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May 1, 2009 [LINK / comment]

The merry, merry month of May

"I was walking down Bell's Lane one day..." Actually, it was a few days ago, in April, but it was warm enough for May. The recent heat wave was a welcome relief for the cold-blooded animal species who depend on sunlight to maintain their body heat. Which leads me to this large reptile that I saw on two consecutive days a few hundred yards apart on Bell's Lane. It's possible it was two different turtles, but I saw it get up on its legs and start walking, to my surprise, so he could have covered that much ground.

Snapping Turtle

This Snapping Turtle was trying to cross Bell's Lane early on Sunday morning.

Jacqueline was entranced by the beast, and I had to warn her that she could lose a finger if she got too close. Granted, turtles aren't what most people think about when they think of spring, but they are among the most seasonally-sensitive of all wild animals in this part of the country. The wild birds and flowers are the clearest sign that spring is really here at last.

Dogwood flowers

Dogwood flowers, one of the nicest things about spring in Virginia. Click on the image to see a larger-size version.


May 3, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Nationals beat the Cardinals

Shairon Martis pitched a complete game against the Cardinals on Saturday, earning his third win of the season, helped by timely run support from his teammates. Fewer than 20,000 fans were on hand to witness this achievement, unfortunately. As reported by MLB.com, it was the first complete game by a Nationals pitcher since August, 2006. The win may have had something to do with the fact that neither Alberto Pujols nor Khalil Greene were in the lineup on Saturday.

Now that Cristian Guzman is back in the lineup, the Nats' fortunes may finally change for the better. He leads the team in batting with a .373 average, followed by Nick Johnson, while Ryan Zimmerman has surpassed the .300 level for the first time this year, and has hit safely in 21 consecutive games. This could get very interesting...

The mail bag

Mike Zurawski came across some more images of what the Marlins' future ballpark will look like, at miamiherald.com and baseball-fever.com. I share his positive impression of it, from what I've seen so far. However, I wish they would tone down the ultra-modern style and incorporate features that are authentically Miami, such as the 1930s Art Deco pastel colors, glass blocks, and curved corners.

I forgot to mention another discussion on New Yankee Stadium's extreme hitter-friendliness: waswatching.com. Somebody there cited my work, but was apparently not aware of my high standards of accuracy. Hat tip to Adam Shane.

I was working on Sportsman's Park recently, and trying to reconcile the dimensions published by Phil Lowry with the pavilion that was in place through the 1910 season has got me scratching my head. I'll have more time for diagram updates in another few days...


May 3, 2009 [LINK / comment]

(Very) Big Spring Day, 2009

Yesterday was the official "Big Spring Day," when birders across the country tabulate birds at the peak of migration season. For me, it was an "enormous" Spring Day. I covered two locations: the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad and Betsy Bell Hill. The weather was ominous, but the rain lasted only for a short while. What follows are the highlights of the two separate outings, taken from the reports I filed with eBird:

Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad

During my morning excursion, along the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, I saw a total of SIX species for the first time this season, and 43 species altogether over the course of an hour and a half. It was the same place where I had done the Big Spring Day last year, when I counted only 29 species. The biggest surprise was getting a great view of a Black-billed Cuckoo, only the second one I have ever seen!

  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo (FOS)
  • Black-billed Cuckoo (FOS) **
  • Great Crested Flycatcher (FOS)
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Red-eyed Vireos
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Gray Catbird
  • Cedar Waxwings
  • Magnolia Warbler (M, FOS)
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroats (M, FOS)
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Field Sparrows
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Baltimore Oriole (M, FOS)

** - Species for which I was the only person in the Augusta County area to spot.

I was a bit surprised there were no Bluebirds or Brown thrashers to be seen, and one very common bird was absent until the very end of my walk: the humble Song Sparrow.

Betsy Bell Hill

In the late afternoon, I went to Betsy Bell Hill on the south side of Staunton, and did a loop hike counter-clockwise, covering the entire hill. I saw a Yellow-billed Cuckoo almost as soon as I stepped out of my car, so that was a good sign of things to come. On my way to the top of the hill, I saw three of the Scarlet tanagers in a "soap opera" -- two males chasing one female. At the top I saw two first -of-the-season birds: a male Black-throated Blue Warbler and a Wood thrush, as well as an Ovenbird and a few others. Not much on the western side of the hill, but on the southern side about half-way down, I came across one of best warbler "fallouts" I've ever seen, with NINE warbler species total including a probable Golden-winged warbler, plus a couple I couldn't identify for sure. Blackburnian Warblers were all around, it seemed, and five is a conservative estimate. The males looked spectacular with their orange heads and throats, even without much sunlight. The Nashville Warbler was the first one I have seen since 2007. I was also totally dumbfounded to see a Red-breasted nuthatch on the side of a tree, and got a good look at it to be sure. The total species was 34, observed during a single hour. All in all, it was a truly splendid day of bird watching.

  • Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  • Great Crested Flycatchers
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Red-eyed Vireos
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch (FOS) **
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Wood Thrush (FOS)
  • Golden-winged Warbler (FOS, prob.) **
  • Nashville Warbler (FOS) **
  • Black-throated Blue Warblers (FOS)
  • Yellow-rumped Warblers
  • Black-throated Green Warblers
  • Blackburnian Warblers (FOS)
  • Palm Warbler (FOS)
  • Black-and-white Warblers
  • Ovenbird
  • Scarlet Tanagers
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak

** - Species for which I was the only person in the Augusta County area to spot.

More migration updates

On Thursday afternoon I stopped at the Piney River trailhead once again, and spotted at least two Prairie Warblers, which I had seen there a weeks earlier. I also heard, and perhaps glimpsed, a White-eyed vireo, and I'm pretty sure I heard a Yellow-breasted chat. Here's a quick summary of other recent first-of-season sightings:

  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Apr. 29, on our back patio)
  • Orchard Oriole (Apr. 30, McCormick's Mill)
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak (May 1, Blue Ridge Parkway)
  • Cerulean Warblers (May 1, Blue Ridge Parkway)

May 5, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Mexico: Cinco de Mayo, 2009

Mexico's annual celebration of its victory over French imperialism was marred this year by the Swine flu outbreak, but the epidemic seems to have been contained for now. That's good news, because all the business and school closings in Mexico have had a depressing effect on the economy. The UBS bank estimates that Mexico's GDP growth could shrink by 0.2% if the flu subsides in the next two weeks, or as much as 0.8% of GDP if it continues for another two months. See BBC.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon voiced indignation that the Chinese government has put Mexican tourists in quarantine and has temporarily banned agricultural imports from Mexico. China may be overreacting, but their experience with Avian flu a couple years ago provides ample reason for caution. Much of China remains in Third World poverty status, and sanitation standards are often very poor.

Unfortunately, I'm too bushed from dealing with final exams to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Venezuela-Peru spat

The government of Venezuela has denounced the Peruvian government for granting political asylum to a leading opponent of President Hugo Chavez. Manuel Rosales was the mayor of Maracaibo, Venezuela, and is being persecuted on trumped-up corruption charges, like others who have struggled against the emerging socialist autocracy. See CNN.com. It's a reassuring sign that at least some of the governments in South America are willing to take a stand against the Tyrant of Caracas. Peru is to be commended for its actions in this case, and I hope the State Department gives due recognition.

Chavez greets Obama

Speaking of Chavez, he was one of the highlight at the 2009 "Summit of the Americas" in effusively greeting President Barack Obama, who had little choice but to grimly play along with the stunt. Obama was having a conversation with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet at the head of the banquet table when Chavez walked up and interrupted them. He presented Obama with Edward Galeano's book, Open Veins, about U.S. exploitation and subjugation of Latin America. It sounds like something one of Obama's friends like Rick Ayres or the Rev. Jeremiah Wright would enjoy. See the Washington Post.


