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July 1, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Gamecocks win 2011 CWS

Congratulations to the University of South Carolina Gamecocks for their second straight College World Series championship, as they overcame the Florida Gators, 5-2. South Carolina has been undefeated in the last 16 NCAA playoff games, including 11 CWS games, setting records in both categories. They finished the 2011 season with a superb record of 55-14 -- almost as good as U.Va.'s phenomenal 56-12 record. (Sorry, I couldn't resist pointing that out. smile) See ESPN. The winning pitcher Michael Roth explained why his team won:

We're not the most talented team, and we don't have the best players position for position, but we go out and stick together as a team. We battle. I can't describe it. We're a bunch of average Joes and love each other and come out and battle.

The keys to baseball success, indeed. It was one week ago that the Gamecocks beat the U.Va. Cavaliers in an incredible 13-inning marathon. South Carolina's triumph makes that loss a little easier to swallow.

Fleeting joy in Wrigleyville

For long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans, this has been an especially hard year to take. Yesterday, however, there was a rare moment of joy at Wrigley Field, as Geovanny Soto hit a walk-off three-run homer in the bottom of the thirteenth inning, winning the game 5-2. The Giants had scored a run in the top of the inning, and then the Cubs tied it in the bottom of the inning before Soto stepped up to the plate. To make the drama even better, the count was 3-2 with two outs. See ESPN. Unfortunately, most of the bleachers and even some of the box seats were empty by then. In interleague play this afternoon, at Wrigley Field again, the Cubs blew a two-run lead late in the game and lost to the White Sox, 6-4.

All Star picks, 2011

As the midseason approaches, it is time for all serious baseball fans to weigh in on who should be tapped to play in the All Star Game. Here are my "fair and balanced" selections:

American League:
  • 1B - Gonzalez, Adrian (BOS)
  • 2B - Cano, Robinson (NYY)
  • SS - Hardy, J.J. (BAL)
  • 3B - Rodriguez, Alex (NYY)
  • C - Alex Avila (DET)
  • DH - Ortiz, David (BOS)
  • OF - Bautista, Jose (TOR)
  • OF - Ellsbury, Jacoby (BOS)
  • OF - Jones, Adam (BAL)
National League:
  • 1B - Votto, Joey (CIN)
  • 2B - Espinosa, Danny (WSH)
  • SS - Reyes, Jose (NYM)
  • 3B - Zimmerman, Ryan (WSH)
  • C - McCann, Brian (ATL)
  • OF - Berkman, Lance (STL)
  • OF - Kemp, Matt (LAD)
  • OF - Morse, Michael (WSH)

July 4, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Pirates and Nationals split series

Both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals are young teams that have been down on their luck in recent years, and both are now showing themselves to be on the rise. Having been swept in Anaheim, the Nationals were faced with a test of their self-confidence and resiliency. Tom Gorzelanny measured up to the challenge, going seven innings and only giving up one run. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Michael Morse smashed a leadoff single up the middle, bouncing off the mound at least 20 feet into the air. That was a big lift to the team's spirits. Alex Cora came in to pinch run for him, made it to third base on a sac fly by Wilson Ramos, and then scored the winning run on a long fly ball by Matt Stairs that almost cleared the right field wall. Nats 2, Bucs 1.

Saturday featured a rare double header, of which the Pirates won the first game, 5-3. (That was a makeup of the rained-out May 17 game.) In the evening game, Ivan Rodriguez came in as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and hit a clutch single to right field, batting in the go-ahead run, as the Nats held on to win, 4-3. Another feel-good moment as the veteran Pudge gets a chance to shine in the spotlight again. (Wilson Ramos has been starting as catcher more and more often lately, relegating Pudge to backup duty.) But on Sunday the Pirates got their revenge, scoring eight runs in the first two innings, and forcing Jason Marquis out of the game. It all started when Danny Epinosa mishandled a toss from Marquis that should have been a double play, but left runners on first and third with no outs. It all went downhill from there, other than a two-run home run by Wilson Ramos. Final score: 10-2.

Up at Citi Field in New York, the Mets beat the Yankees 3-2 in ten innings, thereby averting a sweep and taking sole possession of third place in the NL East, a half game ahead of the Nationals. Arghhh.

Today the Nationals welcome the Chicago Cubs to town for what will be their second four-game series in a row. I will be there at Nationals Park, celebrating the Fourth of July in Our Nation's Capital, along with my good friend Dave Givens. Jordan Zimmermann will be the Nats' starting pitcher, and he is the best on their roster right now, with an ERA of 2.63.

Relief pitcher Tyler Clippard was the only National to be selected as an All-Star, and though he was as surprised as anyone, I think he really does deserve it. Michael Morse is one of five candidates for the final position on the National League All Star roster. Unfortunately, he suffered a bad wrist contusion thanks to an errant pitch on Saturday, and may miss a few games this week.

I updated the Washington Nationals page, including data for the first half of the 2011 season, but further revisions on that page will be necessary. That page now includes the table of ninth-inning comebacks and blown leads, as well as a list of grand slams hit by Nationals players.

Miami construction update

I was checking the Florida Marlins' Website, and according to the latest release (June 24), "To date approximately 28,000 seats have been installed." It says that construction is now "over 72 percent complete," so I put 73% on the stadium construction table. (Construction in the other two urban areas in which prospective baseball stadiums are being studied -- Oakland/San Jose and Tampa/St. Petersburg -- seems as far off as ever.) The Miami stadium was 65% complete back in January, and I am puzzled by the slow pace of progress. Maybe those numbers don't mean much. But given the urgency of the Marlins' need for a new home of their own, I don't see why they didn't try to have it finished by mid-season. There's no law that says that new stadiums have to open at the beginning of the season, but the last time a baseball stadium opened in mid-season was none other than Safeco Field. For the curious, here is a chronological list:

Stadiums that opened in midseason
Stadium name Date of opening Previous stadium
Forbes Field June 30, 1909 Exposition Park
Polo Grounds (V) June 28, 1911 Polo Grounds (IV)
Busch Stadium (II) May 12 1966 Busch Stadium (I)
Riverfront Stadium June 30, 1970 Crosley Field
Three Rivers Stadium July 16, 1970 Forbes Field
Skydome (Rogers Centre) June 5, 1989 Exhibition Stadium
Safeco Field July 15, 1999 Kingdome

July 4, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Happy (?) Fourth of July!

