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June 1, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Blue Ridge Parkway day trip

Jacqueline and I are slowly recovering from our exhilarating but exhausting excursion to the Blue Ridge Parkway on Sunday. (She is in better shape than I am, actually.) Aside from all the colorful birds (which I reported on May 30), we also saw quite a few butterflies and flowers. Though physically tired, we were spiritually refreshed by seeing all the beauty of God's creation, unspoiled by human hands.

Our initial plan was to hike to the top of Humpback Rocks as early as possible, so as to beat the large crowds that were sure to be there later on. The trail was a bit slippery due to the recent rains, and we paused frequently to look for birds. We made it to the top just after 8:00 A.M., a net gain in elevation of about 800 feet. Only one other hiker was there, plus his dog. With clear skies (though slightly hazy), mild temperatures, and no sound but for the birds singing, it was sheer bliss -- for a while. Sure enough, several large groups soon arrived, and so we headed back down just before 9:00 A.M.

After the hike, we spent some time at the Humpback Rocks visitors center, where we learned about the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway (1935-2010). Because it was Memorial Day weekend, they had some exhibitions at the recreated farm nearby, and we talked to a guy at a tent who was displaying memorabilia from the Vietnam War. Then we decided to continue south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping to walk around at some of the scenic overlooks. It was the first time we had gone south of the Wintergreen turnoff in years, and I especially enjoyed the dramatic view at Twenty Minute Cliff. A bit further along, I was delighted to finally get a good look at a Chestnut-sided Warbler, which is one of my favorites. Finally we reached the intersection of Route 56, and descended into the Shenandoah Valley once again, passing through the towns of Vesuvius, Steele's Tavern, and Greenville on the way back to Staunton. Time well spent on a wonderful day!

Andrew & Jacqueline at Humpback Rocks

"Los Clems" taking in the awesome view at Humpback Rocks. Roll the mouse over this image to see a Fritillary butterfly on Mountain Laurel blossoms at the Humpback Rocks visitor center.

Those photos, and others, have been posted on the new Summer 2010 photo gallery page.

Spider photos

I have also created a new nature photo gallery for our tiny eight-legged "friends" in the Arachnid family: Spiders. Some of those photos are enhanced, re-edited versions of spider photos that I posted years ago.

Spider montage

June 4, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Kill the umpires! (Not)

What a terrible fate befell Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga on Wednesday: he had gone eight and two-thirds innings without allowing an opponent player to reach first base, and then caught a toss from the first-baseman who had fielded a ground ball and stepped on the bag, forcing out the batter. Unfortunately, the first-base umpire Jim Joyce didn't see it that way. He thought Galarraga's foot was not on the bag, so he called the Indians shortstop Jason Donald safe, thereby ruining what would have been the third perfect game in the past 30 days. Later on, when he saw the video replay, Joyce realized what an awful blunder he had made, and he wasted no effort to apologize to Galarraga. It was an appropriate gesture, but of course there is no way he can ever make up for one of the biggest umpiring goofs in baseball history. See MLB.com.

But that's not all...

Nats stumble in Houston

On Tuesday evening, the Washington Nationals were robbed of a hard-fought comeback victory by a lousy call by an umpire. Nats closing pitcher Matt Capps was one strike away from getting the third out and sealing what should have been a 7-6 win, and Astros slugger Lance Berkman tried to check his swing on, but his bat clearly went in front of home plate. Unfortunately, third-base umpire Bill Hohn didn't see it that way. (The home plate umpire deferred to the umpire at the appropriate corner, as is customary.) Hohn called it a ball / checked swing, apparently giving the benefit of the doubt to the hometown hero. On the very next pitch, Berkman punched a single down the left field line that scored two runs, instantly reversing the game's outcome from 7-6 to 8-7. frown See MLB.com. Berkman himself later acknowledged that he had swung at that pitch, but as far as I know, Mr. Hohn has issued no apology to the Nationals. True, it may not have been a historic moment like what happened in Detroit, but it did decide the outcome of the game, and given the tight race in the NL East this year, a game or two difference in the standings could end up making all the difference. It left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

On Wednesday, the Nats failed to rebound from their disappointment, as the Astros beat them 5-1. But last night (Thursday), was another story -- or actually, the same story as Tuesday. The Astros scored three times in the first inning [on Tuesday, and one run in each of the first three innings on Thursday. Just like before, the Nats scored two runs in the top of the ninth to take a one-run lead, and just like before, Lance Berkman (who else?) stepped up to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. When he hit a line drive right at the right fielder, it appeared that the game was over, but Cristian Guzman (who had been shifted from shortstop after making two errors) misjudged the ball, allowing the tying run to score. The next batter, Carlos Lee, hit a walk-off home run into the short left field porch, and the Astros won, 6-4.]* See MLB.com.

* [UPDATE: I had to hurry out to go play softball (!) before I was able to finish that paragraph; my apologies for the incomplete post. I'd just like to add that I don't really blame Guzman for missing that catch, because he's not used to playing outfield, and because he really has been hustling this year, at the plate and on the field. In the game the Nats lost on Tuesday, he made a great throw to get the out at home plate in the ninth inning, after Ryan Zimmerman committed a rare error, allowing Pedro Feliz to reach base. Ian Desmond made three errors in the Wednesday game, which is why Guzman replaced him there on Thursday. On the up side, defensively, Roger Bernadina has been making some spectacular diving catches in right field, including one in Houston, and one tonight that probably prevented a couple runs from scoring. It might well have been the deciding factor in the Nats' 4-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Matt Capps finally gets another save after two ugly losses in Houston. Whew!]

Minute Maid Park update

The Minute Maid Park Minute Maid Park page has been thoroughly revised, with a brand-new set of exquisitely accurate diagrams. The page also has a modified layout conforming to the enhanced navigation system. Compared to the old version, there is less foul territory, more upper-deck overhang, and the upper deck is slightly bigger. The profile is much more detailed, and things such as the old Union Station building beyond left field are now included.

Obviously, I was motivated to a large extent by the Nationals-Astros series, which gave me several opportunities to make note of certain details. Along with Chase Field and Miller Park (which share the similar awkwardness of dealing with retractable roofs), it was among the most outdated diagrams on this Web site. It's hard for me to believe that the last time I revised that diagram was five years ago. How time flies...

I have raised my subjective ranking of Minute Maid Park, which really does have a great design. Fans of this Web site will note that it has been a full month since the last diagram update. Fear not, I'm getting back on track, after having done a lot of Web site maintenance chores, some of which will become obvious soon.

Third of season done

With the Nationals having lost three games in a row to one of the lowest-ranked teams in baseball, it is cause for some concern, but not panic. After a road trip in which they won three and lost seven, they are now 26-29, the farthest below .500 they have been this season. Aside from the large number of away games, a big part of the reason for their slump is the absence of catcher Pudge Rodriguez, who leads the Nats in batting average, with .326 currently. The team's batting is often inconsistent, but the pitching is mostly very solid, and with Stephen Strasburg due to join the team next week, things will only get better. Putting the season thus far in the context of past years, it's hard for Nats fans to complain. As a friend of a Facebook friend, Rick Pearson, noted a couple days ago: "If the Nats lose their next 35 games, they would have a 26-61 record, which is what they had last year when Manny Acta got fired."

