February 13, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Spring training gets underway
In sunny Florida and southern Arizona, the pitchers and catchers are assembling as spring training 2013 begins. Yes, baseball fans, the glorious renewal of Our National Pastime is drawing nigh! This year, for a change, the Washington Nationals are widely recognized as one of the best if not the best team in baseball. "They could ... go ... all ... the ... way!"
Eager excitement among the Nats players and fans has been marred, if only slightly, by the news that their star pitcher Gio Gonzalez has been linked to a doping scandal. The Miami New Times reported that he was among the players connected to Anthony Bosch, who allegedly supplied performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes from Miami. Nats manager Davey Johnson is sticking by Gio, and that's appropriate. There is a chance, however, that Gonzalez could be suspended for 50 games, the penalty for a first offence with PEDs. Gonzalez announced he will play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, starting March 10. See MLB.com.
Starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann says that he is getting closer to a new contract with the front office. He wants $5.8 million, while the Nationals have offered $4.6 million. He is the only Nationals player still eligible for arbitration. If they can't agree to terms, there will be a hearing on February 19. See MLB.com. I assume a deal will be made in time.
Two big question marks for the upcoming year are whether third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's shoulder has fully healed after getting surgery in late October, and whether second baseman Danny Espinosa's shoulder is in good shape. We need a solid bunch of infielders.
Good news for Nationals fans with limited or no cable TV service: MASN and WUSA Channel 9 have agreed to simulcast 20 Nationals games this year. That means real, honest-to-God broadcasting over the air, the way things used to be! See masnsports.com. Everybody loves a winner, and as the team's popularity soars, all of a sudden they are a hot commodity in the broadcast market. Ka-ching!
Super Super Bowl in the Superdome
The football season ended with a bang, as Super Bowl XLVII turned out to have one of the most exciting finishes in many years. The game was interrupted by a power blackout that lasted about 34 minutes, leaving fans, players, and sportscasters bewildered and befuddled. After the lights came back on, the momentum shifted in favor of the 49ers, who came within seven yards of scoring what would have been the game-winning touchdown in the final minute. It was indeed a "super" game. [Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens on their second world championship!]
This was the seventh Super Bowl held in the Superdome, two more than any other stadium. Tied for second place are the Orange Bowl and Sun Life Stadium (a.k.a. Joe Robbie / Pro Player / Dolphin / Landshark Stadium); in other words, the Miami Dolphins have hosted the Super Bowl ten times, in effect. In none of those particular games did they play, however. The Dolphins won two of the five Super Bowls in which they have played, the last of which was in 1985. They are even more "overdue" for a return than the Redskins!
Just in time One week late for the Superbowl, I finally finished the updates to the Superdome diagrams. (The changes were actually made a few days ago, but I didn't have time to announce them.) As usual, the main changes are the inclusion of entry portals, but there is also a new second-deck version. Note that a second set of entry portals were built in the late 1990s, appropriate for the very large size of the upper deck: it ranged from 20 to 43 rows.
By the way, the new data on fair and foul territory, and number of seating rows, is also now shown on the Kingdome, Jack Murphy Stadium, and Candlestick Park pages. [Note that I have decided to round the territory data to the nearest 100 feet, hence the new numbers on the Oakland Coliseum page. Remember learning about significant digits in high school? The percentages upon which those territory figures are based are accurate to a hundredth of a percent, which is only 3 or 4 significant digits.] I'll be adding such data to many more stadium pages in the weeks to come...
Don't worry, the black background in the adjacent image is just making fun of the blackout, not part of the actual diagrams.
Dual-use stadiums, and the subsequent "divorces"
Building stadiums for both baseball and football was all the rage in the "groovy" 1960s and early 1970s, but just like with American society in general, the casual cohabitations ultimately led to "divorces," sometimes with messy disputes over money and building new "homes" (stadiums). For some time now, I've been meaning to compile data on the timing and duration of use by the respective football and baseball teams, and which team came out ahead in getting a new stadium built, but it took a long time before I could figure out how to display it neatly and consistently.
