacks. I guess Cole figures that with eight years remaining on his nine-year $324 million contract, he can afford to play it safe. See mlb.com.
If a substantial number of other players opt out, it's going to cause a lot of anxiety. Baseball teams are preparing to reopen under the "new normal" protocols for minimizing the risk of covid-19 contagion, but there will be a significant risk no matter what they do. Several members of the Philadelphia Phillies organization have tested positive for covid-19, and all it takes is one careless individual to put an entire team in serious health jeopardy. Games will be played with a figurative cloud of worry hanging overhead. Do fans really want their favorite players to be exposed to such a mortal risk?
According to plans, the umpires make the official "Play ball!" shout in 15 stadiums across the country around July 23 or 24, but with so much uncertainty, nothing should be assumed. Opening Day this year was supposed to be Thursday, March 26. (Personally, I think baseball should never start until April, and should always finish the regular season by the end of September.)
Web page maintenance
I just made some updates to two of my baseball web pages. First, the Stadium locations page is now a bit more friendly to mobile devices so that you can trigger the map/diagram-changing effects without being redirected to the stadium page for the respective cities, and the larger-scale inset portions of those map/diagrams are shaded pale gray to distinguish them more clearly from the city "map." Second, the Washington Nationals page now includes information about the 2020 season, which of course remains rather uncertain at this point. Also, in the near future (seriously!) I plan to update the Baseball cities page with information about attendance during the decade that was just completed: 2010-2019.
June 30, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Birding from October through December
In my continuing effort to get caught up on blogging about birding (and other subjects), here is a very brief summary of my outdoor nature activities last fall and the early part of last winter. I took advantage of a nice wooded trail at Blue Ridge Community College, and had a few good finds there. During October I led two Augusta Bird Club (ABC) field trips.
- Oct. 3: Blue Ridge Community College -- Common Yellowthroat (J M)
- Oct. 4: Bell's Lane -- Palm Warbler, Vesper Sparrow
- Oct. 5: Blue Ridge Pkwy (ABC) -- N. Parula, RC Kinglets, YB Sapsuckers
- Oct. 11: Augusta Springs -- Magnolia Warbler, Blk-thr. Green Warbler
- Oct. 18: Bell's Lane & Mill Place -- Palm Warbler
- Oct. 19: Bell's Lane: Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Harrier
- Oct. 26: Madison Run (ABC) & Leonard's Pond -- Long-billed Dowitcher (life bird!)
On October 5, a chilly day, bird club members (and one daughter) saw a wide variety of warblers on the Blue Ridge, but they were hard to see, especially as the skies turned gray. We thought the one in the middle was a Tennessee Warbler, but the yellow color suggests a possible Blue-winged Warbler. The Northern Parula was a nice surprise, and we had two early-arriving winter birds: Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.
October 11 was a gorgeous day at Augusta Springs, and I was astounded by the large number of Cedar Waxwings almost as soon as I arrived. At least 30, maybe 40. I spotted Black-throated Green Warblers and Magnolia Warblers foraging among the tree leaves, but didn't get any good photos. I had better luck, however, with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Blue-headed Vireo, and some Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The Augusta Bird Club had a field trip there the following day, and they spotted some of the same birds I did.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Acadian Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (J), and in center, Red-eyed Vireo (Augusta Springs, October 11)
The October 26 field trip to Madison Run got off to a great start, with lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and a Yellow-throated Vireo, but then it quieted down, and we really didn't see much else. The real birding action came later on, at Leonard's Pond, when two of us saw a Long-billed Dowitcher, which was a life bird for me!
Long-billed Dowitcher (Leonard's Pond, October 26)
Birding in November
- Nov. 1: BRCC, Leonard's Pond, Bell's Lane -- YR Warblers, Wilson's Snipe, RC Kinglet
- Nov. 2: Mill Place -- Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron
- Nov. 10: Braley Pond -- Winter Wren, Fox Sparrow, GC Kinglets
- Nov. 11: Blue Ridge C.C. -- Yellow-rumped Warbler, Am. Goldfinches, House Finches
- Nov. 15: Mill Place & Bell's Lane (ABC) -- Wild Turkey, N. Harrier, Hooded Mergansers
- Nov. 23: Chimney Hollow (ABC) -- Winter Wrens, Red-breasted Nuthatches, GC Kinglets
- Nov. 27: Mill Place, Bell's Lane -- Horned Grebe, Hooded Mergansers
The first day of November I saw several Yellow-rumped Warblers around Blue Ridge Community College once again; they had been there all week. Then over at Leonard's Pond, there was a Wilson's Snipe and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet at close range. Finally, at Bell's Lane I had nice views of a Great Blue Heron and a White-throated Sparrow, only my second sighting of the season.
November 10 was a big day for me, as I went for a three-mile hike from Braley Pond upstream along the Johnson Run trail, and then looping back. It was the first time I had done that circuit hike. Early on I heard what I thought was a Brown Creeper singing, but it turned out to be a Winter Wren. I was utterly enthralled! At two different locations along the way I saw several Fox Sparrows, as well as some Golden-crowned Kinglets.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Belted Kingfisher, Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Winter Wren. (Braley Pond, November 10)
On Friday, November 15, I was one of five Augusta Bird Club members who went for a walk at Mill Place, where we saw a Swamp Sparrow and two Wild Turkeys. At the Hardee's pond where were four Hooded Mergansers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and others. Finally, at Bell's Lane we saw an adult male Northern Harrier!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Swamp Sparrow, Wild Turkey, Cedar Waxwing, Hooded Mergansers, and Northern Harrier. (Mill Place and Bell's Lane, November 15)
Saturday, November 23rd was chilly and overcast, but to my surprise six club members and friends joined me on a vigorous and enjoyable hike along the Chimney Hollow trail. Highlights were multiple Winter Wrens, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Golden-crowned Kinglets. We also had brief glimpses of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Pileated Woodpecker. I only got one bird photo the whole day, however: a Golden-crowned Kinglet.
Birding in December
- Dec. 8: Bell's Lane -- Northern Harrier
- Dec. 14: Montgomery Hall Park & Betsy Bell Hill -- Merlin, Hermit Thrush, YB Sapsucker
- Dec. 28: Waynesboro -- Sharp-shinned Hawk (J)
- Dec. 30: Bell's Lane -- Northern Harrier
Teaching duties occupied most of my time in December, but I managed to find time to do the Christmas Bird Count on the 14th. I was joined by Peter Van Acker and Ann Cline, and almost as soon as we arrived at Montgomery Hall Park, we saw a Merlin perched in a tree! That's a quite uncommon kind of falcon, and coincidentally I had seen one at the same park a year earlier. Other highlights included Hermit Thrush, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hermit Thrush, Swamp Sparrow, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Merlin. (Montgomery Hall Park & Betsy Bell Hill, Dec. 14)
Later in the month I saw Northern Harriers several times along Bell's Lane, and on the 20th I saw some Short-eared Owls there as well. On the 28th I happened to see a young Sharp-shinned Hawk perched in a tree along a busy street in Waynesboro.
Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk (Waynesboro, Dec. 28)