After a fairly mild December (see March 31 blog post), real winter weather finally arrived in January. We had significant snow falls (at least an inch or so) on the 3rd, 16th, 21st, and 28th days of the month. (It also snowed on the 13th of February, the 12th and 26th of March, and the 18th of April!)
Late in the afternoon of New Year's Day I went to Bell's Lane, and had a glimpse of a Short-eared Owl just as dusk was falling. On January 5, a White-crowned Sparrow appeared in our back yard, which was rather unusual. They generally stay outside of town, in contrast to the more "urbanized" White-throated Sparrows.
Being very busy with school duties, I didn't get out for any actual birding until January 15, when Jacqueline and I drove to Waynesboro. At the Invista ponds we saw a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Great Blue Heron, and -- thanks to Jacqueline's sharp eyes -- a Pied-billed Grebe! Then we drove north through Crimora and saw another Red-shouldered Hawk, and after heading back east we saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a female American Kestrel, and a third Red-shouldered Hawk along the road.
On January 18 another unusual bird appeared out back, a Brown-headed Cowbird, and once again it may have been related to the heavy snow, forcing birds to look elsewhere for food. On January 21 a Common Grackle showed up out back, likewise snow-related. I got some nice photos of a Red-bellied Woodpecker in the snow that day. On January 29, I made it out to Bell's Lane, and saw a Cedar Waxwing and a Red-tailed Hawk, along with the usual White-crowned Sparrows and American Robins; Robins seemed to be more plentiful than usual during the winter of 2021-2022. Northern Harrier
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Common Grackle, Northern Cardinal, Red-bellied Woodpecker with a Blue Jay, White-throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Junco. (N. Staunton, Jan. 21, 2022)
On February 5, I stopped briefly at Eagles Nest Airport, just west of Waynesboro, and was amazed to see what I initially thought was a young Tundra Swan, but turns out to have been a Trumpeter Swan. Then along Route 250 in front of the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center I saw a Red-shouldered Hawk, probably the same one Jacqueline and I had seen three weeks earlier. Inside the campus I walked along the trail to the pond and spotted some Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Eastern Bluebirds, and a Northern Flicker.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-shouldered, Northern Flicker, Eastern Bluebird, Trumpeter Swan, and Canada Goose. (Waynesboro & Fishersville, Feb. 5, 2022)
On Saturday February 19 I was amazed to see a Hermit Thrush in our back yard, and I just barely got a recognizable photo of it before it departed. Then, on the bright and sunny afternoon of Monday February 21, I paid a visit to Bell's Lane, and had an excellent view of a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, other woodpeckers, and glimpses of a Yellow-rumped Warbler. A return to that location five days later yielded little other than a distant Red-tailed Hawk.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hairy Woodpecker, White-crowned Sparrow, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and American Kestrel. (Bell's Lane, Feb. 21, 2022)
The above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.
Among the biggest surprises from the (lockout-shortened) month of April in baseball has been the abysmal record (currently 3-22, or .120) of the Cincinnati Reds. Baseball Digest had the Reds pegged to finish in third place this year, but that seems extremely unlikely right now. Aging star Joey Votto is currently batting .122, almost exactly the same as his team's win-loss record. At age 38, he is a contemporary of recently-retired Nationals' star Ryan Zimmerman. Maybe Joey should have followed Ryan's example. Only the Arizona Diamondbacks have a lower team batting average (.190) than the Reds (.203) do. As for pitching, the Reds have by far the worst team ERA: 6.86.
Baseball Digest also forecast that the Chicago White Sox would win the AL Central Division, which is currently led by the Minnesota Twins. How long can that situation last? I don't even remember the last time the Twins were postseason contenders. The White Sox have won four games in a row, and I got to watch them beat the Red Sox in Fenway Park on Apple TV+ this evening. The Chisox' ace pitcher Lucas Giolito has actually been eclipsed by a slightly younger (age 26) pitcher named Dylan Cease. (And desist?)
Another big surprise is that the Boston Red Sox -- picked by Baseball Digest to win the AL East -- are now in last place, behind the Baltimore Orioles!!! That inevitably leaves the field open for the Yankees to dominate the division, and they currently lead the majors with an 18-7 (.720) record. Payroll, payroll, payroll... But close behind are the perennially underfunded yet overachieving Tampa Bay Rays, who are now 16-10 (.615).
To me it's no surprise that the Los Angeles Angels are in first place, but for some reason Baseball Digest had them pegged at fourth place. Anthony Rendon, who signed a fat contract with them after leaving the Nationals following their World Series triumph in 2019, is recovering from an injury-plagued 2021 season.