After the first two months of 2010, the Washington Nationals were exactly .500, 26 wins and 26 losses. It is an appropriate moment to update the Washington Nationals page, which has monthly and annual playing statistics for the "D.C. 9."

Wednesday's Washington Post had a retrospective article: "Five years ago, the Washington Nationals were on top of the world." I remember the ten-game winning streak that put the Nats on top of the NL East like it was yesterday... See June 2005.


June 8, 2010 [LINK / comment]

U.Va. advances in NCAA tourney

After getting momentarily sidetracked by St. John's University at the NCAA regional tournament on Sunday, the University of Virginia Cavaliers won the rematch on Monday evening, thereby qualifying for the "super regionals." (I was at the game in Charlottesville on Saturday night; see below.) In the deciding game of the series, U.Va. beat St. John's by a score of 5 to 3. In contrast to the slugfest games on Friday and Saturday, the Cavaliers eked out runs one at a time in classic "small ball" fashion. St. John's scored twice in the sixth inning, coming to within one run of the host team, but that was all they could manage. See virginiasports.com.

In the game I saw on Saturday evening, the Cavaliers walloped the Mississippi ("Ole Miss") Rebels by a score of 13-7, after having beat the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams 15-4 the day before. By the end of the fourth inning, Virginia was way ahead of Ole Miss, 11-3. It was a "sellout" crowd of 4,801 -- exactly 24 less than capacity -- but I did notice a few empty seats in the visitors' section. I asked the usher if I could buy an upgraded ticket, but he said the reserved seats were all sold. I wonder... I must say, I was greatly impressed by the fine appearance of the Cavaliers' home. (See below.)

Of special interest in that game was starting pitcher Danny Hultzen, a sophomore (!) who earned his tenth win of the season even though he struggled with control. He gave up three runs in both the third and fifth innings, but he hung in there and kept his cool until the end of the sixth inning. The Washington Post had a feature story on Hultzen the same day, noting his superb ERA of 2.43 and being named as ACC pitcher of the year. He graduated from the elite St. Albans high school in Washington just two years ago, and was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks but decided to go to college instead. Smart kid. Once he finishes his baccalaureate at U.Va., presumably in 2012, he will be subject to the draft process once again.

Virginia will now face Oklahoma at the super regionals next weekend, at home in Charlottesville. That round is a best-of-three series, one of eight being held around the country, and the winning teams from each series will go to the College World Series in Omaha, beginning June 19. It will be the final year for historic camera Rosenblatt Stadium, which I visited briefly last August. We'll soon find out if Virginia lives up to its new-found high expectations and makes it to the CWS like they did last year, when they were still the underdogs.

Davenport Field: nice!

Inspired by the success of the U.Va. baseball team, I created a new page for Davenport Field Davenport Field. That page has three diagram versions: 1995, 2002 (when the current stadium was built), and 2010. Attendance was so high this spring that they had to build two new bleacher sections, [in addition to] the bleacher sections that had been built in recent years. Capacity is now 4,825, more than twice what it was when construction was completed in 2002. All of the additional seats are temporary bleachers, however, and they really need to upgrade some of those sections to permanent status, probably the seats extending down along the first base side.

Davenport Field behind home plate

Davenport Field grand view, from behind home plate. Beyond the scoreboard is University Hall, where the U.Va. basketball team used to play. On the right is Brown's Mountain, adjacent to Monticello, where President Thomas Jefferson once lived.

D-Day and baseball

Two days ago was the 66th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of France by American, British, and Canadian soldiers at the beaches of Normandy. The town of Bedford, Virginia suffered the highest number of fatalities relative to population, which is why the National D-Day Memorial is located there. If you have time, which you should, take a few minutes to read about Frank Draper and Elmer Wright -- "The Boys of Bedford, Virginia" at the Baseball in Wartime blog. How many other brave lads would have gone on to play in the major leagues if they had not sacrificed their lives for their country and the cause of freedom?

It's "S-Day" in D.C.

In about two hours, the media feeding frenzy over Stephen Strasburg will reach a peak, as the vaunted ace pitches his first game for the Washington Nationals this evening. MASN will have an extra half-hour pre-game show, and ESPN will have live coverage as well. In today's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell says that this is the moment that long-suffering Washington baseball fans finally get to relax and enjoy. I tend to be skeptical about rising stars, but the more I read about him and see of him, Strasburg indeed seems like the Real Thing. He shows exceptional modesty and maturity for his age, the qualities of poise that differentiate merely good pitchers from truly great ones. Now we'll find out if he can take the pressure of being a big league pitcher. And the Pittsburgh Pirates will find out whether they can score any runs off him!

Nationals draft Harper

But that's not all! Yesterday, the Nationals used their #1 pick to draft slugger Bryce Harper, of the College of Southern Nevada. As with Stephen Strasburg, who generated a frenzy of speculation last summer, there is a big question about whether the Nationals can successfully get a contract with him. Nats' general manager Mike Rizzo sounds determined to get the job done. Harper is primarily a catcher, but has played in the outfield as well this year. That's unusual, but Yogi Berra did the same thing way back when. See MLB.com. Yes, sports fans, the future of baseball in Our Nation's Capital looks bright indeed!

Whew!

COMMENT by: Chris Knight, of Kansas City, KS on Jun 09, 2010 01:22 AM
This makes me wonder if you plan on doing a diagram for Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha and/or it's replacement TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, The home Stadiums for the College World Series and home to the Omaha Royals (Rosenblatt only unless the new Omaha Royals Stadium gets delayed) and the United Football League Omaha Nighthawks. (yea football diagram to go with it) It also seem the new Omaha Ballpark has a capacity of 24,000 but it is expandable to MLB size of 35,000 (New or Existing MLB team in Omaha?) I don't know if there's been any MLB regular season games at the Rosenblatt Stadium, I know there's been some KC Royals Exhibition Games played there before. But the CWS should warrant a diagram to be drawn for it anyway.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jun 12, 2010 00:43 AM
Yes, I would like to do a diagram of Rosenblatt Stadium, depending on how much information I can get. I took pictures there last year, and it seemed to be in fine physical condition from the outside. It has a lot of historic value, but no official MLB games were ever played there. Too bad they're replacing it. All those teams making use of the new and old stadiums in Omaha sounds complicated to me.


June 9, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Strasburg makes a historic debut

It's hard to remember the last time a rookie athlete got this much media attention in his debut appearance, but Stephen Strasburg erased any doubts about whether the "feeding frenzy" was warranted. Racking up 14 strikeouts without giving up a single walk is the kind of performance you expect from seasoned veterans heading to the Hall of Fame, not youngsters who are still "wet behind the ears." Only two pitchers had ever struck out more batters (15) in their debut game in all of major league history. It wasn't easy, however, and Strasburg was helped by good fielding. The very first batter, Andrew McCutcheon, hit a hard line drive that shortstop Ian Desmond managed to snag, fortunately. Routinely nearing 100 mph with his fast ball, Strasburg steadily improved his control as the innings progressed. His only mistake was giving up a home run to Delwyn Young in the fourth inning, but he quickly buckled down and did not allow any more Pirates batters to reach base! In fact, he struck out the last seven batters he faced. Manager Jim Riggleman wisely took him out after the seventh inning, when the pitch count was at 94; there's no sense in risking that golden arm just to break a historical record. The bullpen guys did their job, and the Nats held on to win, 5-2. See MLB.com.

