July 1, 2017 [LINK / comment]
North of the border: trip to Canada & the Midwest
CATCHING UP: In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Dominion of Canada (1867), it's an appropriate occasion to finally write a description of my trip up to Canada -- and from thence out to South Dakota -- two summers ago. (I will soon do likewise, even more belatedly, for my grand summer vacation into the desert southwest, in June 2014.) It was an ambitious adventure that included (of course) baseball, birding, and family affairs. I already posted separate blog accounts related to baseball in August 14, 2015 and will do one about wild birds in the next day or two.
TOP: Toronto; MIDDLE: Detroit; BOTTOM: Chicago.
Roll your mouse over the image to compare those skylines to the ones for Boston, Providence, Manhattan, and Philadelphia, which I visited in early September last year.
My trip began on July 18, heading in a northerly direction along I-81 into The Keystone State, then west briefly on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and then north again on the Bud Shuster Highway (I-99). That reminded me of all the corruption and pork-barrel scandals in which the former congressman was involved; see cato.org. From there I continued into western New York state, and spent the night in Buffalo, where I stopped to take photos of Coca-Cola Field (formerly Pilots Field), where the minor league Buffalo Bisons play.
Before the sun came up on July 19, I arrived at the American side of Niagara Falls, took a few photos there, and then crossed the bridge into Canada. I had been on that side once before, in the 1980s, and Canada's Horseshoe Falls are much bigger and dramatic in appearance. In the morning light, the skyline of the city of Niagara Falls was truly spectacular. The gardens and buildings are very well maintained.
Niagara Falls (Horseshoe), at the crack of dawn. (July 19, 2015)
After Niagara Falls, I drove west along the coast of Lake Ontario. I passed by two historical sites of note: McFarland House and the Battle of Fort George, in which the U.S. Army invaded and briefly occupied part of Canada during the War of 1812. How many Americans know anything about that conflict? (See warof1812.ca.) It is a very prosperous area, with nice homes and many fruit orchards. Passing quickly through the city of Hamilton, I arrived in downtown Toronto shortly after noon, found a place to park and walked toward Rogers Centre, where I saw the Blue Jays defeat the Tampa Bay Rays. I marvelled at the immense CN Tower next to the Rogers Centre, but was disappointed that there is a long wait to take the elevator trip to the top, so I'll have to do that some other time.
CN Tower, next the Rogers Centre in Toronto. (July 19, 2015)
I spent the night at a motel near London, Ontario, and briefly explored the city the next day. Not surprisingly, there is a Thames River, and I stopped at a park adjacent to it. I bought some premium beer at a Labatt's brewery store downtown, to share with my brothers. Then I left and headed west toward Michigan. I thought I might save time by avoiding heavy traffic in Detroit by crossing at Port Huron. I had a satisfying meal in Sarnia at Harvey's, a Canadian hamburger chain restaurant. I had poutine, a Canadian specialty consisting of French fries with cheese curds and gravy. That'll stick to your ribs!
London - Westminister Ponds. (July 20, 2015)
Then I crossed the bridge back into the good old U.S. of A., but was annoyed by the long delay at the immigration / customs inspection station. My gas tank was almost empty, making me even more anxious. About an hour later, I entered Detroit but took the wrong exit and wasted another 15 minutes finding Comerica Park, where the Tigers were playing the Seattle Mariners. After the game, I stopped briefly at the site of Tiger Stadium, which was demolished in 2009.
The next day (July 21), I paid a visit to the University of Michigan in the city of Ann Arbor. I wanted to see Michigan Stadium, the biggest college football stadium, with a capacity of over 100,000. I tried but failed to get inside for a look. I then drove through southern Michigan, which was unremarkable, and stopped at Indiana Dunes, from whence I had a view of Chicago, located about 30 miles to the west. It's an amazing place, great for observing nature or just for enjoying the sun at the beach. After a couple hours there, I drove into Chicago, cursing at all the traffic and toll booths, and arrived at U.S. Cellular Field well over an hour before the White Sox began playing the St. Louis Cardinals, in an interleague game. Afterwards, I left the city via a "shortcut" that was a little trickier than I expected. The south side of Chicago is reputed to be tough (as Jim Croce noted in his song, "Bad, Bad LeRoy Brown"), but it really wasn't so bad. I spent the night near Joliet, which reminded me of the Blues Brothers movie.
