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December 1, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Arlington Stadium update

Arlington Stadium

After a tip from Terry Wallace about there being bullpen dugouts at Arlington Stadium (as opposed to mere benches which aren't worth rendering), I made some discoveries from some long-neglected photos and guess what? I ended up having to update the entire set of Arlington Stadium diagrams! (Familiar story?) It turns out that the bleachers built for football games extending along the first base line toward the right field corner remained there for most if not all of the 1972 season, when the Rangers first played there. Previously I had thought that they were replaced by permanent grandstand seating at the same time that the giant semi-circular bleachers stretching from foul pole to foul pole were built. In fact it might have been later than 1973 that the grandstand was upgraded. So, besides adding details to the bullpen areas, I made corrections to the positions of the scoreboard, some of the light towers, and some of the peripheral buildings, especially those on the northwest side behind home plate. (There were very few changes to the last diagram in that set, 1985.) There is also a new "the site today" diagram showing AT&T Way which passes straight through where Arlington Stadium once stood, on the way to AT&T Stadium, home of the Cowboys. It is the second such diagram for stadiums that no longer exist, the first being Riverfront Stadium. I had a rough idea of Arlington Stadium's location when I visited Globe Life Park in June 2014, but I came no closer than a couple blocks away from it when I took this photo:

Arlington pond, Convention Center

A pond (dammed-up stream, actually) next to Arlington Convention Center, taken from the north side of Globe Life Park on June 24, 2014. The Arlington Stadium bleachers would have been where that empty parking lot in back on the left is.

Anyway, Terry related a story from a friend that the bullpen dugouts were so deep that when Sparky Lyle was with the Rangers, he declared it a "submarine" and said he was the "captain." Tiger Stadium is another example of such bullpen dugouts, which minimize the sight obstruction to front-row fans near bullpens located along foul lines. It also prevents fans from bothering the relief pitchers. Wrigley Field used to have such bullpens without such dugouts, and AT&T Park still does. (Seats for the relief pitchers are behind an enclosure at ground level there.)

Athletics announce new ballpark!

It's not a 100% done deal, but it's a lot closer than any of the Oakland team's previous stadium schemes, such as in [Fremont] or San Jose. The Athletics announced on Friday that they plan to build a new ballpark on the Oakland waterfront at Howard Terminal near Jack London square. Two enormous (200+ feet tall) shipping cranes would be visible beyond right-center field, with the field being oriented toward the southeast. Best of all, the stadium would be funded entirely from private capital, only needing government support for infrastructure improvements such as a proposed gondola to carry fans across the railroad tracks to the nearby BART commuter rail station. Many details remain up in the air, of course. See Hat tip to Mike Zurawski. The team's new slogan "Rooted In Oakland" aims to make the commitment rock-solid. Apparently, a big part of the change in fortune was due to the office of the mayor of Oakland, Elizabeth "Libby" Schaaf. Evidently, she had to make a choice between trusting the NFL Raiders or the MLB Athletics as a long-term civic partner, and went with the latter. Hence, the Raiders' awkward departure to Las Vegas in the next couple years or so...

The design of the proposed stadium bears certain similarities to the home of the A's from 1909 until 1954, Shibe Park. But it has many unique features such as a rooftop park full of shrubs and small trees, which will supposedly be open to the public! It was designed by European architects who have no previous experience in designing baseball stadiums. Hmmm... See

For the record, the big capacity increase at Oakland Coliseum this year which I cited on Oct. 3 actually took place in April of 2017, just a few weeks after Opening Day. That's when they removed the tarps from the upper deck, and started selling cheap ($15) tickets to expand the fan base. It was evidently a goodwill gesture that played a part in getting help from the city government in overcoming obstacles to the unusual stadium deal at Howard Terminal. See The capacity figures I rely upon (Washington Post box scores) are evidently from the beginning of each season.

Angels opt out of lease?

While the Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, and Seattle Mariners have all extended their stadium leases (see Oct. 25), the Los Angeles Angels opted out of their lease at Angels (Anaheim) Stadium in October. So, what, are they going to move back into Dodger Stadium as tenants again? No, they are obligated to remain there at least through next season. The lease terms specify that the Angels either opted out this year or wait ten more years (2028) for another such opportunity. One thing in the Angels' favor is their success at selling tickets: "Since 2003, the first season of Arte Moreno's ownership, the Angels and New York Yankees are the only major league teams to sell 3 million tickets every year." See Outgoing mayor of Anaheim Tom Tait was against a deal to renovate Angel Stadium, but the mayor who was just elected seems more amenable to compromise. Thanks to Mike Zurawski for that news item as well.

Nats get Yan Gomes in trade

When the Washington Nationals acquired Kurt Suzuki last month, the question was whether he would serve as the Nats' "front-line" catcher, as Tom Boswell put it. Apparently not. The Nats made a trade with the Cleveland Indians to get catcher Yan Gomes, who is solid defensively and has a good bat. He hit 16 home runs and made the All Star roster this year. In return, the Nats gave up minor league outfielder Daniel Johnson and Jefry Rodriguez, who showed some promise as a starting pitcher in a few late-season games this year. See and/or Washington Post. It's a very encouraging move, made perhaps more urgent by the fact that the Atlanta Braves just signed a contract with slugger Josh Donaldson. They seem intent on repeating as NL East champs.

The Nats are currently pursuing Diamondbacks pitcher Patrick Corbin. They also made tender offers to all their free agents (most notably, Anthony Rendon) and signed a one-year contract extension with Sammy Solis, who was a rather unreliable relief pitcher this year. That one puzzled me, as he seemed to exemplify the Nats' bullpen meltdown.

December 7, 2018 [LINK / comment]

State of the diagrams, 2018

"Rounding third and heading for home!" With a relentless force of will, I am approaching the end point of this Odyssean (!) endeavor of diagramming baseball stadiums. Well, at least an end point: completing the major league ballpark diagrams of the concrete-and-steel era, as opposed to ballparks built prior to 1909, or the various foreign, minor league, and college ballparks that I believe qualify for such treatment. In fact, I probably should have highlighted the fact that, with the updating of the Angel (Anaheim) Stadium diagrams on November 25, my diagrams for all 30 current MLB stadiums are essentially state-of-the-art! An unheralded landmark event. Some of them are lacking in details such as in the bullpens or the concourse areas, but I'm confident the stadiums and the fields are rendered with a satisfactorily high degree of accuracy. One possible question mark is Candlestick Park, which I last updated on the very last day of 2012. At the time, it was a huge leap forward, diagram-wise, and as far as I can tell, that set of diagrams has withstood the test of time.

Anyway, as this final stretch begins, I thought it would be fitting to review where the diagrams stand, following the example of five years ago, when I presented my own "state of the diagrams" assessment. My diagrams for each of the 76 MLB stadiums are ranked from "A" (superb), "B" (pretty good), "C" (marginally acceptable), and "D" (just plain lousy). This reflects only the diagrams themselves, in their current published state, and has nothing to do with the aesthetic appeal of the real-world stadiums. This list only includes major league stadiums, including short-term ones such as Sick's Stadium but not temporary ones such as Hiram Bithorn Stadium, minor league stadiums, or those in foreign countries. So here goes...