Likewise, the big lead in the NL East currently enjoyed by the New York Mets is no surprise to me, but Baseball Digest had them finishing in second place behind the Atlanta Braves. It's pretty clear that their forecasts were made before the 2022 rosters had been finalized -- another side-effect of the MLB lockout that postponed all the hot-stove wheeling and dealing until mid-March. Any team with both Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer in their pitching rotation is almost guaranteed to make a deep postseason run in October.
Finally, the Milwaukee Brewers are ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, and the L.A. Dodgers have a slim lead over the San Diego Padres in the NL West. The Giants have fallen into fourth place, but they're only three games behind the Dodgers.
The Nationals' s-l-o-w rebuilding
The Washington Nationals are also in last place, likewise badly underachieving, but they are at least showing occasional glimpses of a brighter future. Believe it or not, the Nationals briefly had the second-highest team batting average in the majors, and are now tied for third (at .254) with the Cleveland Guardians. Their slugging star thus far is first-baseman Josh Bell, who is tied for fourth place in batting average (.348) in the National League. Last year's second-place MVP candidate Juan Soto has gotten off to a slow start, and for a couple days actually had a lower batting average than perennial under-achiever (?) Victor Robles, but has improved recently. Robles started to improve recently, and in the Nats' memorable 14-4 triumph over the Giants in San Francisco on April 29 (ending an awful 8-game losing streak), he went 4 for 5 at the plate. The Nats took two of three games in Oracle Park, knocking the Giants out of first place. That was a big surprise!
Pitching is another matter, however: the Nationals' 5.03 team ERA is exceeded only by the Cincinnati Reds. (See above.) That number is artificially inflated, however, by a few bad outings of Patrick Corbin and Erick Fedde, both of whom have shown much improvement lately. Because of the lack of run support, however, Corbin has yet to register a win. He actually pitched a complete game (8 innings) in a loss to the Rockies in Denver on Wednesday. Josiah Gray (acquired from the Dodgers in the big trade for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner last year) had a couple rough starts, but is showing great promise now. Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are both recovering from injuries and/or surgeries last year, and may be available to pitch later this month, finally.
The Washington Nationals page has been updated with roster and salary information as well as data for April, when they went 7-16. (They are now 9-18.) As a reflection of the extreme roster turnover, there are photos for only four of the nine starting players on that page. (Since the National League has adopted the Designated Hitter rule this year, I will need to modify that starting-team graphic to include the Nats' DH, Nelson Cruz.) Tonight the Nationals begin a three-game series in Anaheim, after losing two out of three games to the Rockies in Denver.
Stadiums by class
Another one of my favorite web pages was recently updated: Stadiums by class. The tentative classification of "Postmodern" stadiums (the recently-built ones that were formerly classified as "Neoclassical" but don't even pretend to harken back to the early 20th century "glory days") has been definitively confirmed. Among the enhancements to that page, there is a new "mass rollover effect" instantly showing the baseball vs. football configurations for all 14 dual-use stadiums, which will provide delight for many a stadium geek. That technique was previously done for the "football stadiums used for baseball" classification, which now includes (Baltimore's) Memorial Stadium and (Montreal's) Olympic Stadium. That was done at the suggestion of Angel Amezquita. I'll probably do likewise for the classic-era stadiums as well, since all of them hosted football games at one point or another. Another change on that page is that the MLB lifetime of each stadium is now shown under each one's thumbnail image, with a gray background to indicates which ones have been demolished. Enjoy!
The unusually intense spring semester is over, allowing me time (at last) to get back to refining stadium diagrams, along with other website maintenance tasks. I'll also be able to respond to recent e-mail inquiries and acknowledge the monetary support kindly extended by several fans.
After a delay of one week caused by the labor dispute between MLB owners and players, the baseball season began on Thursday, April 8. The Washington Nationals were originally scheduled to play their first game as guests of the New York Mets, but as things turned out, the roles were reversed. On Friday the 8th, Max Scherzer faced his former team mates (or what is left of them) as the number two starter of his new team, the Mets. (The Mets' ace Jacob deGrom was placed on the injured list just before the season began.) Never one to shrink from a challenge, Max gave up a game-tying home run to Josh Bell in the fourth inning of that game, but the Mets quickly regained the lead and won it, 7-3. The Nats were behind going into the eighth inning of the Sunday game, in danger of being swept in a four-game home series, when the Nats staged a rally that was capped by a two-run single by Nelson Cruz, one of the newest members of the team. (He had hit a solo homer in the first inning.) And that's how the home team won that game, 4-2.