Indiana Dunes visitor center, Lake Michigan, and distant Chicago skyline. (July 21, 2015)
July 22 was strictly devoted to driving westward, and my only stop of significance was in the town of Van Meter, Iowa. I learned that the Bob Feller Museum now shares the building with the City Hall, presumably for reasons of economy. [He was a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.] I had visited there once before, but it wasn't open that day. Late in the day I arrived in Vermillion, warmly greeted at the door by my Dad. (About nine months later, he passed away.)
On July 25, Dad and I drove south into Nebraska, his beloved native state. (He actually grew up in Kansas, but that's another story.) We stopped at a few scenic spots along the way, but missed the turn which led to the town of Malmo, where his mother grew up. In Lincoln, we saw Memorial Stadium, home of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and then visited his fraternity house (ATΩ), the State Capitol (famed for its tall tower), and finally the house where two of his aunts once lived. I remember visiting them, but the neighborhood seemed much more crowded than I thought. On the way back home, we stopped in the town of Oakland, which hosts the Swedish Heritage Center. (For some reason, Dad became obsessed with his Swedish heritage late in life.)
Nebraska State Capitol tower. (July 25, 2015)
On August 1, we took a day trip to Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge, where we watched birds for a while. We stopped at a few towns along the way, including Lesterville, home of a famous strip club. The next day we played a round of golf, and I shot a 38, the under-40 first round for me in over a decade! Dad shot a 42, which is probably even more impressive, given that he was 86 at the time.
On August 6, Dad and I drove up to Sioux Falls, stopping at a couple wetland areas on the way there to look for birds. In Sioux Falls, we joined up with my brother Chris to see the falls on the Big Sioux River. Then we continued north to the picturesque town of Dell Rapids, and to the nearby natural wonder known as the Palisades. It's South Dakota's version of the Grand Canyon, you might say.
Palisades, on the Big Sioux River. (August 6, 2015)
Just before leaving Vermillion, I finally did something I had postponed for many years: visit the National Music Museum. It was created by former USD music professor Arne B. Larson, and was originally called the "Shrine to Music." It has exhibits with exotic instruments from around the world, as well as classical music instruments. There is even a guitar formerly owned by the renowned singer Shawn Colvin, who was a friend of mine in grade school! (Last year my brother Dan bought me a CD recorded by her and Steve Earle, which she autographed and inscribed for me.)
National Music Museum, in Vermillion, South Dakota. (August 8, 2015)
On my return trip to Virginia, I took the southerly route, visiting my brother Dan in the Kansas City area. We had a great barbecue dinner, and Dan delighted in showing me all of the home renovation and landscaping projects he is working on. On the way out of town, I stopped briefly to take photos of Arrowhead Stadium (home of the Chiefs) and Kauffman Stadium (home of the Royals, who had won the American League pennant the year before, and were on their way to winning the World Series later that year)! About ten miles east of Kansas City, I stopped at Burr Oak Woods natural area, hoping to see birds. To my surprise, there were many interesting butterflies there. About five hours later I arrived in St. Louis, and spent some time taking photos in downtown. I even went to the top of the Gateway Arch, for the first time since 1987. As you can see, the weather was ideal for picture-taking:
Gateway Arch, in St. Louis. (August 10, 2015)
St. Louis downtown from Gateway Arch. (August 10, 2015)
Just before leaving St. Louis, I took some quick photos of Busch Stadium, which I had toured four years earlier. From there it was pretty much a non-stop drive east along Interstate 64, through Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, and back into Virginia. To see a comprehensive set of photos from that trip, please take a look at the Chronological (2015) photo gallery page.
July 1, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Bullpen woes = misery for the Nationals
NOTE: Obviously, I've been struggling to keep up with various things lately, but as all good sports fans know, I'm not giving up! I will leave until tomorrow the task of systematically recounting the Nationals' successes and failures over the past two months.