Baseball stadium diagrams, current status
Stadium name Team name Diagram status Last update
Baker Bowl * Philadelphia Phillies A 2016
Forbes Field Pittsburgh Pirates D 2005
Shibe Park * Philadelphia Athletics & Phillies A 2016
Sportsman's Park * St. Louis Browns & Cardinals A 2016
League Park * Cleveland Indians A 2016
Comiskey Park * Chicago White Sox A 2017
Polo Grounds New York Giants, (Yankees, & Mets) C 2007
Griffith Stadium * Washington Senators C 2008
Crosley Field * Cincinnati Reds D 2006
Tiger Stadium * * Detroit Tigers B 2009
Fenway Park Boston Red Sox (& Braves) A 2018
Ebbets Field Brooklyn Dodgers A 2018
Wrigley Field * Chicago Cubs (& Whales) A 2018
Braves Field * Boston Braves A 2014
Yankee Stadium New York Yankees C 2008
Cleveland Municipal Stadium * Cleveland Indians A 2016
Milwaukee County Stadium Milwaukee Braves & Brewers A 2015
Memorial Stadium Baltimore Orioles A 2013
(K.C.) Municipal Stadium * Kansas City Athletics & Royals A 2014
(L.A.) Memorial Coliseum Los Angeles Dodgers A 2016
Seals Stadium San Franciso Giants A 2015
Candlestick Park * San Franciso Giants A 2012
Wrigley Field (L.A.) Los Angeles Angels A 2015
Metropolitan Stadium Minnesota Twins B 2014
Dodger Stadium Los Angeles Dodgers (& Angels) A 2014
Colt Stadium Houston Colt 45s A 2013
Robert F. Kennedy Stadium * Washington Senators & Nationals A 2013
Shea Stadium New York Mets (& Yankees) A 2015
Astrodome Houston Astros A 2015
Angel Stadium of Anaheim * L.A. / Calif. / Anaheim Angels A 2018
Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium * Atlanta Braves A 2016
Busch Stadium II St. Louis Cardinals A 2015
Oakland Coliseum * * Oakland Athletics A 2016
Jarry Park Montreal Expos A 2013
Sick's Stadium Seattle Pilots A 2015
Jack Murphy Stadium * * San Diego Padres A 2016
Riverfront Stadium * Cincinnati Reds A 2018
Three Rivers Stadium Pittsburgh Pirates A 2014
Veterans Stadium Philadelphia Phillies A 2016
Arlington Stadium Texas Rangers A 2018
Kauffman Stadium * Kansas City Royals A 2015
Olympic Stadium Montreal Expos B 2012
Kingdome Seattle Mariners A 2015
Exhibition Stadium Toronto Blue Jays A 2014
H.H.H. Metrodome Minnesota Twins A 2016
Rogers Centre * Toronto Blue Jays A 2016
Guaranteed Rate (U.S. Cellular) Field * * Chicago White Sox A 2015
Oriole Park at Camden Yards Baltimore Orioles A 2014
Dolphin (Sun Life) Stadium * * Florida Marlins A 2015
Mile High Stadium * Colorado Rockies A 2015
Progressive Field * Cleveland Indians A 2016
Globe Life Park in Arlington * Texas Rangers A 2016
Coors Field Colorado Rockies A 2016
Turner Field * Atlanta Braves A 2016
Tropicana Field * Tampa Bay Rays A 2014
Chase Field * Arizona Diamondbacks A 2015
Safeco Field Seattle Mariners A 2015
AT&T Park * * San Franciso Giants A 2016
Minute Maid Park * Houston Astros A 2015
Comerica Park Detroit Tigers A 2015
Miller Park Milwaukee Brewers A 2018
PNC Park Pittsburgh Pirates A 2015
Great American Ballpark Cincinnati Reds A 2018
Citizens Bank Park Philadelphia Phillies A 2015
PETCO Park San Diego Padres A 2015
Busch Stadium III St. Louis Cardinals A 2016
Nationals Park Washington Nationals A 2015
Yankee Stadium II New York Yankees A 2016
Citi Field New York Mets A 2016
Target Field Minnesota Twins A 2016
Marlins Park Miami Marlins A 2018
SunTrust Park Atlanta Braves A 2018
Red border: Denotes stadiums whose diagrams are not yet finished.

[ * (asterisk) = name change; * * = multiple name changes.]

As you can see, all but eight (i.e., 68 of the 76) diagrams are state of the art, or close to it. For those who only visit this website occasionally or may be new, there are two related pages that track my past progress in updating stadium diagrams: Stadium diagram updates (chronological archives, year by year) and Diagram update log (arranged by city name in alphabetical order). Occasionally I find mistakes on those pages, such as when I was almost done with a particular stadium and that got sidetracked after after inserting a link for an anticipated completion date. So, like the diagrams themselves, those pages are "subject to revision." This table summarizes how many of the diagrams were last updated in each successive year. Since none of the "A"-rated diagrams were done prior to 2012, I have omitted them. But for those who are really curious, I began posting such diagrams way back in 2002 -- a full 16 years ago! (By my current standards, they are embarrassingly crude and amateurish.) My progress over the years has been interrupted by occasional pauses, and indeed I had forgotten what a bleak year 2017 was, diagram-wise.

Year Number of final
stadium diagram updates
2012 2
2013 4
2014 8
2015 20
2016 21
2017 1
2018 10

With eight stadiums left to do, the total for 2018 could theoretically go as high as 18. Anything is possible! As of today, December 7th, here are the "coming attractions," in order of targeted completion:

  1. Tiger Stadium
  2. Polo Grounds
  3. Yankee Stadium
  4. Olympic Stadium
  5. Griffith Stadium
  6. Metropolitan Stadium
  7. Forbes Field
  8. Crosley Field

Nats sign Patrick Corbin

The Washington Nationals signed free agent Patrick Corbin to a six-year contract that is supposedly worth $140 million. He was evidently the most sought-after pitcher on the open market, so that seems to be a coup for Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo. Corbin was an All-Star this year (representing the Arizona Diamondbacks), and he will become the third Nat starting pitcher (after Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg) to have earned that honor. Corbin is 29 and had an ERA of 3.15 this year, with 246 strikeouts. The main downside is the possibility that his arm may not last for the full six years, since he had Tommy John surgery. See But as we know, both Stephen Strasburg and former Nat Jordan Zimmermann have pitched well for years after having had such surgery. As a left-handed starting pitcher, Corbin essentially replaces Gio Gonzalez in the pitching rotation.

If Bryce Harper was looking for a sign that the Nats owners are willing to spend what's necessary to attract a full roster of top talent, this was it. Personally, I think Bryce wants first and foremost to play on a championship team, and the salary is not necessarily to determining factor in where he ends up. I really hope he does decide to settle down in D.C., but the longer negotiations drag on, the less likely that seems. frown

The mail bag

Thanks to Joe Johnston for confirming that the curved grandstand along the first base line in Arlington Stadium was indeed built in 1973, as I hypothesized. He was at a game there in 1972, the inaugural year of the Texas Rangers, and he remembers the temporary rectangular bleachers (built for football games) on that side.

Mike Zurawski recently informed me about Elon Musk's plans to build a tunnel for a high-speed subway line to Dodger Stadium, presumably from downtown. A separate proposed line was recently turned down. Now comes news that they want to build a gondola transportation system that would take 5,000 passengers per hour from Union Station to Dodger Stadium in approximately five minutes. See Such a system functions much like a ski lift, and in fact I rode one in Medllin, Colombia nearly two years ago. Depending on the terrain, they can be expensive to build, but seem fairly cheap to operate.

More news about the future Oakland stadium soon...

December 7, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Much, much more music!

Since my last solo musical show three months ago, I have cut back somewhat on appearances at the Queen City Brewing open mic nights. Instead of roughly three weeks per month, it's been more like twice a month this fall. I have also spent a bit less time learning new material, trying instead to polish the songs I already know, but I have not stopped entirely. Far from it! (I may have been at the September 19 open mic event, but if so, I didn't write it down.)

Here is what I have played at recent open mic events, beginning with October 10. This was soon after the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and I thought a song about excessive drinking in college would be appropriate, hence "Chug All Night," a little-known early Eagles tune. But the big "hit" of the evening for me was "Hummingbird," marking the departure of hummingbirds who head south every October -- or most of them, anyway! (See below.) The other four songs (which I had played in public before) went OK, although I wish I could have played the harmonica (denoted by the # symbol) more cleanly on "Gypsy Forest."

A week later, on October 17, I played three new (for me) songs, indicated with asterisks as in the list above. They all went surprisingly well. "Mr. Powell" is about John Wesley Powell, the first explorer to navigate the rapids of the Colorado River in its entirety, in 1869. I learned it a long time ago, but made some "final corrections" before doing it in public for the first time. "Under the Bridge" is one hell of a cool song from the nineties, and really impressed the bartender, Kyle. smile

On October 31 (Halloween!), there weren't many musicians present, so we each had to do a few extra songs. This time I had two new songs, both by Chicago. I did passably on the first three "encore" songs, but for the final song, I gave up on Jethro Tull's "Living In the Past" after flubbing the intro. That hasn't happened to me in a long time. So, I played Carole King's "It's Too Late" instead, and that went just fine.

Two weeks later, on November 14, I played three new songs (two by Chicago) and did "Hummingbird" again, in recognition of the surprise visit of a Rufous Hummingbird to the home of a local bird club member. (See November 10.) My friend from the bird club, Peter Van Acker, was in attendance, appropriately enough. The first song I played, "The Last Resort," called attention to the disastrous wildfires that killed perhaps a hundred or more people in California. It's all about ruining the wilderness with vacation and retirement residences, and of the consequent risks to the environment. I had just learned that song a couple days earlier, and managed to pull it off very well, I thought. My final song, "Elected," was of course a tribute to the congressional midterm elections that had just happened.