Our celebration of Independence Day* is perhaps a little more somber this year, due to fears that our government may default on its debt in the next month or so. Why can't our elected officials reach an agreement on solving the fiscal policy dispute? What is wrong with the U.S. government??? Robert Samuelson writes in today's Washington Post that this situation draws attention to a growing angst about the shared values that define us as a nation. We are defined not by ethnicity but rather by our (small d) democratic political culture. Can we continue to remain prosperous in our system of self-government? He points to the growing polarization as a reason to doubt:

The struggle nominally pits liberals against conservatives, but this is misleading. The real debate involves reactionaries vs. radicals. Many liberals are reactionaries and many conservatives are radicals.

Indeed, it is disconcerting that many leaders in both parties seem so blase about the consequences of refusing to budge from their dogmatic positions. Obviously, I'm more sympathetic to the Republican side in the ongoing standoff, agreeing that the deficit is mainly (but not exclusively) caused by excessive spending. Tax cuts during the Bush years are certainly a big part of the problem that needs to be fixed, but these days it's hard to find a Republican who will admit that. Dogma! To me it's obvious that a compromise between House Republicans and Senate Democrats will be required, hopefully one that meaningfully addresses the underlying fiscal problem. (Hint: reforming entitlements!) Such a compromise will have to include some revenue enhancements. But this is not a moment to indulge in partisan recriminations; it is a time to do what is best for the country as a whole.

In this regard, it should be pointed out that there is a strong and direct correlation between national independence and national debt. If a country can't pay its creditors on time, it become beholden to them for further credit, which in turn constrains the country's freedom of action. That is the predicament that newly independent Latin American countries found themselves in during the 1820s and 1830s, and many of them defaulted on the debts that were incurred to pay for the patriotic armies that liberated them from Spanish control. Let's hope we never let that happen to ourselves.

*Perhaps we should celebrate independence on the date it was formally recognized by our former imperial masters in London: September 3, 1783. That was the day the Treaty of Paris was signed.

America the Beautiful

In church yesterday we sang patriotic hymns to mark the anniversary of our day of independence. This refrain seems particularly appropriate for our times:

America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

SOURCE: nih.gov


July 7, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Pilgrimage to National Cathedral

So, I was driving southbound on Wisconsin Avenue in northwest Washington, D.C. on Tuesday morning, fresh from an exciting baseball game at Nationals Park the night before (more on that soon!), and my plan was to take pictures around the White House and other government buildings downtown. But then my eyes focused on the grand towers of National Cathedral looming in the distance, and my plans completely changed. I had been meaning to pay a visit there for many, many years, and with the bright and sunny skies, it was a perfect opportunity to photograph that architectural splendor. The White House will have to wait!

I began by taking a leisurely stroll through the Bishop's Garden, on the south side. It is well-tended and includes many roses, tiger lilies, etc. Its primary use is as a tranquil place for prayer and meditation, and it is is also excellent bird habitat. I didn't seen much there other than some Song Sparrows and Catbirds, however. Later I went inside, took a self-guided tour, and watched a video that describes the history of the cathedral's construction (it took from 1907 until 1990!) and its purposes. The primary instigator of the whole project was an Episcopal Bishop named Henry Yates Satterlee, who died in 1908, one year after laying the cornerstone. Although the Cathedral is run by the Episcopal Church and the services are in the Anglican tradition, the mission is of a somewhat more ecumenical nature. It is intended to serve as a house of worship for the nation as a whole, without regard to denomination or faith. Visitors are reminded that the Episcopal Church has a distinctive emphasis on reconciliation, between God and Man, and among all members of the human race.

I decided to attend the daily Holy Eucharist service, which is held at noon. Being in such an awe-inspiring place certainly magnifies the religious experience. Afterwards, I took the elevator and ascended to the observation deck located in the western towers. It provides spectacular views of Washington, but with the summer haze, the visibility becomes slightly obscured more than three miles away. (I could make out the Capitol and RFK Stadium, but not Nationals Park.) Directly below are St. Alban's School, the Episcopal Church House, where the Diocese of Washington's offices are located, and the Herb Cottage, next to the Bishop's Garden. Finally, I went to the shop in the lower level and bought myself an "Episcopal Handbook," as well as a couple gifts. I hope to pay another visit to the Cathedral before too long. My only complaint is with the high cost of the underground parking garage: 16 dollars??? I hope some of that money goes for upkeep on the cathedral itself.

To get acquainted with our nation's foremost house of worship, see nationalcathedral.org. People of all faiths are welcome.

National Cathedral exterior NW

National Cathedral, from the northwest.

That photo, and many others from Washington and from Virginia, can be seen on the new Summer 2011 photo gallery page. Probably the most dramatic photo of all is the Black Bear which Jacqueline and I saw crossing Skyline Drive on June 8. With any luck, I will add a comment feature to that page and other photo gallery pages later this summer. Facebook has a convenient interface for enabling comments on photos that are uploaded, but I tend to refrain from posting too many photos there. Or, I may finally break down and start using Flickr or Picasa...


July 8, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

Nationals sweep the Cubs (almost)

After the Washington Nationals beat the visiting Chicago Cubs in three straight games, and then took an 8-0 lead midway through the final game of the series, it looked like they were cruising toward a rare four-game sweep. But, as we know, appearances can often be deceiving. In the sixth inning, Livan Hernandez gave up several consecutive hits, capped off by a three-run home run by pinch-hitter Blake DeWitt, and all of a sudden the Cubs were only two runs behind. Livan exited the game, and in the next inning relief pitcher Sean Burnett gave up a two-run homer, and the game was tied. What the ... ???!!! The Cubs took the lead in the eighth inning, but the Nats quickly tied it again thanks to a clutch single by Michael Morse. But in the top of the ninth the Cubs did it again, and the Nats couldn't quite get any runners past third base in the bottom of the ninth. Final score: 10-9. It was the worst blown lead in Nationals/Expos franchise history. See MLB.com. At least the winning team was deserving of a win, after repeated misfortunes this year.

