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August 2014
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August 6, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Nats get whacked, then fight back

Every time the Washington Nationals seem to gain some momentum with consecutive wins this year, they seem to get a rude setback almost immediately. Then they bounce right back with a convincing victory, and the whole cycle starts all over again. Last week this happened with the Miami Marlins and the Philadelphia Phillies, and this week it was with the New York Mets. All three teams (NL East Division rivals) played better than their humble below-.500 records might suggest.

In Miami, the Nats lost the first two games of the series [...]. On July 28, the Nats jumped to a 6-0 lead and were still ahead 6-3 in the ninth inning, whereupon closing pitcher Rafael Soriano fell apart and allowed the Marlins to score four runs to win in dramatic walk-off fashion. Perhaps stunned by this turn of events, the Nats failed to score at all the next day and lost 3-0. In game three they finally pulled themselves together and took the lead with a three-run rally in the eighth inning. But in the bottom of the ninth Drew Storen (backup closer?) gave up two runs, one of which was a solo shot by the amazing Giancarlo Stanton. Then they got the third out, so the Nats just barely avoided being swept. Whew! That concluded the road trip on an upbeat note, winning five of nine games.

Back in Washington, the Nats lost the first two games to the Phillies. On July 31, Gio Gonzalez gave up five earned runs and was pulled out in the fourth inning, one of his worst outings ever. The next day, the new ace pitcher Doug Fister only gave up two runs over seven innings but was still tagged with the loss as the Nats just couldn't get hits. On Saturday, the Nats woke up all of a sudden and won by a lopsided 11-0 margin, boosted by Anthony Rendon's homer and new Nat Asdrubal Cabrera's triple. On Sunday they evened the four-game series with a 4-0 victory. Stephen Strasburg pitched like his old self again, a reassuring sign.

On Monday the Nats welcomed the neighboring Orioles to town, in a makeup game originally scheduled for July 8. Wilson Ramos homered, and the Nats had a 3-2 lead going into the seventh inning, when Nats pitcher Tanner Roark lost his command and the O's staged a three-run rally to take the lead. Two more in the eighth made the final score 7-3.

On Tuesday the Mets arrived in D.C. The Nats wasted several run-scoring opportunities, most notably when Jayson Werth was waved past third base on a single hit by Adam LaRoche, and was then tagged out at the plate on a perfect throw by left fielder Eric Campbell. The video review upheld the umpire's call. With no outs, it seemed like a dumb risk to take, but manager Matt Williams insisted that his team will keep playing aggressive ball. In the next inning, Gio Gonzalez got shaky on the mound again, and the Mets scored three more runs, going on to win, 6-1. Then tonight the tables were turned once again, as Adam LaRoche hit two home runs and Danny Espinosa (!) hit another one, and so the Nats won, 6-1. It was the first game this year in which a Nationals player has hit more than one home run. Doug Fister pitched another great game, earning his 11th win of the season.

So, it's been a frustrating two weeks as the pennant races heat up and the Nationals brace themselves for another postseason push. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves have been slumping badly, losing eight consecutive games, so the Nationals remain four games ahead in the National League East. I have posted the June and July win-loss records, attendance, etc. on the Washington Nationals page, which no longer includes the detailed roster and monthly data for previous years. That page was getting way too cumbersome to load, so I decided to simplify things. The detailed historical data are now found [one year at a time] on the new Washington Nationals Annual History page. Enjoy!

Zimmerman is injured again

It's been a tough year for Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who missed several weeks in May and June with a broken thumb, and was injured again late last month. He has a "Grade 3" hamstring injury, meaning that the muscle tissue is torn, so it will take weeks of rehabilitation (using a water treadmill, for example) before he is ready to play again. See The best the Nats can hope for is that he can pinch hit or maybe play first base by early September, but it's possible he may miss the rest of the season. What dirty, rotten luck. frown

Nats acquire Asdrubal Cabrera

The injury to Ryan Zimmerman created a big void in the Nats' lineup, and even though backup second baseman Danny Espinosa has been improving at the plate in recent weeks, Mike Rizzo decided more was needed. So, just before the July 31 deadline, he made a trade with the Cleveland Indians, getting shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (who will play at second) in exchange for hot minor league prospect Zach Walters. See Thus far Cabrera has done well enough, hitting a triple and making some great plays at second base. I wondered whether he could adapt after being a regular short stop, but he seems just fine in his new position.

It was quite a coincidence that I saw Cabrera play during my road trip earlier this summer, during the Indians-Diamondbacks game in Phoenix on June 25. (He went 0 for 4 that night, but got a sac fly RBI.) In fact, I would have seen him twice had he not missed a few days two weeks ago. In the Indians-Royals game I saw in Kansas City on July 25, he was replaced by Jose Ramirez, who seems to be their regular at that position now. Unfortunately, the only photo I took of Cabrera was in a less-than-heroic situation:

Asdrubal Cabrera foul ball

With the bases loaded in the top of the fourth inning at Chase Field, Asdrubal Cabrera, then with the Cleveland Indians, hits a pop foul ball that was caught for the third out. (June 25, 2014)

Globe Life Park update

Based on my recent visit, I made a few corrections to the diagrams of Globe Life Park (a.k.a. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, etc.). Most significantly, there are 40 rows of seats in most of the lower deck, not 32 as I had previously estimated. Consequently, my estimate of the amount of lower-deck overhang / shade doubled from 15% to 30%. (I wonder how many other stadiums I have underestimated the number of lower deck rows that badly?) Globe Life Park resembles Orioles Park in Camden Yards in that access to the lower deck seats is almost exclusively via entry portals. Except for the portion near home plate, where there are some glass-enclosed luxury suites, there is nothing behind the back row of seats but a big drop-off. There will be a first-deck-only (lower level) diagram version on that page in the near future. To clarify exactly what changed in the diagram, I made this before-and-after profile comparison:

The other change of note involves the position of the seating sections between the bullpens in center field. When that area was rebuilt in 2012, the old-fashioned bleacher benches were replaced by individual seats. (Too bad.)

Globe Life Park.

Prior baseball road trips

I that it might be fun to create an interactive graphic showing each of the stadium photo montages that I made after my baseball road trips in five of the last seven years. In 2011 I only visited two stadiums (in Missouri), so I didn't bother to do a montage, and last year I didn't even make a road trip. (Shame!) Each of the links below the photo takes you to the original blog post.

2008 (October): New York and Chicago

2009 (August): Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Cincinnati

2010 (August): Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago

2011 (August): Kansas City and St. Louis (no montage)

2012 (August): Chicago and Cleveland

2014 (July): Arlington (Texas), Phoenix, Omaha, Kansas City, and Cincinnati

So what are my future plans? Obviously I need to get back to the northeast and finally see a game in Fenway Park, in addition to Yankee Stadium II and/or Citi Field. Time permitting, I might try to combine that with visits to Toronto (a city I have never seen) and Detroit (only one past visit). That would leave just the six stadiums along the Pacific coast (hopefully all during the same trip), and then the four remaining stadiums in the old "Confederacy." With any luck, I'll complete my lifetime goal of seeing all (current) Major League Baseball stadiums by 2017.

