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May 7, 2021 [LINK / comment]

Nats surge to first place, fall to last

In the evenly-matched National League East Division, only a small margin separates the best teams from the -- ahem -- others. The Washington Nationals swept the Miami Marlins at home last weekend, earning them a share of first place, and after the Mets lost on Monday (when the Nats were resting), they briefly held sole possession of first place. But then the Atlanta Braves came to town, beating the Nationals three times in a row. As a result, the Nats have fallen to fifth place, and the precious momentum they had built in recent weeks ground to a screeching halt.

In last Saturday's game, Patrick Corbin had his best outing of the year, giving up just two runs over seven innings. Yan Gomes homered, and Josh Bell finally broke out of his lengthy slump, batting in four runs. Final score: Nats 7, Marlines 2. On Sunday, Max Scherzer took the mound and soon laid to rest any fears that his previous outing (April 27 vs. the Blue Jays) might portend a trend. He pitched a full nine innings, with nine strikeouts, and did not allow a run until the final frame when Isan Diaz hit a leadoff homer. For the Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman provided all of the offensive firepower, with a three-run homer in the third inning. Nats 3, Marlins 1. Sweep! smile

On Tuesday night, the Braves came to Washington, and the first five innings were a classic pitchers' duel between the Nats' Joe Ross and the Braves Huascar Ynoa. Ronald Acuñ hit a solo homer in the fifth inning, and Ross was relieved an inning later as the Braves got a rally going. But Tanner Rainey completely lost control, as the Braves' pitcher (Ynoa) hit a grand slam to take a 6-0 lead. The Nats scored once in the seventh inning, and that was it. On Wednesday, the Nats' young Erick Fedde gave up home runs in the third and fourth innings, and the Nats' attempts to catch up fell short, as the visitors won again, 5-3. In the Thursday afternoon series finale (broadcast by YouTube), Jon Lester had another decent outing (his second this year), but the Braves got clutch RBIs when they needed it, while the Nats let multiple run-scoring opportunities slip by. It didn't help when, with two outs and two runners on base, the umpire called Victor Robles out on a very low pitch to end the eighth inning. Manager Davey Martinez only objected briefly; he should have really let that umpire (Nick Mahrley) have it. Ryan Zimmerman led off the bottom of the ninth with a line drive double to the left field corner, but he (or his pinch runner) never made it past third base as the next three batters were each out. Final score: Braves 3, Nationals 2. Sweep! frown

Two more no-hitters!!!

In Seattle on Wednesday, Baltimore Orioles' pitcher John Means threw a no-hitter to beat the Mariners 6-0, and it would have been a perfect game if a batter (Sam Haggerty) had not reached first base on a third strike wild pitch in the third inning. Means now has a 4-0 record, with an ERA of 1.37 -- fourth best in the majors!

And in Cleveland earlier this evening, Wade Miley went the full nine innings without allowing a hit as his team (the Cincinnati Reds) beat the Indians, 3-0. Miley is now 4-2 with a 2.00 ERA. It's a very odd trend that so many no-hitters are happening this year, even more than in recent years...

Superdome super-duper update


Prompted by having seen it with my own eyes two months ago, I made some major revisions to the (Mercedes Benz)* Superdome diagrams. While reading up on the history of the architectural marvel, I came across an important figure: the diameter of the dome is 680 feet. I realized that the existing diagram -- which I did in 2013 -- was too big (it indicated a dome diameter of 700 feet), so I set out to do some corrections. Along the way I realized that there were multiple seating configurations for football games in the pre-2011 era when the lower deck was movable. So, there is now a "standard" football diagram as well as a "modified" one, which seems to pertain to Super Bowls or perhaps other special games. There are now separate lower-deck diagrams for football and baseball, highlighting how the lower deck was shifted for the two sports, as well as an "opaque roof" diagram that shows the eight gates (A - H) and the adjacent streets. For a long time I was uncertain about the precise orientation of the football and baseball fields, but by using my Fodor's/USA Today Four Sport Stadium guide, some online sources, and my own photos, I was able to reach the proper deduction. Elementary!?

