Commentary and musings on a diverse but well-defined set of topics, from a critical-minded conservative point of view, featuring a veritable library of original graphics and statistical information. Hence,
A full week has now passed since the first official baseball game of the year in Chicago. (The Cubbies lost to the Cards.) There are a number of surprises, such as the fact that the only two teams with undefeated records (6-0) are from the same division: the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals. Two of the weekend series pitted two teams that had not won any games: the Minnesota Twins at the Chicago White Sox, and the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Milwaukee Brewers. No sweep in either case, so all 30 teams have won at least one game this year.
Frustrations for the Nationals
For the Washington Nationals, widely expected to make another postseason run this year, the first week was a rude shock. Lacking three key players (Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, and Denard Span) clearly cost them, but they should have won at least four of their first six games. Their first game on Monday was going very well for the first 5 2/3 innings, as Max Scherzer had a no-hitter going, with a 1-0 lead thanks to a Bryce Harper homer in the first inning. That's when Ian Desmond bobbled a routine ground ball that should have been a double play, but instead left two runners on base with just one out. The next batter hit the ball into the right-center gap, and before you knew it, the Mets were ahead, 2-1. Another error by Desmond gave another run to the Mets, and the final score was 3-1.
Hopes that the first game was just a fluke seemed born out by the second game, which the Nats won, 2-1. Ryan Zimmerman's two-run homer in the first inning was all the offense the Nats needed, thanks to Jordan Zimmermann's commanding performance on the mound. The afternoon game on Thursday raised concerns again, however, as Stephen Strasburg struggled to contain the Mets' batters. Michael Taylor got two RBIs, but otherwise the bats were quiet. Final score: 6-3.
So, the Nats headed up to Philadelphia, and the very first batter in Friday night's game, Michael Taylor, hit a home run into the left field corner. But no other Nationals players crossed the plate for the rest of the game, while the Phillies took advantage of Gio Gonzalez seeming to get tired in the seventh inning. (Gio had been throwing quite well up to that point.) But after walking two batters and then hitting one with a pitch, loading the bases, he was replaced by Xavier Cedeno. Then came a two-run single, another hit by pitch, another RBI single, and an RBI sac fly. And that's how the Phillies came from behind to win, 4-1.
In the fourth inning of the game on Saturday, Wilson Ramos hit his first home run of the year, a solo shot, and the Nats again had a rally going in the top of the eighth inning, but only scored one more run. The fact that Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman had back-to-back strikeouts with two runners on base in the top of the eighth says a lot about what is going wrong. Much like last year, the Nats just aren't taking advantage of run-scoring opportunities. In the bottom of the inning, the Phillies tied it, and in the bottom of the tenth, they scored, winning, 3-2.
Today's game fit the dreadful pattern to a T, with the Nats losing an early lead, even going into extra innings with the same score as yesterday (2-2). But this time the Nats got a genuine rally going in the top of the tenth, thanks to a leadoff double by Yunel Escobar (who made it to third on a sac fly and then home on a wild pitch), a double by Clint Robinson, and an RBI single by Wilson Ramos. The added insurance run made all the difference, as Drew Storen walked the first two batters in the bottom of the tenth, one of whom scored. But Storen hung in there, and when Ryan Zimmerman snagged a hard bouncer for a force-out at first, that was the game. Whew! Ryan seems to be adapting to his new defensive position very well, making a number of great plays.
The Nats thus averted being swept by the Phillies, and can at least have something to be proud of as they head to Boston for a three-game series beginning on Monday. Jayson Werth may be in the lineup tomorrow, which would be great. With a 2-4 record, the Nats are in fourth place in the NL East. Until today the Braves were undefeated, but the Mets edged them 4-3.
2018 All-Star Game in D.C.!
The new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was at the Opening Day game in Washington, for the purpose of officially announcing that the 2018 All-Star Game will be played in Nationals Park. Huz-zah-h-h!! That means that four consecutive All-Star Games will be played in National League stadiums, the first time more than two consecutive All-Star Games have been played in one league's stadiums. So, of course I updated the Annual chronology page almost as soon as that became official.
Astrodome: 50th birthday!
It's hard to believe, but today is the 50th anniversary of the first official Major League game in the Astrodome. Mark London was at a "birthday" celebration there, and I look forward to hearing about what happened there.
And you know what that means: I updated the Astrodome diagrams, with more accurate profiles, minor corrections, and additional details such as the entry portals in the upper deck. The last diagram update for the Astrodome was in June of 2011.
