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June 2023
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June 2, 2023 [LINK / comment]

City population and baseball attendance

After many hours of number crunching, I have at long last finished revising and updating one of the most prominent reference pages on this website: the Baseball cities page. Like the last major revision in 2011 (November 28, to be exact), it includes data on population for the major metropolitan areas of the United States and Canada, along with the number of pro sports franchises in each city, stadium capacity, and MLB attendance trends. For the first time, it now includes the attendance trends for the most recent decade (2010-2019) as well as the previous decade (2000-2010). There was no attendance at any regular season games during the peak of the covid-19 emergency in 2020, so for our purposes the previous decade only lasted nine years.

When I first put together the early version of that page in 2003, the primary motivation was to demonstrate that the combined population in the Baltimore - Washington D.C. region was more than enough to support two MLB franchises. Hardly anyone would dispute that contention nowadays, but before the Washington Nationals were (re-)born in 2005, there were plenty of skeptics. During the last major revision of that page in 2011, I presented data on attendance in Baltimore and Washington from 2005 through 2010 compared to the preceding final years of the Montreal Expos to show that "the franchise relocation yielded a 1.0 million net increase in overall Major League Baseball attendance." Since that is no longer an issue, I have deleted that section of the page, but I may end up posting it on some other page in the near future.

In the world of today, there is a similar controversy brewing: the Oakland Athletics' plans to relocate to Las Vegas some time in the next few years. With that in mind, I added additional lines to that table, including the cities that are most often mentioned as candidates for either an expansion MLB franchise or a relocated franchise. (Montreal was an actual major league baseball city for 36 years, and is therefore part of the table, not included in the list of potential MLB cities, which are as follows, ranked here in order of likelihood of getting an MLB franchise (NOT in order of population):

* NOTE: San Juan was the "part-time" home of the Montreal Expos in 2003 and 2004.

Perhaps I should add that I am extremely skeptical about the suggestion that Major League Baseball should embark on another round of franchise expansion. Too many small-market franchises (such as Oakland!) are struggling already, so why make that situation worse?

Anyway, another new feature on that page is a column showing annual attendance for the most recent year (2022) relative to stadium capacity. In general, the higher the percentage, the more successful we may deem the franchise in question, but there are many caveats. As noted at the end of that table, the official capacity figures are sometimes artificially reduced, or in one case (Dodger Stadium) exaggerated. Also, several of the early-phase "retro stadiums" (such as Coors Field, Chase Field, and T-Mobile Park) ended up being just too big, as American demographics changed. That page features a revised map of baseball cities as well as this brand-new graph comparing the population of MLB cities with annual attendance at baseball games:

MLB cities pop. & att.

Note that the team names are color-coded according to league (red = AL, blue = NL), and that the aggregate total numbers for the four multi-baseball-team cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco-Oakland) are shown in black. Based on those data, here are my preliminary assessments of the teams that regularly "overachieve" or "underachieve" in terms of their attendance records relative to their population:

Nats shake off more bitter blows

A recurrent theme in the Washington Nationals' better-than-expected performance for the first two months of this season is that almost every time something truly awful happens to them, threatening to plunge them deeper into the proverbial Dungeon of Doom, they manage to recover their wits and pull off a spectacular win. For example, after a 5-run 8th-inning rally on Thursday May 25, they were close to winning the final game of the series with the the visiting San Diego Padres. With two outs in the top of the 9th, Rougned Odor hit a 3-run homer just inside the right field foul pole to retake the lead. Hunter Harvey blew the save and took the loss, which really stung. Final score: 8-6. frown

But that didn't seem to affect the Nats [the next evening in Kansas City] as they took a 1-0 lead in the 1st inning, and then staged an 8-run rally in the 6th inning. Luis Garcia got six hits in six at-bats, tying the Nationals' record set by Anthony Rendon in April 2017. Final score: Nats 12, Royals 10. On Sunday Mackenzie Gore had his best day yet on the mound for the Nationals, striking out 11 batters in 7 innings, while giving up just one run. But the Royals tied the game in the 8th inning, and in the bottom of the 9th, Nats' first baseman Dominic Smith let a ground ball go through his legs (just like you-know-who), and two batters later a walk-off RBI single ended the game 3-2, in the home team's favor. The Nats really should have swept that series, but instead had to digest yet another "bitter blow." frown

On Monday, the Nationals arrived in Los Angeles, and their starting pitcher Trevor Williams was doing pretty well, and his team had a 1-0 lead unti the bottom of the 5th. That's when second-year shortstop C.J. Abrams misplayed a ground ball that could have been a double play, but instead served as the spark of a 6-run rally by the Dodgers. Six unearned runs! frown Nobody else scored in that game. There wasn't much hope for the Nats in the Tuesday game, as rookie pitcher Jake Irvin struggled mightily. On Wednesday, the Dodgers scored 3 runs off two homers in the first inning, but then the Nats came right back with two homers of their own in the 2nd inning. Patrick Corbin somehow managed to escape multiple jams, and as if by a miracle, was in line for the win after Jeimer Candelario hit a 2-run homer in the 5th inning. It was just a crazy back-and-forth slug-fest, in which Luis Garcia hit two home runs, and the Nats ended up with FIVE (5) four-baggers for the first time this year. Final score: Nats 10, Dodgers 6. smile

And so, the Nationals finished the merry month of May with a 14-15 record, much better than the 10-17 record of late March and April. Attendance at home games averaged just over 20,000, about the same as in the month before. This has been duly recorded on the Washington Nationals page.