May 6, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Shea Stadium update

Being pretty busy lately, I haven't had much time to do diagram updates, so I chose the path of least resistance and made some minor touchups to Shea Stadium Shea Stadium. The changes are primarily with regard to the profiles, and the exit ramps surrounding the stadium are now explicitly shown. There are also a couple minor corrections and enhanced attention to detail. As with Busch Stadium II and others yet to be done, the diagrams feature multiple profile positions, to better convey the baseball-to-football transformation.

I also added to that page a closeup photo of the game day ticket sales booth, which I'm sure will evoke memories for Mets fans. On top it shows the starting lineup: Jose Reyes, Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Church, Brian Schneider, a blank space, and somebody I couldn't identify. For some odd reason, however, it didn't match the lineup for the final game as recorded at MLB.com.

Coincidentally, the Mets were hosting the Phillies at Citi Field tonight (ESPN's featured Wednesday game), and it was a classic pitchers' duel between Johan Santana and Chan Ho Park. The only run of the game was in the seventh inning when Carlos Delgado trotted home after an errant throw past first base by third baseman Pedro Feliz, and an odd moment of hesitation by the right fielder who retrieved the ball, Jayson Werth. Hey, a win's a win.

Zimmerman's streak: 24!

Ryan Zimmerman got off to a quick start in tonight's game in Los Angeles, and has now hit safely in 24 straight games. Unlike previous years, when he started off cold, this year he has really hit his stride, and is batting .333 going into tonight's game. Somebody give that guy a contract! Oh, that's right, they just did. Maybe the five-year, $45 million deal was just the reward that Zimmerman needed to finally live up to his high expectations.

The mail bag

I occasionally come up with a suggested modification for various ballparks that are currently in use, and somebody at baseball-fever.com had an excellent suggestion about Turner Field. He says that they should tear out that multi-story enclosed club section in left center field, to provide an open view toward downtown Atlanta. I heartily concur, but as another guy pointed out, they would have to rebuild the team offices elsewhere on the property. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

Even so, Turner Field would still be too big, with about 6,000 more seats than they could reasonably expect to fill. The same is true of most other early-phase "retro / neoclassical" ballparks: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Coors Field, Chase Field, and Safeco Field. Only "Progressive Field" (Jacobs Field) is the right size. After 2000, most new stadiums had about 42,000 seats, rather than about 48,000.

Finally, I just noticed that there has been a flurry of stadium impression submissions in the past couple weeks. A couple were a bit rougher in tone than I would prefer, but that's sports for you.


May 7, 2009 [LINK / comment]

50-game suspension for Ramirez

Major League Baseball officials just announced that Manny Ramirez has been suspended for 50 games for violating the ban on performance-enhancing drugs. That means he will miss the rest of this month and almost all of June, while losing about $7.7 million of his salary. He is the first big-name star to face the harsher penalties adopted by MLB in 2006. The circumstances and timing are still a little unclear, but it must have been based on a recent drug test, which makes you wonder how smart Manny really is. See MLB.com.

As David Pinto notes, Manny's excuse that it was his doctor's fault for not making sure the medication was MLB-approved "smells fishy." Last year Manny practically begged to be traded from Boston, and maybe he was doing the Red Sox a favor. The Dodgers have the best record in the majors right now, 21-8, and it will be hard for them to maintain such a pace without Manny in the lineup.

Nats' bullpen collapses

Once again, a fine outing by a starting pitcher was ruined last night by relief pitchers who can't seem to throw a pitch straight or fast. Daniel Cabrera pitched 5 1/3 solid innings, was then yanked, and the Dodgers scored seven runs in the sixth inning. Manny Ramirez (!!!) capped the rally with a two-run double. Final score, L.A. 10, D.C. 3. For the life of me, I can't figure out the acquisition of reliever Logan Kensing from the Marlins. The Nationals need to hire a full time general manager SOON. (Bring back Jim Bowden?) It's a bummer, coming in the midst of Ryan Zimmerman's 24-game hitting streak and on the heels a rare pair of consecutive wins for the "DC-9." The Nationals' [Monday] night come-from-behind 9-4 win over the Astros was hugely satisfying, while the rain-induced suspension after 11 innings the next night was hugely frustrating.

Saints commit to stay

The NFL Saints will be staying in New Orleans at least through 2025 under the terms of a tentative agreement with the state of Louisiana, which agreed to help fund major upgrades to the Superdome. That's good news, but I'll wait until all the contracts have been signed before I'm totally convinced. See neworleanssaints.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.


May 7, 2009 * [LINK / comment]

Obama slashes federal spending

OK, "slash" may be a little strong. Of course, no one seriously expects President Obama to make budget scrutiny a high priority, because after all, it would contradict one of his party's core principles. But since times are tight for most folks, he has to at least make a show of it. In his first weeks in office, Obama promised to go through the federal budget "line by line," hunting for wasteful programs that could be cut, and today he announced the results. He proposes to cut back on 121 programs and save $17 billion, which sounds like an impressive figure indeed. When compared to the overall federal budget of $3.4 trillion, however, it's only one half of a percent. Even worse, the programs chosen for cuts have strong constituencies on Capitol Hill, so there is no guarantee that even those modest reductions will actually take place. In their defense, administration officials say they hope to save an additional $300 billion in from federal health programs, as the government gains increasing control over the delivery of health care services. See the Washington Post

Granted, Obama is not under a lot of pressure to deliver meaningful cuts, as his "honeymoon" with the American people continues into the summer and the opposition remains muted and hamstrung. House Minority Leader John Boehner's criticisms of Obama's budget ring hollow because of the Republicans' shaky fiscal record over the past eight years. (In his final budget proposal, President Bush called for custs of about $34 billion, twice the size of Obama's cuts, but still not much.) But there is a real danger if Obama makes a big rhetorical push for these modest savings, as it would create the false impression in many Americans' minds that they are being forced to endure painful sacrifice. It's also entirely possible that this is just a big publicity stunt for a cause that Obama doesn't really care about, in which case it would pave the way for even bigger deficits than are currently projected.

Justice Souter to retire

Most people expected that David Kennedy or Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be the next Supreme Court Justice to vacate their post, but it is actually David Souter, who announced his retirement on Thursday. As for a replacement, President Obama said he wants someone with "empathy," who can "identify with people's hopes and aspirations." (See Washington Post.) Huh? How is that a qualification to be a legal authority?

The leading object of speculation to replace Souter is Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who would become the first person of Latin American heritage to sit in the highest court. In our identity-obsessed culture, a female justice who is a member of a minority would qualify as a "two-fer" for Obama.

Specter of minority status

Sen. Arlen Specter is having an awkward time transitioning from the Republicans to the Democrats. For one thing, he can't instantly change his position on issues in which he has a strong commitment. As the New York Times reports, in addition, he "is viewed with suspicion by his new Democratic colleagues, with general disdain by his old Republican friends, and with an odd mix of amusement and pity all around." It's lonely in the middle these days, but that's bound to change eventually. And as Senator Olympia Snowe wrote at RLC, the GOP "Didn't Have to Lose Arlen Specter." She made an amusing comparison between being a Republican moderate to being a cast member of the TV show "Survivor," in which you always fear getting "voted off the island." How true.

"Grassroots" to run RPV?

It appears that Jeff Frederick won't seek to regain the RPV chairmanship after all, but instead, his lawyer will vie for the post. In his announcement, Bill Stanley echoed many of Frederick's themes, insisting that the GOP "must be driven by its conservative 'grass roots,' and it "must not permit the judgment of the few to instruct or override the will of the many." See the News Leader. Like, for example, the Augusta County Republican mass meeting in April 2008, I gather? The candidate who won by a decisive 141-103, but the losing candidate was later deemed the "winner" by higher-level party officials.

Better late than never

The staff at the Republican Leadership Council have belatedly approved my rather pointed blog post "Dumping on the Republicans," which I submitted at the same time that I posted it here last Nov. 20.

* In Los Angeles, where the Washington Nationals just beat the Dodgers, it is still May 7. smile


May 8, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Who the heck is Zack Greinke?

