November 4, 2014 [LINK / comment]
"Winning Right": Can the Republicans do it?
As Campaign 2014 winds down and voters make up their minds, Republicans are poised to make big gains in the Senate, probably enough to retake a majority of seats in that chamber. They currently have 45 seats, while the Democrats have 53 and count on two independents to vote with them, so the Republicans need a net gain of six seats. If it's a 50-50 tie, Vice President Joe Biden would cast the deciding vote. But if the Republicans do win, will it translate into any meaningful policy change in Washington, or will it merely lead to even more stalemated, dysfunctional government? Fortunately for the Republicans, voters seem deeply upset with President Obama and the Democrats, and memories of the infamous government shutdown last year seem to have faded.
Ed Gillespie visits Staunton
The reason I highlighted the phrase "Winning Right" is because that is the title of a book which I have that was written by the Republican candidate for U.S Senate in Virginia, Ed Gillespie -- Winning Right: Campaign Politics and Conservative Policies (2006). I managed to get myself to Mrs. Rowe's Restaurant [on Monday]* afternoon to see Gillespie speak to party members. It was the first time I had been to any kind of political event since the first of March. If nothing else, I was hoping to get him to sign his book for me, and in that at least I succeeded.
Ed Gillespie greets Republicans at Mrs. Rowe's Restaurant in Staunton [on Monday]* afternoon. Among those in this photo are Zanette Hahn, Georgia Long, Del. Steve Landes, Del. Dickie Bell, Larry Roller, Howard Zahn, and Carl Tate.
Ed Gillespie, with his wife Cathy and daughter (Carrie or Mollie?), speaking at Mrs. Rowe's.
At [yesterday's]* event, I met two local Republican leaders for the first time: Georgia Long, the recently-elected chair of the Augusta Republican Committee, and Marshall Pattie, a member of the Board of Supervisors who plans to run for the State Senate seat currently held by Emmett Hanger.
In some ways, Gillespie is an ideal Senate candidate. He has a tremendous amount of experience in politics, having served as Republican National Chairman from July 2003 to January 2005. (I met his successor, Ken Mehlman, at a local campaign event in October 2005.) Gillespie understands how Washington works, and he is pragmatic enough to make deals when necessary.
Gillespie's downside is related to his upside: as an old Washington hand, he is vulnerable to charges of being part of the cronyism that makes our government hostage to special interests. Ironically, incumbent Senator Mark Warner has tried to exploit that factor, claiming that Gillespie's work as a lobbyist for the defunct Enron Corporation reflects on Gillespie. But as Gillespie makes clear in his book Winning Right (pages 160-162), he had nothing at all to do with Enron's bookkeeping. When the Senate Government Reform Committee issued its report on the Enron scandal, Gillespie "was barely mentioned."
Another vulnerability of Gillespie is that he once advocated using the tax code to gain univeral health care coverage (pages 245-246). It was very close to the individual insurance mandate which is the essential feature of Obamacare (and Romneycare in Massachusetts) that has caused so much controversy. He has since retreated from that position, and now pledges to vote to repeal Obamacare if elected. Good.
Overall, Gillespie's strengths far outweigh his weaknesses. The incumbent Senator Mark Warner claims to be an independent voice seeking bipartisan solutions, but that it not how the signature accomplishment of the Democratic Party -- Obamacare -- was adopted. It was rammed down our throat, via an irregular "reconciliation" process, with not a single Republican vote. I saw Senator Warner at a meeting with local businessmen in September 2010, and he had a difficult time trying to explain his support for Obamacare. He needs to be held accountable for that monstrosity.
Other key Senate races
In Sunday's Washington Post, Dan Balz observed that "Obama, the focal point for Republican criticism, was on the campaign trail but avoiding states with the most contested Senate races." It's quite a dilemma for Democrats, who are awkwardly distancing themselves from the President, and in so doing, make themselves look like unprincipled cowards.
In Kentucky, incumbent Mitch McConnell seems assured of a victory against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, whose once-promising campaign has fizzled. Her biggest sin was claiming to forget whether she voted for Barack Obama for president. Ouch! McConnell, who faced a Tea Party challenge in the primaries, is not the most appealing candidate out there, but he is sensible and right on most of the issues.
In South Dakota, the threat of Independent (and former Republican Senator) Larry Pressler has diminished, and Governor Mike Rounds (Republican) is expected to win by a comfortable margin. Pressler served in the House and then the Senate from the 1970s through the 1990s, and earned a reputation as a squeaky-clean maverick. He was the only member of Congress who flatly turned down the offer of a bribe from FBI undercover agents in the Abscam scandal of 1980.
In Kansas, dull establishment incumbent Senator Pat Roberts struggled to fend off a Tea Party challenger in the primary elections last summer, and now he is coping with an Independent candidate named Greg Orman. He has not committed himself, so if he in fact wins, he could end up caucusing with either side. The Democrats were permitted to remove their candidate's name from the ballot, in hopes of helping Orson defeat Robertson. That one is too close to call.
