The Coming of Winter (Part 2)

No Baseball

No Baseball…until February

I’ve had a few days to stew on the Nats Game 5 loss to the Cubs…enough to see the Cubs completely tank against the Dodgers, who are now headed to the World Series.  All “Joe Maddon is a genius” comments have to be walked back a bit after some of the ways his team played in the NLCS.

Nonetheless, the Cubs were there and the Nats weren’t.

Let’s get to a few things about the Nats and that Game 5 loss, and then I’ll turn to thinking a bit about the games this week (and the games ahead).

First, if you want to read sharp commentary on the Nationals, go to the blog Nationals Baseball.  Harper regularly provides the best clear-eyed and unsentimental analysis of this ball club (so much better than the Washington Post crew), and the comments are first-rate (how often do you read that on the internet?).  Read his Game 5 analysis at the link above when you get the chance.  Much of what I’d say, especially about how bad Matt Wieters was in that series (and much of the year), can be found there.

Second, Dusty really did get out-managed again in the playoffs. Using the same line-up for five games…who does that in the playoffs?  Winning managers maximize their team’s strengths game-by-game.  Jayson Werth is old, you don’t play him out of loyalty.  Matt Wieters was terrible. Gio is a head case and should NEVER start a critical game. Michael A. Taylor was the only player tearing the hide off the ball all series, and you leave him batting 8th! Zimmerman, who had a great year, is a head case when batting 4th behind Harper against the Cubs. Why would you bat him there?  I could go on-and-on…but go to the blog above.  Harper has a longer and better list.

I’m now okay with Dusty not being rehired for 2018, but when are we going to start talking about Mike Rizzo’s role in this “can’t get out of the first round” mess?  Who gave this club the absolutely worst bullpen in baseball for the first half of the year and tried to talk as if it was no problem?  How many games were lost and how many starters lost sure-fire wins because of that crew? We’re supposed to cheer Rizzo’s trade-deadline acquisitions, but remember who got us into this mess in the first place.  Who keeps making bad decisions with his managers? Who never got a decent starter after Joe Ross went down? And yes, I think the Lerners bear blame for low-balling the salaries of their managers.

And can the Nationals get a hitting coach next year who can teach situational hitting.  Trea Turner was so overmatched, but all the Nats were swinging for the fences and hitting into the teeth of shifts when the situation called for a different approach.

For some good things, this was Strasburg’s year and he had a stellar playoff series.  Game 4 was about as good as one can pitch in an elimination game.  Watching the Nats for the first half of the season (except for the bullpen explosions) was great fun, especially after Anthony Rendon took off.  The second half was too much coasting, as the N.L. East is so bad, and that may have hurt them in the playoffs. It would be nice to come in hot.

Enough of this rambling.  Now for the three (for one more day) teams left.

Jose Altuve is great.  Last night, after taking the series to 3-3 against the Yankees, he goes on national television and says, “I freaking LOVE Justin Verlander.”  With Altuve and Curry, short guys are taking over the world!

Aaron Judge is a freak…but he seems like a nice freak.  I really don’t like the Yankees and I hope they lose tonight, but this kid is having such an amazing rookie season that you just have to root for him.  All rise, indeed!

The Dodgers look very much like the real deal, and I’ll be surprised if anyone can beat them in the World Series.  Stranger things have happened, but they’re my team now.  I’m going over to the Dark Side with my Claire!

Claire at a Dodgers Game

Claire (center) at a Dodgers game…she knows how to pick ’em

More to come…

DJB

Winter Has Come

No Baseball

No Baseball…until February

Well, that will leave a bruise.

I’m at a board meeting for work, so will have to wait until later for a longer reflection on the Nats 2017 campaign, but oh my…the bad taste from that last game is going to linger for a while.  I was sitting in the only television room in the place, watching the game alone until 1 o’clock in the morning.  At least I resisted the temptation to pull out a beer or have a glass of wine to drown my sorrows.

Gio does his Gio thing and melts down under pressure.  Max and Wieters pick the worst possible time to play sandlot ball.  Dusty’s loyalty bites us in the behind.  Harp isn’t always Mr. Clutch.  Instant replay can be correct and yet wrong for the game.