He's the best pitcher in the major leagues right now, that's who. After four years of so-so performance with the Royals -- plus one year he missed nearly all of, 2006 -- he has emerged as an ace, with a 6-0 record, an unbelievable .040 ERA, and 54 strikeouts, tied with Johan Santana for the #1 spot. He has pitched three complete games already, whereas none of the other Top 50 pitchers has pitched more than one complete game! (Who needs a bullpen?) Greinke was voted April player of the month, made the cover of Sports Illustrated, and some analysts are comparing him to hall-of-famers such as Walter Johnson and Fernando Valenzuela. See MLB.com. Greinke seemed to come out of nowhere, leading the Kansas City Royals to an improbable first place in the AL Central. They have won six games in a row, and begin a weekend series against the Angels in Anaheim tonight. It's still early in the season, but the Royals' initial success is evidently not just a fluke after all.

Which reminds me, I've got to get crackin' on figuring out all the changes they've made to Kauffman Stadium this past year; apparently, it has boosted fan enthusiasm and the team's success. All sorts of good pictures at baseball-fever.com. Overall, the upgrades are very good, but I agree with critics who say the outfield seating sections are too crowded. They should have left a significant portion of natural bare grass slope as a picnic area.

Best Nats game ever!?

I was surprised the WUSA-TV9 sports anchor Bret Haver didn't make a bigger deal out of last night's Dodgers-Nationals game in Los Angeles. Rookie ace pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (two n's) got shellacked in the first inning, as a grand slam by Matt Kemp was the centerpiece of a six-run rally by the home team. (Who needs Manny Ramirez?) An ordinary pitcher would have lost heart after that, getting replaced early on, but not Zimmermann. Instead, he hung in there and pitched five scoreless innings, only allowing more hits. True, a great defensive play by Cristian Guzman shut down a potential second rally, but it was Zimmermann's composure and competitive spirit that led the way as the Nationals regained their senses. Backup left fielder Josh Willingham started the counterattack with a home run in the sixth inning. Adam Dunn batted in two runs in the seventh inning, and in the eighth inning the whole team joined in a six-run rampage to take the lead, after which the Dodgers came alive with a dramatic rally of their own in the bottom of the inning. Relief pitcher Joe Beimel barely held on as the Dodgers came within one run of tying it, and the Nats scored an insurance run in the ninth. Final score: D.C. 11, L.A. 9. See MLB.com.

That kind of competitive team effort is exactly what the Nationals needed to pull out of the doldrums and live up to their potential. They have one of the strongest batting lineups in the league: Guzman, Johnson, Zimmerman (one n), Dunn, and Flores. And as for the other Z-man, he hit safely yet again, which makes it 25 consecutive games...

Save Yankee Stadium?

Or Gate 2 camera of it, at least. It may be too late in the game to make a difference, but there's a movement to save Gate 2 of old Yankee Stadium as a symbolic token of the original structure, serving as an entrance to Heritage Park. See savetheyankeegate2.com, via the River Avenue Blues blog; hat tip to Rod Nelson of SABR.

R.I.P. Dom DiMaggio

The lesser-known little brother of Joe DiMaggio, Dominic, passed away at the age of 92. He was the center fielder for the Boston Red Sox, and batted a very respectable .298 over the course of his ten-year career, with 87 home runs. See MLB.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser.


May 8, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Conservative wins in Panama

Panama flag In the Panamanian elections that were held last Sunday, the conservative candidate Ricardo Martinelli prevailed, winning 61% of the vote. He owns a chain of supermarkets, and convinced the people that his background in business better equipped him to confront the economic crisis than his rival, Balbina Herrera of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, which currently runs Panama's government. His "Democratic Change" party leads a right-of-center coalition. In his victory speech, he pledged to work for a better health system, education, transportation, and security. Martinelli previously ran for president in 2004, coming in fourth place. See BBC and CNN.com.

What makes this election especially noteworthy is that it is the first victory by a conservative presidential candidate in all of Latin America since Felipe Calderon was (narrowly) elected president of Mexico, in July 2006. Whether it's the start of a trend remains to be seen.

For the past five years, Panama has been led by a left-of-center coalition under President Martin Torrijos, the son of a former dictator. He ended up being fairly moderate, choosing the pragmatic course of Brazil's president "Lula" da Silva. For the United States, the biggest challenge in Panama is the increasing involvement of Chinese commercial interests. Chinese firm operates the Panama canal, which is undergoing a massive expansion to accommodate large oil tankers and freight ships.


May 8, 2009 [LINK / comment]

A few more spring arrivals

After the very "Big Spring Day" last Saturday, the rest of this month will probably be anticlimactic. I went back to Betsy Bell Hill just after noon on Monday, but it was raining and all I saw were a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, an Ovenbird, and a Wood Thrush. Later on over at Gypsy Hill Park, in a light drizzle, I saw a Yellow warbler and Yellow-rumped warbler, both females, as well as a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and several Northern Rough-winged swallows.

On Wednesday around noon, I stopped at Piney River in Nelson County, and soon spotted my main target species: a Yellow-breasted Chat, which I had seen in the same place about a year earlier. I heard Prairie Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and White-eyed Vireos, but never saw any. Here are the highlights of what I saw:

  • Yellow-breasted Chat (FOS)
  • Indigo bunting
  • House wren (FOS)
  • Phoebe
  • Red-eyed vireo

Back home later in the afternoon, I noticed an odd smallish bird walking around the mulch under the bushes out back, and soon realized it was a Waterthrush! But which of the two species? After getting a good look at its supercilium ("eyebrow"), I decided it was a Northern Waterthrush, the first of the season for me, and probably the first I have ever seen in this neighborhood. Sometimes when you're too busy to go bird watching, you get lucky and the birds come to you. I had seen a Louisiana Waterthrush at McCormick's Mill in March. Northern Waterthrushes migrate later in the season.

YuLee Larner reported on the 2009 Big Spring Day in her weekly column in the News Leader, and was very kind to mention my name, regarding my good luck in spotting all those warblers. YuLee had a health emergency recently, but she has been well taken care of, and is recovering steadily. All birders from this area and beyond wish her well.

Speaking of birds coming to see you, rather than the other way around, here's something you don't see every day:

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, female

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, at our window.


May 13, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Zimmerman's streak reaches 30

Even as the rest of his team struggles to play consistently, Ryan Zimmerman has led the way, hitting safely in 30 consecutive games. He's over half way to Joe DiMaggio's record of 56 consecutive games with hits. It's truly an incredible achievement, made even more amazing by the fact that in almost all of those games he has gotten a hit in the early innings, neutralizing the suspense element. Only in the May 9 game in Phoenix was his first hit in the latter innings, and that was a huge blast over the high center field wall at Chase Field for what ended up being the game-deciding run. During most of April, he was hitting consistently but not that often, spreading out his hits over the games, but with a batting average below .250. That changed toward the end of the month, and in May he has been the hottest batter in the major leagues, as his average has climbed to .363. He has surpassed Chipper Jones as the best third baseman in the National League, and he should be a cinch to get picked for this year's All-Star Game in St. Louis. See MLB.com.

In today's game in San Francisco, Zimmerman is 0 for 2, getting two bases on balls. As his reputation has grown, even ace pitchers like Barry Zito are afraid to pitch to him. Too bad, as that might take away a fair chance to extend his streak. The ninth inning is about to begin, with the Nats ahead 4-2, and the "Z-man" is the third to bat...

UPDATE: Cristian Guzman, Nick Johnson, and Josh Willingham (a former Marlin) all got hits in the top of the ninth inning, but alas, not Ryan Zimmerman. He did reach base on a fielder's choice, however, and he was one of the two insurance runs scored by the Nationals, who went on to beat the Giants, 6-3. Whew: no sweep, yet again. Tha Nats have actually won six or their last ten games, which is a very welcome turn of events, and if not for Pablo Sandoval's three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth last night with two strikes and two outs, it would have been seven out of ten wins. Anyway, Zimmerman's streak is now officially over at 30 games. frown

The Nats: offensive power house?

