July 13, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Forget June, too! The Nationals' slump continues
Hopes that the Washington Nationals might recover from their early season failures ("Forget April!") and live up to their potential slowly faded during June and were pretty much dashed by the end of the month. Every time a flicker of hope surfaces, they resume a grim spiral downward into mediocrity. With the midpoint of the season already past, the Nats' chances of snapping out of it and winning the NL East are probably less than one in ten right now. With solid rosters full of eager, fresh talent, the Phillies and Braves will fight it out until October, most likely.
Ironically, the June swoon came just when some of their big slugging stars from last year finally returned to the lineup. Anthony Rendon is finally starting to display All-Star quality slugging and fielding, but not in time to get selected for this year's All Star game. Daniel Murphy took a long time to regain his former hitting form, while Trea Turner has had big ups and downs. On the other hand, Ryan Zimmerman -- "face of the franchise" -- is still on the DL, and there is some confusion over whether it's just an oblique strain or if he also injured his calf muscle.
So what went wrong? First and foremost, the Nats' vaunted pitching rotation fell apart. The team's ace, Max Scherzer, only won one game in June (on the fifth, against Tampa Bay), and was charged with three losses even though he only gave up a total of five runs. How many runs did the Nats score in those three games? ZERO!!! The fact that he has remained a ferocious competitor in spite of the lack of run support from his team mates is a testament to his sportsmanship. Among other starting pitchers, Gio Gonzalez has reverted to his often-inconsistent ways, getting flustered by adversity. The once-solid Tanner Roark is having his worst year since joining the Nats in 2013, losing tonight against the Mets to bring his record down to 3-12. (He probably still harbors a grudge that he didn't get a chance to pitch at all in last year's NLDS.) Steven Strasburg has been on the disabled list for over a month now, while Jeremy Hellickson just came from the DL and did well on Tuesday, helping to beat the Pirates. After a stellar first two months, the Nats' pitching rotation is in shambles.
But we can't just blame the pitchers. At the plate this year, the Nats are incredibly inconsistent, racking up double-digit scores one day and then getting shut out a few days later. In fact, the Nats have been shut out ten times this year already, three more than in all of 2017. Tonight's game against the Mets (a 4-2 loss) was a perfect example of how the Nats keep wasting golden opportunities: they were 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position. Whether it's lack of leadership under the new manager (Dave Martinez) or some hard-to-fathom angst undermining team spirit, the poor results are painfully obvious.
Nats edge Orioles
Given that the Baltimore Orioles are having one of their worst seasons in team history (currently with a 28-69 record), the Nats really should have swept them in Washington from June 19-21. But perhaps because of a lengthy rain delay (almost three hours) on June 20, the Nats just couldn't find their rhythm, and the O's shut them out, 3-0. So, the Nats settled for winning two out of three. That gave the Nats a 5-1 win-loss record over the Orioles this year, better than they usually seem to do against their neighbors to the north.
Phillies torment the Nats
The Philadelphia Phillies then came to town, as the Nats were clinging to second place in the NL East. Tanner Roark had another lousy outing, and the Phillies grabbed second place in dramatic fashion, spanking the Nats 12-2. They widened their lead the next evening, and on Sunday the 24th had a lead going into the late innings. But this time Rendon, Harper, and Murphy rose to the occasion, winning 8-6 and narrowly avoiding what would have been a humiliating sweep at home.
Did that big win turn things around for the Nats? Nope. Over the next two days in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Nats failed to score a single run against the third place Rays, and only got five total hits. Gio Gonzalez gave up six runs in one-plus innings (final score 11-0) and then Max Scherzer got tagged for the loss in a 1-0 game. Just disgusting.
So it wasn't much surprise that the Nats would have a rough go in the subsequent four-game series in Philadelphia. But they actually did OK, scoring a total of 25 runs to the Phillies' 18. The problem was that most of the Nationals' runs were in the second game (Friday the 29th), when they won 17-7. Rookie Juan Soto homered twice, and five other Nats hit four-baggers as well. It was a huge triumph that raised hopes of finally getting the team back on track -- except that in the other three games the Nats lost by one-run margins. Argh-h-h-h-h!
Red Sox sweep Nats
The Nats began their most recent home stand with three games against the Boston Red Sox, and even with three home runs to support him, Max Scherzer couldn't get the win. Boston 4, Washington 3. The next day starting pitcher Tanner Roark had another meltdown, giving up nine runs in an 11-4 loss. Then the Red Sox spoiled the 4th of July festivities in Washington, in a 3-0 loss in which starting pitcher Erick Fedde (Who??) only lasted one inning. Reliever Mark Grace kept things under control for the next four innings, but there was no offense to entertain the jam-packed Nationals Park on that special day.
NOTE: Two years ago I presented a table summarizing all the 4th of July baseball games played by the Nationals since the franchise "rebirth" in 2005. Their cumulative July 4 record was then 7-4, and now it's 8-5.
Nats wallop the Marlins
With that misery behind them, the Nats welcomed the Miami Marlins to town on July 5. This time Jeremy Hellickson had, shall we say, a rather more difficult time on the mound. He gave up seven runs in the first two innings (one unearned), and two more in the fourth inning. Down 9-0, there wasn't much for the Nats to hope for. But in the bottom of the fourth, Trea Turner hit a solo homer, and that small spark lit a firestorm of runs. Over the next three innings, the Nats scored 13 more runs, capped by a grand slam by Trea Turner that gave his team a 10-9 lead in the sixth inning. Believe it or not!!! But then the Marlins closed the gap with three runs in the eighth inning, and only the cool head of closing pitcher Sean Doolittle kept the Nats' 14-12 lead intact through the end of the game. It was the Nats' biggest comeback win every, surpassing the equally improbable 13-12 win (after a 9-1 deficit) in late April 2015.
That set the stage for a rare (for this year) event: the Nationals won the next game, the first consecutive wins by the team since June 5 and 6. The 3-2 victory on July 6 was largely due to the Nats' valuable utility player Mark Reynolds, who hit a walk-off home run -- the first one by a Nats player this year, in fact. The next day (Saturday) featured another offensive explosion by the Nats, as they won, 18-4. Mark Reynolds was the star once again, hitting two more home runs, and racking up 10 runs batted in, tying the franchise record in that departement which Anthony Rendon had set last year (April 2017). It also got Max Scherzer his 12th win of the year. But the next day the Marlins bounced back with a 10-2 win, thus ending the Nats' winning streak at a modest three.
Nats fall in Pittsburgh
On July 9 in Pittsburgh, a rookie named Jefry Rodriguez was pitching for the Nats, another sign of how badly depleted their pitching staff is. He gave up six runs over five innings, while the Nats only managed three. On Tuesday, a homer by Anthony Rendon and four hits by Daniel Murphy powered the Nats to a 5-1 win. On Wednesday afternoon, Gio Gonzalez had one of his best outings of the year, giving up just two runs over six innings. It could have been worse, but he kept his cool and got out of multiple jams. What's more, he hit a leadoff double, but the next three batters were out to end the inning -- another horrendous example of how the Nats keep screwing up this year. Pirates 2, Nats 0.
Nats acquire Herrera
While the Nationals were playing against the Baltimore Orioles last month, a new relief pitcher appeared for the first time: Kelvin Herrera, who was acquired from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for three minor league prospects. Like last year, the Nationals are in desperate need of better relievers. In 27 games for Kansas City this year, Herrera had a 1.05 ERA with 14 saves and 22 strikeouts and two walks allowed. (MLB.com) But what the Nats really need is another starting pitcher and perhaps a catcher who can hit the ball with some regularity. Neither Matt Wieters nor Pedro Severino have done much for the Nats this year, and third-string catcher Spencer Kieboom is still too young to be an everyday player. (I suppose one could say the same thing about the young Juan Soto, but that's another story!)
Jayson Werth retires
You have to admire Jayson Werth's determination to stay in the game even after his contract with the Nationals expired last year. He was playing minor league ball in the Seattle Mariners' organization, but there just wasn't any room for him, and he decided to retire. He visited Nationals Park earlier this month, and the Nationals announced there will be a special Jayson Werth Day in September. As I have said before, he deserves enormous credit for helping transform the Nationals from an also-ran team into perennial championship contenders.
First half 2018: Numbers don't lie
Read 'em and weep: I updated the Washington Nationals page with data for the first half of the year. At the end of June (coincidentally the exact midpoint in terms of number of games), the Nats' record was 42-39, and now it's back to an even .500: 47-47.
Watch for falling ice!