What Strasburg accomplished on the pitcher's mound was impressive enough, but the cool and calm manner in which he carried out his duties was truly awesome. (It's too bad that word gets overused these days, because Strasburg truly is "awesome.") Facing up to the sky-high expectations in front of 40,315 fans and then delivering on the promise without even flinching is practically superhuman. surpasses Bottom line: the hype was true, and Strasburg is for real. Anything is possible in the future, but if Strasburg stays healthy, God willing, the Nationals will become one of the real powerhouse teams in the National League.

With all the dramatic subplots, the game almost had a storybook nature to it. Ryan Zimmerman homered in the first inning, creating good vibes echoing his dramatic walkoff home run when Nationals Park was inaugurated two years and two months ago. Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham did likewise in the sixth inning, retaking the lead for good. I don't know when the last time the team's three big sluggers all hit the long ball in the same game. Zimmerman and Dunn each had three hits, and Dunn's batting average is currently .280, and he's on his way to having his best year at the plate. Pudge Rodriguez played a big role in his first game in over two weeks, keeping Strasburg steady while playing as catcher, and getting two hits, including a double in the second inning. Another good sign was that Nats' closer Matt Capps got three straight outs in the ninth inning. He has been very unreliable lately, and that will hopefully restore his confidence.

While being interviewed at the dugout after the game, Strasburg was "awarded" with a cream pie in the face, plus two extra ones just for good measure. Then he was crowned with the honorary silver plastic Elvis costume hairdo that has become a tradition for the Nationals this year. For a budding superstar like him, trying to become just "one of the boys" will take some doing.

Strasburg's astounding debut came on the day before the anniversary of his being drafted by the Nationals; see June 10, 2009. (Rookie relief pitcher Drew Storen was also drafted by the Nats on the same day; he and Strasburg played as teammates on the Syracuse Chiefs before being called up.) The Nationals had a special welcoming ceremony for Strasburg last August 21, which at the time seemed a bit overdone, but now I understand. The Lerner family evidently decided to get all the promotional value out of Strasburg that they could, consciously contributing to the media feeding frenzy. They're just lucky that Strasburg has been able to handle the added stress. I hereby retract my past doubts about whether Strasburg was really worth the $15.7 million he will be earning over the next four years.

In tonight's game against the Pirates, there were defensive miscues on both sides, and starting pitcher John Lannan gave up five runs, not a very good performance. Fortunately, Adam Dunn hit a home run for the second night in a row, and Ryan Zimmerman drove in a run in the seventh inning, which turned out to be the winning margin. Final score: 7-5; it's the first time the Nationals have won two consecutive games (or a series) in more than two weeks.

After all the grim hardships of the last two years, it's extremely gratifying to see Nationals Park jam-packed full of happy, excited fans. Maybe now that Strasburg is with the team, the Nats really can recreate the magical atmosphere of June 2005, when I wrote:

"It just doesn't get any better than this." smile

Mike's stadium news

Mike Zurawski is on top of the confusing stadium situation in California -- both north and south. In San Francisco, city officials are reviewing a proposal to develop the land adjacent to AT&T Park, possibly including a new arena for the Golden State Warriors, who currently reside in Sacramento. (Or maybe Rio Linda.) Even if the Mission Rock District project is approved, construction won't start any time soon. See sfgate.com.

And in San Diego, there is more talk about a new stadium for the Chargers, just a few blocks from PETCO Park downtown. See football-news-update.com. You can see an artist's depiction at ellingtoncms.com, but unless economic conditions improve, it's not likely to happen soon. I still think rebuilding the lower deck at QualComm Stadium is the way to go; stay tuned for yet another diagram update...

But if the Chargers are thinking about moving back to their ancestral home in L.A., there are plenty of financial hurdles that remain. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has expressed "concerns" about funding for the proposed stadium in the City of Industry; see curbed.com. Thanks again to Mike for those links.

COMMENT by: John Geoffrion, of Washington, DC on Jun 10, 2010 17:21 PM
Last time I checked, the Golden State Warriors played in Oakland, next door to Raiders and A's, and the Kings were the team in Sacramento. :-)

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jun 11, 2010 01:51 AM
Obviously, you checked more recently than I did, which was not at all. You'd think I would have learned not to comment on non-baseball sports after my series of factual gaffes regarding hockey last year. Thanks for setting me straight.


June 11, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Nationals sweep the Pirates

Thanks in no small measure to Stephen Strasburg, the Washington Nationals have won all three games of a series for the first time this year.* The Nats swept the Pirates in [Washington] to end their home stand on a positive note, but none of the games were easy. Even though the Nationals big sluggers are beginning to get consistent hits, there are defensive weaknesses that could prove costly in a close division race. On Thursday, Livan Hernandez finally got his fifth win of the season; he wasn't getting much run support in his recent starts.

* The Nationals had won three games in a row three times earlier this season, but in each case, those streaks spanned two different series. This season has been marked by an amazing consistency, with the Nationals often alternating between a victory one day and a loss the next.

Tonight the Nats began a nine-game road trip in Cleveland, starting off on the right foot with a run in the top of the first inning. But then with two outs in the bottom of the first, Adam Kennedy booted a ground ball that should have been an easy third out. It proved to be a costly error as the next batter, former National Austin Kearns, hit a three-run homer for the Indians. Kearns had surgery on his thumb during the off-season, and apparently that was what was preventing him from batting well during his two years in Washington. He and former Nationals manager Manny Acta are doing very well in Cleveland this year, and I'm happy that they are getting second chances to prove themselves.

Adam Dunn is finally on a hot streak at the plate, and his average is up to .290, with 13 home runs. And the Nationals are in fourth place at 30-32, poised to make another surge in the NL East standings.

Yankee Stadium II boxing

I learned from Cody Gobbell that Yankee Stadium just hosted a boxing match for the first time, as Miguel Cotto defeated Yuri Foreman, who slipped and hurt his knee in the seventh round. As reported by the New York Daily News, "Cotto won by TKO in the ninth round, capping a brutal assault on a limping Foreman, who is an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn." To see how New Yankee Stadium was transformed for this event, see cnn.com. Unlike old Yankee Stadium, where there hadn't been any boxing matches since Mohammed Ali edged Ken Norton in 1976, the boxing ring was set up in right field, not in the infield.


Strasburg does Top Ten

[UPDATE: I forgot to mention that Stephen Strasburg did a fine job doing the "Top Ten List" on David Letterman's show last night. Seeing the pitcher with the outfield and scoreboard in the background was great publicity for the Nationals and for Washington. I wish I had tape recorded it. Among the "Top Ten Little Known Facts about Stephen Strasburg": he scored the winning goal when the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup championship. (That sounds like the kind of factual misstatement I would make about hockey or basketball. smile) See MLB.com.]