* The ten-year stadium naming rights contract with Mercedes Benz ends this year, and I am not aware if a renewal is expected. Given that Mercedes Benz has a stadium naming rights contract with another NFL team (the Atlanta Falcons), my guess is that they will let this one slide.

Stadiums in New Orleans

While not of great importance to baseball per se, my interest in the other stadiums was piqued by having visited New Orleans for the first time a few weeks ago. Almost all sports fans are familiar with the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Cotton Bowl stadiums (as opposed to the events bearing those names), but I only had a vague idea about the traditional venue of the Sugar Bowl. Tulane Stadium, a massive oval with a small upper deck, hosted the Sugar Bowl from 1935 until 1974, after which the Superdome opened, and it also hosted the Super Bowl in 1970, 1972, and 1975. Tulane Stadium seated over 80,000 fans, which was far more than Tulane University's football team would ever need, so it was obviously expanded specifically for the Sugar Bowl. After the Superdome opened in 1976, it was abandoned and then demolished in 1980. Tulane's football team played in the Superdome from 1976 until Yulman Stadium was built (just north of where Tulane Stadium had previously been) in 1999.

What about baseball? Zephyr Field was built in the western suburb of Metairie, Louisiana, in 1997, and was home of the New Orleans Zephyrs until the team changed its name to the Baby Cakes in 2017. At the same time, the stadium was renamed "Shrine on Airline," its previous nickname. Unfortunately, New Orleans bore the brunt of the big contraction of minor league teams, and the franchise relocated to Wichita after 2019. As a result, that relatively new 10,000-seat stadium now is essentially abandoned.

Previously, New Orleans had a minor league team called the Pelicans from 1901-1959 (AA), and in 1977 (AAA). For whatever reason, baseball just never developed a strong presence in the Big Easy, which suggests that the whole idea of making the Superdome adaptable to baseball use was probably a Big Mistake.

Finally, the Tulane University baseball team has played at Turchin Stadium (subsequently appended with "Greer Field at"), just north of Yulman Stadium, since 1991.

New Orleans stadiums

May 26, 2021 [LINK / comment]

Birding in April: pretty good, but...

With more time on my hands than I usually have during the spring months, I had high hopes to see some of the less-common migrating warblers, but thus far the results have not been particularly noteworthy. On Easter Day (April 4) I saw my first N. Rough-winged Swallows and a Barn Swallow at pond in front of the Frontier Culture Museum, and later that day saw my first Savannah Sparrow on Bell's Lane. Except when calling attention to special events or noteworthy/unusual sightings, the captions to the following photo montages will suffice to describe the birding highlights of the month.

Montages 2021 Apr 8

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-bellied Woodpecker, E. Towhee, N. Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. (Montgomery Hall Park & Bell's Lane extended, April 8)

April 10: Cooper's Hawk in the back yard, followed by a visit (my first) to the Broadway water treatment plant to see a distant Eared Grebe (as well as Ruddy Ducks, etc.), and then the JMU Arboretum in Harrisonburg.

April 11: casual walk in Ridgeview Park, Waynesboro with Jacqueline; Palm Warbler (first of season / FOS) and Brown Creeper.

Montages 2021 Apr 11

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-rumped Warblers (two), Blue-headed Vireo, Palm Warbler (two views of the same bird), and Brown Creeper. (Ridgeview Park, Waynesboro, April 11)

April 15: Augusta Bird Club field trip to Bell's Lane led by Penny Warren. Highlights: FOS Chimney Swift, Osprey, and three Blue-winged Teals (2 M, 1 F).

