December 14, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Late fall / early winter birding
Technically, winter doesn't begin until next week, but with a major ice storm, a minor snow fall, and heavy snow storm behind us already, winter essentially arrived one month ago. Freezing rain all day on November 15 resulted in thousands of downed tree branches across this area, and we lost power just before 9:00 that evening. Not until 3:30 the next day did our power (and heat) come back on line: 18 1/2 hours without electricity! It was miserable, as the temperature inside dropped to 60 degrees, but other folks I know suffered for days, and in some cases with major property damage. Anyway, I was fortunate to see and photograph three rare or uncommon bird species over the past month.
On Saturday November 17 I was scheduled to lead an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the new trail at the Mill Place industrial park in Verona, just north of Staunton. But those plans were set aside by the sudden passing away of a dear friend in the club, Ed Lawler. A memorial service for Ed was held later that same morning, so I decided to just make a brief, perfunctory visit to Mill Place in Ed's memory, just in case some people didn't get the news about Ed, to allow for enough time to get to the service. I was not at all surprised that no one else came. But as it turned out, the birding was excellent that morning, highlighted by two birds that only rarely come to visit the Staunton-Augusta area: a Fox Sparrow and a Hermit Thrush.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Fox Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing, Hermit Thrush, American Goldfinch, Killdeer, E. Meadowlark, and in center, Field Sparrow and American Robin, at Mill Place on November 17.
Roll your mouse over the image to see the Fox Sparrow.
Two days later, November 19, I went along on an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Bell's Lane led by Penny Warren. Others had a good view of some Ring-necked Ducks on a farm pond, but I only had a glimpse of them flying away. The big highlight of the morning was not a bird, however, but a River Otter in the beaver pond near the north end of Bell's Lane. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a photo before it swam away.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-bellied Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwing, Downy Woodpecker (M), Pied-billed Grebe, American Robin, and American Coot. (November 19)
A day later I was surprised to see a female Pileated Woodpecker in a tree out back. They usually avoid populated areas. Also that day I learned about a flock of Rusty Blackbirds via an e-mail alert from Marshall Faintich, a renowned bird photographer from the Afton/Crozet area. He described the location very accurately, the Cline River Road bridge over the Middle River a mile or so south of the Weyer's Cave airport, so I went there on Wednesday, November 21. It took just a few minutes before I spotted some blackbirds, and I was lucky to see and photograph one in a nearby tree. Bingo! It was the first time I have ever taken a good photo of that species, and that was very gratifying. On the way back into Staunton I stopped at the Bell's Lane beaver pond, and saw a few interesting birds.
Of note is the probable Carolina Chickadee which looks a bit like a Black-capped Chickadee based on the blurry lower edge of the black "bib." Baxter Beamer, a young birder from Albemarle County who gave a presentation to the bird club in October, noticed that feature and opined that it could be a Black-capped Chickadee or a hybrid of the two species. If so, it would be unusual, since the border between the ranges of those respective species is fairly well define, coinciding roughly with Shenandoah Mountain, a high ridge about 15-20 miles west of Staunton.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Rusty Blackbird: M, American Kestrel, Carolina Chickadee, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Song Sparrow. (November 21)
Roll your mouse over the image to see the Rusty Blackbird.
I didn't do any real birding for the rest of that month, but on the first day of December I spotted a Brown Creeper on a tree out back. The photo I took was mediocre, unfortunately. Two days later I got lucky when a Flicker showed up at our suet feeder:
Northern Flicker (male), on December 3.
On December 5, following a minor snow storm, Penny Warren spotted some swans on one of the Bell's Lane farm ponds, and invited me to try to take some photos to identify the species: Tundra or Trumpeter? Unfortunately, they were gone by the time I got there, but we did at least see some nice ducks and a young Pied-billed Grebe. The big news of the day for me was a Gray Catbird spotted by Jacqueline outside our apartment. I think the last time I saw that species in a winter month was December 2005; it remained for at least a couple months thereafter.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Redhead, Gray Catbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-crowned Sparrow, Pied-billed Grebe (juv.), Ring-necked Duck, and in center, White-breasted Nuthatch. (December 6)
Roll your mouse over the image to see the Gray Catbird a bit larger.
Field trip to Mill Place
Last Saturday, December 8, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the new trail at the Mill Place industrial park in Verona, just north of Staunton. Given the freezing temperatures, I was pleasantly surprised that five other members showed up. It is a very scenic nature spot that seems to have been developed with great care in planning, featuring a sheltered picnic area, multiple benches for resting along the way, and a wooden foot bridge. It is all asphalt. Even better, it is an excellent habitat for a variety of sparrows and other songbirds. Highlights of the day were a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Hermit Thrush, and a Swamp Sparrow. In the reeds, two members spotted a very small brown bird that was most likely a Marsh Wren or a Winter Wren, and some of us saw what was either a Yellow-rumped or a Palm Warbler. I counted a total of 21 species, pending confirmation from others who were there.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-shouldered Hawk, American Goldfinch, Hermit Thrush, Dark-eyed Junco, and White-crowned Sparrows (adult and juvenile). (December 8, 2018)
Roll your mouse over the image to see the Hermit Thrush enlarged.