While going through my accumulated newspaper clippings recently, I noticed a news item from three months ago that a Toronto Blue Jays game scheduled for April 16 had to be postponed one day because falling ice from the huge CN Tower next door had punctured the roof of Rogers Centre, necessitating quick repairs. One of the young Toronto stars, Yangervis Solarte, homered that day as the Blue Jays beat the Royals. That drew my attention because Solarte was the guy whose home runs decided the game outcome in the series last month (June 15-17) when the Nats were swept in Toronto.
SunTrust Park update!
Many thanks to Andrew Owen, who sent me some fine photos of the (almost) new home of the Atlanta Braves, SunTrust Park. I noticed for the first time that the back rows of the middle deck around the infield consists of double-width table seating. No doubt other details are yet to be discovered. I will update that page soon with said photos and perhaps a diagram update. Who knows, maybe I'll even get there myself later this year...
And so, of course, I had to update the SunTrust Park diagram, and as usual, it took me a lot longer than expected. There are now separate upper deck and lower deck variants, and I may add a second deck variant as well. I decided that there are four main decks, since there is significant overhang between the very top level and the level immediately below it. Among all MLB ballparks, only Miller Park has four distinct decks extending all the way around between the foul poles; Dodger Stadium has four decks around the infield only. There will probably be another update or two in the future, once I get a chance to inspect it on my own.
SunTrust Park, home of the Atlanta Braves. (Courtesy of Andrew Owen, April 2018.)
Click on that image to see it full-size.
On a side note, I noticed that Georgia State Stadium (the rebuilt version of Turner Field), has the football gridiron laid out along what used to be the third base line, rather than the first base side as I had previously surmised. See Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia State University; minor diagram update pending...
July 15, 2018 [LINK / comment]
June: a month (of birding) to remember!
June may have been forgetable in other ways (such as baseball), but in terms of birding, it was definitely a month to remember! In my never-ending quest to get caught up on documenting my various activities, here is a summary of what I did in June, in chronological order.
On June 2, I went on an Augusta Bird Club field trip around the Swoope area, as part of the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project. John Spahr led the trip and us tips on how to use the eBird app to submit observations via an iPhone. There are specific codes for different kinds of breeding behavior: male singing, nests being occupied, etc. The big highlight was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest very close to the road, and before long I spotted the mother-to-be in the nest. In a nearby tree, two Eastern Wood-Pewees seemed to be preparing a nest. We also saw two Yellow-billed Cuckoos nearby, but I wasn't able to photograph them. It was one of the few times I have seen Red-headed Woodpeckers at two different locations on the same day.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-headed Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Orchard Oriole (1st-yr. male), Willow Flycatcher, Bobolink, Eastern Wood Pewee, Ruby-throated Hummingbird (F) in nest!, American Goldfinch, and in center, Eastern Bluebird. (June 2)
On June 6 (the 74th anniversary of the "D-Day" invasion of France), I led two other Augusta Bird Club members went on a hastily-improvised field trip to Highland County, taking advantage of momentary good weather. (With all the rain, we just couldn't be sure about scheduling such a trip more than a few days in advance.) We succeeded in spotting three main target species. At the Blue Grass cemetery, several Bobolinks were singing and displaying. A few miles north, close to the West Virginia state line, there was a guy with a huge camera on the side of the road, and we figured that he was trying to get a photo of a Golden-winged Warbler, since it was very close to our destination. So we stopped, and sure enough, we saw one after a few minutes. Then we proceeded to the house where Margaret O'Bryan once lived; for many years that has been a regular stop for Augusta Bird Club field trips. We saw the usual variety of warblers up there, including a Chestnut-sided Warbler, but not until we were about to leave did we finally hear and then glimpse a Golden-winged Warbler. We did see a female Yellow Warbler in her nest, very useful photographic data for VABBA. Next, we drove out to Paddy Knob, on the southwest corner of Highland County, right on the West Virginia state line. It was the first time that any of use had been there, and we were trying to follow the directions by Marshall Faintich, a prominent local bird photographer who regularly posts reports of his ventures. We lost track of distance, however, and went a few miles beyond the primary "hot spot" destination. Finally, we did see an elusive Mourning Warbler, and I managed to get a decent photo in spite of obstructing bushes. We also saw Black-throated Blue Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, and a Least Flycatcher.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Mourning Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Bobolink, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Least Flycatcher, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler (F) in nest!, and in center, Chestnut-sided Warbler. (June 6)
Saturday, June 9th was the Augusta Bird Club's annual spring picnic brunch, for the first time at Humpback Rocks Picnic Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The weather was great and attendance was high. Crista Cabe and I led two separate groups on hikes along nearby trails, and a nice variety of birds were heard and seen. Among the highlights were Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, Cerulean Warblers, American Redstarts, and Blue-headed Vireos. I had intended to return to that area to get better photos of Cerulean Warblers, but haven't managed to do it thus far.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Wood Pewee, Cerulean Warbler, Indigo Bunting, American Redstart, Blue-headed Vireo, and in center, Red-tailed Hawk. (June 9)
On June 16, John Spahr led five other Augusta Bird Club members on a second field trip related to the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project. (See the June 2 report above.) The main destination was Braley Pond, near the village of West Augusta, but most of the time was spent along the Johnson Draft trail upstream from the pond. That trail turned out to be very rich in terms of likely breeding birds, and a number of Northern Parulas, Worm-eating Warblers, and Indigo Buntings (including a female with nesting material) were heard and/or seen. Afterwards, some of us stopped for lunch at the nearby convenience store, where a Ruby-throated Hummingbird came to a feeder. Finally, we spent a while at the Chimney Hollow trail, where we saw an Acadian Flycatcher and Louisiana Waterthrush, as well as some juvenile Eastern Phoebes.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Northern Parula, Eastern Phoebe, Black-and-white Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and Indigo Bunting (F & M). (June 16)
On June 23 I went on my first solo venture as part of VABBA. It had rained in Staunton the day before, but apparently it was much heavier in the West Augusta area, as the Chimney Hollow trail was flooded for much of the way. I made it as far as the first stream crossing, but that proved to be totally impassible, so I waited for a while and then turned back. I spotted the Acadian Flycatcher but not much else. Next I went to nearby Braley Pond, where I saw an Ovenbird (male by definition) singing repeatedly near the parking area. As expected, there was a nest in the informational kiosk. At the pond there were two big surprises: a Great Egret and an Osprey.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Egret, Indigo Bunting, Acadian Flycatcher, Ovenbird, Osprey, Eastern Phoebe, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. (Braley Pond, June 23, 2018)
On June 30, I went on a follow-up trip to the same area for VABBA, and started off by taking a look at a trail with which I was not familiar: Dowell's Draft. The trailhead is easy to miss as you drive along the road which heads north toward Elkhorn Lake, which I had covered on Big Spring Day, May 5. If it weren't for VABBA, under which specific rectangular plots of land measuring about three miles by five miles are assigned to volunteer observers, I might not have discovered that trail at all! Dowells Draft happens to be located right next to the pipeline clearing, and I saw many signs along the way, such as "noxious weeds" and "waterbody crossing." I began at about 9:45 and intended to spend under an hour there before going to nearby Braley Pond and Chimney Hollow, but I soon realized that Dowells Draft itself was so thick with birds that it took up my whole day (well, five hours) of birding! One discovery led to another, as I explored that area for the first time. Early on, I had great views of Northern Parulas, Ovenbirds, etc. There is a side trail on the left that connects Dowells Draft to other trails farther north, but instead I continued along the fire road which roughly parallels the pipeline right of way. I was "lured" by the distant song of a Prairie Warbler, and before long I saw at least one and probably two at fairly close range. That species favors semi-open countryside, and the clearing of trees for the pipeline might actually be beneficial for them. Soon I came upon another "hot spot," where several different warbler species were very active, including probable families of Black and White Warblers and American Redstarts. Then I crossed a stream and began a long uphill climb, gaining about 600 feet in elevation. Along the way, I saw Scarlet Tanagers and heard Pine Warblers, among others. As I approached the summit of Chestnut Oak Knob, I decided to turn back since it was already 1:00 PM and I didn't have any food or water with me. (Rather foolish, I admit, but that is not how I had planned my day.) Fortunately, I found blackberries to munch on, and that kept me going. I returned to the trailhead about 3:00, tired but very satisfied with a great day of birding and adventuring.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Parula, Prairie Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, and in center, Indigo Bunting and Red-bellied Woodpecker. (Dowell's Draft, June 30, 2018)
Well, that takes care of that! Most of the narrative text above consists of postings I made to Facebook, edited for context and brevity. (The latter two paragraphs were written from scratch.) Many other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. A separate blog post covering birds in [July] will follow soon...
