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July 1, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Bullpen woes = misery for the Nationals

NOTE: Obviously, I've been struggling to keep up with various things lately, but as all good sports fans know, I'm not giving up! smile I will leave until tomorrow the task of systematically recounting the Nationals' successes and failures over the past two months.

They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and for the Washington Nationals this year, that weak link is obviously the group of relief pitchers in the bullpen. When was the last time a team with such enormous talent in the slugging and starting pitching departments didn't even have a regular closing pitcher??? After some early struggles and a brief stint on the disabled list, Koda Glover was on his way to settling down in that position, but then had a spectacular failure on June 10, blowing a save and paving the way for the Texas Rangers to win in extra innings. After the game, Glover disclosed -- too late -- that he had a sore shoulder. Not being candid about physical infirmities like that is just inexcusable. Since then he has been on the DL once again, as is Shawn Kelley, who was the losing pitcher in that game and also briefly served as closer.

Two weeks ago (June 15), the Washington Post had a story indicating that Nationals' bullpen is one of the worst in the major leagues since 1980. "The Nationals have lost 10 games with their starter exiting the game on record as the would-be winning pitcher, [second only to the Mets.]" Such an outcome has not been repeated since that article came out, but the starting pitchers started failing more often -- especially Tanner Roark, who only lasted three innings against the Cardinals last night. Thus, the Nats finished the month of June with a mediocre record of 14-14. What is especially disheartening is that some of those gut-wrenching losses happened at home in Nationals Park, where the Nats actually had a losing record for the month: 6-8. For the record, here are the vital pitching stats for the Nationals' usual relief pitchers, ranked according to innings pitched. Not a pretty picture...

Pitcher ERA Saves Save oppor-tunities Innings pitched
Jacob Turner5.080339.0
Enny Romero3.352437.2
Blake Treinen6.113535.1
Matt Albers1.822429.2
Joe Blanton8.240019.2
Koda Glover *5.1281019.1
Shawn Kelley *7.004618.0
Oliver Perez3.781116.2
Matt Grace4.730013.1

* = Currently on disabled list.
SOURCE: MLB.com

Wounds healed at Nationals Park

One day after the terrible shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and others at a ballpark in nearby Alexandria (June 14), the annual congressional baseball game went on as scheduled at Nationals Park. If ever a time there was for The National Pastime to bring this country together, this was it. Members of Congress mostly wore uniforms from colleges in their home states, so it was hard to tell who was on whose side. They said a prayer before the game, and partisan differences were left aside at least for one day. One positive side-effect from the tragedy was that many more tickets were sold than usual, as over 20,000 people attended. See the Washington Post.

Comiskey Park update

Comiskey Park

About a month ago, I posted updates to the Comiskey Park diagrams, adding a new variant for 1983. These revisions were prompted in part by a photograph, and partly by the fine photographs of that ballpark taken by Al Kara, which I mentioned on April 21. My estimate of the distance to the backstop is now just 67 feet, rather than 78 feet as before. Why? Because of one aerial photo I saw of the 1959 World Series (photoshelter.com), taken from almost directly overhead in broad daylight. Comparing the backstop distance to the distance between home plate and the pitching rubber left no doubt: It could not possibly be 78 feet! (Bruce Orser concurs with my judgment on that, by the way.)

This reduced my estimate of foul territory from 29,500 to 29,000 square feet. Estimated fair territory remains the same as before, 113,600 square feet.

NOTE: I made finishing that diagram update my top baseball priority in May, and as so often happens, I encountered some unexpected hangups. For example, after supposedly finishing the updates in late May, I discovered that the grandstand was a few feet too shallow along the baselines compared to the curved portion between the dugouts. Making that adjustment forced me to make further compensating adjustments elsewhere.

Minute Maid Park

My friend Dave Givens was in Houston several weeks ago, and saw the first-place (!!!) Houston Astros play in Minute Maid Park, which underwent revisions during the off-season. I plan to revise the diagrams on that page, but I'm still waiting to see better photos of the new center field area, which is now perfectly flat. frown

Minute Maid Park from 3B UD.jpg

Minute Maid Park from the upper deck on the third base side. Photo courtesy of Dave Givens, taken May 9, 2017.


