November 13, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Rookies of the Year: Acuña & Ohtani
Both of this year's Rookies of the Year were what most people expected: Ronaldo Acuña of the Atlanata Braves and Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels. Ohtani, the 24-year old "Japanese Babe Ruth" who excels at both pitching and slugging, received 25 of 30 first-place votes on the AL side. (Both other finalists were Yankees: Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres.) At the plate, Ohtani batted .285 with 22 home runs, and on the mound he had a 3.31 ERA with 63 strikeouts. Even if he didn't fully live up to the sky-high preseason hype, he proved he is a top-notch player.
On the National League side, Ronaldo Acuña received 27 of 30 first-place votes, with only two going to Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals. In third place was Dodgers' pitcher Walker Buehler. Given the fact that most of their statistics were very close to each other, I was surprised that the voting wasn't closer. For much of the summer, I thought that Juan Soto would be a heavy favorite as NL Rookie of the Year, but then I started hearing about Acuña, who was very impressive in many ways. I was disappointed in the voting, but I'm not upset. The numbers below (see MLB.com and/or Washington Post) provide only part of the story.
|| Ronaldo Acuña
|| Juan Soto
Three non-batting factors weighed in Acuña's favor: base-running, defense, and the fact that his team won the division. Acuña began playing in April, a full month before Soto debuted in the majors, yet even so, Soto ended up playing more games (116 to 111).
For his part, Soto tied, came a close second, or set several records for teenage major league players. He beat Mel Ott for the most number of teen walks (since 1900), and tied Bryce Harper for second-most teen home runs (22), behind Tony Conigliaro. (Six years ago, Bryce Harper was named the National League Rookie of the Year.) Even though he didn't win, Soto proved himself extremely valuable to his team. He was extremely poised for such a young player, working long counts and repeatedly getting clutch hits that his faltering team desperatedly needed. Having turned 20 just last month, he has a very promising future ahead of him in Washington, while Bryce Harper is presently an enigma...
NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Juan Soto, warming up in right field before the Mets-Nats game at Nationals Park on September 21. He got one hit in four at-bats that day, advancing a runner who later scored.
November 10, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Rare birds make big appearances!
Two different species of birds that only rarely come to visit the Staunton-Augusta area have done so this month already: three Cattle Egrets and one Rufous Hummingbird. Both are migratory and breed elsewhere, but a few strays occasionally spend time here in the late Autumn, usually before heading south to warmer climates. It was reported on November 1 that two Cattle Egrets had been spotted at a farm on Bell's Lane, but I didn't see them on my visit there on that day. I was luckier the next day, but they were too far away (about 600 yards) and the lighting conditions were poor.
But on Saturday November 3 I did get a slightly better view of them in the sun from a range of about 300 yards. That was after I had already spotted (and photographed) my first Dark-eyed Junco of the season, along with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- both in our back yard. (I could tell from the mostly-concealed red feathers on top of its head that it was a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet.) But that wasn't all! While I was observing the Cattle Egrets on Bell's Lane, I saw a bird in a tree and from the photos I took, I realized it was a Vesper Sparrow! Penny Warren had seen one in that area a few days earlier, so it may have been the same bird.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Vesper Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Cattle Egret. (November 3, 2018)
Roll your mouse over the image to see the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and click on it to see more views of the Cattle Egrets.
The next day, November 4, there were three Cattle Egrets on Bell's Lane, and the day after that there was just one. Since then, three Cattle Egrets were spotted several miles away in Augusta County, so they seem to have relocated.
On Wednesday, November 7, I joined Jo King and four other bird club members on a field trip to McCormick's Farm. The weather was cool but very pleasant, and we saw various woodpeckers, a Great Blue Heron, two Gadwalls (plain-looking ducks), a Northern Harrier, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. At the very end of the trip, I spotted a well-camouflaged Brown Creeper on the side of a cedar tree, the first one of the season for all of us, I believe. On my way out, I saw an adult Cooper's Hawk at the top of a dead tree.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Harrier (F/J), Brown Creeper, Cooper's Hawk, Great Blue Heron, Hairy Woodpecker (M), Gadwall (M), Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and near center, Red-bellied Woodpecker. (November 7, 2018)
A few days ago, a bird club member named Bonnie Hughes reported that a Rufous Hummingbird had been visiting the balcony in back of her house, where she keeps a nectar feeder. (We do too, just in case, even though we haven't had any hummingbirds since the last one left on October 3 or so.) So, I drove out to her house near Stuarts Draft this morning, and lo and behold the bird in question showed up within just a few minutes! Luckily, it perched for a few minutes in bright sunlight, and I was able to get a few good photos from about 15 feet away through the slats of a venetian blind covering the back window. In all the photos, there is a solid yellow background, which is the blurred yellow leaves of a tree about 100 feet away in the next yard. I was dumbfounded and delighted to see this amazing specimen so close. In the front yard there were several female Purple Finches at a feeder, the first ones I have seen this season.
Rufous Hummingbirds breed in the northwestern U.S.A. and Canada, but every year some of them migrate to the eastern states before heading south for the winter. A few of them attempt to stay for the whole winter, but they often die from freezing temperatures. The last time I saw one was west of Harrisonburg
about a dozen [eight*] years ago. I saw a Calliope Hummingbird (another species that breeds in the west and sometimes takes a "detour" during fall migration) west of Lynchburg about ten years ago, in January 2009!