True, they have lost the last three games, and last night's heartbreaking loss in San Francisco was hard to take, but for the first time since Opening Day 2008, watching a Washington Nationals baseball game is actually fun! Since their 2005 inaugural season in Washington, the Nationals have not been known for their slugging prowess. They have usually managed to win by solid pitching, great defensive plays, or clutch base hits -- not from home runs. Here's one for Ripley's Believe It Or Not: the Washington Nationals currently rank third in the National League in batting average, at .277, behind the Mets and Dodgers. Three American League teams rank higher: the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Rangers. So why are the Nats in the NL East cellar? Well, they have the worst pitching record in the National League, with an aggregate ERA of 5.54,* and the worst fielding percentage among all major league teams, .972. That's how come they keep managing to lose even when they should be winning.

* The two worst pitching teams? The Indians (5.58 ERA) and the Yankees (5.78 ERA) -- believe it, or not.

The Nats' western road trip was going pretty well until Sunday, when the Diamondbacks came back in the late innings and won 10-8, thus averting a sweep. The game on Saturday night will be remembered not only for the monster home runs to center field by Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman, but also for the amazing put-out by [right] fielder Austin Kearns. With the bases loaded in the seventh inning, Josh Whitesell hit a liner to right field, but the runner on third base hesitated in case the ball would be caught. Kearns snagged it cleanly and fired a rocket to the catcher Jesus Flores, who stretched to catch the ball for a force out. Un-be-lievable! John Lannan finally got his first win of the season.

The mail bag

This sounds like an April Fool's joke, but apparently it's true: The Miami Dolphins are renaming their home Dolphin Stadium "Landshark Stadium" for the next season only, as part of a promotional deal with singer Jimmy Buffett. Wasted away again... See ESPN and Baseball Fever ; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. This may be part of a ploy to get the Marlins to hurry up in building their new ballpark so the Dolphins can have their stadium all to themselves.

Clarence Riley tells me that PETCO Park was also recently the site of a Rugby Sevens (!) tournament. Watch this YouTube video.

I've been busy for the past week, but am getting ready for another burst of Web site activity. Stay tuned, sports fans!!!


May 14, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Return to Trimble Mountain

Last weekend, Jacqueline and I went on our first major hike of the year, climbing Trimble Mountain in northern Augusta County. It was about 900 feet gain in elevation, covering four miles altogether. Boy, did I need the exercise! The last time we were there was in July 2003; time flies. At several points we came across noisy groups of birds, but most of them remained hidden amidst the now-thick foliage. At the top of the mountain, interestingly, the trees were still partly bare. Here are the highlights of the birds we saw:

  • Red-eyed vireos
  • Ravens
  • Acadian flycatcher (FOS)
  • Black-throated blue warblers
  • Worm-eating warblers
  • Scarlet tanager (M, F)
  • Hooded warblers (M)
  • Eastern wood pewee (FOS)
  • Black and white warblers
  • Swainson's thrush (FOS)
  • Pine warbler
  • Redstarts (M, F)

We also heard some Great-crested flycatchers, Black-throated green warblers, Blue-headed vireos, and a Pileated woodpecker.

McCormick's Mill

On Wednesday I joined Jo King on an Augusta Bird Club field trip to McCormick's Mill, and we had a pretty good day. As soon as I arrived, I heard the loud singing of a Warbling vireo not twenty feet away from me. It is aptly named, and I don't recall hearing one of them sing before. They make up for their plain appearance with rich musical tones. Later I saw its (presumed) mate as well. The highlights:

  • Warbling vireos (FOS)
  • Baltimore orioles [M]
  • Chipping sparrows
  • Towhees (M)
  • Solitary sandpipers
  • Yellow-rumped warblers
  • Eastern wood pewee
  • White-breasted nuthatches
  • Goldfinches [M, F]
  • Yellow-billed cuckoo
  • Cooper's hawk (prob.)
  • House wren

That's a hearty meal

My brother John encountered quite a photo op while driving to work this morning. He took this great shot of an American Bittern, at the very moment of catching its prey. The hapless amphibian "was eventually swallowed whole," John reports.

Bittern eating salamander

American Bittern eating a salamander, somewhere in southeastern South Dakota. (Courtesy of John Clem.)


May 16, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Long live the Kingdome: encore

After herculean efforts at reconciling dozens of visual and data clues that often seemed to contradict each other, I have finally managed to release a greatly-enhanced set of diagrams for the Astrodome Kingdome in Seattle. There are separate diagrams not only for baseball and football, but for basketball (!), and one showing the roof structure. The previous diagram was too big in diameter by at least thirty feet, which falls far short of my accuracy standards. Among other things I learned while doing research was that most of the upper deck seats were bleacher-style benches. For a "baseball stadium," that's pretty weird! I have learned that it is very difficult to accurate render domed stadiums, or any circular stadium in which you can't see the grandstand profile from the side.

Speaking of which, I've been sweating over diagram revisions for the Astrodome as well. I recently realized that the version I updated last September was about 15 feet too small in diameter.

It was in March 2007 that I added a "dynamic diagram" (conforming to my enhanced, uniform standards) to the Kingdome page for the first time.

Click on that thumbnail image to compare the revised diagram to what it was like before.

Yankee Stadium(s) news

Telegenic televangelist Joel Osteen, who broadcasts his upbeat message weekly from Lakewood (mega-) Church in Houston, held a service in the new Yankee Stadium on April 25. Admission cost $15, so "two tickets to paradise" (as in that 1980s song by Eddie Money) would go for $30. Not bad! smile Nearly 42,000 people participated in Osteen's "Historic Night of Hope." Coverage of the event was very scant in the mainstream media, but I found a fairly objective news report at the Christian Post.

In the true orginal "green cathedral" across the street, meanwhile, workers have begun removing the grandstand seats, which are going on sale right away. See wcbs880.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. As physical dis-Mantle-ment gets under way, this is going to be hard to take for old fans like me. I wonder if they have begun filming that movie there yet?

Finally, my good buddy Brian Vangor was at Opening Day at new Yankee Stadium (I previously posted several photos he took), and he subsequently sent me a very thorough and detailed review, including the following highlights, both positive and negative:

The concourses (on every level that I was on) are open to the field. ... I could not get used to the openness of the whole thing. It was very un-Yankee Stadium like. It reminded me of several other ballparks (which bothered me). ... The bathrooms are much larger, but, very plain. ... The bleachers are at more of an angle than the old stadium (which gives a better view). My wife went to the second game (in the bleachers) and loved it out there. You can also go into and out of the bleachers from the rest of the stadium. You could not do that at the old stadium. ... There is more of a variety of food, also. The cheapest beer is $9. Parking at the normal parking lots was $19 (last year $14). ... There were a ton of customer service reps to help you with anything. They actually held up signs which read "can I help you?" This was totally different from the old stadium. ... From your seat, is where it looks most like Yankee Stadium. It is very similar. The famous Yankee façade is much simpler than the original -- just a bunch of steel beams. The point from which it hangs is set much further back than the original (or rebuilt) Yankee Stadium roof. It looks stubby. The sound system is way better. The big HD screen is also way better. No Bob Sheppard is way worse. The field looks the same. The walls are a darker blue. ... Overall, I would say I was disappointed. I would take the old stadium back in a second. I guess we'll get used to it.

UPDATE: In his second game at NYS on April 21st, Brian

came away with a positive feeling. ... I am in right field with the "Bleacher Creatures" (Sect 203, second row). I can see every pitch go right into the catcher's mit and I am much more down at field level (than I was in the upper deck). My wife says she will never go back to the upper deck. Also, the rapport between the creatures and our right fielder Nick Swisher adds a whole other dimension to the game. Speaking of the upper deck, the new one is actually better than the old one. It allows a view of the field and avoids the old aisle that used to go between the tier reserved and tier box. ... Anyway, I am starting to get excited by the new place. ... It's not the old Yankee Stadium, but, it's an awesome place unto itself.

May 18, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Fresh greens for canaries!