In Iowa, Joni Ernst has taken a lead over [Bruce] Braley in the polls. Her TV ad in which she boasts of castrating hogs while growing up on a farm, as a useful skill to deal with all the "pork barrel" spending, is amusing. "Make 'em squeal," she cheerfully says at the end. (youtube.com)
In North Carolina, incumbent Kay Hagan was expected to win easily, but her Republican challenger Thom Tillis (currently the state House Speaker) has been closing the gap.
In Colorado, Democrat incumbent Senator Mark Udall has run a mediocre campaign, while challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, has made it a neck-and-neck race. A Colorado reporter with whom I used to work on the high school newspaper, Lynn Bartels, was recently featured on the Rachel Maddow show (MSNBC.com), discussing the Udall-Gardner race. Lynn has earned high renown in her career as a journalist, and I'm proud to have known her.
Because of state laws requiring a majority, runoff elections are expected in Louisiana, where incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is fighting for her political life, and perhaps Georgia. So we may not know whether the Republicans will have a majority in the Senate for a few more weeks.
Political earthquake aftershocks
In the first of the two political "earthquakes" that struck Virginia last June, when State Senator Phil Puckett announced his resignation, it appeared that the Republicans were the ones playing hardball. (The other "earthquake" was when Dave Brat defeated then-Rep. Eric Cantor in the GOP primary election.) Then last month the Washington Post revealed that Governor McAuliffe (or at least his office) was engaging in negotiations of their own. More recently, we have learned that Senator Mark Warner himself was involved in trying to make a deal with Puckett, strongly suggesting improper use of a Federal office. The Gillespie campaign has rightly zeroed in on this glaring misdeed, and we'll see as the votes are counted this evening whether enough voters are paying attention to make a difference in the election.
As I mentioned on Facebook, I am not exactly an enthusiastic supporter of the Republican Party these days. All too often, the otherwise sensible "mainstream" leaders have allowed themselves to be taken in by right-wing "grass-roots" activists who are sometimes lacking in basic political sense. And as anyone who follows politics closely knows, those "grass-roots" folks are often just pawns being used by certain powerful individuals who are trying to steer the party. Eventually, most people will realize what has been going on, but in the mean time we're likely to see a lot more clamor and disruption within the party organization. It's a real shame.
But I see those problems as only indirectly related to the races for the House and Senate. I'm wary of certain hot-headed populists leading the party astray (another government shutdown?), but for now I'm confident that a Republican victory today will be a big step in the right direction.
* I finished this post after midnight on November 4, hence the confusion over today/yesterday in the original post, which has now been corrected.
November 5, 2014 [LINK / comment]
Nationals take option on Span
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Washington Nationals took the contract option on center fielder Denard Span, who will get $9 million for the 2015 season. Span led the team in batting this year (.302), and continued his record of superlative defense. He's a great guy, with plenty of talent and hustle, and expressed a strong desire to stay with the Nationals. See MLB.com.
Meanwhile, the Nats front office declined to take the options on first baseman Adam LaRoche and Rafael Soriano, the Nats' closing pitcher until September. In both cases, that was expected, but the situations are markedly different. Tributes to Adam LaRoche's years with the Nationals are piling up. Read what Byron Kerr wrote at masnsports.com.
A tougher question is what to do about two top-notch veterans who will become free agents soon: Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond. I think Mike Rizzo should be willing to make generous offers to keep them in Washington, even if it means sacrificing some other good player. They have both proven their usefulness to the team, and the Nats need stability and continuity to build on the success of the 2014 (regular) season.
Golden Glove awards
Unfortunately, neither Denard Span nor Adam LaRoche were chosen for the 2014 Golden Glove awards. They were the only Nationals nominated as finalists for that honor. LaRoche won the Golden Glove in 2012. In the American League, the two teams that played in the AL Championship Series -- the Royals and the Orioles -- accounted for three Golden Gloves each. See MLB.com.
Ranking MLB dynasties
Long-time fan Larry Freitas tells me he sees no reason to question whether his team (the San Francisco Giants) have achieved true "dynasty" status. Well, me neither. At sportsonearth.com, A.J. Cassavell
takes the Giants' three World Series titles in the last five years, and compares them to baseball dynasties of decades past. He puts them at #4, following three Yankees dynasties: 1949-53 (#1), 1996-2000 (#2), and 1936-40 (#3). The 1972-76 Oakland A's comes in at #5, in Cassavell's estimation.
To send or not to send?
People are still arguing about whether the third base coach should have sent Alex Gordon home in the next-to-last play of World Series Game 7. I say yes, even though the odds of success were less than 25%. Others have applied more sophisticated analysis to derive the likelihood that Gordon could have made it. See MLB.com.
