December 31, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Travels in 2021 (esp. spring, summer, & fall)
My last blog post about travel was last March, after Jacqueline and I went on a late-winter road trip to New Orleans, so here's big step in getting caught up. The photos shown below are the "best of the best" of 2021, taken from the newly-created 2021-BEST photo gallery page.
Scenes from New Orleans, Feb. 23; CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Jackson Square, the (Mercedes Benz) Superdome, Canal Street and the Wyndham Hotel, and wrought-iron balconies at the corner of Royal Street and St. Peter Street in the French Quarter.
While passing through Washington, D.C. in mid-March Jacqueline and I visited the Martin Luther King monument for the first time. It's one of those destinations that keeps getting postponed again and again. Perhaps we were inspired by having seen the church in Montgomery, Alabama where Martin Luther King once preached while on the way back from New Orleans. We also drove to within a few blocks of the U.S. Capitol, where workers were busy moving the razor wire fence a little closer to Capitol Hill. For the first few weeks after the insurrection/riot of January 6, almost a square mile of Our Nation's Capital was blocked to public access, causing big traffic tie-ups. It was a sad and rather disgraceful situation, exposing the shocking fragility of our democratic system. (I'll comment on politics in a separate blog post.)
The Martin Luther King monument, in Washington D.C., Mar. 13
Later in March we hiked around Ragged Mountain Reservoir near Charlottesville, about seven miles total, I believe. I didn't have a map, and I was going by my memory of the last time we had hiked their, in the late 1990s! Since then they have built a new dam to expand the reservoir so that the growing population of Charlottesville and environs will not go thirsty. We also visited the new shopping center on the south side of the city, and of course got delicious nourishment at Bodo's Bagels.
In April and May I went on the usual birding expeditions, but the only such major event was at the end of April, when I joined a few other Augusta Bird Club members on a field trip to "Warbler Road" along the Blue Ridge about an hour south of Staunton. One highlight of that day was taking a look at the old canal lock under the James River bridge. I had extra time in the early spring since my classes at Blue Ridge Community College had been cut, but I soon got very busy at a new job as a waiter at the Clocktower restaurant in Staunton. In June I made two trips to Washington, D.C., the first being on the 6th with Jacqueline for the Peruvian presidential elections, which were being held at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. It was a bright, sunny day, perfect for picture-taking. (The election results were less than satisfactory, however...) After that we drove into Washington, driving past RFK Stadium, the U.S. Capitol, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and then into Arlington where we spent some time at the U.S. Air Force Memorial. There I photographed one of the many thousands of Periodical Cicadas that we saw buzzing around that day. That happens to be near an Ethiopian restaurant that we were looking for; it was our first time savoring that exotic cuisine in many years!
FedEx Field south Peru election, June 6
Later that month (June 16) I went back to Washington to see a game at Nationals Park with my old friend Dave Givens. The Nationals won that day, but just a few weeks later things turned very bad for my favorite team.) On the way back, I visited the tiny town of Washington, Virginia, and went birding in the Shenandoah National Park, where I saw a young Peregrine Falcon that is part of a species restoration project.
Peregrine Falcon project sign in the Shenandoah National Park, June 17.
On July 6, I joined about 15 of my co-workers at the Clocktower restaurant on a tubing along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, north of Luray. It was the first time I had participated in such an adventure in at least 20 years! The restaurant was closed all day. Many thanks to Clocktower owner Mike Andrae for treating his workers to much-deserved day of fun and relaxation. (Unfortunately, my feet and ankles got badly sunburned that day.) On the way back to Staunton, I saw the Dukes of Hazzard Museum, west of Luray. The very next day I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Reddish Knob, stopping at the scenic Briery Branch Reservoir on the way up the mountain. The views at the top were obscured by clouds and light rain, unfortunately.
Shenandoah River tubing trip (with Clocktower restaurant employees), north of Luray, July 6. As a reflection of the high rate of turnover in this highly-stressed line of occupation, about half of the people in this photo have left since then.
For the next several weeks, I didn't "travel" much at all, other than visit various birding locations in and around Augusta County. But on September 17, after taking Jacqueline to Reagan National Aiport (from which she was departing for Peru), I spent some time as a "tourist" in Washington. I saw the Bureau of Engraving & Printing, the Holocaust Museum (which I learned that one needs an advance permit to enter), and the nearby Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial. Then I paid a visit to Huntley Meadows, a large, swampy nature preserve in Fairfax County to do some birding, after which I headed back to Staunton.