Montages 2021 Apr 15

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Amer. Goldfinch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chimney Swift, Brown Thrasher, Osprey, Great Blue Heron, and (right center), Blue-winged Teal. (Bell's Lane, April 15)

April 18: At Braley Pond, a Bald Eagle flew right past me and landed in a nearby tree long enough for me to get a decent photo. I also had a nice closeup of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

Montages 2021 Apr 18

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Downy Woodpecker, E. Phoebe, Bald Eagle, Broad-winged Hawk, Blue-headed Vireo, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. (Braley Pond, April 18)

April 24: Augusta Bird Club field trip to Augusta Springs Wetlands, with six members; the only trip I led that month. Almost immediately a Yellow-throated Vireo in the treetops made its presence known. Two White-breasted Nuthatches were occupied with a nest hole next to the parking area. Highlights along the boardwalk included an Orchard Oriole (FOS), a female Mallard with ten ducklings, and a Brown Thrasher. Along the upland trail, we saw Louisiana Waterthrushes (FOS), Ovenbirds (FOS), a Worm-eating Warbler (FOS), and some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. We heard but did not see Pine Warblers, a Black-throated Green Warbler (FOS), and two Red-breasted Nuthatches. There were also Blue-headed Vireos at a few places, as well as an Eastern Towhee or two. Near the springs toward the end of our walk, most of us (but not me) saw a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The eBird checklist compiled by Dan Perkuchin included 41 species total at Augusta Springs. (We later learned that Vic Laubach had seen a Kentucky Warbler there earlier in the morning.) On the way back to Staunton, most of us drove to the Swoope area to check out the Bald Eagle nest along North Mountain Road. The mother, father, and two eaglets all seem to be doing just fine. As an added bonus, we spotted one or two Red-headed Woodpeckers in a nearby tree. Those and other birds in Swoope raised our species count to about 46 for the day.

Montages 2021 Apr 24

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Bald Eagle, E. Towhee, Louisiana Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Red-headed Woodpecker, Blue-headed Vireo, Worm-eating Warbler, and (center) Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. (Augusta Springs and Swoope, April 24)

April 26: return visit to Augusta Springs (with Ann Cline) with nicer weather, but pretty much the same birds. The Worm-eating Warbler below looks like it was hopping along the branch, but was probably about to take off.

Montages 2021 Apr 26

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Amer. Goldfinch, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Brown Thrasher*, and Worm-eating Warbler. (Augusta Springs except *: back yard, April 26)

April 27: Rt. 610 / Blue Ridge Parkway, with my first Black-and-white and Cerulean Warblers of the year, as well as my first American Redstart.

Montages 2021 Apr 27

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Yellow-throated Vireo, Ovenbird, Broad-winged Hawk, and (center) Cerulean Warbler. (Rt. 610 / Blue Ridge Parkway, April 27)

April 29: I organized an informal "expedition" to the "Warbler Road" area east of Buchanan, Virginia, with four other ABC members: Peter Van Acker, Penny Warren, Ann Cline, and Linda Corwin. (It wasn't an official "field trip," since it would have been impractical to let any member come along on such a long trip.) We drove in two cars, and it was my first time birding in that renowned "hot spot." Highlights: Cape May Warbler (FOS), Indigo Bunting (FOS), and White-eyed Vireo (FOS) near the James River; Wild Turkey and Orchard Oriole near the village of Solitude; and Northern Parulas (incl. a female with nesting material), Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Hooded Warbler along the roads (Rt. 59, 768, and 812) ascending the Blue Ridge.

Soon after reaching the Blue Ridge Parkway we took a lunch break, and then headed north, stopping at several overlooks along the way. After crossing the James River we stopped at the visitor center and then recrossed the river on the pedestrian bridge, and found several more species such as Blue Grosbeak (FOS), Common Yellowthroat (FOS), and Warbling Vireo (FOS). After that we paused briefly at a pond just north of the visitor center and saw some Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers. The final stop was at Yankee Horse Ridge historical site, where a railroad used to pass, a few miles south of the road to Raphine. There we saw multiple American Redstarts, Black-and-white Warblers, and my first Black-throated Blue Warbler of the year.

Montages 2021 Apr 29

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Parula, Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Cape May Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Hooded Warbler, and Orchard Oriole. ("Warbler Road" / Blue Ridge Parkway, April 29)

Montages 2021 Apr 29

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Blue Grosbeak, Wild Turkey, Worm-eating Warbler, and (center) Amer. Redstart. ("Warbler Road" / BRP, April 29)

So, even though April ended with a fairly big "bang," bird-wise, overall it fell a bit short of what I had been anticipating. More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological page.

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