After a day of rest, the Nationals returned home to Washington where they took an early 6-0 lead against the Philadelphia Phillies earlier this evening. (It was the first matchup between those division rivals this year.) Starting pitcher Josiah Gray did well until the 6th inning, but the Phillies staedily narrowed the gap as the Nats relief pitchers failed to contain them. Another error by C.J. Abrams (his 11th of the year, tied for the MLB lead) allowed the Phillies to tie the game, 8-8. Then with two outs in the bottom of the 8th, Lane Thomas hit an ultra-clutch RBI single to retake the lead. Kyle Finnegan, who had just blown the save, returned to the mound in the 9th inning and this time he held firm, as the Nats just barely won it, 8-7. WHEW!!! smile Against all odds, the Nationals are now tied with the Phillies (4th place) in the NL East, the latter team having lost five games in a row. If the Nats somehow pull off a series sweep this weekend, they'll go ahead of the Phillies in the NL East race. Anything's possible!

I should note that the Nats' usual designated hitter Joey Meneses went on another hot streak this week, and now has a batting average of .305, the 7th best in the National League. Does he deserve your vote for the 2023 NL All-Star team? Absolutely YES! And you may find this very difficult to believe, but thanks to Meneses, Garcia, Candelario, Thomas, and others, the Washington Nationals now have the highest team batting average (.265) in the major leagues!! Unfortunately, they're near the bottom in home runs. Also, the Nationals rank 3rd in the majors in errors, behind the Giants and the Braves. There is plenty of room for improvement, but in general things are going quite well.

June 4, 2023 [LINK / comment]

(Catching up): Birding in January

January 2, Swoope: I never saw the Loggerhead Shrike that had been reported Lynne Parks, so instead I drove out to the Boy Scout lake / campground, and hiked up that hunter's access road that I explored for the first time the month before. Once again, it proved to be very birdy, with several woodpeckers, most notably a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers! The one in this photo seems to be molting, presumably nearing adult plumage. The other main highlight was seeing some Brown Creepers that responded eagerly to the sound of their song that I played back on the iPhone.

Birds 2023 Jan 2

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Red-headed Woodpecker, American Kestrel (M), Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hairy Woodpecker, and Brown Creeper. (Road at Boy Scout camp in Swoope, Jan. 2, 2023)

January 5, McCormick's Mill: After a false start on a wild Ross's Goose chase in the Stuarts Draft area, I found myself heading south along I-81 on a totally improvised excursion to Raphine. Some rare Eurasian Wigeons had been reported at McCormick's Mill, and I figured I should at least go take a peek. Indeed, there they were, mixed in with a number of their American relatives, other ducks, and Canada Geese. Just like that, life bird # 511!!!

Birds 2023 Jan 5

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Wigeon (F), Eurasian Wigeons (M & F), Gadwall (M), and American Wigeon (M). (McCormick's Mill, Jan. 5, 2023)

January 7, Highland & Bath Counties: Allen Larner led a very successful Augusta Bird Club field trip to Highland and Bath Counties, the first such winter trip since before the pandemic. We saw Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles in multiple locations. As usual, we saw many interesting ducks at the pond along Rt. 220 just south of the county line, as well as Horned Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes, a Common Loon, and many Common Mergansers at Lake Moomaw. But the biggest highlight of the day came at the very end of the day when Allen spotted a Barred Owl perched on a wire along the road as we left Lake Moomaw. It was the first time I had seen that species in over ten years, I think. It was a very productive and enjoyable day!

Birds 2023 Jan 7

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Barred Owl, Bald Eagles (A & J), Golden Eagle (J), Ring-necked Duck (M), Bufflehead (M), and in center, Common Merganser (M) and Belted Kingfisher (M). (Highland and Bath Counties, Jan. 2, 2023)

January 14, Lake Shenandoah, Bridgewater, etc.: Jacqueline and I took a random drive northward. The only notable bird th at Lake Shenandoah ere was a Great Blue Heron. On the North River in Bridgewater was a pair of Americans Wigeons, along with more Mallards. On Bell's Lane after dusk three Northern Harriers were swooping around.

Birds 2023 Jan 14

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Blue Heron (at Lake Shenandoah), American Wigeon (F), Northern Mockingbird, Mallards, Northern Harrier, American Wigeon (M), Eastern Bluebird (M), and in center, American Kestrel (F). (Lake Shenandoah, Bridgewater, etc. Jan. 14, 2023)

January 21, Montgomery Hall Park: I got a few good birds in the afternoon, most notably a Hermit Thrush and an Eastern Towhee. Some excellent sunlit images!