Huntley Meadows boardwalk, southwest of Alexandria, Sept 17.
After a morning of birding at Montgomery Hall Park in Staunton, I passed by my (former) place of employment at the Clocktower restaurant, on West Beverley Street. As you can see, it is situated in an architectural gem.
Clocktower, Beverley Street, in Staunton, Sept. 24
Other than a bird outing to Augusta Springs and points west on the first of the month, I didn't do much until late October. Why not? Because my classes at Blue Ridge Community College finally resumed in mid-month! On October 23 Jacqueline and I drove up to the Washington area, stopping at the Thornton River Orchard store (near Sperryville) to buy a huge quantity (a half bushel, I believe) of apples. As we approached the suburbs I noticed many "Help Wanted" signs, especially near food service establishments. One sign near Manassas read "Now Hiring anyone who shows up"! Employers are pretty desperate; "Good help is hard to find these days!" On the way home we stopped at Prince William Forest for the very first time. It is a pleasant location, with much history, but there weren't many birds that day.
Thornton River Orchard store, Sperryville, Oct. 23.
On November 12 we went on a brief day trip to Swoope and Buffalo Gap, west of Staunton. It was the only time we really got to enjoy the fall foliage together. On November 20 we drove to Charlottesville, since Jacqueline wanted to buy more apples, etc. at Carter's Mountain Orchard. It was a brisk, windy day, and hence not suitable for birding or other outdoor activity. We had nice views of and of Charlottesville to the northwest and of Ashlawn (historic home of James Monroe) to the east. Later on we drove downtown to see the park where the Robert E. Lee statue used to stand. It was taken down late in the summer, after a prolonged series of court battles, presaging a similar outcome in Richmond. That day happened to coincide with a big University of Virginia football game: the Cavaliers were taking on the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Panthers, so we watched part of the game while enjoying chicken wings and tasty beverages at South Street Brewery. U.Va. ended up losing, but they put up a good fight!
Ashlawn (home of James Monroe) and beyond, from Carter's Mountain, Nov. 20. (Photo retouched to enhance the color of the sky.)
And that covers the highlights of the year, travel-wise, other than our trip to New Orleans. These and many other photographs can be seen on my Chronological (2021) photo gallery page. Enjoy!
December 31, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Another bleak year comes to an end
After their first few games were postponed due to the coronavirus, the Washington Nationals started the year on a very positive note, beating the team that ended up winning the World Series: the Atlanta Braves! After two months of mediocre play, the Nationals got red hot in June, when they went 19-9 thanks in large part to Kyle Schwarber's historic string of home runs. They were above .500 for exactly three days: June 29 through July 1. But then Schwarber pulled a hamstring and went on the Injured List, and the Nats quickly went into an apocalyptic nose-dive from which they did not recover. For the first time since the team was reborn in Washington in 2005, the Nats had a "fire sale" in which most of their most talented players were traded away, including the team's biggest stars: Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and Kyle Schwarber.
The last two months of the 2021 season were marked by very low expectations, mostly just giving young players a chance to prove themselves in the big leagues. Some of the rookies indeed showed great promise, raising hopes for the future. Nevertheless, the Nationals ended the season alone in last place with a 65-97 record (.401), even worse than their 26-34 record (.433) last year, and in fact their lowest percentage since 2009. Whereas they won seven of the last nine games in 2020, this year they lost eight of their last nine games.
The chart above is now included on the Washington Nationals page, which has frankly become so overloaded with various historical statistics that it will probably soon be pared back, with some of the information moved to new pages.
Even though it was another bleak year, I did at least get to see a game this year -- only one, on June 16, when the Nats beat the Pirates 3 - 1. (See my June 23 blog post.) I'm looking forward to seeing more games next year, hopefully some of which will be in stadiums that I have not yet seen.
On a brighter note elsewhere in the majors, as I pointed out on November 4, once again the World Series championship went to a team that had not won such a title for decades. For eight consecutive years, we had a fresh, new champion team. In fact, 2014-2021 was the first eight-year span in which no team had won the World Series more than once since 1980-1987. In contrast, during the preceding eight-year span (2006-2013), three teams -- Red Sox, Cardinals, and Giants -- won six of those eight World Series -- not very "diverse" at all! (See my annual baseball chronology page.) So there is that. What will the new year bring?
Merry (seventh day of) Christmas, baseball fans!
December 27, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Oakland (?) Coliseum update
The Oakland Coliseum diagrams have been revised, for the first time in over five years -- on July 6, 2016, to be exact. To be more proper, it is now formally called "RingCentral Coliseum," after a confusing series of negotiations and court hearings in 2019 and 2020.