On Sunday December 9 we had a major snow storm, measuring 8-10 inches in Staunton, far more than the 1-2 inches that were forecast. I haven't done much birding this week, but I am pleased to report that (as of yesterday) the Rufous Hummingbird in Stuart's Draft (see November 10) has survived the brutal wintry onslaught! As always, other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
December 13, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Tiger Stadium update -- with "new" photos!!!
After another multi-day marathon effort, I finished updating the Tiger Stadium diagrams earlier today. Actually, I had to make a few minor corrections later in the afternoon, mainly to ensure that the original permanent bleacher section in right-center field (1912-1937) matched the lower-deck diagram, which represents 1938 but applies to all subsequent years except for the deeper center field area (it really was 440 feet until they built an inner fence in 1954) and the absence of warning tracks.
So, what changed compared to the previous diagram revision in June 2009? There are separate diagrams showing the uncovered upper and lower decks, with all the juicy details such as support beams and entry portals. I found out for sure that the bullpen to the left of center field (behind the big flag pole) was in fact used by both teams' relief pitchers. That seems very weird, and I wonder if such an arrangement had ever been done before or since then?
In the agonizing process of getting all the pieces to fit, I made two important discoveries. First, the wall in deep center field (1938-1953) was not a consistent curve but angled off slightly on the right side, where there was a wide access gate that was presumably used for landscaping vehicles and maintenance equipment. I had noticed such a minor anomaly in one of the seating charts published in the Kessler (whiskey that's "smooth as silk"!) annual baseball guides back in the 1960s, but disregarded it until I noticed exactly such a feature in a photo of Tiger Stadium. That section of center field was angled slightly so as to align properly with the lower-deck seats on the right field side, which were ten feet farther from home plate than the upper deck seats.
Second, the upper deck between first base and the right field corner was not only discontinuous with the adjoining portions of the upper deck on both ends, but it had a significally shallower "pitch" (i.e., steepness) -- about 27 degrees rather than about 33 degrees. I knew that there was a similar disjuncture in the pitch of the upper deck to the right of center field, and I knew that the upper deck portion in question did extend out about 12-15 feet in front of the adjoining upper deck portion, but when I noticed in a photo that the rear of those two portions coincided very closely (just a few feet difference), it dawned on me that the only way those two things could be true is if they were different in terms of vertical angle. Frankly, I don't see the point of building that portion of the upper deck that way.
Finally, there are a few new details in the diagrams, such as the elevator tower in back of the southwest corner of the grandstand. There are also multiple profiles in both the upper-deck and lower-deck diagrams, to facilitate comparison of the different sections of the grandstand. Tiger Stadium was awkwardly patched together in stages over the years, and it often seems that they didn't plan ahead very well.
The 1934 diagram shows the peculiar profile of the temporary bleachers that were built for the World Series (also for 1935), in which the rear three-quarters had a shallower pitch than the front one-quarter. Ordinarily, the farther back you go in a grandstand, the steeper it gets. Those bleachers covered Cherry Avenue, and when what was then called Navin Field was expanded in 1938 (and renamed "Briggs Stadium"), that street was moved about 150 feet, making room for the double-deck grandstand beyond left field.
The added bonus of three "new" photos taken while I was in Detroit in 2004 (five years before Tiger Stadium was demolished) stems from a discovery of a shoebox full of old photos (mostly baseball-related) a couple months ago. Last week I finally got around to scanning them, and two of them are pretty good, showing lots of detail. In addition to the previously-displayed photo I took from the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull Avenue, there are also exterior shots from the southwest corner, the northwest corner (up close), and the northeast corner. I really wish I had taken more photos when I was there. Other "new" photos that I took at Comerica Park and other stadiums will be posted in coming days...
Tiger Stadium seen from the southwest side (behind home plate), August 5, 2004.
New ball field at the stadium site
Meanwhile, at the site of Tiger Stadium, a new ballfield opened this year. It is called "The Corner Ballpark presented by Adient," and last March they started holding youth baseball games there, a long-overdue community development initiative. See Detroit Free Press. The massive (125-foot) flag pole has been placed at its former location, but unfortunately, the field has artificial turf, even though the fans who maintained the old Tiger Stadium site volunteered to keep the green grass trimmed and healthy. See detroitnews.com.
Nats trade Roark to the Reds
One of the tragic aspects of the Washington Nationals this year is the suboptimal performance from Tanner Roark, who had been a solid, often excellent starting pitcher since 2013. (He had been acquired from the Texas Rangers in a trade for infielder Cristian Guzman and another player in 2010.) Today he was traded for another guy with the same first name: Tanner Rainey! This will save the Nats about $10 million in salary costs this year, giving them more flexibility to bargain with Bryce Harper and/or Anthony Rendon.
Roark always had a great attitude, smiling gregariously but very serious about winning. He proved his ability to perform in clutch situations when he helped the USA win the World Baseball Classic in 2017, winning the next-to-last game. But he wasn't given a chance to pitch in the National League Divisional Series last year, mainly because rain forced a one-day postponment of Game 4, and Dusty Baker went with Stephen Strasburg instead. (See October 11, 2017.) Not having thrown a single pitch in the NLDS, it's understandable that Tanner felt slighted, and perhaps that explains his evident lack of motivation this year. Maybe he just needed a change of scenery. He deserves great appreciation for his six fine years of pitching with the Nats, and I wish him all the very best in Cincinnati!