On the way back home, I stopped at Bell's Lane and saw various sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and a Palm Warbler or two.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Song Sparrow, Rufous Hummingbird (M), White-throated Sparrow, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Palm Warbler, and Purple Finch (F). (November 10, 2018)
Roll your mouse over the image to see the Rufous Hummingbird.
Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
* Corrected after being reminded by Facebook of the actual previous date: November 13, 2010; serendipity! That was my first-ever sighting of a Rufous Hummingbird.
November 9, 2018 [LINK / comment]
The Nationals in 2018: postmortem
From October 2nd through the 6th, the Washington Post had a series of five articles by Chelsea Janes and Jesse Dougherty seeking to explain what went wrong with the Nationals this year: "Dissecting the Nationals' Lost Season." Part I focused on the most obvious problem: the spate of injuries early in the season. Indeed, the number of days missed by their core players is just staggering: Daniel Murphy (62), Ryan Zimmerman (57), Adam Eaton (52), Matt Wieters (49), and Anthony Rendon (14). In addition, Howie Kendrick and newly acquired reliever Kelvin Herrera suffered season-ending injuries early on, and closer Sean Doolittle missed almost all of July and August.
Part II examined the role of the new manager, Dave Martinez, and his coaches. It was pointed out that the Nationals had a mere 18-24 record in games with a one-run margin, often ascribed to the players' failure to execute in clutch situations, but also resting on how the managers use their reserve players. Martinez acknowledged the need for better communication, the lack of which seems to be the origin of the Nats' midseason bullpen meltdown.
Part III scrutinized General Manager Mike Rizzo, who tacitly admitted he might have done some things differently in retrospect. Blessed with "the fourth-highest payroll in baseball" at the beginning of the season, they ended in fifth place, so to speak: $181 million. Talk about fantasy baseball! Rizzo's confidence in veteran starting pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark seems to have been misplaced, in retrospect. The timing of the Daniel Murphy and Matt Adam Trades (August 21, after the non-waiver-clearing deadline had passed) was puzzling to many people. It seemed Rizzo had suddenly reversed his firm declaration in late July that he had "faith in this team."
The failure of the Nats' starting pitching rotation was one of the biggest mysteries this year. Part of Tanner Roark's problem may have stemmed from not being used at all in the 2017 postseason, even though he excelled in helping the U.S. team win their first World Baseball Classic. Stephen Strasburg had repeated health troubles, which unfortunately is often the case for him.
Part V summed it up by pinning the blame on the players themselves for not rising to the occasion in critical situations. The team just seems to lack the competitive "edge" of a championship-bound team, and the loss of dynamic individuals such as Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy hurt badly.
Finally, here is a sobering comparison made by Chris Rukan of the Washington Post on October 7: The Nationals are the only MLB team out of 20 altogether to have have had a regular-season winning percentage of at least .562 with at least four division titles over a seven-year period since 1969 (when divisional play began), without even winning a single divisional series. Thirteen of those teams won the World Series at least once, five others won a league pennant, and two others reached the league championship series. But the 2012-2018 Nationals? Nada. Ouch!
Comparative failed years
This year it was becoming clear by the latter part of June that the Nationals were in trouble, and every time they picked themselves up from a slump, they fell down once again. There was a glimmer of hope at the end of July, but a series of heartbreaking losses in mid-August almost sealed their fate. The decision to trade Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams in late August was a sign that Doomsday had come. Technically they were still alive until the very day I finally saw them play this year: September 21. After that, they were eliminated.
In 2015, the Nationals started off cold, then came surging back in late April and May. They were actually in first place from late June until early August, when they started going downhill once again. Repeated flubs and poor performances in late August led many to question Matt Williams's future as a manager with the Nationals, and indeed, his contract was not renewed. But the bad vibes on the team came to a head at the end of September , when Jonathan Papelbon tried to choke Bryce Harper in a dugout argument.
You could blame the Nationals' failure in 2013 on the proverbial Sports Illustrated Curse: a cover with Stephen Strasburg in the spring forecast that the Nats would win the World Series! Instead, they struggled just to stay above .500 for most of the season, and were in the losing column for most of July and early August: "The Washington Nationals' quest for a return trip to the postseason came to a premature and definitive end last night, as the Atlanta Braves beat them for a third consecutive game. With a lead of 15 1/2 games over the Nationals and just seven weeks left in the baseball season, the Braves are virtually assured of winning the NL East title." But then they staged a remarkable comeback, winning 14 of their last 19 games in late August. The last hopes for making it as a wild card team died in late September 22.
For more details on the successive years, see the Washington Nationals page.
NL East Division
|Date of clinching
|Games ahead /
behind at end
"Harper's Bazaar" open for business
I generally try to ignore rumors, but the reported offer by the Washington Nationals to Bryce Harper of $300 million over ten years has been repeated so often that it must be pretty close to the truth. I tend to agree with Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell, who said that both sides made respectable opening moves, and everyone will stand to gain no matter where Harper ends up. His agent Scott Boras is reportedly seeking a $400 million deal, which is pretty crazy when you think about all the risks involved.