Baseball & ballpark news
The Washington Nationals just completed their tenth season, soon after the tenth anniversary of the announcement by Commissioner Bud Selig that the Montreal Expos would relocate to D.C. The mark the Nats' first decade of existence, a special logo was designed. It was featured on the team poster/calendars that were given away at the final Friday game of the regular season, and will be sewn onto players' uniforms next year. See th Washington Post.
The Chicago Cubs have hired as their new manager Joe Maddon, who recently quit as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays. He has worked miracles with the Rays, turning a low-budget roster into a consistent postseason contenders -- except this year, that is. The Cubs need some kind of a jolt, and maybe he's the answer. See ESPN.
Over a year ago, Mike Zurawski brought to my attention news that the home of the Blue Jays will be converted to real grass in three or four more years. I heard something about that recently, and discovered to my horror that I had never mentioned this good news. Under the renewed licence agreement, the Toronto Argonauts (CFL) will vacate the Rogers Centre as tenants by the end of 2017, if not sooner. The Blue Jays will then remove the existing concrete floor and put in real dirt and grass, by opening day 2018 at the very latest. See thestar.com.
Inspired by that bit of good (albeit outdated) news, I updated the Turf page, with changes through 2014.
Busch Stadium III update
Continuing with my efforts to get my St. Louis stadium pages up to par, I updated the Busch Stadium III diagrams, as well as the text on that page. Included for the first time is an upper-deck diagram, showing the entry portals and dual structural beams that define the seating sections. As usual, including those details led to a few minor changes in the position of the light towers, the grandstand, etc. Also, the dirt pitchers' mounds in the bullpens are shown, as well as the letters "B" and "T" to indicate bench bleachers and table seating areas in the outfield.
There is also a revised football diagram, based on the game between Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois held on September 21, 2013. See stltoday.com.
Also, I should have called attention many months ago to the completion of the "Ballpark Village" which sits on land formerly occupied by Busch Stadium II. It features various eateries and other places for fans to enjoy themselves; see MLB.com
November 8, 2014 [LINK / comment]
Stadium statistics: up to date!
At last! After many weeks of poring through my collection of books, photos, and other sources, I have completed the Stadium statistics page, filling in lots of blank spaces that used to be there. Even though the data on that page should be considered fairly reliable, future revisions are likely. A word of caution on the figures in the "Seating capacity" column: Those refer to the "peak" capacity at each stadium, not necessarily the current capacity (or final capacity, in the case of stadiums no longer in existence). I am still working on a consistent standard for evaluating whether or not the stated capacity for years past are considered reliable. As late as the 1940s, capacity was often exaggerated by several thousand at some stadiums, in some cases including standing room only.
There are two sets of data on that page that are unique to this Web site: the "typical" number of seating rows in the main decks, and the amount of fair territory and foul territory. Counting numbers of rows is an important tool by which I estimate the size of grandstands, bleachers, etc., but that by itself isn't terribly original. It's basically just a matter of getting access to the right photos and then squinting at them. But the fair and foul territory data are another story. A year or so ago, I devised a clever technique to make such fairly precise estimates using my diagrams, and started including those figures on the stadium pages. I have occasionally seen estimates of field areas,* but as far as I know there is no comprehensive accurate dataset on this crucial aspect of ballparks -- until now, that is.
* For example, back when the Nationals were playing the A's in Oakland last May, I heard MASN announcer F.P. Santangelo mention the vast amount of foul territory at "o.co Coliseum." He cited the exact figure shown on my page (40,700 square feet), and it's probably safe to assume where he got that number.
Part of what motivated my efforts was the book written by Dr. Thomas Tomsick, who is the (recently renewed) sponsor of the Cleveland Stadium page, and author of the very interesting and worthwhile book Strike Three: My Years in the 'Pen. Among other things, he explored the question of how much the extent of foul territory in various ballparks helps pitchers. I'll explain all this in great detail in the near future.
Works in progress
As part of the task in estimating the fair and foul territories of each stadium, I have made a fair amount of progress in getting the diagrams up to date. In some cases, such as with Tropicana Field (update imminent), the territory estimates changed significantly. Some of those diagrams are years out of date, but they are getting a lot closer to completion.
News from the mail bag
In New York, the Mets are in the process of moving the fences at Citi Field once again. The right-center and right-field fences will be closer to home plate, but the exact new dimensions are as yet uncertain. See nydailynews.com and ESPN, which shows a photo with a line in the warning track where the inner fence built in 2012 used to be. Hat tip to Glenn Simpkins. I have mixed feelings on these change. The original (2009) Citi Field dimensions were clearly too big, but the changes in 2012 seemed arbitrary and not well planned. Hopefully the bullpens will be rearranged; the current diagonal alignment looks weird to me.