The Nationals took two out of three games from the Braves in Atlanta, which was a big accomplishment for a team with low expectations, but then they managed to lose three out of four games against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. After two lousy starts against the Mets and the Braves, left-hander Patrick Corbin finally pitched very well into the sixth inning today, but his team mates couldn't hold the lead and the Nats lost, 5-3. One highlight from that series was when Juan Soto smashed a line-drive home run (his third of the year) to right field, bouncing through the entry portal at PNC Park and into the Allegheny River. Nats first baseman Josh Bell did that a few times when he was with the Pirates, but not many others have. In any event, the Nationals are now in last place in the NL Eastern Division, with a 4-7 record. Over the first week and a half, Erick Fedde has turned in the most reliable performances on the mound, while Josiah Gray (featured on a mini-poster that came with the Washington Post on April 7) bounced back from a rough start on April 8 and got the win against the Braves on April 13. Josh Rogers pitched very well in his first start (April 11, when the Nats beat the Braves 11-2), but then faltered yesterday. The Nats' other current starter (number three in the rotation) is Joan Adon, who had to be replaced in the fifth inning of both games he played.
Aside from Nelson Cruz, the 41-year old slugger who signed a one-year contract with the Nats almost as soon as the lockout ended, the Nats have also picked up third baseman Maikel Franco, who had a few very good years with the Phillies, and relief pitcher Steve Cishek, who has been all around the majors. Those acquisitions represented a big improvement in the Nationals' rather hollow roster, but they are still ranked as below-average by most keen observers of baseball, and will need a lot of luck to somehow grab a wild card spot this year. The Nats also brought back popular relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, who has actually done a lot so far this year. He used to rely almost exclusively on his fastball, but now he mixes that up with sliders and change-ups, and has been very effective, with zero hits allowed and zero earned runs in 4 2/3 innings pitched. Lucius Fox, Luis Garcia and Andrew Stevenson were sent down to the minors. The Washington Nationals page will have to be updated soon.
Elsewhere in the majors, the Mets (currently 7-3) have been leading the NL East from the very beginning, with the Phillies a strong potential rival. In his at-bat in his first day in Philadelphia, former National (and Red Sock) Kyle Schwarber pleased the home crowd in Citizens Bank Park with a lead-off home run! Since then, however, he has kind of fallen off. Reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper is looking as sharp as ever at the plate. Tears flowed in Atlanta when it was announced that their star slugger Freddie Freeman had signed a long, juicy contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were overstocked with talent already. The Dodgers lost two of their opening series games in Denver against the Rockies, which was quite a surprise, but since then they have won six consecutive games, so they are right where you would expect them to be: on top of their division. (The Giants are tied with them, also with a 7-2 record.) The NL Central is tightly contested, as four teams are within a game of each other at the top of the division. At the bottom are the Cincinnati Reds.
On the American League side, the AL East is very competitive, with four teams near the top and one (the Baltimore Orioles) at the bottom. The Chicago White Sox are leading the AL Central Division by two games, while the L.A. Angels have a slim lead in the AL West. Anthony Rendon is hoping to bounce back from a mediocre, injury-plagued 2021 season.
Are the Nationals for sale?
Last week the Lerner family announced that it was willing to consider partnership with additional owners, and perhaps even selling the team outright. That was a stunning revelation, since the Lerners have been such gung-ho competitors from the moment they acquired the franchise from Major League Baseball in 2006. Two factors explain this reversal: their overuse of deferred compensation packages for such star players as Max Scherzer, and the fact that economic conditions in the retail industry where they made their fortune have deteriorated sharply in recent years. (Thanks, Amazon!) Perhaps Jeff Bezos will buy the Nationals...
Indians become the Guardians
In Cleveland last month it was announced that the Indians would be renamed the "Guardians," which rhymes with their previous name and bears a meaningful connection to downtown Cleveland. It refers to the "Guardians of Traffic" statues on either side of Hope Memorial Bridge, which spans the Cuyahoga River and which I crossed en route to Progressive Field in August 2012. It's an OK name, but I kind of wish they had chosen "Spiders," which was the franchise's name during most of the early 20th Century. It is the first major name change of an MLB franchise (i.e., a clear change in identity) not accompanied by a relocation to a new city since the Houston Colt 45s became the "Astros" in 1965.
That name change has been duly noted on the MLB franchises and Chronology (annual) pages. I should probably also note that Oakland Coliseum has officially been renamed as "RingCentral Coliseum," but given the many such name changes of that stadium in the past, it is uncertain whether anyone will take notice, or how long the new name will last. No news on getting a new stadium built in Oakland, and some have suggested that the Athletics might follow their former house-mates, the Raiders, who relocated to Las Vegas last year.
Redskins become the Commanders
On a related note, the Washington Football Team, as the former Redskins were known from July 2020 until earlier this year, were officially renamed the "Commanders." Fan reaction has been mixed, but nobody seems especially excited about it. I suppose that is to be expected. It occurred to me that "Commandos" might be a more energetic-sounding name for the team. The widely-disliked team owner Dan Snyder has apparently committed to staying out of the public eye while the once-great team that he owns struggles to regroup. Meanwhile, he is maneuvering to get good terms for either building a new stadium or somehow upgrading their current stadium, FedEx Field, in Landover, Maryland. The ideal solution of tearing down RFK Stadium (which is essentially abandoned) and replacing it with a suitable new stadium is by no means assured of approval by the D.C. government, even though the obstacle of the old name -- considered racist by many people -- has been removed.