It's been nearly four months since I last had a blog post about our fine feathered companions, but rest assured they are both doing about the same. Princess remains virtually immobile, unfortunately, and our brief hopes that her wing feathers might grow back proved in vain. It's sad, but she seems relatively content, and we pamper her with food and treats as much as possible. As you can see in the photo below, she spends much of her time in a sheltering basket, which we move to the window sill and back two or three times a day so that she can see what's going on outside. She enjoys watching the outside birds, but she doesn't do her flirtatious chirps any more. Luciano often is unduly aggressive toward her, and because she is pretty much defenseless, we have resorted to putting a net around her basket for protection while we are not home.

For canaries, the advent of Spring means that fresh-picked greens from out back are available on a regular basis once again. None of that refrigerated grocery-store stuff! Princess and Luciano have an insatiable craving for the yellow flowers from the cabbage plants growing next to our back patio. (They are basically weed plants, but the Cabbage white butterflies camera depend on them, so we let a few of them grow.) Luciano does not seem to grasp the concept of "sharing," and often will grab from Princess whatever treat we have given her, even if we gave one to each of them. ¡Qué malo! smile In another month or two, Princess and Luciano will get fresh basil flowers.

Princess, Luciano

Princess (left) and Luciano (right) can't get enough of those tasty yellow cabbage flowers.

I previously posted a photo of George eating the yellow cabbage flowers in June 2006.


May 19, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Nats resume downward spiral

Hopes were high last night for the Nationals' young pitching prospect Ross Detwiler, and he delivered, going five innings against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates and only allowing three runs, one of which was unearned. He only gave up four hits and zero walks! It's too bad they didn't ask the rookie to keep pitching, as the infamous Nationals bullpen collapsed almost immediately, once again. Garrett Mock kept throwing balls and allowed three runs, and the next reliever Jesus Colome gave up two more before the end of the sixth inning. (Jesus!) Joel Hanrahan put the (ironic) icing on the cake by giving up three more runs in the ninth inning, just for good measure. Final score: Pirates 12, Nats 7. Manager Manny Act announced that Hanrahan will become the regular closer once again, "the triumph of hope over experience." Attendance was only 14,549, which is almost as pathetic as it was for the franchise during the final years in Montreal. If the Lerners don't start spending money to acquire some decent pitchers, there won't be much fun to be had at Nationals Park this summer. frown See MLB.com.

Speaking of Nationals pitchers, Ryan Wagner announced that he is retiring from baseball, giving only vague reasons about wanting to spend more time with his family. See MLB.com. He has only been pitching at the minor league level this year, after spending 2008 recovering from a bad shoulder, but before the 2007 season, he (and Jon Rauch) were considered as possible replacements for closer Chad Cordero.

On the plus side, the Nationals currently rank #10 in the majors in the total number of runs, at 199.

UPDATE: Did I need to mention the four-game sweep of the Nationals by the visiting Philadelphia Phillies? No, I did not. Let the record show that the Nationals could have appealed the rain-shortened 7-5 loss in five and half innings on Saturday night, since they weren't able to finish the sixth inning.

World Series: about time!

Here is some great news that baseball may become more family-friendly: MLB has announced that the World Series games will begin at least a half hour earlier than last year, with the first pitch scheduled for before 8:00. See MLB.com. Before you credit the MLB honchos with benevolence, keep in mind that it's basically a bottom-line decision: in order to thrive commercially in the long run, they have to attract the interest of younger fans. Now if they can only cut back on the time devoted to TV advertisements...

Demolition in the Bronx

Finally, Mike Zurawski came across a Web site with a very specific purpose: Demolition of Yankee Stadium. Yes, sports fans, it really is happening, and hundreds of seats have already been removed.


May 21, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Nats rally to end losing streak

Whew! The Washington Nationals were only two innings away from losing their eighth consecutive game, which would have been sweeps at the hands of both teams from Pennsylvania, but they finally got their Acta together. They actually led the Pirates for most of the game, as rookie pitcher Craig Stammen threw four perfect innings and then gave up just four hits over the next two and one-third innings. Unfortunately for him, that was enough for the Pirates to get four runs, as Adam LaRoche hit a long two-run blast to the second deck in right-center field, and Stammen left the game in jeopardy of being tagged with the loss. But in the bottom of the eighth, the Nats sluggers all came through in the clutch, as consecutive singles by Guzman, Johnson, Zimmerman, and Dunn took back the lead, 5-4. For once, Joel Hanrahan did his job as closer, only allowing one batter to reach base in the top of the ninth. For Manny Acta to show confidence in him after all the recent travails was pretty impressive. I don't think I would have. Anyway, it was a happy ending for the long-suffering Nats fans, and especially for Craig Stammen and his family, who were at the park to see his first major league start. See MLB.com.

Manager Manny Acta had a closed-door meeting with the team this afternoon, and perhaps it did the trick. Pitching remains an embarrassing weak spot for Washington, but their batting lineup is very solid, and they still rank #3 in the National League, with a .277 team batting average. In other words, the Nats have probably hit rock bottom and can only expect to improve for the rest of the season. They are presently 12-28, right at the .300 mark -- awful but not quite wretched.


May 21, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Virginia is for loafers? heart

Apparently that's what the Democrats think, from all their recent campaign ads attacking Bob McDonnell because the Republicans in the General Assembly refused federal stimulus money for extended unemployment benefits. Eager to sustain their recent momentum through this fall's election, they think they have seized upon an issue to propel them into a dominant position in the government of Virginia. But do most people in the Old Dominion really agree with the Democrats' left-liberal agenda, or do they uphold the traditional values of self-reliance? At this point, my guess is the latter.

The main bone of contention is over the "strings" that were attached to Obama's stimulus package. The funding is only for one year, but it gets the proverbial foot in the door on a new entitlement that will be hard to undo, and Virginia (as well as other states) would be left holding the bag. Behind that, however, is the more philosophical divide between those who believe in individual responsibility versus those who believe in collective compassion. You don't have to be a hard-core libertarian who exalts the dog-eat-dog nature of economic life to understand the importance of individual responsibility. Every time the government hands out money for free, it undermines the incentive to find a real job. Plus, it perpetuates the false notion held by many Americans that a middle-class lifestyle is a fundamental right. The consequences of economic globalization ("Made in China") are exposing that belief for the lie that it is, but many people cling to the illusion nonetheless. We'll learn sooner or later ... probably later.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not mocking or deriding those workers who had the misfortune to get laid off because of the recession. People who have a family to feed, like that guy on TV from Christiansburg, do deserve a break in times of economic emergency such as these. I'm merely pointing out that it is manifestly inefficient and unjust to pay people not to work, when there is so much important public service work that needs to be done. Temporary public works programs for people who genuinely need and deserve relief, YES, but expanded welfare, NO! The basic principle is, when the government subsidizes something, whether it is poverty or fatherless families, the net result is more of that same thing. So when the government increases subsidies to the unemployed, the invariable result is more people without jobs. Why is this so hard to understand?

The ads are sponsored by "Common Sense Virginia," an organizational fiction that was created specifically as a vehicle to attack Bob McDonnell. The closest thing they have to an official Web site or blog is therealbobmcdonnell.com, which makes much of Governor Tim Kaine's professed bewilderment at the Republicans' refusal to go along with the stimulus package conditions. The brief, uninformative "About Us" page is further evidence of the alleged group's bogus status.* No sooner did the group sponsoring those ads get started than it received a stiff fine from the Virginia State Board of Elections. See the News Leader.

This is a side issue, but it's worth asking anyway: Why does all this unaccountable campaign mischief take place? Because politicians will always find a way to get around the campaign finance "reform" laws that they pass, and as Barack Obama proved last year, those who make the loudest calls for "reform" are the most apt to abuse the new laws. The end result is political party organizations that are financially weakened and beholden to outside, unaccountable special interest groups. For example, labor unions have spent over $2 million on the Virginia Governor's race already, with more than five months to go before election day. That's an example of why the pernicious "Card Check" legislation has a very real chance of passing this year.

* Actually, I did find a Republican-created Web site, virginiacommonsense.com. As one might expect, its message is the exact opposite of "Common Sense Virginia," however.