August 8, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Bryce Harper hits walk-off homer!

Bryce Harper has been quite frustrated with his slow recovery since returning from the disabled list in late June. The way he threw down his helmet after a near-home run he hit was caught by the Mets' left fielder on Tuesday exposed his inner rage for all the world to see. When reporters asked if Harper might be sent down to the minors to refine his swing, manager Matt Williams angrily denied that was even being considered. That incident only added to the swirling clouds of doubt, as Washington Post columnist Adam Kilgore discussed in Thursday's paper.

But all that came to end on Friday night when Harper came out of his slump in dramatic fashion, hitting a two-run homer in the bottom of the 13th inning to give the Nationals a series win over the Mets. See The Nats used almost their whole bullpen in that marathon game, which became necessary because of the two runs given up after Drew Storen replaced Jordan Zimmerman on the mound during the seventh inning. That was the Nationals' first extra-inning win at home this year.

Harper thus becomes only the second Washington Nationals player ever to hit more than one walk-off home run. The other one, of course, is Ryan Zimmerman, who has hit nine of them! See the newly-updated Washington Nationals page.

I read that the Nationals have the highest run differential in the National League, and the second highest in the majors. My data show their aggregate score this year (including tonight's game in Atlanta*) is 480 to 401.

* Tonight in Atlanta, Stephen Strasburg had a horrible outing, giving up three home runs in the first two innings, and leaving after the fifth inning with his team behind 7-0. Then in the sixth inning, the Nats staged a four-run rally capped by Anthony Rendon's three-run homer, and then got two more runs in the seventh. The Braves were on the verge of catastrophically blowing a seven-run lead and thereby extending their eight-game losing streak, but barely hung on to win, 7-6.

Matt Thornton joins Nats

The Nationals claimed Matt Thornton off waivers; the Yankees had released him last month. He's a left-hander, something the Nationals are lacking, and so far has been pretty solid on the mound.

Cubs' new star: Javier Baez

Maybe the phrase "Wait 'till next year!" really means something for the Chicago Cubs. A rookie player named Javier Baez who was just called up from the minors hit the go-ahead home run in the 12th inning against the Rockies in Denver -- in his very first game in the majors! Then on Thursday, he hit two more home runs to help the Cubs win again. That must be some kind of rookie record. In his first game at Wrigley Field tonight, he roused the home crowd by getting a hit and scoring a run in the first inning, but Cubs lost in extra innings. See Like I said, "Wait 'till next year!"

A bit of baseball news

The people in Houston are still trying to figure out what to do with the Astrodome. One idea is to demolish everything but the main structural beams and build a miniature version inside the ring. "The ribs of the (original) stadium would be preserved, forming a sort of skeletal Stonehenge..." See Hat tip to Mario Vara. Frankly, that seems kind of dumb to me.

But at least the Astrodome will be around for another year or more, giving me another chance to see it, whereas Candlestick Park isn't expected to be around much longer. Just as the Beatles gave their final concert there in 1966, Sir Paul McCartney is going to give that venue's final concert there next week, August 14. See I think that means no more public events there, but we'll see. That article notes that "McCartney did this once before -- at Shea Stadium, just before it was demolished in 2009." Hm-m.

Back in the Eastern Time Zone, meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds unveiled the official logo for the 2015 All-Star Game which they will host at Great American Ball Park; see

Hopefully, I'll get caught up with news and fan mail in the next couple weeks...

August 10, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Kansas City: Hey, hey, hey, hey! *

Has anyone noticed that the Kansas City Royals are on a seven-game winning streak, putting them just a half game behind the Tigers in the AL Central race? They swept both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Francisco Giants, as the visiting team in both series. Now they face a four-game series (at home) against the Oakland A's, who have the best record in the majors. Last weekend in Oakland, the Royals won two out of three games, so who's to say they can't keep it up?

* That was the title of a song recorded by The Beatles in 1964, which they in fact played in Kansas City that same year. It's one of those twangy, rockabilly tunes with lots of seventh chords, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

Kauffman Stadium

Kauffman Stadium visit + update!

The game I saw at Kauffman Stadium on July 25 was plenty exciting (Royals 6, Indians 4), and the closeup view I had made it even better. For some purposes, a photograph from field level is more useful than a standard elevated view. So, I just had to take a closer look at my diagrams, and sure enough I found a few minor flaws. For one thing, I realized for the first time that there are additional entry portals midway down the lower deck not far from the foul poles. In the corrected version, the lateral aisle in the lower deck is about five feet toward the rear. The handicapped seating platforms are now rendered more accurately, and the profile has been tweaked as well. Finally, there is a new "transparent roof" version diagram, showing the entry portals in the upper deck more clearly.

Kauffman Stadium

Fans at Kauffman Stadium cheer as Billy Butler heads for home on a two-run pinch-hit home run that ended up deciding the game.

K.C. Municipal Stadium

Municipal Stadium visit + update!

But wait, there's more! The last time I was in Kansas City (August 2011) I couldn't find the old Municipal Stadium historical marker, and I wasn't even 100% sure about the site because the neighborhood had been totally rebuilt and I didn't recognize it. This time I found the marker right away, and learned about the neighborhood redevelopment plan called "Monarch Manor" that apparently caused the marker to be temporarily put away for a while. (See So, once again, I checked my diagrams on the K.C. Municipal Stadium page, and made a few corrections. In the new and improved version, the roof extends ten feet forward from where it used to, and the upper deck extends five feet forward.

K.C. Municipal Stadium sign

The K.C. Municipal Stadium historical marker; roll mouse over to see Monarch Plaza.

At the southeast corner of Monarch Manor is brand-new Monarch Plaza, a nicely landscaped area that is a vast improvement compared to the simple sign and bench that was there before. It features tributes to Satchel Paige (A's 1965), Buck O'Neill (Monarchs 1938-1943 and 1946-1955, with three years of military service during World War II), John Wyatt (A's 1961-1966), Amos Otis (Royals 1970-1983). John Mayberry (Royals 1972-1977), as well as to three black Kansas City Chiefs football players.