Oh…and for those Chicago Cubs fans who are itching to tell you how your team blew it…you’ve now become just like the insufferable Red Sox and Yankees fans.  Is that what you really want?  Memo to self…if the Nats ever do win a first round series in the playoffs or more, don’t gloat.  It is just a game. Behave like the Royals fans did during their recent run of excellence, and just thank the baseball gods that you got to have some fun.

Winter (and more) to come…

DJB

Clinch!

Nats vs Phillies

Nats win on Sunday to reduce their magic number to 1…for about 90 minutes

You never know when you draw a September day at the park in the season ticket package if the game you pick will be meaningful.  But around Friday, I realized that today’s game could be the one where the Nats clinch the 2017 National League East Division title.

I had tickets for Sunday at Nationals Park.  Nats vs. the Phillies.  And the magic number of National wins or Marlins losses was two!  Woo hoo!

Sarah, a colleague from work, joined me, and we laughed when we both  showed up in our 2012 East Division champions gear.  I told Candice as I left for the ballpark that I was wearing my hat for good luck, since I bought it the night they clinched that year when we were both at the park.  Candice replied, “Well good.  At least you won’t have to buy a new hat.”  She needn’t worry…I’m not buying any new playoff/championship gear until we get to a World Series.

Today sure was a fun day at the park.  Stephen Strasburg was brilliant through 8, extending a scoreless innings streak to capture a franchise record.  Trea Turner blasted a home run and a double and seems to be fully recovered from his broken wrist.  Top prospect Victor Robles drilled a ball off the outfield wall and before you could look up he was at third…unfortunately, he was motoring so fast, he slid past the bag.  Gotta love that rookie exuberance.  The 3-2 win happened in the blink of an eye, and the magic number was 1.

Nats roots for Braves

Nats fans gather in the lower bowl after the game to cheer for the Braves to beat the Marlins

But the Braves vs. Marlins game was only in the 7th inning, so we moved to the lower level to watch the next 90 minutes of that game on the big screen at Nats Park.  It looked hopeless when the Braves were down 2 runs in the 9th, but they made a comeback to send it to extra innings.  Finally in the 11th, the Braves had a two-run walk-off homer, and the partying began in Washington.

Nats fans and players celebrate

Nats players and their fans celebrate the National League East Division title

2012 was different because it was the first time for the Nats, but today was very satisfying.  The Nationals have been banged up this year, but youngsters kept plugging the holes and the team kept winning.  The bullpen has been rebuilt from the first half dumpster fire.  The regulars are starting to come back from injury.  And they just kept winning.

Teddy Celebrates Nats 2017 East Division Title by Sarah Heffern 09 10 17

2017 National League East Division Champions.  Sounds great.  Now, let’s go win in the playoffs.

More to come…

DJB

Observations from the Road: The Vacation Reading Edition

I’ve now been back from vacation for two weeks, and have finally decided that I am not going to find the time to write lengthy posts on each book I checked off my summer reading list.  So I’m resorting to my trusty “Observations from the Road” formula, to give you short takes on the four books I read over those two weeks.

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott

Hallelujah Anyway:  Rediscovering Mercy — Shortly before leaving on vacation, I picked up this book by the popular author Anne Lamott after seeing several short quotes attributed to her work.  Candice’s reaction was, “You’re reading Anne Lamott?” and I understand that sentiment. Yes, she is crafty and crotchety, and she has a “perfectly calibrated NPR appeal” which can grate on some. But yes, I am.  She’s funny and a bit snarky, both traits I enjoy (when I agree) and she’s a very good writer.  She’s also brief (a quality I’m enjoying more as I plow through 500+ page works).

This is a book about mercy.  She wanders a bit in getting there, but in the end there is a good bit to take away from this small collection.

“Mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion are synonyms, and the approaches we might consider taking when facing a great big mess, especially the great big mess of ourselves—our arrogance, greed, poverty, disease, prejudice….the idea of accepting life as it presents itself and doing goodness anyway, the belief that love and caring are marbled even into the worst life has to offer.”

“Kindness towards others and radical kindness to ourselves buy us a shot at a warm and generous heart, which is the greatest prize of all.  Do you want this, or do you want to be right?  Well, can I get back to you on that?”