Opening Day at new (?) stadiums
I've been seeing various references on Facebook, etc. lately about this or that day being the Nth anniversary of the first-ever game at So-and-so Stadium. It occurred to me that there ought to be a systematic record of all such Opening Days. And now there is!
Nationals Park (2008)
Great American Ballpark (2002), Chase Field (1998), Tropicana Field (1998)
Turner Field (1997), Progressive Field (1994), Marlins Park (2012)
Sun Life Stadium (1993)
Kingdome (1977), Metrodome (1982), Miller Field (2000), Oriole Park at Camden Yards (1992)
Milwaukee County Stadium (1970*), Exhibition Stadium (1977), Minute Maid Park (2000)
Jack Murphy Stadium (1969), K.C. Municipal Stadium (1969*), Petco Park (2004)
Ebbets Field (1913), RFK Stadium (1962), Angels Stadium (1966), Mile High Stadium (1993), PNC Park (2001)
Crosley Field (1912), Sicks Stadium (1969), Rangers Ballpark (1994), AT&T Park (1999), Comerica Park (2000)
Shibe Park (1909), Griffith Stadium (1911), K.C. Municipal Stad. (1955), Candlestick Park (1960), Astrodome (1965), Atlanta-Fulton Co. Stad. (1966), Citizens Bank Park (2004), Target Field (2010)
Polo Grounds (1962*), Citi Field (2009)
Sportsman's Park (1909), Jarry Park (1969), Milw. County Stadium (1953), RFK Stadium (2005*)
Memorial Stadium (1954), Seals Stadium (1958), Olympic Stadium (1977)
Yankee Stadium II (2009)
Braves Field (1915), Shea Stadium (1964), Oakland Coliseum (1968)
Yankee Stadium (1923), L.A. Memorial Coliseum (1958), U.S. Cellular Field (1991)
Fenway Park (1912), Tiger Stadium (1912), Wrigley Field (1916*)
League Park (1910), Metropolitan Stadium (1961), Arlington Stadium (1972)
Wrigley Field (1914)
Coors Field (1995)
Wrigley Field, L.A. (1961)
Baker Bowl (1895)
Busch Stadium II (1966)
Rogers Centre (1989)
Polo Grounds (1911)
Forbes Field (1909), Riverfront Stadium (1970)
Comiskey Park (1910)
Safeco Field (1999)
Three Rivers Stadium (1970)
Cleveland Stadium (1932)
* : Latter date for "hand-me-down" stadiums used by expansion or relocated teams.
Standard stadium names are used, often differing from the original name.
SOURCE: Lowry (2007), Green Cathedrals, Washington Post, etc.
It so happens that on this date (April 12), there were more MLB stadium openings (eight) than any other date.
Did you notice which stadium opened earlier in the year than any of the others? That's right, Nationals Park! It's rather odd that four stadiums opened during the last two days of March, but no stadiums opened during the first three days of April. The question mark after the word new in the headline above refers to the ambiguous situations when the stadium in question wasn't really "new," but the team was. After making enhancements and/or corrections, I'll probably put the above table on one of the baseball stadium reference pages some time in the future.
Does anyone remember what happened, or where they were, exactly ten years ago today -- April 4, 2005? I sure do! The Washington Nationals were officially "born," playing their first regulation game on the road in Philadelphia at Citizen's Bank Park. And I was there! The Phillies ended up winning, 8 to 4, but that hardly mattered, as the Nats took the next two games to win their very first series, and went on to take first place in the NL East and finished the season with a more-than-satisfactory 81-81 record.
At that game, I had the pleasure to meet (in person) Phil Faranda, one of the folks who first started following my Web site in the early years. He has since become a very successful real estate executive in the suburbs of New York.
Center field at Citizens Bank Park, from the left field corner. (Taken April 4, 2005 at the very first Washington Nationals game!)
The Nats played their first game in Nationals Park this year today (just an exhibition game, of course), taking a 3-0 lead over the Yankees in the first inning, but then they stalled, as the Yankees won the game, 4-3.
Opening Night 2015, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, is less than 24 hours away, and Opening Day in D.C. and 13 other cities is less than 48 hours away! The Nats will host the New York Mets, with their new ace pitcher Max Scherzer taking the mound.
I noticed on the shenvalbirds e-mail listserv that someone had spotted a Horned Grebe on Lake Shenandoah recently, so I went over there after my class this afternoon. Sure enough, within a few minutes, there it was, and I was able to get close enough for a so-so photo before it dove underwater and disappeared. I waited, and looked all around the lake, but that bird was nowhere to be seen. Finally, about ten minutes later, I spotted it again, within a few feet of the shore. I got much better photos that time, including a couple in which the Grebe is devouring a crayfish it had just caught. Just like a miniature lobster -- yum!