November 28 was frigid, and I had trepidations about heading out to play music, but I'm glad I did. I played four brand-new songs of very distinct genres, and the audience was very friendly and appreciative. I really wowed them with the first three songs, and Fritz Horisk kindly complimented me on "Wichita Lineman." For the fourth one I gave them fair warning of a slight change of pace, and to my surprise, some of the "older" folks were singing along! For the "encore" song, I did "Under the Bridge" again, but should have played the intro more cleanly. Also, I kind of messed up the chords on the final part of that song. Nevertheless, it was for the most part an excellent night, and Craig Austin's percussion added a lot. My set list:

( # ) = with harmonica

Chicago! Chicago! Etc.

As you might have noticed, I played five songs by Chicago, the first time I have covered that particular group. Not surprisingly, given that the band relies heavily on brass instruments, I used the harmonica in all five songs. I'm working on one other Chicago song, "Beginnings," but it will take a lot more practice before it's ready for public consumption!

I have also been learning more songs by Carole King and Joe Walsh, among others. A couple months ago I was working on Doobie Brothers and Three Dog Night but then set those aside. Maybe I'll get back to them soon...

December 13, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Tiger Stadium update -- with "new" photos!!!

After another multi-day marathon effort, I finished updating the Tiger Stadium Tiger Stadium diagrams earlier today. Actually, I had to make a few minor corrections later in the afternoon, mainly to ensure that the original permanent bleacher section in right-center field (1912-1937) matched the lower-deck diagram, which represents 1938 but applies to all subsequent years except for the deeper center field area (it really was 440 feet until they built an inner fence in 1954) and the absence of warning tracks.

So, what changed compared to the previous diagram revision in June 2009? There are separate diagrams showing the uncovered upper and lower decks, with all the juicy details such as support beams and entry portals. I found out for sure that the bullpen to the left of center field (behind the big flag pole) was in fact used by both teams' relief pitchers. That seems very weird, and I wonder if such an arrangement had ever been done before or since then?

In the agonizing process of getting all the pieces to fit, I made two important discoveries. First, the wall in deep center field (1938-1953) was not a consistent curve but angled off slightly on the right side, where there was a wide access gate that was presumably used for landscaping vehicles and maintenance equipment. I had noticed such a minor anomaly in one of the seating charts published in the Kessler (whiskey that's "smooth as silk"!) annual baseball guides back in the 1960s, but disregarded it until I noticed exactly such a feature in a photo of Tiger Stadium. That section of center field was angled slightly so as to align properly with the lower-deck seats on the right field side, which were ten feet farther from home plate than the upper deck seats.

Second, the upper deck between first base and the right field corner was not only discontinuous with the adjoining portions of the upper deck on both ends, but it had a significally shallower "pitch" (i.e., steepness) -- about 27 degrees rather than about 33 degrees. I knew that there was a similar disjuncture in the pitch of the upper deck to the right of center field, and I knew that the upper deck portion in question did extend out about 12-15 feet in front of the adjoining upper deck portion, but when I noticed in a photo that the rear of those two portions coincided very closely (just a few feet difference), it dawned on me that the only way those two things could be true is if they were different in terms of vertical angle. Frankly, I don't see the point of building that portion of the upper deck that way.

Finally, there are a few new details in the diagrams, such as the elevator tower in back of the southwest corner of the grandstand. There are also multiple profiles in both the upper-deck and lower-deck diagrams, to facilitate comparison of the different sections of the grandstand. Tiger Stadium was awkwardly patched together in stages over the years, and it often seems that they didn't plan ahead very well.

The 1934 diagram shows the peculiar profile of the temporary bleachers that were built for the World Series (also for 1935), in which the rear three-quarters had a shallower pitch than the front one-quarter. Ordinarily, the farther back you go in a grandstand, the steeper it gets. Those bleachers covered Cherry Avenue, and when what was then called Navin Field was expanded in 1938 (and renamed "Briggs Stadium"), that street was moved about 150 feet, making room for the double-deck grandstand beyond left field.

The added bonus of three "new" photos taken while I was in Detroit in 2004 (five years before Tiger Stadium was demolished) stems from a discovery of a shoebox full of old photos (mostly baseball-related) a couple months ago. Last week I finally got around to scanning them, and two of them are pretty good, showing lots of detail. In addition to the previously-displayed photo I took from the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull Avenue, there are also exterior shots from the southwest corner, the northwest corner (up close), and the northeast corner. I really wish I had taken more photos when I was there. Other "new" photos that I took at Comerica Park and other stadiums will be posted in coming days...

Tiger Stadium ext SW 2004

Tiger Stadium seen from the southwest side (behind home plate), August 5, 2004.

New ball field at the stadium site

Meanwhile, at the site of Tiger Stadium, a new ballfield opened this year. It is called "The Corner Ballpark presented by Adient," and last March they started holding youth baseball games there, a long-overdue community development initiative. See Detroit Free Press. The massive (125-foot) flag pole has been placed at its former location, but unfortunately, the field has artificial turf, even though the fans who maintained the old Tiger Stadium site volunteered to keep the green grass trimmed and healthy. See

Nats trade Roark to the Reds

One of the tragic aspects of the Washington Nationals this year is the suboptimal performance from Tanner Roark, who had been a solid, often excellent starting pitcher since 2013. (He had been acquired from the Texas Rangers in a trade for infielder Cristian Guzman and another player in 2010.) Today he was traded for another guy with the same first name: Tanner Rainey! This will save the Nats about $10 million in salary costs this year, giving them more flexibility to bargain with Bryce Harper and/or Anthony Rendon.

Roark always had a great attitude, smiling gregariously but very serious about winning. He proved his ability to perform in clutch situations when he helped the USA win the World Baseball Classic in 2017, winning the next-to-last game. But he wasn't given a chance to pitch in the National League Divisional Series last year, mainly because rain forced a one-day postponment of Game 4, and Dusty Baker went with Stephen Strasburg instead. (See October 11, 2017.) Not having thrown a single pitch in the NLDS, it's understandable that Tanner felt slighted, and perhaps that explains his evident lack of motivation this year. Maybe he just needed a change of scenery. He deserves great appreciation for his six fine years of pitching with the Nats, and I wish him all the very best in Cincinnati!

Tanner Roark

Tanner Roark, warming up to pitch against the Miami Marlins on October 1, 2016.

There is nothing solid to report about Bryce Harper, by the way. A few days ago, the Nationals' principle owner Mark Lerner said he thinks that Harper is going to "move on," but that was probably just a negotiating ploy. Now that the winter meetings of the MLB owners have wrapped up, there may not be much activity until the New Year.

December 14, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Late fall / early winter birding

Technically, winter doesn't begin until next week, but with a major ice storm, a minor snow fall, and heavy snow storm behind us already, winter essentially arrived one month ago. Freezing rain all day on November 15 resulted in thousands of downed tree branches across this area, and we lost power just before 9:00 that evening. Not until 3:30 the next day did our power (and heat) come back on line: 18 1/2 hours without electricity! It was miserable, as the temperature inside dropped to 60 degrees, but other folks I know suffered for days, and in some cases with major property damage. Anyway, I was fortunate to see and photograph three rare or uncommon bird species over the past month.

On Saturday November 17 I was scheduled to lead an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the new trail at the Mill Place industrial park in Verona, just north of Staunton. But those plans were set aside by the sudden passing away of a dear friend in the club, Ed Lawler. A memorial service for Ed was held later that same morning, so I decided to just make a brief, perfunctory visit to Mill Place in Ed's memory, just in case some people didn't get the news about Ed, to allow for enough time to get to the service. I was not at all surprised that no one else came. But as it turned out, the birding was excellent that morning, highlighted by two birds that only rarely come to visit the Staunton-Augusta area: a Fox Sparrow and a Hermit Thrush.

Montage 17 Nov 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Fox Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing, Hermit Thrush, American Goldfinch, Killdeer, E. Meadowlark, and in center, Field Sparrow and American Robin, at Mill Place on November 17.
Roll your mouse over the image to see the Fox Sparrow.

Two days later, November 19, I went along on an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Bell's Lane led by Penny Warren. Others had a good view of some Ring-necked Ducks on a farm pond, but I only had a glimpse of them flying away. The big highlight of the morning was not a bird, however, but a River Otter in the beaver pond near the north end of Bell's Lane. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a photo before it swam away.