Democrats beg to agree

Meanwhile, the three Democratic candidates for governor -- Terry McCauliffe, Brian Moran, and Mr. "nice-guy-finishes-last" Creigh Deeds -- apparently agree on all major issues, including the need to extend unemployment benefits, so it's basically a tossup between competing personalities. The story was in yesterday's News Leader, but searching their archives yielded nothing, so you can read it at the News Virginian Web site. The Washington Post had a similar story ten days ago. McCauliffe is a surrogate for the Clintonistas, and I dread having our fair state sullied with their ilk.


May 22, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Yet another Astrodome update

The Astrodome Astrodome diagrams have been revised based on several pieces of new information that I came across. The biggest change is that the diameter is about 15 feet bigger than I previously estimated: 710 feet altogether. Some construction photos and blueprint-type line drawings were especially useful in getting the details right.

One problem in rendering the Astrodome for easy visual display is that the middle (third) deck was so thin when viewed from the side (vertically) that it is hard to see in the diagram profile. It's a design feature that aims to save space and construction materials, in effect "compressing" the structure vertically. Other stadiums with this characteristic include Anaheim Stadium, Jack Murphy Stadium, and New Yankee Stadium. The following closeup view of the Astrodome profile makes this clearer:

In the near future, I will elaborate the FAQ section of the Baseball introduction page to explain how to interpret the profile diagrams. I am beginning to create separate profile-only diagrams for each stadium, in such a way that it will be easy to compare stadiums to each other, much as you can compare the "top-down" view of stadiums at present.

But of course, all that will take time, and the amount of time I spend on it will depend to some extent on support from visitors to this Web site. I greatly appreciate those folks who have supported this site in the past, but it's time for some new folks to "step up to the plate" and SHOW ME THE MONEY!

The Astrodome is a classic case of a dual-use stadium that was made worse for baseball when it was expanded to make room for more football fans. Instead of big, bold scoreboards with big banners and fireworks displays, they put in thousands of new seats that were just not needed for baseball. True, they did make the seats colorful in Houston, but it's still depressing when you can never hope to sell-out a game's tickets. Here are the other most notorious examples of that syndrome, showing the years they were expanded:

  • Metropolitan Stadium (1965)
  • Candlestick Park (1972)
  • Anaheim Stadium (1980)
  • Astrodome (1989)
  • [Oakland Coliseum (1996) -- How could I forget??]
  • Jack Murphy Stadium (1997)

Bad news: I recently found some minor inaccuracies in the Jack Murphy Stadium diagrams. Groan...


May 22, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Nancy Pelosi versus the CIA

This situation created by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is almost too painful to watch. Last week she fumbled her news conference so badly that it was just pitiful. Today, she tried again, grimly insisting that she is standing by her accusations, but without any further evidence. She seems to think that's all there is to it, and that everyone should leave her alone. See foxnews.com. (It reminds me of those gangster-detective movies: "That's my story, and I'm sticking to it!") Well, she put herself in an impossible position, charging that the Congress had been misled by the CIA, even though there is ample documentary evidence that she was told what was going on. The harder she tried to explain her contradictory statements, the deeper the grave she digs for herself. One has to wonder: Was she brainwashed?

Pelosi's career was in jeopardy from the moment that CIA Director Leon Panetta denied her accusations last week, directly contradicting her main assertions. She was present at a secret briefing in September 2002 at which the interrogation methods were detailed, and she did not object. See Washington Post

If this scandal is as bad as it looks, Pelosi might get replaced by Steny Hoyer in short order. He's a fairly decent moderate from Maryland who came a close second when the House Democrats chose their leader after the 2006 election. He is a prudent politician, which is why he is standing by Pelosi even though almost everyone except dyed-in-the-wool left-wing Democrats know her credibility has vanished. She no longer commands respect, and it's just a matter of time before she decides to "move on" and let someone else do the Speaker's job.

Speaking of which, isn't it scary that a hyper-partisan left-wing fringe member like Nancy Pelosi is second in line to assume the office of President of the United States, after the vice president?

While Republicans have every right to take cheer in Speaker Pelosi's mega-gaffe, because it validates the heavy criticism heaped upon her, we should also note that Leon Panetta has proven himself to put his institution ahead of Democratic Party. When Obama named him to head the CIA in January, I was aghast, recalling his role in helping President Clinton defeat the Republicans in the fall of 1995.

Closing more rest stops

VDOT announced yesterday that they are going ahead with plans to close 29 rest stops across Virginia over the next few months, for budgetary reasons. Orginally they were going to close 35 of them. Now why can't they just charge the people who use the rest stops? Because our political leaders are afraid to anger voters in these tough economic times, and it's easier just to shut them down. I made that point using the "Talk Back" feature on the News Leader Web site. I should have made it clearer that the trucking lobby stiffly opposes user fees for truckers who use the rest stops as a free "motel" to catch a few hours sleep here and there.


May 23, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Late spring at Augusta Springs

I took a visiting out-of-town birder named Ben Harrison to Augusta Springs today, and we enjoyed perfect weather: clear skies and mild temperatures. We spotted several interesting birds along the trail, but for the most part it was only an average day. Clearly, spring migration season is over and done with for the year. Here is the full report I submitted to the eBird system:

Location:     Augusta Springs Wetlands Trail - MFT03
Observation date:     5/23/09
Number of species:     33

Mallard     2
Turkey Vulture     5
Killdeer     2
Yellow-billed Cuckoo     3
Ruby-throated Hummingbird     1
Eastern Phoebe     1
Great Crested Flycatcher     2 *
Red-eyed Vireo     12
Blue Jay     2
Tree Swallow     8
Carolina Chickadee     4
Tufted Titmouse     3
Carolina Wren     2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher     6
Eastern Bluebird     2
Wood Thrush     1
American Robin     2
Gray Catbird     3
European Starling     6
Cedar Waxwing     2
Pine Warbler     3 *
Worm-eating Warbler     8
Ovenbird     8
Louisiana Waterthrush     1
Common Yellowthroat     2
Scarlet Tanager     6
Eastern Towhee     4
Field Sparrow     1 *
Song Sparrow     2 *
Northern Cardinal     5
Indigo Bunting     6
Red-winged Blackbird     6
American Goldfinch     1

This report was generated automatically by eBird v2(http://ebird.org)	

* I added the asterisks to indicate birds that I heard only, or ones that I barely glimpsed.


Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee, on the boardwalk at Augusta Springs. Note the green worm in its beak.

After that we headed over to the Chimney Hollow trail, about ten miles to the north "as the crow flies." It was getting warm, so bird activity was subdued, but we did see or hear a few Acadian Flycatchers at close range, and Red-eyed Vireos. In addition, I heard Black-throated green warblers, Black-and-white warblers, and Northern parulas, and even a Red-breasted nuthatch!

I brought my camera in hopes of getting some good mushroom photos after all the wet weather we've had lately, and was surprised that the fungi were so scarce. I did come across a few of these mollusks, however:

Snail

Snail, on the Chimney Hollow trail.

Other recent highlights

Over the past ten days I have seen a few more first-of-season birds here and there:

  • Blackpoll warblers (M, F)* on Bells Lane, May 17
  • Canada warbler (F), behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, May 18
  • Chestnut-sided warbler (M), at Ravens Roost, Blue Ridge Parkway, May 20

* That is the latest first sighting of Blackpoll warblers since 1997, when I first began keeping records. See the Annual arrival page. That species almost always arrives during the second week of May, and this makes me wonder if some environmental factor has caused a delay in their migration schedule.

I also saw a male Rose-breasted grosbeak singing loudly at the last location above. They are surprisingly abundant this year. On the other hand, Willow flycatchers are surprisingly scarce; I have heard a couple but have not seen any thus far. Finally, I have found nests of Blue-gray gnatcatchers and Yellow warblers, and hope to see the babies in the next week or two.