June 16, 2010 [LINK / comment]

U.Va. baseball team falls flat

Talk about the "agony of defeat"!* To the disbelief and dismay of University of Virginia fans all across the Old Dominion, the Cavalier baseball team squandered their home field advantage, losing the second and third games of the series against Oklahoma. The deciding game was especially ugly: Oklahoma 11, Virginia 0. That's right, ZERO. The Cavaliers are therefore eliminated from the NCAA postseason, and as the headline in the Charlottesville Daily Progress said, there will be "No return trip to Omaha." frown

I tried to get tickets, but all three games were sold out well in advance. In both the Sunday and Monday games, the Oklahoma Sooners had big rallies in the first inning, grabbing the momentum early and never letting go. Apparently, the Cavaliers expected to win (as did most people) and weren't at their peak mental state. When adversity struck, they were caught flat-footed and just couldn't get going again.

* For the benefit of younger fans, that phrase was part of the introduction to the old ABC show "Wide World of Sports," accompanied by a graphic clip of a downhill skier tumbling head over heels.

Nationals fall flat

Since leaving home in Washington last week, the Nationals have lost four of their five games thus far. The only win came in Cleveland on Sunday, when Stephen Strasburg struck out eight more batters in the second start of his career, but walked five men for the first time. He was having problems with his footing because of a rut in the pitcher's mound, which had to be repaired. Fortunately, his team mates gave Strasburg plenty of run support, as they beat the Indians, 9-4. Because of all the excitement over Strasburg, attendance at Progressive Field on Sunday was 32,876 -- the second highest this year.

But otherwise, the Nats just can't get their bats started. In Detroit, the Nats dropped the first two games to the Tigers, as starting pitchers John Lannan and Livan Hernandez had below-average performances.

Tremor in San Diego

The game at PETCO Park on Monday night was briefly interrupted by a small 5.7-magnitude earthquake that was centered on the nearby United States-Mexican border. It happened in the bottom of the eighth inning, by which time many fans had already left. No one was hurt, and no damage was reported. The Toronto Blue Jays won the game, 6-3. See MLB.com.

Save QualComm Stadium!?

Jack Murphy Stadium That seismic event reminded me about the recent news item (June 9) on a possible new football-only stadium for the San Diego Chargers. I needed to make some corrections to those diagrams anyway, so I came up with a simplified proposed renovation of QualComm (Jack Murphy) Stadium, in which the field would be lowered just three feet, rather than five feet as I suggested one year ago. Would that avoid the hazardous water table issue? (The stadium sits in a river valley that has been paved over.) That question will be up to the engineers to decide. I'm sure they could figure out some way to assure proper drainage without going to too much expense. [Most of the lower bowl of the grandstand would remain intact, except for the corners, which would be reoriented, and the first five or so rows, which would have a bit more slope. Both changes would provide much better sight lines for football games, and my design would provide enough room for a standard-sized soccer field, which QualComm Stadium does not presently have.]

Why undertake such a project, you ask? Rebuilding QualComm Stadium would probably cost on the order of $40-$50 million, much less than the cost of a whole new stadium. Mike Zurawski thinks I'm wasting my time because QualComm Stadium has no particular aesthetic or historical value. Perhaps, but it does have the virtue of already have been built and paid for. Stadiums aren't cheap, and in hard times like these, it only makes sense to make do with what you've got.

As for the real-world diagrams, the main changes are the inclusion of access ramps and other structures around the periphery of the stadium. Among the corrections worth noting are that the rear portion of the lower deck has a steeper slope than before, and the second deck is recessed several feet, with more upper-deck overhang. There is also a full-stadium (not truncated) version, similar to what I had done for the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. I may do a few other full-stadium diagrams for stadiums that do not fit the standard 480 x 500 pixel diagram size.

For the record...

Minute Maid Park A few days ago, I had to manually insert the June 4 blog post on the baseball blog page, because of a technical glitch. ("Houston, we have a problem.) I am removing it as of today (June 16), but for the sake of those who may not have noticed, it included a diagram update for Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. Hopefully I'll get that problem resolved soon...


June 17, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Strasburg for the All-Star game?

The hype over Stephen Strasburg has reached absurd proportions, with some people suggesting -- perhaps tongue in cheek -- that he should get picked for the 2010 All-Star game. Goodness gracious.

On a related note, a letter to the editor by a fan from Arlington in the Washington Post recently suggested that if Barack Obama qualified for the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year of office, without actually having done much of anything, then Stephen Strasburg should be admitted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. smile

On a more serious note, fans of the Washington Nationals need to get a reality check and look at past examples of promising star pitchers who never panned out. During spring training in March, Dave Sheinin had a feature article in the Washington Post on the doomed career of former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood, who was once heralded as a savior on par with Strasburg today. In his very first season in the majors Wood tore a ligament, and despite multiple surgeries was never the same again. He's now the closer for the Cleveland Indians, having another rough year. The parallel Sheinin drew with Strasburg was clear. Moral: Never pin your hopes on any one individual player.

World Cup soccer, 2010

In the Republic of South Africa, 32 national teams from around the world are competing in the FIFA World Cup tournament. In the first match on Saturday, the Americans managed a 1-1 tie against the English team, thanks to goalie who let a slowly bouncing ball slip by him. Next we play Slovenia. The host team gets to design the official game ball at each World Cup, and the ones being used this year are widely loathed by the players. They have weird, irregular markings and are slick, making the trajectory of kicks very unpredictable.

Pretty much everybody in the U.S. hates the incessant noise produced by the "vuvuzelas," a plastic horn popular in South Africa. I was encouraged to learn that use of vuvuzelas has been banned in Yankee Stadium, as Doug Mataconis reports.

TRIVIA QUESTION: As everyone knows, the World Cup was first held in the United States in 1994, the same year as the baseball strike. Who can identify a major league baseball stadium (or stadiums) in which World Cup matches were held?

Blog glitch fixed

The technical issue that resulted in some of the posts from early June not showing up on the Baseball blog page has now been fixed, I think. If anyone notices any strange behavior or slow loading time on that page, please let me know.

COMMENT by: Chris Turner, of Killeen, # on Jun 20, 2010 02:45 AM
in response to the trivia question rfk was the only one that was a baseball stadium... i dont know if it counts because at the time it was only the redskins at rfk.

COMMENT by: Ryan Brister, of Rochester, NY on Jun 20, 2010 21:07 PM
On the subject of soccer at baseball stadiums, Fenway will be playing host to a pair of Scottish teams in July. I'd imagine the infield would be a pain for soccer, but I don't know how they could place a field that would avoid the dirt. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/scot_prem/8641521.stm

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jun 22, 2010 10:44 AM
Chris -- Yes, RFK was the one I was thinking of, but obviously there was no baseball there at the time. If they had chosen Memorial Coliseum instead of the Rose Bowl as the World Cup venue in L.A., that would have been another one, but the shrinking of the field when they added seats for the Raiders in 1993 would have left too little room around the sidelines.

Ryan -- That should be an interesting arrangement at Fenway, which is just barely big enough to fit a soccer field. I'd bet they will put in temporary grass in the infield, or else it would be an unfair and dangerous mess.


