Spring training nears an end
Technically, Spring only started ten days ago, so it seems a little odd that Spring training is already drawing to a close. For people like me with busier-than-average work schedules (see note at the bottom of this post*), the days and weeks have been zipping by like a freight train.
The Washington Nationals are currently 10-14 in spring training, 13th out of 15 in the National League, but the world champion San Francisco Giants are in last place at 10-20, which shows you how much those numbers mean. Opening Night will be this Sunday (Easter!), as the St. Louis Cardinals visit the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field, where the bleacher rebuilding project has not yet been completed. (!!??) Opening Day for the rest of the teams will be on Monday.
Nats are banged up already
With a pitching rotation full of superstars and a solid, balanced lineup, the Washington Nationals are widely considered one of the best teams in baseball, if not the very best. Just read what it says in Sports Illustrated! (Good luck finding the in-print article on their Web site.) But everything hinges on keeping the players healthy, and in that respect, the Nats are starting the 2015 season with one hand tied behind their back. Center fielder Denard Span had some kind of muscle injury,
right left fielder Jayson Werth is recovering from (and a brief jail term), and new third baseman Anthony Rendon injured his knee (an "MCL sprain"), and is doubtful as well. See MLB.com. (Bryce Harper is switching places with Werth this year, going from left to right field.)
So the backup crew will get lots of playing time in April: Danny Espinosa at third base (!??), Michael Taylor in center field, and perhaps Kevin Frandsen in left field.
Hurry it up, will ya?
In an effort to counteract the lamentable trend toward longer and longer games, Major League Baseball announced new rules to speed things up. Batter will be required to keep one foot in the batter's box after taking a pitch. Also, pitchers will have a limited time to warm up. Violators will presumably get a fine of some sort, but how this works out remains to be seen.
I'll repeat my long-standing suggestion, for what it's worth: Every second throw by a pitcher to first base counts as a ball, and every second time a batter asks for time counts as a strike.
R.I.P. Ernie Banks
In the first major league game I ever saw, on the north side of Chicago way back in 1963, the star attraction was Ernie Banks. Known as "Mr. Cub," he was not only a slugging superstar (with 512 career home runs), but epitomized good sportsmanship and fun at a time when race relations in the United States were extremely tense. It was his fate to play on a hard-luck team, but losing season after season never affected his upbeat outlook in life at all. Even after the Cubs' heartbreaking collpase toward the end of the 1969 season (when the "Miracle Mets" won it all), Ernie Banks kept smiling and saying, "Let's play two." See the full obituary at MLB.com.
In the January 25 Washington Post, Thomas Boswell wrote of Banks:
The outward joy Banks professed, even if it was partly innate to his temperament, was also a daily act of will: a lifelong private commitment to enthusiasm as a guiding principle. ... When you find a Banks, who sticks to those guns all his life, that's the definition of a role model.
Target Field update
Way back in January, I updated the diagrams for Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. But I didn't announce it because I realized I had to fix a few things, and then a few more things, etc. etc. They have been at top-level accuracy for over a month now. Aside from the increased accuracy and detail, there are new lower deck and upper deck diagrams, the latter showing all of the entry portals as well as the unique up-side-down tripod roof supports.
One thing that has changed since the last major Target Field revision (five years ago!), is that the upper deck in left field is now considered part of the mezzanine level, since there is just a small staircase separating them. It's the same way with the upper deck between the foul poles, and at almost all baseball stadiums built in the last ten years. To me, a "deck" is a structurally distinct entity, which is why I don't consider the small luxury suite levels in most contemporary stadiums to qualify as a "deck" per se. But that's just me.
Candlestick Park demolition
Yes, it is really happening. The wrecking crews are busy tearing down the former home of the San Francisco Giants and 49ers. As you can see at CBS local station, the upper deck in right field is already gone. They are using an old-fashioned wrecking ball rather than implosion because of safety concerns voiced by neighbors. If any fans in the Bay Area would like to submit a photo of the demolition process, I'd be glad to present them here.
Speaking of Candlestick Park photos, I'll have some exciting "news" to report very soon...
in near Atlanta
As if to offset the destruction on the west coast, in the east there is some ballpark creation going on. Sun Trust Park, the future home of the Atlanta Braves is now under construction, with much excavation and foundation work already completed. Target date for completion is 2017. I still can't get my head around the idea that Turner Field is going to be replaced, but I'll probably get used to it before long.See MLB.com for some renderings of what it's supposed to look like.
More ballpark news
Here are a few news items courtesy of Mike Zurawski from earlier this year: The Toronto Blue Jays are spending $600,000 to study weather grass can be put in Rogers Centre; see nationalpost.com. It may be trickier than they thought to control the moisture.
In Cincinnati, the Reds are making some improvements to Great American Ball Park, which will host the 2015 All-Star Game. See ballparkdigest.com. Lots of new brick walls, and a few additional seating sections.
In Oakland, new videoboards and LED displays are being installed at "O.co Coliseum." See ballparkdigest.com.
In Miami, the Marlins have been awarded the 2017 All-Star Game. See MLB.com. And finally, the Dolphins are moving ahead with another big phase of renovations to Dolphin Stadium, or whatever they're calling it this week. See ESPN and thephinsider.com.
* Go (Bridgewater) Eagles!
I am teaching at Bridgewater College this semester, the first institution at which I have taught in quite a few years that has a baseball team. They played a home game this afternoon, beating Washington and Lee by a score of 4-3, but I had something else to do. The Eagles are currently fourth place in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (6-6), and 15-7-1 overall. See bridgewatereagles.com. I am also teaching at Sweet Briar College, which recently made news by announcing that it will soon close, and at Central Virginia Community College. No, it is not normal to have such a heavy teaching load, but I had a special opportunity and went for it. Suffice it to say that I am thoroughly exhausted, but loving every minute of it. Once the semester is over in mid-May, I'll be able to enjoy a more-or-less normal life once again -- especially baseball!