They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and for the Washington Nationals this year, that weak link is obviously the group of relief pitchers in the bullpen. When was the last time a team with such enormous talent in the slugging and starting pitching departments didn't even have a regular closing pitcher??? After some early struggles and a brief stint on the disabled list, Koda Glover was on his way to settling down in that position, but then had a spectacular failure on June 10, blowing a save and paving the way for the Texas Rangers to win in extra innings. After the game, Glover disclosed -- too late -- that he had a sore shoulder. Not being candid about physical infirmities like that is just inexcusable. Since then he has been on the DL once again, as is Shawn Kelley, who was the losing pitcher in that game and also briefly served as closer.
Two weeks ago (June 15), the Washington Post had a story indicating that Nationals' bullpen is one of the worst in the major leagues since 1980. "The Nationals have lost 10 games with their starter exiting the game on record as the would-be winning pitcher, [second only to the Mets.]" Such an outcome has not been repeated since that article came out, but the starting pitchers started failing more often -- especially Tanner Roark, who only lasted three innings against the Cardinals last night. Thus, the Nats finished the month of June with a mediocre record of 14-14. What is especially disheartening is that some of those gut-wrenching losses happened at home in Nationals Park, where the Nats actually had a losing record for the month: 6-8. For the record, here are the vital pitching stats for the Nationals' usual relief pitchers, ranked according to innings pitched. Not a pretty picture...
|Koda Glover *||5.12||8||10||19.1|
|Shawn Kelley *||7.00||4||6||18.0|
* = Currently on disabled list.
Wounds healed at Nationals Park
One day after the terrible shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and others at a ballpark in nearby Alexandria (June 14), the annual congressional baseball game went on as scheduled at Nationals Park. If ever a time there was for The National Pastime to bring this country together, this was it. Members of Congress mostly wore uniforms from colleges in their home states, so it was hard to tell who was on whose side. They said a prayer before the game, and partisan differences were left aside at least for one day. One positive side-effect from the tragedy was that many more tickets were sold than usual, as over 20,000 people attended. See the Washington Post.
Comiskey Park update
About a month ago, I posted updates to the Comiskey Park diagrams, adding a new variant for 1983. These revisions were prompted in part by a photograph, and partly by the fine photographs of that ballpark taken by Al Kara, which I mentioned on April 21. My estimate of the distance to the backstop is now just 67 feet, rather than 78 feet as before. Why? Because of one aerial photo I saw of the 1959 World Series (photoshelter.com), taken from almost directly overhead in broad daylight. Comparing the backstop distance to the distance between home plate and the pitching rubber left no doubt: It could not possibly be 78 feet! (Bruce Orser concurs with my judgment on that, by the way.)
This reduced my estimate of foul territory from 29,500 to 29,000 square feet. Estimated fair territory remains the same as before, 113,600 square feet.
NOTE: I made finishing that diagram update my top baseball priority in May, and as so often happens, I encountered some unexpected hangups. For example, after supposedly finishing the updates in late May, I discovered that the grandstand was a few feet too shallow along the baselines compared to the curved portion between the dugouts. Making that adjustment forced me to make further compensating adjustments elsewhere.
Minute Maid Park
My friend Dave Givens was in Houston several weeks ago, and saw the first-place (!!!) Houston Astros play in Minute Maid Park, which underwent revisions during the off-season. I plan to revise the diagrams on that page, but I'm still waiting to see better photos of the new center field area, which is now perfectly flat.
Minute Maid Park from the upper deck on the third base side. Photo courtesy of Dave Givens, taken May 9, 2017.
June 30, 2017 [LINK / comment]
"Really big show" at Bedlam Brewing
This has been a pretty big month for me, but you wouldn't know it from the lack of any blog posts since May. Why? I've been consumed with learning new songs in preparation for public shows. After about a year of regular playing at the weekly Open Mic Night at Queen City Brewing, on the afternoon of Sunday, June 4, I did my very first full-fledged solo musical performance at Bedlam Brewing, a new business on the north side of Staunton, close to where we live. In my e-mail invitation to local area friends, I said it was going to be a "really BIG show," alluding of course to Ed Sullivan. I was very gratified that a good number of friends from the Augusta Bird Club and Emmanuel Episcopal Church came to watch me play, and they enjoyed it. The photo below is actually a screen grab from the video that Peter Van Acker recorded as I played Neil Young's "My My, Hey Hey." I greatly appreciated their show of support, and also John Huggins and Mike McCracken (owner of Bedlam) for fitting me into their busy musical schedule.