To his credit, Manager Davey Johnson took the blame for leaving Hernandez on the mound even after three straight Cubs had got hits. He wanted to give the bullpen pitchers a much-needed rest, and it ended up costing his team the win.

U.S.A. flag The first three games of the series were much more fun for Nats fans. I had the pleasure to be at the first game, on Monday afternoon, the Fourth of July. My friend Dave and I had seats in the mezzanine level, on the third base side. It was a better view than in the upper deck, and there was plenty of shade as well. (The skies were overcast, however, so it really wasn't that hot.) The Nats jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, before we arrived. The Cubs scored one in the second and then took a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning, on a pop fly to center field that Roger Bernadina lost in the gray skies. Arghhh! In the sixth inning, Laynce Nix hit a triple off the scoreboard in right center field, and Jayson Werth batted him in with a limp ground ball to first. The Nats tied it 4-4 the next inning on an infield hit by Ian Desmond, a walk, a hit by pitch, and another walk. The game was tied at the end of nine, and in the bottom of the tenth inning Jayson Werth reached first base on four balls, went to second base on a perfect sacrifice bunt by pinch hitter (!) Livan Hernandez, then stole third base. Carlos Marmol was clearly flustered, and Pudge Rodriguez had a 2-2 count when the pitch hit the dirt and skidded past the catcher. Jayson Werth sprinted home, and just like that the game was over. Hey, a win's a win! smile

Marmol's wild pitch to Pudge

Cubs pitcher Carlos Marmol throws a wild pitch to Ivan Rodriguez, and Jayson Werth (on third base) scores the winning run, sparking a walk-off celebration. (Roll mouse over photo.)

The Nats won the next two games as well, and in fact they set some kind of record, with their ten most recent victories all being decided by a single run or else going into extra innings. The element of luck cannot be ignored with repeated razor-thin margins like that. Indeed, things evened out when the Cubs beat the Nats by one run on Thursday night, and when the Colorado Rockies did likewise tonight, winning 3-2. The Nats are now back down to an even .500 record, 45-45. frown

Nationals Park update

Nationals Park After the game on Monday, I made a point to investigate certain architectural aspects of Nationals Park, and have made several corrections to the diagram thereof. One thing I realized is that the mezzanine level is bigger than I had thought, with as many as 15 rows of seats. Consequently, there is a great deal of overhang, and most of the seats in that level are very well shaded. The profile is much more accurate than before, as is the lower deck behind home plate, with all the elite mini-sections. While I was at it, I added a new first-deck diagram, as I did with RFK Stadium and the Astrodome. That makes it clear that there is a substantial amount of upper-deck overhang in the right field corner. Another minor detail I learned is that the back two rows of the lower deck are much steeper than the rows closer to the front. I assume that is supposed to facilitate the many wheelchair-accessible platforms.

I also added a new camera panoramic grandstand photo to the Nationals Park page. You can just make out the "Happy 4th of July" on the mezzanine display "ribbon."

Zimmerman's charity event

Ryan Zimmerman is a class act all the way, a fine athlete as well as a perfect gentleman. It's probably the result of character-building hardships he endured while growing up, having to take care of his ailing mother while his friends were out partying. Mrs. Zimmerman suffers from multiple sclerosis, and as a tribute to her and as a way to promote the search for a cure, Ryan held "A Night at the Park" fund-raising event last Thursday (June 30) at Nationals Park. It was the second annual such event. Zimmerman's contract with the Nationals specifies that he gets exclusive use of Nationals Park one day a year, and this is how he exercises that prerogative. See MLB.com.

Tragic accident in Texas

Though we often forget, baseball can sometimes be dangerous, for fans as well as for players. At the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington yesterday, Josh Hamilton tossed a ball to a fan sitting in the front row above the scoreboard in left field, a nice gesture that backfired horribly. The fan leaned forward to grab the ball, lost his balance, and fell onto the field below. He was conscious when they loaded him into the ambulance, asking about his son who was left behind, but he was pronounced dead at the hospital. Deep, sincere condolences go out to the family of the victim, Mr. Shannon Stone. See MLB.com.


July 11, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

Derek Jeter hits #3000 (and more!)

The long-anticipated career triumph was delayed by a couple weeks due to injury, but when Derek Jeter reached his milestone 3000th hit on Saturday, he did it in a singularly Yankee style: with a home run! And not just a run-of-the-mill four-bagger, but a big blast into the upper tier of the bleachers in New Yankee Stadium, about 430 feet away. That was in the third inning, after he had already singled in the first inning as the leadoff batter, and he went on to hit a double and two more singles in five at-bats in that game, providing the decisive offensive firepower in a 5-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. Among the 27 other players who have recorded at least 3,000 hits in their career, one of them went five for six on the day they reached 3,000, but nobody ever went five for five. The last player to reach the 3,000-hit mark was Craig Biggio, in July 2007. Also notable was that Jeter became the very first player to cross the 3,000-hit barrier as a Yankee, and the first to have spent all or most of his career with the Yankees. See www.washingtonpost.com.

One of the nicest parts about how this historical moment unfolded was that the fan who retrieved the ball, Mr. Christian Lopez, returned the ball to Derek Jeter, no doubt forgoing a big cash exchange from zealous souvenir collectors. What a contrast to the unseemly scramble for the ball in AT&T Park when Barry Bonds hit his home run, in July 2006. Lopez said Jeter deserved to have the ball. The Yankees rewarded him with tickets to each Yankees home game for the rest of the season and a bundle of souvenir items signed by Jeter. Baseball fans across the country will reward Lopez by remembering his name for years to come.

Once again, Congratulations, Derek!

Nats bounce back to .500

The resurgent Washington Nationals hit a big speed bump last Thursday, when the Chicago Cubs overcame an eight-run deficit to win the game, setting the stage for two narrow losses by the Nats to the visiting Colorado Rockies. On Saturday Jayson Werth ended the game by hitting into a double play with a runner on third base. Ouch! Ouch! The final game before the All Star break, on Sunday, was a true test of the team's mettle, one they simply had to win, for psychological purposes.

