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January 31, 2023 [LINK / comment]

Catching up: Astros win the World Series

Well, it's been quite a while since I have tended to this web site (three months, in fact), so as as the first month of this new year of 2023 comes to a close, let's take a quick look back at the thrilling conclusion of the 2022 baseball season. On the National League side, upsets by spunky wild card teams (the Padres and Phillies) blocked the Braves and the Dodgers from advancing to the NLCS as had been widely expected. The fact that neither of those teams even made it to the NLCS was quite stunning. In my mind, this really calls into question the new MLB postseason format, but it's doubt that they will ever go back to just one or two wild card teams per league. In the American League, in contrast, the higher-seeded teams with a first-round bye advanced to the ALCS: the Yankees and Astros. After sweeping the Yankees, the Astros were clearly on a roll.

Game 1 of the World Series was played in Houston, and those upstart Phillies stunned the home crowd with a 6-5 extra-inning victory. That reminded me of the 2019 World Series Game 1, when a National League wild card team (the Nationals) did the same thing. But any hopes that history might repeat itself were dashed in Game 2, as the Astros beat the visitors 5-2. Game 3 took place at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, and star slugger Bryce Harper (a former Washington National, some may recall) got things started with a two-run homer in the first inning. An inning later, Eric Bohm and Brandon Marsh hit solo homers to give the Phillies a 4-0 lead. In the fifth inning, Kyle Schwarber (another former National) and Rhys Hoskins hit two more homers, and the Phillies ended up winning easily, 7-0. This raised hopes that the Phillies might be able to win Games 4 and 5 at celebrate a world championship at home, but such was not to be. Quite the contrary, Game 4 was a drastic reversal of momentum, as the Phillies failed to get even a single hit as the Astros won it, 5-0. Cristian Javier was relieved after the sixth inning, having thrown 97 pitches, and three other Astros pitchers combined for a no-hitter -- only second such feat in World Series history! (The other time was Don Larsen's perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956.) That evened the series, making Game 5 truly pivotal. Justin Verlander went five innings and got his second World Series win of his career as the Astros held on to win it, 3-2. So the Astros returned home to Houston with a 3-2 series lead, hoping to avoid a repeat of what the Nationals did to them in 2019. Neither team scored until Kyle Schwarber hit a solo homer in the top of the sixth inning. After Zach Wheeler hit a batter and then gave up a single in the bottom of that inning, he was replaced by Jose Alvarado, Yordan Alvarez crushed a home run on top of the batters-eye balcony in center field. With a 3-1 lead the Astros never looked back, and ended up winning the final game, 4-1. The Phillies put up a good fight, but it just wasn't their year.

By winning the last three games to claim their second World Series championship in the last six years, the Astros managed to fulfill their high expectations. I hesitate to use this term, but any time one team wins multiple World Series plus multiple league championships within the span of a decade, one might speak of a dynasty -- if it weren't for the questionable tactics that may have tipped the balance in their favor in those earlier years, that is.

The annual baseball chronology page has been udpated accordingly. (It also shows the planned site of the All Star Game for the next two years -- T-Mobile Park (Seattle Mariners) and Globe Life Field (Texas Rangers) -- but as the Atlanta Braves found out in 2021, sometimes those plans don't end up the way they were expected to.

Catching up: 2022 awards

Just for the record, here is a quick run-down of the top baseball awards for 2022.

