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March 30, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Opening Day(s) 2017: Baseball is back!!!

In much of the east there are still traces of snow on the ground from last week's storm, but no matter: Play ball! Yesterday was supposed to be the first Opening Day in over a decade in which all 30 major league teams began their official seasons, but bad weather forced the postponement of games in Detroit (Pirates at Tigers) and Cincinnati (Nationals at Reds). So us Nats fans had to wait an extra day.

I was watching (on TV) the first game of the 2018 season yesterday, as the Cubs' Ian Happ swung at the first pitch thrown by the Marlins' Jose Ureña and knocked that ball into the right field seats in Marlins Park. A home run on the very first pitch!!! To their credit, the Marlins tied the game 4-4 in the third inning, but then the Cubs quickly retook the lead and won, 8-4. ESPN interviewed new Marlins co-owner Derek Jeter (see below), and he tried to give a positive spin on his team's bleak short-term propsects. He's absolutely right that the Marlins need to rebuild their farm system (just like the Lerners had to do when they bought the Washington Nationals in 2006), but the repeated "fire sales" for which the Miami franchise are known is too much for many fans to stomach. There are widespread fears of poor attendance in Marlins Park this year...

At home in Baltimore, the Orioles had a 2-0 lead going into the ninth inning, but Brad Brach blew the save opportunity and the game went into extra innings. In the bottom of the 11th, Adam Jones homered into the left field seats to win the game, 3-2. Whew!

Today in Cincinnati the Washington Nationals took an early 1-0 lead thanks to first-inning singles by Adam Eaton (who spent almost all of 2017 on the disabled list) and Bryce Harper. Ace pitcher Max Scherzer was in command for six innings, escaping a couple small jams and getting ten strikeouts. In the top of the ninth, Michael A. Taylor hit a perfect bunt single, stole second, reached third on a ground ball, and scored a valuable insurance run on a fly ball hit by pinch-hitter Brian Goodwin. Sean Doolittle got the save with a 1-2-3 ninth inning. Nats 2, Reds 0.

Somehow the last five dreary months have sped past like a dream. It seems like only yesterday that the Washington Nationals' pennant hopes were brutally dashed once again, and that the Houston Astros somehow clawed their way up to their first World Series championship. And so, here's a few noteworthy items that have transpired over the past five months:

Personnel changes

The Miami Marlins (now owned in part by former Yankee Derek Jeter) traded their slugging superstar Giancarlo Stanton to -- guess who? -- the New York Yankees! And of course in Toronto yesterday he started the new phase of his career with a bang, or rather with two bangs: He hit two homers to help the Yanks beat the Blue Jays, 6-1.

On the plus side, this makes it less likely that the Yankees will make a major bid to acquire Bryce Harper, whose contract with the Nationals expires after this season is over. A trio of Judge, Stanton, and Harper would probably have more aggregate slugging power than the Yanks' "Murderers' Row" of the 1920s: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri. Acquiring Harper would constitute such egregious overkill that the rest of Major League Baseball would revolt and demand stronger limits on payroll.

The San Francisco Giants acquired slugging star Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Denard Span, a fine player who spent three years as a National. It signals that the Giants are serious about climbing out of the cellar from last year, and indeed they beat the Dodgers 1-0 in their first game, thanks entirely to a solo home run by Joe Panik off the imposing (but human) Clayton Kershaw. And Denard Span helped his new team beat the Red Sox 6-4 with a bases loaded triple in the eighth inning at Tropicana Field.

Nats' new manager: Dave Martinez

In early November, right after the World Series was over, the Nationals front office announced that Dave Martinez had signed a three-year contract as the team's new manager. Soon he was formally introduced to the press, and it almost seemed like the choice had already been made weeks or even months earlier. Martinez was previously a bench coach for the Chicago Cubs, and therefore (presumably) knows what it takes to win a world series. See MLB.com

I watched a few spring training games, and I was worried on Tuesday when he left relief pitcher Trevor Gott on the mound in the ninth inning even after the bases were loaded. The Twins then scored two runs and won the game -- the first one in Washington this year, but just an exhibition. It reminded me of Dusty Baker often seeming to make the wrong decision in such situations. But that's not enough for me to form an opinion on Martinez. Is he a dynamic leader? A cunning tactician? A ruthless tyrant? None of those descriptions seem apt at this point.

Houston Astros win their first World Series

My last baseball blog post (October 31) covered World Series Game 5, a thrilling 13-12 victory by the home team Houston Astros over the L.A. Dodgers. I had thought that Game 6 (back in Los Angeles) would prove to be the decisive game of the series, one way or the other, but all the Dodgers managed to do in their 3-1 victory that night was to delay the ultimate adverse outcome. As most fans know, the Astros triumphed over the odds and won Game 7, earning their very first World Series trophy. Interestingly, it was the first-ever World Series Game 7 at Dodger Stadium. The L.A. fans were hopeful that the momentum had swung back in their favor, but it was obvious from the start that the Dodgers' starting pitcher Yu Darvish was just not up to the task. The Astros scored five runs in the first two innings, thanks to a home run by George Springer, who also doubled, as did Marwin Gonzalez. And that was pretty much all they needed, as the Dodgers didn't manage to score a run until the sixth inning. That came off of Astros' veteran pitcher Charlie Morton, but he kept his cool, and went the final three innings (four total) without giving up any more runs. Final score: Astros 5, Dodgers 1.