Sunday's game developed into a classic pitchers' duel, and in fact the Nats didn't even get a hit until the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, Ian Desmond reached base on an infield single and later scored on a single by Roger Bernadina. Desmond has been in a slump for most of this season, so that was a nice accomplishment on his part. Jordan Zimmermann got in a couple jams, but lasted into the seventh inning without giving up a run. In the eighth inning, Rick Ankiel hit a home run into right center field as an insurance run, and the Nats held on to win, 2-0. See MLB.com.

And so the Nationals enter the All Star break with an even .500 record for the first time since their "honeymoon" year of 2005. That's not bad at all considering that their star player, Ryan Zimmerman, was on the disabled list for six weeks. Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell says the second half will depend above all on how well their new manager, Davey Johnson, succeeds in tinkering with the team's lineup and pitching rotation. There are a lot of hot prospects contending for a shot at stardom, and Johnson might persuade the front office to unload some of their first-stringers (maybe even Livan Hernandez?) in order to set the stage for success next year. That makes me nervous. In any case, the Nats' goal for the rest of the season should be to remain in contention for a wild card spot at least into September. It may seem like an unrealistic target, but the only way they are going to win in the long run is by building a reputation as fierce competitors with the means to make things happen.

Jordan Zimmermann has established himself as the #1 pitcher in the Nationals' starting rotation this year, and the likelihood that he will stay with the team for years to come raises a quandary in terms of identity vis a vis Ryan Zimmerman. I think we should start calling them "R-Zim" and "J-Zim" from now on.

Clemens trial gets underway

The criminal court proceedings against Roger Clemens have begun, with jury selection. It's too bad they had to schedule the trial just as the All Star break, and the coincidence with Derek Jeter's triumph also leaves a sour taste in one's mouth. His attorney hinted that Clemens may not testify in his own defense, exercising his Fifth Amendment rights. See Washington Post. Another unfortunate coincidence: the recent trial and acquittal of Casey Anthony in Orlando, Florida.

Marlins close upper deck

The Florida Marlins announced they will close the upper deck at Sun Life Stadium for the rest of the season; they hardly ever sell enough tickets to fill the lower deck. It's a bleak end to one of the less pleasant "baseball" stadiums of the contemporary era. See palmbeachpost.com; hat tip to Bruce Orser.

Home Run Derby 2011

As the second round progresses, Yankee infielder Robinson Cano is currently in the lead in the Home Run Derby, in beautiful downtown Phoenix. That's a big surprise, as he's a good hitter but not usually considered one of the biggest long ball hitters. If you don't get ESPN, you can watch the slugest live and in living color at MLB.com. Boston's Adrian Gonzalez is in the hunt, catching up quickly. As usual, his team mate David Ortiz was a hot contender, but just got eliminated. Prince Fielder is still in it, with some especially long blasts into the far reaches of Chase Field.


July 16, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

Pirates climb to first place

It was only for a day, and they shared the top spot with another team (the St. Louis Cardinals), but the Pittsburgh Pirates can take great pride in reaching first place for the first time (other than early in the season) since 1997. On Friday night they beat the Houston Astros 4-0, as Jeff Karstens got a complete game shutout. See MLB.com. On Saturday they lost, however, and fell one game behind the Cards, with the Brewers a half game behind. The Cincinnati Reds are not far behind, and are a potential contender. An extremely tight race in the National League Central Division this year!

The Pirates' success this year is a much welcome development in baseball, showing that the Major Leagues are fairly well balanced. It adds to the significance of the Washington Nationals' recent 2-2 series split with the Pirates, who are a worthy competitor indeed.

National League wins ASG again

Thanks largely to a three-run home run by Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder, the National League won the All Star Game for the second year in a row. Final score: 5-1. After a winless drought of 13 years (1997-2009, including the tie in 2002), it's quite a turnaround, and will help the National League with home field advantage in this year's World Series. That ASG result is now included on the Annual chronology page.

I would like to call attention to the fact that, in this game as well as in last year's game, the winning pitcher was from the Washington Nationals. Tyler Clippard was called in after starting NL pitcher Cliff Lee gave up a homer and two singles. Tyler only faced one batter, Adrian Beltre, and had a 0-2 count on him when Beltre lined a single into left field. It almost scored a run, but Jose Bautista was thrown out at the plate to end the top of the fourth inning -- luckily for Tyler! Last year the winning pitcher was Matt Capps, who was later traded to the Minnesota Twins.

In the Home Run Derby, Robinson Cano -- a New York Yankee of the "home grown" variety -- prevailed in a very impressive sluggers' duel with Adrian Gonzalez of the Boston Red Sox. It was nice that Cano's father was pitching to him, getting to share in the proud moment. It was a father-son moment kind of like in Field of Dreams. Another near-tragedy was averted when an overzealous fan almost got himself killed lunging after a ball hit beyond the swimming pool at Chase Field. Coupled with the recent tragedy in Arlington, Texas, it suggests that baseball fans may have to be subject to tighter control in the future.

Mistrial in Clemens dope case

Just as the baseball world was bracing for another round of sleaze and conflicting accusations, the trial of Roger Clemens on charges of perjury came to an abrupt end. A Federal judge declared a mistrial, after prosecutors presented video evidence that had been specifically excluded. Ironically, Clemens benefited from the fact that his lawyers failed to object to this evidence. If they had, it might not have tainted the jury and the trial could have gone on. There is a possibility that Clemens may not be tried again because of Fifth Amendment double jeopardy provisions. It all makes you wonder about our legal system. See the Washington Post.

Nats visit the Braves

The Washington Nationals got off to a lousy start of the post-break visiting Atlanta on Friday night, as the Braves beat them 11-1. The Nats got on the board in the first inning, as Ryan Zimmerman batted in a run on a fielder's choice ground out, but in the bottom of the inning, Livan Hernandez gave up four runs, and it could have been even worse. In later innings, Livan gave up two more runs, and the bullpen allowed an additional five. Ugh. smile The Nats' previous worst defeat this year was on April 3, versus the Braves (!), who won, 11-2. Dejà vu?