Montage 19 Nov 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-bellied Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwing, Downy Woodpecker (M), Pied-billed Grebe, American Robin, and American Coot. (November 19)

A day later I was surprised to see a female Pileated Woodpecker in a tree out back. They usually avoid populated areas. Also that day I learned about a flock of Rusty Blackbirds via an e-mail alert from Marshall Faintich, a renowned bird photographer from the Afton/Crozet area. He described the location very accurately, the Cline River Road bridge over the Middle River a mile or so south of the Weyer's Cave airport, so I went there on Wednesday, November 21. It took just a few minutes before I spotted some blackbirds, and I was lucky to see and photograph one in a nearby tree. Bingo! It was the first time I have ever taken a good photo of that species, and that was very gratifying. On the way back into Staunton I stopped at the Bell's Lane beaver pond, and saw a few interesting birds.

Of note is the probable Carolina Chickadee which looks a bit like a Black-capped Chickadee based on the blurry lower edge of the black "bib." Baxter Beamer, a young birder from Albemarle County who gave a presentation to the bird club in October, noticed that feature and opined that it could be a Black-capped Chickadee or a hybrid of the two species. If so, it would be unusual, since the border between the ranges of those respective species is fairly well define, coinciding roughly with Shenandoah Mountain, a high ridge about 15-20 miles west of Staunton.

Montage 21 Nov 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Rusty Blackbird: M, American Kestrel, Carolina Chickadee, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Song Sparrow. (November 21)
Roll your mouse over the image to see the Rusty Blackbird.

I didn't do any real birding for the rest of that month, but on the first day of December I spotted a Brown Creeper on a tree out back. The photo I took was mediocre, unfortunately. Two days later I got lucky when a Flicker showed up at our suet feeder:

Northern Flicker (male), on December 3.

On December 5, following a minor snow storm, Penny Warren spotted some swans on one of the Bell's Lane farm ponds, and invited me to try to take some photos to identify the species: Tundra or Trumpeter? Unfortunately, they were gone by the time I got there, but we did at least see some nice ducks and a young Pied-billed Grebe. The big news of the day for me was a Gray Catbird spotted by Jacqueline outside our apartment. I think the last time I saw that species in a winter month was December 2005; it remained for at least a couple months thereafter.

Montage 05 Dec 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Redhead, Gray Catbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-crowned Sparrow, Pied-billed Grebe (juv.), Ring-necked Duck, and in center, White-breasted Nuthatch. (December 6)
Roll your mouse over the image to see the Gray Catbird a bit larger.

Field trip to Mill Place

Last Saturday, December 8, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the new trail at the Mill Place industrial park in Verona, just north of Staunton. Given the freezing temperatures, I was pleasantly surprised that five other members showed up. It is a very scenic nature spot that seems to have been developed with great care in planning, featuring a sheltered picnic area, multiple benches for resting along the way, and a wooden foot bridge. It is all asphalt. Even better, it is an excellent habitat for a variety of sparrows and other songbirds. Highlights of the day were a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Hermit Thrush, and a Swamp Sparrow. In the reeds, two members spotted a very small brown bird that was most likely a Marsh Wren or a Winter Wren, and some of us saw what was either a Yellow-rumped or a Palm Warbler. I counted a total of 21 species, pending confirmation from others who were there.

Montage 086 Dec 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-shouldered Hawk, American Goldfinch, Hermit Thrush, Dark-eyed Junco, and White-crowned Sparrows (adult and juvenile). (December 8, 2018)
Roll your mouse over the image to see the Hermit Thrush enlarged.

On Sunday December 9 we had a major snow storm, measuring 8-10 inches in Staunton, far more than the 1-2 inches that were forecast. I haven't done much birding this week, but I am pleased to report that (as of yesterday) the Rufous Hummingbird in Stuart's Draft (see November 10) has survived the brutal wintry onslaught! As always, other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

December 17, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Matt Adams rejoins the Nats

One of the bright spots in the Nationals' roster this season was veteran utility player Matt Adams. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in late August (at the same time Daniel Murphy was traded), but yesterday he signed a one-year contract worth $3 million with the Nats; the terms include a one-year extension by mutual option. Adams has been a pretty good hitter, and given his prime age (30), that seems like a bargain. See the Washington Post.

What does this mean for the possibility that the Nats might get Daniel Murphy to rejoin the team? That's not a realistic option, apparently.

Ramos signs with Mets

The New York Mets have acquired the former Nationals' catcher Wilson Ramos, [who signed] a two-year, $19 million contract. It's kind of too bad the Nationals didn't make him such an offer, but apparently they decided his body is too fragile to risk such a high salary. See

A few minor tweaks

While watching Sunday Night Football, I had an aerial view of the future home of the L.A. Rams and Chargers, [under construction]. The field of the new stadium in Inglewood is 100 feet below ground level. (!!!???) They say that the proximity to L.A. International Airport imposed strict height limitations on new structures, so they built downward rather than upward. After construction delays caused by severe flooding last year, the target opening date is August/September 2020. But more to the point, I noticed that there is a new upper deck and associated luxury suites, etc. at L.A. Memorial Coliseum. I had thought that those improvements wouldn't take place until the Rams left the premises, but I was wrong. So, I added a new 2018 football diagram variant to that page -- subject to revision as further details become available.

Following up on the news from November 25, I added an artificial turf diagram variant for Chase Field. I may need to modify that diagram later, if other changes are made next year.

As for Marlins Park, where a new seating area will be built where the fancy art thing currently is located (left of center field), I'm going to wait until I see photos or read more precise descriptions before I update that diagram.

Finally, just for the record, I made a few more tiny tweaks to the Tiger Stadium diagrams. It was mostly in the peripheral structures such as the office building, in the southeast corner of the trapezoidal block. After reexamining some photos, I realized that the building in question was enlarged at least twice over the years.

The mail bag

Mike Zurawski and Bucky Nance both alerted me to the news that the current home of the Texas Rangers, Globe Life Park, will be converted into a football stadium after the Rangers move into their new home next year. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex was awarded an XFL franchise, providing a new use for the Rangers' "old" stadium, which was built just 24 years ago. See

It looks like the Tampa Bay Rays are going to remain in their bland, dim current stadium for the entire term of the lease, which terminates at the end of 2017. Earlier this year, the team owners had announced a project to build a new stadium in the Ybor City area of downtown Tampa (across the bay from St. Petersburg, where Tropicana Field is located), but Mike Zurawski informs me that that deal fell apart. The Rays' principal owner Stuart Sternberg said that there were too many uncertainties to pursue the deal further, since they are under a legal time constraint. That leaves the Rays with no real alternative new stadium site for the foreseeable future. See

Finally, Terry Wallace reminded me that the big left field bleachers at Griffith Stadium were not built until 1924, whereas my current 1911 diagram [wrongly] indicates that they were there when the stadium was first built in 1911. I was indeed aware of that, and hope to finish that set of diagrams in the next couple weeks.

December 21, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Metropolitan Stadium update!

Earlier today I finished work on the Metropolitan Stadium Metropolitan Stadium diagrams, yet another belated triumph that was literally years in the making. In fact, it is more than four years after (!!!) a "false start" premature uploading of revised diagrams. The main quandary holding me back from completing them was trying to pinpoint the angle at which the double-decked grandstand in left field (added during the 1965 expansion) lay with respect to the foul line. I originally thought it was perpendicular (so indicated by all my diagrams up through 2010), but then in 2014 I realized that it was slightly askew, estimating the angle at about 89 degrees. Based on all the photographs I have been able to find, my best estimate is now 87 degrees. As with Tiger Stadium last week, there are now separate diagrams showing the upper and middle decks; there is no need for a separate upper-deck variant since there was no roof at "The Met"!

Among the other changes, the various temporary bleachers are slightly bigger than before, and all of them are rendered more precisely. Those bleachers changed slightly between 1961 (when the Twins arrived) and 1964, but I'm not sure exactly when. It is possible that the reconfiguration of the right field fence and bleachers took place in 1964 rather than 1965, when the double-decked grandstand in left field was built. Also, none of the diagrams representing 1965 and later depict a gap in front of the left-field grandstand. Some photos suggested the possibility of such a gap, and I previously thought the slight variations in official left field dimensions over the years might have reflected shifts in a stand-alone chain link fence, but such does not appear to be the case.

Among new details shown are the grassy slopes and trees beyond the bleachers (the field was about 15-20 feet below ground level), and the access ramps to the big bleachers along the third base side. In addition, a few peripheral structures are now depicted, such a small building beyond center field that was presumably used for either ticket sales, concessions, or rest rooms. Finally, the bullpens and the main scoreboard show more detail than before, but I must confess that I'm not certain about the bullpen layout. There is a closeup photo of the bullpens on Rick Prescott's wonderful Old Met Stadium page, but it was taken during the demolition and you can't really tell where the pitchers and catchers were positioned.