July 17, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Bryce Harper wins 2018 Home Run Derby
In the midst of a season of disappointment and frustration, last night's Home Run Derby was a much-needed moment of rejoicing in Our Nation's Capital. Hometown favorite Bryce Harper prevailed over Freddie Freeman in Round I, and then over Max Muncy in Round II, in both cases relatively stress-free. Harper had 26 seconds remaining when he hit his deciding 13th home run in Round I, and 1:11 left when he did likewise in Round II. In contrast, the final Round III against Kyle Schwarber was a showdown of titanic proportions, and things didn't look good after the halfway mark, as Harper got off to a slow start. The guy pitching to him (his father, I think) kept throwing bad pitches, throwing Harper off balance. He had easily qualified for the 30 bonus seconds by hitting two homers over 440 feet, and it seemed that he was going to need that time just to have a chance to tie Schwarber, who had hit 18 home runs. But after his second rest break, Harper finally got into the groove, and hit nine homers within the space of 50 seconds! He managed to tie Schwarber 18-18 after his regular four minutes were up, and all he needed to do was hit one homer in the bonus time. In fact, he had about 15 seconds left when he hit his 19th and final home run in Round III, achieving the triumph that Washington fans had craved for so long.
Ordinarily, I'd say that this event was a mere side-show spectacle, but under the rather somber circumstances (the likelihood of no postseason games in D.C. this year) I feel obliged to make a big deal out of it. So, for the sake of posterity, here is an unofficial "scoreboard," based on the pencil notes I was keeping during the actual event last night:
Surprisingly, the only previous time that Harper was in the Home Run Derby was 2013, when Yoenis Cespedes (then with the Oakland A's) beat him in the final round. In the final round of last year's Home Run Derby, Aaron Judge defeated Miguel Sano.
Bryce Harper hits his 31st home run of 2015, then leading the National League;
see my Aug. 25, 2015 blog post.
All Star Game 2018: preview
As usual, this year's All Star Game is full of names that I am only vaguely if at all familiar with, so I look forward to getting better acquainted with the rest of the MLB top stars. Just like last year, Max Scherzer is the starting pitcher for the National League. Play ball!
The American League has won the last five All Star Games, though last year it went into extra innings. Intriguingly, the American League has scored exactly twice as many runs as the National League in the last three years, and each year the run totals declined by two and one runs, respectively. By definition, that trend cannot possibly continue.
2018 All-Star Game Starting Rosters
|| National League
|| American League
|| Wilson Contreras
| Wilson Ramos
|| Freddie Freeman
| Jose Abreu
|| Javier Baez
| Jose Altuve
|| Nolan Arenado
| Jose Ramirez
|| Brandon Crawford
| Manny Machado
|| Bryce Harper
| Mike Trout
|| Matt Kemp
| Aaron Judge
|| Nick Markakis
| Mookie Betts
|| Paul Goldschmidt
| J.D. Martinez
|| Max Scherzer
| Chris Sale
Nationals players are in bold face; Nats closing pitcher Sean Doolittle was also selected, but he is on the disabled list.
SOURCE: Washington Post
By comparison, four (4) Nationals were in the starting lineup last year, including the two above plus Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy. Both of them spent most of the first half of this year on the disabled list, essentially disqualifying them. It's worth noting that a prominent former Nat [was supposed to be] an All Star on the American League starting lineup this year: Wilson Ramos. [However, he is on the DL and will be replaced by Salvador Perez of the Royals.] (Another former Nat, relief pitcher Blake Treinen, is a reserver All Star representing the Oakland A's.) Interestingly, both catchers' first names this year [were going to be "Wilson": Wilson Contreras and Wilson Ramos.]
Would this be a good time to point out that the Nationals are in dire need of a catcher who can hit the ball on a regular basis? Is there even a slight chance that the solid but stuck-in-third-place Tampa Bay Rays could trade him to the Nationals by the August 1 trade deadline?
Adios soon to Machado
And speaking of premature trade talk, it is all but given that the Orioles will trade away Manny Machado in the very near future. It's a sad sign of how bleak the situation is in Baltimore this year, but at least there is nowhere for them to go but up. Just ask the former cellar dweller Houston Astros!
Nationals Park tweak
I thought I had posted this already, but more than a year after the fact I have tweaked the Nationals Park main diagram to include the new "MGM National Harbor Dugout Club" row of seats along the first base line. (See the photo of it in my October 11 blog post from last year.) This had the effect of reducing foul territory by about 300 square feet, from an estimated 23,100 to 22,800 square feet. As far as I can determine, it is the only significant modification to Nationals Park since it opened just over ten years ago. In the near future I will update all the Nationals Park diagram variants to be consistent.
July 18, 2018 [LINK / comment]
AL wins a classic Midsummer Classic
The 2018 All Star Game was a true classic, very close throughout and going into extra innings (one). It set a record for the number of home runs in an All Star Game, ten! After last night, Nationals Park is liable to get a reputation for being slugger-friendly. Starting pitcher Max Scherzer did fine, with four strikeouts over two innings, but he gave up a home run to Aaron Judge and was on the hook for a possible loss until Trevor Story (of the Rockies) hit a solo homer in the seventh inning to tie the game 2-2. A crucial sequence of the game came in the top of the eighth inning when Jean Segura (of the Mariners) hit a pop foul into the NL dugout and first baseman Joey Votto failed to catch it. Right after that, Segura hit a three-run homer and the AL took a 5-2 lead. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Scooter Gennett (of the Reds) hit a two-run homer to tie the game 5-5. But it the top of the tenth, Alex Bregman and George Springer (both Astros) hit back-to-back solo homers, and Ross Stripling (of the Dodgers) was charged with a third earned run. Joey Votto homered in the bottom of the tenth, partly atoning for his earlier error, but it wasn't enough and the American League won the All Star Game once again, this time by a score of 8-6. Bregman was named All Star Game MVP.
Bryce Harper, champion of the Home Run Derby, struck out in both at bats. The first time he got behind in the count and then swung at a low curve ball for strike three. The second time he was called out on a pitch that may have touched the outside corner.
Attendance at the All Star Game was 43,843, exactly 145 more than had attended the Home Run Derby the night before. The highest-ever attendance at Nationals Park was 45,966 on October 12, 2012, when the Nats lost to the Cardinals 9-7 in NLDS Game 5.
Dodger Stadium to host 2020 ASG
I missed the news a couple months ago that Dodger Stadium was selected to to host the All Star Game in 2020; see MLB.com. It will be only the second such event in that stadium, which is now 56 years old! The Annual chronology page has been updated with that info, along with this year's ASG score.
I made a few more tweaks to the SunTrust Park diagrams, such as making the ends of the upper decks more accurate. The roof on both ends has some irregular angles, something of a puzzle. In addition, I made a very small tweak to the Nationals Park diagram: including the new Devil's Backbone Lodge, located under the light tower at the north end of the upper deck. While doing that, I realized that the light tower was wider than I thought, and has prominent diagonal support beams on either end.
July 19, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Triple concert: Felder / REO Speedwagon / Styx!
It may be over three months late, but here goes. Way back on Wednesday, April 4, Jacqueline and I drove to Charlottesville to see a concert featuring three separate acts: Don Felder (former lead guitarist with the Eagles), REO Speedwagon, and Styx. I had seen Felder once before, with the Eagles in 1980 or so, but I had never seen the other two groups before. I like all three of the featured performers, so for me this was a wonderful opportunity. (Jacqueline enjoyed it as well, but she wasn't quite as passionate about it.)
The last rock concert we attended was in the same venue about a year earlier: Stevie Nicks, in March 25, 2017. (Likewise, there was a big time lag between the event and the blog post.) This time we had much better seats, in the lower level. Tickets were reasonably priced (ours were in the $60 range), reflecting the modest demand for second tier classic rock groups. Most of the fans in attendance were at least our age, though there were some youngsters as well. The upper deck was curtained off because of the empty seats. I would say there about 5,000 people in attendance.
Interior panorama of John Paul Jones Arena before the show began; click on the image to see it full size.