I was curious about the big old brick school on the west side of that long-vacant plot of land, and learned that it is Lincoln Preparatory School, which was founded in 1865. See

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Less than a mile from Monarch Plaza is the historic 18th & Vine District of Kansas City, and that's where the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is located. It shares a beautiful new building with the American Jazz Museum. It is chock full of professional-quality graphical displays and relic mementos from the glory days of African-American baseball. I learned a lot about the personal hardships endured by the Black players in the days of segregation, and I also learned that the first-ever Negro World Series, in 1924, was played (in part) in Philadelphia's old Baker Bowl. (The Monarchs were "World Colored Champions.") Those who are curious about this vital aspect of baseball history should definitely take a look at I added this photo to the Negro Leagues page:

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

For anyone who is planning a trip through Missouri and is considering a stop in Kansas City, here is an amusing lightning-fast "tour" of highlights in that fair city:; hat tip to Dan Clem.

Amazing extra-inning games!!!

This weekend featured some rather extraordinary extra-inning games, some of which had big implications for the divisional races. In Anaheim on Saturday night, the Angels beat the Red Sox 5-4 in 19 innings, thanks to a home run by Albert Pujols. Both teams scored a single run in the 14th inning. In Atlanta, meanwhile, the Nationals beat the Braves 4-1 in 11 innings, thanks to a single by Wilson Ramos and then a double by Kevin Frandsen with the bases loaded. That brought the Nats' lead in the NL East back up to 4 1/2 games. Then today the Blue Jays beat the visiting Tigers 6-5 in 19 innings on an RBI single by Jose Bautista. Toronto tied it 5-5 with a run in the bottom of the ninth, and then neither team scored for the next nine innings! Melky Cabrera (Blue Jays) got three hits and five walks, becoming the first person to reach base eight times in one game since Rod Carew did so (against the Brewers) in 1972. Perhaps also worth mentioning is that the Cubs beat the Rays 3-2 in 12 innings today, on an RBI single by Anthony Rizzo. (No relation to Nats' GM Mike Rizzo, as far as I know.) The Cubs barely avoided being swept at home.

Derek Jeter is #6 in all-time hits

Congratulations to Derek Jeter, who got his 3,431st career base hit on a soft ground ball to shortstop yesterday, passing Honus Wagner on the all-time hits list. See One almanac source I have says Wagner had 3,415 hits, and another source says 3,418. With only seven weeks left to go in his career, there is only a small chance that Jeter will surpass #5, Tris Speaker, who had 3,514 lifetime hits. Jeter's hit did not affect the game's outcome, as the visiting Cleveland Indians won, 3-0.

While looking up those records, I came across an interesting factoid: Asdrubal Cabrera (recently acquired by the Nationals from Cleveland) made an unassisted triple play on May 12, 2008 against the Toronto Blue Jays.

August 19, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Rob Manfred to replace Bud Selig

Rob Manfred was elected last week as a replacement for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, beating the main rival, Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner. A three-quarters majority was needed for election. Manfred is currently chief operating officer for Major League Baseball, where he has worked since 1998. Before that, he was an attorney in Washington, D.C. (Did he yearn for baseball back then?) See Manfred's selection is widely seen as an endorsement of Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner. Several years ago, I would have scoffed at that suggestion, but I'll have to give Selig credit for taking a firm stand on the steroid issue, and for making innovations aimed at expanding baseball's fan base.

This happens as MLB is embroiled in yet another legal battle involving the baseball franchises in Baltimore and Washington. More on that soon...

Royals lead the AL Central!

The Kansas City Royals are overcoming skeptics, determined to prove that they deserve to lead the American League Central Division. Ever since climbing a half game ahead of the Detroit Tigers last week, they have managed to stay ahead. They now enjoy a two-game margin, with a record of 69-55. I'll bet the Tigers are really regretting that trade with Washington for Doug Fister...

Oh, oh: Sports Illustrated just put the Royals on the cover of the Midwest edition of SI. I hope the jinx effect doesn't happen.

Nationals' win streak up to seven!

Somehow or other, the Washington Nationals keep finding ways to win games, even after horrible miscues make defeat seem almost inevitable. Last night, fresh off of two series sweeps (see below), they welcomed the Arizona Diamondbacks to town, and for a while the Nats' bats were cold. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Wilson Ramos fired up the crowd with a line drive home run that just cleared the center field fence, taking a 2-1 lead. But then Jordan Zimmermann uncharacteristically walked another batter and gave up a home run to Didi Gregorious, so the D-backs were ahead once again, 3-2. But wait! The Nats came right back with two more runs in the bottom of the eighth, taking a 4-3 lead. The back-and-forth carnival continued in the ninth inning when David Peralta hit a solo homer off of closing pitcher Tyler Clippard, who was replacing Rafael Soriano. Oops! That's a shame for Clip, who has been a reliable part of the Nats' bullpen for years. So the game went into extra innings. Craig Stammen took the mound in the 11th inning, and before you knew it the bases were loaded with nobody out. Most pitchers in that situation would wilt under the pressure, but Stammen buckled down, got his sinker ball where he wanted it, and escaped the inning with two strikeouts and a ground ball out. Whew!!! In the bottom of the 11th, the D-backs got two quick outs, and then Adam LaRoche hit a massive walk-off home run of the edge of the middle deck! Game over, Nats win, 5-4! THREE WALK-OFF WINS IN THREE DAYS!!! Surprisingly, that was the first walk-off homer in LaRoche's career. It came just eleven days after Bryce Harper did likewise. For more juicy details and video clips, see

Man, am I beat! This race for the postseason is going to take a lot out of me, I'm afraid. The Washington Nationals page has been duly updated, adding LaRoche to the list of walk-off home runs. Last night's game makes the fifth consecutive extra-inning win for the Nationals, another clear sign of improvement. Overall this year they are 7-8 in that department.

The Nationals now have a seven-game winning streak, their longest so far this year. So, even though the Braves are doing much better [than before], they are still six full games behind the Nats. As long as they stay healthy, it's hard to see what could stop the Nationals' momentum. It's beginning to look a lot like 2012 all over again! Much depends on Jayson Werth healing his shoulder and Ryan Zimmerman healing his strained hamstring. Also, there is a looming question of who will be the Nats' regular closing pitcher as this season nears a climax. Manager Matt Williams expressed confidence in Rafael Soriano, which is what he's supposed to do, but the current situation can't continue like this for much longer.

Nats sweep the Mets

After coming up short in Atlanta (August 8-10), where the Braves finally ended their awful slump and began surging back, the Nationals were eager to finish their road trip on a positive note. The first game against the Mets in Citi Field was a near-blowout (7-1), as the Nats' batters finally woke up, with four (4) home runs. Most impressive was Michael Taylor, just called up from the minor leagues, hitting a single and then a home run in his very first big league game! It just doesn't get any better than that for a rookie. Taylor has struggled at the plate since then, but has played fine defense in right field, replacing the ailing Jayson Werth.

Then on Wednesday, August 13, Asdrubal Cabrera hit his first home run as a National, [helping defeat] the home team, 3-2. Closing pitcher Rafael Soriano got the save, but gave up a run in the bottom of the ninth, barely avoiding an ugly blown save and/or loss.

