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,
To the surprise of almost no one, State Senator Emmett Hanger won renomination as the Republican candidate for Virginia Senate for the 24th Senate District in the June 9 primary election, exactly three weeks ago. The only uncertainty was his margin of victory, and given that he was facing two opposing candidates, it's safe to call his 60-percent share of the vote a landslide victory. For details on the election results, see newsleader.com.
It was quite a contrast to the situation four years ago, when Hanger went unchallenged, and eight years ago, when he barely turned back a primary election challenge by Scott Sayre. So what's going on? Strangely enough, given my deep involvement in local politics prior to 2010 or so, I only have a vague idea about the nature of the struggles within the Republican Party lately. I was, however, diligent enough to read about the candidates in the News Leader, and to look at their campaign flyers.
The two challengers were Marshall Pattie, a professor at James Madison University and member of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors, and Dan Moxley, a businessman and chairman of the Augusta County Republican Committee. Pattie has been affiliated with the "grassroots" faction in Augusta County, those who are motivated primarily by opposition to higher property taxes. The most prominent public figure within that faction is Tracy Pyles, a long-time local Democrat who seems to embody the old (pre-1970s) Democratic Party in Virginia. Pattie was first elected in November 2011, along with David Karaffa and Tracy Pyles (who was reelected). Another candidate of that faction, former Augusta County GOP Chairman Kurt Michaels, lost his election bid that year. The fact that Pattie himself is a former local Democratic leader raised many eyebrows, but he identifies himself as a conservative. He stressed the issues of cutting government red tape, improving Internet access to rural residents, and reducing the cost of adoptions.
As for Moxley, he seems to have enjoyed strong support from local Tea Party activists, although a local Tea Party official made clear in a letter to the editor that the organization does not endorse candidates. (Otherwise, they would become subject to harsh government scrutiny under campaign finance laws!) Moxley's campaign strongly emphasized his opposition to Obamacare, pledging to vote against Medicaid expansion, and to repeal laws that he considers unconstitutional. He is pro-Second Amendment, and also stressed "sanctity of life" (anti-abortion) and "traditional marriage." He was formerly Vice Chairman of the Bath County Republican Committee, and then moved to Augusta County a couple years ago, whereupon he ran unopposed for the GOP chairmanship.
Emmett Hanger was not caught flat-footed by these dual challenges, as seemed to be the case in 2007, when his campaign didn't really get started until a month or so before the election. Indeed, there were dozens of radio commercials in late May and early June, as well as a deluge of campaign flyers in everybody's mail boxes. I also noted increasing use of social media such as Facebook, something that Emmett used to shun. His campaign "recycled" an abridged version of my YouTube video of the musical fundraiser on May 31, 2007, featuring Jimmy Fortune (of the Statler Brothers) and Robin Williams. There was also a cute animated skit in which Emmett talks about how he has stood up against the low-down hardball political tactics employed by right-wing anti-tax activists. (Probably alluding to the Koch Brothers.) Emmett's campaign literature emphasized that he is conservative, that he is the same guy he always was, and that he has been endorsed by the NRA, real estate agents, and other groups. It was a clever, effective, professional campaign. So who was behind it? To my surprise, the manager of the Hanger 2015 campaign was none other than Lynn Mitchell, local blogger, former member of the Republican State Central Committee, ally of Kurt Michael, and fierce leader of the Sayre campaign running against Hanger in 2007! Well, if you can't beat them, join them.
Campaign sign for Emmett Hanger, in Mount Solon, near where he lives in the northern part of Augusta County.
Member Senate of Virginia (024)
Results by Locality
78 precincts of 78 (100.00%) reporting
Because the 24th District is strongly conservative, it is almost guaranteed that whoever wins the Republican primary election will win the general election in November. And because Virginia is an open primary state, where people can vote in either party's primary, there is always a possibility of heavy crossover voting of a less-than-sincere nature. The Republican State Central Committee met in Staunton this past Saturday to address the question of how to do nominations. They tentatively decided to use a primary election in next year's presidential race, and to use a convention for the next gubernatorial elections, in 2017. See newsleader.com.
In my blog post on politics on February 12, I lamented the failure of redistricting reform in Virginia at this year's General Assembly Session. Following the redistricting of 2011, the Virginia 24th Senate District lost Highland County, northern Rockbridge County, and northwestern Albemarle County, and gained Madison County and most of Culpeper County except for the town of Culpeper, extending nearly to the city of Fredericksburg. What motivated this extremely contorted configuration? Obviously, folks who live in Augusta County have little in common with those who live in the outer suburbs of Washington, D.C. The 24th Senate District is stretched out like a blob of dough, and in my view violates the standard laid out in the Constitution of Virginia. The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a ruling in favor of those who would reform the redistricting process, and I was pleased to learn that Emmett Hanger came out in favor of such reforms. It will be a long and arduous process, however...
Virginia 24th Senate Dist 2011, represented by Senator Emmett Hanger.
According to Article II, Section 6 of the Constitution of Virginia (virginia.gov),
"... Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory... "
Gradually, I have been getting caught up with various tasks after what had to have been the busiest four months of my life. In early December I accepted an offer to teach two courses at Sweet Briar College** for the spring semester, the third time I had done so. (I had previously taught there during the 2007-2008 academic year, and in the fall of 2013.) I planned to continue teaching at Central Virginia Community College, but with perhaps two sections rather than three.
But then just before Christmas, I became aware of an opening at Bridgewater College for the spring semester. Since the subject was right up my alley (Latin American Politics), I leaped at the opportunity, and was soon hired. That obviously conflicted with my schedule at CVCC, and I let them know that I would not be available to teach courses there, unless the 8:00 AM section (in the Amherst off-campus center) was shifted from Tuesday-Thursday to Monday-Wednesday, in which case I might teach just that one section. I was hoping that they could find someone else to teach that section, but that was not the case, so agreed to teach at CVCC again, along with Sweet Briar and Bridgewater.