Act I: Don Felder
Right on time at 7:00 Don Felder came onto the stage, and [he quickly] lit into "Already Gone," one of the Eagles' first big hits. His lead guitar playing made that song something really special; it was from their third album, On the Border. Felder joined the group during the recording sessions, and he had a big impact on the group's style in subsequent years. Unfortunately, he was never given the chance to share in the credits, and that's one of the main reasons for the group's breakup in 1980, and for his exclusion from the band after their "Hell Freezes Over" reunion tour of the mid-1990s. It's a real shame that those guys couldn't work out their differences. For example, there is a dispute over who really wrote "Hotel California," the music of which he claims was almost entirely his. That was, of course, the finale of the evening; his nine-song set lasted a little under one hour. I was unaware that he wrote the theme song for the movie Heavy Metal, which he also played. Felder is a great guitarist and not a bad singer, even though he hardly ever sang lead parts on Eagles songs. Since the Eagles are probably my favorite group, I was just delighted with that part of the concert. Big smiles!
As befitting a rock star, Felder's attire reminded me of the line in Tom Petty's song "Into the Great Wide Open": "His leather jacket had chains that would jingle." His official website (donfelder.com) currently displays a link to a story in Guitar World that "Hotel California" was chosen as the all-time number one 12-string guitar song, in their list of 30 such songs. As usual, I took notes of the song titles as they were played, and for this part of the concert at least I didn't need any help in identifying them:
- Already Gone
- One of These Nights
- Heavy Metal
- Seven Bridges Road
- Witchy Woman
- The Long Run
- Heartache Tonight
- Life In the Fast Lane
- Hotel California
Don Felder shakes hands with fans at the end of his show. (Roll your mouse over to see a closeup of him playing.)
Act II: REO Speedwagon
After a short break, REO Speedwagon took the stage, with front man Kevin Cronin clearly in charge. He is a diminuitive fellow, and wore odd glasses, kind of like Elton John. I only had a vague idea of the complicated history of that group, and Cronin's role in it. I clearly remember their first big hit "Ridin' the Storm Out" from my college days, but that was recorded while Cronin was out of the band. He joined in early 1972, left in 1973, and then rejoined for good in 1976. He plays guitars, sings, and does some keyboard work. Among the other band members, keyboardist Neal Doughty is the only one of the original members (1967) who has stayed with the group all the way through. Bruce Hall has been the bassist since 1977, and Dave Amato has been lead guitarist since 1989. He replaced Gary Richrath, a major creative force who joined in 1970. (He died in 2015.) Bryan Hitt became the drummer in 1989, at the same time as Amato. The group had its origins in the suburbs of Chicago. For more info about albums, tour dates, etc., see the group's website: reospeedwagon.com
It was in the late 1970s and early 1980s that REO Speedwagon reached its peak of success. It always seemed to me that their songs from that period had more of a pop music appeal, not as much hard rock as before. For a while during the latter years of the classic rock era, they were a veritable hit machine.
So, I had high expectations, and for the most part the group met and surpassed them. I wasn't familiar with some of the songs, but that's OK. They were tight, well-rehearsed and enthusiastic about playing some great old tunes. You can't ask for more from a bunch of guys in their 50s and 60s!
- Don't Let Him Go
- ( In Your Letter ) **
- Keep Pushin'
- I Can't Fight This Feeling
- Tough Guys
- Whipping Boy
- ( That Ain't Love ) **
- Take It On the Run
- Time For Me to Fly
- Back On the Road Again
- Ridin' the Storm Out
- Keep On Loving You
- Roll With the Changes
- Listen to Your Heart (Tom Petty cover)
** Song title from setlist.fm.
I noticed that several of the REO songs had alternate guitar tunings, such as "Time For Me to Fly." That inspired me to learn a few new songs by them, in addition to "Take It On the Run" and "Ridin' the Storm Out," which I already knew. (I've played them both in public.)
REO Speedwagon: In front is Kevin Cronin (wearing platform-sole shoes), bassist Bruce Hall, drummer Bryan Hitt, and keyboardist Neal Doughty. Another member, lead guitarist Dave Amato, is apparently off to the right, but it's hard to tell. Taking good photos with the harsh glare of concert lights is very difficult.
Act III: Styx
The final and perhaps leading act of the evening was Styx, named after the Greek mythological river that marks the border of Hades, the realm of the afterlife. Although I was not familiar with the three songs they played from their new album (The Mission, about a space adventure), I enjoyed them all. "Blue Collar Man" and "Lady" really fired up the crowd.
Like REO Speedwagon, Styx has its origins in the state of Illinois, and likewise the group has endured more than its share of personnel changes over the years. They rose to rock stardom at roughly the same time as the other group, but their appeal was perhaps a little narrower due to what might be called their special artistic vision. Styx was a prime example of progressive rock, following in the footsteps of Yes and Pink Floyd. Kansas (one of my favorite groups) bears some stylistic similarities to Styx, except that Styx was always more self-consciously theatrical. The "missing person" was Dennis DeYoung, the singer and keyboardist who wrote or co-wrote most of the group's hits. He was with the group from 1970 until 1984 and then for two separate periods in the 1990s; he left for good in 1999. (As with REO Speedwagon, the personnel history is based on the CDs I have as well as wikipedia.org and the group's own website: styxworld.com.)
- Gone Gone Gone #
- Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
- The Grand Illusion
- ( Light Up ) **
- Radio Silence #
- Miss America
- Fooling Yourself (Angry Young Man)
- Too Much Time On My Hands
- Khedive #
- Bohemian Rhapsody (part; Queen cover)
- Come Sail Away
- Rockin' the Paradise
** Song title from setlist.fm.
The three songs marked with hashtags (#) are from the new Styx album, The Mission (2017). The song "Light Up" (which I could not identify that night) was from their album Equinox (1975), which also featured "Lorelei," which I do remember.
As with REO Speedwagon, I was inspired by the concert to learn some of Styx's songs, but most of them are just not suited for a solo guitarist like me. I did learn "Come Sail Away" and "Lady," and managed to do a fair job on the latter in public once or twice. I learned "Fooling Yourself" many years ago, but have not yet played it in public.
So all in all, it was a fantastic concert experience, and one of the best music values (dollar-wise) that I have ever had. As classic rock groups age and start to retire, the opportunities to see some of them are dwindling. I would highly recommend seeing any of these performers, either alone or in a paired set (or triple set), as the case may be. Don't miss them!
Styx, with Tommy Shaw in front on the guitar and vocals, James Young (also guitar) behind him, Todd Sucherman on the drums, Ricky Phillips on top with the bass, and Lawrence Gowan (in red) on the keyboard. (Roll your mouse over to see a the stage being prepared for the show, in better light.)
July 20, 2018 [LINK / comment]
World War II history project
Yesterday I put the finishing (?) touches on a military history project that I started three or so years ago. (Today, I found a few things that needed correcting, and I'm sure there'll be more.) It's an interactive graphical/textual chronology of World War II, including both the European and Pacific theaters of war. It features maps of each theater for each successive year of the war, beginning in 1937 for Asia/Pacific, and 1939 for Europe. As your roll your mouse over the annual links for the two theates, a paragraph explaining the main events depicted in the map appears. Below the map(s) is a more detailed monthly chronology in tabular format, arranged in four columns: Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Mediterranean (incl. Africa and Middle East), and Pacific (and Southeast Asia).
I'm well versed in the subject, thanks in no small part to my late father, and consider some knowledge of that war to be absolutely essential for understanding contemporary world politics. And yet I have often been frustrated by the lack of basic awareness of key 20th Century events exhibited by many students these days. So, this is my way of smoothing the path for students (and other interested folks) who may be curious about World War II but have a hard time putting all the scattered instances of violence into the overall context.
Getting this done was also a useful exercise for me to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, such as what went on in Burma, New Guinea, or East Africa at various points in the war. One lesson for me is how difficult it was for the British (and their allied dominions, especially Australia and India) to manage threats on multiple fronts simultaneously. Having to transfer forces to various emergencies had a major effect on the war in North Africa, where Rommel came close to conquering Egypt in August 1942. I appreciate the feedback from many of my friends on Facebook. Someone asked me where the complete study can be found, apparently assuming that there was some kind of analysis behind all the information that I assembled. I haven't written anything like that yet, but I am contemplating a comparative study of the behavior of the smaller and medium-size powers in Europe and Asia during the war -- how they responded to pressure from the great powers, i.e, "balancing" or "bandwagoning."
(The above text is an edited and expanded version of what I posted on Facebook yesterday.)
World War II Memorial -- Pacific side, in Washington, D.C. The Atlantic side is to the right. (Aug. 1, 2009)
July 24, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Fenway Park HUGE update!