It’s the attitude in that last line that led me to respond to Candice, “Yeah, and I’m enjoying it.”

The Only Rule

The Only Rule is It Has to Work

The Only Rule is It Has to Work —You knew there had to be a baseball book in the batch…and you would be right.

This is a story of what happens when two numbers guys—Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller—get the chance to run an independent minor league team for a season.  Both worked at Baseball Prospectus and were eager to see how their sabermetric theories might play out in real life.

This is a fun read, in part because both are good writers and they have a good story to tell.  (They switch back-and-forth in writing chapters, which you get use to.)   For part of the season, they move slowly in implementing their theories.  But after they make the bold move to fire the player/manager who pushes back on many of their suggestions, changes come more quickly.  There’s the added bonus of having their team—the Sonoma Stompers—become the first professional team with an openly gay player.  Sean Conroy’s story is just one example of how the authors blend metrics and human interest in this funny and informative book.

Everybody Lies

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Everybody Lies:  Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are — This was easily the most interesting book of the four I read over my vacation, and I picked it up after chatting with a seat mate on a recent plane ride who gave it a strong recommendation.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is a social scientist who is using new, big data sources to uncover hidden behaviors and attitudes.  He notes that Google searches are a type of “truth serum” because we undertake those searches anonymously and tools such as Google Trends can tell us what people—in huge data sets—are really thinking.  “In other words, people’s search for information is, in itself, information.”  And as Stephens-Davidowitz explains, “The power of Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else.”  That’s true about race, politics, and especially sex.  People lie about all three things when taking surveys, but they don’t lie when searching for data in the anonymity of their living rooms.  The recent acknowledgement of the rise of white nationalism in the main stream media was something that Google searches predicted in 2008…on the night Barack Obama was elected president.  There were more searches using the “n-word president” than “first black president” in some states.

This book has much to recommend it, and much that is disturbing to know about ourselves and our fellow citizens.  There is great analysis, excellent storytelling, and witty writing throughout.  I could go into so much more here, but suffice it to say that this book will change the way you view the world.

Architecture's Odd Couple

Architecture’s Odd Couple

Architecture’s Odd Couple:  Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson — Hugh Howard’s 2016 work on the intersection of two of the 20th century’s best-known architects is an interesting read that ultimately falls short of making its central case:  which is that each architect was greatly influenced at a key point in his career development, by the work of the other.  It is a hard argument to make given that Wright was a stunningly original innovator and one of the world’s great designers.  Johnson was more of a shaper of architectural tastes whose work doesn’t reach the breadth or depth of Wright’s.  (Full disclosure:  I work for an organization, the National Trust, that owns houses designed by both men.)

Nonetheless, there is much to like and take away from Howard’s work.  The focus on Johnson’s breakthrough with the MoMA architectural exhibition that helped introduce Modernism to the American public, while alienating Wright in the process, makes for great reading.  The descriptions of Wright’s designing of his masterpieces—Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum—as well as Johnson’s conception of The Glass House, are compelling and showcase Howard’s writing skills.

Fallingwater

Fallingwater (photo credit: DJB)

At the end, Howard’s conclusion gets it right.

“Rather against his will, Johnson evolved into one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most important public admirers.  As a man who worshiped the zeitgeist, he found that his old nemesis’s ideas retained remarkable vibrancy.  As he came to recognize the importance and the value of their odd alliance, he also grasped that Wright’s work transcended style and even time.  Though it rendered his work inimitable, Wright’s genius was, quite simply, of a greater magnitude than Johnson’s.”

“Today, more than half a century after his death, Wright remains America’s best-known and most admired architect.  By the time Johnson died, barely a decade ago, he had become what he himself disparagingly called, ‘the famous architect.’ With his death, his fame began to recede; inversely, Wright’s clearly grows.  Yet their connection, in death as in life, enriches our understanding of both grand men of American architecture.”

Once you read this book, you’ll be ready for another field trip to New Canaan, or Bear’s Run, or Spring Green, or New York City to see the works of these two men.  And that’s reason enough to pick this one up.

More to come…

DJB

Emotions Flow Through Places

Root Shock

Root Shock by Mindy Fullilove, M.D.