July 1, 2017 [LINK / comment]

North of the border: trip to Canada & the Midwest

CATCHING UP: In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Dominion of Canada (1867), it's an appropriate occasion to finally write a description of my trip up to Canada -- and from thence out to South Dakota -- two summers ago. (I will soon do likewise, even more belatedly, for my grand summer vacation into the desert southwest, in June 2014.) It was an ambitious adventure that included (of course) baseball, birding, and family affairs. I already posted separate blog accounts related to baseball in August 14, 2015 and will do one about wild birds in the next day or two.

Toronto, Detroit, Chicago

TOP: Toronto; MIDDLE: Detroit; BOTTOM: Chicago.
Roll your mouse over the image to compare those skylines to the ones for Boston, Providence, Manhattan, and Philadelphia, which I visited in early September last year.

My trip began on July 18, heading in a northerly direction along I-81 into The Keystone State, then west briefly on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and then north again on the Bud Shuster Highway (I-99). That reminded me of all the corruption and pork-barrel scandals in which the former congressman was involved; see cato.org. From there I continued into western New York state, and spent the night in Buffalo, where I stopped to take photos of Coca-Cola Field (formerly Pilots Field), where the minor league Buffalo Bisons play.

Before the sun came up on July 19, I arrived at the American side of Niagara Falls, took a few photos there, and then crossed the bridge into Canada. I had been on that side once before, in the 1980s, and Canada's Horseshoe Falls are much bigger and dramatic in appearance. In the morning light, the skyline of the city of Niagara Falls was truly spectacular. The gardens and buildings are very well maintained.

Niagara Falls Horseshoe

Niagara Falls (Horseshoe), at the crack of dawn. (July 19, 2015)

After Niagara Falls, I drove west along the coast of Lake Ontario. I passed by two historical sites of note: McFarland House and the Battle of Fort George, in which the U.S. Army invaded and briefly occupied part of Canada during the War of 1812. How many Americans know anything about that conflict? (See warof1812.ca.) It is a very prosperous area, with nice homes and many fruit orchards. Passing quickly through the city of Hamilton, I arrived in downtown Toronto shortly after noon, found a place to park and walked toward Rogers Centre, where I saw the Blue Jays defeat the Tampa Bay Rays. I marvelled at the immense CN Tower next to the Rogers Centre, but was disappointed that there is a long wait to take the elevator trip to the top, so I'll have to do that some other time.

CN Tower

CN Tower, next the Rogers Centre in Toronto. (July 19, 2015)

I spent the night at a motel near London, Ontario, and briefly explored the city the next day. Not surprisingly, there is a Thames River, and I stopped at a park adjacent to it. I bought some premium beer at a Labatt's brewery store downtown, to share with my brothers. Then I left and headed west toward Michigan. I thought I might save time by avoiding heavy traffic in Detroit by crossing at Port Huron. I had a satisfying meal in Sarnia at Harvey's, a Canadian hamburger chain restaurant. I had poutine, a Canadian specialty consisting of French fries with cheese curds and gravy. That'll stick to your ribs!

London - Westminister Ponds

London - Westminister Ponds. (July 20, 2015)

Then I crossed the bridge back into the good old U.S. of A., but was annoyed by the long delay at the immigration / customs inspection station. My gas tank was almost empty, making me even more anxious. About an hour later, I entered Detroit but took the wrong exit and wasted another 15 minutes finding Comerica Park, where the Tigers were playing the Seattle Mariners. After the game, I stopped briefly at the site of Tiger Stadium, which was demolished in 2009.

The next day (July 21), I paid a visit to the University of Michigan in the city of Ann Arbor. I wanted to see Michigan Stadium, the biggest college football stadium, with a capacity of over 100,000. I tried but failed to get inside for a look. I then drove through southern Michigan, which was unremarkable, and stopped at Indiana Dunes, from whence I had a view of Chicago, located about 30 miles to the west. It's an amazing place, great for observing nature or just for enjoying the sun at the beach. After a couple hours there, I drove into Chicago, cursing at all the traffic and toll booths, and arrived at U.S. Cellular Field well over an hour before the White Sox began playing the St. Louis Cardinals, in an interleague game. Afterwards, I left the city via a "shortcut" that was a little trickier than I expected. The south side of Chicago is reputed to be tough (as Jim Croce noted in his song, "Bad, Bad LeRoy Brown"), but it really wasn't so bad. I spent the night near Joliet, which reminded me of the Blues Brothers movie.

