April 4, 2016
It was snowing or raining in several northeastern states today, forcing a postponement of games in New York (Bronx) and Cleveland, but most of the country had pleasant spring-like weather for the official start of the 2016 baseball season. For six teams, yesterday was Opening Day, or Opening Night, in the case of the Mets and Royals. It was the first time ever that the two pennant winners from the previous year faced each other in the first game of the season. The Royals used their base-running pluck and clutch hitting to overcome Matt Harvey's superb pitching, winning 4-3. Today, the Dodgers and Giants each won by lopsided proportions, with scores of 15-0 (L.A. over S.D.) and 12-3 (S.F. over Milwaukee). Right now, the Cubs are in the process of doing the same thing to the Angels, and likewise the home team is losing.
The Washington Nationals began this year on the road in Atlanta, where the skies were clear blue. It seemed a good omen in the first inning when 2015 National League MVP Bryce Harper homered after a long at-bat (during which Anthony Rendon was caught trying to steal second), the fourth time Harper has hit a home run on Opening Day. He did so twice on April 1, 2013 (when the Nats beat the Marlins) and once on April 6, 2015 (when the Mets beat the Nats). In both of those games, the only Nationals' runs scored were those (solo) homers by Harper. But in today's game, other Nats got RBIs as well, most notably Daniel Murphy.
It was a tense, evenly matched game in which the Nats' ace Max Scherzer allowed only three hits over seven innings, but two of those hits were solo homers. The Braves took a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning, as relief pitcher(s) Felipe Rivero loaded the bases and Shawn Kelley walked in a run without throwing a strike. Next! But in the top of the ninth, the Nats got some clutch hits, including a single by Wilson Ramos and a perfect bunt single by Danny Espinosa to load the bases with no outs. They only scored one run, but that at least put the game into extra innings. In the top of the tenth inning, Ryan Zimmerman reached second base on a throwing error by the shortstop, and Daniel Murphy (who had already hit a solo homer in the fourth inning) hit a clutch RBI double, which ended up deciding the game. Nats 4, Braves 3.
It was a nice debut for Dusty Baker as the Nationals' manager. After a day of rest, the Nats and Braves will play again on Wednesday, after which the Nats return home to D.C. for a weekend series against the Miami Marlins. There's a fair chance that I might see one of those games, which would be the earliest MLB game that I have seen since the Nats' inaugural game (in Philadelphia) on April 4, 2005 -- exactly eleven years ago today!
Today's game was the final Opening Day at Turner Field, which has been the home of the Braves since 1997. Next year the Atlanta team moves to the northern suburbs, making SunTrust Park as their home.
On Friday and Saturday, the Nats hosted exhibition games against the Minnesota Twins at Nationals Park. In the first at-bat of Saturday game, the Twins' Brian Dozier hit a home run off Joe Ross, but in the bottom of the inning, Ryan Zimmerman replied by crushing a two-run homer deep into the left field seats. That was fun to watch! The rest of the game was back-and-forth, and the Nats avoided a loss when rookie Chris Heisy homered in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, 8-8. (That may have been the deciding factor in the Nats' front office deciding to keep Heisy on the 25-man roster.) There was no reason to play extra innings, so the Nats ended spring training with a phenomenal 19-4-4 record. Yes, four ties!
And they said it could never be done! After interminable struggles to reconcile conflicting evidence, I finally updated the Sportsman's Park page with dynamic diagram for the first time. As usual, it now features a lower-deck and an upper-deck variant, in fact two upper-deck variants. The support beams and entry portals are now shown, along with details in the bullpens, the center field hedges, light towers, etc. One of those diagram variants (1902) doesn't really belong with the others, because it predates the era of concrete-and-steel stadiums, which began in 1909, more or less. (That is my general cutoff point for deciding which stadiums to include or exclude.) But because some parts of the original grandstand and bleachers of Sportsman's Park continued to be used until the expansion of 1926, I thought it would be appropriate to include the 1902 variant, even thought the diamond was oriented much differently. In the common usage of Robert Lowry and other SABR experts, the ballpark which existed from 1909 to 1966 is called "Sportsman's Park IV," and the 1902-1908 ballpark is called "Sportsman's Park III."
To get the stadium diagrams as accurate as possible, I relied upon the excellent book by Ron Selter, Ballparks of the Deadball Era: A Comprehensive Study of Their Dimensions, Configurations, and Effects on Batting, 1901-1919 (Jefferson, NC: MacFarland & Co., 2008). I had the pleasure to meet Mr. Selter at the 2009 SABR convention in Washington, and I am deeply impressed by his extensive research and methodical approach. I disagree with some of his conclusions, but can't fault him for his painstaking research efforts.
Are these new diagrams perfect? Absolutely not! The question marks in the early diagram variants call attention to parts of the ballpark that remain in doubt, such as the exact position of the curved pavilion that existed in left field in 1909 and 1910. (It had been the main grandstand from 1902 until 1908.) But they are much more accurate than before, "close enough for government work," as they often say in Washington. I found the photo gallery assembled by Kevin McCann at St. Louis Today [part of the Post-Dispatch newspaper] to be extremely useful. (Thanks to Bruce Orser for that link.) It's hard to find photos from the early (pre-1926) era of Sportsman's Park.
I paid a visit to the former site of Sportsman's Park (a.k.a. Busch Stadium) in August 2011, just prior to taking a tour of Busch Stadium (III). In conjunction with the 2009 All-Star Game, played in St. Louis, Hall of Famer Lou Brock was at a dedication ceremony for a youth baseball field next to the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club, which occupies the land where Sportsmans Park once stood. The St. Louis Cardinals pledged to help fund that worthy project. See St. Louis Post-Dispatch; hat tip to Rod Nelson.
I owe belated gratitude to Mark Komp, who noticed my recent update to the Baker Bowl diagrams, and reminded me that he had provided me with photographic evidence more than a decade ago (Ouch!) to show that the backstop was a very sharp curve, almost a corner. As he rightly stated, "Baker Bowl isn't on or near the top of many people's list of interesting old stadia, although it certainly has a rich history that deserves to be better known." Like Sportsman's Park, it had been a full ten years since the last diagram update! Some time this summer, I should finally get the rest of the diagrams done ... Believe it, or not!
One of these days, the distractions caused by cell phones and similar mobile devices are going to cause a real tragedy. In case you haven't done so already, take a look a the video of the man who saves an oblivious youth who is too busy fiddling with his smart phone to notice that a bat was hurtling toward his face: NPR.org.