The Dodgers may have felt like they were due for a championship, having waited for one since 1988 (Kirk Gibson!), but of course the Astros had never tasted the sweet nectar of total victory, and it would be hard to deny the team the pleasure. Even more so for the city of Houston, which had been devastated by the floods resulting from Hurricane Harvey in late August.

The Nats wuz robbed!

(NOTE: This paragraph is strictly "for the record" and does not indicate any lingering grudge I may have against the umpires. After all, they're only human. Plus, they've got a tough job and deserve respect.) In my October 13 blog post, I drew attention to the mistaken ruling on the field by the umpires, citing the Official Baseball Rules (Rule 6.03 comment, in particular) about how if the batter hits the catcher on the backswing, it's a dead ball. Well, during the World Series, MLB official Joe Torre admitted that they were indeed wrong. For more, see the Washington Post.

New Globe Life Park?

I keep hoping that it was just rumors, but apparently it's real: The Texas Rangers announced that groundbreaking for their new stadium (also to be called "Globe Life Park") will be on September 28. It will feature a retractable roof, fewer seats, and presumably more luxury suites. It will be built in the parking lot south of their existing stadium which is only 24 years old. Supposedly it will be ready by 2020, just two years from now. Well, at least the 26-year lifespan is longer than the Braves' former home (Turner Field) lasted: only 20 years. See MLB; hat tip to Bruce Orser.

Davenport Field expansion

Davenport Field thumb

The University of Virginia undertook another major expansion of Davenport Field last year, and the work is almost completed. A new permanent grandstand now extends all the way down the first base side, and a party deck wraps around the right field fould pole, occupying the space where the temporary bleachers were added in 2010. I paid a brief visit there while in Charlottesville earlier this week (not on a game day, unfortunately), and took several photos while I was there. So, I drew a new 2018 version diagram for Davenport Field. Note, however, that I am still not certain where the other bullpen will be moved to. It appears there is a temporary bullpen along the left field foul line. I saw some renderings indicating that a new bullpen will be built behind the left field foul pole, but that has not happened yet.

Davenport Field RF bullpen, grandstand

The new right field bullpen and grandstand at Davenport Field. (Mar. 26, 2018) Click on the image to see it full size.

Baseball in the movies

To mark Opening Day, Turner Classic Movies had baseball movies almost from sunup until sundown. Most of them I had seen before, including Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949), a frivolous Technicolor musical (starring Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelley, Esther Williams, and Betty Garrett) which I have probably seen one time too many. Three other "reruns" (for me) were biographical: The Babe Ruth Story (1948), starring William Bendix; The Stratton Story (1949), starring James Stewart and June Allyson, about a pitcher who made a heroic career comeback after losing his leg; and The Winning Team (1952), starring Ronald Reagan (!) and Doris Day about Grover Cleveland Alexander. But one that was new to me was The Big Leaguer (1953), starring Edward G. Robinson as an aging player relegated to coaching at a training camp in Florida. It features a few scenes with Carl Hubbell, who pitched for the New York Giants from 1927 until 1943. I also saw Too Many Women, an early "talkie" which came out in 1929. It was filled with racy innuendos typical of the pre-Code movie era.

A few months ago TCM showed the movie Whistling in Brooklyn (1943), starring Red Skelton and Ann Rutherford, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that some scenes were filmed in Ebbets Field. (In contrast, none of The Jackie Robinson Story was actually filmed there, as far as I can tell.) Red was pretending to be a player from a fictitious team of bearded "barnstormers," similar to the "House of David" team. Anyway, I'll have to update the Baseball in the Movies page before long.

R.I.P. Rusty Staub

On the very first day of the [2018] season we learned that Daniel "Rusty" Staub passed away. The red-headed stalwart from New Orleans amassed 2,718 hits over his lengthy career (1963-1985), beginning with the Houston Colt 45s/Astros, then joining the Montreal Expos, then going to the New York Mets, then joining the Detroit Tigers, then returning to the Expos briefly (latter part of 1979), then with the Texas Rangers, and finishing with the Mets once again. Nicknamed "Le Grande Orange," he was the most popular player in Montreal, the only real slugger on an otherwise-woeful team. According to the Washington Post, he even learned to speak French during his three years there. I'm pretty sure I had his baseball card once.

Odds 'n ends

Obviously, I have a LOT of catching up to do. Mike Zurawski sent me some stadium news a couple months ago, another fan sent me some photos of Sun Trust Park, and there's more stuff in my in-box I haven't even peeked at. Plus, I have all those diagrams that are oh-so-close to being finished. Anyway, stay tuned, sports fans!