Birds 2023 Jan 21

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-bellied Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Hermit Thrush, Eastern Towhee, Downy Woodpecker (M), and White-breasted Nuthatch. (Montgomery Hall Park, Jan. 21, 2023)

January 23, N. Staunton & Bell's Lane: A Sharp-shinned Hawk showed up out back in the morning, scaring all the Mourning Doves away for a while. Late in the afternoon I went to Bell's Lane and saw the usual raptors and a dozen or so Common Mergansers in a distant farm pond.

Birds 2023 Jan 23

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier (F/J), Sharp-shinned Hawk (J), Northern Harrier (M), Common Mergansers. (Montgomery Hall Park, Jan. 21, 2023)

January 28, Swoope: I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip in the Swoope area, and we went hiking for almost a mile along the woodland hunter acess road. We saw a distant Red-headed Woodpecker, as well as many White-throated Sparrows, Tufted Titmice, etc. I was able to lure a couple Red-breasted Nuthatches into view by playing their calls, but such efforts did not pay off for the expected Brown Creepers and Kinglets. Later we all stopped at Cattleman Road, and Bill Benish eventually spotted our main target bird, the Loggerhead Shrike. It was very cooperative as it gradually got closer to us in the course of its hunting routine. Finally, we headed east on Livick Road where, to our utter amazement, I spotted a SECOND Loggerhead Shrike perched on a fence!!! (Top center in the photo montage below.) Josephine King kept track of all the species we saw, including several Northern Harriers and American Kestrels. On the way back to Staunton we saw three or four Red-tailed Hawks, some of which were being harassed by American Crows. It was a memorable day!

Birds 2023 Jan 28

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-bellied Woodpecker (M), Loggerhead Shrike #2, Loggerhead Shrike #1, Red-tailed Hawk, Tufted Titmouse, Downy Woodpecker (M), and in center, Red-breasted Nuthatche. (Swoope, Jan. 28, 2023)

As usual, the above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page. NOTE: Beginning with this year, I am indentifying by standard four-letter abbreviation the most significant species in the captions of the bird photo montages on that page.

June 6, 2023 [LINK / comment]

D-Day + 79 years:
Lessons from the invasion at Normandy

It's hard to explain to the younger generation the supreme importance of the Allied invasion of France that was launched 79 years ago today. Victory was by no means assured, and things could have turned out much differently. The sense of patriotic duty and the willingness of U.S. soldiers to sacrifice their own lives for the good of the country, and indeed for the good of humanity as a whole, is sadly almost beyond comprehension in the America of today. With forces of tyranny and oppression on the rise around the world, we may once again face a challenge similar to the rise of fascism in the 1930s and 1940s. Will we be ready? One way to try to rectify this emptiness in our civic culture is to encourage more families and school groups to visit historic memorials such the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.

D-Day Memorial

D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, showing a beach landing scene. (Photo taken circa 2001.)

I posted the above paragraph along with this photo on Facebook earlier this evening.

Another way to gain a better grasp of the strategic situation as the D-Day invasion began is through the use of wargames. For example, by using playing pieces to represent actual units and a map that depicts the key geographical features, one can see the advantages and disadvantages of landing on the beaches of Normandy rather than near Le Havre or Calais, where much stronger German forces were concentrated. The Germans were caught unprepared for the Normandy landings, partly due to Allied deception measures aimed at convincing the Germans that the main invasion force was gathering northeast of London, with the Calais-Dunkirk area as the target. Also, one can see that the Germans had the advantage of interior lines, being able to shift forces from one potential invasion zone to another, and therefore amassing superior forces before the Allies could build up their strength on the beachhead. (Allied air power partly nullified that advantage, of course.)

D-Day Western Front map

A portion of the "Western Front" game map that I have been working on for many years, modified to show the five American divisions, three British divisions, and one Canadian division that participated in the initial landings.

One essential characteristic of war that is very hard to recreate in a wargame is strategic uncertainty. The Germans greatly overestimated the number of Allied forces arrayed against them, partly because of the Allied deception measures mentioned above, while the Allies underestimated the difficulty of breaking out of the beachhead. The planning for "Operation Overlord," as the invasion was code-named, envisioned a gradual push out of Normandy within a few weeks of the initial landing. In fact, however, the Germans had the Americans, British, and Canadians pinned down for nearly two months before the big breakout was finally achieved. In early August, General George Patton led an American-style "blitzkrieg" westward into Brittany and then east toward Paris, which was liberated on the 25th of the month. By September, the vast majority of French territory was in Allied hands. The moment of triumphal euphoria soon passed, however, and conquering Germany ended up taking several more months. Time and again, both sides' expectations were badly mismatched with the real world.

Strategic uncertainty has been on full display in the ongoing war in Ukraine. The Russians underestimated the Ukrainian people's will to fight, and the determination of Western nations to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to defend themselves. Throughout history, miscalculations by national leaders have led to awful tragedies and needless loss of life on a mass scale. About one year ago, it seemed that the Ukrainian army might recover from their initial losses and inflict a humiliating defeat on Russia. But Vladimir Putin's heartless sacrificing of Russian troops in the prolonged battle of attrition centered on the town of Bakhmut demonstrated that this war is likely to go on for many more months, and probably years. Yesterday's bombing of the huge hydroelectric dam on the Dnipro River revealed once again Putin's grim determination to inflict misery on the Ukrainian people. As I wrote one year ago, "for there to be a real peace, either Putin or Ukrainian President Zelensky has to go." Unfortunately, here is no indication that either leader is about to give up power, and a prolonged agonizing stalemate seems likely to continue. What the United States should do about this bleak prospect will be the topic of a future blog essay. The stakes are huge beyond measure: the very existence of an open world order in which democracy and free trade can thrive.