On Thursday the Nats completed the series sweep with a 4-1 win, thanks to solid pitching by Stephen Strasburg (often shaky on the road) and home runs by Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper.

Nats sweep the Pirates

With a 4-2 road trip under their belts, the Nationals returned to Washington on Friday full of confidence, facing the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the very first inning, the Nats scored three runs. Nats pitcher Tanner Roark started off with his usual solid command, but was relieved during the sixth inning, when the Pirates scored three runs to make it a 5-3 game. It stayed that way until the top of the ninth, when Rafael Soriano gave up a run on three hits, once again nearly blowing a save opportunity.

On Saturday, Gio Gonzalez struggled on the mound, giving up three runs to the Pirates in the third inning. The score was 3-0 until the eighth inning, when the Nats staged a sudden three-run rally, capped by an Adam LaRoche home run. In the bottom of the ninth, Bryce Harper walked, got to second base on a wild pitch, and then scored on a walk-off ground-rule double by Wilson Ramos. And the crowd went wild!

The game on Sunday was an amazing marathon featuring defensive blunders by both sides. The Nats came back and had a 4-2 lead going into the ninth inning, whereupon Rafael Soriano not only blew another save opportunity, but left his team a run behind after Gregory Polanco knocked in two runs with a double to right-center field. ARGH-H-H-H! Fortunately, Jayson Werth (who missed several days with a sore shoulder) came in as a pinch-hitter and reached base on a leadoff walk, and then scored on an RBI single by Asdrubal Cabrera. Anthony Rendon then nearly ended the game with a ball hit to the left field gap, by center fielder Starling Marte somehow caught it, sending the game into extra innings. In the eleventh inning, Jayson Werth hit a double that almost cleared the left field fence, advanced to third base on a hard ground ball hit by Denard Span, and finally scored the winning run on a fly ball to left field hit by pinch hitter Scott Hairston. Nats 6, Pirates 5: two walk-off wins in a row, and a second consecutive series sweep!

Chase Field update

Since the Arizona Diamondbacks are visiting Our Nation's Capital this week, I thought it would be appropriate to finish the revisions to my diagrams for their ballpark (Chase Field) based on my recent visit to Phoenix, on June 25. Once again, my first-hand observations paid off handsomely. For one thing, just like with Globe Life Park, I badly underestimated the amount of first-deck overhang: It's about 30%, rather than 10% as I previously indicated. The upper-deck overhang (about 75%) is inherently difficult to assess in stadiums with retractable roofs. For the time being, I'm going to estimate how much of the upper deck is covered when the roof is open, indicating that modified estimation technique with parentheses on the Stadium statistics page (newly updated). The position of the entry portals in the upper deck has been corrected, a few minor details in the center field wall and the fence in the right field corner have been refined, and the grandstand profile has been altered significantly.

Chase Field is much more attractive than I expected, and the outside view is especially impressive. Here is one of the ten (10) new photos I added to that page:

Chase Field, from the northeast corner, just before game time.

One final note: Having spent nearly a week in 100-plus-degree temperatures out there in late June, I fully understand the need for an air-conditioned baseball stadium in Phoenix!

Native American protests

On my way into Chase Field, I passed by a group of Native Americans who were protesting against the Cleveland Indians' grinning mascot. The Indians have been minimizing their use of that rather tacky and archaic logo for the past couple years, replacing it with a bland red letter "C," which is rather hard to distinguish from the logo of the other team in Ohio -- Cincinnati Reds. I hope they settle on a new team logo before too long...

Protest by Native American Indians at Chase Field.

The protests were a reflection of the state's ethnic composition: 4.0% of Arizona's 2010 Census population was American Indian, the seventh-highest concentration in the United States. As noted on the Chase Field, one of the Diamondbacks' main sponsors is Gila River Gaming Enterprises, which runs the casinos on the Gila River Indian Reservation. See

Meanwhile in Washington, the Redskins are under continual pressure to change their team's name. More on that controversy when the football season gets underway...

August 22, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Nats sweep the D-backs: ten in a row!

It wasn't easy, but the Washington Nationals swept the Diamondbacks in a four-game series this week, their third consecutive series sweep. That was their tenth consecutive win, a feat they managed only one time before since their inaugural season in Washington: June 2-12, 2005. What's nearly as amazing is the fact that five of their last [six] wins have been walk-off victories. The Nationals extended their lead over the Braves to seven games, and now have the highest winning percentage (.579) in the National League.

On Tuesday, Ian Desmond and Asdrubal Cabrera provided most of the offensive firepower, getting 4 and 3 RBIs, respectively, as the Nats won decisively, 8-1. With an early lead as a cushion, Stephen Strasburg has one of his best outings of the year, going eight strong innings. It was the Nats' only blowout win this week.

On Wednesday, Bryce Harper showed more signs of improvement at the plate, getting three hits, the most important of which came in the ninth inning. The Nats had had a 2-0 lead until Tyler Clippard walked a batter and then gave up a home run to Ender Inciarte in the top of the eighth inning. That was the second straight blown save for Clip, which is too bad. He is usually very reliable, and has been the linchpin of the Nats' bullpen for years. But after Bryce Harper got to third base in the bottom of the ninth, thanks to a pinch-hit single by Kevin Frandsen, Anthony Rendon came through with a single smashed down the left field line, and Harper trotted home victoriously. [Final score: Nats 3, D-backs 2.]

And then last night the Nats got 8 hits in the first eight innings, but neither team scored. That meant either a walk-off win or a loss for the home team. In the bottom of the ninth, Denard Span led off with a hit, then stole second base, getting into scoring position with just one out. Here we go again! The next batter, Anthony Rendon, hit a hard ground ball to third base, and the throw to first by Jordan Pacheco was wide and trickled into the dugout (or camera pit?), and the umpire awarded Span an extra base, which won the game. [Gio Gonzalez deserves his share of credit, pitching seven scoreless innings and giving up just four hits and three walks. Final score: Nats 1, D-bakcs 0.] Not as fulfilling as the other walk-off wins, but we'll take it!

Barring a miracle, however, the Nationals' winning streak is about to come to an end. The visiting San Francisco Giants hold a 10-2 lead in the middle of the ninth inning, scoring six of those runs in the final two innings. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted...

[UPDATE: Wilson Ramos doubled in a run in the bottom of the ninth, but that's when the magic came to an end, as the Nats fell to the Giants, 10-3.]

In other news...

There was another weird 1-0 ballgame yesterday: The Tampa Bay Rays beat the visiting Detroit Tigers [in spite of getting] only one hit in the game: an RBI triple by Brandon Guyer [in the first inning], after Ben Zobrist reached base on a throwing error by shortstop Eugenio Suarez. Former Ray David Price pitched eight more innings without allowing a runner to reach base, but still lost the game. Talk about frustration for the Tigers...