For the time being, I have omitted the "hypothetical" diagrams that I presented before as a "what-if" conjecture regarding a better football-baseball hybrid setup. Time permitting, I will redo those diagrams as well.

Nats acquire Anibal Sanchez

Mike Rizzo has kept busy since the winter meetings of MLB owners in Las Vegas came to an end last week. Yesterday the Nationals got veteran pitcher Anibal Sanchez to sign a two-year contract worth $19 million, pending the usual physical exam. The Nationals get an option for a third year, 2021. There has been no official announcment as of yet. See the Washington Post. The Venezuelan right-hander came up with the then-Florida Marlins in 2006, and had an impressive 10-3 rookie season. Sanchez was among the stars dumped by then-Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria in the great "fire sale" of 2012 (which was the very first year for Marlins Park). He spent the next few years with the Detroit Tigers and played for the Atlanta Braves this year, recording a superb 2.83 ERA. He has been inconsistent in recent years, so it's a bit of a gamble by Rizzo, so we'll see how he turns out. He will in effect be replacing Tanner Roark as the #4 man in the pitching rotation, just as recently-signed Patrick Corbin essentially replaced Gio Gonzalez as the Nats'lefty starter.

That leaves just one major slot to fill in the 2019 Nats roster: second base. If Howie Kendrick fully recovers from the injury he suffered , he could handle that responsibility, but that's a big if. One option that is being explored is Josh Harrison.

Rockies acquire Daniel Murphy

Meanwhile, former Nats star slugger Daniel Murphy signed a two-year contract with the Colorado Rockies. See I'm not surprised that an up-and-coming team went and got Murphy, who was extremely valuable to the Nationals in 2016 and 2017. But he injured his knee in the latter part of 2017, and it took a lot longer than expected for him to recover from the surgery he had that October. He only played about a month for the Nats this year before being traded to the Chicago Cubs, where he did very well.

Dodgers & Reds make mega-deal

The L.A. Dodgers traded four star players -- Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and Kyle Farmer -- to the Cincinnati Reds, in exchange for pitcher Homer Bailey and two others. The deal was rather shocking for a team that made it to the World Series two years in a row, and seems aimed at saving salary budget. See Rumor-mongers have suggested this is a prelude to signing Bryce Harper to a jumbo contract. No comment!

December 24, 2018 [LINK / comment]

H.H.H. Metrodome update!

In another interruption of my firm plans for finishing up diagram revisions by the end of the year, I realized I had to fix the Metrodome Metrodome diagrams. Why the unscheduled revision to a stadium that was supposedly up to high standards in terms of detail and accuracy? As you can imagine, I discovered an error in the old diagrams when I was finishing the Metropolitan Stadium diagrams a few days ago and comparing them to those of the successor. It always bothered me that the angle of the wall behind home plate was not nearly as slanted in my diagrams as indicated by photographs, and I finally figured out why. I knew that the football goal line coincided exactly with the baseball first base line, and that the back of the end zone coincided with the edge of the warning track in left field. I falsely assumed that there was the same amount of space beyond both ends of the football gridiron, but I [recently] noticed that there was about eight additional feet of space on the side near first base. Also, the distance from the third base line to the grandstand was much less than on the first base side, and when I made those adjustments, the angle behind home plate came out just right. As is the case for most of my stadium pages, you can compare the new version of the diagram (which is slightly longer and thinner) to the old version by clicking on the image.

I also took a bit more care depicting the slight (~ four feet) overhang of the upper deck above the right field fence, and a couple other details such as the passages between the luxury sweets [suites !] through which fans entered the back of the lower deck. That page now includes a "site today" diagram, depicting the new home of the Minnesota Vikings which now sits on that plot of land: U.S. Bank Stadium.

Officially, the former home of the Twins and Vikings was called the "Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome," named for the jovial Minnesotan who served as vice president from 1965 until 1969, and who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1968. For the last few years it was known as "Mall of America Field," named for the shopping/entertainment extravaganza that was built in the suburb of Bloomington, where Metropolitan Stadium once stood.

Finally, I added this colorful "new" photo to that page. It is of topical interest because of the player who is displayed there: none other than former Viking running back Adrian Peterson, who has had a great comeback year with the Washington Redskins. "Fueled by perseverance," indeed! (As for the team itself, well...)

Metrodome ext SW

The southwest entry to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on August 10, 2010, soon after a Twins-Mariners game at Target Field.

Johnny Holliday retires

I mentioned on November 9 that former MLB player Ray Knight will not be returning as a commentator for the MASN pre-game and post-game shows next year. Last week we learned that his partner Johnny Holliday has decided to leave as well, meaning that two vacancies exist for next year. Holliday is known in the Washington area as a sportscaster for Maryland Terrapin athletics, and is a seasoned pro with a background as a radio disc jockey. His friendly, upbeat banter will be missed.

Among the possible replacements are Phil Wood, who co-hosts the Saturday morning "Nats Talk" show on MASN, Dan Kolko, who does on-field interviews for MASN, and former Nat Michael Morse, who filled in as color commentator a couple times this past year. Wood is a bona fide expert on Washington baseball, but is not really a TV professional, and lacks somewhat in the charisma department. He would probably do fine as a partner with someone who is more telegenic. The other two guys probably need more experience before getting a promotion to co-host.

Safeco Field is renamed

Beginning in January, the stadium in Seattle heretofore known as "Safeco Field" will officially become known as "T-Mobile Park," under the terms of a 25-year deal worth $87.5 million. See Thanks to Mike Zurawski and someone else whose name I forgot (on Facebook, perhaps?) for the news tip. (Why "Park" rather than "Field"? The new name makes you think about a mobile home park.)

What are the chances that a corporation in the rapidly-changing cell phone industry will remain with its identity intact for a quarter century? Just about zilch, I figure. Hey, maybe T-Mobile will get bought out by U.S. Cellular, in which case the Mariners would end up playing in U.S. Cellular Field #2?! Be that as it may, I have updated the Safeco Field and Stadium names pages accordingly.

The mail bag

I was asked by Angel Amezquita if I could add a "site today" diagram to the recently-updated Metropolitan Stadium page, and the answer is yes, very soon! I was at the location inside the massive Mall of America in January 2014.

I've been going through my e-mail in-box, and will try hard to answer other messages that have been sent in recent weeks and months. Thanks for your patience!

December 26, 2018 [LINK / comment]

A brief review of travels in 2018 (and before...)

In preparation for a summary of travels that Jacqueline and/or I have taken over the past year, I have thoroughly revised the Chronological photo gallery pages, with consistent formatting from 2014 up to date. Whereas before each yearly page grouped photos geographically, now they are strictly sequenced according to time (which they really should have been all along), with one or more "batches" for each month. Part of the problem is my own inconsistency in blogging about travels in a timely fashion. It was 15 months ago (July 1, 2017: "North of the border: trip to Canada & the Midwest") that I began the laborious process of catching up with the chronicles of my adventures. In the next few days, I will do likewise about the trip to the southwest that I took with my father in 2014, completing the task of consistent formatting photo gallery pages going back at least to 2012. It was in 2008 that I first purchased a high-quality digital camera (a Nikon D40), and in 2013 I purchased a camera with a 50x optical zoom lens, the Canon PowerShot SX-50. My photos prior to 2008 are of mixed quality, some scanned from prints made from my old Pentax K-1000 film camera and others being still images from my Canon video camera. Many of the latter are barely worth archiving, frankly.

What follows are brief summaries of each of our significant trips this year, beginning with a link and headline for each of the four travel-related blog posts that I made in 2018. (Jacqueline's travels to Peru are not included.) Clicking on those respective links will take you to more detailed descriptions of the things we saw and did.

August 9, 2018: "Highlights from a few "recent" day trips"

On March 23 we drove to Highland County, even though it was a week after the annual Maple Festival. Our hopes that some of the vendors might still be hanging around proved to be in vain. On March 26 we drove to Charlottesville to buy concert tickets, and played tourist / shoppers for a day. Of special interest was the Robert E. Lee statue near downtown, the center of violent political clashes the previous August. The statue had been covered with a black tarp for several months, as the City Council wanted to remove the statue, but a state court ruled that such a move was illegal. Police had put yellow "keep out" tape surrounding the statue.