I arrived at Bedlam Brewing about 3:30, which gave me plenty of time to set up the sound equipment. I had used my Fender Passport amplifier system once before, at the Augusta Bird Club's 50th anniversary dinner last December, but this was the first time that I had my own speaker stands (to ensure that the sound carried well) and musical stand to hold the lyrics. I started playing at 4:00, did the 17 songs I had planned as the first half of my set, but that took until about 5:20, as I had underestimated how much time would be needed. After a short break, I played six more songs (nine less than the 15 I had planned), and finished about 6:00. I concentrated on classic rock tunes from the sixties and seventies, with a few country songs mixed in, as well as a few songs from more years. What follows is the actual set list:
- Ring Of Fire -- Johnny Cash
- The Last Time -- Rolling Stones
- Like A Rolling Stone -- Bob Dylan
- You've Go to Hide Your Love Away -- Beatles
- Susie Q -- Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Mrs. Robinson -- Simon & Garfunkle
- Your Song -- Elton John
- Simple Man -- Crosby, Stills, & Nash
- Tequila Sunrise -- Eagles
- Landslide -- Fleetwood Mac
- Long Train Running -- Doobie Brothers
- Guitar Man -- Bread
- Piano Man -- Billy Joel
- Only Want To Be With You -- Hootie & the Blowfish
- Follow You Down -- Gin Blossoms
- Interstate Love Song -- Stone Temple Pilots
- Come Together -- Beatles
( BREAK )
- Colorado Song -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- Never Goin' Back Again -- * Fleetwood Mac
- Melissa -- Allman Brothers
- My My, Hey Hey -- Neil Young
- Dust In The Wind -- Kansas
- Rhythm of Love -- Plain White T's
In sum, it was great fun but also quite exhausting, and [afterwards I] plopped down to enjoy a beer with some of the folks who came to see me play. I look forward to my next performance there, which will be on July 23. Bedlam Brewing serves a wide variety of choice malt beverages, as well as great food. It's located where Ma & Pa's Pizza used to be, and opened just last February.
Recent Open Mic events
At the May 3 event at Queen City Brewing, I followed up my April 26 performance (see my May 2 post) with three more songs by Creedence Clearwater Revival. They all went pretty well, and the final song received the biggest applause:
- Bad Moon Rising -- Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Green River -- Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Who'll Stop the Rain? -- Creedence Clearwater Revival
After a rare hiatus from the weekly music routine, I returned to Queen City Brewing on May 17, which was the first time I had played outside since last summer. I forgot how quickly the springtime evenings cool down, and the short pants I wore proved quite inadequate. I played three more songs by Creedence Clearwater Revival for the first set. I should have done better on "Susie Q," which features a cool guitar riff played over and over. For the second set (the extra time reflected the paucity of musicians that night), I played three songs I know very well. On "Best of My Love," [I have started using a capo (key of C, played like an A)], which I think yields a sound closer to the Eagles' original song. I used to play that one in with open chords. The last two songs utilized the harmonica, and sounded good.
- Susie Q -- Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Fortunate Son -- Creedence Clearwater Revival
- I Heard It Through the Grapevine -- Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Best of My Love -- Eagles
- Long Train Running ** -- Doobie Brothers
- Love Me Do ** -- The Beatles
On May 31, I paid tribute to the recent passing of Gregg Allman by playing his song "Melissa." My rendition of "Fall of the Peacemakers" kind of fell flat, but I did much better on "Dust In the Wind," which is one of my old standards. I'll bet nobody had heard that one with a harmonica before! There was a big slate of musicians that night, so we only got to do the basic three songs.
- Melissa ** -- Allman Brothers
- Fall of the Peacemakers -- Molly Hatchet
- Dust In the Wind -- Kansas
The next week (June 7), I played four songs for the very first time, including the first Ozark Mountain Daredevils I had played since April 12. "If You Want to Get to Heaven" was that group's first big hit, but surprisingly, I never really learned to play it until just a few years ago. (Until I learned to play the harmonica, that song just didn't sound that impressive.) People really loved "Cat's In the Cradle." The last song (as the "encore") was a follow up to the Molly Hatchet song of the previous week, and likewise it kind of fell flat.