In Cleveland, work on renovating Progressive Field is well underway. You can also see some photos of the renovated League Park which opened in late August at clevescene.com. In particular, the true-to-original 40-foot tall fence looks very nice. Thanks to Terry Wallace. I mentioned that event (August 29), but failed to make note of that link.
Here's another story on the renovations of the bleachers at Wrigley Field in Chicago: SI.com. And speaking of Wrigley Field, Jonathan Dobson informs me that "the 'modern' dugouts at Wrigley Field were not installed until the 1978-1979 offseason," not in 1972 as my diagram indicates. I'll have to make the necessary changes in the upcoming revision.
I'll get to some more baseball news tomorrow...
November 14, 2014 [LINK / comment]
Kershaw, L.A. dominate 2014 awards
As many people have been expecting, at least since mid-summer, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw was selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America to receive both the National League Cy Young Award and the Most Valuable Player Award for 2014. It's the same dual honor that Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander was given (for the American League) in 2011, when Kershaw also received the NL Cy Young award. The last such occurrence in the National League was 1968, when Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson achieved that high distinction. Kershaw's ERA was only 1.77, the lowest in the NL since 1995, when Greg Maddux had a 1.63 ERA. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Kershaw went 0-2 in this year's NLDS.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels' center fielder Mike Trout received the American League MVP Award -- the youngest player in history to win by unanimous vote, in fact. He was AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, the year that Bryce Harper won that award on the NL side. The last time a single metropolitan area claimed both leagues' MVP awards was 2002, when Barry Bonds (Giants) and Miguel Tejada (Athletics) did it. See MLB.com.
In a test of skill and determination, Kershaw emerged victorious on September 2 against the Nationals' best pitcher this year, Doug Fister. The Nats won the other two games in that series, however, and that really marked their superb late-season push toward the divisional championship. (See September 5 blog post.)
According to "MASN Dan" Kolko, Anthony Rendon finished fifth in voting for NL MVP, "the highest a Washington Nationals player has ever landed on the NL MVP ballot!" Not bad for a youngster! But if he was regarded so highly, as someone noted, why wasn't he chosen for the All-Star Game? Wait till next year!
In the American League, Cleveland Indians pitcher Cory Kluber won the Cy Young Award, edging Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez, who won that award in 2010. MLB.com. (Perhaps the drubbing Hernandez received at the hands of the Nationals on August 29 was what made the difference.)
Little did I realize when I saw the Indians play the D-Backs in Phoenix on June 25 (see my July 31 blog post, and the box score at baseball-reference.com) that their starting pitcher would end up being the Cy Young winner. Kluber gave up four hits and no runs over seven innings at Chase Field that day, helping the Indians beat the Diamondbacks 7-1. Had I been aware of how good he was, I would have taken a closeup photo of him. D'oh!
The Indians' Cy Young winner Cory Kluber pitching at Chase Field on June 25.
Rookies of the Year
Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets, and Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, won the NL and AL Rookie of the Year Awards, respectively. DeGrom chalked up a 9-6 record and a 2.69 ERA as a starting pitcher, and has a very promising future. (See MLB.com.) [Abreu won by a landslide on the AL side, though some questioned whether a 27-year old should qualify as a rookie; he previously played in Cuba.] It's good news for both teams, which have struggled in recent years.
Williams: Manager of the Year!
As a testament to his steady, patient leadership, and perhaps to the talent of the team, the Washington Nationals' Matt Williams won NL Manager of the Year. I (and probably others) had raised doubts about his chances after the questionable decisions [he] made in NLDS (see October 11), but the awards are evidently supposed to reflect regular season performances, to make it fair for all teams. [One move by Williams early in the season established his authority in the dugout: He benched Bryce Harper for failing to hustle. Then in August he voiced support for Harper when reporters asked if he might be sent down to the minors during a batting slump. There's little doubt that Williams enjoys strong support from his team, which fully expects another big push toward the postseason next year, and in years after that.]
Manager Matt Williams during the nightcap of a double-header, September 26, after having clinched home field advantage with the best record in the National League that same afternoon.
Two years ago, the Nationals' Davey Johnson won the NL Manager of the Year Award, and he won on the AL side when he managed the Orioles in 1997. For a while in 2005, when the Nationals were leading the NL East Division, it seemed that perhaps Frank Robinson might be up for Manager of the Year.
Here's a nice video montage that summarizes all of the "best" players and managers from this year, including a video clip of Williams' gracious statement: MLB.com.
Golden Glove awards
Baltimore and Kansas City dominated the 2014 American League Golden Glove awards. For the Orioles it was J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis, and for the Royals it was Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Salvador Perez. On the National League side, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina earned a Gold Glove for the seventh year in a row. This was the second year that the Gold Gloves have been based on statistics from the Society for American Baseball Research (25 percent) as well as the (traditional) MLB managers and coaches (75 percent). See MLB.com.