Tanner Roark, warming up to pitch against the Miami Marlins on October 1, 2016.
There is nothing solid to report about Bryce Harper, by the way. A few days ago, the Nationals' principle owner Mark Lerner said he thinks that Harper is going to "move on," but that was probably just a negotiating ploy. Now that the winter meetings of the MLB owners have wrapped up, there may not be much activity until the New Year.
December 7, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Much, much more music!
Since my last solo musical show three months ago, I have cut back somewhat on appearances at the Queen City Brewing open mic nights. Instead of roughly three weeks per month, it's been more like twice a month this fall. I have also spent a bit less time learning new material, trying instead to polish the songs I already know, but I have not stopped entirely. Far from it! (I may have been at the September 19 open mic event, but if so, I didn't write it down.)
Here is what I have played at recent open mic events, beginning with October 10. This was soon after the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and I thought a song about excessive drinking in college would be appropriate, hence "Chug All Night," a little-known early Eagles tune. But the big "hit" of the evening for me was "Hummingbird," marking the departure of hummingbirds who head south every October -- or most of them, anyway! (See below.) The other four songs (which I had played in public before) went OK, although I wish I could have played the harmonica (denoted by the # symbol) more cleanly on "Gypsy Forest."
- * Hummingbird -- Seals & Croft
- Gypsy Forest ( # ) -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- * Chug All Night -- Eagles
- Take the Long Way Home ( # ) -- Supertramp
- Standing On The Rock ( # ) -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- Hey You -- Pink Floyd
A week later, on October 17, I played three new (for me) songs, indicated with asterisks as in the list above. They all went surprisingly well. "Mr. Powell" is about John Wesley Powell, the first explorer to navigate the rapids of the Colorado River in its entirety, in 1869. I learned it a long time ago, but made some "final corrections" before doing it in public for the first time. "Under the Bridge" is one hell of a cool song from the nineties, and really impressed the bartender, Kyle.
- * Forever Autumn -- Moody Blues
- * Mr. Powell ( # ) -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- * Under the Bridge -- Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Us and Them -- Pink Floyd
- Aqualung -- Jethro Tull
On October 31 (Halloween!), there weren't many musicians present, so we each had to do a few extra songs. This time I had two new songs, both by Chicago. I did passably on the first three "encore" songs, but for the final song, I gave up on Jethro Tull's "Living In the Past" after flubbing the intro. That hasn't happened to me in a long time. So, I played Carole King's "It's Too Late" instead, and that went just fine.
- * If You Leave Me Now -- Chicago
- * Wishing You Were Here ( # ) -- Chicago
- You've Got a Friend -- James Taylor (Carole King)
- Refugee ( # ) -- Tom Petty
- Year of the Cat ( # ) -- Al Stewart
- Two Lane Highway ( # ) -- Pure Prairie League
- The Story In Your Eyes -- Moody Blues
- It's Too Late -- Carole King
Two weeks later, on November 14, I played three new songs (two by Chicago) and did "Hummingbird" again, in recognition of the surprise visit of a Rufous Hummingbird to the home of a local bird club member. (See November 10.) My friend from the bird club, Peter Van Acker, was in attendance, appropriately enough. The first song I played, "The Last Resort," called attention to the disastrous wildfires that killed perhaps a hundred or more people in California. It's all about ruining the wilderness with vacation and retirement residences, and of the consequent risks to the environment. I had just learned that song a couple days earlier, and managed to pull it off very well, I thought. My final song, "Elected," was of course a tribute to the congressional midterm elections that had just happened.
- * The Last Resort -- Eagles
- Hummingbird -- Seals & Croft
- * Colour My World ( # ) -- Chicago
- * Feelin' Stronger Every Day -- Chicago
- Elected -- Alice Cooper
November 28 was frigid, and I had trepidations about heading out to play music, but I'm glad I did. I played four brand-new songs of very distinct genres, and the audience was very friendly and appreciative. I really wowed them with the first three songs, and Fritz Horisk kindly complimented me on "Wichita Lineman." For the fourth one I gave them fair warning of a slight change of pace, and to my surprise, some of the "older" folks were singing along! For the "encore" song, I did "Under the Bridge" again, but should have played the intro more cleanly. Also, I kind of messed up the chords on the final part of that song. Nevertheless, it was for the most part an excellent night, and Craig Austin's percussion added a lot. My set list:
- * Saturday In the Park ( # ) -- Chicago
- * Wichita Lineman ( # ) -- Glen Campbell
- * Whippoorwill -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- * No More Mr. Nice Guy ( # ) -- Alice Cooper
- Under the Bridge -- Red Hot Chili Peppers
( # ) = with harmonica
Chicago! Chicago! Etc.
As you might have noticed, I played five songs by Chicago, the first time I have covered that particular group. Not surprisingly, given that the band relies heavily on brass instruments, I used the harmonica in all five songs. I'm working on one other Chicago song, "Beginnings," but it will take a lot more practice before it's ready for public consumption!
