Posts Tagged ‘Nationals Park’

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson Mural

Mamie Johnson got her nickname from a trash-talking third baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs named Hank Bayliss.  Although that was not his intention.  Standing at the plate opposite the 5-foot-3, 115-pound right-handed pitcher, Bayliss took a hard strike, after which he stepped out of the batter’s box and said, “Why, that little girl’s no bigger than a peanut. I ain’t afraid of her.”  But it would take more than trash talking when facing off against her.  She proceeded to strike him out.  After that, Johnson decided to turn the jab into her nickname.  And from then on the first female pitcher to play in the Negro Leagues was affectionately known as “Peanut.”

Peanut was born Mamie Lee Belton in Ridgeway, South Carolina on September 27, 1935, to Della Belton Havelow and Gentry Harrison.  In 1944 her family moved, eventually settling down here in D.C.  In 1952, when she was still just 17 years old, she and another young woman went to a tryout in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  This was the same league portrayed in the film “A League of Their Own.”  But despite Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball (MLB) five years earlier, the women’s league remained segregated, and she was turned away.  Years later she was quoted as saying, “They looked at us like we were crazy.  They wouldn’t even let us try out, and that’s the same discrimination that some of the other black ballplayers had before Mr. Robinson broke the barrier. I never really knew what prejudice was until then.”

She would later recall her rejection by the women’s league, however, was a blessing in disguise.  Because the later that year a scout saw Johnson dominate a lineup of men while playing for a team sponsored by St. Cyprian’s Catholic Church in D.C.  The scout invited her to try out for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues, the same team that launched the career of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.  She would go on to play three seasons with the Clowns, from 1953 through 1955.

At the plate the right-handed batter had a respectable batting average in the range of .262 to .284.  But with a career 33–8 win-loss record, she was not as good a batter as she was a pitcher.  A right-handed pitcher with a deceptively hard fastball, Peanut also threw a slider, circle changeup, screwball, knuckleball, and curveball, a pitch she received pointers on from Satchel Paige.  Of Paige, she said, “Tell you the truth, I didn’t know of his greatness that much. He was just another ballplayer to me at that particular time.  Later on, I found out exactly who he was.”

Peanut’s brief professional baseball career ended before her 20th birthday, but in that time she amassed a lifetime of interesting stories about a bygone era of playing baseball in a league born of segregation.  After retiring, she earned a nursing degree from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University and established a 30-year career in the field, working at Sibley Memorial Hospital back here in D.C.  She later operated a Negro Leagues memorabilia shop in nearby Capitol Heights, Maryland.

Peanut eventually received recognition for her career in the Negro Leagues.  In 1999, she was a guest of The White House.  And in 2008, Peanut and other living players from the Negro Leagues ere were drafted by major league franchises prior to the 2008 MLB First year Draft.  Peanut was selected by the Washington Nationals.  Peanut also spoke at an event entitled Baseball Americana 2009, which was organized by The Library of Congress.  And in 2015, a Little League named for her was formed in D.C.

Among these and many other accolades is a mural featuring Peanut, along with Josh Gibson, another prominent Negro League player from D.C. who was also known as the “black Babe Ruth”, and played for the Homestead Grays, who played home games at D.C.’s Griffith Stadium.  The mural was created last year here in D.C.  It is located in the alley off of U Street (MAP) between Ben’s Chili Bowl and the Lincoln Theater in northwest D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, and was the destination of this lunchtime bike ride.  Today is opening day for MLB and the Washington Nationals.  And normally I would ride by Nationals Park on Opening Day.  But since I couldn’t go to the game this afternoon, I decided to go see this baseball-themed mural during today’s lunchtime bike ride.