Indiana Dunes visitor center, Chicago skyline

Indiana Dunes visitor center, Lake Michigan, and distant Chicago skyline. (July 21, 2015)

July 22 was strictly devoted to driving westward, and my only stop of significance was in the town of Van Meter, Iowa. I learned that the Bob Feller Museum now shares the building with the City Hall, presumably for reasons of economy. [He was a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.] I had visited there once before, but it wasn't open that day. Late in the day I arrived in Vermillion, warmly greeted at the door by my Dad. (About nine months later, he passed away.)

On July 25, Dad and I drove south into Nebraska, his beloved native state. (He actually grew up in Kansas, but that's another story.) We stopped at a few scenic spots along the way, but missed the turn which led to the town of Malmo, where his mother grew up. In Lincoln, we saw Memorial Stadium, home of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and then visited his fraternity house (ATΩ), the State Capitol (famed for its tall tower), and finally the house where two of his aunts once lived. I remember visiting them, but the neighborhood seemed much more crowded than I thought. On the way back home, we stopped in the town of Oakland, which hosts the Swedish Heritage Center. (For some reason, Dad became obsessed with his Swedish heritage late in life.)

Nebraska State Capitol tower

Nebraska State Capitol tower. (July 25, 2015)

On August 1, we took a day trip to Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge, where we watched birds for a while. We stopped at a few towns along the way, including Lesterville, home of a famous strip club. The next day we played a round of golf, and I shot a 38, the under-40 first round for me in over a decade! Dad shot a 42, which is probably even more impressive, given that he was 86 at the time.

On August 6, Dad and I drove up to Sioux Falls, stopping at a couple wetland areas on the way there to look for birds. In Sioux Falls, we joined up with my brother Chris to see the falls on the Big Sioux River. Then we continued north to the picturesque town of Dell Rapids, and to the nearby natural wonder known as the Palisades. It's South Dakota's version of the Grand Canyon, you might say.

Palisades, Big Sioux River

Palisades, on the Big Sioux River. (August 6, 2015)

Just before leaving Vermillion, I finally did something I had postponed for many years: visit the National Music Museum. It was created by former USD music professor Arne B. Larson, and was originally called the "Shrine to Music." It has exhibits with exotic instruments from around the world, as well as classical music instruments. There is even a guitar formerly owned by the renowned singer Shawn Colvin, who was a friend of mine in grade school! (Last year my brother Dan bought me a CD recorded by her and Steve Earle, which she autographed and inscribed for me.)

National Music Museum

National Music Museum, in Vermillion, South Dakota. (August 8, 2015)

On my return trip to Virginia, I took the southerly route, visiting my brother Dan in the Kansas City area. We had a great barbecue dinner, and Dan delighted in showing me all of the home renovation and landscaping projects he is working on. On the way out of town, I stopped briefly to take photos of Arrowhead Stadium (home of the Chiefs) and Kauffman Stadium (home of the Royals, who had won the American League pennant the year before, and were on their way to winning the World Series later that year)! About ten miles east of Kansas City, I stopped at Burr Oak Woods natural area, hoping to see birds. To my surprise, there were many interesting butterflies there. About five hours later I arrived in St. Louis, and spent some time taking photos in downtown. I even went to the top of the Gateway Arch, for the first time since 1987. As you can see, the weather was ideal for picture-taking:

Gateway Arch

Gateway Arch, in St. Louis. (August 10, 2015)

St. Louis downtown from Gateway Arch

St. Louis downtown from Gateway Arch. (August 10, 2015)

Just before leaving St. Louis, I took some quick photos of Busch Stadium, which I had toured four years earlier. From there it was pretty much a non-stop drive east along Interstate 64, through Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, and back into Virginia. To see a comprehensive set of photos from that trip, please take a look at the Chronological (2015) photo gallery page.


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