June 10, 2023 [LINK / comment]

Reality check: Nats fall into slump

After eking out a win in the first game of the series against the Philadelphia Phillies last Friday, thus tying the Phillies for 4th place in the NL East, the Washington Nationals fell flat on their collective face. All those hopes that they had figured out how to play as a team came crashing down as the Phillies won the next two games. On Saturday, Mackenzie Gore was pitching fine, entering the top of the 6th inning with a 2-2 lead. That's when J.T. Realmuto hit a leadoff homer that ended up being the deciding run in the game. Gore had a "quality start" (just 3 runs allowed over 6 innings), but the Nats' bats fell silent, as they lost, 4-2. Sunday's game was similar, in that starting pitcher Trevor Williams made it into the 6th inning only one run behind (2-1), but after two batters reached base he was replaced by Andres Machado, who promptly gave up a 3-run homer to Kyle Schwarber. Machado returned to the mound in the 7th inning and gave up a 2-run homer to Drew Ellis, which was the 2nd home run of the game for Ellis -- and also for the year! Indeed, this recent call-up from the minor leagues had only hit one major league homer in his career before that day. Go figure. For what it's worth, ex-Nat Kyle Schwarber also hit two home runs that day. The final score was ugly: 11-3.

One day later, Machado was "designated for assignment." About time!

On Tuesday the Arizona Dimaondbacks arrived in Washington, and it appeared that the Nats had shaken off their blues when Stone Garrett hit a grand slam in the first inning. But young starting pitcher Jake Irvin was having a hard time, and was replaced in the 5th inning by Erasmo Ramirez, who proceeded to let things totally fall apart. The D-backs scored multiple runs in four straight innings, resulting in a 10-5 final score. (One month earlier, this Nationals had barely escaped Phoenix without being swept.)

One day later, Ramirez was "designated for assignment." Apparently, the Nats' front office does not have infinite patience with repeat underachievers!

In the Wednesday game, Patrick Corbin had another fine outing, bouncing back and settling down after giving up 3 runs in the first inning. He pitched six full innings without giving up any more runs, but it was wasted effort, as the Nats offense could only generate two runs. Final score: 6-2. The game scheduled for Thursday was postponed due to terrible air quality, just as the games in New York and Philadelphia had been postponed the day before. Those of us who live in the mid-Atlantic region have had several straight days of hazy skies caused by enormous wildfires in Canada. Surprisingly, the two teams' schedules allowed for a makeup game to be played on June 22.

Last night, the Nats began a three-game series with the Braves in Atlanta, and they actually managed to take a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning. Unfortunately, the Braves scored 2 runs on two weird plays: a hard bouncer to first base which Dominic Smith misplayed, and a ground ball up the middle that shortstop C.J. Abrams couldn't quite reach. And that's how the Braves came back to win it, 3-2. Kyle Finnegan blew the save and took the loss.

As a result of last night's loss, the Nationals have now lost 5 games in a row for the very first time this year. It's a real kick in the gut, after showing so much promise last month.

Hopefully the Nats can win either today's or tomorrow's game in Atlanta and cut short that ugly streak. After this weekend's series in Atlanta, the Nationals head west to play the Houston Astros -- and I'll be there!!!

(Rail) Road Trip 2023!

I've been meaning to see a game in Houston for some time, and the opportunity to see the Nationals play very same team that they beat in the 2019 World Series was too much to resist! Surprisingly, the Astros are a few games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West. Another surprise is that the Arizona Dimaondbacks surged ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West race this week, after they beat the Nationals twice. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays are on another hot streak, winning 7 games in a row to put them back above the .700 level. That is just insanely good. The Baltimore Orioles are doing very well this year (39-24), but that still leaves them 6 1/2 games behind the Rays.

I will not only be seeing a game in Houston, but also (hopefully) three games in California during the following weekend! Is that ambitious, or what? Landslides south of Los Angeles have disrupted train service to San Diego, so I'm not 100% sure that I can see all give current MLB stadiums in the Golden States, but I will at least try! I'll rely on Facebook to try to touch base with fans I know in the L.A. and Bay Area during my trip. Details to follow in a couple weeks or so...

The mail bag

As I gradually get caught up with my email in-box, I'd like to thank those folks who have taken the time to communicate with me. One of them, Scott Rudolf, brought to my attention a proposal regarding how to reconfigure L.A. Memorial Coliseum for baseball. Instead of an asymmetrical alignment with very little foul territory on the first base side, it would have resembled the Polo Grounds, with ten or so rows of seats removed on both sides. It would have been 280 feet down the left field line, 259 feet down the right field line, and 426 yards to center field.