Camden Yards renovation / update!
Earlier this year, the Baltimore Orioles announced that about ten rows of seats would be removed from left field, moving the wall back by about 26 feet up to the bullpens, which were not affected by this. Construction got underway in January and was completed in March, resulting a large expansion of the playing field: fair territory has grown from about 108,100 to 111,900 square feet. This created a sharp corner in the left field power alley, which could become a possible hazard for outfielders chasing fly balls. As a result, the wall height was raised from 7 to 13 feet.
This major alteration was in response to the reputation of Camden Yards as being so slugger-friendly that prospective pitchers were less likely to join the Orioles for fear of all the additional home runs they would give up. This was the opposite of the usual contemporary trend by which prospective sluggers turned down offers from teams housed in ballparks with long outfield dimensions.
And so, I drew a new diagram for (Oriole Park at) Camden Yards. But along the way, I noticed something odd: there was a big discrepancy between the left field wall in my previous diagram (rendered in 2014) and the photo I took while seeing a game there in August 2009. I realized that the angle of the bends in the grandstand were incorrect, and that other elements of the grandstand were likewise off by several feet. You can compare the newly revised diagram(s) to the previous version by clicking on the diagram on that page, and then moving your mouse away from it. (NOTE: It occurred to me that one possible benefit from expanding left field would be that Camden Yards could more easily accommodated a football gridiron. Why do so, with M&T Bank Stadium (or whatever they're calling nowadays) just a couple blocks away? Maybe to accommodate a high school championship game, or maybe a USFL franchise. Don't worry, it is not a serious suggestion.)
More updates soon!
In the next few days and weeks I will be updating Yankee Stadium, which was "unofficially" updated in late December, along with a few others. But my top priority will be to render a new diagram for Hamtramck Stadium, which is one of the only original Negro League baseball stadiums still intact. It is located a couple miles north of downtown Detroit, Michigan. One of the leading contemporary baseball historians, Gary Gillette, asked me to take on that task, and I gladly agreed. (I visited another former Negro League stadium, Rickwood Field, while in Birmingham, Alabama one year ago, and I plan to do a diagram of it as well, eventually.)
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What's this about?
This blog features commentary and musings on a diverse but well-defined set of topics, from a critical-minded conservative point of view, featuring a veritable library of original graphics and statistical information. It is distinguished in many ways from the rest of the "blogosphere." My blog entries cover a rigidly defined set of topics, with varying degrees of intensity according to how much is going on in each area, and how much time I have. Being somewhat of a "do-it-yourselfer," I chose a "home-made" approach rather than conforming to the common blogging systems such as Blogger or WordPress. The blog entries and archives are arranged in a sort of "proprietary" scheme that I have gradually developed over time. Finally, being an old-fashioned, soft-spoken kind of guy, I avoid attention-grabbing sensationalism and strident rhetoric, and strive instead to maintain a reasonable, dignified, respectful tone.
My general practice is to make no more than one blog post per day on any one category. For this reason, some blog posts may address more than one specific issue, as indicated by separate headings. If something important happens during the day after I make a blog post, I may add an updated paragraph or section to it, using the word "UPDATE" and sometimes a horizontal rule to distinguish the new material from the original material. For each successive day, blog posts are listed on the central blog page (which brings together all topics) from top to bottom in the following (reverse alphabetical) order, which may differ from the order in which the posts were originally made:
Wild birds (LAST)
Science & Technology *
Culture & Travel *
Canaries ("Home birds")
* part of "Macintosh & Miscellanous" until Feb. 2007
The date of each blog post refers to when the bulk of it was written, in the Eastern Time Zone. For each blog post, the time and date of the original posting (or the last update or comment thereupon) is displayed on the individual archival blog post page that appears (just before the comments section) when you click the [LINK / comments] link next to the date. Non-trivial corrections and clarifications to original blog entries are indicated by the use of [brackets] and/or strikethroughs, as appropriate so as to accurately convey both the factual truth and my original representation of it. Nobody's perfect, but I strive for continual improvement. That is also why some of the nature photos that appear on the archive pages may differ from the (inferior) ones that were originally posted.
The current "home made" blog organization system that I created, featuring real permalinks, was instituted on November 1, 2004. Prior to that date, blog posts were handled inconsistently, and for that reason the pre-2005 archives pages are something of a mess. Furthermore, my blogging prior to June 1, 2004 was often sporadic in terms of frequency.