April 15, 2009
After a frustrating road trip to open the season at 0-6, the Washington Nationals were hoping that things would improve back home at Nationals Park on Monday night. No such luck. In spite of three home runs by Washington, including a two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth by Ryan Zimmerman, the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies held on to a slim 9-8 victory. See MLB.com. Tonight's game was rained out, so they will finish the series tomorrow, leaving the missed game for some uncertain future date.
I still think they should go back to the old tradition of having every year's Opening Day game in Washington, with the president throwing out the first pitch. Early April is when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, so why wait until the middle of the month, when they (the flowers, not the players) are already fading?? In February, President Barack Obama was invited by the Nationals to throw out the first pitch, but he declined. (See Washington Post.) That's too bad, as it would have been a great opportunity to serve as a symbol of national unity at this difficult historical moment. Being a White Sox fan is no excuse!
In any event, to mark the occasion of Opening Night in D.C., I have made small corrections to the Nationals Park diagram, mostly with regard to the profile. For one thing, I'm fairly sure that the second deck in the main part of the grandstand is less steep than the second deck in right field. I have also included a proposed modification. The most significant change is building an entirely new second deck, one level above the current second deck, and set about 15 feet forward. That would address one of the biggest design defects in that stadium: the virtual absence of upper-deck overhang, which leaves upper-deck fans far from the action and exposes nearly all the lower-deck fans to rain. I also propose moving the fence back about ten feet in left-center field, to cut down on the number of home runs, and to create more of a "jog" in the outfield fence next to the visitors' bullpen. Finally, I would convert all of the seats in the trapezoidal-shaped "Red Porch" to bleachers, for the benefit of average working-class fans. (The "Red Roof" would remain a haven for snobs.) One of the worst aspects of Nationals Park is that it caters zealously to rich fatcats (most of whom probably don't even care about baseball), while ignoring average folks. And if that's not enough, I also added two additional photos to that page, one of the box seats near the diamond, and one inside the main concourse. Both of them were taken the same day as most of the other photos: August 2, 2008.
It was 62 years ago today that Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play in the major leagues, and in his honor all the players in today's games wore "42" on their uniforms, which will be auctioned off for charity. (The game in Washington was rained out.) It is fitting and proper that MLB has commemorated the star athlete / civil rights pioneer, and even if they may get carried away at times, it's better to overdo it than to underdo it. See MLB.com.
In Nationals news, Lastings Milledge has not performed well at the plate this year, so the Nationals have sent the center fielder down to the minors; he will play for the Syracuse affiliate until he starts playing better. Does anyone still doubt that the Mets got the better end of the deal when they traded him for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church in late 2007? Well, maybe he'll shape up one of these days and prove me wrong. For now, the Nats' starting outfield will consist of (left to right) Adam Dunn, Elijah Dukes, and Austin Kearns.
One of the real brights spots for the Nationals this year is Cristian Guzman, the team's only All-Star last year. He currently leads the majors (among those with at least 10 at-bats) with a .515. batting average, with Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (.486) in second place. Guzman just pulled a hamstring, however, and is listed as "day to day." Ronnie Belliard has been a reserve infielder this year, so at least they've got some depth. The guy who replaced him at second, Anderson Hernandez, had two errors the other day.
Two hours before the game in Washington on Monday night, Phillies announcer Harry Kalas passed away in the press box at Nationals Park. He was 73, and had experienced unspecified health problems in recent months. His career as an sports announcer spanned four decades, almost all in Philadelphia, including two Phillies World Series titles -- 1980 and 2008. I'm sure he died a happy man. See MLB.com.
Coincidentally, that quirky pitcher from the late 1970s, Mark "the Bird" Fidrych, died the same day. He was named AL Rookie of the Year in 1976 playing with the Detroit Tigers, but after that he had arm problems and never returned to his early great form. He died while doing mechanical work on his farm in Massachusetts. See MLB.com and Detroit News.
As of mid-month, the divisional leaders are:
Other than the Cardinals and perhaps the Tigers, hardly any baseball expert would have given those teams a serious chance to make it to the post-season. What gives?