I have also been learning more songs by Carole King and Joe Walsh, among others. A couple months ago I was working on Doobie Brothers and Three Dog Night but then set those aside. Maybe I'll get back to them soon...
December 7, 2018 [LINK / comment]
State of the diagrams, 2018
"Rounding third and heading for home!" With a relentless force of will, I am approaching the end point of this Odyssean (!) endeavor of diagramming baseball stadiums. Well, at least an end point: completing the major league ballpark diagrams of the concrete-and-steel era, as opposed to ballparks built prior to 1909, or the various foreign, minor league, and college ballparks that I believe qualify for such treatment. In fact, I probably should have highlighted the fact that, with the updating of the Angel (Anaheim) Stadium diagrams on November 25, my diagrams for all 30 current MLB stadiums are essentially state-of-the-art! An unheralded landmark event. Some of them are lacking in details such as in the bullpens or the concourse areas, but I'm confident the stadiums and the fields are rendered with a satisfactorily high degree of accuracy. One possible question mark is Candlestick Park, which I last updated on the very last day of 2012. At the time, it was a huge leap forward, diagram-wise, and as far as I can tell, that set of diagrams has withstood the test of time.
Anyway, as this final stretch begins, I thought it would be fitting to review where the diagrams stand, following the example of five years ago, when I presented my own "state of the diagrams" assessment. My diagrams for each of the 76 MLB stadiums are ranked from "A" (superb), "B" (pretty good), "C" (marginally acceptable), and "D" (just plain lousy). This reflects only the diagrams themselves, in their current published state, and has nothing to do with the aesthetic appeal of the real-world stadiums. This list only includes major league stadiums, including short-term ones such as Sick's Stadium but not temporary ones such as Hiram Bithorn Stadium, minor league stadiums, or those in foreign countries. So here goes...
[ * (asterisk) = name change; * * = multiple name changes.]
As you can see, all but eight (i.e., 68 of the 76) diagrams are state of the art, or close to it. For those who only visit this website occasionally or may be new, there are two related pages that track my past progress in updating stadium diagrams: Stadium diagram updates (chronological archives, year by year) and Diagram update log (arranged by city name in alphabetical order). Occasionally I find mistakes on those pages, such as when I was almost done with a particular stadium and that got sidetracked after after inserting a link for an anticipated completion date. So, like the diagrams themselves, those pages are "subject to revision." This table summarizes how many of the diagrams were last updated in each successive year. Since none of the "A"-rated diagrams were done prior to 2012, I have omitted them. But for those who are really curious, I began posting such diagrams way back in 2002 -- a full 16 years ago! (By my current standards, they are embarrassingly crude and amateurish.) My progress over the years has been interrupted by occasional pauses, and indeed I had forgotten what a bleak year 2017 was, diagram-wise.
||Number of final
stadium diagram updates
With eight stadiums left to do, the total for 2018 could theoretically go as high as 18. Anything is possible! As of today, December 7th, here are the "coming attractions," in order of targeted completion:
- Tiger Stadium
- Polo Grounds
- Yankee Stadium
- Olympic Stadium
- Griffith Stadium
- Metropolitan Stadium
- Forbes Field
- Crosley Field
Nats sign Patrick Corbin
The Washington Nationals signed free agent Patrick Corbin to a six-year contract that is supposedly worth $140 million. He was evidently the most sought-after pitcher on the open market, so that seems to be a coup for Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo. Corbin was an All-Star this year (representing the Arizona Diamondbacks), and he will become the third Nat starting pitcher (after Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg) to have earned that honor. Corbin is 29 and had an ERA of 3.15 this year, with 246 strikeouts. The main downside is the possibility that his arm may not last for the full six years, since he had Tommy John surgery. See MLB.com. But as we know, both Stephen Strasburg and former Nat Jordan Zimmermann have pitched well for years after having had such surgery. As a left-handed starting pitcher, Corbin essentially replaces Gio Gonzalez in the pitching rotation.
If Bryce Harper was looking for a sign that the Nats owners are willing to spend what's necessary to attract a full roster of top talent, this was it. Personally, I think Bryce wants first and foremost to play on a championship team, and the salary is not necessarily to determining factor in where he ends up. I really hope he does decide to settle down in D.C., but the longer negotiations drag on, the less likely that seems.
The mail bag
Thanks to Joe Johnston for confirming that the curved grandstand along the first base line in Arlington Stadium was indeed built in 1973, as I hypothesized. He was at a game there in 1972, the inaugural year of the Texas Rangers, and he remembers the temporary rectangular bleachers (built for football games) on that side.
Mike Zurawski recently informed me about Elon Musk's plans to build a tunnel for a high-speed subway line to Dodger Stadium, presumably from downtown. A separate proposed line was recently turned down. Now comes news that they want to build a gondola transportation system that would take 5,000 passengers per hour from Union Station to Dodger Stadium in approximately five minutes. See urbanize.la. Such a system functions much like a ski lift, and in fact I rode one in Medllin, Colombia nearly two years ago. Depending on the terrain, they can be expensive to build, but seem fairly cheap to operate.
More news about the future Oakland stadium soon...