After the usual lengthy, painstaking process of squinting at photos and tweaking pixels, I finished a major diagram update for Fenway Park, the first since 2011. For the first time, there is a lower-deck diagram, which shows where the entry portals and support beams are located, among other fascinating details. I got started updating those diagrams soon after I returned from my first visit inside Fenway Park nearly two years ago, but various other things got in my way, and I found it hard to muster the energy and concentration required until recently.
None of my diagrams are perfect, but I am pretty confident that the ones of stadiums that I have visited are especially accurate. In revising the Fenway Park diagram, I relied heavily upon the photographs I took there during a tour in September 2016. (I counted 130 photos!) Being able to see details in the first deck (such as the location of support beams) helped me to deduce how certain upper-level features are actually configured. I finally got the proper position and angle of the grandstand in the right field corner, which had long been a vexing puzzle. Part of the problem was the discontinuity in the roof near the right foul pole after the 1950s. They sliced off about 20 feet of the roof when they expanded the upper-level section in the 1960s or 1970s, apparently because the support beams couldn't hand the extra weight so far forward. I finally realized that the front row of the upper-level seats were a few feet lower than the edge of the roof further out toward the bleachers. Figuring out that conundrum made everything else a lot easier.
I plan to add several more photos to that page in the near future, as part of my long-term project of incorporating more large-size photos on my baseball stadium pages. Thanks for your patience as I gradually move ahead!
FUN FACT: Most people know Fenway Park as the home of the Boston Red Sox, but it was once also the home of the Boston Redskins!
In the "Fans' impressions" section of that page, Matthew B. of San Jose, California asked back in January, "Can you share more info on the 'hypothetical' configuration (cited as 1988) where home plate is moved to right field? Never heard of this, and curious to know more!" Well, it is merely my own fantasy that was rendered moot when the upper level at Fenway Park was expanded into a small deck back in 2008. Prior to then, I had suggested a way for the Red Sox to continue playing in Fenway Park during a major construction project in which an upper deck with 12-15 rows would be built. Something on that scale couldn't be done over the winter, as the Red Sox did with their expansion, so I suggested moving home plate to the right field corner and installing a 37-foot high fence in the "atlernate" center field. That situation is no longer a possibility, but someone asked me a few years ago to put that hypothetical diagram back on the Fenway Park page because it is so intriguing, so I did.
Nats' slump continues
Every time something good happens for the Nationals, it seems, they immediately squander the positive momentum shift and revert to mediocrity. On Friday, fresh off a thrilling All Star Game and Bryce Harper's triumph at the Home Run Derby, they opened a home series against the Braves. Hopes were high as Stephen Strasburg had his first start since June 8, but it immediately went bad, with the first two Atlanta batters getting hits and then scoring. He got things under control for a while, but in the fifth inning the Braves rallied and he was pulled from the game with six runs charged against him. There was a heated exchanged with Max Scherzer in the dugout, another sign of bad vibes. Three Nationals homered, but they still lost, 8-5.
Saturday's game was rained out, and the Sunday game started about two hours late due to more rain. Max Scherzer had a solid outing, giving up two runs over six innings, while both Adam Eaton and Juan Soto went three for four at the plate. A clutch two-run double by Anthony Rendon gave the team enough breathing room to play like they are supposed to. Bryce Harper hit a homer (his 24th) in the late innings to provide insurance, and the Nats won, 6-1.
On Monday the Nats began a road trip in Milwaukee, and Gio Gonzalez had a so-so kind of day on the mound. He pitched into the sixth inning, with the score 3-1 in the Brewers' favor, at which point Christian Yelich hit a bases-loaded triple to double his team's run total. Final score: 6-1.
Tonight, the Nats had a 4-0 lead after two innings, thanks to an RBI double by Ryan Zimmerman (just back from the DL) and a three-run homer by Adam Eaton. (I missed all that because I was finishing up work on the Fenway Park diagrams.) On the mound, Jeremy Hellickson was doing just fine until Christian Yelich hit a two-run homer to cut the Nats' lead to 4-3. The Brewers tied the game in the seventh inning, and as usual, the Nats kept wasting run-scoring opportunities. In the bottom of the tenth, Nats pitcher Matt Grace gave up singles to the first two batters, and with runners on first and third, was obliged to walk the bases loaded. The Nats had a five-man infield in hopes of getting a force out at the plate, but when a fly ball went to left field, Juan Soto threw the ball off line to home plate, and Lorenzo Cain scored the winning run tagging up at third. Final score: 5-4.
Doolittle on the DL
The bad news on Saturday was that Sean Doolittle's foot problems are worse than had been thought. He has a pre-fracture bone stress condition that requires special care for at least a few weeks. All of a sudden, the recent acquisition of relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera from the Royals looks like a godsend for the Nats, who have suffered an undue number of injuries this year. If Doolittle doesn't return until late August or September, it's going to be extremely hard to make up the games behind in the NL East. After tonight's loss, the Nats are now 49-51, and will either be six or seven games back, depending on the outcome of the Dodgers-Phillies game, which also went into extra innings.
July 25, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Nationals avert being swept
For the first time this year,* the Washington Nationals have won the final game of a series in which they had lost the previous two or three games. Home runs by Bryce Harper (# 25) and Juan Soto (# 11) were crucial, but most of the credit goes to starting pitcher Tanner Roark. In his best outing of the year, he struck out eleven batters over eight shutout innings, and should have been given the chance to record a complete game shutout. But for whatever reason, manager Dave Martinez put the often-shaky Sammy Solis on the mound in the bottom of the ninth, and all hell immediately broke loose: Double! Single! Home run! All of a sudden it was a new ball game, and Martinez brought in new closing pitcher Kelvin Herrera, who should have been resting, and the game was soon over. Final score: Nats 7, Brewers 3. Thus, the Nats averted being swept and have a flicker of hope left as they head to Miami for a four-game series.
* The Nats were swept earlier this year by the Mets (April 5-8), the Dodgers (May 19-20), the Blue Jays (June 15-17), and the Red Sox (July 2-4). The Nats swept the Reds (March 30-April 1), the Pirates (April 30-May 3), and the Diamondbacks (May 10-13). Two-game series are not included.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Phillies won their game against the Dodgers last night (7-4), on a three-run homer by Trevor Plouffe in the bottom of the 16th inning. The Dodgers had run out of relief pitchers, and put catcher Kike Hernandez on the mound. And the Phillies won again this afternoon (7-3), so the Nationals remain a full seven games behind in the NL East race.
For the second day in a row, I missed the Nats' early-inning rally because I was working on...
Fenway Park tweaks
Never satisfied with "good enough," I made a few additional improvements to the diagrams for Fenway Park, one day after the "HUGE" update. The biggest changes were in the early (1912 and 1926) diagrams, but the profile was made more accurate, affecting all diagrams. I should have included a photo of Fenway Park in my last blog post, so here's one that I took during my visit there on September 5, 2016:
Fenway Park, in all its funky glory. Notice that there is an extra row of seats behind home plate.
A quick glance at my calendar reminded me that it's just six months to go until Christmas! [OOPS! "After further review," I realized that it's actually FIVE months, not six.]
Nasty trade rumors
I detest rumors about possible trades, and what happened during the All Star Game was a perfect example. It's a no-brainer that a last-place team like the Orioles would trade a top-performing player in his contract year, but the impending deal with the Dodgers for Manny Machado should never have been mentioned during a celebratory event such as the All Star Game. It's one of the few times every year when we can just have fun watching the best players play, without worrying about wins and losses, and dollars and cents. The guys broadcasting for Fox Sports should be reminded of their duty to uphold the dignity of the sport.
I bring this up in part because I have seen commentary about possible trades by the Nationals' front office as the non-waiver deadline approaches. Hardly anyone could imagine that they would be potential "sellers" this time of year, and names such as Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, and -- yes, even Bryce Harper -- have been cited. Obviously, it's an open question whether Harper is likely to sign a renewed contract with the Nats after this season is over, but to let him go in the middle of the season would be the moral equivalent of unconditional surrender. The mere thought of it is just disgusting.
July 28, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Five months of music, three more shows
Once again, I am struggling to get caught up with my documenting my varied activities. Obviously, music has consumed a great deal of my time over the past year (or two!), getting in the way of blogging about various topics, such as -- ironically -- music! I try to keep track of which songs I have played in public, so that I don't repeat myself, and this blog is my primary way of doing that. But since I have dithered for so long, I have lost track of things in the five months since my last music blog post on February 28. Whenever I do a music show, I make meticulous plans for what I'm going to play, and make note of any changes or omissions afterwards. But for the informal open mic events in which I participate, it's a hit or miss situation. I often jot down on paper what songs I plan to play, and sometimes I post my mini-set lists on Facebook afterwards. In some cases it was quite a challenge to reconstruct my set lists, and I have made note of those dates on which some uncertainty exists. (The following paragraphs and setlists are in chronological order, with the open mic events interspersed among my own shows.)