Well, that information is now shown on the Football Use (of Baseball Stadiums) page. For the dual-use stadiums, rolling the mouse over the names not only shows the thumbnail version of the football diagram, but also the data on timing and duration. Later on I may do the same thing for the rest of the stadiums listed on that page: those built mainly for baseball, and those built mainly for football.
The mail bag
Once again, sadly, I've fallen behind on the ballpark news that Mike Zurawski has been sending me. Just for starters, he tells me the Padres are adding seats above the new fence in right field of Petco Park, where the fences are being moved 10 feet inward. It will be like the seats installed atop the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston, with four-seat clusters and tables. There will be 50 - 60 such tables total. See utsandiego.com.
John Corradin has been wondering how often ballpark dimensions change. He has a hunch that many teams make minor changes almost every year. That would be news to me. I'm aware of recent changes at the Mets' Citi Field, and the changes at the Mariners' Safeco Field and the Padres' Petco Park this year, but nothing else comes to mind. Still, it's worth looking into, and I may come up with a table listing dimension changes on a year-by-year basis some time in the future.
Also, a fan named Cristian Mendiuc asked me whether the playing field at Fenway Park is below the street level. I replied that my estimate is five feet below the street level, more or less. Coincidentally, I bought a new book, Fenway 1912 by Glenn Stout recently, and it may be provide more information on that.
February 13, 2013 [LINK / comment]
But wait, there's more bird photos!
I've taken quite a few more bird photos with my new Canon PowerShot SX50 HS camera over the past few weeks, and some of the resulting images are just amazing. Today I was driving along Bell's Lane in chilly conditions with dark skies and occasional sleet, just in case something interesting should appear. Well, I got lucky as I spotted two Meadowlarks only about 25 feet from the edge of the road, foraging in the pasture. Quickly I grabbed my camera, and here is what I saw:
Eastern Meadowlark, on Bell's Lane. Do a mouse rollover to see a closer view.
On Sunday around noon, I was returning from church and the grocery store, and upon getting out of my car heard the distinctive high-pitched tseee, tseee call of Cedar Waxwings. I have seen occasional flocks here and there, but hadn't really had any good looks at them for several months. This time, the gorgeous feathered creatures were very cooperative, posing for me after I ran inside and came back with my camera. I took dozens of pictures, of which this was probably the best single one:
Cedar Waxwing, in Staunton. Do a mouse rollover to see two of them together.
Finally, Jacqueline and I paid a brief visit last month to a pond in Waynesboro where a Black-crowned Night Heron is often seen. Sure enough, there it was, perched on a semi-submerged log on the other side of the pond. The lighting conditions weren't great, but I was able to adjust the color saturation and contrast to yield a decent image:
Black-crowned Night Heron, in Waynesboro
The above photos can be seen on the Wild birds, yearly photo gallery page. Other new photos on that page include a pair of Redheads (male & female), which I saw on Silver Lake, near Dayton last week, and a Green-winged Teal, which I saw on a pond behind the Days Inn on the north edge of Staunton a few days before that.
February 18, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Asteroid barely misses Earth
Was it just a coincidence that a large meteor caused major damage in Russia on the very same day that a dreaded asteroid came within a mere 17,000 miles of colliding with Mother Earth? Well, that's what the scientists tell us. To a layman, the odds that such a disaster would happen on the very same day that an asteroid passed so close to the Earth would seem astronomical. (Irony.) But the asteroid, which was named 2012 DA14, was travelling south to north, in contrast to the meteor trail. The asteroid was estimated to be 150 feet wide, and would have caused a global cataclysm of biblical proportions. (More irony.) The meteor which struck near Chelyabinsk, Russia was about the size of a bus, they say. Most of the damage was caused by the shock waves emitted as the meteor burned up in the atmosphere, not by any direct collision with any fragments of it. (A meteorite is an object from space that has already landed, and a meteroid is an object in space before it reaches our atmosphere.) For more, see space.com.)