Meanwhile, the Oakland A's have slumped badly, losing 8 of their last 10 games, while the L.A. Angels have surged into first place in the AL West, winning 8 of their last 10.

August 25, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Nats bounce back, clobber Giants

In baseball, as in all human endeavors, "you can't win 'em all," but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. It was a bit of a letdown when the Nationals had their ten-game winning streak stopped by the Giants in a lopsided score (10-3) on Friday night, but it hasn't affected their momentum at all. In the late afternoon game on Saturday, the Giants scored twice in the first inning, but the Nats did the same in the bottom of the first, and their pitcher Jordan Zimmermann settled down and went seven more innings without allowing a run. The Nats kept adding runs, boosted by Asdrubal Cabrera's second homer as a Nat, and the home team won, 6-2. On Sunday afternoon, it was a more extreme version of that pattern, as Stephen Strasburg allowed five runs during the first three innings. He just couldn't locate his fastball, so his off-speed pitches failed to have the desired effect. He was pulled in the fourth inning, just as the Nats began a comeback with a two-run rally. Relief pitcher Craig Stammen gave up a solo homer, but the Nationals exploded after Ian Desmond led off with a homer in the sixth inning, and before you knew it, the score was 8-6. They added another run in the seventh inning, and then five more runs in the eighth inning. The poor Giants didn't know what hit them. Final score: Nats 14, Giants 6. It was their highest run total of the year, and probably the biggest comeback in terms of net run differential.

Meanwhile, the Braves lost the second two games of their series in Cincinnati, so the Nationals gained another game in the NL East race. They are now eight games in front. The main danger for the Nats at this point is not to get too comfortable with being that far ahead.

Tonight the Nats begin a long road trip, playing against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. After resting on Thursday, they head to the west coast, playing three games in Seattle against the Mariners, and three games in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. That will be a challenge.

Cubs sweep the Orioles

Not many people expected this to happen: The Chicago Cubs swept the visiting Baltimore Orioles at Wrigley Field over the weekend. The young rookie Javier Baez got two more home runs, making his total six (6), in only 82 at bats so far. Pretty amazing, and just what the Cubs need. Meanwhile, the Yankees are on a winning streak, so the Orioles' lead in the AL East has been cut to six games.

Globe Life Park tweak

I finally completed the lower-deck version of the Globe Life Park diagrams, which show the entry portals and (semi-obstructive) support columns for the first time. There are only four rows of seats behind those columns. Making that diagram, in turn, prompted a few very small changes in the other diagram versions, so all that has been taken care of.

August 25, 2014 [LINK / comment]

West by Southwest: Birding in the desert

It was nearly a month ago that I returned home from an extended summer vacation out west that included multiple objectives, including (of course) birds! (See also my desert scenery travelogue, to be posted tomorrow, and my baseball road trip, which was posted last July 31.) My main destination was southern Arizona, well known as a haven for a wide variety of semi-tropical birds that are found nowhere else in the United States. Although I missed a few target birds, my endeavors were quite successful overall.

The rest of this blog post is an extended version of an article that I submitted for publication in the Augusta Bird Club newsletter. It is divided into four main sections, corresponding to the three legs of my trip in late June and early July, plus a section for South Dakota and Nebraska, where I birded in July. Bold face letters denote first sightings (on this trip) of special birds (mostly life birds), and red letters denote special birding locations. For each region, I created a photo montage to summarize the bird highlights, and I have added separate photos of some of the most striking birds that I saw.

Going west: South-central plains

Getting to the ultimate destination of Arizona was quite a challenge in itself. For a variety of reasons, I decided to drive out to the Midwest rather than fly, and likewise I drove all the way from the Midwest to Arizona, with my father as passenger as far as New Mexico. Things got off to a good start in the "Show Me" state of Missouri, during a brief side trip into the city of Joplin, where we saw a pair of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. I had to do a sudden U-turn on a busy street to take advantage of the photo opportunity, and the effort paid off. I had seen that species three times before: once in Oklahoma (1998), once in Nicaragua (2005), and once in the hamlet of Hermitage, northwest of Waynesboro, in June 2009. (My report to VARCOM in 2009 was rejected, however, because there was no photographic evidence, and the light conditions were mediocre.) The other ten or so Scissor-tailed Flycatchers were in central Texas.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, east of Roscoe, Texas.

Among other birds unique to the south-central plains region that we saw were Great-tailed Grackles, first seen in southern Oklahoma, and White-winged Doves, first seen in downtown Dallas. The farther we drove, the more common Western Kingbirds became. Heading west from Dallas-Fort Worth, the grasslands gradually thinned and turned into parched scrublands, eventually turning into parched deserts as we crossed the Pecos River into western Texas. That is where I saw my first Black-throated Sparrows, as well as more White-winged Doves.

Destination: Arizona or bust!

After visiting with my aunt and uncle in Las Cruces, New Mexico (where my father stayed for the next few days), I resumed the westward trek on June 25. In western New Mexico, approaching the awe-inspiring Animas Valley, I saw my first Curve-billed Thrasher. Soon after that, I crossed into Arizona and saw a Say's Phoebe and a Cassin's Kingbird at two successive rest stops. I was in a hurry to get to see a baseball game in Phoenix that evening,* or else I might have spent more time at the rest stops along I-10 at Dragoon Mountains especially the one on Gila River Indian Reservation. That is where I saw my first Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and Verdins. Eurasian Collared Dove.

* Inside Chase Field, with the roof closed, I saw two Mourning Doves perched on a support wire, during a Diamondbacks-Indians baseball game!

Desert birds (clockwise from top left): Verdin, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Painted Redstart, Gray Hawk, Cactus Wren, Acorn Woodpecker, Gambel's Quail, and in the center, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. Arizona.

I didn't have a specific itinerary for my trip, but had a rough idea of my priority target areas based on a book on birding in Arizona which my brother John lent to me. (He has been there at least three times.) My first target area (on June 26) was the irrigated farmlands north of Marana, which is northwest of Tucscon. It seemed like a strange place for birds, in the middle of soybean fields and pecan orchards, but it proved fairly productive. I was pleased to see Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and Phainopeplas at several locations, as well as Verdins and (probable) Hooded Orioles. I almost got a great closeup photo of a Summer Tanager before it flew away, which I bitterly regretted, but I had another chance a couple days later, fortunately. Late in the afternoon I briefly drove inside Saguaro National Park west of Tucson, but didn't see much other than a Raven. They are fairly common in the desert southwest, which is beyond the range of any crow species.