At Queen City Brewing on March 28, I attempted some rather challenging songs that I had recently learned, with mixed results. Having missed open mic for three straight weeks, I was a little rusty. I started off with the Beatles' "Penny Lane," which was never really a favorite of mine, but as often happens, I came to appreciate it more through the process of learning how to play it. Aside from all the sound effects, it has some offbeat key changes which were highlighted in a video that I saw (and shared) on Facebook last year. (See it for yourself at culturesonar.com.) The guy who explains that song made a big deal about one particular chord that defines the mood of the song, which he claims is a B minor 7, but I think it's a G major 7! What's more, the host of the open mic events, Fritz Horisk, agrees with me, so that must count for something.
- Penny Lane ( # ) -- Beatles
- It's How You Think ( # ) -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- You've Got a Friend -- James Taylor (Carole King)
- Bennie and the Jets ( # ) -- Elton John
- Stormy ( # ) -- Classics IV
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road -- Elton John
NOTE: The " # " (hash) symbol indicates songs on which I used the harmonica along with the guitar.
At Queen City Brewing (henceforth "QCB") two weeks later (April 11), I began by hailing the onset of baseball season with "Talkin' Baseball," that corny but pleasant paen to Our National Pastime that came out in the early 1980s. I then called attention to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg by playing a Neil Young song which is the English translation of Zuckerberg's German name. With empty slots that evening, we had time to do extra songs, and the next four I did were all repeats that I am familiar with. But the final one was a bit of a stretch: "Africa," by the group Toto. I learned it a long time ago, but it has some rather challenging jazzy chord sequences and a unique rhythm. The drums played by percussionist Craig Austin were especially helpful on that song, which actually sounded pretty good.
- Talkin' Baseball - Terry Cashman
- Sugar Mountain -- Neil Young
- The Voice ( # ) -- Moody Blues
- Hotel California ( # ) -- Eagles
- Carry On -- Crosby, Stills, & Nash
- Into the Great Wide Open -- Tom Petty
- Africa -- Toto
On April 19 I went to the open mic (a.k.a. "open mike") event at Barrenridge Vineyards for only the second time this year. I felt pretty comfortable doing some rather challenging songs, and I did a live rehearsal of "Wild World" in preparation for my big show on the following night.
- Wild World -- Cat Stevens
- You've Got a Friend -- James Taylor / Carole King
- Tears In Heaven -- Eric Clapton
- Breathe In the Air ( # ) -- Pink Floyd
- Witchy Woman ( # ) -- Eagles
Bedlam Brewing #5
April 20 marked my return to Bedlam Brewing after a five-month hiatus; see my December 31 post for a review of my previous show there. I was very happy to see many of my friends there, and it was a nice-sized crowd overall. I started off with some songs that I had learned recently, and with a couple exceptions, I played very cleanly. I was especially proud of having mastered "Wild World" (Cat Stevens), especially the descending-note sequence in each refrain. Among the surprises I unleashed upon the audience were "Aqualung" (Jethro Tull) and "Don't Stand So Close To Me" (Police). I did OK on "Wild Horses," but have since decided that the original key (A minor) is a bit high for my voice, so I have started playing it in G minor instead. I was very happy with how that evening went.
|Seq-uence||Song title||Group||Harmonica? (key)|
|1||Wild World||Cat Stevens|
|2||The Voice||Moody Blues||G|
|3||Breathe In the Air||Pink Floyd||A|
|5||Day After Day||Badfinger||Bb|
|6||The Old Man Down the Road||John Fogerty|
|7||Standing On The Rock||Ozark Mountain Daredevils||C|
|8||I Walk the Line||Johnny Cash|
|9||Wicked Game||Chris Isaacs||A|
|10||Found Out About You||Gin Blossoms||G|
|11||You've Got a Friend||James Taylor|
|12||Carry On||Crosby, Stills, & Nash|
|14||Pink Houses||John Cougar Mellencamp|
|15||Sugar Mountain||Neil Young|
|18||Mrs. Robinson||Simon & Garfunkle|
|20||Don't Stand So Close To Me||Police|
|21||Wild Horses||Rolling Stones|
|23||Into the Great Wide Open||Tom Petty||G|
|24||Only Want To Be With You||Hootie & the Blowfish|
|25||Piano Man||Billy Joel||C|
|26||Tears In Heaven||Eric Clapton|
|27||If You Wanna Get To Heaven||Ozark Mountain Daredevils||F|
Back at the QCB open mic night on the following Wednesday (April 25), I paid tribute to the the Don Felder / REO Speedwagon / Styx concert that Jacqueline and I saw on April 4. (Felder used to be lead guitarist with the Eagles.) As I noted in my July 19 post, it inspired me to learn a few "new" songs, but I only did one of those this time: "Lady." It was OK, but I should have done better. I closed with John Fogerty's baseball tune "Centerfield," which has some tricky lead parts; at least I did better on it than I had before.
- Lady -- Styx
- Ridin' the Storm Out -- REO Speedwagon
- A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request -- Steve Goodman
- Long Road Out of Eden ( # ) -- Eagles
- Centerfield -- John Fogerty
Shenandoah Brewing #2
On April 27, exactly one week after my show at Bedlam, I had my second gig at Shenandoah Brewing in downtown Staunton. Unlike my previous show there (February 17), the weather was fine. My hopes for a big turnout did not pan out, however, as only a modest number of folks showed up. Almost all of the songs were ones I had known for a while, and as always, I strove to avoid repetition. I got off to a pretty good start and was pleased to do well on "Here Comes the Sun" (Beatles) and "The Last Time" (Rolling Stones), but some of the later songs just didn't have the "punch" that they should have. I played for almost a half hour beyond the expected two-hour time slot (8:00 - 10:00), feeling obliged to make up for getting full pay after the previous event in spite of the (weather-induced) low turnout.
|Seq-uence||Song title||Group||Harmonica? (key)|
|1||I Won't Back Down||Tom Petty||G|
|2||Stop Draggin' My Heart Around||Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty||G|
|3||My Favorite Mistake||Sheryl Crow|
|5||Country Girl||Ozark Mountain Daredevils||G|
|6||The Sound of Silence||Simon & Garfunkle|
|7||Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out||Eric Clapton||C|
|8||The Teacher||Jethro Tull|
|9||You've Got To Hide Your Love Away||Beatles||G|
|10||Here Comes the Sun||Beatles|
|11||The Last Time||Rolling Stones|
|13||City of New Orleans||Steve Goodman|
|14||Proud Mary||Creedence Clearwater Revival|
|15||Never Goin' Back Again||Fleetwood Mac |
|16||With Or Without You||U 2|
|18||Space Oddity||David Bowie||C|
|19||Tuesday Afternoon||Moody Blues||G|
|20||Hey You||Pink Floyd|
|21||Comfortably Numb||Pink Floyd||A|
|22||Dust In The Wind||Kansas||G|
|23||Behind Blue Eyes||The Who |
|25||China Grove||Doobie Brothers|
|26||Constant Craving||k.d. lang||Bb|
|27||If You Could Read My Mind||Gordon Lightfoot||D|
|28||Follow You Down||Gin Blossoms||G|
|29||Rhythm of Love||Plain White T's|
|30||Jackie Blue||Ozark Mountain Daredevils|
|31||Bennie and the Jets||Elton John||G|
|32||Love Me Do||Beatles||C|
I don't like to make excuses for not performing well, but it happens that on April 27 I was obliged to accept an assignment on short notice as a substitute teacher, which left very little time or energy for me to practice that day. I was frankly a little rusty on some songs, and in some cases my voice faltered. For anyone who gets paid to play music, such lapses are almost inexcusable. The upshot is that I'm not likely to get another solo gig at Shenandoah Brewing in the near future.
Yours truly at Shenandoah Brewing, April 27. Many thanks to Sue Buerkel (fellow parishioner at Emmanuel Episcopal Church) for taking photos of me.