Robert E. Lee equestrian statue in Charlottesville

Robert E. Lee equestrian statue in Charlottesville. (March 26)

On May 26 Jacqueline, her family, and I visited Washington, D.C. and Arlington National Cemetery for the first time in years, paying homage to John and Jacqueline Kennedy's gravesite. On June 10 we went to Manassas battlefield, another symbol of lingering Civil War divisions. It was much appreciated by Jacqueline's brother Roberto, who is fascinated by U.S. Civil War history.

John and Jacqueline Kennedy gravesite

John and Jacqueline Kennedy gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. (May 26)

Finally, on August 4 we went on a "random" day trip to Brownsburg and Goshen, in Rockbridge County. It was a beautiful sunny day, following days of heavy rain that had caused many area rivers to flood.

Goshen Pass, Maury River

The Maury River passing through the Goshen Pass. (Aug. 4)

August 23, 2018: "Weekend trip to Annapolis"

Annapolis is a place that we had been meaning to visit for many years, and finally we got around to actually doing it. The weather was uncertain as we left Staunton, but the skies eventually brightened, and it turned out to be a big success. We feasted on steamed hard-shell crabs at Cantler's Riverside Inn, and the next day took a boat tour of the Annapolis harbor, walked the streets of the city, and briefly visited the U.S. Naval Academy campus before returning home. It was an intense but very rewarding weekend!

Annapolis montage

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: The tower above the Maryland State House (south side), the Government House, U.S. Naval Academy Main Chapel, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, boats at dock, the Annapolis Federal House, and in center, quaint townhouses on Fleet Street. (August 18-19)

September 25, 2018: "Day trip to West Virginia"

For years I had been meaning to visit Dolly Sods, a wilderness area in West Virginia that was recommended by a former house mate of mine in grad school. It was a rugged uphill climb along gravel roads to get there, and Jacqueline was less than enthuasistic. But she did enjoy visiting Seneca Rocks afterwards, even though we didn't have much time left.

Goshen Pass, Maury River

Seneca Rocks, during our second stop there in the late afternoon. (Sept. 19)

October 25, 2018: "'Innings' and outings in October"

Jacqueline had the day off on October 25 and was anxious to get out and see something different. (My interest in birds often bores her, and I promised to keep that to an absolute minimum that day.) After scrutinizing the various maps we have I hit upon the perfect destination: the White Oak Lavender Farm, located in Rockingham County a few miles southeast of Harrisonburg.

White Oak Lavender Farm

The main building of the White Oak Lavender Farm. (Oct. 4)

Finally, we drove up to the Blue Ridge on October 21, hoping to see some fall foliage, but it had not yet reached peak color. We stopped in the village of Love, hoping to eat lunch, but they were closed, so we ended up a Blue Mountain Brewery, which was just wonderful.

Twenty Minute Cliff

Twenty Minute Cliff, on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Oct. 21)

To see additional photos, please visit the Chronological photo gallery (2018-BEST) page, which has 20 photos, and if you are really interested, see the Chronological photo gallery (2018) page, which has over 100.

December 27, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Christmas Bird Count 2018

The weather was pretty lousy for this year's Christmas Bird Count, which is why I didn't get started until mid-morning. But at least it didn't rain much, contrary to the bleak forecasts. I covered mostly the same areas in Staunton that I did last year, leaving out Gypsy Hill Park and adding Bell's Lane:

It was slow going at first in Montgomery Hall Park, but I was surprised to see so many Bluebirds. Since it was so muddy from all the rain of the night before, I didn't walk very much away from the paved streets. Getting nice views of two Flickers was a nice treat as well. The higher I drove up the hill where the picnic areas are, the foggier it became. Visibility was so poor at the top that you could barely see more than a quarter mile. I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk in a tree top about 150 yards away, but it got away just before I could snap a photo.

Then I drove to Betsy Bell Hill, where there were several Juncos on the ground, as well as various woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches. Just before I was about to leave I was startled to hear an odd, high-pitch song. I looked up in the trees and saw two Brown Creepers chasing each other. That was quite a treat! I also saw a probable Ruby-crowned Kinglet high in the tree tops. I followed it to try to see whether it had the black facial markings of a Golden-crowned Kinglet, and I'm almost certain that it did not.

The next stop was the Frontier Culture Museum, fairly close as the crow flies, but over a mile if you are driving in a car. I finally saw Blue Jays, Mockingbirds, and Robins there, as well as two Field Sparrows and two distant House Finches. For the second year in a row, I didn't see any Bluebirds in that area, even though it features many Bluebird boxes that are part of an effort to conserve that species. There weren't any ducks or geese on the two ponds, either. Then I headed over to nearby Starbucks for hot coffee and a danish to warm up and rebuild my energy reserves.

My fourth and final area to cover was Bell's Lane. (Due to the weather, I just didn't bother with Gypsy Hill Park.) In the bushes along the road, I saw several Cardinals and Carolina Wrens, and I saw three Mallards in the overflowing stream, and 13 Canada Geese flying overhead. I saw ten White-throated Sparrows, but no White-crowned Sparrows, which was a disappointment. As I approached the north end, I saw two Kestrels and a flock of Starlings that included at least one Red-winged Blackbird. At the beaver pond, I spotted a Kingfisher and Great Blue Heron, but didn't see the hoped-for Snipes. It was starting to rain steadily by then, and I just didn't have enough desire to stick around any longer. My species total of 34 was three less than last year.

  1. Canada Goose -- 13
  2. Mallard -- 3
  3. Great Blue Heron -- 1
  4. Mourning Dove -- 5
  5. Turkey Vulture -- 3
  6. Red-tailed Hawk -- 1
  7. Belted Kingfisher -- 1
  8. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -- 1
  9. Downy Woodpecker -- 2
  10. Red-bellied Woodpecker -- 5
  11. Pileated Woodpecker -- 1
  12. Northern Flicker -- 2
  13. American Kestrel -- 2
  14. Blue Jay -- 7
  15. American Crow -- 11
  16. Carolina Chickadee -- 10
  17. Tufted Titmouse -- 9
  18. White-breasted Nuthatch -- 8
  19. Brown Creeper -- 2
  20. Carolina Wren -- 14
  21. Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- 1
  22. Eastern Bluebird -- 14
  23. American Robin -- 14
  24. Northern Mockingbird -- 5
  25. European Starling -- 102
  26. Field Sparrow -- 2
  27. White-throated Sparrow -- 16
  28. Song Sparrow -- 9
  29. Dark-eyed Junco -- 11
  30. Red-winged Blackbird -- 1
  31. Northern Cardinal -- 13
  32. House Finch -- 2
  33. House Sparrow -- 7
  34. American Goldfinch -- 1


Montage 15 Dec 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: E. Bluebird, American Kestrel, Northern Flicker, Mallard, American Robin, Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, Carolina Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, and near the center, Brown Creeper and Field Sparrow; at [various places in Staunton] on December 15.

Christmas Day birding

On Christmas Jacqueline and I went for a brief drive to Bell's Lane and then I took her to Mill Place for the first time. She was quite impressed! I heard the "oika, oika" call of a Flicker nearby, and soon we saw four of them emerge from a pile of brush. The big highlight was seeing an Eastern Phoebe on the other side of the pond, and I was lucky to get a photo. There were lots of Juncos and various sparrows in the bushes, but I didn't see the lame male Cardinal which I had seen on my previous two visits. I hope he's OK. On the pond near the Mill Place entrance (in back of Hardees), I saw a dozen or so Hooded Mergansers. Later in the day I saw several Common Mergansers on the distant pond on Bell's Lane, and my photos were just good enough to be sure about the species ID.

Montage 25 Dec 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Flicker, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Bluebird, Hooded Mergansers, Dark-eyed Junco, and in center, Common Mergansers and American Kestrel; at Mill Place and Bell's Lane on December 25.

Loggerhead Shrike pays a visit!

On Sunday December 23rd Vic Laubach alerted local birders that he had seen a Loggerhead Shrike on Bell's Lane. I didn't see the message by mid-afternoon, and by the time I got there it had either left or else become inactive. Today Vic sent another alert, and I went out again and spent several minutes scanning the fields around the ponds. And all of a sudden, there it was!!! The bluish gray color really stood out even though the skies were cloudy and the light was dim. Conditions for photography weren't good, but it was at least close enough (about 100 yards) for me to get an adequate image. I saw it dive after something on the ground, but didn't see it again before I had to leave. I'll try again to get a better photo once the sun comes back -- if the Shrike is still here, that is. I had seen and photographed one of that species at close range in March 2017 while birding in Florida, and saw them at a distance two or three times before that in the Swoope area of Augusta County.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike on Bell's Lane, Dec. 27, 2018.