Also, Michael Thompson informed me that after the bullpens at Oracle Park were moved to either side of center field in 2020, an extra row of seats (or perhaps space for handicapped fans) was built in foul territory between first base and the right field pole. After checking, I noticed the same thing happened on the 3rd base side. I will take those details into account when I redo the Oracle Park diagrams later this summer. Thank you, Michael!

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jun 16, 2023 11:15 AM
Well, I'm here in L.A., and looking forward to the Giants-Dodgers game tonight! My plans are to visit Memorial Coliseum and perhaps the site of old Wrigley Field today, and then Angel Stadium (in Anaheim) tomorrow. Then heading up to Oakland to see the current and former Philadelphia teams play on Sunday!

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jun 19, 2023 01:42 AM
To the shock of almost everyone, the Giants swept the Dodgers over the weekend, inflicting a 15-0 humiliation upon them on Saturday. The Friday night game that I saw was decided by a bizarre play in the bottom of the [11th] inning that you would have to see to believe. Today I saw another visiting team (the Phillies) complete a sweep against [the Athletics at] Oakland Coliseum. It only added to the sadness of recent news making it more likely that the A's will relocate to Las Vegas after the 2014 season.

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jun 19, 2023 01:45 AM
Some editing of the above comment will be necessary. You know what I mean!

COMMENT by: Andrew Clem, of Staunton, VA on Jun 22, 2023 23:28 PM
Well, I saw the fifth current MLB ballpark during this trip for the first time today: T-Mobile Park in Seattle! That turned out to be a nice consolation for being unable (or unwilling to take a chance on) to see Petco Park in San Diego. It was striking to me how much the Giants have improved and how far downhill the Dodgers have gone since that SF @ LAD game I saw last Friday night. As for the Nationals, ... it's been a pretty bleak month.

CORRECTIONS to the above comments were made on June 29.

June* 28, 2023 [LINK / comment]

Baseball (Rail) Road Trip 2023!

Well, I accomplished most of my objectives while riding the rails out to the Pacific Coast and back earlier this month, attending games in three stadiums that I had never seen before, taking a tour of another one, inspecting the exterior of a fifth stadium that is currently in use, seeing two former stadiums, and visiting the site where a temporary stadium once stood, and passing two current stadiums while riding on the train. Finally, I saw four well-known football stadiums, some while walking by and some while on the train.

Stadiums - June 2023

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Oracle Park, T-Mobile Park, Oakland Coliseum, Minute Maid Park, Astrodome, and Dodger Stadium.

June 12 -- New Orleans: I changed trains in the Big Easy, and took advantage of the brief layover to make a closer inspection of the Superdome, now bearing the moniker of the Caesars casino firm from Las Vegas. (I only came within a block or so during my first visit there in February 2021.) I was hoping to sneak in somehow, but workers were busy doing renovation work, and all the open doors were guarded, so I had to content myself with just a quick peek from outside. Conveniently, the Superdome is only a few blocks away from the AMTRAK station.

June 13 -- Houston: My first destination was the Astrodome, located a few miles south-southwest of downtown. I had made a telephone call a couple weeks earlier, in hopes of getting access to the Astros' former home, but was told that no one from the public is being allowed inside for the time being. Maybe next year they will start doing tours, I was told.

Late in the afternoon, I returned to downtown Houston via light rail and walked about five blocks to Minute Maid Park. I spent about a half hour walking all around the stadium, photographing all the nooks and crannies and making mental notes about the retractable roof, gate locations, ticket sales windows, etc. along the way. I finally confirmed that the brick building beyond left field was in fact at one time a passenger railroad terminal. It's strange because there are no railroad tracks anywhere close to there anymore. Finally I entered at the Left Field Gate. I took advantage of the special $22 ticket deal, including a hot dog, popcorn, and soda in addition to the with an upper-deck seat (in the upper deck behind the dugouts on the first base side), which turned out to be "obstructed view." You can see all of the field (except for the right field corner) from there, but the massive tressel upon which the retractable roof slides blocks the view of the left field seating areas and the scoreboard in right center field. Patrick Corbin was pitching, and he got through the first four innings unscathed, but in the fifth inning the Astros finally got to him. Two players I had never heard of (Mauricio Dubon and Kyle Tucker) hit solo home runs, and two innings later the Astros tacked on two more runs to make it 4-0. In the top of the 8th, Luis Garcia hit an RBI single to put the Nats on the board, but then the Astros scored two more in the bottom of the inning. Relief pitchers Chad Kuhl and Thaddeus Ward took responsibility for the latter four runs. Final score: Astros 6, Nationals 1.

The outcome of the game was not surprising, given the relative strengths of the two teams this year, but for me the most important thing was to be able to relish the glory of the Nationals' World Series triumph at this locale nearly four years ago...

Andrew at Minute Maid Park foul pole

Yours truly standing next to the foul pole in Minute Maid Park where Howie Kendrick's 2-run home run put the Nationals ahead of the Astros in the 7th-inning of Game 7 in the 2019 World Series.