Silver Slugger awards
The only top recognitions received by Washington Nationals players this year were the Silver Slugger awards. Shortstop Ian Desmond won his for a third time, and third baseman Anthony Rendon won his for the first time. Desmond hit 24 home runs and 91 RBIs, leading the Nationals in both categories, and has had hit at least 20 home runs and stolen at least 20 bases for a remarkable three years in a row. Rendon was close behind in homers and RBIs, besides excelling defensively. He has become a worthy successor to Ryan Zimmerman at third base. See MLB.com. Not surprisingly, Giants Pitcher Madison Bumgarner won the Silver Slugger at his position, having hit two grand slams this year!
Busch Stadium II, take 2
Wouldn't you know it, I get a very helpful tip from Jonathan Karberg about certain erroneous details in my Busch Stadium II diagrams, so I made a few tweaks, and before you know it, I had discovered some serious discrepancies. (It was just three weeks ago that I last updated those diagrams.) Most significantly, I had to move the front edge of the grandstand along the foul lines forward by about six feet. Eegads! That reduced foul territory from about 25,100 to 22,700 square feet. Other changes included reducing the size of the upper-deck entry portals (note the small lateral staircases on either side of each one), shrinking the bullpens slightly, rendering the bleachers and table seating areas in center field more accurately, reconciling the profiles with the main (top-down) diagrams, and putting in the row of shrubs in front of the bleachers in the 1997 version.
I also (belatedly) updated the text on the Davenport Field page, calling attention to the success (and near-triumph) of the University of Virginia Cavaliers at the 2014 College World Series in Omaha. I'll do a new page with a diagram of TD Ameritrade in the early months of 2015.
A few odds & ends
Here's a few things I noticed on Facebook recently:
Which MLB team has "the most tortured" fans" -- i.e., those who have suffered prolonged frustration, indignity, and/or bad luck? At sportsonearth.com, Will Leitch does a semi-serious ranking based on a thorough review of each team's (and franchise's) history. Of course, the Chicago Cubs ranked #1, not having won a World Series for the past 106 years. The Washington Nationals and the Seattle Mariners (#10) are the only two MLB franchises with zero World Series appearances, and yet somehow the Washington Nationals are ranked at #17. WTF? Apparently, being robbed of a team for an entire generation doesn't factor into their equation.
Want to know who the "9 Most Hated Players In The MLB" are? Take a look at bluelionsports.com. Spoiler alert: Bryce Harper comes in at #2, just behind A-Rod.
I try to avoid worrying about trade rumors, especially far-fetched ones, but one such rumor this week rattled my nerves. Supposedly, Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann was the subject of discussions over a possible trade with the Chicago Cubs. Nats GM Mike Rizzo denied it, obligatorily. See MLB.com.
Finally, pop star Taylor Swift will perform in concert at Nationals Park on Monday, July 13, 2015. OMG!!! As noted on October 29, there seems to be a correlation between her release of new albums and the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series.
November 14, 2014 [LINK / comment]
Winter birds are arriving
I was supposed to lead a field trip for the Augusta Bird Club on November 1, a Saturday morning, but the weather forecast was bleak, and nobody else showed up. But it really wasn't that bad, so I went ahead anyway, and it proved to be a fairly successful outing. I went to Chimney Hollow, one of my favorite locations, about ten miles west of Staunton, and saw two first-of-season birds: a Brown Creeper, which vanished after just a few seconds, and a Winter Wren, which graciously "posed" for a photo. Their miniature, erect tails are always amusing to behold. Also present were many Golden-crowned Kinglets, some of which came very close. Those tiny things just don't stay put long enough to get a good photo, unfortunately! Later on I went to nearby Braley's Pond, but it was too cold and windy over there, so I went home after a few minutes.
Winter Wren, at Chimney Hollow, on November 1.
Then on November 4, a Tuesday afternoon between classes at CVCC, I went up to Candler's Mountain in Lynchburg. It was the first time I had been there in several months, and I heard a Golden-crowned Kinglet as soon as I stopped my car. I saw it a few times, but as usual didn't get any good photos. But I got lucky with a Brown Creeper, which responded eagerly to the songs of its species in my iPod birding app from Audubon. Bingo!
Brown Creeper, on Candler's Mountain in Lynchburg, on November 4.
Jacqueline and I have been to Bell's Lane and Betsy Bell Hill during the past week, seeing a few good birds such as a Pileated Woodpecker at the latter location, but nothing really spectacular. At Bell's Lane, I saw some Hooded Mergansers at a distance, as well as a probable Green-winged Teal or two, along with all the Canada Geese. White-crowned Sparrows are becoming more numerous there.