June 19, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Evil Dutch boy jailed in Peru

Peru recently grabbed newspaper headlines when the young man who is widely suspected of murdering American student Natalie Holloway in Aruba five years ago, evidently did the same thing in Lima. Joran van der Sloot was at a casino with young Peruvian woman named Stephany Flores, returned to his hotel room with her, and then fled to Chile after she died a violent death in that room. He was apprehended after a couple days, was returned by Chilean authorities to Peru, and has since confessed to killing Ms. Flores.

The facts of the case, and the parallels with the 2005 Natalie Holloway disappearance, leave little doubt that van der Sloot is a sociopathic serial murderer. Security videos from shortly after 5:00 A.M. on May 30 show van der Sloot entering the the hotel room with Flores, and more than three hours later, he left alone. The woman's poker winnings of more than $1,700 were not found in the room, leading to the obvious conclusion that he took the cash. After van der Sloot was formally charged, Peruvian police made a high-profile "showing" of him to journalists For a full report of the crime and the subsequent apprehension, see CNN.com reports that the Dutch Embassy "is not comfortable with" such publicity. That is how law enforcement works in Peru, however, as the authorities strive to justify themselves and give police officers credit for the work they do.

By his confession, van der Sloot has subjected himself to a legal system that is very harsh by U.S. standards, but is also unpredictable at times. For example, the convicted American terrorist Lori Berenson was released from prison for good behavior last month -- just before Stephany Flores was murdered, ironically. Criminal defendants in Peru do not enjoy the same rights as those in the United States, and convicts endure severe hardships in overcrowded prisons. For foreigners, prison life is especially rough, because they don't have the constant support of family members, who routinely enter and leave prison, bringing food and clothing. If you have never been in a Latin American prison, as I have ("just visiting"), you can't imagine what life there is like.

This case has dominated the headlines in Peru, of course, and from reading El Comercio I learned that van der Sloot is also suspected of killing two women who disappeared in Colombia last month. They were at a casino in Bogota, the same situation in which Stephany Flores found herself. So now law enforcement officers from the United States, the Netherlands, Aruba, Colombia, Chile, and Peru are trying to coordinate their investigation of this diabolical jet-setter. He will be interrogated this Monday, June 21. The big question is whether he will succeed in bargaining for a lighter sentence by divulging the location of the body of Natalie Holloway. That is not a high priority for Peru, however, and the very idea that he might be given leniency for another murder case is appalling. Another question is whether the FBI gave him "bait" money as part of a sting operation to get him to confess to the Holloway murder. Apparently, van der Sloot used that money to live the high life after leaving Aruba and heading to South America. For a complete list of news updates on the van der Sloot case (in Spanish), see elcomercio.pe.


June 21, 2010 [LINK / comment]

After six losses, Nats get a win

For the Washington Nationals, this has been a miserable month, with a win-loss record of 5-13 in June prior to tonight, but they finally got a "W," beating the Kansas City Royals, 2-1. Starting pitcher Livan Hernandez returned to his earlier confident form, going seven full innings. Both Nationals' runs came on homers -- one by rookie utility outfielder Mike Morse, who has been doing fine at the plate lately, and one by Cristian Guzman, his first four-bagger of the year. Once again, Matt Capps was shaky as the closer, giving up two hits in the top of the ninth inning, but he struck out three batters before any damage was done, and thereby got credit for his 21st save. Whew! See MLB.com.

The previous six days were sheer agony for Nats fans, however. They were swept by the Tigers in Detroit, losing by substantial margins each time, and after returning home to D.C. this past weekend, they were swept by the White Sox as well. President Obama was present (though unannounced) at the game on Friday night, when Stephen Strasburg was pitching, and attendance was even higher than in Strasburg's historic debut: 40,325 vs. 40,315. Strasburg got ten more strikeouts, setting a record (32) for the most number of strikeouts by a pitcher in his first three major league starts. But even so, the Nats could not generate any runs support, and they ended up losing 2-1 in 11 innings. That was truly pathetic. Obama is a White Sox fan, and both times he has attended games in Nationals Park, the Nationals have lost.

Saturday's game was broadcast by FOX Sports, and J.D. Martin rose to the challenge of facing the White Sox ace pitcher, Jake Peavy. He went six innings and gave up only one run, but Peavy "went the distance" in a three-hit complete game shutout; final score 1-0. Ryan Zimmerman, who has been in a bad slump lately, struck out four times in four at-bats.

John Lannan had another awful outing on Sunday, giving up four runs in the fifth inning just after the Nats had taken the lead with a three run rally. (Backup catcher Wil Nieves even got an RBI single!) The Nats failed to score any more, and lost, 6-3. Not surprisingly, the Nationals' front office has announced that Lannan has been sent back to the minors -- and not to the Triple-A Syracuse team but to the Double-A Harrisburg team. (Ouch!) I hope he figures out whatever has gone wrong with his pitching delivery. I also hope he's not concealing some physical ailment that might explain his poor performance, as was the case with Austin Kearns last year. There's nothing heroic about playing while you're injured; it certainly doesn't help the team win.

In interleague play thus far this year, the Nationals have won four games and lost nine.

New Vikings stadium?

I'm still getting caught up with stadium news brought to my attention by Mike Zurawski. In Minnesota last month, the state legislature turned down a proposed new stadium deal under which the Vikings would have paid $264 million, with the remaining $527 million coming from the taxpayers. See citypages.com. Why not just build a third deck on the east side of the stadium, and add a couple tiers of luxury boxes on the west side? (There is less room because of the adjacent street on that side.) Just like with QualComm Stadium in San Diego, the existing structure is perfectly sound and could be modified to last another 20 years or so.

Satchel Paige quotes

One of the most colorful players in baseball history was Leroy "Satchel" Paige, the best pitcher ever in the Negro Leagues. With two decades of experience, he was recruited by Bill Veeck to play with the Cleveland Indians in 1948, a year after Jackie Robinson's big breakthrough. He later played for the St. Louis Browns and retired in 1953, with a lifetime record of 28-31, an ERA of 3.29, and 288 strikeouts. Just imagine if he had played 25 years in the majors, instead of only five. In 1965, Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley hired him so that he could qualify for a Major League pension, and at the age of 60 or so (no one is sure), Paige pitched three innings without giving up a run. I actually remember that heartwarming performance. Read some of Paige's witty (or just plain corny) quotes at satchelpaige.com; hat tip to Connie.


June 22, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Day trip to Reddish Knob

At the recommendation of fellow Augusta Bird Club member Jo King, Jacqueline and I took an extended drive up to the mountain peak known as Reddish Knob on Saturday. It was our first time there, and we were amply rewarded with sightings of many birds, as well as spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Even though the skies above were fairly clear, hazy atmospheric conditions detracted from the views of the valley from up above. We stopped several times on our way to the top, pleased that the road was paved all the way, even if it was only one lane in most places.

In the valley on the West Virginia side of the mountain ridge, we were startled to see a large complex full of giant-size radar dishes. My first thought was that it was the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, located in the town of Green Bank. We visited it about 15 years ago, but it is actually about 30 miles of where we were looking at. After doing a quick Google search, I determined that this complex is the U.S. Navy-run Sugar Grove radar facility, which apparently intercepts all incoming telecommunication signals in the eastern United States. In other words, it's a vital part of the U.S. national security system.