So what the heck is "RingCentral"? One of these fancy-shmancy new high tech companies like America Online or Gateway Computers, apparently. According to www.RingCentral.com, "RingCentral provides businesses with different cloud-based business communications solutions that include message, video, phone, and contact center services..." It was founded in 1999 by two guys named Vlad. [UPDATE: See the Stadium names chronology page.]
Among the most notable changes to the diagrams (as opposed to the names), the circular portion of the grandstand is about eight feet shorter on both ends than it was when I rendered it in 2016, and the locations of the light towers and access ramps on the south (first base) and west (third base) sides are significantly different. (You can compare to new version to the previous version simply by clicking on that diagram and then moving your mouse away; however, that won't work for tablets and other devices with touch screens.) In a major enhancement of that page, there are now jumbo-sized diagrams showing the elliptical road that surrounds (or used to surround) the Coliseum, and the four main tunnel gates through which fans enter the original grandstand. There are also two new gates for the massive (but now defunct) "Mount Davis" grandstand that was built as an inducement for the Oakland Raiders to return home after 15 years in Los Angeles. A fat lot of good that did, as the Raiders packed up and left for Las Vegas after the 2019 season was over. Now the Athletics are forced to play in a stadium with an empty monstrosity looming over them in the outfield.
Other changes include new diagrams for the lower and middle decks -- actually, two middle-deck diagrams, one for 1968 and one for 1996, which is when (as far as I can tell) a second level of luxury suites was added in the second deck. There is also a 2019 diagram that shows the new table-top seating areas in the left and right field corners. The profiles of the bleacher sections are now shown in the 1960s diagrams, both in the baseball and football configurations. The upward slopes of the access ramps are now shown, and of course, the home and visiting team dugouts are now properly indicated, a practice I began a few weeks ago.
I didn't bother to update the two "hypothetical" diagrams (one for baseball only, one for football only), since there is now little or no prospect that the Coliseum will remain in use five years from now. [I was previously aware of the legendary awful plumbing facilities, made infamous when the players had to endure sewage backup in the showers, but I didn't fully understand why that happened. It turns out the playing field at the Coliseum is a few feet below sea level! That plus numerous other inadequacies make the original portion of the grandstand pretty much obsolete, and not worth saving.] Something's gotta give. Personally, I think they should forget about the downtown Oakland waterfront site and simply build a whole new stadium on the current site. I'm sure the Giants would be glad to rent out Oracle Park to the Athletics for a couple years while construction is completed... Right?
More diagrams updates...
During the holiday break I've been hard at work on revising Yankee Stadium and the other long-overdue diagrams (Forbes Field and Griffith Stadium), but ran into a stumbling block, so I decided to release this one first. When the New Year rolls around, I plan on instituting some changes to the functionality of my baseball pages, and registering your name and e-mail account (possibly subject to verification) would be advisable. Donations to this website are most appreciated.
Covid disrupts bowl season
The University of Virginia Cavaliers were going to play in the inaugural Fenway Bowl this Wednesday, but several of their players tested positive for covid-19, so they had to withdraw, forcing the big event to be cancelled. I saw an aerial view on TV of Fenway Park with the football gridiron all set up, which makes me wonder how much money and effort was wasted on that. Also canceled: the Military Bowl (in Annapolis) and the Arizona Bowl (in Tucson). I thought I heard something about Pinstripe Bowl (Virginia Tech vs. Maryland in Yankee Stadium), but apparently it is still on. In addition, covid protocols forced Texas A&M to withdraw from the Gator Bowl, which is actually of some significance, and since "the show must go on" they had to find a replacement opponent to go against Wake Forest: Rutgers!
December 24, 2021 [LINK / comment]
LOCKOUT: MLB owners play hardball
For the first time in 27 years, Major League Baseball activities have been interrupted by a labor dispute. Unlike the horrible strike in August 1994, this time there are no real consequences other than the players' faces cannot be shown on MLB team web pages. The average person is probably not even aware of the situation. The upshot is that the owners followed through with their threat to bargaom hard, resisting the players's demands for .
In the players' favor is a report that the total payroll for all 30 MLB franchises ($4.05 billion) fell by four percent in 2021 compared to a year earlier, and was the lowest since 2015 -- not counting 2020, obviously. The coronavirus has distorted all such indicators of the teams' financial health, possibly making it harder for the two sides to reach an agreement.