The next day (June 27) at the Sabino Canyon visitor's center, I saw my first Cactus Wrens, a Lucy's Warbler, a Gila Woodpecker, and a Brown-crested Flycatcher. That is a beautiful facility, with lots of information for birders and other nature lovers. But it was extremely hot (reaching 110 degrees), so to escape the desert heat, I decided to explore the Santa Catalina Mountains, northeast of Tucscon. About one-third of the way up, at Middle Bear picnic area, I came across my first Painted Redstarts, Acorn Woodpeckers, Spotted Towhees, a Plumbeous Vireo (similar to the Blue-headed Vireo), some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (like we have in the east), and Yellow-eyed Juncos. Driving to an even higher elevation, in the midst of a cool, lush coniferous forest, I found several Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, a Broad-billed Hummingbird (with a striking bluish throat and green belly), plus a Cordilleran Flycatcher. Finally, near the summit of Mount Lemmon (9,000+ foot elevation), I saw a few Wild Turkeys. That was very unexpected! It was getting late in the afternoon, so I had to hurry back to Tucson before dusk.

The next morning (June 28), I paid a quick return trip to the Sabino Canyon visitor center, where I saw many more Verdins, and even some Purple Martins; that was a surprise. (NOTE: For lack of time, I decided against taking the tour bus up into Sabino Canyon itself, so I probably missed a few good birds up there. Private automobiles are not allowed in there.) I kept looking in vain for a reported Greater Roadrunner, in vain, but finally got some satisfaction when I spotted a pair of Gambel's Quails. Unfortunately, they kept scurrying away, and I only got one mediocre photo. But the biggest thrill was when I came upon a strange brown-camouflaged bird resting on the ground. I got some great closeup photos before it flew away, and later determined that it was a Lesser Nighthawk. Wow!

Lesser Nighthawk, at the Sabino Canyon visitor center, Arizona.

From the Tucson area, I headed south along I-19 and decided to bypass Madera Canyon, in the Santa Rita Mountains. (That's another birding hot spot I missed.) At a rest stop south of Green Valley, I saw a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, a Canyon Towhee, a Rufous-winged Sparrow, and my first-ever Pyrrhuloxia, not far from its more familiar relative, the Northern Cardinal. Within a mile or so of the Mexican border, in Nogales, I heard the scream of a raptor, and before long spotted a Gray Hawk in the tree tops. I spent over a half hour tracking it down to get in good position for a photo, and the results justified the effort. Then I turned northeast toward the town of Patagonia, near which there is a famous nature preserve operated by the Nature Conservancy. It was in that vicinity that I spotted Vermilion Flycatchers (which I had seen before in Mexico), and my first Bridled Titmouse, Lucy's Warblers, and Bewick's Wren. But best of all was getting an excellent look at a bird that I have seen only rarely here in the east: a Yellow-breasted Chat!

Yellow-breasted Chat, in Patagonia, Arizona.

The next day (June 29) I spent a few hours in the San Pedro River Riparian Area, just east of Sierra Vista and adjacent Fort Huachuca. It's a veritable oasis in the middle of the desert, and therefore a magnet for a huge variety of colorful birds. Just outside the visitor's center (which features a friendly bookstore/gift shop) there were several Blue Grosbeaks, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, and Lesser Goldfinches. Along the river itself, and the nearby pond, I saw Summer Tanagers, Vermilion Flycatchers, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, an Abert's Towhee, a Varied Bunting (female), a pair of American Coots (!?), and some Common Ground Doves, among others mentioned in above paragraphs. Another birder I met there had seen some male Varied Buntings, and I was disappointed not to. But no matter, I was delirious with sensory overload. smile San Pedro River is a very special place, so I got myself a souvenir hat to replace my Augusta Bird Club hat, which I lost somewhere in the Tucson area. frown

Summer Tanager, at the San Pedro River, Arizona.

My final target area in Arizona was the Chiricahua Mountains, where Elegant Trogons are often seen -- but alas, not by me on this trip. (I had seen one in Costa Rica in 2005.) But as I approached the mountains along a dusty desert road in the early morning of June 30, I finally got lucky with great views of two of two other target birds: a Greater Roadrunner, and a Gambel's Quail. At the Ranger's Station, where I was given lots of friendly information, I saw my first-ever Hepatic Tanager, and in the canyons and mountains up ahead I saw Mexican Jays, a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, and an Ash-throated Flycatcher. I thought I heard a Black-throated Gray Warbler singing, but it turned out to be a Yellow-eyed Junco. That was weird. Some of the roads up there are pretty rugged, so I decided against going to the higher-elevation Rustler Peak, where various warblers, etc. are said to breed.

Returning east: South-central plains

The final leg of my adventure (when my father rejoined me, on July 1) took us north along the Rio Grande through New Mexico. In the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, there were many Double-crested Cormorants, Pied-bill Grebes, two Greater Roadrunners, and my first-ever Cinnamon Teals. There were many hummingbirds at the visitor center, but overall, the number of birds didn't justify the lengthy time we spent.

Further north, on the morning of July 2, we stopped at the Las Vegas (New Mexico, not Nevada!) National Wildlife Refuge, where we saw a Vesper Sparrow, Western Meadownlarks, Western Kingbirds, and a Cassin's Kingbird. The ranger suggested a circuit route for us to take, but there wasn't much birding activity so we decided to cut it short. But just as we were about to exit, I spotted a large brown bird perched on a fence post. Could it be? Yes, a Burrowing Owl, which flew away just after I clicked the camera shutter! Later that day, in the panhandle of Oklahoma, we saw a pair of Swainson's Hawks, and I pulled over by the side of the highway to get some photos. Soon thereafter we crossed into Kansas at the town of Elkhart, got some advice at the headquarters for the Cimarron National Grassland. I made a big mistake by taking a side road which turned out to be a primitive, rutted dirt track. We're lucky we didn't get stuck in the middle of nowhere. I heard (but never saw) a Bobwhite, and saw both Eastern and Western Kingbirds, and got a blurry long-distance photo of a Bullock's Oriole, the western relative of the Baltimore Oriole. Nice, but it didn't justify the time spent or the danger incurred. Then around mid-afternoon at a rest stop on the east side of Dodge City, Kansas, I had my first good look at a Mississippi Kite, as well as a great closeup look at a Western Kingbird. Late in the afternoon, in a wetland area called Cheyenne Bottoms near the center of the state, I saw several American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts. Even more big surprises!

In Salina, Kansas, on the morning of July 3, we saw two Mississippi Kites flying around, one of which was St. John's Military School. A third one was brooding in a nest high up in a tree. How about that!? Then we drove north through Nebraska, but didn't see much along the way. We crossed into South Dakota and returned home in Vermillion late in the afternoon.

Grassland birds (clockwise from top left): Western Kingbird, Burrowing Owl, Black-throated Sparrow, Swainson's Hawk, White-winged Dove, Cinnamon Teal, Mississippi Kite, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and American Avocet.