We spent a half hour or so enjoying the 360-degree view from the summit; the elevation is 4,397 feet, second only to Elliott's Knob in this part of Virginia. Then, we continued toward the southwest, along gravel roads. We saw lots of campers and some youngsters whooping it up in pickup trucks, but no bears, unfortuantely. Eventually, we rejoined the main road near Elkhorn Lake, which we had visited on May 23, and then we headed home.

Briery Branch Reservoir

Briery Branch Reservoir, on the road leading up to Reddish Knob; click to see the full-size version.


June 22, 2010 [LINK / comment]

June birding roundup

Summer officially began just yesterday, but with temperatures in the mid-90s it already feels like the "dog days" are here, which means that there won't be much more birding activity to observe until September.

June 19: Reddish Knob

The day trip that Jacqueline and I took to the highlands along the West Virginia border was very productive in terms of bird observations, and I even got a good photograph of one of a Ruffed Grouse. Amazingly, we were able to drive up to within 15 or so feet of it before it scurried off into the bushes; I didn't realize they were so tame. Near the top of the ridge, I heard a buzzing song that I believe was a Golden-winged warbler, but never did see it. I also heard Ovenbirds, Pine warblers, and caught a glimpse of a probably Northern Parula. Here are the highlights from Saturday:

  • Chestnut-sided warbler (M)
  • Black & white warbler
  • Blackburnian warbler (1YM)
  • Blue-headed vireo
  • Indigo buntings (M, F)
  • Cedar waxwings
  • Goldfinches
  • Dark-eyed Juncos !
  • Chipping sparrows
  • Canada warbler (F) -- FOS
  • Ruffed Grouse -- FOS
Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse, at Reddish Knob.

June 18: rare Moorhen

Thanks to Augusta Bird Club member Allen Larner, I got to see a very rare bird this past Friday: a "Common (?) Moorhen," which looks a lot like a Coot. The body is charcoal gray with a pale bar across the wing, most of the bill and forehead are bright red, and the tip of the bill is yellow. It was at Smith's Pond in the Swoope area of Augusta County, along with various ducks. They are definitely not "Common" in this part of the country. The only one I had ever seen before was in Peru in 2004, and I was close enough to get a camera good picture. (It's on the Peru birds photo gallery page.)

  • Common Moorhen
  • Wood ducks
  • Mallards
  • Killdeers
  • Cedar waxwings
  • Grasshopper sparrow
  • Meadowlark
  • Cooper's hawk
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Indigo bunting
  • Red-headed woodpeckers (!)

Great Blue Heron nests

Allen Larner also recently discovered a Great Blue Heron rookery on Sanger's Lane east of Staunton, and to help people locate it, I posted a photograph at AugustaBirdClub.org.

Other recent sightings

Cedar waxwings seem to be all over the place lately, and most of them are presumably getting ready to breed. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any orioles lately. Among other observations of note:

  • Yellow-billed cuckoo (FOS), June 10?
  • Acadian flycatcher, June 13, Middle River
  • Willow flycatcher, June 8?, Bell's Lane

June 24, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Nationals sweep the Royals (almost)

More accurately, the Nationals would have swept the Royals were it not for yet another outrageous blown call by an umpire. (See June 4.) Well, let's talk about that disgraceful incident later and start off on a positive note. After all, it was the first time I had ever seen the Nationals play on two consecutive days, and there was plenty to enjoy.

I joined my old friend Dave Givens at the Tuesday evening game against the Kansas City Royals. I thought it would be nice to get lower-deck seats for a change, since all my previous games I had seen at Nationals Park were in the upper levels. The view we had from Section 104 in left field was pretty good, but there was one long fly ball to the corner in center field that we couldn't see, because of the "Red Porch" protrusion. Nyjer Morgan caught the ball, fortunately.

Dave, Andy at Nationals Park

Dave Givens (left), and yours truly in the red hat.

I was hoping that one of the right-handed Nat sluggers would send a long ball in our direction. Sure enough, in the fourth inning, Josh Willingham hit a lead-off home run that landed just a few rows in front of us, about 30 feet to the right. It bounced into the back rows, and whoever snagged that ball is a lucky guy (or girl), because it was Willingham's 100th career home run. Congratulations, Josh! ("The Hammer" also hit two doubles during the game, but neither one resulted in any runs being scored.)

But that was only the beginning: The very next batter, Pudge Rodriguez, singled, and so did the two batters after him, Roger Bernadina and Adam Kennedy. In the middle of the rally, the western skies grew dark and thunder was heard. Before you knew it a trickle turned into a heavy downpour, and the ground crew scampered onto the field and did their job quickly and efficiently. I grumbled about the virtual absence of any upper-deck overhang at Nationals Park, obliging most fans to seek shelter in the ample concourse. Then it occurred to me that this may have been a deliberate design element: Rain forces fans to stroll through what is essentially a big shopping mall food court, tempting them with all sorts of foods, beverages, and souvenirs. Ka-ching!

Nationals Park, rain tarp

And the sign said: "Play has been delayed due to rain. We are monitoring the situation and will keep you updated as information becomes available."

To my great relief, the rain dwindled away after 15 minutes or so, and play resumed about a half hour after that. The Royals scored a run in the fifth inning, but Adam Dunn came right back with a booming home run that hit the green wall beyond the fence in center field, retaking a three-run lead. It turned out to be a decisive insurance run, because the embarrassingly shaky closer Matt Capps gave up four hits and two runs in the top of the ninth inning. Fortunately, Jason Kendall hit a pop fly for the third and final out, stranding two base runners. Whew! The final score was 4-3, and starting pitcher Luis Atilano fully deserved his sixth win of the season. Reliever Tyler Clippard should have gotten credit for the save, coming in in the eighth inning after two men had reached base, and getting all three outs. I cannot understand why manager Jim Riggleman keeps putting his trust in Matt Capps; he is becoming a menace to the team, quite frankly. For a complete wrap-up, see MLB.com.

Nats let Strasburg down

I just had to see Stephen Strasburg for myself, so I decided to stay an extra day in Washington and attend the final game of the series against Kansas City. It was an oppressively hot and humid day, and I'm glad I had a seat in the shade. I pitied the thousands of fans on the first base side of the exposed (and expensive!) lower deck, and I hope none of them suffered heat stroke. The Nats had already finished batting practice before I arrived, but I did get fairly close to Strasburg as he tossed the ball near the bullpen in the right field corner:

Stephen Strasburg "warms up" in the scorching 95-degree heat before the game.

Strasburg got started on the right foot, striking out lead-off batter Scott Podsednik and retiring the next two batters. A problem emerged in the second inning, however, as two Royals batters got hits to reach base. No runs were scored, but Strasburg gave up more hits in each of the next three innings, including three hits in the fifth which resulted in a run. Strasburg was very fast (upper 90s, just like the temperature) and very accurate (75 strikes in 95 total pitches), but he was too predictable and the Royals batters figured out that all they needed to do was swing the bat and make contact.

Strasburg strikes out Butler

Stephen Strasburg strikes out the Royals' cleanup batter, Billy Butler, to end the top half of the third inning, leaving two men on base. Former National Jose Guillen, who later batted in the game's only run, is on deck.