In today's Washington Post, Chelsea Janes argued out that the owners and players alike are treating the "middle class" in quite different ways. The fundamental problem highlighted by this negotiating impasse is the incentive to out-bid each other for top talent, while scrimping on salaries for younger players. Those in the latter group invariably perform at a far high efficiency on a dollar-for-dollar basis, while solid mid-career players often have a hard time finding jobs because contractual rigidities due in part to the MLB Players' Association.
In sum, it is not so much a dispute between players and owners so much as it is between elites and working class folks -- a situation that is aggravated, in my opinion, by huge public subsidies (via new stadiums) that become harder and harder to justify as time marches on. Fans need to protest to Commissioner Rob Manfred and to the MLB MLB Players' Association chief, Tony Clark. Our tax money should not be used to help millionaires become billionaires!
Bowl season is upon us
This year there are approximately sixty three (63) college football bowl games, pairing up teams from across the fruited plain that have at least finished with an even win-loss season. It gets more and more ridiculous every year. The University of Virginia Cavaliers will play in the inaugural Fenway Bowl (in Boston's historic Fenway Park, of course), while Virginia Tech plays in Yankee Stadium's "Pinstripe Bowl." The NCAA national championship semi-finals will take place a week from today, on New Year's Eve, rather than on New Year's Day, when all the biggest college bowls used to be scheduled. The final will be held on Monday, January 10. The football use page may (or may not) be updated to incorporate these changes, but for the time being at least it will not provide information about stadium name changes or subsequent stadiums for NFL teams that relocated, etc.
Another example of absurdity in contemporary sports is how the NFL is stretching out its regular season to 17 games, extending into the second weekend in January. I know, it's a "business" and it's all about the money, honey, but they are making short-term profits at the expense of the long-term fan enthusiasm. Eventually there's just not going to be a big enough market to keep all those pro sports operating under the terms they have been accustomed to. If I were in charge, all NFL regular season games would be completed by the end of December, all NBA regular season games would be completed by the end of April, all NHL regular season games would be completed by early April, and all MLB regular season games would be completed by the end of September. (At present they usually do.)
Thanks to a tip from Angel Amezquita, the Kingdome diagrams have been revised, ever-so-slightly. He provided an image suggesting that the directional compass in my diagrams were pointed the wrong way. For stadiums with opaque non-retractable domes, it can be very hard to tell from photographs alone which way is which. I had this same problem with the Superdome, and I finally solved it last May. The solution to the compass orientation puzzle revolved mainly around the gates through which fans enter the stadium. Likewise for the Kingdome, combining a knowledge of the gate locations with visual clues from the exterior of the stadium enabled me to confirm that center field pointed slightly to the right of due north, rather than east-northeast as I had previous inferred. So, those diagrams now include the letters identifying each of the seven gates, and I intend to do likewise with additional diagrams in the days and weeks to come. The Kingdome diagrams now also indicate that the home team used the dugout on the third base side, another recent innovation that I began with Wrigley Field at the beginning of this month. (For the record, I have made some tiny tweaks to the Wrigley Field diagrams since then.)
In the course of revising the Kingdome diagrams, I learned that CenturyLink Field, the home of the Seattle "Seahawks" (there is no such bird by that name, by the way) has been renamed "Lumen Field." Oh, brother. But that's not all! Stay tuned, sports fans...
I just noticed that in my November 4 blog post, I indicated that the Milwaukee Brewers' previous league pennant was in 1986, but that of course was when the Mets beat the Red Sox. The Brewers actually won their last (and thus far only) league championship in 1982, when they were in the American League and lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
December 1, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Max Scherzer signs with the Mets
Perhaps this is the punishment I get for having taunted Mets fans with "We got Murphy!" before a game at Nationals Park in June 2016. In one of the biggest transactional surprises that I can remember, Max Scherzer today finalized a contract with the New York Mets worth $130 million over three years. At the insane rate of $43 million per year, that surpasses the total annual payroll of several MLB teams. In announcing the deal (see MLB.com), the Mets' owner Steve Cohen boasted of the starting pitcher duo of Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, anticipating an imminent championship. Anything is possible, but if the past means anything, the Mets run a huge risk of personality clashes and dysfunctional performance.
So, this is another kick in the gut like the Nats' infamous "fire sale" at the end of July. Personally, I don't begrudge Max Scherzer ($cherzer?) for getting the best deal he could, but it says a lot about the Mets that no other team bargaining with him made a comparable offer. The fact that Max signed with a divisional arch-rival is a lot like when Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies in February 2019. When introduced to the press, Bryce famously misspoke, saying he hoped to bring a championship trophy to D.C.!