- If You Want to Get to Heaven -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- Found Out About You -- Gin Blossoms
- Cat's In the Cradle -- Harry Chapin
- Flirtin' With Disaster -- Molly Hatchet
On June 14, I played four Eric Clapton songs, beginning with "Tears In Heaven," in honor of the late son of my friends Colin and Teresa Hester, Adam. That one sounded fine, but I had a harder time with the intricate guitar parts on the next three songs. Adequate but not spectacular. In the second set, I played a Pink Floyd song, for the very first time, "Hey You." It went OK, but a little on the weak side. I closed with an old Eagles song, "Bitter Creek," which I had played at my first-ever open mic event. This time it went much better!
- Tears In Heaven -- Eric Clapton
- Before You Accuse Me -- Eric Clapton
- Layla -- Eric Clapton
- Hey Hey -- Eric Clapton
- Hey You -- Pink Floyd
- Bitter Creek -- Eagles
On June 21 I played three more Pink Floyd songs, an indication of just how keenly focused I have been on them this month. I had just learned "Comfortably Numb" a week before, and I was pleased that it came through very well. I have played parts of "Wish You Were Here" but never got the whole thing down until recently. Jacqueline was there for the first time in a few weeks, and she recorded the latter two songs on her iPhone, and I uploaded the videos to Facebook.
- Brain Damage -- Pink Floyd
- Comfortably Numb -- Pink Floyd
- Wish You Were Here -- Pink Floyd
At the June 28 open mic night, I played my brand-new original song (first heard on Star 94.3 [radio] last Saturday; see below) plus two more songs by Pink Floyd. I had practiced all of them extensively, and it was one of my best performances ever, using the harmonica on all three songs. A big crowd was there (about 30), including Jacqueline, but she had to leave before I played.
- Better Left Unsaid -- Andrew Clem
- Breathe In the Air -- Pink Floyd
- Time (with Breathe reprise) -- Pink Floyd
As you can see, I have greatly expanded my repertoire with several new songs each from Creedence Clearwater Revival and Pink Floyd. The above songs will soon be added to the Music page.
I'm on the radio!
John Huggins, the guy who arranged my show at Bedlam Brewing, kindly invited me to do his weekly radio show featuring local Shenandoah Valley musical performers, and with some trepidation, I accepted. We recorded the show at the Star 94.3 studios in downtown Staunton on June 23 (Friday), and it was broadcast the next day. He wanted original material, but I don't have much of my own material, so I had to write a song, fast! The result was "Better Left Unsaid," which I have to say sounds pretty good. It was just a rough version that I did on the radio, whereas the version I played at Queen City a few days later had revised lyrics and used the harmonica. I also played an instrumental composition I call "Sky Blues" and I song I wrote in jest for an old friend many years ago, "The Ballad of Adlai."
Blue & Brews Festival
On Saturday June 17, Jacqueline and I went to the 2017 Shenandoah Blue & Brews Festival at the Ironwood County Club in Staunton, and it was time well spent. It was a hot and sunny day, and we enjoyed the locally-brewed beer and cider on sale, as well as barbecue pork sandwiches prepared by my friends Matthew Poteat and Colin Hester. (Carolina Q is the name of their business.) I'd say there were about 300 people there, which was pretty good but perhaps not as many as had been hoped. We had been to that event a couple years ago, when it was held at the Frontier Culture Museum. John Huggins is the organizer of that event, and is behind many other local musical shows, as well as being the proprietor of Shenandoah Hops, [a craft beer store] in downtown Staunton. He is a very busy guy, and he does a lot for the Staunton community! For more information, see shenandoahconcerts.com. Here are the performers:
- Eli Cook
- Born Crooked
- The Bell Hornets
- Melissa And The Growlers
- Southern Avenue
A fair-sized crowd was present at the 2017 Blues n Brews festival.
Melissa and the Growlers, the featured act at the 2017 Blues n Brews festival.