Adios, Ray Knight
Long-time MASN commentator Ray Knight will not return to the Nationals next season. He did not appear in any of the broadcasts in late September, prompting speculation about some kind of personal conflict. You could tell as the season drew to a close that he was getting angry about the way the team was being run, so perhaps that is at the root of it. In October 2017, he was arrested for assault-and-battery, suggesting problems with "anger management." Though lacking in eloquence, I always enjoyed his colorful presence and his solid insights on how baseball should be played, during the pre-game and post-game segments on MASN with Johnny Holliday. It will be tough to fill his shoes. He played about a dozen years in the majors, most notably with the New York Mets (including their 1986 World Championship year) and the Cincinnati Reds. See the Washington Post.
Johnny Holliday and Ray Knight doing the Nats Xtra postgame show on September 28, 2014, when Jordan Zimmermann threw the first-ever no-hitter for the Nationals.
RFK Stadium photos
I recently scanned a batch of old photos of RFK Stadium that I took at a Nationals-Mets game on September 30, 2006, including the rather dramatic one below. I posted all of them on that page, along with a number of older photos that are now viewable in large size for the first time. Other photos of lesser signficance are now lumped together under the "legacy" category, and you toggle back and forth between the "jumbo" and "legacy" photos. Almost all of the captions have been deleted, as most of the photos are self-explanatory. You just click and browse at random, with the photo links arranged in chronological order. All this is part of a long-term upgrade of my stadium pages.
RFK Stadium grandstand, September 30, 2006.
November 7, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Birding in the latter part of October
Well, we have already finished the first week of November and I haven't even written up my birding experiences during the latter part of the last month. (My last post was on October 25.) So, here is yet another "catch-up" blog post. On October 17 I joined Jo King and several other Augusta Bird Club members on a field trip to McCormick's Mill, on the south edge of Augusta County. It was a wonderful morning, with four warbler species (all in the photographic montage below), plus Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and many others. There were no hawks, however, nor any White-throated Sparrows, which are late this year.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Great Blue Heron, and Cape May Warbler. (At McCormick's Farm, October 17)
Late in the afternoon of October 20 at the Bell's Lane beaver pond, I saw what was probably the same Greater Yellowlegs that had been seen earlier, along with several Northern Mockingbirds, a few Killdeers, a couple Field Sparrows, a Belted Kingfisher, and one of the newly-arrived White-throated Sparrows.
I had to go to Harrisonburg on October 22, and on the way back I stopped at Silver Lake in Dayton, where I had nice, sunlit views of a Mute Swan, an American Coot, and two Ring-necked Ducks. At the Bell's Lane beaver pond, on my way back into Staunton, I saw and photographed what I am almost certain was a Wilson's Snipe, hiding in the grass.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ring-necked Ducks (F), American Coot, Mallard (M), Mute Swan, and Wilson's Snipe. (Silver Lake, October 22, 2018)
On the morning of October 23 I saw what I thought was another Golden-crowned Kinglet out back, and was astonished to realize that it was actually a Blue-headed Vireo! It just barely eluded being "captured" by my camera, unfortunately. On Bell's Lane late that afternoon I saw a Northern Harrier, and perhaps two of them. I couldn't get a good photo from that distance, unfortunately. There were also lots of American Robins (acting very nervously, as they do this time of year), as well as Carolina Chickadees, Killdeers, and a Hairy Woodpecker. The White-breasted Nuthatch was in our neighborhood; you don't see them perched on a wire very often!
On October 29 Penny Warren led another field trip to Bell's Lane; I had missed the previous one, and arrived about a half hour late for this one. It was well-attended, and there were plenty of birds to see along the way. Among the highlights this time were an American Kestrel, two Northern Harriers (adult male and F/J), a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and three Wilson's Snipes in the grass by the beaver pond. Penny and I saw a group of probable White-crowned Sparrows along the road.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier (M), Belted Kingfisher, Wilson's Snipe, Cedar Waxwing, Wood Duck (M), Northern Harrier (F/J), and in right-center, Killdeer. (October 29, 2018)
On October 30, Jacqueline and I took a drive through the countryside, stopping for a few minutes on Bell's Lane (where I saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler) and then heading to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We caught a few glimpses of birds, but it was pretty quiet in spite of the mild weather. The only photograph I got was of a Golden-crowned Kinglet. The other birds in the montage below were around our apartment building.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Downy Woodpecker, American Kestrel, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mourning Dove, and Blue Jay. (October 30, 2018)
On October 31 (Halloween!) I saw a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a White-breasted Nuthatch. out back. In the afternoon on Bell's Lane I searched in vain for White-crowned Sparrows, but I did get slightly better views of a Northern Harrier, a Belted Kingfisher, and a Wilson's Snipe. That wrapped up a quite busy month of birding, with several consecutive days at it.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Harrier (F/J), Wilson's Snipe, Belted Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and near center, Killdeer. (October 31, 2018)
Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
November 6, 2018 [LINK / comment]
2018 Gold Glove Awards
The World Series champion Boston Red Sox and the National League East champion Atlanta Braves received the most number of Gold Glove Awards this year, with three each. Among the Red Sox, Ian Kinsler (traded by the Angels in mid-season) was chosen for the American League second base position, Jackie Bradley Jr. was chosen for center field, and Mookie Betts was chosen for right field. On the National League side, the Braves' first baseman Freddie Freeman, center fielder Ender Inciarte, and right fielder Nick Markakis (a former Oriole) were chosen.