Tonight, the Nats bounced back, shaking off that loss and beating the Braves 5-3. Wilson Ramos got three RBIs off a homer and a double, while pitcher John Lannan got two RBIs on a single up the middle. He added his second hit of the 2011 season later in the game, and evened his win-loss record to 6-6.

Bruce Orser informed me that Stephen Strasburg threw pitches in batting practice for the first time this season, a hopeful sign that he may return and pitch for Washington by September. See MLB.com.

Dems beat the GOP

At Nationals Park on Friday, the Democratic members of Congress defeated their Republican counterparts by a score of 8-2. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) allowed only one hit and struck out 13 in the seven-inning game. This annual charity event seems to be growing in stature; see MLB.com.

Stadium comparisons update

Nearly all of the Stadium comparison pages have been updated and reformatted to conform to the new standard layout. Yet to do in that category: Stadium Rankings and Stadium Proximity. Also, I moved the Football Use and (Artificial) Turf pages from the Stadium comparison category to the Chronologies category.

After I finish with the page reformatting tasks later this month, I'll get to the big pile of e-mail messages from fans. I promise!


July 22, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Tampa Bay's got the blues

In all of Major League Baseball, only one team with a record over .500 has lost more home games than they have won: the Tampa Bay Rays, who are 24-25 at home and 28-20 on the road. They have been the victims of some ill twists of fate recently, such as on Sunday night (ESPN!) when the Boston Red Sox beat them 1-0 in a 16-inning marathon in St. Petersburg; see MLB.com. (Get it? Boston ... marathon? Actually, I once visited a town in Florida called Marathon, but I digress...) The next day, Tampa Bay gave up a lead to the visiting Yankees on a bases-loaded walk in the top of the ninth inning, losing 5-4. Ouch. They did end up salvaging a 2-2 series split, at least.

Obviously, a big part of the Rays' problem is with the stadium where they play their home games, Tropicana Field. It's dark and depressing, and in dire need of some kind of refurbishment. [Even the Rays' manager, Joe Maddon, is heaping scorn on it: "This ballpark is improper for Major League Baseball. ... It served its purpose. And now it's time to move on." See fieldofschemes.com. But where to???] Ultimately, the problem may stem from simple demographic and geographic realities: there just isn't a big enough fan base of families to support a major league franchise in either St. Petersburg or Tampa, and it's too hard driving from one city to another for a quick trip to the ballpark. Attendance is abysmal, averaging in the teens, even though the team has been amazingly successful over the past few years. Anyway, Rays' owner Stuart Sternberg is complaining about his franchise's woes once again (see MLB.com), and while I'm a little sympathetic, he's a grownup investor and should have known what he was getting into.

Houston takes two from Nats

On the first day of their series in Houston [this week], the Washington Nationals played solid baseball, capped by a three-run ninth inning rally sparked by Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse that gave them a 5-2 win over the Astros. That put them back into third place, an encouraging sign as the second half of the 2011 gets underway. But then the home team bounced back on [Tuesday and Wednesday], winning by a single run both times. In the rubber match game, Livan Hernandez had his best outing in over a month, giving up just two runs in six-plus innings while reaching base on a single. Even better, Jayson Werth finally broke out of his horrible slump, knocking a home run and two doubles, including one that rolled up Tal's Hill in center field at Minute Maid Park, in the top of the eleventh inning. (I was hoping somebody would do that!) Unfortunately, the next two batters were out, stranding Jayson on second base. In the bottom of that inning, the Astros got three hits off relief pitcher Todd Coffey and won the game. DRAT! frown It was their first series win in more than a month, about the same amount of time that had elapsed since Jayson Werth's last home run. Until Sunday, his batting average was dropping dangerously close to the .200 mark. See Washington Post. The Astros are better than their 33-65 record would indicate, but the same is true of other teams, I suppose. Perhaps the question is, are the Nationals as good as their 48-50 record would indicate? [The series against the fifth-place (43-55) Los Angeles Dodgers of Chavez Ravine, which begins tonight, may provide us with some answers.]

Roosevelt Stadium udpate

Roosevelt Stadium A few months ago, Bruce Orser sent me some intriguing, very detailed photos and diagrams of mysterious, little-known Roosevelt Stadium, and for some reason I got motivated to do the necessary corrections and enhancements to the diagram thereof, including a new football version. One of the things I learned in the process is that the odd, widely-curved bleacher sections in the left and right field corners were actually part of a huge circle, much like the cookie-cutter stadiums that proliferated during the 1960s and 1970s. The diagram now includes the brick perimeter wall that extended from those bleachers and stretched around the outfield, interrupted by a straight section beyond center field.

For you non-hardcore stadium geeks, Roosevelt Stadium served as temporary home field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in fifteen games during 1956 and 1957, when they were threatening to leave Ebbets Field. The rest is (tragic) history.

And lest you think I'm wasting time with trivial diversions, just you wait until tomorrow! Coming attractions

Mr. 3000, in pinstripes

Thanks to fellow Yankee fan Brian Vangor for sharing this photo taken by his friend Vinnie Coulehan of the historic moment when Derek Jeter got his 3000th career hit, in New Yankee Stadium* last July 9. Unlike the character played by Bernie Mack (rest in peace) in the movie Mr. 3000, there is no doubt about whether Derek Jeter actually crossed that numerical milestone.

* I suppose I'll get used to saying just plain "Yankee Stadium" (without the "New") one of these days, but it's going to take some effort.

Jeter's hit #3000

Derek Jeter's 3000th career hit, a long home run toward left center field. July 9, 2011. Photo courtesy of Vinnie Coulehan. (Click on it to see a slightly larger version.)