Most Valuable Player:
Aaron Judge (AL, NYY): 62 home runs!
Paul Goldschmidt (NL, STL): 115 RBIs

Cy Young Award:
Justin Verlander (AL, HOU): 1.75 ERA
Sandy Alcantara (NL, MIA): 2.28 ERA

Rookie of the Year:
Julio Rodriguez (AL, SEA): 28 HRs
Michael Harris (NL, ATL): .297 BA

Manager of the Year:
Terry Francona (AL, CLE): 92-70 W-L record (1st place AL-C)
Buck Showalter (NL, NYM): 101-61 W-L record (2nd place NL-E)

Sports stadiums in North Carolina

About four months ago (late September) I was in the middle of a weekend trip to North Carolina, during the course of which I managed to squeeze in a little baseball (and football) sightseeing. While visiting the city of Raleigh, where North Carolina State University is located, so I stopped to take a peek at Carter-Finley Stadium. I casually walked into the athletic training facility like I owned the place and snapped some quick photos before anyone noticed. smile Little did I realize that, at about that time, the NCSU Wolfpack was briefly ranked #10 in the nation! They fell short in a big showdown with Clemson on October 1, however, and likewise lost to the University of Maryland in the Duke's Mayo Bowl last month.

Carter-Finley Stadium panorama

A panoramic view of Carter-Finley Stadium, as seen from the exercise / training facility behind the southeast end zone. (Some window glare is visible on the lower left and lower right.)

New stadium page:
Durham Bulls Athletic Park!

Not far from Raleigh is the city of Durham, home of the Durham Bulls, made famous (or even more famous than before) by the movie Bull Durham, starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins. It's one of my favorite baseball movies, and I was eager to see where it was filmed. So we drove into Durham, and I soon located Durham Bulls Athletic Park, built into a slope on the south side of downtown. There was a game that day, and I really would have enjoyed seeing it, but I could not muster a "majority vote," and thus consoled myself with an external inspection of the facilities. I tried wangling my way inside without a ticket, without luck, but eventually found a spot in the left field corner that is open to everyone until shortly before the game begins, apparently. I got some very good interior photos from that vantage point. As I was leaving, I persuaded the friendly guys at the center field gate to let me inside for just a minute to take the photo you see below. It was a beautiful day, just perfect for a ballgame.

Durham Bulls Athletic Park

And so, as you might imagine, I got busy after returning home on making diagrams for Durham Bulls Athletic Park. As you can see in the thumbnail image, I paid special attention to the buildings that surround the stadium, since it was evidently constructed as part of an integrated development project. Not far away are various iconic reminders of Durham's economic roots in the tobacco industry: Lucky Strike cigarettes, etc.

Durham Bulls Athletic Park from CF

Durham Bulls Athletic Park from center field. The guys at the ticket gate were kind enough to let me walk up to the railing behind the grass slope that serves as the batter's eye backdrop.

Not until I got home did I realize that the movie Bull Durham was actually filmed at a different location: the Durham Athletic Park, located about a mile north of downtown. D'oh!!! It is still standing, perhaps serving as a historical site, so I will have to go back to Durham again for a visit. While watching that movie recently, I noticed a scene featuring the rather ornate exterior of World War Memorial Stadium, located in Greensboro, North Carolina. Inside it is rather odd, with an oval-shaped grandstand somewhat reminiscent of the Polo Grounds.

Dismantling of RFK Stadium begins

Two miles east of the U.S. Capitol, meanwhile, a certain grand old stadium is gradually being dismantled in preparation for a complete demolition later this year. If I understand correctly, measures to prevent asbestos contamination make it impossible for the public to watch the work that is taking place inside RFK Stadium. Seats from the lower deck went on sale in December, and upper deck seats are now becoming available. You can check the progress of the demolition at Stay tuned... frown

Etc. etc. etc.

(Cue Yul Brynner.) Among the many, many baseball-related news items that I need to analyze and digest are significant changes to Progressive Field, Rogers Centre, Comerica Park, and perhaps others. I owe Mike Zurawski, Angel Amezquita, Terry Wallace, Bruce Orser, and others hearty thanks and humble apologies for their continued assistance in keeping up with things. And what about the long-rumored sale of the Washington Nationals? The Lerners are apparently not satisfied with the bids they have received, which is a shame. Among my other overdue chores is wrapping up a review of the Nationals' 2022 season, including a daily graph of their win-loss record.

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