It will surprise no one that I read a couple of baseball books and watched several games while on vacation.  But it may surprise you to know that the best piece of writing I read which included baseball as its subject came from the opening pages of psychiatrist Mindy Fullilove’s 2004 book Root Shock:  How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About ItShe begins chapter one with several powerful paragraphs.  I’m going to quote extensively from those two pages.

“Every once in a while, in a particular location and at a particular time, people spin the wheel of routine, and they make magic.  One such location was Ebbets Field in the heart of Brooklyn, where, through World War I, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar struggles for equality in America, hard-working people enjoyed baseball.  That small, unpredictable, and intimate ballpark was a gallery for characters to strut their stuff, and the characters in the stands took as much advantage of the opportunity as did the characters on the field.  It was there that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and there that ‘Shorty’s Sym-Phony Band’ tortured the opposition.  Words like ‘raucous’ and ‘zany’ are invoked to help those of us who were never present imagine the intensity, and the uniqueness of what went on.

In 1957, Walter O’Malley, the owner of the Dodgers, moved them to Los Angeles.  The horror of that act is undiminished in the voices of the fans. ‘I felt like a jilted lover,’ recalls a sixty-year-old physician of the catastrophe that darkened his young life.  Forty-six years after the Dodgers played their last game there, it remains important to people to tell the story of Ebbets Fields and in particular, to try to take us into its magic.  This is the real essence of ‘nostalgia,’ an emotion that is in one second bitter and in another sweet, as the remembrance vacillates between the joy of what was and the grief of the loss.  Enduring sorrow and untampered anger are hallmarks of the stories related by fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers. ‘I never rooted for them again,’ says my doctor friend, and he is not alone in the implacable anger that still seems the only reasonable response to that kind of pain.

Three years after the Dodgers left, Ebbets Field was destroyed, and apartment buildings were erected on the site.  People have to get the address and specific directions to find the small plaque that is all that remains of the cathedral of baseball which once stood there.  And so the team is gone, the fans dispersed, the stadium demolished.  Of deeper importance for people who had lots of work and not much hope, a place of magic was ripped from their daily lives, leaving them dull and gray.  The loss of Ebbets Field was a tragedy that could not be repaired: it changed Brooklyn forever.

But how could the loss of a baseball stadium undermine what would be the fourth largest city in the United States (were Brooklyn independent of New York City)?

The answer to this conundrum lies in understanding that places—buildings, neighborhoods, cities, nations—are not simply bricks and mortar that provide us shelter.  Because we dance in a ballroom, have a parade in a street, make love in a bedroom, and prepare a feast in a kitchen, each of these places becomes imbued with sounds, smells, noises, and feelings of those moments and how we lived them.  When we enter an old classroom, the smell of chalk on the boards can bring back a swarm of memories of classmates and lessons, boredom and dreams.  Walking toward a favorite bar awakens expectations of friends and drinks, good times, good food.  The breeze on a certain hillside reminds us of a class trip, while the sun in the garden brings thoughts of Dad.  Try to find the shortcut you use to take to your best friend’s house and it is your feet that will carry you there.  The cues from place dive under conscious thought and awakens our sinews and bones, where days of our lives have been recorded.

Buildings and neighborhoods and nations are insinuated into us by life; we are not, as we like to think, independent of them.  We are more like Siamese twins, conjoined to the locations of our daily life, such that our emotions flow through places, just as blood flows through two interdependent people.  We can indeed separate from our places, but it is an operation that is best done with care.  When a part is ripped away, as happened in Brooklyn when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, root shock (the traumatic stress reaction to the destruction of all or part of one’s emotional ecosystem) occurs.”

Ebbets Field

Ebbets Field (photo credit: A Slice of Brooklyn)

People and places are intertwined.  It is why, when discussing preservation’s future, so many people we spoke with over the past two years focused on the stories attached to places and less on the intricate architectural details of the buildings.  In these six paragraphs, Dr. Fullilove captures that connection in an eloquent and personal way. I began my preservation career in August of 1977, and coming out of a vacation four decades later I’m still excited to have the opportunity to help people see, understand, and honor the places that awaken our “sinews and bones, where the days of our lives have been recorded.”

Have a great week.