Other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

What I'd really like to see for Christmas (the season which lasts until January 6) is an Evening Grosbeak! Some of them have been reported in the Shenandoah Valley, and apparently there is a southward "irruption" of this northerly species this year because one of their main food sources is scarce. Never having seen one before, this would count as the 504th bird on my life list. Unless I get lucky in the remaining few days of the year, this will be the first year since I began birding (1997) that I have not spotted at least one new "life bird." frown

December 31, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Shibe Park (surprise) update!

In yet another interruption of my vain hopes for finishing up diagram revisions by the end of the year, I made some revisions to the Shibe Park Shibe Park diagrams. The latter years hardly changed at at, but there were some significant improvements in accuracy and detail for the earlier years, especially 1913 and 1923. In order to get the placement of things like the scoreboard as exact as possible, I included the small buttresses in front of the outfield wall, at regular intervals of about 16 feet. (They were covered up by the enlarged wall built in 1935.) Once I realized I could use those tiny notches as a "ruler," everything became much easier.

That page also has a "the site today" diagram, showing a crude layout of Deliverance Evangelistic Church on top of Shibe Park / Connie Mack Stadium. The previous diagram update for Shibe Park was on Feb. 11, 2016.

This revision was prompted by two e-mail messages I received earlier this year. First, Eric Raudenbush sent me newspaper items that explain clearly how the bleachers in left field were modified prior to the 1923 season. Basically, the first six rows of benches plus the walkway in front were removed, thereby shifting the left field wall back by 18 feet. This clears up what had been a difficult mystery; back in 2006, ballpark expert Ron Selter had inferred from the drop in home runs in 1923 that home plate must have been moved backward by 21 feet. Now we know that home plate did not change (at least not in that year), but that the distances to left field did increase by approximately the amount he estimated. One of those articles indicated that the bleachers were also extended all the way to center field at that time. Yet unresolved is whether the bizarre forward shift in home plate in 1926 cited by Philip Lowry's Green Cathedrals (both the 1992 and 2006 editions) is real or not. Given that the 1923 change was motivated in part by a desire to reduce the number of easy home runs to left field, I have a hard time believing that they would reverse course in such a drastic fashion only three years later. Stay tuned!

Second, Terry Wallace sent me a photo of Shibe Park taken in October 1914, probably during the World Series (the "Miracle Braves" of Boston vs. Philadelphia Athletics). It shows clearly that there was a wall between the left field bleachers and the right field wall, enclosing the center field corner where the "flag pole" was. It was actually a tower with four corners, rather odd for that purpose. It looks like a small oil derrick. After considerable time comparing that photos to others I have seen, I concluded that the hitherto-unknown center field wall was the same distance from the outer wall behind the left field bleachers as was the very short wall or fence between those bleachers and the grandstand near the left field corner. As it turns out, that wall (probably a strutural element in the bleachers) ended up being the left field wall after those bleachers were reduced in size in 1923.

Putting those two crucial clues together reconciled a lot of conflicting information. It also erased any doubt as to whether the old (1910/1913) bleachers were replaced or simply added onto vertically. After looking at details such as the location of the entry portals, I am satisfied that the latter conjecture is much more likely.

The mail bag

Thanks again to Eric Raudenbush and Terry Wallace for their very helpful information summarized above. But there's more!

Christopher George asked if I know the actual roof height of old Comiskey Park. He has seen figures of 75 feet and 74. I replied that my diagram indicates the front edge is 78 feet tall, which would be a couple feet higher than the rear. Further checking may be necessary, but for now that's close enough.

Finally, Mike Zurawski sends word that Commissioner Manfred is exploring the possibility of expanding Major League Baseball from 30 to 32 teams, but only after Oakland and Tampa Bay get new stadiums approved. See That could be a while... Portland and Montreal were among the cities he mentioned as possible homes for new MLB franchises. There's more news from Mike that I have not had the time to absorb as of yet...

Who's Who?

After my father passed away two years ago, my siblings and I went through his precious possessions, including his archives of Chicago Cubs and Nebraska Cornhusker memorabilia. Among the more fascinating finds were these copies of issues Who's Who magazine. Unless I am mistaken, Who's Who ceased print publication after the 2016 edition, when Bryce Harper appeared on the cover. I bought myself a copy, not realizing that it would turn out to be the final edition.

Who's Who in Baseball 1926-1946

Who's Who in Baseball: Max Carey (1926), Dizzy Dean (1935), Jimmy Fox (1939), Hal Newhouser (1946), and Bob Feller (1941).

New Year's Eve!

At the stroke of midnight, my Baseball blog page will cease displaying the 2018 postseason series scores (at the bottom) and will begin displaying a countdown of the days remaining until the umpires make the official "Play ball!" shout in 15 stadiums across the country. Opening Day in 2019 will be early: March 28. That's less than three months from now!!!

Happy New Year, baseball fans!

December 31, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Election 2018:
Will the "blue wave" bring the balance back?

Well, this awful year is just about over with, so I figured I ought to at least record a few thoughts about recent developments in the wonderful world of politics. (See note at bottom.) So we had a big election last month, and the American people made their (hopelessly divided) collective voice heard! As expected, the Democrats picked up enough seats to retake control of the House of Representatives, but the Republicans held on to the Senate, and actually picked up a couple seats there. The widely-heralded "blue tsunami" in favor of the Democratic Party fell short of what anti-Trump people were hoping for. Midterm elections typically go against the party of the incumbent president, and as such reversals go, this one was pretty mild.

Nevertheless, the Democrats did regain a majority in the House for the first time since 2010 (with a 233-200 margin), and in three more days, Nancy Pelosi will become speaker of the House once again. (She previously served in the last two years of the Bush Jr. administration, and the first two years of the Obama administration.) It was amusing to see the Democrats bicker over who should lead them during the next two years, as the division between the mainstream and "progressive" wings of the party is nearly as great as is the corresponding division on the Republican side. Pelosi will turn 79 on March 26, and it's not very often that someone continues such a leadership role in Congress into their eighties -- much less a woman!

The fight among Democrats was in part a reflection of the fact that they lack any semblance of a coherent policy agenda, and there is zero consensus on which way the party should head in the years to come. (Of course, the same thing could be said of Republicans.) What unites Democrats is not so much a commitment to a particular course of policy action but rather a fervent attachment to the politics of "identity," drawing attention to all sorts of perceived injustices that hardly anyone even dreamed about ten or twenty years ago.

On the Senate side, Mitch McConnell is straining to maintain a semblance of order in the face of a continued onslaught of disruption brought about by the White House. As the archetypal insider "establishment" figure, he symbolizes the "Swamp" upon which Trump supporters routinely heap their scorn. As a central figure in the Senate Republicans' decision to block the confirmation process for President Obama's Supreme Court justice Merrick Garland in 2016, he his hated with a passion by many Democrats. I have no strong opinion on him either way; he usually gets the job done, and that's what's most important. With a 53-47 majority in the Senate (up from 51-49 before), he won't have quite as much trouble getting bills and procedural motions passed as before.

It is fitting to pay (ironic) respect to outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Eight years ago he was the up-and-coming face of a dynamic policy-focused leadership in the Republican Party. Six years ago, he was candidate for vice president on the ticket with Mitt Romney. Three years ago he replaced John Boehner as House speaker after a rebellion by the GOP Tea Party faction -- the precursor to the Trumpista movement. And then two years ago, he turned into the symbol of the hopelessly ineffectual mainstream Republican leaders who were blindsided by the Trump movement. From one day to the next, he wasn't sure whether to resist Trump or try to work with him, and in the end he was consumed. I had such high hopes for him at one time, so I try to be a little more charitable than the many analysts who bitterly deride him for appeasing Trump.

So did President Trump drag Republicans down to defeat? In some cases yes, but for the most part, the Trump Effect was relatively muted. His unpopularity among suburban Washington establishment types no doubt led to the defeat of incumbent Republican Barbara Comstock, but that is merely a manifestation of the long-term trend toward intensified polarization in the American body politic. The largely white, rural, southern and midwestern America of yesteryear feels besieged by the multi-ethnic, urban, Atlantic/Pacific America of the (apparent) future. As well it should. But that theme of this year's election campaign will have to be explored at some other time...