June 16 -- Los Angeles: After a long train ride across the southwestern desert, I arrived at Los Angeles Union Station early on a Friday morning, and checked into my downtown hotel. After playing tourist at the Santa Monica pier for an hour or so, I got off the Metro Rail train at the University of Southern California Campus, and then walked a couple blocks to L.A. Memorial Coliseum. I was told by the guard that I just missed some public event but that it was too late to get inside, but I could do so tomorrow. Unfortunately, I just didn't have the time. Next door at the BMO Stadium, where the L.A. soccer team plays, preparations were underway for a Blink-182 concert that evening.

Next I walked for nearly two miles eastward through some residential neighborhoods in central Los Angeles, past some homeless encampments that gave me the creeps, finally arriving at the site where L.A. Wrigley Field once stood. The land is presently used in part for a neighborhood playground, a senior center, and a specialized medical clinic of some sort. Even though I had a pretty good idea of where home plate and the grandstand used to be, I was unable to find any historical marker.

In the evening, I zipped over to Union Station to await the free shuttle bus to Dodger Stadium, and was immediately disconcerted by the long line of fans waiting for the next bus. That evening just happened to be "Pride Night" for the Dodgers, promoting the team's support for LGBTQ people with rainbow-adorned flags, jerseys, etc., etc. Well, a group of protesters decided to express their disapproval by blocking the parking lot, causing many thousands of fans to arrive very late. So, the 200 or 300 fans waiting for the bus ended up arriving at the game at the end of the third inning, about an hour late. They dropped us off in back of the bleachers beyond right field, and I was awestruck as I entered that historic, beautifully-maintained palace. The palm trees and the fading twilight create an entrancing ambience. After roaming the stadium to take photos, I got settled into my seat, which was toward the front of the third deck behind home plate on the left side. The view was great, and not nearly as high as the third deck would be in most stadiums; that reflects the fact that Dodger Stadium has a relatively small first deck. The game was pretty competitive, and the fans were thrilled when Freddie Freeman hit an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game 5-5. In the bottom of the 11th inning, the Dodgers had a golden opportunity to at least catch up to the Giants, who had just scored two runs. With one out and the automatic runner on second base, Mookie Betts hit a high infield popup that third baseman Casey Schmitt somehow dropped, and then the pitcher (Jakob Junis) threw the ball over the first baseman's head, but for some reason the runner on second failed to run to home, and was caught in a confusing rundown after Mookie Betts tried to reach third base. I could not believe my eyes! That pretty much ended the home team's chances, and they lost to the Giants 7-5. The Giants were in the midst of a winning streak that put them ahead of the Dodgers in the NL West, with the Arizona Diamondbacks in first place.

June 17 -- Los Angeles: My original plan was to take a train from Los Angeles to San Diego and see the game at Petco Park on Saturday afternoon. Because of uncertainties stemming from the landslide that had shut down the rail line between the two cities, I decided to forego a visit to San Diego. AMTRAK has a connecting bus in the area where the rails are closed, but with all the extra stops, there was a chance of something going wrong, and my tight schedule could not accommodate much deviation. I would just use Saturday to see Angel Stadium instead, I figured. Unfortunately, however, I learned they were not giving tours that day, and the lady in the office handling public inquiries did not return my call. It wasn't worth spending half a day getting from downtown L.A. to Anaheim and back just to see the outside of the stadium, so I visited Hollywood and other parts of L.A. instead. (NOTE: That night, the Giants beat the Dodgers by a horrendous 15-0 margin, and they finished the unexpected sweep the next day.)

June 18 -- Oakland, CA: My train from Los Angeles pulled into Oakland right on time, and I was hopeful that I could get to the Phillies vs. Athletics game at least an hour early and thereby snag one of the freebie Hawaiian shirts that were given out to the early-arriving fans that day. Unfortunately, the train [from Oakland's Jack London Square station to] the Coliseum/Airport station was delayed for more than an hour because of (supposedly) traffic congestion at a drawbridge, but apparently also because someone tried to commit suicide by lying down on the tracks. And so, once again, I arrived at the game after three innings had already been played. I had a nice initial impression of Oakland Coliseum, which is often maligned for being decrepit or not well suited for baseball. (The latter criticism is obviously accurate.) For the most part, I was treated very well by stadium personnel, and they gave me an official certificate for being a "first-timer" in the Coliseum, along with an A's pin. The food service people were horrible, however, and I wasted over a half hour trying to get a smoked sausage and beer, finally being told that it was too late for beer by the time I got to the front of the line. I suppose it is hard to get motivated to work hard when the team that employs you is planning to move to a different city. Attendance that day was good (24,326), perhaps reflecting the Hawaiian shirt giveway. It was nice to see three former Nationals among the Phillies: Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, and Josh Harrison. For some reason, Bryce Harper wasn't serving as designated hitter that day; he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and can't throw very hard. Since I arrived late, I missed seeing Schwarber's leadoff home run in the first inning, something that he became famous for while playing with Washington two years ago. The Athletics staged rallies in the 7th and 8th innings, but could not quite catch up to the visiting team. Final score: Phillies 3, Athletics 2.