I knew what I was getting into, and I committed myself 110 percent to doing the very best I could, leaving my other pursuits (baseball, birds, and politics) largely by the wayside. It required a huge amount of preparation work, and I was often up until 2:00 AM or later preparing PowerPoint (or Keynote) presentations for the next day's classes. But it was also the difficulty of maintaining an appropriate state of mind while I shifted from one institution to the other. Believe me, it gets confusing keeping track of which class and which college I'm at on any given day of the week!
* Hence the title above, which is an allusion to a humorous travel-themed movie from 1968, If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. (See imdb.com.)
But all kidding aside, I had a great experience teaching at Bridgewater for the first time. It is a liberal arts college affiliated with the Church of the Brethren, which upholds traditional Christian values of a simple lifestyle and peace. There are about 1,800 students enrolled full time.(bridgewater.edu) That's over twice as big as Sweet Briar College, but it's still small enough for administrators, staff people, and faculty members to get along on a friendly basis. Everyone I met there was extremely helpful. As for the students in my class, I was very impressed by their overall quality, and the serious attitude toward learning shown by many of them.
Perhaps inevitably, there were one or two times when my frantic schedule got the best of me, and I would be the first to admit that I often just could not be at my best. Fortunately, the students were understanding, by and large, and I think they got a lot out of the class. I showed a five-minute video of the trip to Peru that Jacqueline and I took in 2004, but it was mostly about wild birds there. (Unfortunately, the longer video I produced is on a video CD, a format that is not compatible with most computers or DVD players.) From my perspective, being able to refresh my lecturing in Latin American Politics was extremely helpful. As part of my preparations for class, I updated a number of my Latin American Web pages with names of presidents and political parties, but most of the individual country Web pages are still woefully outdated. Next time I teach that subject, I'll have the information on those pages much more current.
The Bridgewater College baseball (out)field, with Flory Hall (where my Latin American Politics class met) beyond. (April 23)
My biggest regret was not finding the time to attend a Bridgewater College baseball game. I went over to the field a couple times, one of which was before a game that was rained out. Many more photos of Sweet Briar and Bridgewater can be seen on the Spring 2015 photo gallery page.
** NOTE: I will have more to say about the stunning announcement of the closure of Sweet Briar College, and its recent tentative re-opening, in a separate blog post soon.
In one of the biggest surprises in collegiate sports this year, the University of Virginia Cavaliers overcame a less-than-expected regular season performance (34-22), somehow scratched their way through the NCAA playoff tournaments as an underdog, and finally claimed the 2015 College World Series trophy. The Cavaliers' comeback after the final series Game 1 loss to Vanderbilt, winning Games 2 and 3, was typical of their postseason play this year. There were many heroes, some of whom you can see in photos below.
Their lackluster regular season record was the result of multiple injuries. Slugging outfielder Joe McCarthy had back surgery before the season began, and his return to the lineup in early June helped their offense, and their team spirit. In a Washington Post article on June 13, catcher Matt Thais was quoted as saying that McCarthy's nickname is "Mojo," and once they got their "Mojo" back, the sky was the limit. Starting pitcher Nathan Kirby missed nine weeks, and took the mound against for the first time in two months, and was pulled early as Virginia lost.
So, who deserves the credit? You could easily point to Pavin Smith, who hit a two-run homer and an RBI single in the decisive 4-2 win over Vanderbilt on Wednesday night, but it really was a team effort. Nathan Kirby finished the game started by Brandon Waddell in that final CWS game, getting credit for the save, and getting buried in the "dogpile" of jubilant Virginia players. Outfielder Adam Haseley successfully took on pitching responsibilities in the must-win Game 2, an awesome performance. Relief pitcher Josh Sborz won three games in the CWS, pitching 13 shutout innings, and won the CWS Most Outstanding Player Award. And you could talk about the elimination game against Florida, when Kenny Towns hit a walk-off sac fly. He is the only graduating senior on the team, which will feature a very similar lineup next year.
To get to Omaha, the Cavaliers first had to beat USC in the Lake Elsinore regional tournament, and then they swept Maryland (2-0) in the super-regional tournament in Charlottesville on June 5 and 6. Virginia went 10-2 in the three stages of NCAA tournaments, and ended up with an overall record of 44-24, the fewest number of wins by any CWS champion team since the University of Southern California in 1968. The way this year went for the Cavaliers was almost the reverse of last year, when they had an outstanding regular season, entering the College World Series as favorites with the highest winning percentage (.777), and then fell just short in the final game against Vanderbilt. The Cavaliers' overall record in 2014 was 52-17.
On Friday evening, the University of Virginia had a big victory/welcome celebration at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, and I was there! Of course, they played the song by Queen, "We Are the Champions!" University President Teresa Sullivan was there to congratulate the team, along with Athletic Director Craig Littlepage. It was hard to believe: national champions! Read all about that fairy-tale ending in the Washington Post. Post sports writer Isabelle Khurshadyan has been covering Virginia's baseball team this year, doing a very good job.
U.Va. baseball coach Brian O'Connor, 2015 College World Series trophy.
Some of the stars of the national champion University of Virginia 2015 baseball team. Clockwise from top left: Pavin Smith, Nathan Kirby, Brandon Waddell, Daniel Pinero, Thomas Woodruff, Joe McCarthy, and Kenny Towns.
Unfortunately, I didn't get good photos of some other stars, including Josh Sborz, Adam Haseley, Kevin Doherty, or Connor Jones. But you can see them in this group photo below (click on it to see it full-size), if you squint real hard.