It was overcast this afternoon, so the photo conditions were mediocre. I may give it another try if we get a sunny day in the next week or so. I have only seen Horned Grebes once or twice in my life (perhaps not since 2002), and it would be great if this bird stays in Lake Shenandoah long enough for it to change into its full breeding plumage, which is spectacular. This one was in a transition stage between winter plumage and breeding plumage.
It was my first visit to that lake in several months. I noticed that they recently built a new trail made out of crushed stone for the first hundred yards along the lake, replacing the dangerous, narrow dirt trail. The lake is managed by the Virginia Department of Games and Inland Fisheries, and a fishing permit or visitor's permit is required to enter.
Horned Grebe. (Click on the image to see it eating a crayfish.)
I also saw my first Tree Swallows of the year flying over the lake, as well as a Pied-Bill Grebe and a Ring-billed Gull. Yesterday I saw a Chipping Sparrow out back for the first time this year.
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.
Ted Bosiack Field, home of the Staunton Braves, covered in snow on March 7.
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, rightleft 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.
Statue of Ernie Banks on the west side of Wrigley Field. (October 4, 2008)
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...
Construction innear 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!
Jacqueline and I took advantage of the beautiful weather on Sunday by taking a drive up north a ways. I was looking for birds, and she was just enjoying getting outside. The first stop was the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport, where I was hoping to get another look and/or photo of the Smith's Longspur, which I first saw on February 26. Others saw it there yesterday, but not us. We did get some nice closeup looks at Horned Larks, however, a species which Jacqueline had not seen before. Then we went to Bridgewater, where some Common Mergansers have been seen on the North River recently. It took a while, and finally I spotted several of them, but they were nearly 100 yards away, so the photos weren't that good. We drove back and forth between three different riverside parks in Bridgewater, but those darned Mergansers just kept eluding us.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was seeing several Common Grackles, which are supposedly year-round residents in Virginia, but are hardly ever seen during the winter. It was the first such sighting of the year for me, a definite sign that spring is drawing near! Here is a summary of the birds we saw yesterday:
Muscovy Duck (escaped domesticated)
Northern Pintail (male)
Common Grackles (FOY)
Robins, Blue Jays, Juncos, etc.
Common Merganser (male), on the North River in Bridgewater.
Other new photos are on the Wild birds yearly photo gallery page. Today I took some great closeup photos of a male Pileated Woodpecker in our back yard (quite unusual), but haven't transferred them to the computer yet. Stay tuned!
Today's Washington Post reported that 47 Republican senators wrote a letter to Iran concerning the Obama administration's ongoing negotiations with that country. Basically, it served notice to Iran that any deal that is reached over Iran's nuclear development program would only be an "executive agreement" and therefore subject to cancellation by a future president. Coming on the heels of the recent awkward appearance by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before a joint session of Congress, it reaffirmed that idea that nothing less than total compliance will be acceptable to the Senate. That's not a realistic goal, so in essence it's saying "no deal," period.
So, of course this set the stage for another volley of polemical tirades between pro-Obama and anti-Obama forces. Democratic leaders such as Vice President Joe Biden were shocked -- shocked! -- at the unseemly display of partisanship on a sensitive matter of national security. Meanwhile, Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Zavad Zirif (educated in the U.S.) took the occasion to lecture Senate Republicans on international law and the U.S. Constitution. He called that letter a "propaganda ploy," which is rather ironic coming from a repressive theocratic regime. It is, most certainly, an upside-down world we are living in.
Some Democrats have suggested that the Republicans' letter was a violation of the Logan Act, which forbids U.S. citizens from interferring in American diplomacy. Ironically, some Republicans have made similar criticisms of Democrats in years past. For example, Rep. Nancy Pelosi met with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in 2007, an act of freelance diplomacy that undercut the Bush administration. Now the shoe is on the other foot. As Michael Crowley wrote in politico.com, the GOP letter to Iran was the latest spat in a long-running feud between the parties over control of U.S. foreign policy. Its unusual nature merely reflects the current poisoned atmosphere in Washington, where the opposite ends of Pennsylvania [Avenue] hold each other in mutual contempt.