Virginia turns solid blue

Virginia was among the notable exceptions to the general trend of a mild shift toward the Democrats. Here in the Old Dominion, it was a veritable Blue Tsunami. The Democrats "flipped" three of the state's eleven House districts in their favor: in the 2nd District, Elain Luria beat incumbent Scott Taylor 51-49%, in the 7th District, Abigail Spanberger beat incumbent Dave Brat 50-48%, and in the 10th District, Jennifer Wexton beat incumbent Barbara Comstock by a stunning 56-44% margin. These results may reflect the court-ordered redistricting, and indeed the aggregate statewide voting percentages did not swing nearly as sharply as the number of House seats (7 R, 4 D before; 4 R, 7 D now) would indicate. But when you consider that both U.S. Senate seats are firmly under Democratic control (Tim Kaine easily beat back a challenge by Corey Stewart), and all three executive offices in Richmond are in Democratic hands, the magnitude of the reversal in political fortunes since 2012 or so is almost incomprehensible.

Virginia Congress 2018 Map

Roll your mouse over the map to compare to the 2016 election; click on it to restore the 2018 map.

District Republican % Democrat %
1 Wittman * 55.18% Williams 44.70%
2 Taylor * 48.83% FLIP -->     Luria 51.03%
3 (write in) 8.78% Scott * 91.22%
4 McAdams 36.06% McEachin * 62.46%
5 Riggleman 53.18% Cockburn 46.64%
6 Cline 59.89% Lewis 40.00%
7 Brat * 48.43% FLIP -->     Spanberger 50.32%
8 Oh 23.61% Beyer * 76.17%
9 Griffith * 65.17% Flaccavento 34.75%
10 Comstock * 43.74% FLIP -->     Wexton 56.09%
11 Dove 26.94% Connolly * 71.10%

Asterisk ( * ): incumbent; Winning candidates are highlighted with an orange background.

The Politics in Virginia page has been updated to show the new and returning members of the House from Virginia as of next January.

Democrats surge in Virginia

In the November 2017 elections in Virginia, Democrats made a spectacular gain, going from a near-hopeless 2-1 disadvantage (66-34) to virtual parity (51-49). Hardly anyone expected such a huge swing in the balance of party power. The Republicans retained a 21-19 majority in the Senate. In the governor's race, which was expected to be close, Ralpha Northam easily beat Ed Gillespie, by a 53.90% to 44.97% margin. In the race for Lieutenant Governor, Democrat Justin E. Fairfax beat Republican Jill H. Vogel by 52.72% to 47.18%, while incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring (Democrat) beat challenger John D. Adams (Republican) 53.34% to 46.56%; (see Gillespie had been weakened by a stiff challenge from Corey Stewart, a big Trump supporter who recently announced he will leave the statewide political scene.

Beginning in January 2018, Kirk Cox replaced the retiring William Howell as Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Political info page updates

All of the political information pages have been updated:

R.I.P. George H. W. Bush (1926-2018)

George H. W. Bush

President George H. W. Bush
(Photo from the National Archives.)

President George Herbert Walker Bush passed away on November 30, a little over seven months after his wife Barbara died. It was not unexpected, as Bush had a health emergency during the early summer, and at age 92 he had already led a very full life. The funeral and related memorial observances were a touching reminder that, not long ago, this country was united by certain basic norms and customs. The awkward presence of President Trump at the funeral in Washington National Cathedral served to punctuate just how badly frayed our body politic has become.

The elder President Bush (#41, in slang parlance) was born into wealth and privilege but answered the call of duty in World War II, becoming a Navy pilot who was shot down after flying many combat missions. After the war, he chose to seek his own fortune in the oil business, taking his wife Barbara to raise a family on the hot plains of Texas. He had mixed success in business, but struck it rich in politics, where he battled his way into the U.S. House of Representatives, refusing to be discouraged by an early defeat. Impressing people in the Nixon administration, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and as Director of Central Intelligence. He ran for president in 1980, representing the moderate faction of the party, and after he was defeated by Ronald Reagan in the primary campaign, he accepted the #2 position as vice presidential candidate. He didn't seem to have a great deal of influence in the Reagan administration, but he was rewarded by "inheriting" the presidential nomination in 1988, handily beating Democratic Mike Dukakis.

As president, Bush assembled one of the finest group of cabinet officials and advisors that this country has ever had: James Baker as Secretary of State, Dick Cheney as Secretary of Defense, Colin Powell as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Brent Scowcroft as National Security Advisor. (I had a great deal of admiration for Cheney back then, and I often wonder if he became more harsh and conniving as a result of the 9/11 attacks.) That team was the subject of Bob Woodward's book The Commanders, which focused on the decision-making by the first Bush administration following the seizure of Kuwait by Iraq in the summer of 1990, leading up to the triumphant military liberation campaign known as Desert Storm in January and February of 1991. But for all his strategic acumen, Bush lacked political savvy, and turned a blind eye to the emerging economic problems in 1992. His challenger in that year's election campaign, Bill Clinton, capitalized on Bush's Achilles heel with the simplistic but effective slogan, "It's the economy, stupid." And that's how Bush went into early retirement.

As president, Bush was the subject of bitter Democratic scorn, notwithstanding his repeated efforts to meet the opposition half way. He was responsible for landmark policy initiatives such as the Clean Air Act and reform of the financial sector, but every time he paid a heavy price. The widespread cynical response by many Democrats to his uplifting exhortation about "1000 points of light" was just plain awful. I bet they regret that now. It may not be too far off base to suggest that the origins of the fury toward Democrats exhibited by many contemporary Republicans was the unfair way that Bush Senior was treated. It was while he was president that I began shifting from the Democratic side to the Republican side, and to this day I regret not voting for him at least once.

The last former president to pass away was Gerald Ford, on December 26, 2006. (See my tribute December 27, 2006. I updated my Presidency page accordingly.

George H. W. Bush was the only president (or president-to-be) whom I ever saw clearly with my own eyes. I may have caught a distant glimpse of Ronald Reagan at his second inaugural (January 20, 1985), but I definitely saw his second-in-command, George Bush, during a parade in honor of the hostages freed from Iran, along Pennsylvania Avenue a few days after the 1981 inauguration. Bush was standing on the steps on the side of one of the buses carrying the freed hostages, waving in a gleeful way that struck me as just a little awkward given the circumstances.

As a final note, Bush the Elder may represent the last of a dying breed: the male White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (Episcopalian!) Eastern Establishment Republicans who used to run this country. Most Republicans today look down upon the privileged elites, and in return, most elites regard Republicans with deep disdain or even contempt. It is another manifestation of the ongoing flip-flop in party identity, as the populist strain in the conservative movement seeks to recruit from a demographic segment (e.g., coal miners in Appalachia) that was once solidly in the Democratic camp.

R.I.P. John S. McCain (1936-2018)

In late August it was announced that Senator John McCain was ending treatment for his brain tumor, about a year after his condition was made public. Within a few days came word that he had passed away at the age of 81. As a former war hero (having been captured by the North Vietnamese after his jet fighter was shot down), McCain commanded a degree of respect that few other politicians in Washington enjoy. He was not the smoothest of characters, and his temper got the best of him from time to time, but for the most part was was good-natured and well-liked. On several occasions, he was able to serve as a mediator in the U.S. Senate, such as when the "Gang of 14" forged a compromise in May 2005.

But the very word compromise has come to be regarded as inherently evil by many people these days. Indeed, the fact that McCain has been alternately praised and scorned in the wake of his passing says a lot about the fractured polity in the United States today. McCain was always regarded with suspicion by many in the Republican Party's right wing, and I myself had my doubts about him. His vote not to repeal Obamacare last year was regarded as unforgiveable by many, but without a replacement plan at hand, such a policy move would indeed be risky. He wasn't the ideal presidential candidate in 2008, and the economic circumstances probably doomed his chances in any event, but I was still proud to vote for him. May he rest in peace.

Coincidentally, when Jacqueline and I were in Annapolis last August, we saw a photo of John McCain in a display at the visitor center of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he graduated in 1958. Unbeknownst to me at the time, McCain had decided that his final resting place would be at the U.S. Naval Academy cemetery. Next time we go there, I'll make sure to pay respects at his grave site.

USNA cemetery, Severn River

U.S. Naval Academy cemetery, seen from Severn River. (August 19)

Politics blog hiatus

I was surprised to realize that I haven't blogged on politics since January 28, 2018, almost a year ago. Maybe I'm taking my song "Better Left Unsaid" too seriously! Truth be told, I'm among those who has become deeply discouraged about American politics in the Era of Trump. Is there a place for independent-minded people who try to find points of common purpose in the ongoing political melee? I often wonder. Perhaps in another year things will get better, but for the mean time, I do not count on my opinions carrying much weight.

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