More to come…

DJB

A Fine Week

BaseballBabe Ruth — when asked in 1930 why he made more money than President Herbert Hoover — replied, “But I had a better year than Hoover.”

I had a fine last week in July.  Much better than Donald Trump’s week, I hasten to add.

What made my week so special?  I went to two games at Nats Park, where the Nationals lost both games and looked pretty sleepy while doing so

But…

  1. The weather was clear and cool, with highs around 80 degrees and a light breeze adding to the perfect atmosphere.
  2. Ryan Zimmerman — in the midst of a monster comeback year — hit a home run on Tuesday night that gave him the lead for most career home runs by anyone playing for a Washington franchise.  (He passed Frank “Hondo” Howard for the honor.)
  3. Any day at the ballpark beats a day without a game.

And…

Family time at Nats Park

Family week at Nationals Park – first with Andrew on Tuesday and then with Claire the following Sunday

…oh yeah, Andrew and Claire each joined me for a game at the old yard.  With Claire in Washington for a month before heading back to graduate school, everyone has been around the house and we had the chance to catch a couple of games on the recent home stand.

One of the wonderful things I seem to have done as a dad is to have raised a couple of baseball fans.  This was Andrew’s fifth game of the season – four at Nats Park and one with Claire at Dodger Stadium in LA.  Claire just moved to Oakland, and what do you suppose she did for her first night in her new city?  Yep, went with a new roommate to see the A’s (a significant downgrade from the Dodgers, I must admit).  However, it was “Bark at the Park” night, so she got to see fans bring their dogs to the stadium and catch an A’s win.

Both took selfies after we found our seats in section 313, and soon I was all over Facebook.  Andrew was in a discussion with a mutual friend who was asking him to define “biggest” in his post about being at the game with the family’s biggest fan.  (Not funny.)  Claire posted that there was no one she would rather be at a game with…and then added that it didn’t have anything to do with the fact that I’d buy her beer.

Here I am on vacation, living the dream.  Any better way to spend three hours or so than with your son and/or daughter at the ballpark.  (That’s a trick question.) No!

Hope you get time to catch a few innings, savor a half smoke (all the way), and down an I.P.A. or two this summer with someone you love.

Play ball!

More to come…

DJB

Spend Some Money on a Closer

I was at Nationals Stadium on Wednesday evening with a co-worker.  Beautiful evening.  Low humidity.  Stephen Strasburg on the mound for the home team.  Nats are playing the world champion Chicago Cubs.

And 10,000 seats are empty.

Nats v. Cubs

Nats vs. Cubs on a beautiful night at the ballpark

What the heck is going on? I certainly asked that question.  But today’s Washington Post had the full story.

The Nats and Lerners—according to writer Barry Svrluga—were price gouging, in hopes of making an easy buck at the expense of long-suffering Washington sports fans.  Plain and simple.

“Nationals officials clearly saw the four-game Cubs series as an opportunity to draw large crowds at high prices. Last year, when Chicago played a Monday-Wednesday series at Nationals Park in mid-June, the crowds were 37,187, 41,955 and 42,000 — and the environment was perhaps the best of the regular season.

This year, the four Cubs games were listed in the preseason pricing structure as “Diamond” games, the highest of four tiers of pricing the Nationals offer. The only other Diamond game on the schedule was Opening Day. Even the annual Fourth of July game, this year against the Mets, is a step down.

That means there were higher prices across the board for the Cubs series. The July 5 game against the Mets, for instance, is in the “Regular” tier of pricing — the lowest. The most expensive seat is $370. A dugout box seat is $90. The cheapest advance-purchase ticket is $12.

But for the Cubs games, the increases were significant. For Thursday’s series finale, the high-end Delta Sky360 Club seat runs $450. The dugout box seats are $140 apiece. And the right-field terrace seat — that cheap ticket that is the price of the movie less than a week from now — is $35.”

What is it about real estate developers that makes them think that all of life is a deal and they can make people pay unreasonable prices just to line the developers pockets?  The Lerners need to put some of their billions into hiring a decent closer.

A modest proposal for the Nats:  until the team wins multiple playoff series and gets to the World Series under this ownership team, the “Diamond” level pricing should go the way of the Edsel.

More to come…

DJB