May 24, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Nationals finally "git 'er Dunn"

Adam Dunn proved beyond a doubt his value to the Washington Nationals today, hitting two home runs (#13 and #14 for the season) including a grand slam in the [seventh] inning. Dunn set a personal best with six RBIs. Were it not for that one clutch hit, the Nationals probably would have been swept -- at home! -- by the Baltimore Orioles. Instead, they won 8-5, [thus] averting a sweep [and] making sure that starting pitcher Shairon Martis did not suffer his first loss of the season. Once again, Martis pitched a superb game and helped out offensively with a clutch base hit during the sixth-inning rally by the Nats, but then he gave up a home run to Adam Jones in the seventh inning, as the O's retook the lead. Except for [Cristian Guzman and] Ronnie Belliard, all of the Nationals position players got hits today. Closer Joel Hanrahan did his job, striking out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth inning. Nats' fans were brought back from the precipice of despair. Attendance in the latter two games of the series was over 30,000 for the first time in Washington since Opening Day. See MLB.com.

The first two games of this "Beltway Series" were most annoying. On on Friday night, Jordan Zimmermann pitched seven innings and only gave up two runs, but the Nats batters couldn't do any better than that either, so the game went into extra innings. Thanks to a fluke infield hit by relief pitcher Danys Baez, the Orioles staged a rally and won the game, 4-2. On Saturday night it was another pitchers' duel, quite a contrast to the way both teams have been playing lately. Rookie Ross Detwiler allowed only two runs over six innings. In the first inning, center fielder Justin Maxwell robbed Adam Jones of a home run, a truly spectacular defensive play. Those two guys show great promise, offering Washington fans something to hope for in years to come.

Nationals' home stands

Of the eleven games they have played at home since May 15, the Nationals lost nine and won only two. Absolutely miserable! One of the announcers on MASN said it was the Nationals' worst home stand ever, since the franchise began playing in Washington four years ago. To make sure about that, I went through my records, and my findings are summarized below. (I excluded home stands with fewer than six games.)

Year Best home stands Worst home stands
Dates Wins Losses Dates Wins Losses
2005 May 31 - June 12 12 1 Sept. 20-25 1 5
2006 July 21-27 6 0 Sept. 26 - Oct. 1 2 4
2007 July 31 - Aug. 5 6 0 Apr. 2-8 1 6
2008 Aug. 26 - Sep. 3 8 1 Aug. 12-17 1 6

How about those Yankees?

The Yankees have erased memories of April and have become one of the hottest teams in baseball lately. Unfortunately, the same is true of the Philadelphia Phillies, who were visiting the Bronx this weekend. Things looked bleak in New Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as the home team was behind the Phillies 4-2, with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Then Mighty A-Rod stepped up to the plate and blasted a game-winning home run into the right field stands, tying the game 4-4. Well, "blasted" may be a bit too strong, since just about any minor league player could hit a home run into that part of the park. The next batter Robinson Cano singled, then stole second base, and Melky Cabrera won the game with an RBI base hit. A storybook ending! On Sunday, the Phillies got revenge, winning 4-3 in extra innings.

More Astrodome tweaks

Even though it was only used that way for a few years, I decided to add an expanded (1989) football diagram version of the Astrodome. It shows the completed upper deck and the extra seating sections that were inserted in the corners of the field during the latter years. Also, please note that I revised and enlarged the Astrodome profile closeup diagram that was displayed in the previous blog post. I corrected the number of seating rows in each level, and put the "loge" label on the middle deck, where it belongs, rather than on the suite / press box level. Click on your browser's refresh button to make sure you are seeing the current version.

Rays look to suburbs

The Tampa Bay Rays are giving up on the idea of building a new ballpark in downtown St. Petersburg. The proposed open-air stadium at the site of Al Lang Field (not Al "Land" Field, as it says on MLB.com) on the waterfront is opposed by many local folks, and given the traffic constraints, it would not attract many fans from across the bay. That is why the Rays are focusing their attention on Pinellas County, north of St. Pete and west of Tampa, kind of like Arlington is between Dallas and Fort Worth. (Link via FreshContent.net!)

Baseball diplomacy

In hopes of reversing the decision by the International Olympic Committee to remove baseball from future Olympic Games, a "Baseball 101" promotion aimed at foreign diplomats was held at Nationals Park recently. The event was sponsored by the International Baseball Federation, the U.S. State Department, Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association, and the Nationals. Ambassador Roble Olhaye from Djibouti threw out the ceremonial first pitch. See MLB.com.


May 25, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Virginia college baseball triumphs

Congratuations to the University of Virginia Cavaliers baseball team for winning the ACC championship for the second time ever. (The first time was in 1996.) On Sunday they beat Florida State 6-3 in in Durham (as in Bulls), North Carolina, thanks to a two-run base hit by John Hicks in the top of the ninth inning. Virginia went 43-12-1 for the 2009 season, and has qualified for the NCAA championshi. See virginiasports.com.

The "Wahoos" now head to Irvine, California for the regional championships, and if they are successful may just make it to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska beginning June 13. Historic Rosenblatt Stadium is slated for destruction in another couple years, unfortunately.

One of these days I may just do a diagram for Davenport Field, the home field of the UVa baseball team. During graduate school in the 1990s I worked next door to it at the UVa Miller Center. Back then it was a very meager facility, just aluminum bleachers and a tacky Astroturf infield, but just after I left in 2002, the entire grandstand was replaced with a beautiful new brick roofed structure.

UVa Cavalier logo

This is the old Cavalier logo that was in use while I was a gradudate student. Wa-hoo-wa!


May 25, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Major jail break in Mexico

The war on narcotics gangs in Mexico seemed to be making progress over the past two months, as the violence in places like Ciudad Juarez has subsided somewhat, but a mass escape from a prison in Zacatecas has raised security fears once again. A total of 53 prisoners from Cieneguillas prison are now at large. The prison break was carried out with 20 armed men, reportedly organized by the Gulf Cartel, which operates in northern Mexico. In response, the top security official for that state has resigned. See CNN.com.

Coincidentally, Mexico's former President Vicente Fox recently called for the legalization of marijuana, as the only way to deal with the problem which has overwhelmed Mexican police authorities. He thus joins his predecessor Ernesto Zedillo and former presidents Cesar Gaviria of Colombia and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil in taking this controversial stand. See CNN.com. I think it's clear that the status quo anti-drug policy in the U.S. and Latin America is failing, but I'm not sure that full legalization would do much good. Reform of criminal statutes that turn mischievous teenagers into hard-core felons would be the logical place to begin. In the end, however, it is a problem that can only be solved by cultural means, including education as Fox stressed. Laws can only do so much to tackle a problem of this magnitude.

Tensions in rural Peru

The Peruvian Army recently dispatched units to help local police quell recent disturbances in the Amazon region. On May 8 the government declared a two-month state of emergency in that region. Indigenous people are protesting government decrees over the past two years that ease restrictions over oil exploration and development in the wilderness areas of the Amazon rain forest. Activist leader Alberto Pizango said that negotiations with the government have broken down. See BBC. Their concerns should be respected, and their way of life should be protected to some degree, but if it turns out that these protests are being instigated by Evo Morales or Hugo Chavez, that is a different matter.


May 26, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Sotomayor: "empathetic" justice

As expected, President Obama announced today that he will nominate Sonia Sotomayor to be the next Supreme Court justice, replacing David Souter. There is no question that she is qualified for the job, having served as a Federal judge since 1992, and in an appellate court since 1999. She clearly fulfills the President's standard of "empathy," in terms of her ethnicity, gender, and working class origins. For a full biographical background on Judge Sotomayor, see whitehouse.gov.

Conservatives will certainly harp on Sotomayor's unabashed record as a liberal activist. In a panel discussion, she candidly admitted that judges don't just interpret the law but actually make policy: "The Court of Appeals is where policy is made." Then she slyly acknowledged what a controversial declaration that was. See for yourself on youtube.com. Well, I suppose we should give her credit for being honest, at least. The Founding Fathers never intended for the judiciary to initiate policy changes, but that's the way things have been done in this country since the mid-20th Century, and it's hard to turn back.