December 1, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Arlington Stadium update
After a tip from Terry Wallace about there being bullpen dugouts at Arlington Stadium (as opposed to mere benches which aren't worth rendering), I made some discoveries from some long-neglected photos and guess what? I ended up having to update the entire set of Arlington Stadium diagrams! (Familiar story?) It turns out that the bleachers built for football games extending along the first base line toward the right field corner remained there for most if not all of the 1972 season, when the Rangers first played there. Previously I had thought that they were replaced by permanent grandstand seating at the same time that the giant semi-circular bleachers stretching from foul pole to foul pole were built. In fact it might have been later than 1973 that the grandstand was upgraded. So, besides adding details to the bullpen areas, I made corrections to the positions of the scoreboard, some of the light towers, and some of the peripheral buildings, especially those on the northwest side behind home plate. (There were very few changes to the last diagram in that set, 1985.) There is also a new "the site today" diagram showing AT&T Way which passes straight through where Arlington Stadium once stood, on the way to AT&T Stadium, home of the Cowboys. It is the second such diagram for stadiums that no longer exist, the first being Riverfront Stadium. I had a rough idea of Arlington Stadium's location when I visited Globe Life Park in June 2014, but I came no closer than a couple blocks away from it when I took this photo:
A pond (dammed-up stream, actually) next to Arlington Convention Center, taken from the north side of Globe Life Park on June 24, 2014. The Arlington Stadium bleachers would have been where that empty parking lot in back on the left is.
Anyway, Terry related a story from a friend that the bullpen dugouts were so deep that when Sparky Lyle was with the Rangers, he declared it a "submarine" and said he was the "captain." Tiger Stadium is another example of such bullpen dugouts, which minimize the sight obstruction to front-row fans near bullpens located along foul lines. It also prevents fans from bothering the relief pitchers. Wrigley Field used to have such bullpens without such dugouts, and AT&T Park still does. (Seats for the relief pitchers are behind an enclosure at ground level there.)
Athletics announce new ballpark!
It's not a 100% done deal, but it's a lot closer than any of the Oakland team's previous stadium schemes, such as in [Fremont] or San Jose. The Athletics announced on Friday that they plan to build a new ballpark on the Oakland waterfront at Howard Terminal near Jack London square. Two enormous (200+ feet tall) shipping cranes would be visible beyond right-center field, with the field being oriented toward the southeast. Best of all, the stadium would be funded entirely from private capital, only needing government support for infrastructure improvements such as a proposed gondola to carry fans across the railroad tracks to the nearby BART commuter rail station. Many details remain up in the air, of course. See MLB.com. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski. The team's new slogan "Rooted In Oakland" aims to make the commitment rock-solid. Apparently, a big part of the change in fortune was due to the office of the mayor of Oakland, Elizabeth "Libby" Schaaf. Evidently, she had to make a choice between trusting the NFL Raiders or the MLB Athletics as a long-term civic partner, and went with the latter. Hence, the Raiders' awkward departure to Las Vegas in the next couple years or so...
The design of the proposed stadium bears certain similarities to the home of the A's from 1909 until 1954, Shibe Park. But it has many unique features such as a rooftop park full of shrubs and small trees, which will supposedly be open to the public! It was designed by European architects who have no previous experience in designing baseball stadiums. Hmmm... See sfchronicle.com
For the record, the big capacity increase at Oakland Coliseum this year which I cited on Oct. 3 actually took place in April of 2017, just a few weeks after Opening Day. That's when they removed the tarps from the upper deck, and started selling cheap ($15) tickets to expand the fan base. It was evidently a goodwill gesture that played a part in getting help from the city government in overcoming obstacles to the unusual stadium deal at Howard Terminal. See mercurynews.com. The capacity figures I rely upon (Washington Post box scores) are evidently from the beginning of each season.
Angels opt out of lease?
While the Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, and Seattle Mariners have all extended their stadium leases (see Oct. 25), the Los Angeles Angels opted out of their lease at Angels (Anaheim) Stadium in October. So, what, are they going to move back into Dodger Stadium as tenants again? No, they are obligated to remain there at least through next season. The lease terms specify that the Angels either opted out this year or wait ten more years (2028) for another such opportunity. One thing in the Angels' favor is their success at selling tickets: "Since 2003, the first season of Arte Moreno's ownership, the Angels and New York Yankees are the only major league teams to sell 3 million tickets every year." See latimes.com Outgoing mayor of Anaheim Tom Tait was against a deal to renovate Angel Stadium, but the mayor who was just elected seems more amenable to compromise. Thanks to Mike Zurawski for that news item as well.
Nats get Yan Gomes in trade
When the Washington Nationals acquired Kurt Suzuki last month, the question was whether he would serve as the Nats' "front-line" catcher, as Tom Boswell put it. Apparently not. The Nats made a trade with the Cleveland Indians to get catcher Yan Gomes, who is solid defensively and has a good bat. He hit 16 home runs and made the All Star roster this year. In return, the Nats gave up minor league outfielder Daniel Johnson and Jefry Rodriguez, who showed some promise as a starting pitcher in a few late-season games this year. See MLB.com and/or Washington Post. It's a very encouraging move, made perhaps more urgent by the fact that the Atlanta Braves just signed a contract with slugger Josh Donaldson. They seem intent on repeating as NL East champs.