March 31, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Stormy weather, but Spring is here at last!

In contrast to the rather bleak birding in February (see February 28), when the weather was mostly nice, March was pretty busy, especially during the second half of the month, when we had two major snow storms. On the first day of March, when it was overcast, I paid a brief visit to the pond behind the industrial park in Verona, and saw a pair of Gadwalls (M & F). On Bell's Lane, I saw and photographed five Turkey Vultures perched in succession along fence posts. Two days later a Flicker came to our back yard, foraging in the ground like a Robin, and I got a nice sunlit photo of it. The White-throated Sparrow with the white wing feather that day; it's the third winter in a row it has spent in this neighborhood. On March 9 a Hairy Woodpecker (M) came to our suet feeder, which is very unusual. We see Downy Woodpeckers fairly regularly, in contrast. Late in the afternoon I went to Bell's Lane, and once again saw a Short-eared Owl on the ground, bathed in sunlight.

Sunday March 18 was a big day, as I saw two bird species for the first time this year on Bell's Lane: Tree Swallows and an Eastern Phoebe. I also spotted a male "gray ghost" Northern Harrier in the distance, and saw a female of that species flying only about 75 yards away.

Montage 18 Mar 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Tree Swallow, Northern Harrier (M), Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Meadowlark, Northern Harrier (F), House Finch (M), and American Kestrel (F), around Bell's Lane, March 18.

The very next day (March 19) I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Bell's Lane, led by Penny Warren. On the private farm pond we saw some Ring-necked Ducks, Ruddy Ducks, Pied-billed Grebe, and a Coot. Later on we saw two Gadwalls in another pond, and just then a male Wood Duck splashed down in most dramatic fashion. There were no owls that morning, but the others saw a Northern Harrier while I was busy taking a photo of a Meadowlark. On the beaver pond we saw a Green-winged Teal and two Wilson's Snipes.

Montage 19 Mar 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Meadowlark, Ring-necked Duck, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Bluebird, Gadwall, Eastern Phoebe, Wood Duck, two Wilson's Snipes, and in center, Green-winged Teal, around Bell's Lane on March 19. All four ducks are males.

On March 22, one day after the big snowstorm, I went to Bell's Lane and was surprised to see four different Short-eared Owls. Since we had thought that all but two of them had already departed for the season, it is possible that two of them returned south after encountering the blast of arctic air.

Short-eared Owl montage 22 Mar 2018

Pictured above are at least three different Short-eared Owls on Bell's Lane, March 22.

On March 25, a beautiful sunny day, Jacqueline and I drove out to Swoope, mainly to see the Bald Eagle nest which apparently has a couple eaglets that have already hatched. The mother seemed to be feeding her offspring, and soon we saw the presumable father soaring upward, catching a thermal draft. On the Boy Scout lake I saw a Double-crested Cormorant and two unidentified ducks. Along the road heading back toward Staunton, I saw several Field Sparrows (the first I had seen in months) and White-crowned Sparrows, as well as some Kestrels and many Robins and Starlings. Over on Bell's Lane I counted just two Short-eared Owls.

Montage 25 Mar 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, American Kestrel, Double-crested Cormorant, Bald Eagle, Eastern Meadowlark, and Field Sparrow, around Swoope, as well as a Short-eared Owl on Bell's Lane, March 25.

On March 26 Jacqueline and I went to Charlottesville (mainly to buy concert tickets), and while I was walking over to see the U.Va. baseball stadium, I spotted a male Eastern Bluebird on a fence post only about 25 feet away, so I took some photos. I think this one is the best photo I have yet taken of that species!

Eastern Bluebird

Chimney Hollow field trip

Finally, this morning I led a field trip to Chimney Hollow, joine by two other members. It was chilly at first, but it gradually warmed up. The water in the stream was higher than expected, probably due to the runoff from all the snow last week. That forced us to be careful when stepping on the stones. Also, I was shocked to see how many big trees had fallen down, blocking the trail in several places. In some places it looked like a war zone. Anyway, we heard a Pine Warbler almost as soon as we got started, but in spite of constant searching we never did see one. We did see two of the other spring arrival "target birds": Blue-headed Vireo and Louisiana Waterthrush. I couldn't get a photo of the latter one, however. One of the highlights was a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the sun, the the glare of the light was too much for my camera. Altogether we only tallied 14 species (see the eBird list), a modest total. Afterwards we went to nearby Braley's Pond where I had my first view of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction project. Many trees had been cut down already. We heard a Phoebe while at Braley's Pond, as well as a probable Sharp-shinned Hawk flying high above, but not much else. The photo of a Phoebe below was taken in back of White Way Restaurant on Route 250, on the way back to Staunton.

Montage 31 Mar 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-headed Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, hawk, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, around Chimney Hollow; the Eastern Phoebe was at White Way Restaurant, March 31. Other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.


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