July 24, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

Nats grab 3 early leads, blow 2

After losing two games in Houston, the pressure was on the Washington Nationals to perform as they began a weekend series at Dodger Stadium. The game on Friday night got started on the right note in the top of the first, as Michael Morse drove in a run. In the second inning, pitcher John Lannan batted in two more runs with his very first career home run, just clearing the right field fence. Wow!!! The Dodgers came within a run, and the score remained a very tense 3-2 until the top of the ninth, when Jerry Hairston hit a grand slam near the left field corner, plenty of insurance runs. Final score: 7-2. That was about as much fun as I've had watching a baseball game in a long time! smile

The next two games started out in the same upbeat fashion, but in both cases the Nats squandered the leads, with final outcomes that were about as depressing as you can imagine. On Saturday, the Nats scored three runs in the first (two of which were thanks to a rare Jayson Werth double), and three more in the third. Tom Gorzelanny was totally ineffective on the mound, allowing the Dodgers to get back within one run of the Nats. He only lasted three innings. Relief pitcher Ross Detwiler handled the Dodgers just fine for the next couple innings, but the Dodgers tied it when Henry Rodriguez threw a wild pitch in the seventh inning, and a double by Rafael Furcal in the bottom of the ninth won the game, 7-6. It was the Nationals' seventh consecutive defeat in games decided by one run. On Sunday afternoon, it started even better, with bases loaded and nobody out, and another RBI by Michael Morse. But then Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley somehow composed himself and struck out the next three batters to escape what could have been a blowout. And, believe it or not, that was it. Not a single National player got a hit for the next eight innings, and the only player to reach base was Jayson Werth, with a walk. Talk about abysmal -- and after such a promising start! Jason Marquis had a good outing, but the Nats still lost, 3-1. frown They should easily have reached the symbolic 50-win threshold during this road trip (3-6 record), but instead now have a cumulative record of 49-52, and are in danger of falling into fifth place again.

Red Sox sweep Mariners

In Boston, the red-hot Red Sox swept the Seattle Mariners, maintaining their three-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East. Today's game was a slugfest, with Boston prevailing 12-8, thanks in large part to Carl Crawford's bat. The Mariners have now lost 15 games in a row, setting a record for the franchise. Ouch. See MLB.com. The Red Sox and the Phillies are the only two teams above .600 right now, both cruising toward the postseason once again. The Phillies have qualified in each of the last four years, while the Red Sox have made it to October six of the last eight years, the same as the Yankees.

Fenway Park update

Speaking of Boston, I recently had a minor revelation that was a good excuse for updating the Fenway Park Fenway Park diagrams. (Actually, I finished that task on Saturday night.) Bruce Orser recently sent me a 1930 newspaper article saying that right field in Fenway Park was 358 feet, and the distance to left field was 320. I had never paid much attention before, but indeed, those are the dimensions for 1926 cited in Lowry's book Green Cathedrals. But how could the right field distance have increased by 44 feet (from 314) without tearing out a few rows of seats? After trying different solutions to that puzzle, it seems fairly clear that the diamond had to have been moved a few feet forward and to the right, and rotated about two degrees counterclockwise. So, I added a 1926 version, which also shows the small temporary bleachers near the left field corner that were built after the original bleachers there burned down in 1926. (There was another fire during construction in the winter of 1934.) The rest of the diagrams on that page have been brought up to date. One correction of note: before the 1970s, the scoreboard was directly in back of the bullpens in right field. The new scoreboard was put in the far right-center corner of the bleachers, in 1976.


July 26, 2011 [CLICK HERE to see proper format.][LINK / comment]

Debt ceiling showdown: farce majeur

It's hard to believe that, in the greatest and most prosperous nation the world has ever known, the government is on the verge of running out of funds. And yet here we are, with another budget crisis on Capitol Hill, brought on by the divided structure of our legislative branch and the divided (and logically inconsistent) opinions of the American people. Last night President Obama made a prime-time televised address to the nation, and while I tried to be receptive to his pleas for compromise, his habitual use of demagogic rhetoric very quickly turned me off. Then House Speaker John Boehner had his turn, and he too failed to move me; I find the "no more blank checks" slogan to be inappropriate and misleading. (More on that later.) In short, both parties -- especially the Republicans -- have adopted unduly rigid negotiating positions, raising a real risk that no deal will be reached. If so, the creditworthiness of the United States government will be severely damaged. But unlike a natural disaster which releases firms from the obligation to pay their debts on time (force majeur), in this case the default would be a deliberate act of economic sabotage, totally unjustified.

Compromise is a dirty word in many circles these days, but unless one party decides to abruptly surrender (not very likely), that is the only way the crisis will be ended. That was one of the main themes of my very first op-ed column, which appeared in the Staunton News Leader last Friday. I made clear that both parties deserve blame for the mess we're in, and warned that failure to resolve things in a suitable manner would put us on the road to becoming a banana republic. As in laughing stock, or farce. (I'll follow up on that them in a future column.)

As I wrote to Facebook friend Nick Sorrentino last month, "The inability of the two parties to at least agree on [modest, across-the-board budget cuts], rather than insisting on their own respective fiscal agendas, even at the risk of default, is inexplicable." But both parties are trapped by their own past rhetoric, and by commitments to their core constituent groups, many of whom often threaten to withhold their voting support unless their demands are met. A prime example would be Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform. Over the past two decades, he has cajoled hundreds of national and state legislators to sign a pledge never to raise taxes, and he is obviously holding them to that promise as this crisis unfolds. You wonder why the Republicans won't budge on taxes? Just ask Grover.

The whole episode is a larger-scale replay of the near-shutdown of the U.S. Government last March, as Congress struggled to pass a budget resolution for the rest of fiscal year 2011. A shutdown would have served no one's interests, and indeed it would have made no sense at all. The very fact that it was a very real prospect until the eleventh hour was an indication of serious dysfunction in Washington, and now the problem has become all too obvious. In this regard, I am quickly losing confidence in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who has taken up the role of Tea Party champion in the debt ceiling negotiations. It's almost as if he is trying to replace John Boehner as House Speaker.

Now, about this "no more blank checks" talk: Contrary to what Rep. Boehner implies, raising the debt ceiling will not give President Obama more money to spend as he wishes. The only money that the U.S. government can spend is that which has been appropriated by the U.S. Congress, and signed into law by the president. Indeed, Congress (incluing the Republican-led House of Representatives) already committed itself to spending money for the rest of this fiscal year (which ends on September 30), and it is morally obliged to provide the funds for those spending commitments. That "blank checks" rhetoric is a red herring if I ever heard one.