The Nats are currently pursuing Diamondbacks pitcher Patrick Corbin. They also made tender offers to all their free agents (most notably, Anthony Rendon) and signed a one-year contract extension with Sammy Solis, who was a rather unreliable relief pitcher this year. That one puzzled me, as he seemed to exemplify the Nats' bullpen meltdown.
November 25, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Angel Stadium (of Anaheim) update!
At l-o-n-g last, I finished updating the Angel (Anaheim) Stadium diagrams, and obviously it was harder than I expected. The main change is that the grandstand is about 15 feet deeper around the entire field than it was in the 2014 version (click on it to compare), which may not seem like much, but makes a huge difference. There was a disrepancy between the middle deck in right field (which used to extend forward from 23 to about 40 rows during the football reconfiguration) and the main grandstand (that part which was originally there in 1966), and the only way to reconcile it was to stretch everything out. Easier said than done...
I made a small discovery along the way that helped to reconcile that discrepancy: the curved walls in front of the grandstand just beyond the foul poles bends inward more sharply than the grandstand itself, making room for two additional rows of seats, and extra leg room to boot. Why did they do it that way? I have no clue.
Among the new details shown in the diagrams are the "ribs" that divide the roof into discrete sections, a feature characteristic of a few other stadius; see April 28, 2016, when I tweaked the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium diagrams. Like the rest of the "modern" class of baseball stadiums, there are no distinct "creases" in the grandstand, since the overall design consists of gradual curves. (In fact, of course, those "curves" consist of short straight lines.) Finally, there are brand-new new lower-deck and middle-deck diagrams, which also show details such as structural support beams. Finally, I discovered from a photo of the construction that in the original (1966-1979) manifestation of Anaheim Stadium, there was a small press box in the very top rows of the upper deck along the third base side. That was obviously intended for football games, so I'll have to do some checking to see what football games were played there before the Rams moved in in 1980.
Built in 1966, Angel Stadium is currently the fourth-oldest MLB stadium, after Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and Dodger Stadium. There is occasional talk of replacing it, but I see no reason why it can't be refurbished to suit modern tastes and trends.
A quick glance at the Periodic table of stadiums tells me that there are only eight stadiums left for me to revise. (That doesn't include various non-MLB stadiums that I intend to do eventually.) I was really hoping to finish up by the end of the year, but that may take some doing...
New starter for the Nats?
A column by Chelsea Janes in yesterday's Washington Post raised the question of whether the Nationals might make a big trade in order to acquire a new starting pitcher. Until now, Nats GM Mike Rizzo has only made such a trade twice: Gio Gonzalez (who joined the Nats in 2012) and Doug Fister (2014). Both deals worked out very well, although Fister only had two years with the Nats. With the departure of Gio Gonzalez at the end of August, a vacancy in the rotation opened up. Joe Ross may make the grade (he returned late in the season after recovering from Tommy John surgery), but the younger wanna-be's Erick Fedde and Jefry Rodriguez have yet to prove themselves as worthy of major league status. And so, Mike Rizzo says he will "explore all his options" regarding starting pitchers. Among the free-agent names most often mentioned are Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel (Astros), and Nathan Eovaldi (Rays then Red Sox this year).
I refuse to speculate on rumors of trades and free-agent signings -- especially when #34 of the Washington Nationals is at the center of such rumors!!!
Adrian Beltre retires
Third baseman Adrian Beltre, who has played for the Texas Rangers since 2011, announced that he is retiring, after a remarkable 21 years in the majors. With 3,166 hits, 477 home runs, and a .286 batting average in his career, he is a worthy contender for selection to the Hall of Fame.
Roundup of ballpark news
Mike Zurawski keeps sending me news about ballpark changes, etc., in spite of the fact that I have done such a poor job of keeping up with such things. Will I do better from now on? Yes! Will I answer e-mails more promptly? I will try!! So, without further adieu, here is a very quick rundown of ballpark news this fall:
The Oakland Athletics are in the process of adding new table seating areas near the left and right field corners, adjacent to those wide staircases that were originally built for the sake of football fans exiting via the field. "Oak Landing" will be in left field, while the "Hero Deck" will be on the right field side. There will also be luxury seating sections such as the "Coppola Theater Box," the "Lounge Seats" behind the road dugout, and the "Terrace" above the home dugout. They will all include in-game monitors. Each row of the new premium seating will cover the equivalent of two or three rows of the regular sections. See newballpark.org. These upgrades are in part a way to reduce the number of empty seats while generating more revenue from the ones that are occupied. As I noted on October 3, the capacity at Oakland Coliseum jumped sharply this year, to nearly 47,000, after the upper deck was reopened. Of perhaps greater long-term significance, the A's are expected to announce by the end of the year that a new ballpark [will be built] adjacent to Howard Terminal Park in Oakland, with outfield facing the harbor and the giant cranes. Best of all, it will be privately financed. Stay tuned, sports fans!!!