Just like last year, none of the Nationals won a Gold Glove: they were "shut out" once again. This seems odd, given that the Nationals truly excelled on defense this year, in contrast to their rather mediocre batting. Of all major league teams, the Washington Nationals had the second-lowest number of errors (64) during the 2018 regular season; the Houston Astros led with just 63. Those two teams tied for the MLB lead in fielding percentage (.989), with the Diamondbacks and Rockies close behind.
The only Nationals player chosen as a National League Gold Glove finalist was at the third base position: Anthony Rendon, who had a superb .981 fielding percentage and just 6 errors. Nevertheless, he was merely the runner-up to Nolan Arenado (.967 FPCT, 14 E), of the Colorado Rockies. That seems odd. Even stranger, according to MLB.com, "Of all the Gold Glove Award winners, Arenado is probably the least surprising..." It's the sixth year in a row that Arenado has won the Gold Glove; apparently the voting follows some kind of implicit "incumbency" preference. Or perhaps the number of games counts: Rendon was on the DL for a few weeks, and played 136 games, whereas Arenado played 156. Shortstop Trea Turner played in every one of the Nats' 162 games this year, and right fielder Bryce Harper played in all but three of them. And speaking of giving recognition where it's due, I should have posted this photo a year ago:
Prior to the September 30, 2017 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, General Manager Mike Rizzo (the bald guy) presented Anthony Rendon with the Nationals' 2017 Player of the Year Award.
For the sake of posterity (and memory, perhaps), here is what a Gold Glove Award looks like:
2012 awards to the Nationals: Silver Sluggers to Stephen Strasburg (left) and Ian Desmond (right), Rookie of the Year to Bryce Harper (top), and Gold Glove to Adam LaRoche. Not pictured is the Silver Slugger bat won by Adam LaRoche. (Taken at the "Nats Fest" convention in January 2013, originally posted April 1, 2013.)
In related news, Max Scherzer was named as a finalist for the National League Cy Young Award, which he won the last two years, but is expected to go to Jacob deGrom of the Mets. Also, Juan Soto was named a finalist as NL Rookie of the Year, but the Braves' Ronaldo Acuña is favored to win.
November 5, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Red Sox win the 2018 World Series
The final outcome was perhaps no surprise, as the Red Sox were favored to go all the way, but there was plenty of drama along the way to make it the whole spectacle fascinating to watch. After the Red Sox won Game 1 (see Oct. 24 post), the weather in Boston turned nasty on Wednesday afternoon (October 24), but it cleared up just in time for World Series Game 2 that evening. The Red Sox took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, but the Dodgers scored twice in the fourth inning, momentarily rattling the nerves of the Fenway Park faithful. But rookie manager Alex Cora trusted in David Price, who finished that inning and went on to finish two more innings. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Hyun-Jin Ryu loaded the bases on two singles and a walk, and was replaced by former National Ryan Madson walked in one run and allowed two more to score on a single by J.D. Martinez. That was all the Red Sox would need as they won the game, 4-2. It was the second consecutive time that David Price overcame his past frustrations and rose to the occasion in a postseason game; he got credit for the win.
Even though it wasn't an elimination game per se, Game 3 was essentially a must-win game for the Dodgers, as no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win the World Series. (Until 2004, of course, no team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a postseason series, of course, but then that epic 14th-inning walk-off home run by David Ortiz in ALCS Game 4 turning the momentum in Boston's favor and changed sports history forever.) In the third inning, Joc Pederson hit a home run and the Dodgers held on to a 1-0 lead until the eighth inning. That's when Jackie Bradley Jr. did likewise off Kenley Jansen to tie the game, sending the game into extra innings. In the top of the 13th inning, the Red Sox capitalized on a leadoff walk and then a throwing error by L.A. pitcher Scott Alexander when Eduardo Nuñez hit a squib swinging bunt: the ball sailed past first base, allowing Brock Holt to score from second base. It reminded many of the error by first baseman Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, and it looked like the Dodgers were doomed. But virtually the same thing happened in the bottom of the 13th, as the Red Sox second baseman Ian Kinsley made a throwing error that allowed Max Muncy to score. It was already well after midnight here in the east, and yet the game dragged on for inning after scoreless inning. Nathan Eovaldi, who had been scheduled to start Game 4 for the Red Sox, was doing a fantastic job as a relief pitcher until the bottom of the 18th. That's when Max Muncy, whose career was all but washed up a year earlier, smacked the ball just over the fence in left center field to end the longest game in World Series history. And the crowd (the 40,000 or so who were still remaining, that is) went wild! Final score: Dodgers 3, Red Sox 2. (As Washington Nationals fans know all too well, unti this year the longest game in MLB postseason history had been on October 2014, when they lost NLDS Game 2 to the San Francisco Giants, by a 2-1 score -- also 18 innings.)
I was feeling out of sorts the next day from losing so much sleep that night, but I wouldn't have missed that extra-inning drama for the world. That marathon in Los Angeles took seven hours and 20 minutes, ending at 3:30 AM (EDT), or 12:30 local time.