Why so early in the postseason period of trading? Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association are at an impasse over demands for earlier free agency and other things, and a "lockout" by the owners is all but certain to happen at midnight tonight. [UPDATE: It just did.] It would be harder if not impossible to bargain under such conditions of mutual distrust between team owners and players.
In other MLB transactions of note, former Dodger free agent Corey Seager signed a ten-year contract with the Texas Rangers. Former Cub free agent Javier Baez signed a $140 million contract with the Detroit Tigers. Both those teams are in dire need of a big boost. Also, the Cubs signed the Nats' former catcher Yan Gomes, and the Dodgers signed the Nats' former closing pitcher Daniel Hudson to a one-year contract. It was rather surprising that the Dodgers declined to make a "qualifying offer" to 34-year old ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Are the owners satisfied with just one World Series victory?
As for the Nationals themselves, they signed outfielder Andrew Stevenson to a one-year contract renewal. He has been a useful backup player, occasionally getting clutch hits as a pinch hitter, but his batting average was under .250 this year.
Harper and Ohtani are named MVPs
The leaked news about Mike Schmidt being the announcer (see November 16) removed the element of surprise from Bryce Harper being named National League Most Valuable Player for 2021. Oddly, he was only near the top of the National League in one category: batting average (.309); he had 35 home runs and 84 RBIs, which are good numbers but not that great. He was certainly most improved during the second half of the year. Washington Nationals' star Juan Soto came in second place, with six first-place votes; he had a .313 average, 29 home runs, and 95 RBIs. Former National Trea Turner led the league in batting (.328), but came in fifth place in MVP voting.
There was never any surprise about Shohei Ohtani getting the American League MVP award. He created an enormous sensation early in the season, as the first genuine dual-role pitcher/slugger since Babe Ruth rose to fame with the Red Sox over a century ago. During the second half of 2021, his numbers receded somewhat, but he still finished the year with 46 home runs (just two behind the MLB leaders), 100 RBIs, and a so-so batting average of .257. As a pitcher, he had a 9-2 record, with 156 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.18. Not Cy Young numbers, but very respectable in and of themselves.
Burnes and Ray get Cy Young Awards
The selection of Corbin Burnes (of the Milwaukee Brewers) for the National League Cy Young Award came as a bit of a surprise to me. He had a record of 11-5, with 234 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.43 (just ahead of Max Scherzer). Burnes started his MLB career with the Brewers in 2018, but this was his first year playing a full season. I was hoping Max Scherzer would get his fourth Cy Young, but he came in third place in the voting.
In the American League, Robbie Ray won the Cy Young Award in his first (and as it turns out his only) full year with the Toronto Blue Jays. He had a record of 13-7, with 248 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.84. You can't argue with those numbers. Yesterday it was announced that he signed with the Seattle Mariners.
Football returns to Wrigley Field
Two weekends ago, a college football was played at Wrigley Field for the first time in several years. Northwestern University hosted the Purdue Boilermakers, losing by a score of 32-14. Unlike the previous time that Northwestern University hosted a football game there (in November 2010), this time the gridiron was arranged with enough room behind the end zones to allay fears for players' safety. I was aware that when the last major renovation of Wrigley Field was completed (in 2018-2019) they made the dugout and first few rows of seats along the third base side removable. Until I saw photos of this game, however, I didn't know exactly how this was done. Well, now I do, and you know what that means...
Wrigley Field update!
Needless to say, I just had to create a diagram showing the new football configuration at Wrigley Field, and as so often happens, the process of making minor alterations led to a series of revelations which culminated in a rather significant revision of all the Wrigley Field diagrams. I was initially focused on getting the new football configuration right, but as I was comparing new photos to photos that I have taken there (in 2008, 2012, and 2017), I began to notice a few minor discrepancies, and before you knew it I was furiously tweaking details. Somehow I entirely missed the fact that the main grandstand was extended on both the left field and right field ends, so that they now actually hang out over the sidewalks, just like the bleachers do. The lower-deck diagram now shows the supporting posts under the three main scoreboards.
One brand-new feature that I have been contemplating for some time is the inclusion of markers to indicate the home ("H") and visitors ("V") dugouts. (In most cases there is no need to indicate which bullpen is which, since they are generally on the same side of the field as the respective dugouts are.) Eventually all diagrams will have such "H" and "V" markers, as long as I have solid information about which was which. In a few cases, such as Yankee Stadium and RFK Stadium, the home and visitors dugouts were reversed at some point.
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