The entire University of Virginia 2015 baseball team, along with the coaches, trainers, equipment managers, and assistants. For the names of all the players on the roster, see virginiasports.com
Congratulations to the University of Virginia baseball team! Wa-hoo-wah!!
But wait, there's more! In related news, the University of Virginia won the men's annual Capital One Cup (capitalonecup.com ) in recognition of the best overall athletic achievement by a college team this year. U.Va. also won national championships this past year in men's tennis and soccer, and the men's basketball team finished with a top-10 ranking. (They had a great regular season, but exited early in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.) Virginia had 149 points, ahead of second-place Oregon with 121. See the (Charlottesville) dailyprogress.com.
TD Ameritrade Park again
I realized that I had to make some significant corrections to the TD Ameritrade Park diagram on the day after I originally posted it. Just for good measure, I added another photo to that page, showing the grandstand and part of the outfield, viewed from the right field gate. Finally, I included on that page two panoramic photos of Rosenblatt Stadium, where the College World Series used to be held. If ever I do a diagram of that one, I'll move those photos to its own page.
Nationals' winning streak ends at eight
Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals followed up their sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates by sweeping the Atlanta Braves, thus extending their winning streak to six games. On Wednesday, Jordan Zimmermann had his best outing of the year, going eight innings without allowing a run. But unfortunately, his team mates let him down, scoring only one run in regulation, while Drew Storen blew the save in the top of the ninth. He gave up two hits and a walk to load the bases with nobody out, after which Kelly Johnson hit a sac fly to center field. Storen was lucky that Span threw out Joey Terdoslavich at second to get the double play, or else the Braves might have scored a second (go-ahead) run. So, the game went into extras and reached the 11th inning, when Bryce Harper doubled with one out, followed by two walks to load the bases, and it was all up to Ian Desmond. Overcoming all the negative vibes plaguing him this year, he connected for a long fly ball that was more than sufficient to get the winning run across home plate. The Nats won, 2-1! Ian was due for a walk-off celebration like that, and it's too bad it had to come at Jordan Zimmermann's expense.
Then on Thursday, Doug Fister took the mound and put in another superb performance, shutting out the Braves for seven innings before the bullpen took over. This time they got the job done, but that was partly because of the lack of any pressure: The Nationals scored six times while Fister was in the lineup, and once more in the eighth inning. Final score: Nats 7, Braves 0. Another sweep!
On Friday, the Nationals traveled to The City of Brotherly Love, where Max Scherzer continued his recent total dominance on the mound. In fact, he was perfect for the first five innings. Then he gave up a double to Freddy Galvis in the sixth inning, an RBI double to Domonic Brown in the seventh, and a solo home run to Ben Revere in the eighth. He was clearly getting tired, and manager Matt Williams really should have let him rest after the seventh inning. In the ninth, closer Drew Storen took over pitching duties and got the save. Nats 5, Phillies 2. Aside from the bloop single by Carlos Gomez in Milwaukee on June 14 (which ruined Scherzer's bid for a perfect game), it was the first time over a span of 23 1/3 innings that Scherzer had given up a hit. See the Washington Post.
That game also put an end to the amazing 48-inning scoreless streak chalked up by the Nationals' starting pitchers, the second longest such streak ever accomplished in baseball. It all began with Joe Ross on June 19, followed by (in order) Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Scherzer again. Seven superb starts, all but one of which (Strasburg) lasted for at least seven innings. That is the kind of championship-caliber pitching rotation Nats fans have been expecting this year. Let's hope they can keep it up.
It was raining in Philadelphia (and most of the mid-Atlantic) on Saturday, but the Phillies decided to start the game anyway. Gio Gonzalez pitched two innings, but the game was then halted because it was just too muddy. Matt Williams was rightly angered that one of his pitchers had to waste a start, complaining that the game shouldn't have been played at all. Instead they played Sunday afternoon, as the first game of a double-header, but Gio couldn't pitch two days in a row, so Stephen Strasburg started. He had his second consecutive quality start, going seven innings in a 3-2 win by the Nationals. His performances since returning from the disabled list are very encouraging. Reserve player Dan Uggla led Nats' (rather modest) offense, going 3 for 4 at the plate.
But in the second game on Sunday, Tanner Roark had his worst outing of the year, giving up eight earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings. The Nats tried to come back with home runs by Ian Desmond and Jose Lobaton, but it wasn't enough. Phillies 8, Nats 5. And that's how the Nationals' winning streak came to an end, at eight games.
Tonight the Nats open a three-game series against the Braves in Atlanta. They are currently 42-34, enjoying first place in the standings, with a 2 1/2-game lead over the New York Mets.
Nats suffer more injuries
Once again, Ryan Zimmerman was put on the 15-day disabled list, as his chronic plantar fasciitis (see webMD.com) was hobbling him too much. And the often-fragile Anthony Rendon is likewise out again, with a strained left quadricep. Hopefully, they'll both be back in the lineup in the next few days. In their places, Matt den Dekker and Emmanuel Burriss have been called up from the minors. But as for Jayson Werth, who is taking time off the let his fractured left wrist heal, it will probably be Augusta before he returns. With all three of those players on the field, the Nats would be very hard to beat...
Today's Washington Post noted that the Nationals' recent success have been due in great measure to the solid performances by their backup players. Second-string outfielders Tyler Moore and Clint Robinson have been filling in for Zimmerman at first base, and Robinson was the cleanup batter in the second game on Sunday. Moore has improved greatly, batting .320 over the last ten games. Matt den Dekker hasn't had much success as a pinch-hitter this year, but in his very first game in the Nationals' starting lineup (Friday), he hit a home run. Michael Taylor has also had some clutch hits recently, and remains a big part of the Nationals future outfield plans. That may raise questions about Denard Span, who is having another great year, both on offense and defense, deserving of consideration for the All-Star Game. I hope the Nationals front office signs him to another contract.