Overall, I saw a total of 40 new bird species during that trip, give or take a couple. (I will update my Life bird list page and my Wild Birds, yearly photo gallery page later today.) My casual approach to bird traveling isn't for everyone, but I get more enjoyment out of spontaneous discovery. If I had gone on one of those guided tours, I'm sure I would have seen more species. Likewise, I really should have knocked on doors of some of the houses where bird feeders are maintained in places such as Portal, Arizona. My big "misses" included Black-headed Grosbeaks, Western Tanagers, and Blue-throated Hummingbirds. (I learned that many more hummingbirds are seen in Arizona late in the summer, after the typical heavy rains and bird migration begin.) But whatever travel approach you prefer, southern Arizona should be near the top of any serious birder's "bucket list" of places to see. You won't be disappointed!

Also: South Dakota & Nebraska

Most of my vacation time was spent in "The Prairie State" of South Dakota, with a couple brief forays into neighboring Nebraska. Even before I headed out to the southwestern deserts, I got some good bird photos at Spirit Mound and vicinity. Dickcissels are very common along country roads, about as common as Indigo Buntings are in the rural east. I got great closeup photos of those, as well as of Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles, at various locations. Same thing goes for Red-headed Woodpecker, which is the most common woodpecker species in the rural Midwest. I only saw a Lark Sparrow twice, but I got a superb closeup photo of one.

On July 9, my father and I drove down to Adams Natural Area, near North Sioux City, South Dakota. Highlights there included Red-headed Woodpecker, Dickcissels, both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, a Common Yellowthroat, a Warbling Vireo, both Western and Eastern Kingbirds, and a dozen or more Wood Ducks (mothers with babies).

On July 10, my father, John, and I drove down to the Missouri River landing southeast of Burbank, South Dakota. There we saw an immature Bald Eagle soaring above, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, an Indigo Bunting, a Common Yellowthroat, a Warbling Vireo, plus the usual orioles, Eastern Kingbird, etc.

On July 14, my father and I took a casual drive northeast of town and saw some Horned Larks, plus more Dickcissels. The next day we drove near the Missouri River south of town, and saw more Horned Larks, plus a female Yellow Warbler, Eastern Kingbirds, and a pair (M & F) of Blue Grosbeaks. On July 16 I saw a House Wren and Orchard Oriole in Cotton Park, along the Vermillion River.

South Dakota birds (clockwise from top left): Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Dickcissel, Red-headed Red-headed Woodpecker, Lark Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Least Tern, Bald Eagle (immature), and in center, Baltimore Oriole.

On July 17 we went on a lengthier trip, first to Clay County Park, on the Missouri River. There I saw Red-headed Woodpeckers (including a juvenile), a singing male Yellow Warbler, and an Eastern Wood Pewee. Later on, at the Vermillion Prairie Nature Conservancy preserve, we saw a Dickcissel at very close range, and I got a nice photo. Finally, at Spirit Mound, I saw a male Blue Grosbeak. I was surprised how many of those there were in South Dakota.

In my final visit to Spirit Mound, on July 22, I saw what I thought were LeConte's Sparrows, but after looking at the photos I decided they had to be (female and juvenile) Bobolinks. Too bad I never saw a male, though I did hear one singing nearby. There was also a Common Yellowthroat singing vigorously. A few miles to the northeast, in the flooded plain of the Vermillion River valley, I saw several dozen Great Blue Herons, many Killdeers, a gull of some sort, and two shorebirds: a Lesser Yellowlegs and a Willet.

On July 23, we made one last road trip, crossing the Missouri River south of Vermillion and heading west to Niobrara, Nebraska, where I saw a Common Yellowthroat, some Orchard Orioles, and a Bell's Vireo. From the parking lot on the north side of the Missouri River bridge (first time I had been there), we saw dozens of swallows (Cliff, I assume), and an Eastern Phoebe. At a farm pond along Highway 50 heading back east, I saw 20 or so Ring-billed Gulls. At Gavin's Point Dam west of Yankton, I saw Orchard Oriole, and some Yellow Warblers.

On my final day in South Dakota, July 24, I spotted a Least Tern flying around a pond on The Bluffs Golf Course, and I was lucky to get a couple adequate photos of it. They are fast and acrobatic, suddenly diving after small fish! I also photographed a Northern Flicker on the ground at close range.

The final bird observations of note during my trip were on July 25, when I saw a Western Kingbird outside TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, and another one perched on a support wire inside Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, during a Royals-Indians baseball game!

August 27, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Life bird list update

Following up the narrative of my southwestern birding adventures posted earlier this week, I have updated my Life bird list with the following species. All were photographed, except for the Hooded Oriole, White-throated Swift, and Virginia's Warbler. There are 41 species in this list, and there is one additional definite sighting of a bird (Ash-throated Flycatcher) that I had regarded as "probable" when I first saw it in 2003 (in Mexico), so it could be an actual net gain of 42 birds. In any case, it brings my lifetime total up to 452. It's by far my biggest year birdwise since 2005, when I went to Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Black-throated Sparrow June 24, 2014 Rest stop W of Pecos, TX
Black-chinned Hummingbirds June 25, 2014 Las Cruces, NM
Curve-billed Thrasher June 25, 2014 Rest stop W of Deming, NM
Say's Phoebe June 25, 2014 Rest stop E of San Simon, AZ
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher June 25, 2014 Rest stop, Gila River Indian Res.
Verdin June 25, 2014 Rest stop, Gila River Indian Res.
Hooded Oriole (prob.) June 26, 2014 N of Marana, AZ
White-throated Swift June 26, 2014 N of Marana, AZ
Phainopepla June 26, 2014 N of Marana, AZ
Cactus Wren June 27, 2014 Sabino Canyon vis. ctr., AZ
Virginia's Warbler June 27, 2014 Sabino Canyon vis. ctr., AZ
Lucy's Warbler June 27, 2014 Sabino Canyon vis. ctr., AZ
Gila Woodpecker June 27, 2014 Sabino Canyon vis. ctr., AZ
Brown-crested Flycatcher June 27, 2014 Sabino Canyon vis. ctr., AZ
Painted Redstart June 27, 2014 Santa Catalina Mountains, AZ
Acorn Woodpecker June 27, 2014 Santa Catalina Mountains, AZ
Spotted Towhee June 27, 2014 Santa Catalina Mountains, AZ
Plumbeous Vireo June 27, 2014 Santa Catalina Mountains, AZ
Yellow-eyed Junco June 27, 2014 Santa Catalina Mountains, AZ
Cordilleran Flycatcher June 27, 2014 Santa Catalina Mountains, AZ
Gambel's Quail June 28, 2014 Sabino Canyon vis. ctr., AZ
Lesser Nighthawk June 28, 2014 Sabino Canyon vis. ctr., AZ
Ladder-backed Woodpecker June 28, 2014 Rest stop S of Green Valley, AZ
Canyon Towhee June 28, 2014 Rest stop S of Green Valley, AZ
Rufous-winged Sparrow June 28, 2014 Rest stop S of Green Valley, AZ
Pyrrhuloxia June 28, 2014 Rest stop S of Green Valley, AZ
Gray Hawk June 28, 2014 Nogales, AZ
Bridled Titmouse June 28, 2014 Patagonia, AZ
Bewick's Wren June 28, 2014 Patagonia, AZ
Abert's Towhee June 29, 2014 San Pedro River, AZ
Varied Bunting June 29, 2014 San Pedro River, AZ
Common Ground Dove June 29, 2014 San Pedro River, AZ
Greater Roadrunner June 30, 2014 N of Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
Hepatic Tanager June 30, 2014 Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
Mexican Jay June 30, 2014 Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
Dusky-capped Flycatcher June 30, 2014 Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher June 30, 2014 Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
Cinnamon Teal July 1, 2014 Bosque del Apache NWR, NM
Burrowing Owl July 2, 2014 Las Vegas NWR, NM
Bullock's Oriole July 2, 2014 Cimarron Nat. Grassland, KS
Least Tern July 23, 2014 Bluffs golf course, Vermillion, SD