The first half of Game 4 was a pitchers' duel between Eduardo Rodriguez (Red Sox) and Rich Hill (Dodgers), and neither team scored for the first five innings. In the bottom of the sixth, the Dodgers loaded the bases and then scored on a weird play in which the runner was forced out at home but the catcher (Christian Vazquez) threw the ball wide of first base in a vain attempt to get a double play, allowing Justin Turner to score. To make matters worse, the next batter, Yasiel Puig, hit a three-run homer to give the Dodgers a 4-0 lead. It seemed they were going to capitalize on the previous night's marathon victory, but in the very next inning the Red Sox pulled to within one run when Mitch Moreland hit a three-run homer. In the eighth inning, Steve Pearce hit a solo homer to tie the game, and in the ninth inning he hit a two-run double. The Red Sox had a 9-4 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, but their closing pitcher Craig Kimbrel once again faltered, as the Dodgers' Enrique Hernandez hit a two-run homer to come within three runs. That was the extent of their comeback, however, and the Red Sox won it, 9-6. [Just when you thought the Dodgers were going] to even the series, the Red Sox batters came alive.
Game 5 was indeed an elimination game, and it really felt like it. In the first inning Steve Pearce hit a two-run home run, catching Clayton Kershaw off guard. In the bottom of the first, David Freese hit a solo homer, and Kershaw pitched four scoreless innings to keep the game razor-tight. But Mookie Betts hit a solo homer in the sixth inning, and J.D. Martinez did likewise an inning later, and Kershaw exited with four runs charged against him. In the eighth inning, Steve Pearce hit a solo home run to pad the Red Sox lead, yet another four-bagger for this unlikely Boston hero. David Price was masterful once again, going seven full innings on the mound, and the Dodgers failed to score any runs for the rest of the game, and only got three hits all night. It was a melancholy end to the World Series. Red Sox 5, Dodgers 1.
When it was all said and done, the Boston Red Sox emerged victorious from the capricious gauntlet that is postseason baseball -- for the fourth time in the last fifteen years. That puts them ahead of the San Francisco Giants (three World Series championships in this century) and the St. Louis Cardinals (two such championships), leaving no doubt that they deserve hearty congratulations for their consistent excellence and relentless competitive zeal. (I updated the Baseball chronology, annual page with this year's World Series outcome.)
Bryce Harper becomes a free agent
For the first time in his career, Bryce Harper is on his own, with no obligations to the Nationals or any other team. At the beginning of the month, he declared that he was becoming a free agent, and as everyone expected, the Nationals made a "qualifying offer" of a one-year $17.9 million contract, which he of course declined since it is less than he made last season ($21.6 million). (See MLB.) He has ten days to accept or reject the offer, and chances are he will explore the market. The winter meeting of MLB general managers is just four weeks away, and rumors will be swirling around for the entire time, most likely. Harper has dropped hints on social media that he'd like to stay in Washington, and I know the feeling is mutual, but it's an open question how the numbers will match up. I still think there's a better-than-even chance he will end up signing a multi-year contract with the Nationals, but that's just a hunch on my part.
As noted in the story linked above, the Washington Nationals were one of the two teams whose payroll went above the threshhold triggering the Competitive Balance Tax, a.k.a. "luxury tax." Their payroll in 2018 was over $197 million. Guess which was the other such team?
Nats bolster bullpen
On October 10, the Washington Nationals made a trade with the Miami Marlins to get right-handed relief pitcher Kyle Barraclough, in hopes of rebuilding what has been a very shaky bullpen. Barraclough has a 3.21 ERA over four seasons with the Marlins, but this year his ERA was 4.20, with a 1-6 record. As with Howie Kendrick and others, the Nats are taking a calculated risk that Barraclough will return to his previous form.
And, after a few days of rumors, the Nationals just signed relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal to a one-year contract worth $7 million. [Contract terms include a conditional option for a second year. Rosenthal is 28 but missed all of this year due to Tommy John surgery. In 2014 and 2015 he he served very effectively as a closer for the St. Louis Cardinals (picked as an All-Star in 2015), racking up 93 saves in just those two years.]
Nats keep same coaches
Soon after the Washington Nationals front office made clear that Dave Martinez will return as manager next year, we learned that the entire 2018 coaching staff will be retained as well.
R.I.P. Willie [McCovey]*
Long-time San Francisco Giant first baseman Willie [McCovey]
Stargell* passed away on October 31, at the age of 80. He was Rookie of the Year in 1959, and in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series (in San Francisco), with two outs and two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth inning, he smashed a line drive that was caught by Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the game. He came just that close to becoming the big hero. He went on to hit 521 home runs in his career, which (as with his team mate Willie Mays) is quite an accomplishment given that many of them were in Candlestick Park. As a reflection of the high esteem in which the left-handed slugger was held, the Giants named the water beyond the right field wall at AT&T Park "McCovey Cove." (From the Washington Post.)
* CORRECTION: Obviously, I meant Willie McCovey, not Willie Stargell, the Pittsburgh Pirates slugger who died April 9, 2001. Serves me right for writing so late into the night. Many thanks to John Geoffrion for the heads-up.
"Chief Wahoo" is retired
In a fitting bow to modern-day sensibilities, the Cleveland Indians announced that the grinning "Chief Wahoo" mascot will no longer appear on any official Indians signs or apparel. I encountered a group of Native Americans protesting when I attended an Indians-Diamondbacks game in the summer of 2014.
Stadium page updates
I updated the Diagram update log (chronological) as well as the Stadium diagrams (descriptive) page, which first "launched" in March 2016.