Comerica Park update
I have updated the Comerica Park diagrams, and made the usual touchups to the rest of that page. (The previous update of those diagrams was on October 30, 2012.) The grandstand is slightly bigger all around (just a few feet), but it's more like ten feet bigger around the scoreboard and other parts near the left field corner. There are also more details shown, such as the "creases" in the grandstand, the bullpen mounds and plates, and the steps (darker shaded) along the sides of the entry portals in the upper deck. With any luck, I'll pay a second visit to Comerica Park next month -- and maybe a few other ballparks in the northern regions!
As far as updating diagrams on stadiums currently in use, I believe that leaves just Minute Maid Park, Rogers Centre, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field. I should finish those in the next week or two, and then tackle the rest of them later this summer and fall. Yes, I know you've heard that one before, but I've finally got the time and energy to "git 'r done!"
Last Saturday, June 20, Allen Larner and I hiked along Jackson Trail all the way to the top of Little North Mountain, in a quest to find out what kinds of birds may be breeding in that remote wilderness. (It's a Wildlife Management Area, requiring a permit from the Virginia Dept. of Games and Inland Fisheries to enter.) We heard and/or saw nearly all of the expected neotropical migrants, most notably Acadian Flycatchers, American Redstarts, Scarlet Tanagers, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Nothing really out of the ordinary, however, unless you count the Black Bear that we spotted on the trail about 100-120 yards ahead. To my surprise, it walked toward us briefly, before leaving the road and heading into the woods. I figure it was in the range of 150-180 pounds, probably two years old. There were lots of Great Spangled Fritillaries just about everywhere we walked. Allen and I covered nearly seven miles altogether, with a net climb of about 1,000 feet, leaving us both exhausted and sore.
Black Bear, at the top of Little North Mountain, VA.
Afterwards, Allen took me over to nearby Augusta Springs to look for a family of Pied-billed Grebes. After ten or so minutes, we finally spotted them on the other side of the pond, and I took some photos. It is the second-ever documented record of this species breeding in Augusta County!
Pied-billed Grebes (juvenile), in Augusta Springs, VA.
Next, we drove to Swoope and confirmed that the Bald Eagle nest is empty, now that the youngster has fledged. Finally, we went to a nearby spot where a male Alder Flycatcher has been singing lately. (They are visually indistinguishable from Willow Flycatchers, but have a very distinct "song.") Playing the Alder Flycatcher song on my iPod soon attracted the bird in question to a perch just 15 or so feet from the car, and I took several photos. It ignored the Willow Flycatcher song I played, but got very agitated by the Alder Flycatcher song, and at one point even "attacked" us, hovering within a couple feet of Allen's face. There are no records of this species breeding in Augusta County.
Alder flycatcher, in Swoope, VA.
All in all, not a bad day to enjoy nature in the Great Outdoors!
Hiking up Trimble Mountain
On Tuesday, June 16, I went on a big hike, climbing Trimble Mountain in northern Augusta County. It was about 900 feet gain in elevation, covering four miles altogether. Boy, did I need the exercise! The last time I went there was in June 2012, but that visit was cut short by a close encounter with a bear on the trail ahead, and I had to turn back. (So did the bear.) Well, the same thing happened again this time, except this time it was just a small (yearling) bear, probably close to 100 pounds, and it was in the bushes off to the side and scampered away immediately. So, I was able to continue, and eventually came across a group of three women hikers, advising them that they might see a bear. The last time I completed the three-mile circuit hike was May 2009, six years ago, which is the same time elapsed since my first hike there. Here are the highlights of the birds I saw:
Scarlet Tanagers (M, F)
Eastern Wood Pewee
Broad-winged Hawk ???
American Redstarts (M, F)
I saw and/or heard Acadian Flycatchers in several locations, probably 8-10 of them altogether, finally getting some good photos of that species. Seeing so many was a surprise, as was the fact that some of them were near the top of the mountain. They are usually found close to a wooded stream. I also heard some Ravens, Black-throated Green Warblers, Black and White Warblers, Blue-headed Vireos, and Pine Warblers.
Acadian Flycatcher, Trimble Mountain.
Highland County field trip
On Saturday June 13, the Augusta Bird Club had its annual summer field trip to Highland County. I was dearly hoping to get photos or at least good looks at two target species: Golden-winged Warbler and Mourning Warbler. We did see the former, but it was at least 60 yards away, and the only photo I got was poor quality. I'm pretty sure I heard and then glimpsed the latter in a particular brushy meadow just across the West Virginia state line where it is usually found, but the group was in a hurry, so I had to leave it. We had very nice looks at a Bobolink (see below) and some Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Other birds of note that we saw: Bald Eagle, Alder Flycatcher, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Canada Warbler.
Bobolink, male, west of Blue Grass, VA.
The above photo, and the other new ones, can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
Following up on the uplifting 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday, the Washington Nationals had one of their most memorable games in their ten-year history. One week after throwing a one-hitter, Max Scherzer had a virtually perfect game, spoiled only by a hit-by-pitch with two outs in the top of the ninth. (See below.) He threw ten strikeouts, making 26 total in his last two games. Meanwhile, Bryce Harper homered, and his team mates kept up the offensive push, leading to a 6-0 victory. [It was the first no-hitter in the major leagues this year, and (as we know ) the second one in Nationals history (excluding the Expos). Scherzer set all sorts of records with those dominant consecutive games.]