On ABC's "Nightline" this evening, George Will commented that Sotomayor was a very astute political choice for Obama, because it strengthens his support among Hispanics. That is the fastest-growing ethnic group in America, and the Republicans have been losing their support in recent years, largely because of the immigration issue. Will has a column in Wednesday's Washington Post, noting the obsession with "identity" as the main consideration in selecting personnel these days. As part of a three-judge panel, she affirmed -- without explanation -- a lower court's ruling against the New Haven Police Department, after no black applicants passed the entry exam. Such an uncritical allegiance to the problematic practice of affirmative action is troubling.

Speaking of immigration, Sotomayor's parents came to the United States from Puerto Rico during World War II, when there was a labor shortage. It is certainly healthy to have a Supreme Court justice with such an "outsider's" perspective, but Sotomayor has made some rulings and said some things that suggest that only a woman or a minority member could understand some kinds of problems well enough to make the best decision. She will get a chance to clarify her beliefs when she is questioned in the Senate, but to me that can only be interpreted to mean that justice is not blind, and that impartiality is either not possible or not important. Such an attitude is truly frightening, because it can serve to rationalize arbitrary government decisions that favor one group over another.

The President also brought up Sotomayor's role in ending the 1994-1995 baseball strike, siding with the players' union. She was raised in The Bronx, not far from Yankee Stadium (soon to be torn down!), and has been a lifelong Yankees fan. Well, with those attributes she certainly can't be that bad!

But seriously, Republicans in the Senate need to think carefully about how difficult to make her confirmation process, which is virtually assured. She deserves thorough scrutiny of her positions and decision-making criteria, and there should be no limits on what she is asked. Someone in the Senate is bound to challenge her to defend the Roe v. Wade decision, and I just hope they are smart enough to focus on the constitutional propriety of that ruling, as opposed to the morality of abortion per se. If Republicans come across as narrowly focused on certain "litmus test" criteria, they will suffer a further loss of respect among independent-minded voters.


May 28, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Zambrano loses it, Cubs win

Even though Carlos Zambrano went berserk and attacked an umpire over a questionable "safe" call at home plate yesterday, the Cubs managed to win. He received a six-game suspension for the infraction, which is pretty mild based on what I heard and saw. Those hot-blooded Latinos! smile Lately the Cubbies have been on a cold streak, losing eight of their last ten games, and have fallen behind the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central! See MLB.com.

Speaking of which, I'm also ironing out details in a revised early version of Wrigley Field, based on some new information and some old information that I didn't pay close enough attention to.

Bronx demolition update

There are some more photos of the demolition of Yankee Stadium at baseball-fever.com; hat tip to Mike Zurawski. If you've got broadband and/or are patient enough to wait for big images to load, this page is even better. They are definitely not foolin' around...

And as previously mentioned, there is a new blog on the demolitionofyankeestadium.com, as well as a Web site devoted to savetheyankeegate2.com!


May 29, 2009 [LINK / comment]

More North Korean bellicosity

Last month they began testing their long-range ballistic missiles, and as May comes to a close North Korea is engaged in a rapid "break out" of its nuclear weapons capability. Last weekend they conducted a nuclear explosive test, though it is uncertain whether it was successful or not. They followed that up by launching a series of missiles, defying the outside world (or more specifically, the United States) to try to stop them. Predictably, the Obama administration reacted by denouncing the actions as a violation of international law, but it is uncertain whether this matters to any of the leading world powers. Likewise, his call for renewed international sanctions is incredibly hollow, and North Korean leaders must be laughing their heads off at that. Nevertheless, the mere suggestion that cargo vessels heading to or from North Korea may be subject to inspection was enough to elicit an even more aggressive gesture by the Pyongyang regime. They threatened to a attack South Korea if ships from the North are searched, and declared that the 1953 truce that ended the Korean War was no longer valid. U.S. and South Korean forces went on a heightened state of alert. See Washington Post.

Technically, North Korea's abrogation of the 1953 truce means that a state of war now exists, but this is a formal, legalistic status that does not necessarily mean that armed hostilities are imminent. It is almost certainly calculated to have a psychological effect that, they hope, will blackmail the U.S. government and others to fork over a large amount of economic resources as the price of peace. We should not get complacent over North Korea's annoying habit of nuclear brinksmanship, however, as the possibility remains that Kim Jong-Il may be under the delusion that he can outwit the United States and seize control of South Korea before we are able to respond. North Korea's armed forces are among the largest in the world, though much of their equipment is outdated. Also, their logistical capacity to sustain a large-scale conventional offensive in a high-intensity combat environment is highly questionable. Many thousands of its people are, or were until recently, so badly undernourished that disease and mortality are rising to dangerous levels. Since the Korean War ended, the northern half of the Korean peninsula has remained a Spartan armed camp, with a brainwashed population and fanatical cadre of leaders. They can't keep this up forever, and it's possible that as Kim Jong-Il gets older and frailer, he may be tempted to go out in a blaze of "glory."

During the campaign last fall, Joe Biden warned in unequivocal terms that there would be an international crisis in the first several months of an Obama administration, as foreign rogue leaders test the new president's willpower and nerve. Obama's statements on North Korea and other world crisis areas often gives the impression of extreme naivete, but he is shrewd enough of a politician to grasp the challenge he faces. So, even though his dovish approach is inviting an international crisis, and even though he will probably waste more time trying to persuade other countries to cooperate in imposing sanctions on North Korea, I would expect that he would make sure that U.S. vital interests are protected. Like John F. Kennedy in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Obama may be wet behind the ears, but he's no pushover.


May 31, 2009 [LINK / comment]

"Forcing religion" on people?

While I was crossing the street on my way into church this morning, a pedestrian heading the other direction hailed me and asked me what I thought about forcing religion on people. I was momentarily confused by the random solicitation, but decided to humor him and played along with his line of questioning, telling him that I was against it. He then proceeded to tell me what a terrible thing it is when religious beliefs are forced on someone, by the government or whoever, and I agreeed. So then he asks me why there are two churches right next to each other (Emmanuel Episcopal, which I attend, and a Baptist church), and complains about the large number of churches that dominate the downtown area of Staunton. He told me that this heavy concentration of places of worship amounted to forcing religion on people, and he quite clearly was deeply offended by it. He said he is from Lexington, which does not have nearly as many churches downtown compared to Staunton. I told him that no one is forced to join any church, and that whether he attends one or not is entirely up to him. It was certainly a strange way to start a Sunday service.

The guy wasn't dressed very well, and I know he is probably just a malcontented crank, perhaps down on his luck, but he raises an interesting point. It's just not the point he was trying to raise. Whereas he felt oppressed by all the physical edifices with Christian symbols, the truth of the matter is that most mainstream churches in Staunton and elsewhere are very reticent about proselytizing non-believers. The only days during the year when our congregation "hits the streets" to spread the Gospel is on Palm Sunday (the ecumenical procession through downtown) and on Christmas eve, when some members sing Christmas carols door to door. Otherwise, we pretty much keep to ourselves, hoping that new visitors will walk in our doors.

When you put that guy's complaint together with the facts, there is a glaring contradiction, and I think it teaches us a lesson. The problem is not that churches are doing too much proselytizing, it is that we are not doing enough. The guy is probably alienated and feels a vague sense that he should be in closer contact with God, and this may have been his way of expressing that longing. Or maybe not. Either way, it is clear to me that more church members need to get serious about spreading the message of salvation and redemption through Jesus Christ.

In an interesting coincidence, today was the Day of Pentecost, in which the resurrected Messiah breathed the Holy Spirit on his disciples, who began speaking in tongues and working miracles. Nowadays most mainstream churches find it hard to celebrate such a holiday (holy day), feeling uncomfortable with the Christian Church's zealous cult-like origins. That is too bad, and really needs to change if the church is to play its proper role in reaching out to the millions of troubled people who are suffering from economic woes and other afflictions.

May the spiritual fire received by the founders of the church on that first Day of Pentecost be rekindled within all of us who believe, to the greater glory and honor of God.


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