Mike Zurawski sent me this link to a story about the future home of the Texas Rangers, which will have the same name as their current home: Globe Life Park: nbcdfw.com. Needless to say, that barely scratches the surface of ballpark news (from Mike and from others) that I need to relay...
October 25, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Birding in early-to-mid October
Well, another month is quickly speeding toward a conclusion, and it's about time I wrote a few lines about my birding ventures since the beginning of October. On October 3 I went to Betsy Bell Hill, and saw for the first time some new trail signs and a map kiosk that the city Parks and Recreation Department has put up. That's very nice, and I'm glad they are devoting resources to that often-overlooked bit of natural heritage inside the city limits. I didn't see any warblers, to my surprise and disappointment, but I did get a good view of a Wood Thrush and a so-so view of a female Scarlet Tanager. Two Pileated Woodpeckers landed on a nearby log to look for food, but my camera just couldn't focus on them for some reason, and I wasted a great photo opportunity. Then I paid a quick visit to Bell's Lane and caught a glimpse of a Green Heron only about 25 feet away, in a small stream behind some bushes. This time I was luckier with the focusing and quickly snapped a (semi-obstructed) photo of the bird, in perfect sunlight.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (F), Red-bellied Woodpecker (F), Wood Thrush, Pileated Woodpeckers, and Green Heron (J). (October 3, 2018)
On October 5 I went birding in Waynesboro for the first time in a few weeks, partly out of curiousity over whether they had been getting more migrants than us folks in Staunton are. I had some nice views in various spots along the South River, but nothing spectacular. The highlights were a Scarlet Tanager (F) in North Park (not photographed), Cedar Waxwings in various places, and a Magnolia Warbler and a Swainson's Thrush in Ridgeview Park. The Broad-winged Hawk was here in Staunton, or above it.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Swainson's Thrush, Eastern Wood Pewee, Cedar Waxwing, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker (F), and Magnolia Warbler. (October 5, 2018)
Maury River canoe trip
As described in a separate blog post, on October 6 I went along on a canoe trip along the Maury River, the first such outing under the auspices of the Augusta Bird Club. It was organized by Stan Heatwole, and two other members attended: Ann Cline and Caroline Ford. Almost as soon as we started, Stan sighted a Bald Eagle downstream, and I just caught a glimpse of it as it was flying away. For the most part, however, there weren't that many birds to be seen that day, and it proved very difficult for me to photograph the ones we did see from a canoe in motion. Aside from the birds in the photo below, we also saw Cedar Waxwings, Belted Kingfishers, Wood Ducks, a Raven, and a few others.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Mallards, Great Blue Heron, Eastern Phoebe, and Canada Geese. (October 6, 2018)
Back to normal birding
The very next day, October 7, I drove around the Swoope in the afternoon, scouting in advance of the field trip there next Saturday. (To my dismay, I learned that Livick Road was closed because of damage to a small bridge after a recent flood.) I found Indigo Buntings and Palm Warblers in multiple locations, and a variety of sparrows all around. I expected to see Savannah Sparrows, but the Vesper Sparrow was a nice surprise. Finally, I saw a Belted Kingfisher at the Boy Scout Camp lake, along with a Great Blue Heron.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Vesper Sparrow, Indigo Bunting (F/J), Red-bellied Woodpecker (F), Palm Warbler, Belted Kingfisher, and Savannah Sparrow. (October 7, 2018)
Early on October 9, I glimpsed some kind of warbler out back, and was lucky to get a fairly good photo of what turned out to be a female Cape May Warbler. There was also a hawk flying high overhead, and from the pale spots near the end of each wing, there's no doubt that it was a Red-shouldered Hawk. Later I paid a quick visit to Bell's Lane, and saw both kinds of herons (Green and Great Blue), and a few other birds.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cape May Warbler, Red-shouldered Hawk, Killdeer, Wood Duck (M), Green Heron (J), and in center, Belted Kingfisher. (October 9, 2018)
October 10 was an unusually good morning at Montgomery Hall Park. I was hoping to see some early White-throated Sparrows, but none were present. In any event, I was more than satisfied by what I did see. Several Eastern Bluebirds were at the park entrance, and an Eastern Wood Pewee, Black & White Warbler, Tennessee Warbler were in a wooded area uphill from the Christmas tree dumping area. Later on I had excellent looks at Cedar Waxwings, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and at the top of the hill, a Merlin! There were also lots of American Robins, Northern Flickers, and other woodpeckers. I even heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Merlin, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Bluebird (M), Cedar Waxwings (J), Black & White Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Tennessee Warbler. (October 10, 2018)
Finally, on October 13 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Swoope and Augusta Springs, and it was a big success. Nine people attended, including some new members, and lots of interesting birds were found all over the place. Allen Larner usually leads that trip every fall, but he wasn't sure if he'd be available, so when he showed up that morning, I gladly acceded to his leadership role. We saw a mixed flock of Grasshopper Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows along Livick Road (where a washed-out bridge was repaired just in time for us), as well as three Northern Harriers (two adult males) and a Cooper's Hawk! There was nothing at Smith's Pond, so we went straight to Augusta Springs, where we saw Pine Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Red-breasted Nuthatches (as well as the common White-breasted ones), Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Eastern Towhees, and a Hermit Thrush! Some of us then went back to Swoope, and at or near the Boy Scout camp we saw Palm Warblers, a Swamp Sparrow, a Magnolia Warbler, some Eastern Phoebes, and a probable Eastern Wood Pewee. It was a wonderful trip indeed.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Eastern Phoebe, Cooper's Hawk (J), Pine Warbler, Grasshopper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Magnolia Warbler, and in center, Cedar Waxwing. (October 13, 2018)
I have made a few bird trips since then, but I'll wait until the end of the month to report on them. Other recent photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
October 25, 2018 [LINK / comment]
"Innings" and outings in October
In contrast to September, the weather this month has mostly been very nice, providing several opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. Baseball consumes a great deal of my attention this time of year (hence "innings" in the title above), but I also make a point to enrich our lives by visiting various nearby places of special interest.