The Nationals batters struggled, meanwhile, but Strasburg got his very first major league hit in the third inning. A big opportunity came in the fifth inning, when Josh Willingham walked, then stole second, and then went to third on a single by Pudge Rodriguez. I think he could have made it to home on that play, but with no outs, he probably thought it wasn't worth the risk. Adam Kennedy hit a squibbler toward first base as Willingham was running toward home, but then he panicked and retreated to third, not realizing that first baseman Butler had bobbled the ball. Another chance to score was wasted. Then Ian Desmond struck out, and Stephen Strasburg grounded out to end the inning. Willie Harris (batting average .151) had been in the on-deck circle as a pinch hitter, but Riggleman let Strasburg stay in the game, apparently wanting to give him a chance to win on the mound. I thought a pinch hitter would come in if Desmond had batted in a run, so I am baffled by Riggleman's decision. Harris did pinch hit leading off in the eighth inning, but flew out to left field. Why in the world didn't Mike Morse (batting average .390) get any at-bats for the second game in a row??

But the real drama came in the sixth inning, when the Nats had two men on base with just one out. Adam Dunn stepped up to the plate and hit a line drive to right field, enabling Roger Bernadina to score the tying run -- or so I thought! The fans were cheering with joy until they realized that the umpire had called Bernadina out, prompting a chorus of loud boos. I watched WUSA-TV9 reporter Dave Owens later that night, and was surprised that he didn't even mention that controversy. In contrast, ESPN did highlight the missed call in their game summary. Here are some of the news reports about that crucial play:

Washington Post: [The Nationals] may have had a run stolen in the sixth, when Adam Dunn lasered a single through the shift in right.

Roger Bernadina raced from second, third base coach Pat Listach windmilling him home as Guillén scooped up the ball. The throw sailed, bouncing as Kendall reached to his right. Bernadina slid spikes up into home, his left foot crossing before Kendall swiped his mitt. A jubilant crowd cheered. Home plate umpire Hunter Wendlestedt punched the air -- out. An angry crowd erupted.

"I was shocked," Bernadina said.
MASN: In the sixth, plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt ruled Roger Bernadina's sliding foot didn't beat the throw home from right fielder Guillen on a single by Adam Dunn.

The entire ballpark was stunned, and replays weren't needed to back up Bernadina's case.

"I definitely got in," Bernadina said. "My feet were first before he put a hand on me, but the umpire called me out."
MLB.com: No one on the Nationals argued the call, but the replay showed that Bernadina could have been safe at the plate.

From his view, Riggleman felt Bernadina was out, and Willingham, who was near the on-deck hitter, didn't get a good view of the play. According to Bernadina, home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt told him that the ball beat him to the plate. Wendelstedt was not available for comment.

My comment, which was posted on that MLB.com article:

Strasburg performed as well as anyone could expect, but he didn't adjust to the fact that the Royals batters had figured out how to get hits off him. That's a skill he will have to learn. I agree that Mike Morse deserves more playing time, and that Willie Harris, Nyjer Morgan, and Adam Kennedy are of little use to the team. It was Harris's turn to sign autographs yesterday, so maybe that's why Riggleman put him in. But the big issue for me is the blind umpire at home plate, Hunter Wendlestedt. I was at the game, and had a very good view (upper deck, third base side) of the play at the plate, and it was obvious that Bernadina was safe. I could not believe he was called out, and since it changed the outcome of the game, I'm surprised that the media made so little of that blunder, on par with the World Cup soccer referee who disallowed the U.S. goal against Slovenia. I oppose extension of instant replay in baseball, but as others have argued, umpires have to be held accountable somehow.
Dunn hits single

In the sixth inning, Adam Dunn hits a single, driving in what should have been the tying run, but the umpire blew the call at home plate. (As you can see, I had a perfect view of the play.) Note the Royals' defensive shift for the pull-hitting slugger: the shortstop was where the second baseman (seen in shallow right field) normally plays.

With two outs, the Nats still had Zimmerman on third and Dunn on first, but Josh Willingham was called out on a count of 2-2, with a pitch that appeared to be low and outside. To express his disgust at the call, Willingham dropped his bat and helmet in front of the umpire. For the next three innings, the Nats got only one more hit, while striking out five times. Final score: 1-0. And thus, I was a witness to the rather ugly first loss of Stephen Strasburg's career, as the Royals avoided being swept. I give their batters credit for getting nine hits off Strasburg, equalling his strikeout total, and to their starting pitcher Brian Bannister, who went six full innings. But that does not change the fact that the Nats were robbed.

Attendance was good, 31,913, but nowhere near a sell-out, as was the case in Strasburg's first two starts in D.C. You can blame the hot weather for that. These two games were the fourth and fifth games I have seen at Nationals Park, and the latter was the very first time I have seen the home team lose there.

Johnny Holliday, Ray Knight

Friendly MASN sportscasters Johnny Holliday and Ray Knight, doing the postgame "Nats Extra" show in their booth situated in the left field plaza.


June 27, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Orioles sweep the Nationals

I wrote that headline before the game even started, and I'm sorry to say I didn't even bother to watch it today. After the last two games, I could see the proverbial writing on the wall. On both Friday and Saturday night, the Nationals took big leads (6-0 and 5-0) in the early innings, but then just fell flat, failing to score any more runs. Meanwhile, the Orioles made the most of their home field advantage and made very impressive comebacks, beating the Nationals by one run both times. On Friday night, Nyjer Morgan had the best game of his career, making a spectacular catch in center field to rob Corey Patterson of a home run, while he went 4 for 5 (including one double) at the plate. Maybe I was too hasty in saying he is "of little use" to the team on Thursday, but I'm still dubious of Willie Harris and Adam Kennedy, whose throwing error to first base contributed to the Nats' 4-3 loss today. (He did get two hits, however.) In today's game (see MLB.com), the Nats took a three-run lead in the fourth inning, and once again could not hold it. Three consecutive "come-from-ahead" losses by just one run to a last-place team is just too much shame to bear. I sure hope manager Jim Riggleman can figure out how to arouse the Nats from their awful doldrums.

For the second game in the series, relief pitcher Tyler Clippard gave up the deciding run and was tagged with the loss. After today's game, he was visibly upset, and I don't blame him for feeling that way. I hope he shakes it off and resumes his previous high level of performance. After racing to an amazing 6-0 record in early May, rivaling the best pitchers in the majors, he is now 8-5.

On the bright side, Ryan Zimmerman has hit safely at least once for five consecutive games, though without any home runs since June 12. Fellow sluggers Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham are batting fairly consistently as well, and but Cristian Guzman and Pudge Rodriguez are both in a slump right now.

And so, the Orioles have won the "Battle of the Beltways" for the second year in a row, and now hold a 16-14 lead over the Nationals since they began playing each other in 2006. It was only the second sweep of the ten regional-rival series thus far, and the Nationals swept the Orioles (in Baltimore!) on June 12-14, 2007. A few days ago the Washington Post had an article about the Orioles' horrible season, with no improvement in sight, and since then they have won four straight games. I think they are a better team than their record (23-52) indicates, and I hope they continue to improve under their new manager Juan Samuel.