More open mic appearances
For some reason, my recollections of QCB open mic nights in May are a bit foggy. I'm almost certain I was at the May 9 event, and I clearly recall "Abraham, Martin, and John" (Dion), about three martyred leaders in the United States: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy. I remember when that song came out in 1968, and how they added a fourth verse after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated on June 5 that year -- half a century ago! These are the songs that I probably played:
- Aqualung -- Jethro Tull
- Abraham, Martin, and John -- Dion
- Daniel ( # ) -- Elton John
- Folsom Prison Blues -- Johnny Cash
- The Chain -- Fleetwood Mac
Likewise, I'm almost certain I was at the May 16 QCB event. I thought "Hold Your Head Up" (Argent) sounded fine, but it just didn't elicit as much crowd response as I had hoped. You never know. These are the songs that I probably played:
- Hold Your Head Up -- Argent
- Bitter Creek -- Eagles
- Barely Breathing -- Duncan Sheikh
- Baker Street ( # ) -- Gerry Rafferty
- Day After Day -- Badfinger
On May 23 at QCB, the slate was fairly full, so we only got to do four songs each. As is often the case, I strove for "topical" songs, touching on (respectively) the weather, a new restaurant in Staunton, the end of the school year, and (implicitly) drug abuse. (I am certain about these songs, by the way.) I thought I had learned to play "Mr. Bojangles" (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) many years ago, but only recently did I figure out the right way to play the whole thing. It sounded just great, and School's Out" (Alice Cooper) was OK.
- Noah ( # ) -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- Mr. Bojangles -- Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
- School's Out -- Alice Cooper
- You Can't Always Get What You Want -- Rolling Stones
Bedlam Brewing #6
On May 25 I had my sixth show at Bedlam Brewing (hard to believe), nearly one year after my first show there. For some reason, I wasn't at my best for some of the early songs, such the "bird medley" songs I had done for the Augusta Bird Club in December 2016: "Kentucky Woman / Warbler," "Cinnamon Girl / Teal," "American Woman / Wigeon." Gotta practice more. Nevertheless, I got better during the second half of the show. The crowd was appreciative, applauding several times, and one guy sitting at the bar was especially happy with the song selection.
|Seq-uence||Song title||Group||Harmonica? (key)|
|1||Take It On the Run||REO Speedwagon||G|
|3||One of These Nights||Eagles||G?|
|4||Noah||Ozark Mountain Daredevils||Bb|
|5||Here Comes the Sun||Beatles|
|6||Summer Breeze||Seals & Croft|
|7||All You Need Is Love||Beatles||C|
|8||You Can't Always Get What You Want||Rolling Stones|
|9||Luckenbach, Texas||Waylon Jennings|
|10||Folsom Prison Blues||Johnny Cash|
|11||All Along the Watchtower||Bob Dylan||E|
|12||Mr. Bojangles||Nitty Gritty Dirt Band|
|13||Kentucky Woman (Warbler)||Neil Diamond|
|14||Cinnamon Girl (Teal)||Neil Young|
|15||American Woman (Wigeon)||Guess Who||E|
|16||The Chain||Fleetwood Mac|
|17||The Story In Your Eyes||Moody Blues|
|18||Hold Your Head Up||Argent|
|20||I'm Not In Love||10 CC|
|21||Hey You||Pink Floyd|
|22||Year of the Cat||Al Stewart||G|
|23||Baker Street||Gerry Rafferty||C|
|24||China Grove||Doobie Brothers|
|25||Barely Breathing||Duncan Sheikh|
|26||Mary Jane's Last Dance||Tom Petty||G|
Recent open mic appearances
Back at Queen City Brewing on May 30 I did one of my occasional "curve balls," songs that you just wouldn't expect to be played by a solo acoustic guitarist: "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet," by BTO. I had only recently learned it, and was surprised how authentic it sounded simply by using the capo on the third fret. I also alluded to the raging controversy over racist comments by comedian Roseanne Barr by playing the Toto song "Rosanna."
- You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet -- Bachman Turner Overdrive
- Summer Breeze -- Seals & Croft
- Rosanna -- Toto
- Baby Blue ( # ) -- Badfinger
On June 13, I started with a reference to the (very wet) weather once again, with the second song coming next in my repertoire's alphabetical order. I closed with one of my very favorite songs, "Hey Jude," which I had hoped to play two weeks earlier, but the schedule was filled up. It sounded good, and I made sure to shorten the extended second half of the song ("Na, na-na, na-na-na-nah...") to just a few repetitions, and Fritz appreciated that.
- Let It Rain -- Eric Clapton
- Let It Ride -- Bachman Turner Overdrive
- Year of the Cat ( # ) -- Al Stewart
- All Along the Watchtower ( # ) -- Bob Dylan
- Hey Jude -- Beatles
On June 20, I was a little flat on the first couple songs but then got better. As I recall, I played the theme from M*A*S*H and "Iris," a song by the 1990s group Goo Goo Dolls. That's a decade that often gets overlooked by rock music aficionados.
- On the Border -- Eagles
- All You Need Is Love ( # ) -- Beatles
- Suicide Is Painless -- Johnny Mandel
- Iris ( # ) -- Goo Goo Dolls
I was raring to go on June 27, doing just fine on three "new" songs as well as one ("Harvest Moon") on which I had muffed the harmonica part the first time I played it at QCB. This time it sounded just great. On the first song, "The World I Know," I called attention to the fact that it has virtually identical chords to "Iris," the final song I had played the week before. Imitation? The final song, "Locomotive Breath" was another of my surprise tunes, and it went pretty well in spite of the fact that I had just learned it. I've gotten even better on it lately.
- The World I Know ( # ) -- Collective Soul
- Harvest Moon ( # ) -- Neil Young
- Strawberry Fields Forever -- Beatles
- Locomotive Breath -- Jethro Tull
There was no open mic night on the Fourth of July, because of the big event taking place at the park nearby; see below. At the next QCB open mic night (July 11), I gave Fritz a CD full of photos I had taken of him on July 4, and played yet another challenging Beatles tune. Fritz was impressed.
- Long Road Out of Eden -- Eagles
- Chicken Train ( # ) -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
- Ruby Tuesday -- Rolling Stones
- A Day In the Life -- Beatles
Unfortunately, on "Long Road Out of Eden," I forgot to use the harmonica, which serves for me as the lead guitar part. I missed the following two open mic nights at Queen City Brewing (July 18 and 25), so I really need to get back there soon!
Happy Birthday, America!
For the second year in a row, the City of Staunton put on a big "Happy Birthday, America" celebratory event in Gypsy Hill Park. They always have a big fair in that park on July 4, but last year they brought back one of the old traditions from the days when the Statler Brothers ruled the musical universe in this area. Headlining the event was the country music duo Wilson Fairchild, consisting of the sons of two of the "Statler Brothers": Wil Reid and Langdon Reid, the respective sons of Harold Reid and Don Reid. (Statler is just a stage name.) One of the featured musicians that afternoon was none other than Queen City Brewing open mic host Fritz Horisk, and I was glad to oblige his request for me to take photos of him performing. Fritz played an amazing set of songs from every genre, paying tribute to various states such as John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads," as well as his own very nice composition "I Love America." Before Fritz got started, I saw a group called Prime playing classic rock tunes, including "China Grove" (Doobie Brothers). They were very good as well.
Fritz Horisk at the Happy Birthday, America 2018 event; roll your mouse over the image to see a closeup of The Master in action.
Whew! I am now officially caught up on blogging about music.
July 31, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Nats end bleak month on a high note
The way most people saw it, the four-game series in Miami was a do-or-die moment of truth for the Washington Nationals. As the non-waiver trading deadline approached, the unthinkable worst-case scenario of trading Bryce Harper -- the de facto "face of the franchise"* -- loomed as a very real possibility. Ironically, they were playing against one of their main trading "targets": Marlins' catcher J.T. Realmuto.
In the first two games, the Nats came out with guns blazing, winning by lopsided margins. On Thursday, Tommy Milone pitched as an emergency starter after Steven Strasburg was put on the disabled list once again, this time because of a pinched nerve in his neck. (He later had an injection that seemed to help, so he may not be out for that long.) Milone started his pitching career with the Nationals in September 2011 and made history by hitting a home run in his very first major league at bat -- on the first pitch, no less! This time he held his own and left after five innings with the Nats behind, 3-2. The Nats' early runs came on back-to-back homers by Trea Turner and Juan Soto in the fourth inning. Ryan Zimmerman tied the game with an RBI double in the sixth inning, and Trea Turner put the Nats two runs ahead with a triple in the seventh inning. He then scored on an RBI double by Bryce Harper. In the ninth inning, the Nats piled on more runs, starting when Matt Wieters hit a bases-loaded double. Final score: 10-3.