Finally, on November 4, another Tuesday afternoon (cue the Moody Blues!), I went to yet another Lynchburg location that I had not seen in many months, and probably more than a year: the Percival Island Nature Area, along the James River near downtown. I saw several Goldfinches, Robins, various woodpeckers, sparrows, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and best of all -- a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!! It was a first-year male, to be more specific. I had been waiting for a long, long time to get a good closeup photo of that species, and I finally hit pay dirt. I had to digitally edit some of the photos (see the Wild Birds yearly page) because of the difficult lighting conditions (too much or too little), but the results seem to be worth it.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, in the Percival Island Nature Area, Lynchburg, on November 11.
November 16, 2014 [LINK / comment]
Some big renewed contracts
Trading season is about to get underway, which means that teams are frantically trying to keep their best free agents and players with only one more year on their contracts.
The St. Louis Cardinals signed Adam Wainwright to a five-year contract extension worth approximately $97.5 million. That's the most ever for a Cardinals pitcher. Wainwright has played in St. Louis since his rookie year of 2005, and has grown attached to the city. See MLB.com.
Victor Martinez signed a renewed contract with the Detroit Tigers, worth $68 million over four years. The terms include strong protection against unwanted trades. As a designated hitter, he hit .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBIs this year. See ESPN.
Following up on an optional contract extension for Denard Span earlier this month, the Washington Nationals have signed outfielder Kevin Frandsen to a one-year renewed contract worth $1 million plus incentives. He was one of the real standouts on the Nationals' bench this year, and the lack of quality backup players hurt the team more than once, so this is good news. See MLB.com.
Rather surprisingly, the Miami Marlins seem serious about keeping Giancarlo Stanton on the team, apparently offering him in the neighborhood of $300 million. If so, that's quite a switch from the franchise owners' frequent "fire sale" approach to cutting payroll costs. I think that would be going too far toward the opposite extreme.
New stadium for K.C.?
NO-O-O-O-O!!!! How does a team celebrate a Cinderella season that includes a razor-close World Series finale in front of the adoring home crowd? By raising the possibility of building a new stadium, apparently. Promoters are using that dumb idea as part of their plan to redevelop ($$$) downtown Kansas City, but don't worry, the Royals fans are not interested. Read what Yael Abouhalkahthe wrote about this at kansascity.com.
Tropicana Field update
As part of my ongoing work on estimating fair and foul territories (see November 8), I made some revisions to the Tropicana Field diagrams. The most significant change is that the grandstand behind home plate bends more sharply than I had previously thought. In this case, fair territory was unchanged, but foul territory was reduced significantly, from about 27,500 to 25,300 square feet. Note that the precise details of the "Rays 360" lower-deck walkway (which supposedly circles the entire field) remain unclear to me, so further revisions may be necessary.
Wrigley Field renovations
More photos of the ongoing bleacher renovations at Wrigley Field can be seen at baseball-fever.com. Hat tip to Bruce Orser. It's really weird to see the brick outfield wall (with the ivy!) but nothing but bare dirt behind it.
Bruce has been sending more more useful information on Griffith Stadium and Tiger Stadium, a.k.a. "Navin Field" in its early years. Diagrams of both those stadiums are in the process of being greatly improved, with more detail and accuracy.
November 22, 2014 [LINK / comment]
Citi Field shrinks again
For the second time in its brief six-year lifetime, Citi Field's dimensions are being reduced. The distance to the right-center fence will be 380 feet rather than 390 feet, in hopes that it will be easier for David Wright to hit home runs out there. It was originally 415 feet to the deep corner out there. I'm glad the fence is being straightened out, since the bend that was put there in 2012 was arbitrary and served no purpose. But frequent changes such as this seem tacky and almost desperate. It reminds me of how many times the Boston Braves changed the fences (and/or diamond position) at Braves Field. See ESPN and the New York Post. Hat tips to Mike Zurawski, Terry Wallace, and Glenn Simpkins.
And so, I made some provisional modifications to the Citi Field diagram, along with the previous (2012) and original (2009) diagrams, but since I'm yet not sure where the bullpens are going to be, I put "WORK IN PROGRESS" and question marks in the (purely conjectural) bullpens. So, this doesn't count as an official "update."
And speaking of stadium shrinkage, I mentioned that many seats in the right field upper deck at Progressive Field are being removed to make room for fancy watering holes, etc. They did the same thing at Coors Field last year, but I failed to make note of it. In both cases, I have begun making the necessary diagram revisions.
And of course, the "daddy of them all" when it comes to (baseball) stadium shrinkage is U.S. Cellular Field. In that case, the revised diagrams are nearly completed.
One could argue that FedEx Field has shrunk more than any other in terms of seating capacity, but with the Redskins doing so poorly lately, I'd rather not go there.
There is more news about stadiums yet to come...
A clock for baseball?