Part of the problem may be the "weirdness" that has been spreading through the Grand Old Party in recent years. Referring to Mike Huckabee, among other GOP prospective presidential candidates, conservative columnist George Will noted "vibrations of weirdness emanating from people associated with the party." (See Washington Post; hat tip to Matthew Poteat.) This was referring to the "birther" movement, but also is pertinent to understanding the fierce do-or-die attitude toward policy issues exhibited by many Republican leaders. Ideological conformity can be very weird, especially when reality calls basic beliefs into question.

The constitutional angle

In my column, I highlighted what I believe to be the fundamental source of the dysfunction in Washington, namely, the trend toward factionalized and polarized party politics. I argue that this is a predictable consequence of this nation having abandoned its constitutional republican form of government, and having moved toward a quirky hyper-democratic system in which control of government power becomes an apocalyptic battle. I plan to write much more about prospects for restoring constitutional government in the future, but for now there are several constitutional aspects to this issue that have arisen.

For example, economic writer Bruce Bartlett recently opined that the President could unilaterally authorize the Treasury Department to issue new debt, even though the Constitution expressly gives that power to Congress. Bruce and others have interpreted the 14th Amendment's provision that the validity of U.S. government debt "shall not be questioned" to mean that the government must do whatever is necessary to service those debts. On Facebook, I objected to this line of reasoning:

Art. I Section 8: "Congress shall have Power ... to borrow Money on the credit of the United States." The debt ceiling is the exercise of this power. No one else in government can authorize borrowing, period, notwithstanding Prof. Abramowicz's contorted reading of the 14th Amendment. If I can't make a payment due on a debt, that doesn't mean the debt is no longer valid.

I went on to clarify that the House Republicans were being irresponsible in using the debt ceiling for bargaining purposes. I argued that the Treasury Department could find some way to make interest payments to creditors and thus avoid default, concluding "Both parties disgust me." After I noticed that the National Debt Clock is already up to $14.5 trillion, which is $200 billion over the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, I reconsidered. Indeed, I think they are quickly running out of accounting tricks, and the August 2 deadline may be real after all.

Hegemonic (in)stability

Finally, I recently applied some of what I learned in graduate school in one of my Facebook dialogues, contemplating a rather scary scenario:

The fact that the U.S. economy has managed to sustain such (peace time) record-breaking deficit levels may be a manifestation of the thesis of economist Susan Strange, who argued that the U.S. government, especially under Ronald Reagan, exploited its global hegemonic power (dollar as world currency) as an easy way to finance deficit spending. If so, as other countries move to other currencies as a reserve, we could face a rapid financial collapse.

July 29, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Shibe Park (Connie Mack Stadium*) update

Shibe Park Years (literally) in the making: the Shibe Park diagrams have been thoroughly revised, with many corrections and enhancements. Where do I begin? As is often the case, the profile is now much more accurate and detailed than before, with separate profiles for the inner and outer portions of the grandstand, as well as the outfield bleacher/grandstand. I'm frankly embarrassed by how far below my ever-climbing quality standards the Shibe Park diagrams had fallen; the last major update was in 2006!

There will probably always be some uncertainties and mysterious about the various nooks and crannies in the former home of the Philadelphia Athletics and Phillies. For example, the precise layout of the diamond and foul lines during the first two decades is a little uncertain. For the time being, I have accepted the dimensions given by other authors (378 in LF, 340 in RF), but I have a sneaking suspicion that those numbers are in error. Based on photographic evidence, I think there is a real possibility that the diamond may not have been moved forward (or backwards) in the 1920s after all. Also, I'm still not sure how fans entered and exited the bleachers and upper deck grandstand in left field. There were at one time five external stairways protruding from the back, hanging over the sidewalk, much like a fire escape, but returning into the stadium at the lower level. Over the years, those stairways were removed, one by one. Anyway, the diagrams are a big leap forward.

Note that in the football version diagram, the profiles of the infield and extended portions of the grandstand are reversed, to facilitate comparison of the differences between them. It shows that in the latter portion (roughly between the bases and the foul poles), the front row was a few feet higher, while the roof was a few feet shorter. You can see just by rolling your mouse over the thumbnail image above.

In preparing these diagrams, I relied upon a variety of books and online sources, most of which were drawn to my attention by my always-reliable colleague Bruce Orser. I don't think I could possibly understate the degree to which his help has improved the quality of my diagrams. Phil Lowry's Green Cathedrals (2006), John Pastier's Ballparks Yesterday and Today (2007), Ron Selter's Ballparks of the Deadball Era (2008), and Lawrence Ritter's Lost Ballparks (1992) were all very useful, even if I disagree with some of the findings in them. Another great source was the book by Bruce Kuklick, To Every Thing a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia, 1909-1976 (Princeton University Press, 1991).

I'm almost sure this online article is just another urban legend: "Phillies can thank Yanks for famous Ballantine scoreboard " by "Joe Sixpack" at philly.com. Supposedly, the old scoreboard from Yankee Stadium was moved to Shibe Park / Connie Mack Stadium in 1956. Sources differ, but a close inspection of photos of those two scoreboards reveals notable differences, and if the chronologies are correct, that would be literally impossible. 1956 was two years before the new scoreboard was installed in the Bronx.

* I always called it "Connie Mack Stadium" when I was growing up, and was annoyed when my father would refer to it by the original name; likewise for Sportsmans Park / Busch Stadium I, Briggs Stadium / Tiger Stadium, and a couple others.

Coincidentally, Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL) was one of the 22 House members who voted "no" on the debt-ceiling bill pushed by Speaker John Boehner earlier this evening. See politico.com. Cornelius H. McGillicuddy IV (his real name) is the great-grandson of Connie Mack (nickname), who was both manager and owner of the Philadelphia Athletics. Connie Mack IV played in the recent congressional baseball game at Nationals Park; see welovedc.com.

Measuring distances

Stadiums superimposed page now includes a simplified version of the distance measuring device that I use for drawing ballpark diagrams. Just scroll to the very bottom of either the opaque (dark) or translucent (pale) diagram menus. This was prompted by a comment by MASN sportscaster Bob Carpenter that the distance to the corners in right and left field at Nationals Park (the corners away from the foul poles) was about 360 feet. According to my estimates, it's just about 370 feet. That 10-foot difference was significant because ...