June 19 -- San Francisco: One day later (Monday), I took the BART train across the bay, and after some hassles, obtained tickets for a guided tour of Oracle Park. Once again, the skies were clear, just perfect for taking photos. Our guide was very friendly and knowledgeable, and I really enjoyed learning about the Giants and their exquisite (privately-financed!) sporting palace. The other folks in the tour probably thought I was weird for taking photos of interior structural elements, etc., but that's what it take to get my diagrams as accurate as humanly possible!

June 21 -- Seattle: After another long train ride, I arrived in Seattle on Wednesday night, about six hours late. It was the one big screwup by AMTRAK in an otherwise very punctual and efficient series of train connections. It left me with very little time to see much of Seattle, unfortunately, so I just hustled down from my lodgings in Chinatown to take a quick look at T-Mobile Park before returning to the train station. The trains go right under the retractable roof, so in a sense you could say I was "inside" T-Mobile Park! This marks yet another example of how I often seem to visit MLB stadiums in the same year as the All-Star Game, or else just one year from it. If I had gone to San Diego I would not have visited Seattle, or T-Mobile Park.

June 23 -- Milwaukee: As the eastbound train to Chicago entered the city of Milwaukee, I had a brief view of what is now called "American Family Field"; it was known as Miller Park when I visited there in 2010. For the record, while our train was heading south in Chicago later that afternoon, I also saw Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the White Sox, but did not manage to get a photo, as I have done in the past. No big deal. During the subsequent night, our train passed through Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky, but I'm not sure if I could see Great American Ballpark.

Thus concluded the "mother of all baseball road trips"! The My ballpark visits page has been updated with all those new stadiums. And of course, the diagrams for most or all of those stadiums will be revised in the near future based on the first-hand observations I made of them.

Nationals put an end to slump (?)

After a very respectable (14-15) performance in the month of May, the Washington Nationals went straight downhill in June. Throughout my trip, they repeatedly struggled to avoid being swept in one series after another. Finally, it seems, they have pulled out of the proverbial "nosedive." During their road trip to the Pacific Coast, they managed to beat the San Diego Padres in two games out of three, and then did the same thing in Seattle. On Tuesday evening relief pitcher Jordan Weems somehow got out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the 10th inning, after which the Nats staged a 3-run rally (thanks largely to Lane Thomas's clutch 2-run double), so after pitching again in the 11th inning he also got the save. Final score: Nats 7, Mariners 4. In today's "rubber match" game, the Nats won it again, 4-1, That marks the first time this year that the Nationals (currently with a 32-48 record, right at the critical .400 "threshhold of respectability") have won two series in a row!

* NOTE: The data as originally posted at the top was May 28, when it should have been June 28.

June 29, 2023 [LINK / comment]

(Catching up): Birding in February

February 4, Bell's Lane: I noticed a female Downy Woodpecker excavating a nest hole, anticipating spring. This was right across from the entrance to the first farm, 1/4 mile from the kiosk. Then I saw a Red-tailed Hawk having some kind of rodent for lunch, as well as a Red-bellied Woodpecker, some Carolina Chickadees, and White-breasted Nuthatches. At the pond behind Hardee's in Verona were a few dozen Canada Geese, a couple Mallards, and a lone male Ring-necked Duck..

February 5, Charlottesville : Jacqueline and I stopped at Azalea Park, which was one of my favorite places to go when I started birdwatching in the late 1990s. Noticing a lot of bird activity in some bushes at the end of the woods, I went for a closer look, and then a handsome little Ruby-crowned Kinglet popped into view!

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (February 5, Charlottesville) [CORRECTED]

February 8, Harrisonburg : Jacqueline and I stopped at the JMU Arboretum in the afternoon, and walked all the way to the end for the first time. Not many birds back there, but on the way out I heard and eventually saw a male Pileated Woodpecker announcing his presence with some loud hammering.

February 10, Augusta Springs: I went to today (taking advantage of the nice weather) and saw both kinds of Nuthatches (Red-breasted and White-breasted), several Winter Wrens, and the usual resident songbirds. I also met a friendly guy named Charlie who follows the ABC Facebook page. Later in Swoope I saw several E. Bluebirds, a Red-tailed Hawk, and an American Kestrel, but no Loggerhead Shrikes or Bald Eagles.

Birds 2023 Feb 10

(February 10, Augusta Springs)

February 11, Mill Place trail : I went to get exercise on the this afternoon, but there weren't many birds other than the Red-bellied Woodpecker you see here. On the pond behind Hardee's were a few Hooded Mergansers, that lone male Ring-necked Duck again, and the usual Canada Geese and Mallards. On Bell's Lane I was amused to see a Red-shouldered Hawk perched on a cowpie. An American Kestrel and a couple N. Harriers were also present.

Birds 2023 Feb 11

(February 11, Mill Place trail)

February 15, Braley Pond trail: A nice hike along the on Wednesday only yielded a few good birds, the highlight being a feisty Winter Wren hopping around fallen tree logs. I glimpsed a few Golden-crowned Kinglets and White-breasted Nuthatches, but I didn't even hear any Red-breasted Nuthatches there for the first time in several months. Near the village of West Augusta was a large flock (20+) of Amer. Goldfinches and a pair of Killdeers.