To save time in a sport that seems to drag on longer and longer each year, the Arizona Fall League is using a clock in baseball. In today's Washington Post, James Wagner wrote that the average length of nine-inning games in 2014 was 3 hours 2 minutes, compared to 2 hours 33 minutes in 1981. Indeed, something has to be done to attract more potential fans.
I agree with Nationals prospect Spencer Kieboom (!), who said "I don't like the idea of a clock in baseball..." I would restrict conferences on the mound, etc. (as they are doing in Arizona), but I would penalize pitchers throwing the ball to first base too often, charging them with a ball on every second throw. I would also charge batters a strike if they step out of the batter's box more than once in an at-bat.
Stanton gets $325 M deal
The rumors were true! The Miami Marlins owners (mainly Jeffrey Loria) are so desperate to prove they are committed to fielding a good team that they agreed to pay their young slugger Giancarlo Stanton $325 million over the course of a 13-year contract. That's nearly a third of a billion dollars, and perhaps over half of what Marlins Park cost to build. (Estimates vary widely; see bleacherreport.com and nbcsports.com.) That's just unheard-of, and more than a little ridiculous, I think. Team President David Samson hailed the deal as a big boost to ticket sales, and Miami fans are obviously in need of some kind of motivation. Stanton, whose name is spelled "Staunton" here in Virginia (!), hit 37 home runs in 2014, the most in the National League. See MLB.com, which also notes that the Marlins made an offer to a certain former National...
LaRoche joins White Sox
ESPN reports that the Chicago White Sox signed former Washington National first baseman Adam LaRoche to a two-year contract worth $25 million. The red-headed lefty (and hunting enthusiast) hit 26 home runs this year, and 243 during his career. He is 35 years old. He thus becomes the second former Nationals slugger named Adam to be acquired by the White Sox. The other was Adam Dunn, who was traded to the Oakland A's this year and announced he would then retire.
November 24, 2014 [LINK / comment]
Tern, Tern, Tern: Birding around Virginia Beach
Jacqueline and I went for a weekend trip to Virginia Beach, and did some birding at various places in the vicinity. We knew we were off to a good start when we took a wrong turn in Newport News, looking for a place to eat lunch, and saw a Bald Eagle being chased by some crows. That was amusing, and a great photo op!
We stopped at the Norfolk visitor's center soon after crossing the Hampton-Norfolk Tunnel, and I saw at least a dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers flying all around, along with some Field Sparrows and Juncos, I believe. There is an adjacent wetland, but the trail passing through it has been closed for security reasons. Our first major stop was the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT), which I had not visited for several years. As expected, there were gulls on top of many of the light poles along the way, many of which were Great Black-backed Gulls. At the first island, where the fishing pier, restaurant, and gift shop are located, we saw at least 30 Dunlins feeding on the algae-covered rocks. Then I saw three birds that I thought were Ruddy Ducks, but it turns out I was wrong. A woman on the pier who belongs to the local bird club there told me she thought they were Black Scoters, and after I compared my photos to the field guide later on, I realized she was right. She also pointed out a Gannet flying in the distance, and I took a couple mediocre photos that just barely serve to confirm the species identification. Life bird! There was also a Double-crested Cormorant right next to the pier, basking in the bright sunlight.
Black Scoter (female), at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
Double-crested Cormorant, at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
The next day we got up before dawn to watch the sun rise (beautiful colors), and then walked out to the beach to see all the birds. There were various kinds of Gulls, Cormorants in the distance, Brown Pelicans, and even some Dolphins! What I initially thought were Great Black-backed Gulls turned out to be Lesser Black-backed Gulls, based on the size and leg color: yellow, not pink. Yet another life bird for me!
Dolphin, about 75 yards from the shore at Virginia Beach.
[But the best part on the beach came just as I was about to head back to the hotel. I took a look through the binoculars at some of the birds that had just landed among all the gulls, and noticed several with bright orange beaks. Terns! I didn't know which species they were until I looked at my field guide. I determined that most of them (a dozen or so) were Royal Terns, and a few others were Forster's Terns -- a third life bird for me! Unfortunately, I couldn't persuade Jacqueline to come back and see for herself, but she did get a look at the Terns later on from inside the hotel, using the binoculars. I also saw a few Brown Pelicans flying along the shore, and one flew directly overhead for a nice photo op.]
Royal Tern, at Virginia Beach.
Forster's Tern, at Virginia Beach.
After breakfast, we went to First Landing State Park, which has miles of trails leading through a varied habitat. I was amazed to see all the Spanish Moss hanging from the trees as we hiked along. On the bay, I saw a few Buffleheads, and in the trees I saw many Yellow-rumped Warblers. None of the hoped-for Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows, unfortunately. I was thrilled when I first heard a Brown-headed Nuthatch, but I had a hard time getting any good looks, much less a photo. Finally, just before we left, I zoomed in on one that was up in a tree about 30 yards away. The photos I took were rather blurry, but good enough.