On October 4, Jacqueline expressed interest in a day trip, but wasn't sure exactly what she wanted to see. The weather was perfect, and we just had to go somewhere! After doing a Google (or Yahoo?) search, I came across the White Oak Lavender Farm, which sounded interesting, and it turned out to be exactly the kind of thing that she enjoys. It is located near the village of Cross Keys in Rockingham County, a few miles east of Mount Crawford, home of the famous Green Valley Book Fair. On our way there, we stopped at Leonard's Pond, a noted local birding hot spot; it was unusually full that day, due to the recent heavy rains. Upon arriving at our destination, we were immediately enchanted by the purple buildings, the big willow tree, and the gazebo out front. You can stroll through the scent-filled gardens and see the horse stables, and sample wine at an adjacent pavilion. Inside the gift shop are an assortment of soaps, lotions, and other products made with lavender oil. Jacqueline just loved it. I hit a home run!
On our way back to Staunton, we bought vegetables at a farm north of Weyer's Cave, and I stopped to take a photo of the famous "Turkey Monument" at the Rockingham County line.
The main building of the White Oak Lavender Farm. (October 4, 2018)
Maury River canoe trip
On October 6 I went along on a canoe trip along the Maury River that was organized by Stan Heatwole, and it was quite an adventure! It was the first such outing in the Augusta Bird Club, but the weather forecast was uncertain, and only two other members attended: Ann Cline and Caroline [Ford]. I wasn't even sure I was up for it, since I have been having pain in my right heel since the latter part of the summer, but I was told it wouldn't be strenuous. Aware of the risks, I couldn't decide whether to bring my Canon PowerShot camera, and ended up flipping a coin, which yielded a positive choice. Ann lent me a special waterproof bag to keep my camera sealed, which turned out to be extremely lucky! As I found out, it's not easy to hold a camera steady while floating along in a canoe, and I only got a few mediocre photos [of birds] while on the river. But the weather turned out to be just fine, and I got several nice scenic shots along the way.
At about 11:25 we "put in" about six miles upstream from Lexington, where one of the vehicles had been left. I shared a canoe with Stan, while Ann and Caroline (who are more experienced) each had a kayak. I learned (or re-learned) how to navigate rapids, which for the most part were fairly mild. But about shortly after noon, at the end of a set of rapids, our canoe suddenly collided with a boulder and instantly capsized! After recovering my bearings (and getting my glasses back on straight) I had to rescue Stan's dog (a very small breed), and then retrieved the various boxes and bags that were floating away. My cell phone was inside my pants pocket, sealed with a sandwich baggie, and thank goodness, that was enough waterproofing! We were both thoroughly drenched, of course, but aside from a few scrapes there were no injuries. We gathered our things to get semi-dry for about 20 minutes, and then resumed the trip. To my immense relief, my camera, my iPhone, and my binoculars all survived without any damage. Later on I realized that I had lost my Augusta Bird Club hat, but it was kind of beat up anyway, so no big loss.
The scenery was spectacular, with steep forested banks on one or both sides for most of the trip. It reminded me of John Wesley Powell's exploration of the Colorado River in 1869, when he and his group made it through the rapids of the Grand Canyon. On the botanical side, we found some Paw Paw trees, and I retrieved one of the fruits that was floating in the river. It has a creamy color and consistency, like a mashed banana or custard. I don't think I had ever seen one before. We passed under the I-64 twin-span bridge just before 2:00 and reached the end in Lexington at about 3:15. It was exhilarating to have made the trip successfully with no damage. The club will probably have another trip like this one next year.
The Maury River, under the I-64 bridge north span. (October 6, 2018)
Blue Ridge day trip
For the next two weeks, there wasn't much travel activity other than a couple visits to the Swoope area, where I was focused mainly on birding. But last Sunday, October 21, it was bright and sunny, so Jacqueline and I took a leisurely drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We were hoping for a fall foliage display, but the leaves had barely begun to turn color, so the sights weren't as spectacular as we had hoped. I was likewise disappointed that hardly any birds were to be seen; it was probably due to the windy conditions, when birds tend to hunker down in the underbrush. We came across a Box Turtle crossing the road, and did a U-turn, but never found it, so it must have gotten to the other side safely. After spending a while soaking in the beauty at Twenty Minute Cliff, we turned back north on the parkway. We stopped in the village of Love, intrigued by a sign advertising Brunswick stew, but they were closed until 3:00 and we were too hungry to wait. So, we kept going and ended up having a sumptious late lunch / early dinner at one of my favorite places: the Blue Mountain Brewery on Route 151 in Afton. I even bought a six pack of their signature IPA, "Full Nelson." Delicious!
