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SABR in DC! Day One

First day of the SABR Convention! We are in Washington, DC this time. For those who want a micro-blog experience of the convention, check out http://twitter.com/ceciliatan (and search on twitter.com for #sabr for even more!) I will try to write up decent posts here as I did last year, too.

You may recall that last year I was forced to post via the horrible WebTV interface in my hotel room because my laptop died on the way to the convention. Let’s hope not to repeat that performance.

On today’s slate we had:
Tour of Nationals Park
History of DC Baseball Talk by Phil Wood
Baseball-ese Talk by Paul Dickson at Smithsonian

My friend Eric, who has worked for the last four years as a stat consultant for the Red Sox (but not this year–economic cutbacks all around…), has come along with me on the trip. We got up at the literal crack of dawn to catch the 5:55 am train from Boston so we could make it here in time for the 3pm ballpark tour.

We took a cab straight from Union Station to the hotel, dropped off our stuff, literally spending under two minutes in the room before hopping in another cab to the ballpark. We had a funny exchange with the cab driver in which I kept calling the new stadium here “the Nationals’ park” without realizing that the actual name of the place is Nationals Park.

There was traffic. We arrived just two or three minutes after three pm, but then had to run (we literally ran) around the ballpark to try to find our designated meeting spot for the tour, the Center Field Gate. When we got there, the place looked deserted. No, wait! We could see a group of people inside. Waving and yelling to them produced no effect. Finally we found a security guard who radioed to ask if someone inside could find the group and find out what we should do. Several minutes went by. Meanwhile, a SABR member from Philadelphia joined us, then three more, all with tickets for the 3pm tour. I then caught sight of some young marketing/front office types walking by carrying handfuls of schedules and asked them if they could do anything.

A few minutes later, a nice young man in a blue shirt, whose name I didn’t catch but he was another fresh-faced young marketing intern type, came and let us in and led us to where our tour group was. Of course by then they had made it all the way to the farthest point from the entrance, and were in the Diamond Club behind home plate. So it took a few minutes to hoof it down there. When we got there, the group was milling around in the club, taking pictures of the bar, which was themed to the 1924 World Series victory by the Washington Senators.

After a few minutes I asked someone what we were waiting around for. They said they were waiting for the stragglers. “But we’re the stragglers,” I said. Apparently, the actual tour guide had also been dispatched to try to pick us up, and now was looking for us…

Tour Guide Bob arrived back shortly after that and proceeded to tell us a bit about the Diamond Club and its motifs. Among other things, the light fixtures were modeled after the old fixtures at Griffith Park, and one wall was done up like the outfield. Behind the bar was the linescore of the 12th inning extra-inning walk off victory in the 1924 World Series, the only World Championship won in the city of Washington so far. Bob recounted the events of the epic final inning in dramatic fashion. The entire game ended up hinging on the final ball hit bouncing off a pebble at an odd angle so the third baseman couldn’t make a routine play to end the inning, and Muddy Ruehl scoring the winning run all the way from second.

Bob then pointed out more cool things about the park as we went out into the seats to look around. There is a large 10 on the wall like a retired number, but this 10 stands for the tenth man, the fans.

At one point in the outfield fence it jogs inward. This replicates the shape of the fence at old Griffith Park, which had an oak tree growing right there. Also the visitors bullpen has been placed so it is always baking in the hot sun, while the home bullpen is always in the shade.

There is very little in the way of billboards on the decks of the stadium, unlike most of the newer parks (and Fenway), but they do have replica classic ads on the walls, like Ted Williams shilling for Moxie, and Walter Johnson for Tuxedo Tobacco (which he apparently did not use.)

I did not know, until this tour, that Frederick Douglass was the president of the Washington Mutuals for a few years (the Mutuals being the first negro league team in Washington DC) and that his son played for them. From the Stars & Stripes club one can see the Frederick Douglass Bridge across the Anacostia river.

My favorite of all the things we saw in the ballpark though, more than the oval clubhouse (no corners in it to discourage cliques) and all the historical photos of President’s throwing out first pitches, was the press area, which is dedicated to the great baseball writer Mr. Shirley Povich. So many of the articles I have used for research over the years were written by him. His family donated some of his memorabilia to the club and they have enshrined in the press area several amazing artifacts, the most amazing of all is Povich’s actual scorecard from Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. I attempted a photo which I shall try to get uploaded.

Phil Wood’s talk was lively and informative, and at the end he did a “show and tell” of baseball jersey’s he’s collected for various Washington teams, including one of Frank Howard’s, and one that had been worn by Ted Williams when he managed the team. Eric and I took photos with my cell phone camera of us holding the Teddy Ballgame jersey.

We hooked up just by chance with a local SABR member named Mike who offered to give us a ride to the museum then for the Paul Dickson talk. In fact, he took us up to Capitol Hill to eat, so we had a nice dinner at the Hawk & Dove, and then Mike took us down to the Museum of the American Indian, where the talk would take place. (Thanks, Mike!)

Paul Dickson is the man behind the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, and he did a lovely 90 minute presentation about the newly released 3rd Edition, which included many anecdotes about words and seeking their etymologies. Among the things I learned, he told the story of how “on deck” and “in the hole” came into baseball. The Boston Red Sox of 1857 (who are not related to the current franchise) played a game against a team in Belfast, Maine that was made up mostly of seafarers and sailors. And it was one of them who used the megaphone to announce the batters referred to the man “on deck” and “in the hold/hole” as the next two batters up, which was widely reported by and adopted by the press who had followed the Sox to the game.

The word in the dictionary that has the most definitions is “hook” which has 15 meanings in baseball alone. (In the English language, the word that has the most meanings is “set” with 137.)

Did you know Rudyard Kipling is the one who introduced the Britishism “rookie” to mean “recruit” in his poems about the war? The term was quickly picked up in baseball to mean “first year player” and proliferated in American English from there, while it was largely lost from British English, until the Falklands War, when the military heard the term and started using it. And subsequently thought that they had adopted an American baseball term when it was actually a British term to begin with.

I plan to download the ebook edition of the dictionary myself (I have the second edition sitting on my desk as it is).

Then we walked to the Metro with a throng of other SABRites and headed for the hotel. Some went off to a late dinner, while Eric went to the bar for a piece of chocolate cake, and I came up here to make myself a cup of tea and type this up. I am falling asleep as I type this even though it is only 11pm… but I did get only a total of three hours of sleep last night, two hours at home and one hour on the train.

Women and Baseball’s committee meeting is tomorrow at 8am, so I better get to sleep now anyway! More tomorrow!

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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