On Sunday, Gio Gonzalez had a decent outing, while the bats came alive again. In fact, they scored nine runs in the first inning, the most ever for the team in the first inning, and tying their record for runs in any inning. Bryce Harper homered after Yunel Escobar singled, jumping to a 2-0 lead, and after getting through the bottom of the order thanks to an RBI double by Gio Gonzalez, Escobar had a second at bat, and he made the most of it, with a three run homer. The rest of the game was fairly dull, although the Braves did finally get two runs in the top of the ninth as the Nats won, 9-2. So, what seemed to have been a daunting opponent (having won eight games in a row) turned out to be almost a pushover. Somehow, the Nats managed to win a series at last?
And what was Joe Ross's reward for pitching so splendidly in his first three major league outings? Why, he was sent back down to the minors. Go figure. Couldn't he at least be part of the bullpen?
Was Scherzer robbed?
The way Jose Tabata put his elbow in front of the ball in Saturday's game raises the question of whether the umpire should have called him out. (Indeed, the exact same thing happened a little while later in Omaha that same evening, and in that case the batter was called out.) To me, it's pretty obvious, but it's [a moot point. It was an eerie echo of when umpire Jim Joyce] blew what should have been an out call at first base [in 2010], robbing [Detroit's Armando Galarraga] of a perfect game. [To his credit, Scherzer graciously took the blame for throwing an inside pitch, and didn't question Tabata's movement.]
Mark London reminded me about what happened to Milt Pappas in 1972, near the end of his career which began with the Baltimore Orioles. [With two outs in the ninth inning, he gave up a walk and then immediately got the third out on a pop-up, for the no-hitter; much like Scherzer.] Watch for yourself at youtube.com.
[Strasburg is back, wins]
After a day of rest, the Nationals opened a home series against the Atlanta Braves last night. Fierce thunderstorms (which struck throughout the region) caused a two-hour delay, but the Nats got off to a good start nonetheless. Denard Span, Anthony Rendon batted him in. The Nats got a total of 12 hits, leaving too many on base, but it was enough runs to win the game, as Stephen Strasburg was in control for a change. Fans in D.C. were nervous about whether he had gotten over whatever it was that was plaguing him, and the initial indication was positive. He went five full innings, escaping from one jam, and striking out six batters. Drew Storen loaded the bases in the top of the ninth, but managed to get out of the jam when the batter popped out to the catcher in foul territory. Final score: 3-1.
Did Pete Rose bet?
You bet he bet! There has been talk that Pete Rose will be allowed to make some kind of appearance at the All-Star Game in Cincinatti next month, as a possible step toward full forgiveness and presumably admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame. A notebook recently surfaced which shows clear evidence that Rose indeed had bet on games in which he played during the early 1980s. See ESPN. My view is that he shouldn't be let into the Hall of Fame until as much time passes as passed between his misdeeds and his belated admission of wrongdoing -- that is, about 20 years.
Virginia reaches CWS finals
Talk about nerve-wracking drama, over and over again! The University of Virginia Cavaliers somehow defeated the Florida Gators in the NCAA elimination game on Saturday night, by a score of 5-4. That put them in the final series for the second year in a row, against the same opponent: Vanderbilt. On Monday night it was a close game until the sixth inning, whereupon the Commodores took a two-run lead. Later they tacked on three more, so the Cavs lost the first game, 5-1. Getting a symbolic run in the top of the ninth perhaps gave them a bit of momentum for Game 2. The usual center fielder [Adam] Haseley took the mound for the first time in over a month, and he did fine for about five innings, exiting the game with a 3-0 lead behind him. The Cavaliers scored single runs in three of the first five innings. Then the relief pitcher Josh Sborz came in to pitch, and he likewise did splendidly, finishing the game with a multi-inning save. In tonight's game, the Cavs got base hits on the first two pitches of the game, but failed to score a run, whereas the Commodores got two runs in the bottom of the first. But in the fourth inning the Cavs tied it 2-2, thanks to a home run by Pavin Smith, and that's where we stand right now.
[UPDATE: The Cavaliers took a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning, thanks to an RBI single by Pavin Smith.]
[UPDATED UPDATE: The Cavaliers added on a run in the seventh inning, and went on to win 4-2. Virginia is the national champion in college baseball for the very first time! Brandon Waddell went seven full innings and got the win, and Nathan Kirby pitched the last two and got the save. Details tomorrow.]
TD Ameritrade Park!
Just in time for this evening's dramatic finale, I created a brand-new page for TD Ameritrade Park, complete with a fairly accurate diagram and a couple new photos. The panorama below is the best interior shot I could get, as no one was "at home" that day to let me inside. I should note that a minor league football team has played at TD Ameritrade Park, which is in the odd position of having no regular baseball tenant. I'll include a football version at some point in the future.
Interior panorama of TD Ameritrade Park, from behind home plate. Taken July 25, 2014.
It is hard to fathom the origins of the maddening inconsistency displayed by the Washington Nationals this year. One day they surpass their sky-high expectations with a performance worthy of the postseason, and the next day they play like a struggling minor league team. Over and over and over again.
The four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers (June 11 - 14) was a good example. Tanner Roark, who had a couple good outings filling in as the fifth man in the pitching rotation after Doug Fister went on the DL, just couldn't get it together in Milwaukee. He's usually very reliable, but gave up too many hits to the Brewers, who won that game, 6-5. The next evening (Friday) Jordan Zimmermann lasted only three and a third innings, giving up six earned runs. It was one of his worst outings ever, putting more pressure on an already battered bullpen. More to the point, those losses put the Nationals back into second place in the NL East, behind the New York Mets. On Saturday, rookie pitcher Joe Ross took the mound, and I feared the worse. But to my immense surprise and delight, Ross went eight full innings, striking out eight, as the Nats won, 7-2.