Twenty Minute Cliff, on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (October 21, 2018)
Other recent photos can be seen on the Chronological (2018) photo gallery page.
October 24, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Red Sox & Dodgers begin World Series 2018
For the first time since 1916, the Red Sox are playing the Dodgers in the World Series. But that was when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, and the Red Sox decided to play their "home" games in recently-built (two years old) Braves Field, which had about 6,000 more seats than Fenway Park, which was only four years old. Very strange. Game 2 of the 1916 World Series was perhaps the most notable one: George H. "Babe" Ruth pitched a full 14 innings as Boston won the marathon, 2-1, taking a 2-0 series lead. Such a feat is not even comprehensible by today's standards. "The Babe" only struck out four batters, and went 0 for 5 at the plate in the only game in which he played. Brooklyn won Game 3 at Ebbets Field, but Boston won Game 4 and then won the deciding Game 5 back "home" at Braves Field.
In Game 1 last night, it was a matchup of superstars -- well, kind of. The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, who was on the DL for several weeks last summer, is not the overpowering hardballer he used to be, and the Red Sox' Chris Sale is still not 100% after likewise injuring his arm earlier this year. Both starting pitchers finished four innings and were then pulled in the fifth inning without getting an out. The Red Sox drew first blood with two runs in the first inning, but the Dodgers kept bouncing back in a classic neck-and-neck struggle. And then in the bottom of the seventh inning, Eduardo Nuñez came in as a pinch hitter and smashed a three-run home that just barely cleared the Green Monster in left field. That gave the Red Sox an 8-4 lead, and they held on for the next two innings to win the game by that same score. I believe I heard that it was the first pinch-hit home run in a World Series game since Kirk Gibson did it for the Dodgers (!) in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series against the Oakland A's.
Dodgers win NL pennant
In Milwaukee on Saturday night, Christian Yelich hit a solo homer in the first inning for the Brewers, sending fans into heights of elation. But the Dodgers answered with two runs in the second inning, thanks to a home run by Cody Bellinger. The score remained 2-1 in a tense pitchers' duel until the sixth inning, when Yasiel Puig hit a three-run homer to make the score 5-1, and that was the final result of the game. The Brewers' bats somehow went cold at just the wrong moment. Bellinger was named the NLCS Most Valuable Player, while Yelich is still a top contender for the 2018 NL MVP crown. We'll find out next month.
And thus, the visiting team won the final game in a postseason series once again. Will that streak continue unbroken through the World Series? If so, that might be a record; I'll have to check. Another factoid: the Los Angeles Dodgers have won back-to-back National League pennants for the first time since 1977-1978. That was when they lost to the New York Yankees in two straight World Series, the first of which is what made Reggie Jackson a superstar of historic proportions. The last World Series win by the Dodgers was in 1988, which is indeed a long wait for a team with such top-notch credentials. Of course, the Red Sox know all about waiting and waiting for a World Series win...
The Stadium milestones page has been updated to include Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium on the list of World Series game venues, and stadiums that never (or have not yet) hosted either World Series games or All Star games are now explicitly marked with "NONE."
World Series stadia
Just like last year, and several years before that, I present the home ballparks of the two World Series teams, for easy comparison. Also just like last year, the contrasts between the two stadiums -- Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium -- are very sharp. For you trivia buffs, the average age of the two stadiums is 81 years (106 + 56 = 162), which is by far the oldest ever. The next oldest was in the 1996 World Series: the average age (at the time) of Yankee Stadium and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was 52 years (73 + 31). Ever since Cleveland Stadium was replaced in 1994, and except for the 2005-2007 period when RFK Stadium was being used by the Washington Nationals, Dodger Stadium has been the third-oldest MLB stadium. If the Red Sox and Cubs ever play in a World Series ...
Just roll your mouse over the thumbnail images to switch between the respective full-size diagrams.
Fenway Park update
Soon after my last update exactly three months ago, I noticed that there was a slight discrepancy between the lower deck diagram and the others. So I started doing a few tweaks to the Fenway Park diagrams, and as so often happens, I got carried away with my fanatical pursuit of accuracy and detail. I was hoping to have it done in time for this year's World Series, but was a day late -- and perhaps a dollar short?
To get those corrections as accurate as possible, I relied heavily on the photos I took during my visit there in September 2016, including this one:
Fenway Park grandstand, looking down the third base line.
As one example of the changes, I noticed in on photo that a line drawn from the first grandstand crease to the right of the bullpens toward the infield should pass about ten feet in front of third base, but in my previous diagram, it passed in back of third base. I knew that the front side of the crease was accurate, which implies that the back side was off. So, I moved the support beam about five feet to the left and then made the other corresponding changes of the grandstand (about a one degree angle) and other structures in that area.
As I was pondering the weird angle at which the center-field seats are oriented (pointing toward first base rather than home plate), something occurred to me. The new bleachers, and the grandstand that wraps around the right field corner, were built in 1934, one year after the Boston Braves football team moved out of Braves Field and into Fenway Park, becoming the Boston Redskins. (!) Is it possible that the center field seats were designed specifically to optimize sightlines for football games? Hmmm...
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