UPDATE: You can see some of the videos of the meteor at wattsupwiththat.com; link via Facebook.
I was somewhat dubious of the initial reports, with multiple video clips of the rare celestial phenomenon. How could so many people just happen to have video cameras running at that exact moment? Well, as we have since learned, millions of people in Russia use police-style dashboard video cameras to protect themselves from liability lawsuits or extortion from thugs who deliberately cause auto collisions or pedestrian injuries in hopes of cashing in. That's a sad commentary on the deeply cynical values which prevail in post-communist Russia.
The moons of Jupiter
It was just last month that Jupiter had a close encounter (apparent, not real) with the moon, which I photographed. That prompted me to wonder whether I could get a picture of Jupiter's own moons, of which four can be seen with binoculars. Sure enough, this past Thursday night I managed to capture a photographic image of at least two of those moons. Last night I went out again, and finally succeeded, more or less. (It was bitterly cold, which made it hard to operate the camera efficiently.) The autofocus struggles to deal with interplanetary objects, and I'm having a heck of a time getting used to the manual controls on my new Canon camera. Maybe I'll get a better picture some time in the future.
Jupiter and three of its four largest moons (I have no idea which is which) just above, on February 17. Do a mouse rollover to see a similar image, February 14, when just two of the big four moons were visible. You can see two nearby stars that serve as a convenient frame of reference to track Jupiter's gradual transit across the sky. The one on the right is distinctly bluish. I'm pretty sure the star at the top left on Feb. 14 is the same one seen at the bottom on Feb. 17.
It was 403 years ago, on January 7, 1610, that Galileo discovered the four moons of Jupiter that later became known as Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Those moons range in size from about as big as our moon to the planet Mercury. The closest one, Io, circles Jupiter in less than two days (!), while the two outer moons take seven days to complete an orbit. Compared to our moon, which takes 28 days to orbit the Earth, that is extremely fast. (See space.com.)
Galileo's discovery was a big part of the revolution in the field of astronomy, confirming the heliocentric theory of Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543). It had previously been assumed that the Earth was the center of the universe. Unfortunately, this scientific "paradigm shift" raised troubling theological issues for the Roman Catholic Church, and Galileo was later coerced into recanting his "heresies." This retraction took place during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), when the Hapsburg Empire was trying to gain hegemony on the continent of Europe, purportedly a crusade on behalf of the Catholic faith. No wonder there was a Protestant Reformation!
February 18, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Short-eared Owls in Swoope!
There have been quite a few reports of Short-eared Owls in the Swoope area recently, and I finally managed to get out there just after 5:00 this afternoon to take a look. The place in question is at the intersection of Livick Road and Cattleman's Road, rolling open pasture land with a few scattered trees here and there. Two birders who had driven all the way from Front Royal were already there when I arrived, and three others from nearer places arrived soon thereafter.
Before long, we saw a few Northern Harriers swooping (!) low across the pastures, including one or two male "gray ghosts." They didn't come very close, however, and there wasn't much else to see as the sun dipped behind the mountains to the west. It was getting pretty chilly, but I came prepared for the frigid vigil with polypropylene undergarments and wool socks. Finally, somebody spotted a Short-eared Owl in a field about 250 yards away, and a second one soon landed in the same area. So, we all got in our vehicles, drove a short distance, and I was able to get close enough (40-50 yards) for an adequate photo, making the effort all worthwhile. I probably could have gotten much better quality if the manual focus on my new camera wasn't so hard to adjust, and if the sun had not yet gone down.
That was about two miles from where I had seen several Short-eared Owls in February 2004. After a brief glance at my records, that may have been the last time I have seen that particular species, but further digging may be necessary to be sure.
Short-eared Owl, in a field next to Livick Road, in Swoope.