Much like what happened at the Astrodome a half century ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks are going to remove the grass and install artificial turf at Chase Field next year. The main problem is the cost and mechanical wear of having to start up the air conditioning at the park after the roof is open all day to provide sunlight for the grass. See ballparkdigest.com. Oh well. I'm sure it will save energy, so it's hard to fault them for that. I remember from my trip in 2014 thinking how extravagant it was to provide air conditioning in a city where the temperatures regularly reach the triple digits. Stay tuned for quick update to that page...
As had been rumored for many months, the Miami Marlins have moved the absurdly glitzy home run sculpture to the outside of Marlins Park. In its place to the left of center field is a new standing room deck, with ivy beyond the outfield wall. In addition, there will be a new standing-room only social section down the right field line, and the outfield wall will be painted blue, a more "normal" color than the garish neon lime green. See MLB.com and ESPN.com.
The Colorado Rockies have extended their lease on Coors Field through 2047. That means 29 more years on top of the 25 years they have spent there already. Seems like an obvious decision, but at lest the long term of the lease will make all of the interested parties feel more secure about their business dealings. See bizjournals.com.
Likewise, the Houston Astros have extended their lease on Minute Maid Park [by 20 years, through the year 2050; it would have expired after 2030.] See chron.com.
[But wait, there's more! The Seattle Mariners have come to terms on a 25-year extension to their lease on Safeco Field. The Metropolitan King County Council approved a commitment to invest $135 million in stadium improvements, much less than the $180 million that the Mariners sought. See ballparkdigest.com.]
B-dee, b-dee, b-dee, that's all folks!!
November 20, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Yelich & Betts get MVP Awards
Both of the favored candidates did indeed win the Most Valuable Player Awards for 2018: Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers was the National League MVP, and Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox was the American League MVP. Both players were key factors in their teams' drives to win the divisional championships, but whereas Betts' team won the World Series, Yelich's team only made it as far as the league championship series. Yelich received 29 of 30 first-place votes cast by the Baseball Writers' Association of America; Jacob deGrom (see below) received the other first-place vote. (The other "top" candidates were Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez and the Colorado Rockies' Nolan Arenado.) Meanwhile, Betts received 28 such votes, far outpacing the L.A. Angels' Mike Trout and the Cleveland Indians' Jose Ramirez.
Yelich came very close to winning a Triple Crown this year: he had a batting average of .326, well ahead of the Cincinnati Reds' Scooter Gennett (.310), as well as 36 home runs and 110 RBIs. In the home run race, Nolan Arenado led the NL with 38, and in RBIs, Javier Baez led the NL with 111; Arenado had 110, tying Yelich. Yelich, age 26, began his career with the Miami Marlins but was traded to the Brewers last January. He first drew my attention in the ninth inning on September 28, 2014, when he smashed a line drive to the gap in left-center field at Nationals Park, almost ruining Jordan Zimmerman's bid to record the Nationals' first-ever no-hitter. For the record, the Washington Nationals' Max Scherzer came in tenth place in NL MVP voting, and Anthony Rendon (batting average of .308, tied for fourth in the NL) came in 11th place.
Christian Yelich, then with the Miami Marlins, facing Tanner Roark in the first inning of the next-to-last game of the 2016 season, on October 1st. He walked, but the next batter grounded into a double play to retire the side. The Nationals won that game, 2-1.
On the American League side, Mookie Betts (like Yelich, age 26) led the major leagues with a batting average of .346 (his team mate J.D. Martinez was the runner-up with .330), as well as 32 home runs (tied for 9th place in the AL), 80 RBIs (tied for 22nd -- not bad for a leadoff hitter), and 30 stolen bases (tied for 5th). The other top AL MVP candidates were the L.A. Angels' Mike Trout and Cleveland Indians' Jose Ramirez.
Have any other MLB players been nicknamed "Mookie"? It's ironic, since it was the Mets' Mookie Wilson who hit the ground ball that Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner muffed in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, helping the Mets to win it all the next day. Bett's real first name is Markus, and Mookie Wilson's real first name is William.
Mookie Betts rounds third base after hitting a solo home run off of pitcher Joe Ross in the first inning of the March 7, 2017 spring training game in the Ballpark of Palm Beaches, Florida. The Red Sox beat the Nationals that day, 5-3.
Cy Young Awards to deGrom & Snell
As most observers expected, the 2018 National League Cy Young Award went to Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets, while Blake Snell of the Tampa Bay Rays won on the American League side. DeGrom received all but one first-place vote (the other going to Max Scherzer), while Snell received 17 such votes, edging the Houston Astros' Justin Verlander, who received 13. It's the second time that a Tampa Bay pitcher has been so honored; David Price won it in 2012. The other top candidate was Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians. See MLB.com.
DeGrom's amazing ERA of 1.70 was the sixth-lowest for any MLB starting pitcher since 1969, and Snell's ERA of 1.89 was only the 13th time since 1975 that such a pitcher has recorded an ERA under 2.00. Part of what makes deGrom's accomplishment so great is that he was so consistent: He set a major league record for most number of consecutive starts allowing three or fewer runs. In his worst outing, he gave up four runs, and yet he lost nine games thanks to the poor batting of his team mates. But what really stands out is that deGrom only got ten wins, the fewest ever for a Cy Young Award winner. See forbes.com. The runners-up, so to speak, are Felix Hernandez, who went 13-12 the Seattle Mariners in 2010, and Fernando Valenzuela, who went 13-7 for the L.A. Dodgers in 1981.
NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom, during the Mets-Nats game at Nationals Park on September 21. He pitched seven innings, allowing only one run and three hits, thus earning his ninth win of the season.
Once again, as with the Rookie of the Year Award, the Washington Nationals' candidate came in a distant second, even though several of the objective measures of performance indicated otherwise. In this case, however, Max Scherzer had won the award for the two previous years, on top of his 2013 AL Cy Young Award, when he was with the Detroit Tigers, so, it's not like he really needed another such trophy. I share his feeling of disappointment, as well as his respect for the winner. DeGrom almost certainly deserved the recognition. That being said, there did seem to be a contrast between the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards as far as how much the team's win-loss record factored into the decision. The Braves' winning season was a credit to Ronald Acuña, but in this case, "winning isn't everything."
|| Jacob deGrom
|| Max Scherzer
Finally, it is worth pointing out that Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and J.D. Martinez are all former members of the once-fearsome Detroit Tigers, who could not afford to keep all of them -- or indeed, any of them.
Managers of the Year
Brian Snitker of the Atlanta Braves and Bob Melvin of the Oakland Athletics won the NL and AL Manager of the Year Awards, respectively. Snitker received 17 first-place votes, while the Milwaukee Brewers' Craig Counsell received 11. The consensus third-place choice was Bud Black of the Colorado Rockies. (He's the guy that the Nationals almost hired to replace Dusty Baker as manager last year.) On the American League side, the A's Bob Melvin received 18 first-place votes, more than the combined total of the Red Sox' Alex Cora and the Rays' Kevin Cash. Both the Brewers and the Athletics staged remarkable late-season surges that caught many people by surprise, presumably reflecting the strong, effective leadership. That did not happen with the Washington Nationals this year.
Suzuki rejoins the Nats
The Washington Nationals signed their former catcher Kurt Suzuki to a two-year contract, pending a physical exam. He will get $4 million in 2019 and $6 million in 2020. Suzuki, who played with the Nationals for about one year (August 2012 - August 2013) has been a solid player with the Oakland A's, the Minnesota Twins, and (for the past two years) the Atlanta Braves, but he is getting a little old (35), and his performance numbers show it. Washington Post) columnist Thomas Boswell says that Suzuki just might be the "front-line catcher" the Nationals need, but most observers think he's probably just a stop-gap, bolstering a weak spot in the Nats' defense. Neither Spencer Kieboom nor Pedro Severino seem to be top-notch future catchers, so perhaps Suzuki could help mold them into better players or else keep the team steady until the Nats do land a star-caliber catcher. What about Wilson Ramos? He's a free agent who was acquired by the Phillies in a trade with the Rays at midseason, and while there are good sentimental reasons to bring him back to D.C., his record of injuries makes him just too risky. As for the Nats' first-string catcher for the past two years, Matt Wieters just did not live up to expectations set by his years in Baltimore, so he was not offered a contract renewal.
Football in baseball stadiums
On Saturday, Notre Dame easily beat Syracuse in the "Shamrock Series" game held in New Yankee Stadium, upholding the tradition of football games being played in the home of the New York Yankees. I watched part of that game on TV, but not until later did I realize that football was also being played in the home of the world champion Boston Red Sox: Harvard beat Yale in Fenway Park! (See a photo gallery at boston.com.) So, I added a brand-new football diagram for Fenway Park (since the gridiron is aligned differently than it was when the Patriots played there in the 1960s) and updated the text on both those pages.
But what about Wrigley Field? The latest renovations there included retractable grandstand seats precisely so as to allow for football games, but negotiations between the Chicago Cubs and the Big Ten last summer did not bear fruit. Maybe next year. Perhaps memories of the awkward football game at Wrigley Field in November 2010 still linger. See Sports Illustrated.
Then there's the converse situation: baseball games played in football stadiums! That's what happened, essentially, in 1982 when the Cracker Jack Old Timers' Game was inaugurated in RFK Stadium. (They held the event for the next three years in Washington, and yet somehow I never managed to attend any of the games even though I lived in the area.) The Senators had left Washington a decade before, and the task of moving the lower deck back into the proper position for baseball was considered just too difficult. There is some good information on the Old Timers' Games in RFK Stadium at the Baseball Hall of Fame, most notably when 75-year old Luke Appling hit a home run to the absurdly short (260-foot) left field. I got some useful (though blurry) images of that game from the Ultimate Baseball Look blog. From them, I realized for the very first time that the diamond was rotated about five degrees counter-clockwise and moved backward and to the right. To minimize damage to the turf, furthermore, they only removed the grass from the areas near the four bases and the pitcher's mound. And so, I just couldn't resist doing a 1982 baseball diagram for RFK Stadium, even though that configuration was rather silly -- much like when the Dodgers used Los Angeles Memorial Stadium as their home. Voilà!
RFK Stadium as it appeared for the Cracker Jack Old Timers' Game in 1982. (Note that the distance markers are mere estimates; details are sketchy.)
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.
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