February 22, north Staunton: The first Common Grackle of the year for me arrived yesterday morning, one day too late for the Great Backyard Bird Count! In the afternoon I went for a stroll on Bell's Lane, where the bright sunshine accentuated the colors of the birds.

February 24, Waynesboro: Jacqueline and I stopped at the pond on the northwest edge of the city, and our hopes of seeing the famous Trumpeter Swan # P61 were quickly fulfilled! (It has returned to that pond almost every winter for the past six or seven years, I believe.) As an added bonus, we also saw several American Wigeons at fairly close range! Unfortunately, the lighting was less than ideal. Not only that, I heard some odd calls up in a nearby tree, and soon spotted a pair of Eastern Phoebes, my very first ones of the year!!! Then we went for a long walk along the South River Greenway, where we saw Downy Woodpeckers, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and a Yellow-rumped Warber or two.

Birds 2023 Feb 24

(February 24, Waynesboro)

February 26, Braley Branch trail: It was a beautiful day to get outside, but for some reason the birds just didn't show up. I had a nice view of a Red-breasted Nuthatch while Jacqueline and I were hiking on the trail today (our first time there), and later saw a White-breasted Nuthatch, a distant Wild Turkey and Red-tailed Hawk, as well as a very close Pileated Woodpecker that really startled me as it flew away! Otherwise nothing but a few chirps from the bushes and treetops.

As usual, the above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.

June 30, 2023 [LINK / comment]

Perfect game in Oakland!

On Wednesday night, New York Yankee pitcher Santiago Germán (note the accented a, to distinguish the name from the central European nationality) accomplished something that no other pitcher has done since 2012: he threw a perfect game! Three pitchers did so in that year: Phil Humber (White Sox), Matt Cain (Giants), and Felix Hernandez (Mariners). (See my August 15, 2012 blog post.) It was the 24th perfect game in MLB history, and the fourth by a Yankees pitcher. The Yankees were merciless in Oakland, scoring 11 runs. See Since I happened to be in that venue a little less than two weeks ago, I thought I would include a photo of where this big event took place:

Oakland Coliseum during the Phillies-Athletics game on Sunday, June 18.

For the record, I should also point out that Max Scherzer (then of the Washington Nationals) threw a "virtually" perfect game in June 2015, being thwarted with two outs in the ninth inning when Jose Tabata (then of the Pirates) put his elbow in front of the ball. Speaking of Scherzer, there are reports that he will agree to waive his no-trade clause with the New York Mets, who are underperforming by historic proportions this year. Who knows with what contending team he might end up?

Another curious historical footnote related to the perfect game: Until Wednesday, the Oakland A's were enjoying the longest streak of avoiding being no-hit in the major leagues, the last time being on July 13, 1991, against the Orioles. Guess which team now holds the honors for the longest such streak? Yep, the Washington Nationals (and their predecessor franchise team, the Montreal Expos!

Nats end awful month on upbeat note

After a respectable performance in May (14-15), the Washington Nationals plummeted into the pits of Hades for the first three weeks of June, winning only four of their first 19 games. The pitching staff held up their end for the most part, but the offense stagnated, as they only scored five or more runs in four games. Lane Thomas continued to raise his average, leading the team with , but Joey Meneses regressed from the .300+ range to the .280 range. After taking two out of three games from both the Padres and Mariners over the past week, the Nationals began another road series in Philadelphia tonight. In the second inning Stone Garrett hit a two-run home run that was quickly answered by the Phillies who scored one run. Both teams had multiple scoring opportunities after that, but amazingly, no further runs were scored. Nats 2, Phillies 1. Josiah Gray struck out 8 batters over six innings, after Patrick Corbin had struck out 9 batters over seven innings in the previous game. Not bad at all! So, after going 4-15 from the beginning of June through the 23rd of the month, the Nationals have won 5 of their last 6 games, yielding an overall win-loss record of 9-16.

Now that the month of June has ended, the Washington Nationals page has been updated with data for June and the first half of the 2023 season. (The end of the month happens to coincide with the 81-game mid-point of the season.) The month of July is going to become uncomfortable as negotiations over possible player trades move into high gear. The Nationals will obviously be "sellers," and some players such as Jeimer Candelario and Kyle Finnegan are among the most likely to go. The biggest question is whether the Nats front office will hold onto their rising star slugger Lane Thomas, who is under team control for at least the next year. Aging "rookie" Joey Meneses might also be tempting for teams that need more solid bats in their lineup; for purely sentimental reasons I hope he stays with the Nationals.

Baseball cities again

After taking a look at my Baseball cities page, I noticed that, in the wake of my big trip out west earlier this month, I have now been to all current MLB cities with the exception of Tampa / St. Petersburg and San Diego. In the coming months I will be adding urban skyline photo montages such as the one below to almost all of the other stadium pages. Those bits of scenery provide a bit of "flavor" and geographic context for the places in which those stadiums are situated. (The one for Kansas City was displayed in my May 23 blog post.) Can you guess which one this is???

Oakland, California

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