In Friday's game, the Nats took an early lead, and the amazing Juan Soto homered for the third consecutive day! (He has 13 total now.) Max Scherzer went eight full innings on the mound, giving up just one run and striking out eleven batters. That put him at an even 200 strikeouts for the year thus far, and Scherzer thus became the fourth pitcher in history to strike out at least 200 batters in seven consecutive seasons. (The others are Walter Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Tom Seaver.) Not a bad way to celebrate his 34th birthday! The Nats added five more runs in the eighth inning, winning by a score of 9-1.
On Saturday, Gio Gonzalez had one of his best outings of the year, giving up only one run over seven innings pitched. Unfortunately, however, the Nats' bats fell silent -- until Daniel Murphy hit a clutch game-tying single in the top of the ninth. With one out and a runner on third base, the Nats were in position to take the lead and win their fourth game in a row. But Mark Reynolds flew out and Michael A. Taylor grounded out, and the game went into the tenth inning. The Nats went down 1-2-3, and closing pitcher Kelvin Herrera took the mound. All of a sudden, things got weird. Magneuris Sierra laid down a perfect bunt single, Miguel Rojas reached base on catcher's interference, and Brian Anderson singled to load the bases with nobody out. In desperation, the Nats brought in Bryce Harper from center field to set up a five-man infield, but it backfired. J.T. Realmuto hit a pop single down the right field line, which probably would have been caught had there been three outfielders, but with nobody out, it probably didn't change the outcome of the game. And thus the Nats lost a heartbreaker, 2-1.
On Sunday, Jeremy Hellickson took the mound, but he fell short of his recent solid performances, giving up five runs and being replaced in the fifth inning. The Nats only managed to get two hits: an infield single by Bryce Harper in the first inning, and a single by Matt Adams in the ninth inning. For a team that had so much on the line, it was a stunningly weak exhibition. It's as if they just gave up. Final score: 5-0. Attendance in that four-game series was likewise pathetic, peaking at 12,112 in the Sunday finale. It's a shame that more folks in Miami aren't enjoying that climate-controlled (and taxpayer-funded) marvel, Marlins Park. (Diagram tweak pending.)
* The semi-official "face of the franchise" is Ryan Zimmerman, who has a contract with a no-trade clause extending for a few more years. But Bryce Harper is far better known to the outside world, and since his rookie year in 2012, he has been primarily responsible for making the Nationals into perennial postseason contenders.
Trading frenzy: Nats stand pat
Frankly, I was extremely anxious about the Bryce Harper situation in the days and hours leading up to the deadline at 4:00 this afternoon. On [Monday], word spread that Harper was available for a trade, and I cringed. Then late this morning General Manager Mike Rizzo announced that Bryce Harper would not be traded after all, and [that] the front office had full confidence in the team. Whew! Still, I wasn't 100% sure and nervously watched the clock as all the MLB trade alerts kept popping up on my iPhone. The Nats' only trade was letting relief pitcher Brandon Kintzler go to the Cubs in exchange for a minor league pitcher. I get the sense that there were some personality issues there.
I know that many people think that the Nats might as well cash in on whatever Harper is worth now, since his chances of signing with the Nationals again after this year are probably only 50-50 at best. But baseball teams aren't just machines to be taken apart and reassembled at will; they are living organisms that thrive (or not) based on that ephemeral quality known as team spirit. What's more, a big part of team spirit comes from the fan base, and for the Nationals to have let Harper go would be terribly demoralizing to Nats fans everywhere. In strict dollars-and-sense terms, that would have seriously degraded the value of the Nationals franchise, and Mike Rizzo and the Lerner family are to be commended for recognizing that.
One of the biggest last-minute surprise trades was the Pittsburgh Pirates getting pitcher Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays. (I saw him pitch in Toronto in August 2015, when the Blue Jays beat the Rays.) The Pirates have been winning a lot lately, and can't be discounted as potential postseason contenders.
The Milwaukee Brewers, who fell out of first place in the NL Central Division earlier this month, are determined to retake the lead. (After tonight's win, they are tied with the Cubs.) Last week they got Kansas City Royal star slugger Mike Moustakas in a trade, and today they acquired second baseman Jonathan Schoop from the Baltimore Orioles. I occasionally watch Orioles games on MASN, and Schoop has been one of their biggest clutch hitters this year -- after Manny Machado (now with the Dodgers), of course.
The Atlanta Braves, who likewise lost their first-place standing recently, got outfielder Adam Duvall and four pitchers, most notably Kevin Gausman.
And finally, the Philadelphia Phillies (currently one half game ahead of the Braves) acquired two former Nats players: infielder Asdrubal Cabrera from the Mets and catcher Wilson Ramos from the Rays. He is injured, however, and his years with the Nationals were full of lengthy periods on the disabled list (such as when he suffered hurt his knee in late September 2016, just before the NLDS), so the value of Ramos is a question mark. Still, I was hoping the Nats would find a way to get him.
Wilson Ramos, before the Nats-Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park on August 31, 2016.
Historic game in Nats Park
So, how would the Nationals react to the announcement by Rizzo this morning? Pretty well, I'd say! The Nats returned to D.C. for a home stand, welcoming the New York Mets. Trea Turner's leadoff single sparked a seven-run rally in the first inning, capped by a three-run double hit by Tanner Roark to the gap in left-center field. Tanner went on to pitch a nearly-flawless game, giving up just one run in seven innings, which makes two stellar outings in a row for him. That had to feel good. The game unfolded in a very unusual fashion: the Nats scored exactly three runs in each of the next four innings! Home runs by Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman were a big part of that offensive surge. The score was 19-0 after five innings, and by the eighth inning the Mets' bullpen was so worn out that they put veteran slugger Jose Reyes on the mound as a "relief pitcher." But the Nats showed no mercy, racking up six more runs, thanks to home runs by Matt Adams and Mark Reynolds, and an RBI triple by Wilmer Difo.
The only sour note in the spectacular one-sided slugfest was when Shawn Kelley came in as a relief pitcher in the top of the ninth: the first two Mets batters reached base on hits, and after an RBI ground-out, Austin Jackson hit a two-run homer. Kelley was angry about something, and threw down his glove in disgust. Thus, the Nats' 24-run lead shrank to 21 runs. More details are at the Washington Post. Final score: Nats 25, Mets 4!!! The last time a team scored that many runs in a game was in 2007, when the Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles, 30-3.
Tonight's game set new records for the Nats, both in terms of the number of runs scored (25) and the run differential (25 - 4 = 21). That is true for both the Nationals as a "reborn" team (since they began playing in D.C. in 2005) and for the franchise, which began as the Montreal Expos in 1969. The Expos' highest scoring game was in Denver on April 28, 1999, when they beat the Colorado Rockies, 21-9. In both cases, the Nationals' previous records were set on April 30 last year, also against the Mets: the final score then was 23 - 5, an 18-run difference. The Nats' previous high score this year (17) was on June 29 in Philadelphia: Nats 17, Phillies 7. The Nats' previous biggest run differential this year (13) was on April 25 in San Francisco: Nats 15, Giants 2.
And so, the Nats finished the month back at an even 53-53, with a 10-14 record in July itself. Thus far, the Nats have only had a winning record in one month this year: May. Pretty hard to believe. I updated the Washington Nationals page accordingly. One factoid that is worth highlighting is that the Nats' aggregate run total in games this year is 484 to 426 for their opponents. Given their .500 win-loss record, that's a sign that they're wasting a lot of runs in easy wins while losing a lot of crucial close games.
Hall of Fame induction ceremony
In Cooperstown, New York on Sunday, six former players were officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Chipper Jones was especially emotional in his speech, partly because his wife was just about to have a baby boy. They named him "Cooper." I have seen Jones and Guerrero play, but I'm not sure about the others. (Numbers below were from the Washington Post print edition; a link to the article was not immediately available.)
- Larry "Chipper" Jones (ATL)#: 468 HR, 1,623 RBI
- Jim Thome (CLE): 612 HR -- 8th best all-time
- Vladimir Guerrero (MON)
- Trevor Hoffman (SD): 601 saves -- 2nd best all-time
- Jack Morris (DET) *
- Alan Trammell (DET)# *
# : Played entire career with one team; Hoffman nearly did so. For the other players, the team indicated is the one they played on for the most number of years.
* Chosen by a special "veterans committee."
NOTE: A few corrections were made to the text on the following day.