From my perspective as a fan, the Nationals' current downward spiral (10 losses in the last 12 games) is a real let-down, since I just saw two Nationals games this past week. It must be awfully depressing for the players as well, but they are professionals with great talent, and I'm sure they will bounce back. Ironically, the Nationals had a better win-loss record earlier in the season, when they were facing more challenging opponents. They were expected to do much better in interleague play, especially with Stephen Strasburg on the mound, but it did not work out that way at all. Now the Nationals head to Atlanta, where they will face the first-place Braves. Perhaps they will revert to the pattern of earlier this year and start winning on a regular basis as they face above-.500 teams in four consecutive series.


June 28, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Shenandoah Mountain hike

In need of exercise and wanting to get as many migratory bird observations as possible before breeding season ends, I went for a hike on Shenandoah Mountain on Sunday. I was also hoping to get away from the high heat in the lowlands. At 3,000 feet elevation, it was slightly cooler than in the valley, but it was still rather warm. I hiked from the Confederate Breastworks overlook on Route 250 to the intersection of Jerry's Run Trail and Road Hollow Trail, a round-trip distance of just about three miles. Jacqueline and I have hiked to that trail crossing several time times previously, but we had never hiked between that spot and the overlook on Route 250. "Shenandoah Mountain" is actually a ridge that divides Augusta County from Highland County, and continues northeast to Reddish Knob, where Jacqueline and I went on June 19. Bird activity yesterday was pretty good, but there were a couple "target" species I missed, such as the Chestnut-sided Warbler. Here are the highlights of what I saw:

  • Phoebe
  • Scarlet Tanager (M)
  • Worm-eating Warblers
  • Ovenbirds
  • Black-throated Green Warblers
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Black-capped Chickadees
  • Indigo Buntings (M, F)
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Chipping Sparrows

One of the male Indigo Buntings flew very close to me and made an ostentatious display in response to a bird call I made, apparently trying to defend his family. I was startled and very impressed! I caught glimpses of other birds, including probable warblers, but couldn't identify them for sure. In addition, I heard a Black and White Warbler, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, and a Yellow-throated Vireo. I stopped to cool my feet in Ramsey's Draft for a while on the way home, and I heard some Northern Parulas, but didn't see any. There was a crayfish in the stream, however, so I moved my toes away, just in case. It started raining just as I was leaving, and I felt tired but very satisfied from my outdoor excursion.

Fungus extravaganza

While the bird sightings were comparatively modest in number, I had great success in spotting and photographing mushrooms along the trail. Believe it or not, I saw all of the mushrooms in the montage below yesterday, and there were others that it does not even include! It has been a long time since I have seen such a wide variety of mushrooms, so I figured it's time to make a long-overdue update of the Mushroom photo gallery page. Most of the photos on that page are now of the same size, and some are enlarged or enhanced versions of older photos that I had previously posted. I have also added a few more photos from past years, and will probably add a few more in the near future, plus separate photos for each of the eight species shown in the montage.

A sampling of some of the mushrooms I saw on the mountain top yesterday. Species identification pending...


June 30, 2010 [LINK / comment]

The mail bag: stuffed again

I know, I'm falling way behind in communications once again. Well, first off, I'll try to summarize some of the more important news items sent to me by intrepid baseball news-watcher Mike Zurawski.

In Miami, progress continues on the Marlins' new ballpark, and while there are many aspects that I like, those gigantic concrete pillars that hold up the roof certainly give one pause. It looks more like a superhighway project in Los Angeles, or some kind of science fiction structure. See the photos and 3-D renderings at baseball-fever.com and/or MLB.com. Another fan, named Eric, wants to know when I'm going to do a diagram for that ballpark stadium. I am indeed working on it, little by little, and it will probably be ready for release (in preliminary form) by this fall.

And in Houston, they are talking about renovating or restoring the Astrodome, which is pretty much sitting idle these days. The problem is, it would supposedly cost at least a billion dollars to fix it up, and as much as $800 million to tear it down. Something just does not compute. Read all about it at fieldofschemes.com.

Mike also informs me that Kansas City will host the 2012 All-Star Game, as a reward for the investment the city made in upgrading Kauffman Stadium to contemporary standards. Mike thinks it should have gone to Boston for the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, but they just had the All-Star Game in 1999.

There is much more ballpark news to get to soon...

Bruce Orser and another long-time friend, Mark London, both came across a fascinating Web site on the history of Forbes Field, which was home of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1909 until 1970. Take a look at the amazing graphic effects on post-gazette.com. It is extremely cool and informative.

New Facebook friend Juan Martínez Miguel Ramírez was kind enough to alert me to the fact that my Latin American Leagues page contained some outdated information, so I will soon make the necessary corrections. ¡Mil gracias, Juan!

Another Facebook friend, Callum Hughson, just saw the Blue Jays play against the Indians in Cleveland, and on one of his photos I noticed for the first time that there is a large plaza with dining tables suitable for parties in the right field corner. I had assumed that the inclined seating sections extended back further. I'll have to fix the Progressive Field diagrams right away...

Another fan of this site from way back, "Bucky" Nance, sent some fine old photos of Arlington Stadium, the original home of the Texas Rangers. One shows the lower-level seats on the third-base side rotated around to left field, a reconfiguration for football games. That confirms what I thought was the case originally. Many thanks, Bucky!

Speaking of Arlington Stadium, I recently saw the movie "W," about the life and times of former President George W. Bush, and there is a dream sequence where he is catching a fly ball at the outfield fence. The scoreboard was a very good replica of the one at Arlington Stadium, which was demolished soon after the Rangers moved out when the 1993 season ended.

Finally, a new visitor named Leah Adams inquired why it is that different ballparks have different outfield distances, so I obliged her with quick explanation. It may sound "elementary" to you and me, but many people in the general public aren't aware of that special aspect of Our National Pastime.

Blue Jays flee Toronto

Because of security concerns related to the recent G-20 summit meeting in Toronto, which was plagued by riots protesting globalization, the Blue Jays decided to give up their home field advantage in Toronto this past weekend, and play the three-game series at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The Phillies won two of the three "away" games, which will lead to grumbling among fans of other NL Eastern Division teams. In the final game of the series, none other than 47-year old Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer got his 9th win of the season. See MLB.com.

Marlins in Puerto Rico

For the first time since 2004, the major leagues have returned to Puerto Rico, as the Florida Marlins "hosted" a three-game series there against the New York Mets. The Marlins won the first two games, [but lost by one run in the final game of the series. Attendance for the three games was about 18,000-19,000, a bit] less than full capacity at Hiram Bithorn Stadium; that page has been duly updated, as has the Anomalous stadiums page. (I'm not sure whether to count Citizens Bank Park among the "neutral" stadiums, because the "visiting" Phillies team was playing there.) See MLB.com

New Mexico City ballpark?

Thanks to Anthony Salazar, who chairs the SABR Latino Baseball Committee, I learned that plans are underway to build a new stadium for the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (Red Devils). Their current home, Foro Sol, opened in 1993 and has hosted auto races and musical concerts featuring the Rolling Stones and other groups. Much depends on site selection for the new stadium, and of course, on the turbulent state of politics in the Mexican capital city.


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