Marlins sweep the Nationals

Back in the real world of baseball, in Our Nation's Capital, the Washington Nationals were swept by the Florida Marlins this week, thereby plunging headlong into the NL East cellar. Coming off a lousy 3-6 road trip, they were trounced 11-2 on Tuesday by the Florida Marlins. On Wednesday the Marlins had a 7-1 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning, when all of a sudden the Nats' bats came alive, scoring four runs. With a runner on base, up to the plate stepped Laynce Nix, who had already crushed a towering home run into the back of the second deck near the right field foul pole earlier in the game. Fans waited in eager anticipation, and when his bat cracked the ball again, it looked like a miraculous comeback was unfolding. But the ball fell just short of the right field bullpen, about five feet in front of the fence, and was caught for the final out of the game. Oh, the agony... On Thursday, the Nats fell to the Marlins once again, 5-2, confirming their lowly status as the last place team. frown Hopes that the Nats might even have a shot at the NL wild card spot have all but vanished, and as the July 31 trading deadline approaches, there are fears that Drew Storen or other top-notch players may be let go in return for future prospects. What a revolting development that would be

One positive note: Ryan Zimmerman went four for five, a day after going three for five at the plate. He has definitely pulled out of his post-return slump and his batting average has climbed into the .270 range.


July 29, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Republicans split over debt

There's but a lot of confusion out there, so let's get one thing clear about this debt ceiling showdown: The central question is whether the U.S. Congress will allow the U.S. Treasury to raise enough funds to pay for the spending commitments which the Congress has already made. And yet House speaker Boehner is straining with all his persuasive might to get his party members to do just that. Will Congress live up to its preexisting commitments, or will it act like a deadbeat? Why is there even any debate over this? Somehow, the Tea Party faction of the Republican side has convinced itself that voting to raise the debt limit will have something to do with how much the Federal government will spend. How utterly mistaken! The situation in the Senate is no better, as Majority Leader Harry Reid (who was headed for defeat in his reelection bid last fall, ironically saved only by the weak Tea Party-endorsed Republican candidate, Sharon Angle) says Boehner's bill would be "dead on arrival." He insists on a long-term deal, matching the Republicans' intransigence toe to toe. See politico.com.

The House of Representatives and the Senate are engaged in debate at this very moment. Obviously, I hope the Republicans can accomplish the severe budget cuts they are demanding, but I have grave doubts about their high-risk approach, which borders on criminal negligence. No reasonable person could call their "my way or the highway" negotiating stance "fiscally responsible," which is one of the traditional Republican virtues. Sean Hannity keeps scoffing at the idea that there is any fixed deadline for default, while derogating those who seek a balanced approach: "Compromise is what's got us here." Oh, brother... He said this in the context of pinning all the blame on President Obama and the Democrats, conveniently forgetting what happened during the previous administration. Well, false perceptions of reality are likely to lead to faulty policy prescriptions.

UPDATE: Just after 6:00 this evening, the House passed Boehner's bill, on a vote of 218-210 in which all Democrats and 22 Republicans voted "no," even though he went to great lengths to appease the Tea Party faction. He made an impassioned speech on the House floor, decrying the opposition's failure to come up with a counterproposal. It remains to be seen wheter the Senate will pass anything similar to the House bill, which might still forestall a default next week. Unfortunately, one of the lessons from this past week is that there is a substantial contingent of Republicans who actually want to bring about a default. For example, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas (one of the 22) says that might help prevent a worse crisis down the road; see bloomberg.com. That would seem to contradict the complacent view of people like Sean Hannity. Hat tip to Andrew Murphy.

Local Republicans unite

Here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, meanwhile, the Republican Party managed to resolve its internal differences in an amicable way. The Augusta County Republicans held their mass meeting and nominated incumbent County Treasurer Richard Homes, who prevailed over challenger Jason Bibeau. The office of Treasurer does not make policy, and merely carries out the county government's financial transactions, but somehow the local anti-tax movement led by attorney Francis Chester (see March 2009) got the idea that they could advance their cause by controlling that office. Mr. Chester is closely affiliated to the self-styled "grassroots" faction of Republicans led by Kurt Michael, who is running for the county Board of Supervisors (see May 25) and Lynn Mitchell. (Note: the newspaper article cited in that blog post erred by switching the districts that Michael and fellow "grassrooter" David Karaffa; Michael is running in the Wayne District, and Karaffa is running in Beverley Manor.) Chester recently spoke to the Shenandoah Tea Party.

Augusta Republican Chairman Bill Shirley chaired the meeting, in which a total of 202 registered voters participated, but the vote totals were never announced. While we were waiting and listening to other local officials make short speeches, Mr. Bibeau abruptly asked the assembled group to support Mr. Homes, conceding the election. It was a very graceful gesture, standing in stark contrast to the way the Republicans tore themselves apart in 2008. Maybe the "grassroots" have learned their lessons from the past and are starting to mature.

While observing the mass meeting, I had the pleasure to meet (or get reacquainted with) several Republican activists and candidates, including Jamie Radtke, who is running for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate next year. She is a leader of Tea Party Patriots in Virginia and spoke to the meeting, as did another candidate for that office, Jim Donner, who also stressed constitutional, limited government principles. The leading candidate George Allen Jr. was unable to attend, however. See www.RadtkeForSenate.com.

Va. redistricting update

Among the speakers at the GOP mass meeting was State Senator Emmett Hanger, who talked about how the redistricting process had changed his constituency. The 24th Senate District has changed dramatically, losing all of Highland County and parts of Rockbridge and Albemarle Counties [it formerly included], while gaining all of Madison County and nearly all of Culpeper County, far to the east. As the following map shows, the district is now badly stretched, and in my view does not come close to meeting the requirement of the Virginia Constitution that "Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory..." It would appear that the Democratic majority in the State Senate has gotten away with flagrant gerrymandering.

Va 24th Senate District changes

In other words, the state legislative redistricting was just as bad as for congressional redistricting, protecting incumbents' seats while undermining the principle of accountability to voters. No surprise there; see politico.com. Perhaps in another ten years there will be enough public demand for reforming the way redistricting is done. In that regard, see fixthelines.com, a project of the Virginia Interfaith Center.


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