In the final game of that series on Sunday (Flag Day!), Max Scherzer had a perfect game going until the seventh inning, when the Brewers' Carlos Gomez blooped a Texas Leaguer that just eluded second-baseman Anthony Rendon's grasp. Argh-h-h! Scherzer allowed one walk after that, but nobdy else reached base as he got the second complete game shutout of his career. He threw 16 strikeouts, and none of the batted balls was well hit, so in a sense it could be considered an even better performance than when Jordan Zimmermann pitched the no-hitter last September. Scherzer has had some bad luck on the mound, but he really is living up to the high expectations that were placed upon him. Nats 4, Brewers 0, with the series split two games apiece. So the Nats seemed to have recovered from that slump...
But then the team flew down to St. Petersburg, Florida, where the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays were ready and waiting. In Monday's game, Gio Gonzalez had a poor outing, virtually identical to what Jordan Zimmermann had just had: he lasted only three and a third innings, giving up five earned runs. It was an ugly 6-1 loss. But then on Tuesday, Tanner Roark recovered his old mojo and went seven full innings, as the Nats' bats came alive with a vengeance. Clint Robinson, the new left-batting outfielder, hit a colossal home run into the catwalks at Tropicana Field, and Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos followed suit. (Ramos homered twice.) Altogether the Nats had 23 hits, setting a team record, winning by a score of 16-4. It was a strange night, as the Miami Marlins and Baltimore Orioles won by similarly huge margins. So that game had to mark a big turning point for the Nats, right?
Nope. As the dual-city series shifted from St. Petersburg to Washington on Wednesday, somehow the Nats fell into a torpor once again, only getting two hits. Jordan Zimmermann had a decent outing, striking out eight and giving up three runs over seven innings, but it was wasted effort, as the Nats fell, 5-0. That game was the first appearance in Nationals Park by Steven Souza, Jr., the guy who caught the long fly ball in the ninth inning to save Zimmermann's no hitter last year. The crowd cheered appreciatively for Souza, and he repaid the gesture by hitting a solo home run. Ouch! On Thursday night, Doug Fister returned to the mound for the first time in over a month, and he did just fine for five innings. But he was clearly tired by the sixth inning, giving up multiple hits, allowing the Rays to take the lead. Why didn't Matt Williams take him out before too much damage was done? It's not the first time this has happened, and it raised questions once again about his managerial decisions-making when it comes to the bullpen. Fister may have suffered from the rain delay, the second in as many nights at Nationals Park. Whatever the problem was, the Rays ended up winning, 5-3, taking three out of four games in that series. That was just a shame. The worst part about that game was when Bryce Harper slipped on the wet grass trying to make a throw to home in the late innings, pulling his left hamstring in the process. He is now listed as day-to-day.
So the Nationals' confidence was shaken once again, as one of the hottest teams in baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates, came to town on Friday night. The Pirates had an eight-game winning streak, and with the Nationals' three best sluggers out of action and rookie pitcher Joe Ross on the mound, prospects were bleak. But Ross once again rose to the occasion, pitching seven-plus innings and striking out eleven batters. That guy is really something, and has a confident poise that belies his 22 years of age. Wilson Ramos led the Nats' offense with two clutch RBI hits (a single and a double), and that was enough for the much-needed 4-1 victory.
Max Scherzer will be on the mound Saturday afternoon, raising hopes that the Nats might finally win a series for the first time since late May. They might even climb back into first place, as the division-leading New York Mets have been stumbling recently as well.
Virginia nears CWS finals
In the first round of the College World Series, in Omaha, Nebraska last week, the University of Virginia Cavaliers beat the Arkansas Razorbacks. Two days later beat the Florida Gators (who were favored) in a very tense 1-0 game. Virginia's Brandon Waddell allowed only two hits in seven-plus innings, and amazing performance. The game's lone run came on a sac fly by Robbie Coman in the sixth inning. That win put Virginia on the easy path, getting three days of rest. This afternoon the Cavaliers faced the Gators again, and even though they got on the board with a run in the first inning, this time the top-seeded team won, 10-5. It was the first time Virginia pitcher Nathan Kirby had played in two months, but he had to be replaced in the third inning, when Florida scored four runs. Five more runs in the put the game out of reach. (See ncaa.com.) It was Virginia's first loss in the NCAA tournament, but they are still just one game away from reaching the CWS finals for the second year in a row, in which case it would be the same two teams in the final CWS series that made it there last year. Vanderbilt beat TCU today, obviating the need for another elimination game.
Demolition in San Francisco
Very little is left of the former home of the San Francisco Giants. Only a few sections of the Candlestick Park grandstand are still intact, and they'll probably be gone by July. See sfgate.com.
But we still have photographs to remember The 'Stick! In fact, a couple months ago my brother John sent me some photos of a game at Candlestick Park in 1961 taken by fellow South Dakotan Vern Hofer, and they were astonishingly good quality. Unfortunately, Mr. Hofer only took three photos of the game and the stadium that day.
Candlestick Park, July 6, 1961. Juan Marichal is pitching to Vada Pinson, who is about to pop out to shortstop in the third inning, just after the Reds took a 1-0 lead. Final score: Reds 3, Giants 2. (Roll mouse over to see the grandstand, viewed from the same position.) Photos courtesy of Vern Hofer.
How did I figure that out? By looking at the scoreboard and the uniforms, and then consulting baseball-reference.com.
Those photos, plus another one taken from the parking lot, can now be seen on the Candlestick Park page. If anyone has photos of that stadium that they are willing to share, including demolition photos, I would be much obliged.
Seals Stadium update
Speaking of San Francisco, I made a few minor corrections to the Seals Stadium diagrams. The grandstand angle is about one degree wider than before, the right-field bleachers extend all the way to the office building in the corner, and the left-field bleachers extend about 40 feet to the left of the foul pole. Finally, the left field corner in the original (1932) configuration is now cleared up. (Before there was a question mark there.) That was the original motivation for this update, when I discovered (via a photo of Mickey Mantle getting caught in a rundown during an exhibition game) that the San Francisco Seals had built an inner fence in left field prior to the 1951 season, reducing the distances by about 18 feet. They removed that fence one year later, however, so I decided not to bother with showing it in the 1947 diagram, at least not for the time being.
Now that migrating birds have settled down, breeding season is well underway. (For most resident bird species such as Cardinals, breeding season begins a couple weeks sooner, and there's often a second brood in mid-summer.) Here's a quick review of my more significant birding adventures over the past three month, since the spring semester ended.
On Saturday May 16, I joined other Augusta Bird Club members in their annual picnic-brunch. Like last year (which I was unable to attend), it was held at Natural Chimneys, in northern Augusta County. Our group saw a number of interesting birds during a 45-minute walk along a trail, the best one being a Yellow-throated Vireo. That's a bird I have only seen a few times, and in fact I considered myself lucky to have seen one at Sweet Briar College the last day I went birding there in early May. Other birds seen at Natural Chimneys included Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Eastern Towhee, Black & White Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Goldfinch, Red-eyed Vireos, Wood Thrush, and Pileated Woodpecker. It was a very pleasant day, in contrast to the very windy conditions which were experienced there a year earlier.
Yellow-throated Vireo, at Natural Chimneys, May 16.
On Friday May 22, Jacqueline and I went for a short walk to the recently-rebuilt dam and reservoir on Coles Run, in the Big Levels area. There weren't many birds around in the afternoon, but I did see an Osprey perched on a tree limb, as well as a Blue-headed Vireo.
On Monday May 25, I hiked about half-way up the Road Hollow trail, beginning at the Ramsey's Draft picnic area in western Augusta County. Among the birds I saw were Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbirds, Black & White Warblers, Eastern Towhee, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler (WOW!), Pine Warbler, and Indigo Bunting. I also heard Blue-headed Vireos, Red-eyed Vireos, and Scarlet Tanagers, but didn't see any.
On Saturday May 30, after mowing the grass at church (!), I hiked for about a mile south of the Confederate Breastworks, which is very near the Road Hollow trail. I had been on that trail once before, but did not go as far. I would have gone farther, but had to turn back when it started to rain. Along the way I saw Ovenbirds, Black & White Warblers, Eastern Towhee, Red-eyed Vireos, and Scarlet Tanagers.I also heard but did not see Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, a Great Crested Flycatcher, and a probable Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
Ovenbird, south of the Confederate Breastworks, May 30.
On Monday June 1, I went for a hike up Furnace Mountain trail, beginning at the Madison Run trail head entrance to the Shenandoah National Park east of Grottoes. Birds of note that I saw included Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Eastern Towhee, Prairie Warbler (a big surprise), Indigo Bunting, Goldfinch, Red-eyed Vireos, and Blue-headed Vireos.
On Saturday June 6, I went looking for a new way into the Big Levels area, hoping to reach a parking area marked on my trail map, which unfortunately turned out to be faulty. The road in question dead-ended at a private property line, so I had to take a detour all the way to the entrance to St. Mary's Wilderness, about four miles south. I ended up doing a lengthy excursion from there all along Coal Road all the way to the entrance near the campground south of Stuarts Draft, which is how I usually approach the Big Levels area. I stopped briefly at a couple trail heads, and spent well over an hour hiking about a mile up Forest Road 162, which zig-zags back and forth. I saw several Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbirds, Blue-headed Vireos, Scarlet Tanagers, Eastern Towhee, and Indigo Bunting. While hiking I observed a lot of disturbed or excavated earth, which made me wonder if the Dominion people have begun doing work to lay the controversial natural gas pipeline. (It hasn't been approved yet, so it must be something else.)
Worm-eating Warbler, at Big Levels, June 6.
Finally, on Sunday June 7, Jacqueline and I drove up to the Reddish Knob area at the corner between Augusta County, Rockingham County, and West Virginia. We were disappointed by the overcast skies, but the venture proved very worthwhile nonetheless. On the way up we stopped at the Briery Creek reservoir, and heard some Northern Parulas. Before long I coaxed one into close range and got a very good photo of it in a bush. That was a surprise bonus. As we reached the higher elevations, we found lots of Chestnut-sided Warblers, as expected, but no Black-throated Blue Warblers, which I had seen there last year. We also saw Scarlet Tanagers, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Cedar Waxwings, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Indigo Buntings, and a Veery! Several others (most notably, Black-throated Green Warblers) were heard but not seen. It's a wonderful place to go birding, and I was amazed at the variety and number of interesting birds all around.
Northern Parula (male), at Briery Branch Reservoir, June 7. (Full disclosure: I had to "splice" the beak from a different photo of the same bird onto the Parula photo. Click on the image to see the original.)
The above photos, and many more, can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
Their regular season performance did not live up to expectations, but the University of Virginia Cavaliers somehow found a way to get into the NCAA regional baseball tournament, and have now qualified for the College World Series which is about to get underway in beautiful downtown Omaha, Nebraska. To get there, Virginia had to win the regional round in California, and then beat Maryland in the super-regional three-game series which was held at Davenport Field in Charlottesville. Virginia won Game One of that series with a big late-inning comeback, and then did likewise in Game Two, capped with a thrilling two-run walkoff RBI single. You can watch a video clip of that game at vasp.tv.
Virginia came within a hair's breadth of winning the championship game last year, when Vanderbilt prevailed. Will those two teams face each other again in the final round? This year's eight contending teams are, listed sequentially by the first-round pairings on Saturday and Sunday:
California State at Fullerton
After 12 to 14 games in the double-elimination tournament, the championship series (best of three) will be played on Monday, June 22 and the next two or three days.
The northwest entrance to TD Ameritrade Park, behind home plate. Taken July 25, 2014, one month after Virginia finished a very close second place in the College World Series.
"The Road to Omaha," seen in the photo above, was sculpted in 1999 by Omaha artist John Lajba. It originally stood outside Rosenblatt Stadium, which had hosted the College World Series for many years, until 2010. The statue was relocated to TD Ameritrade Park in 2011. cwsomaha.com. UVa baseball coach Brian O'Cconnor was the model for one of the faces in that statue, as he grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the Missouri River from Omaha. See ncaa.com and washingtonpost.com. I distinctly recall hearing that former Nationals manager Jim Riggleman was another one of the faces in that statue, but couldn't confirm that from the sources I checked.
As for dimensions at TD Ameritrade Park, it's 335 feet to the corners, 375 feet to the power alleys, and 408 feet to center field. It's not symmetrical, however, as the straight in right field and curved in left field -- rather like Turner Field in Atlanta. I'll try to come up with a preliminary diagram while the College World Series is still going on...
Thanks to some clutch hits by some of the lesser-known players, the Washington Nationals beat the New York Yankees in The Bronx this afternoon. With some help from the San Francisco Giants (see below), the Nats managed to sneak back into first place, by a half game. Denard Span put the Nats on the board with an RBI double in the third inning, and Danny Espinosa hit a solo home run in the fifth inning. Just like the day before, however, the Yankees scored four runs in the seventh inning, and the Nats were in danger of losing a fourth straight game. That would have been a big blow to their self-confidence. But Michael Taylor erased that lead with a two-run homer in the eighth inning, and the game went into extras. Then, in the top of the 11th, Denard Span (who has taken some time off due to soreness) beat out a throw to first base, getting an RBI infield single, and that proved to be the margin of victory for the visiting team. Nats 5, Yankees 4. Gio Gonzalez had a good outing, giving up just two runs in six and a third innings.
Yesterday's game was similarly close most of the way, with an early home run by Bryce Harper in his first-ever game in New Yankee Stadium. But in the seventh inning, an errant throw to third base by Nats shortstop Ian Desmond allowed a Yankee run to score, followed by three more runs. Desmond probably should have thrown the ball to first base for the third out, since Alex Rodriguez is not exactly a speedster, but it was a great stop and he almost made the out. It was the second straight game that Nats ace Max Scherzer was roughed up, while the Yanks' recently-ailing pitcher Masahiro Tanaka had his besting outing of the year. Yankees 6, Nats 1.
So, at least the Nats salvaged a split in the two-game series, and came out ahead 3-1 in the seasonal series against the Yankees. That was an accomplishment to be proud of. Contrary to what I wrote on Monday, the Yankees have been on a hot streak lately, winning seven straight games until today. (I had been thinking about how the Yankees had been doing before last week.) The return of Alex Rodriguez to the lineup has helped a lot. New York fans seem willing to forgive his substance abuse, and he has been appropriately low-key and hard-working after being suspended for all of last year.
No-hitter by Giants rookie Heston
The big news yesterday was the no-hitter at Citi Field thrown by Giants rookie Chris Heston, making just his 13th major league start. It was the 17th no-hitter in Giants history, and the fourth in the last four years. See MLB.com. There were no errors and no walks, but he did hit three Mets batter with his pitches, or else it would have been a perfect game. The Giants won that game 5-0, and they won tonight's game 8-5, helping the Nationals get back the divisional lead.
It was the first no-hitter in the major leagues this year. Have I mentioned that I witnessed the previous MLB no-hitter, in Washington last September? Yes, I think I did.
Home run races
Baseball fans are enthralled by the competition between Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton, who hit two home runs on Tuesday, one more than Harper did, so he now has a 21-20 lead in the race. By the way, former Nationals Steven Souza Jr., the guy who made the diving catch to save Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter last September, has been going gangbusters in Tampa Bay. Believe it or not, he has hit eleven (11) homers this year, tied for 22nd place in the majors with A-Rod, the Cubs Anthony Rizzo, and a few others. I knew the Nats should have kept him!
Unfortunately, Bryce Harper has said that he might not participate in this year's Home Run Derby, because he wants to be with his father, who is ill. That's too bad, on a personal level, and from a fan's point of view.
More enhanced photos
I've been (re-)scanning more photos, including this spliced-together panoramic view of RFK Stadium, which was taken six years before the Nationals even existed. I spent a lot of time getting the colors to match more closely from one segment to the next, and in getting the segments to align with each other in a more realistic fashion. The end product is not perfect, but it's a big improvement. Other newly enhanced photos include one of RFK taken from center field at that same exhibition game, plus one of (then-) Pro Player Stadium taken by my brother John, and one of Three Rivers Stadium in 2000, its final year as home of the Pirates. [Links added.]
Grand view of RFK Stadium, April 1999, before an exhibition game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Montreal Expos. Click on the image to see it full-size.
Football back to L.A.?
There has been a lot of movement in recent weeks regarding the possible relocation of NFL franchises to Los Angeles, perhaps as early as next year. One scenario involves bringing the Rams from St. Louis back to L.A., and Rams owner Stan Kroenke is pushing for the Hollywood Park stadium development project in Inglewood; see NFL.com. Another possibility is a partnership between the (San Diego?) Chargers and the (Oakland?) Raiders, the two other NFL teams that was called L.A. home. They have hired an experienced football executive named Carmen Policy to lead the campaign to build a proposed $1.7 billion stadium in Carson, California. See ESPN. The prolonged absence of pro football from the nation's second biggest city is terrible, and somebody needs to make a deal soon.
Complete blog entries for the current month:
July 2015 (with links to archives of previous months)
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.
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