Honorable mentions

In addition, I saw the following birds for the first time in years, or had my best views ever:

  1. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  2. Great-tailed Grackles
  3. White-winged Doves
  4. Cassin's Kingbird
  5. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds
  6. Broad-billed Hummingbird
  7. Spotted Towhee
  8. Vermilion Flycatchers
  9. Yellow-breasted Chat
  10. Blue Grosbeaks
  11. Lesser Goldfinches
  12. Ash-throated Flycatcher #
  13. Mississippi Kite
  14. American Avocet
  15. Black-necked Stilt

# Probably seen Feb. 26, 2003 near Orizba, Mexico.

American Bird Conservancy

More than once during my trip, I noticed signs indicating that various protected areas were made possible by the American Bird Conservancy. It's an organization that is dedicated to supporting efforts to preserve the habitats of neotropical migrant birds in both North and South America. For example, in December 2012 they announced that Peru had "approved two new Private Conservation Areas (PCAs) to conserve a critical area of rapidly disappearing Marañon-Chinchipe dry forests." See I visited their offices in March 2011 and received some reports and other publications which I shared with other members of the Augusta Bird Club. It's a very worth cause.

August 29, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Phillies sweep the Nationals

The Nationals knew they had a tough road trip ahead of them, and it would be hard to keep up the momentum from their spectacular 9-1 home stand, but they thought the first series, in Philadelphia, would be a bit less challenging. But to the shock and consternation of Nats' fans all across the mid-Atlantic region, those pesky Phillies (currently in last place) managed to sweep the Nationals. The last team to do that was the St. Louis Cardinals, on June 13-15.

Monday's game was a pitcher's duel, and the Phillies' A.J. Burnett simply dominated the Nats with his nasty knuckle-curve balls. Anthony Rendon hit a solo homer in the sixth inning, and Wilson Ramos did likewise in the ninth, but it wasn't quite enough. Tanner Roark gave up just two runs over six innings, another fine outing, but was nonetheless charged with the loss in a 3-2 game.

On Tuesday, the Nats' pitcher Gio Gonzalez exited the game after six innings with his team behind, but a solo homer by Asdrubal Cabrera in the top of the eight tied it, 3-3. But the Phillies came right back with a run in the bottom of the inning, and Jonathan Papelbon got another save under his belt.

The Nats were determined to avoid a sweep, and got two quick runs in the first inning on Wednesday. But so did the Phillies in the bottom of the inning. It was going to be a long, hard struggle. An RBI single by Jayson Werth and a rare home run by Denard Span (his second) put the Nats on top by the fifth inning, but then the Phillies roared back with three runs in the sixth inning, knocking Doug Fister out of the game. It was his second straight loss on the mound. Phillies 8, Nats. 4. Ouch! frown

Tonight the Nats begin a three game series agains the Mariners in Seattle. As of the fifth inning, the Nats lead 5-2, with four home runs off of ace pitcher Felix Hernandez. Wow!

Cubs sweep the Orioles

In a curious parallel to what happened in Philadelphia, the last-place Chicago Cubs beat the first-place Baltimore Orioles in three straight games at Wrigley Field earlier this week. The Cubs had a four-game winning streak going, but their streak came to an end in Cincinnati on Wednesday. Rookie slugger Javier Baez now has seven (7) home runs in only 95 at-bats! His batting average is only .198, however. Well, he'll learn. The Cubs beat the Cardinals tonight, 7-2, their 60th win of the season, putting them at .448, [13.5] games out of first place in the NL Central, and [4.5] games behind the fourth-place Reds. Definite signs of improvement!

Great American Ballpark update

Great American Ballpark Based on my visit to the Cincinnati Reds' Great American Ballpark on July 27, I have made several revisions to the diagrams. As mentioned before, I noticed a few details in the left field upper deck bleacher section, as well as the existence of a discontinuous seam (or joint?) between the respective portions of the lower deck near the left field corner. (The pitch is steeper on the right side.) But I also realized that the section in right field (known for the unique curved, tapered shape) is smaller than I had previously estimated -- about ten feet shallower. In addition, the upper decks on the third base side had to be adjusted slightly. Those things, plus the task of rendering the profile so that it would more accurately reflect the interior, took more time than planned. But it's done -- for now at least.

I also added ten new photos to that page, but some of them were taken in poor lighting conditions, since it was cloudy most of the time, so I may replace them eventually. I took this one on the way out, just after the bright sunshine emerged. I should have stayed inside another 15 minutes to take more pictures!

Great American Ballpark entry plaza, on the northwest side.

League Park is reborn

In Cleveland, the renovated neighborhood park where League Park once stood had its official opening last week. It's a combination playground and historical tribute, paying homage to the Negro League Cleveland Buckeyes. The City of Cleveland is paying $6.3 million for the restoration, which I think was a wise investment in the community. See . I visited League Park in 1998, when it was a crumbling eyesore, but at least a portion of the original grandstand was still there. Now all that's left of the original structure is an exterior brick wall and the ticket sales/office building.

Statistical table updates

I'm slowly getting caught up with various "housekeeping" chores, which are many. Today I updated the statistical tables on the Jack Murphy Stadium, Memorial Coliseum, Candlestick Park, Oakland Coliseum, Kingdome, and Cleveland Stadium pages, making them consistent with the Stadium statistics page, and made a few text corrections as well.

Hopefully, I'll have time to respond to more e-mail inquiries in the near future. With the start of the school semester underway, time is precious right now. In fact, that's why I wasn't able to go up to Washington during their recent triumphant home stand, and share in all the fun.

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