Next we went to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where we had visited in August 2008. (Six years ago? Gracious.) There were at least a hundred ducks on the water, but the only ones close enough to identify were a few Gadwalls. In the trees were many Yellow-rumped Warblers, in the grasses were various sparrows, and in the marshes there was a -- Marsh Wren!!! I could hear its scratchy call, and caught glimpses as it moved around in the reeds just a few feet away, but never did get a good look. I also had a glimpse of a very small olive-colored bird that I thought was a Kinglet, but the photo I took clearly indicates otherwise. Based on the habitat (leafy bushes), location, and time of year, I'm pretty sure that it was a Orange-crowned Warbler. That's a very uncommon species, and I have only seen them -- probably -- once or twice before.
Sadly, time was short, and we had to hurry home to beat the forecast rain showers. After a lightning-quick tour of downtown Norfolk, seeing the ships in dry dock across the Elizabeth River, as well as the battleship Wisconsin, we headed home. The photographs I took of Brown Pelicans, the Gannet, and the Brown-headed Nuthatch weren't that great, but the Tern and Gull photos were very good. You can see all the new photos on my Wild birds yearly photo gallery page.
I have added Gannet, Lesser Black-backed Gull, and Forster's Tern to my Life bird list, which now totals 455. With 47 new birds so far this year, I have already tied my second-best year ever, 1997.
November 29, 2014 [LINK / comment]
U.S. Cellular Field update
I've been on a roll during this Thanksgiving break, and just updated the diagrams on the U.S. Cellular Field page. The most obvious change is the inclusion of entry portals in the upper deck and in the small mezzanine deck, which has five rows, not four as I had thought. Since those entry portals define the structural members (and thus the seating sections), I was able to get the position of the light towers much more accurate. Less obvious is the corrected positioning of the grandstand, which spreads out slightly more than before, i.e., the angle is less acute. The curved portions near the foul poles are now about ten feet further to the left and to the right, respectively.
For the moment, I'm prioritizing current MLB stadiums, and expect to have Dodger Stadium done any day now. Those diagrams were last updated in 2009, very out of date, but by no means the out-of-datest. (?) Meanwhile, Safeco Field continues to bedevil me with minor uncertainties...
Red Sox get Sandoval, Ramirez
Eager to rebound from their mediocre year, the Boston Red Sox announced that they have signed former Giant Pablo Sandoval and former Dodger Hanley Ramirez. "The Panda" (age 28) will get $95 million over five years, plus options, and is expected to replace David Ortiz as designated hitter once he retires. Meanwhile, Ramirez (age 30) is getting $88 million over four years, plus a vesting option. Ramirez was traded (while still a minor league prospect) by the Red Sox to the Marlins in exchange for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. (ESPN) Wow, whatever happened to those guys? I could have sworn Sandoval was older than Ramirez.
J-Zimm gives thanks to Souza
As a token of appreciation for that no-hitter-saving catch last September 28, Nats pitcher Jordan Zimmermann gave right fielder Steven Souza Jr. a Best Buy gift card, for an amount that was not disclosed. Souza said it was "not necessary" and "incredibly generous." There had been talk about a BMW, but that was a bit extreme. (Washington Post) Well, it's the thought that counts!
Steven Souza's highlight reel catch, previously posted on September 29 -- exactly two months ago!
Josh Willingham retires
Former Nationals slugger Josh "The Hammer" Willingham announced his retirement last week, joining fellow former Nationals slugger Adam Dunn. He is 35, and played 11 years in the major leagues. He had played with the Minnesota Twins for the past couple years, and was traded to the Kansas City Royals in August, but didn't get many at bats. He went 1 for 4 pinch-hitting in postseason games. (ESPN)
November 30, 2014 [LINK / comment]
Grey Cup: Canada's Super Bowl
It's halftime at the Canadian Football League's championship game, a.k.a the Grey Cup. The Calgary Stampeders lead the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 17-7, and the Imagine Dragons are playing! (Live scores at nationalpost.com.) This year the Grey Cup is being played in Vancouver's BC Place, which was thoroughly renovated with a new suspended (rather than air-inflated) roof a couple years ago. Why is that relevant for baseball fans? Because the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners have played a few exhibition games there over the years. I mentioned that in February 2010. Perhaps next year I'll finally do a diagram of BC Place...
Exhibition Stadium update
In the mean time, to mark the big day Up North, I have revised the Exhibition Stadium diagrams. They now show the entry portals and the wire suspensions that hold up the massive roof over the pavilion that used to sit beyond left field. Also a few critical details such as the seating sections with benches rather than individual seats, etc.
As noted on that page, Exhibition Stadium hosted the Grey Cup a number of times, the last of which was in 1982, in the midst of miserable freezing-rain conditions. That may have boosted support for constructing what became the Skydome, now known as Rogers Centre. (cfl.ca)