Battles between the executive and legislative branches over foreign policy date back to the Vietnam War, when we learned the sorrowful consequences of pursuing international goals without a solid domestic consensus. The War Powers Resolution (1973) was one such battle, and the Reagan administration's support of the "Contra" rebels fighting the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua was another. This much is certain: The power of the presidency has expanded far beyond what the framers of the U.S. Constitution had intended, and our continued status as a republic (as opposed to an empire) rests to a large extent on whether Congress will be able to rein in presidents. Say what you will about Sen. Tom Cotton [(R-AR)], the author of the letter, or the other Senate Republicans who signed that letter, but they are duly elected government officials -- just as President Obama is.
Presidents need a certain amount of leeway in the conduct of diplomacy, and the GOP letter is a blunt (and in my view, unwarranted) attempt to deny the president any such leeway. It may make the world more dangerous by killing any chance at a peaceful resolution of the basic dispute. As for the administration's claim that the President has the authority to reach executive agreements without approval from Congress, that is certainly true of smaller-scale agreements of a technical nature, such as carrying out weapons inspection. But it would be rash and imprudent to make an agreement of such great importance as the prospective deal with Iran without substantial input from Congress. That is why, viewed from a different perspective, is quite appropriate to make a bold assertion of the Senate's constitutional duty to give "advice and consent" to the president in making treaties. Are those who are skeptical of Iran's intentions supposed to just stand idly aside? No. I just wish they had expressed their views in a more proper, respectful manner.
In a real sense, President Obama invited this showdown by his habit of making major policy decisions entirely on his own, such as the suspended enforcement of certain immigration laws which he announced in November. But even if the senators had a valid concern and had no ulterior political motivatations, the letter was still needlessly embarrassing and potentially disruptive to negotiations -- for whatever they may be worth. Instead of declaring their position to the American people, to whom they are accountable, they stooped to the President's level in a childish, tit-for-tat game of one-upsmanship. That is not the way to do block executive branch usurpations. As Joe Scarborough lamented on MS-NBC this morning, "Really? Really?" It's not that he was opposed to what the Republicans were doing, but was simply exasperated by the tactless way they did it. Almost everything Obama does these days is aimed at enraging his opponents, and the Republicans need to refrain from taking his bait. In sum, the letter to Iran was regrettable -- and quite understandable.
As background for this blog piece, I referred to a book from my graduate school days, The President, the Congress, and Foreign Policy, ed. by Edmund S. Muskie, Kenneth Rush, and Kenneth W. Thompson (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1986).
My general practice is to make no more than one blog post per day on any one category. For this reason, some blog posts may address more than one specific issue, as indicated by separate headings. If something important happens during the day after I make a blog post, I may add an updated paragraph or section to it, using the word "UPDATE" and sometimes a horizontal rule to distinguish the new material from the original material. For each successive day, blog posts are listed on the central blog page (which brings together all topics) from top to bottom in the following (reverse alphabetical) order, which may differ from the order in which the posts were originally made:
Wild birds (LAST)
Science & Technology *
Culture & Travel *
Canaries ("Home birds")
* part of "Macintosh & Miscellanous" until Feb. 2007
The date of each blog post refers to when the bulk of it was written, in the Eastern Time Zone. For each blog post, the time and date of the original posting (or the last update or comment thereupon) is displayed on the individual archival blog post page that appears (just before the comments section) when you click the [LINK / comments] link next to the date. Non-trivial corrections and clarifications to original blog entries are indicated by the use of [brackets] and/or strikethroughs, as appropriate so as to accurately convey both the factual truth and my original representation of it. Nobody's perfect, but I strive for continual improvement. That is also why some of the nature photos that appear on the archive pages may differ from the (inferior) ones that were originally posted.
The current "home made" blog organization system that I created, featuring real permalinks, was instituted on November 1, 2004. Prior to that date, blog posts were handled inconsistently, and for that reason the pre-2005 archives pages are something of a mess. Furthermore, my blogging prior to June 1, 2004 was often sporadic in terms of frequency.
This blog is distinguished in many ways from the rest of the "blogosphere." My blog entries cover a rigidly defined set of topics, with varying degrees of intensity according to how much is going on in each area, and how much time I have. Being somewhat of a "do-it-yourselfer," I chose a "home-made" approach rather than conforming to the common blogging systems such as Blogger or WordPress. The blog entries and archives are arranged in a sort of "proprietary" scheme that I have gradually developed over time. Finally, being an old-fashioned, soft-spoken kind of guy, I avoid attention-grabbing sensationalism and strident rhetoric, and strive instead to maintain a reasonable, dignified, respectful tone.
Number of visitors to this page since June 13, 2004: