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June 2013
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June 1, 2013 [LINK / comment]

Can the Nats make the playoffs?

Before the 2013 season began, the Washington Nationals were heavy favorites to repeat as National League East Division champions, and it was almost a given that they would reach the postseason one way or another. Now that is in doubt as well. With two months of the season behind us, anyone who uses the excuse "it's still early in the season" is just whistling in the dark. With a record of 28-27 (thanks to a lucky win over Atlanta last night), the team is clearly in trouble. Washington Post sports writer James Wagner notes that the Nats would need to win 63 of their remaining 109 games (.578) for the rest of the season to reach the 90-win level that is usually required to make it to the postseason. It's certainly doable, since their schedule gets a little easier in the second and third thirds of the season, but their margin for error is shrinking rapidly. I look forward to their veteran stars getting healthy and back in the groove, and for a few pleasant surprises from some of their new players.

For the month of May itself, the Nationals were 15-13, a very slight improvement from their mediocre performance in April, 13-14. I updated the Washington Nationals page, which now shows the head-to-head win-loss records against all other teams for each year beginning in 2005. For example, the Nationals' record against the Orioles since their first interleague contest in 2006 is 19-23, or 45.2%. Including this year's four games, it's 20-26, or 43.5%.

Nats beat the Braves

Against all odds, the Nationals survived the absence of Bryce Harper and an early exit by Stephen Strasburg (oblique muscle strain, two innings pitched), and hung on to defeat the host Atlanta Braves, 3-2. Huge credit goes to long reliever Craig Stammen, who pitched four perfect innings and earned his third win of the year. Most of the offensive credit goes to Denard Span, who tripled twice to right field, and Steve Lombardozzi, who drove in Span both times with a sac fly to right field. See they have struggled at times, the Braves are a very daunting force to be reckoned with, and the Nationals will have to work extremely hard to overtake them in the NL East standings. This evening, lefty ace Gio Gonzalez faces Braves pitcher Tim Hudson.

The Nats are banged up

The extent of Stephen Strasburg's bad back remains unclear, and it would be a huge blow if he missed significant time this summer because of it. Bryce Harper will be on the disabled list until June 11, because of bursitis (inflammation) in his left knee, stemming from his infamous collision with the fence in Dodger Stadium on May 13. See Ross Detwiler is also on the DL with an oblique strain, which is why they had to put Zach Duke in the pitching rotation. Danny Espinosa decided to keep playing while his wrist heals, a dubious move if you ask me. Finally, Jayson Werth is doing better in minor league rehab action, and hopefull will be back in D.C. in the next week or so.

Speaking of rookie replacement players, Nathan Karns deserves recognition for pitching 4 1/3 solid innings against the Orioles on Tuesday night. If he hadn't walked two batters in the top of the fifth, he would have earned a win in his first major league appearance.

Camden Yards tweak

If the Orioles' 3-1 series win over the Nationals wasn't enough proof, last night's game in which the Orioles came from three runs behind to beat the Tigers in the bottom of the ninth should erase any doubts. Nick Markakis hit a leadoff homer, and after two outs, Chris Dickerson hit a three-run walk-off home run. As a closer, Jose Valverde often seems as shaky as the Cubs' Carlos Marmol, or Matt Capps, who signed with Cleveland this year. I have to admit it, "Orioles Magic" is alive and well!

Camden Yards As a tribute to the Orioles' successful year thus far, I added a lower-deck version diagram to the Camden Yards page, and made some minor tweaks to the other versions. Since there was so little difference between the current (2012) layout compared to the original layout, I just replaced the 1992 version diagram with the lower-deck version diagram.

As a tribute to the Braves, likewise, I have been working on Braves Field and Turner Field, and expect to get those diagrams updated over the next couple days.

The mail bag

It is taking even longer than usual for me to get caught up with e-mail correspondence. For starters, Glenn Simpkins recently submitted three photos he took at AT&T Park recently, and they form a nice "extreme" panorama, which I "glued" together with a few digital tricks. Also, I have had multiple tips from fans about the major changes in Dodger Stadium this year, and I will be getting to those soon.

June 3, 2013 [LINK / comment]

Braves widen lead in NL East

The Washington Nationals had their chances but just couldn't "get 'r done" in Atlanta, and the Braves won the latter two games of the series. On Saturday evening, (broadcast by FOX Sports), Gio Gonzalez lived up to the high demands placed on him, allowing just one run over seven innings. In the top of the ninth, the Nats had runners on second and third with nobody out thanks to hits by Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, but the team failed to score. Wasting an opportunity like that is just plain unacceptable. In the tenth inning, the Nats' often-unreliable relief pitcher Henry Rodriguez walked two batters, and then B.J. Upton (who has been in a terrible slump) hit a broken-bat single to right field, and Atlanta won in dramatic walk-off fashion, 2-1. Very, very disappointing. The Nats should have won that game. See

On Sunday, Nathan Karns went 4 2/3 innings, slightly more than in his first major league outing on Tuesday. Unlike that time, he left the game with the opposing side ahead, and thereby was charged with the loss. In the bottom of the first inning, Ryan Zimmerman committed a throwing error, and the next batter (Ramiro Peña) homered to give the Braves a quick 2-0 lead. The Nats tied the game in the second inning, but the Braves quickly retook the lead and kept it. Ian Desmond homered in the sixth, but it didn't affect the outcome. Final score: Braves 6, Nats 3.

As a result, the Braves have widened their lead in National League Eastern Division to 6.5 games. The Nats have today off, and then tomorrow they welcome the New York Mets to town. This weekend, the Minnesota Twins (ex-Washington Senators) will play in D.C., and I'm going to see my first ball game of the year!!!

PETCO Park tweak

I made some minor corrections to the PETCO Park PETCO Park diagrams, based on a video at and some photos by Keith Barnes on, both of which were found on The changes mostly have to do with the bullpen area beyond left-center field, and the new row of table-seats along the (shortened) right field wall. Last November I had done a preliminary diagram for 2013, before all the details were clear. Interestingly, PETCO Park still has an above-average playing field size (I estimate 110,100 square feet), even though none of the outfield dimensions are greater than 396 feet.

June 8, 2013 [LINK / comment]

Nats come from behind, and WIN!

For the very first time this year, the Washington Nationals overcame a late-inning deficit on Tuesday night, and likewise for the the first time this year, they won a game in a walk-off. It didn't look good for the "D.C. 9" in the bottom of the ninth inning; they were down 2-0 even though Jordan Zimmermann had pitched eight innings with zero earned runs. But good old Ryan Zimmerman stepped up to the plate, and crushed a leadoff double to the right-center field wall. He barely beat the tag at second base, and instant replays showed the ump got it right. Then Adam LaRoche singled, and Zimmerman scored the tying run -- a huge relief. Then Ian Desmond double, but LaRoche held up at third, playing it safe with no out. Then Roger Bernadina was intentionally walked, loading the bases. Steve Lombardozzi fended off multiple pitches with two strikes against him, and finally hit a sacrifice fly to left field, allowing LaRoche to tag up and score. It was a mob scene reminiscent of last year, and Lombardozzi emerged as the hero of the game. See (In a reversal of the letdown in May 29 game, this time Ryan Zimmerman bailed out starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, who was in line for the loss.) It was exactly the kind of exhilarating triumph the Nats needed to turn the corner and start winning again. smile

Except that it wasn't. The very next day, the Mets trounced the Nationals, 10-1, as Dan Haren gave up five earned runs in only four innings pitched. Whatever it may be that ails the Nationals, that one brief moment of glory wasn't enough to cure it. The Nationals have fallen under .500 again, and are now in third place, behind the Phillies. frown The rubber match game with the Mets on Thursday was postponed due to rain, and so was last night's game against the Minnesota Twins.

As I head up to Washington today to see the Nats play the Twins (Gio Gonzalez will be pitching), the team's spirit seems about as gloomy as the rainy, overcast skies. (Wait -- do I see a golden ray of sunshine?!) Today's Washington Post had both a front-page story about the woebegone Nationals, and an analysis by Tracee Hamilton. Looking closely at the situation doesn't give much reason to hope that things will improve very much; the Nats have been inconsistent across the board. I was stunned to see how badly the Nationals rank among other Major League teams in various categories:

Maybe it's time to call Dr. Phil and have him administer a big dose of "whoop ass."

Bring back that Natitude!

Bryce Harper on the DL

Bryce Harper was put on the 15-day disabled list (retroactively to May 27) because the swelling in his left knee has not yet subsided. He will be examined by an orthopedic surgeon on Monday, and the results of that will tell us whether or not he can resume play next week. Let's hope that the ill-fated collision in Dodger Stadium on May 13 doesn't end up becoming the "defining moment" for the Nats 2012 season.

Ballpark capacities, 2013

Fellow SABR member and author Ron Selter recently circulated via e-mail a set of ballpark capacity numbers for 2013, 2012, and 2006. I replied to say that his data matched what I had in almost every case, and we both corrected the small errors we each had. What follows are the current and "peak" seating capacity for each major league baseball stadium, with some purely judgmental "color" on my part.

Stadium namePeak capacity
Current capacity
Dodger Stadium 56,000 56,000
Coors Field50,449 (2003)50,398
Yankee Stadium II 50,291 50,291
Turner Field50,528 (1997)49,586
Rogers Centre (Skydome)50,598 (1995)49,282
Chase Field49,033 (2001)48,633
Ballpark in Arlington49,178 (1993)48,114
Safeco Field47,878 (2008)47,476
Oriole Park at Camden Yards48,290 (2005)45,971
Angel Stadium in Anaheim67,335 (1981)45,483
Busch Stadium III 43,975 43,975
Citizens Bank Park43,826 (2005)43,651
PETCO Park42,691 (2006)42,524
Great American Ballpark 42,319 42,319
Progressive (Jacobs) Field43,863 (1997)42,241
Minute Maid Park 42,060 42,060
Citi Field 41,922 41,922
AT&T Park 41,915 41,915
Miller Park42,885 (2001)41,900
Nationals Park41,888 (2008)41,418
Comerica Park 41,255 41,255
Wrigley Field41,160 (2011)41,019
U.S. Cellular Field47,098 (2003)40,615
Target Field39,500 (2012)39,021
PNC Park38,496 (2004)38,362
Kauffman Stadium40,793 (2003)37,903
Fenway Park 37,499 37,499
Marlins Park 37,442 37,442
Oakland Coliseum48,219 (1990)35,067 *
Tropicana Field45,200 (2002)34,078 *
KEY:TOO BIGtoo small

* Note that the last two stadiums listed -- Oakland Coliseum and Tropicana Field -- have had major portions of the grandstand closed off in recent years. Those are also the two most outmoded stadiums, whose franchises are desperately seeking a new, cozier home.

Two stadiums had very large declines in capacity due to the removal of major portions of their grandstands: Angel Stadium in Anaheim (1997) and U.S. Cellular Field (2004). In addition, Kauffman Stadium (2009) and Oriole Park at Camden Yards (2011?) had their capacities reduced more modestly as part of renovation projects. I have indicated Yankee Stadium II as "too small," and that applies in terms of seating capacity, as well as the size of the playing field!

Colt Stadium update

I have updated the diagram for Colt Stadium Colt Stadium, temporary home of the Houston Colt 45s, which was one of the two National League expansion teams in 1962. Since 1965 (when they moved into the Astrodome), they have been called the Astros, and beginning this year, they are part of the American League. As far as the diagram, including the entry portals was a critical part of getting the angles just right.

New That page incorporates (after the end of the main text) a new feature that all stadium pages will have eventually: A chronology of all past diagram updates, with links to the blog posts when such changes were originally announced. I thought about "re-releasing" obsolete versions of diagrams "just for the record," but I can't see much point to it, and it would probably just lead to confusion.

Also, I've been working on several diagrams all at once recently, and some of them are almost ready to release. You can see additional data on seating rows and fair/foul territory for those "works in progress" on the Stadium statistics page. Colt Stadium has (had) the biggest fair territory of any stadium I have calculated thus far: 121,400 square feet. Its foul territory was pretty big as well: 31,700 square feet, about the same as Jack Murphy Stadium.

June 14, 2013 [LINK / comment]

Nationals climb back above .500

For the first time since May 22-24, the Washington Nationals won two consecutive games last weekend (at home against the Twins), and as they began a nine-day road trip, they did likewise against the Rockies in Denver. That makes two consecutive series wins, a feat they had not managed in over a month, with a win-loss record of 33-32. In both series, there were plenty of signs that the Nats are starting to play better as a team. Does that mean that they have finally turned the corner, and perhaps even started a real winning streak? We'll find out tonight as they play the Cleveland Indians, who were doing pretty well under new manager Terry Francona -- until this month, that is.

So-so day at the park

I chose Saturday the eighth to see a game in Nationals Park, in part because of the postgame concert promotion: Blues Traveler! The game started just fine, as the Nats took the lead on a two-run homer by Jayson Werth in the third inning. (My friend Dave and I arrived too late to see that, unfortunately, due to my failure to take traffic into account when planning a trip.) But the Twins came right back to tie it in the top of the fourth, capitalizing on an error by Adam LaRoche. In the fifth inning, Joe Mauer (average .329) hit a solo homer to left field. In the seventh inning, rookie Anthony Rendon hit a leadoff single, advanced to second on a sacrifice by Roger Bernadina, and scored on a double by Kurt Suzuki. That tied it 3-3, and the game went into the eleventh inning, whereupon Craig Stammen gave up a leadoff walk to Chris Herrmann, and Ryan Doumit later batted him in. In the bottom of the eleventh, Ian Desmond kept hopes alive with a two-out single. Then the promising rookie Anthony Rendon stepped up to the plate, and after fouling off a few pitches with two strikes, he smashed a line drive to left field. Unfortunately, the ball hung up and sailed right into the glove of Josh Willingham (a former National), to end the game. (Another ex-Nat with the Twins: Jamie Carroll, at third base.)

Attendance was 41,587, which is 169 more than the official seating capacity. I'm a little dubious of that, however. The photo below clearly shows large areas of empty seats in the upper decks.

Dave & Andy at Nationals Park, 8 June 2013

Stitched-together montage-panorama of Nationals Park, showing at the top left all nine players in the starting lineup of June 8: Ryan Zimmerman, Roger Bernadina, Gio Gonzalez, Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon, Kurt Suzuki, and Denard Span, plus closing pitcher Rafael Soriano at the end. That's my friend Dave Givens and me at the far right, on top of a view of the postgame concert by Blues Traveler.

Click on that image to see a full-size version, as displayed on the Nationals Park page.

Nationals Park update

Needless to say, I couldn't resist applying some refinements to the Nationals Park Nationals Park diagrams, which now feature the entry portals in the upper deck. There are two new diagram versions: one showing the upper deck without a roof, and one showing the middle deck. Once again, those entry portals proved to be crucial in getting certain details just right.

June 20, 2013 [LINK / comment]

Phillies almost sweep the Nats

Having lost the last three games and being one run behind going into the top of the ninth inning, the prospects for the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia last night could hardly have been bleaker. Somehow Denard Span hustled his way to a leadoff infield single, keeping alive a spark of hope, but then the next two batters were out. [Adam LaRoche was walked, and then] with everything on the line in a do-or-die situation, none other than former Phillie Jayson Werth stepped up to the plate. To heck with patience! He smashed the very first pitch into left field, allowing Span to score, making it a tie game. Ian Desmond then struck out (for the third time), stranding Adam LaRoche on third base. Unlike two nights before, the Phillies did not score in the bottom of the ninth, so closing pitcher Jonathan [Papelbon did not get a "win" for his blown save.] The game went into the eleventh inning, when Ryan Zimmerman sparked a rally with a double to the left field gap. Soon the bases were loaded on walks with only one out, but then Ian Desmond quickly put himself into an 0-2 hole. He kept his cool, nonetheless, and worked the count back to 2-2. That's when Michael Stutes threw a slider that came into the lower part of the strike zone, and Desmond crushed that ball way up into the the seats beyond the corner in left-center field. It was his first career grand slam, and the first grand slam by any Nationals player since last August 17 (by Michael Morse). In the bottom of the eleventh, Rafael Soriano got the final three outs, allowing just a single. Final score: Nats 6, Phillies 2. smile See and/or ESPN.

That dramatic comeback win was a huge relief for long-suffering Nats fans, and spoiled the Phillies' hopes of taking sole possession of second place in the NL East. Could this finally be the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel?

In the first two games of the series in Philadelphia, the Nationals had chances to win, but just could not capitalize on run-scoring opportunities. On Monday night, former Nat pitcher John Lannan had a solid outing for the Phillies, but didn't get credit for the win. Reserve player Chad Tracy homered to right field in the ninth inning to tie the game 4-4, as Jonathan Papelbon blew the save. Domonic Brown's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Phillies a 5-4 win, credited to Papelbon. Nats reliever Fernando Abad was charged with the loss. (Is he A bad pitcher?) And so, the Nats fell below .500 once again.

On Tuesday night, Ross Detwiler pitched fairly well for someone who is just coming off the disabled list, but the only offense the Nats could muster was a solo homer by Werth and one by Jeff Kobernus -- the first of his career! Final score: Phillies 4, Nats 2.

The disturbing pattern is that the Nationals keep blowing critical run-scoring opportunities, and it's getting harder and harder for fans to take. It was of some consolation that the Nationals inflicted upon Papelbon his first two blown save opportunities of the year. All three games could have gone either way, and with a bit more luck (or pluck), perhaps the Nationals could have swept the Phillies. I look at this recent road trip as a case of the glass is either half empty or half full; in spite of the disappointing results, there are numerous signs that things are getting better. Bryce Harper just had a cortisone shot in his knee (like Ryan Zimmerman had in his shoulder last July), and once Harper is back in action, anything is possible!

Indians beat Nats twice

The series at Progressive Field in Cleveland last weekend was similarly frustrating. On Friday night the Indians won 2-1 in a walk-off in a controversial play at the plate in which the throw from first base was obstructed by the base runner. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but the umpire really ought to call an out when the runner veers onto the grass like that. Saturday night was much better, as the Nats hit five home runs -- even without Bryce Harper in the lineup! For a while it was looking ugly, however, as the Nats squandered an early 5-0 lead, and the Tribe pulled ahead, 6-5. In the eighth inning, Chad Tracy hit a solo home run to tie the game, and in the ninth, Anthony Rendon homered into the right field corner, putting the Nationals ahead. (This was right after the Indians failed to catch an easy pop foul ball that landed just beyond first base -- an error for which they paid dearly!) Final score: Nats 7, Indians 6. On Sunday, Stephen Strasburg showed that his strained back has healed, giving up just one run in five innings, but the Nats still lost the game, 2-0, and thus the series, 2-1.

New star at 2nd base

One indisputable recent bright spot is rookie Anthony Rendon, who has replaced the injured Danny Espinosa at second base. Over the past two weeks, Rendon has far exceeded expectations, with a batting average well over .300. That clutch go-ahead home run in Cleveland was the first of his career, one that will be remembered for a long time. Rendon used to be a third baseman, but has adapted very well to second base, which raises the awkward question of whether Danny will get his old job back once his fractured wrist heals. The Nationals optioned him to the AAA affiliate in Syracuse, but he is still in effect in rehabilitation mode. He is solid defensively, but the Nationals can't afford to keep a guy batting under .200 in the lineup for very long. See

Citizens Bank Park update

In recognition of the Nats-Phillies series, I have updated the Citizens Bank Park Citizens Bank Park diagrams. The entry portals in the upper deck are now shown, and they helped get the exact position of the light towers and grandstand corners just right. I may eventually include upper deck (transparent roof) and/or middle deck diagram versions, but they don't seem essential for the time being.

Because the power alley is marked at a non-standard position at Citizens Bank Park, I took the time to double-check my estimates of the "true" power alley distances there. That, in turn, led me to make some clarifications and corrections to the Outfield trigonometry page, including a more detailed diagram.

A's OK, stadium stinks

The OAKland Athletics are doing AOK this year, leading the AL Western Division, but their aging home (" Coliseum," a.k.a. Oakland Coliseum) is really starting to cause serious problems. In the game against the Seattle Mariners last Sunday, which the A's won 10-2, the sewer pipes clogged and started leaking because of the high attendance during the home stand, and both teams had to evacuate their locker rooms. They had to share the Oakland Raiders' locker room which is located on a higher level, but some Mariners players just left without taking a shower. That's an embarrassment for the Athletics, who deserve a lot more respect than they have been getting from the city government. Perhaps it will galvanize local leaders into making some tough decisions about getting a new stadium built, either in Oakland or in nearby San Jose. See ESPN.

The mail bag

Major League Baseball announced that the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will play two Major League Baseball season opening games next March at the Sydney Cricket Ground, in Australia. The historic stadium, which seems to be roughly circular, shaped sort of like a tear drop, is currently undergoing a major expansion. From the pictures I've seen, it looks like there will be about an acre of foul territory -- very strange for baseball. See and ; hat tips to Matt Ereth and Glenn Simpkins.

It looks like the Vikings really will get a new stadium to replace the Metrodome after all. The design is striking and original, with sloped roofs reminiscent of Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, but made of clear glass. (How will they handle the problem of sun glare?) It will be built on the same site as the existing stadium, meaning the Vikings will have to play for at least one full season at the University of Minnesota's new stadium, across the Mississippi River. See and; hat tip to Mike Zurawski.

That also creates difficulties for the Minnesota Golden Gophers college baseball team, which has enjoyed cozy indoor venue of the Metrodome since the 1980s. "The issue is that a new Vikings stadium's baseball configuration would have a right field foul line only 289 feet away from home plate, and a right field power alley just 319 feet away." See

More stadium news, etc. to get to in the near future...

June 22, 2013 [LINK / comment]

Nationals are on a winning streak!

Believe it or not, the Washington Nationals are tied with the Arizona Diamondback for the longest winning streak in the National League: three whole games! It may not sound like much, but you've got to emphasize the positive wherever you can. In fact, the only team in the majors with a longer current winning streak is the Toronto Blue Jays, who came back and beat the Orioles in the bottom of the ninth inning at Rogers Centre. The last time the Nats won three games in a row was May 8-10. (That was the tail end of a five-game winning streak.)

Starting a lengthy home stand on Thursday night, Jordan Zimmermann held the Colorado Rockies to just one run in eight innings, and thus earned his tenth win of the year. Ian Desmond homered again, and Adam LaRoche went three for four. Final score: Nats 5, Rockies 1.

Last night, Stephen Strasburg was just as masterful, earning his fourth win. The deciding run came late in the game, when Ian Desmond hit a solo home run, his third homer in as many days! Final score: Nats 2, Rockies 1.

The way this afternoon's game against the Rockies is going (behind 7-1 in the ninth inning), it's a safe bet that the Nationals' winning streak is about to end. frown

The Nationals: A photogenic team!

Visitors to this blog may have noticed all the players' faces in that panorama photo I made after seeing the Nationals-Twins game on June 8. In case you haven't guessed, I got a new camera for Christmas, and it has a very powerful telephoto lens: 50x optical zoom. (Some cameras boast of big digital zoom numbers, but all that does is make the pixels bigger, without adding any detail to the photographic image.) Anyway, here are the photos I've taken for the entire 2013 Washington Nationals first-string team, either from the June 8 game or from the NatsFest back in January:

CF: Denard Span

LF: Bryce Harper

RF: Jayson Werth

SS: Ian Desmond

2B: Anthony Rendon

3B: Ryan Zimmerman

P: Jordan Zimmermann

1B: Adam LaRoche

C: Kurt Suzuki

Believe it or not, all the photos of the players wearing caps or helmets were taken from the upper deck, about 150-200 feet away. A more elaborate version of that stylized position chart can be found in the 2013 section of the Washington Nationals page. It includes the whole pitching rotation plus the closer. I'll probably tweak the format of that graphical table in the near future.

Also, I will be soon adding larger-size versions of the above player photos, as well as several others, to the Washington Nationals photo gallery page.

Pitchers need head gear!

Millions of people have seen the horrifying video clip of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Alex Cobb being hit on the side of the head by a line drive in a game against the Kansas City Royals last week. It was hard to believe that the doctors found only a "mild concussion." According to, the Rays' manager Joe Maddon wants Cobb to take his time and get well before trying to rejoin the active roster. Indeed, he should. Dr. David Geier, an expert in sports medicine, recalls the tragedy of August 17, 1920, when Cleveland Indians player Ray Chapman was killed by such a blow to the brain. Not until 1958 did both leagues require the use of batting helmets. Some kind of head protection, if not a full helmet, should be worn by all pitchers.

June 28, 2013 [LINK / comment]

Nats almost sweep the D-backs

At home in Washington this week, the Nationals came very close to their first series sweep since April. The Arizona Diamondbacks had other ideas, however. In the games on Tuesday and Wednesday, starting pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann both had fine outings. Adam LaRoche's bat led the way in the 7-5 win to open the series, and Ryan Zimmerman did likewise in the 3-2 win the following night. He "drove in" the go-ahead run late in the game, but it wasn't counted as an RBI, because it was when he grounded into a double play. Sometimes, that's all it takes to win. The climax on Thursday afternoon was a great pitchers' duel between Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, who has a 9-0 record. Both pitchers gave up a two-run home run, and the game was tied 2-2 after nine innings. In the top of the 11th, Craig Stammen gave up a leadoff double to Miguel Montero, and he later scored on a safety squeeze bunt by Didi Gregorius. Final score: 3-2. That put the Nats back down to .500 (39-39).

The Nats got their road trip off to a fine start in Flushing Meadows, New York this evening. It didn't look good early on, as Ross Detwiler gave up four runs, and all the Nats could do against the Mets' ace pitcher Matt Harvey was a solo home run by Ian Desmond. But in the top of the eighth inning, the Nats managed to load the bases, and Ryan Zimmerman hit a perfect clutch double to the left field gap, clearning the bases and tying the game. In the top of the ninth inning, Jayson Werth hit a leadoff double, barely beating the tag at second. Ian Desmond then batted him home with a double down the right field line. Kurt Suzuki batted in Desmond on a sacrifice fly, and Drew Storen got three quick outs (against Daniel Murphy, David Wright, and Marlon Byrd) to end the game. Final score: Nats 6, Mets 4. See Is Natitude finally back??

Modifying Nationals Park

I think the architects did a pretty good job with Nationals Park, but there is one clear defect in my mind: the lower deck is too big, and the upper decks are too far removed from the infield. Previously, I have suggested a major rebuilding of the second deck, moving 10-15 feet forward, but that would be of no use to the regular folks who inhabit the upper deck. What to do? It occurred to me that, instead of moving the grandstand closer to the field, it might be easier to move the field closer to the grandstand. So, I came up with another hypothetical alternative version of the Nationals Park diagram, in which the ground level has been raised by about three feet. That has the effect of eliminating about five rows of seats, thus moving the front edge of the grandstand back by about 15 feet, and the diamond would be moved back by about seven feet as well, and that would raise the backstop distance from 45 feet to 52 feet, which I think is much more reasonable. Wild pitches often bounce right back to the catcher in Nationals Park, so runners on third have to be careful about scoring on one. (Unless Carlos Marmol is pitching, of course! smile)

Note that the modified diagram shows the fence heights, which are also shown on the lower-deck diagram.

How 'bout them Pirates!?

For the first time in living memory, the Pittsburgh Pirates have the very best record in the major leagues, 49-30 which is .620 in percentage terms: Believe it or not!!! (Unless the Cardinals overcome a 6-1 deficit in tonight's game in Oakland, their record will be 48-31.) Everyone knew Andrew McCutcheon was emerging as a superstar slugger, but the improvement in the rest of their lineup and pitching staff is simply amazing. It's a breath of fresh air for baseball, where the dominant teams usually stay dominant for many years, and the also-rans usually stay near the bottom of the heap.

I guess that means I'll have to get the PNC Park diagrams up to standard pretty soon...

In San Francisco, meanwhile, the Giants are continuing a tailspin below the .500 mark, baffling baseball observers. Since they are the reigning World Champions and were expected to make another such bid this year, it puts the Nationals' disappointmenting performance this year in perspective.

June 30, 2013 [LINK / comment]

Expedition to the top of Elliott's Knob

Yesterday (Saturday), I joined three other members of the Augusta Bird Club for a hike through the wilderness to the top of Elliott's Knob, the highest mountain in this part of Virginia. Allen Larner organized and led the trip, and Penny Warren (club president) and Ann Cline were the other two. It was the third time I had been to the top (see my blog posts of August 6, 2008 and July 13, 2004), but this time was different in that we started from the top of the ridge of which Elliott's Knob is a part. We took two vehicles, parking one of them at our planned destination, and then driving to the starting point, where Hite Hollow Road crosses North Mountain Trail. As soon as we got out of the car, we were startled to see three Ruffed Grouse flush, less than 20 yards away. One landed on a tree branch about 40 yards away, and it graciously stayed there while I got my camera:

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse, at the intersection of Hite Hollow Road and the North Mountain Trail.

Then we began our long hike toward the north, just after 7:00 A.M. The initial elevation was about 3,150 feet, and it was mostly a gradual uphill trek. Temperatures were cool at first, and stayed mild throughout the day. The main problem was the thick vegetation along the trail. My legs got scratched from all the thorns, but I think I managed to avoid poison ivy. (I should have worn blue jeans.) We saw a few warblers and vireos here and there, but didn't get any great views. We noticed bear scat at three separate places, and then we came across a small pond that was all brown, as if it had just been used as a bath tub. The big footprints in the mud left no doubt, but we never did see the bear.

Ann, Penny, Allen, Andrew

Ann Cline, Penny Warren, Allen Larner, and yours truly, a mile or two south of Elliott's Knob.

We kept hiking along the narrow trail, only catching occasional glimpses of the valleys on eithr side of the ridge. The higher we climbed, the more flowers we saw on Mountain Laurel bushes. (At lower altitudes, they reached their peak bloom by early June.) Then about 10:00 we came across an open area where we heard all sorts of bird songs. Before long we saw some Chestnut-sided Warblers, and soon after that some Canada Warblers -- the first of that species I had seen all year! The former were mostly toward the sun or in hard-to-see bushes, but fortunately, I was able to get some very good photos of the latter:

Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler (adult female), just south of Elliott's Knob. (NOTE: More photos from that trip, and other trips, can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.)

While we lingered in that spot, we heard a Broad-winged Hawk shriek, and were startled when it flew so close to where we were standing! In another semi-open area nearby, about 11:00, we saw a large number of wildflowers and butterflies. As I remarked at the time, with perfect weather and all those colors lit by the bright sun, it really did seem like it was "Almost Heaven"! Penny Warren later identified one of the wildflowers as a Purple Fringed Orchid, evidently quite a noteworthy species.

Purple Fringed Orchid

Purple Fringed Orchid, south of Elliott's Knob.

Great Spangled Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary, south of Elliott's Knob. (NOTE: More butterfly photos can be seen on the Butterflies photo gallery page.)

About 11:30, we finally reached Elliott's Knob, where there are several transmission towers and small buildings filled with communications equipment. We rested and had lunch in the shade of a grove of Red Cedar trees, where we saw some Golden-crowned Kinglets and Cedar Waxwings. Afterwards, we proceeded to the summit itself, a couple hundred yards away. The peak elevation is 4,458 feet, which means we climbed about 1,300 feet altogether. We had hoped to ascend the old forest fire observation tower, but it was locked and seemed to be in a state of disrepair.

Little Calfpasture River Valley

Little Calfpasture River Valley (west), seen from Elliott's Knob. The town of Deerfield is on the left; beyond the next major ridge is Highland County.

After an hour or so, we began the long descent back toward Route 42. The "trail" is actually a gravel fire road that is used by maintenance vehicles. In fact, a truck with two workers came up while we were eating. It is difficult to keep one's footing and avoid slipping in the gravel, and I made use of a sturdy branch as a walking stick. It had been partly cloudy for most of the day, but it seemed to get sunnier and warmer as we walked in the open. That's where my short pants came in handy. We didn't see many unusual birds on the way down, mostly Towhees and Indigo Buntings. There were a number of butterflies, and a pair of camera Dung Beetles rolling a marble-sized ball of you-know-what. (I had seen the same thing while hiking along Madison Run on May 17.)

Elliott's Knob trail, Buffalo Gap

Hiking down the very steep Elliott's Knob trail, with Buffalo Gap in the background, about six miles away. Near the top left corner you can see the southern tip of Massanutten Mountain, about 35 miles away.

At about 3:30 in the afternoon, we finally reached the trail head next to Route 42 -- dead tired, and eager to gulp down the cold water that was stored in the cooler! That location is about 2,100 feet in elevation, so the vertical distance we traveled during the second leg of our hike was about 2,350 feet. Given a horizontal distance of about 2.5 miles (13,000 feet), that implies an average grade of 18 percent. (By comparison, anything over 8-10 percent on a normal highway is considered extremely steep.)

In sum, it was a wonderful adventure and a precious opportunity to see unique wilderness habitats that are normally inaccessible to human beings. Here is a list of the more significant birds that I personally saw, taken from the complete list compiled by Allen Larner:

# = Species that breed in northern latitudes, and in certain high-elevation places in Virginia.

Other recent bird (& nature) treks

Notwithstanding the lack of any bird-related blog posts recently, I have made a number of (less-ambitious) birding trips over the past month. On June 1, on my way to a church picnic, I stopped to see the Bald Eagle nest in Swoope. I could see one young eaglet still in the nest, and they both may have fledged by now.

On June 4 I walked to the top of Betsy Bell Hill in Staunton, and took photos of some Eastern Wood Pewees and a Great Crested Flycatcher, as well as a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds. I heard a Wood Thrush, but no sign of any Black & White Warblers, which I had been expecting.

On the way back from Washington (where I had seen a baseball game) on June 9, I spent a few extra hours driving along Skyline Drive, in the Shenandoah National Park. (I bought the annual park pass, which runs for $30, and I intend to get maximum value from it! smile) It was foggy and/or rainy in several places, but I still managed to see some interesting birds. Most notable:

Also, I heard some enchanting Veeries at the Dark Hollow Falls trail head.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler (adult male), Shenandoah National Park, June 9.

On Friday June 14, Jacqueline and I went to Shenandoah National Park for a leisurely couple hours. We saw plenty of Towhees, Redstarts, and Indigo Buntings, and a few Cedar Waxwings, but the main attraction was a Black Bear that crossed the road just ahead of us! Unfortunately, she (presumably a mother, since there were small ones nearby) got into the bushes before I could take a picture:

Black Bear

Black Bear (adult female), Shenandoah National Park, June 14.

The very next day, June 15, I went to Ramsey's Draft, but it wasn't early enough in the day to see very many birds. I did see a some Worm-eating Warblers, but none of the Louisiana Waterthrushes I was hoping for. Here is the list of notable birds:

I took a photo of the Northern Parula, but it wasn't that great. Also, I heard a Black-throated Green Warbler in the distance.

On June 3 and June 20 I paid visits to Bell's Lane, where Yellow Warblers, Grasshopper Sparrows, and Willow Flycatchers are breeding once again this year. Light conditions weren't ideal on those days, however, so my photos are only average.

On June 22, I joined local butterfly expert Mark Gretch and a dozen or so other local nature lovers in Montgomery Hall Park for the annual butterfly count. We noted a few good birds along the way, including Indigo Buntings, a Great Crested Flycatcher, and a White-eyed Vireo, which kept eluding my camera lens.

Banded Hairstreak

Banded Hairstreak butterfly in Montgomery Hall Park, June 22.

On June 26, I visited Sweet Briar College, where I taught a few years ago, and photographed a House Wren, a rather common yet often elusive bird. I also saw a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and an Orchard Oriole.

On Friday June 28, Jacqueline and I went back to Shenandoah National Park for a second time together. We saw all "the usual suspects," as well as a Hooded Warbler and a Black & White Warbler, but no bears this time. The main attraction that day was a wide variety of mushrooms, some of which yielded good-quality photographs. (They'll be posted in the next few days.) My new Canon PowerShot SX-50, while excellent for taking bird photos, can be difficult to operate when trying to take closeup shots.

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