The colorful mural was painted by D.C. artist Aniekan Udofia, and is directly across the alley from his mural featuring the likes of Barack and Michelle Obama, Prince and Muhammad Ali on the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl.  The mural was conceived and orchestrated by MLB to kick off the weeklong festivities leading up to last fall’s MLB All-Star Game at Nationals Park.  At the unveiling ceremony, a speaker stated that one of the goals of the mural was to “inspire others to learn about Johnson, Gibson and the Negro Leagues.”  And today I did just that.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The Trapeze School of New York

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day in 1859 that a man named Jules Léotard made his first public appearance as the world’s first flying trapeze artist. He was just 21  years old at the time, but Léotard had been practicing since he was a little boy.

Léotard was born in Toulouse, France, the son of a gymnastics instructor. After he passed his law exams, he seemed destined to join the legal profession. But he had also been experimenting with trapeze bars, ropes and rings suspended over a swimming pool in his father’s gymnasium, and the years of practice paid off. He was the first to turn a somersault in mid-air, and the first to jump from one trapeze to the next.

If the last name sounds familiar, it’s because he was also the designer of the skin-tight one-piece garment which was eventually named after him. Léotard himself called the garment a “maillot”, which is a general French word for different types of tight-fitting shirts or sports shirts. Léotard’s maillot was an all-in-one knitted suit. It allowed freedom of movement, was relatively aerodynamic and there was no danger of a flapping garment becoming entangled with the ropes. Even more importantly, it showed off his physique to its best advantage, making him a huge hit with the ladies and inspiring George Leybourne to immortalize him on the popular song, “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.”

In his memoirs, Léotard vainly wrote: “Do you want to be adored by the ladies? A trapeze is not required, but instead of draping yourself in unflattering clothes, invented by ladies, and which give us the air of ridiculous mannikins, put on a more natural garb, which does not hide your best features.”

The first known use of the name leotard for clothing came in 1886, many years after Léotard’s death at the age of 28. It is still worn today by acrobats, gymnasts, dancers, figure skaters, circus performers, athletes, actors, and exercise enthusiasts throughout the world.

In recognition of today’s anniversary, on today’s bike ride I wore only a leotard.  No, I’m lying.  Not even I would want to see that. Actually, on today’s ride I rode to the D.C. campus of the Trapeze School New York, located near Nationals Park at 1269 New Jersey Avenue  (MAP) in southeast D.C.’s Navy Yard neighborhood.  If you’re thinking of joining the circus, or just looking for a couple hours of unique fun, I recommend giving them a try.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Full Count

With the unusual amount of snow and ice and the bitter cold temperatures we have had to endure here in the D.C. area this winter, it sometimes feels as though summer will never arrive. But it is, indeed, coming. And one sure sign of summer’s impending arrival is baseball season’s opening day. So take heart, because one month from tomorrow is the official start of the 2015 season.

To celebrate this fact I chose to ride to the Federal Reserve Annex on this lunchtime bike ride. Now that may seem like an odd choice, but I chose it because of an art installation entitled “Full Count,” which may be found on the north lawn of the grounds of the annex, located near the intersection of Virginia Avenue and 20th Street (MAP) in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of northwest D.C.

Full Count is a collection of four life-size bronze figures depicting a baseball pitcher, a catcher, a batter and a home plate umpire. Created by American sculptor John Dreyfuss, the statues are arranged to capture the pinnacle moment of America’s official pastime – a moment when anything is possible. As the pitcher contemplates what pitch he will throw to home plate, 60 feet and 6 inches away, the batter stands tall as he prepares to take his stance to await the pitch and a chance to take a swing. The catcher and umpire lean in close. It’s not just the batter’s turn at the plate that is at stake. The entire game can hinge on this moment. It’s a full count, and the next pitch could be the most important of the game. Will the batter foul it off and prolong the drama? Or maybe it will be a strike, and the batter’s team will go down in defeat. Perhaps it will be every little leaguers dream – a walk-off homerun. It is all up to your imagination in the moments that you experience “Full Count.”

But for now it’s back to reality, as the snow on the ground near the statues attests. It is still just over a month until opening day at Nationals Park and other ballparks around the country.  And the players are still far away, at spring training in warm locations like Florida or Arizona.  So for now, we just have to remember that like baseball and the boys of summer, the warm weather will be here soon enough.

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Nationals Park

Nationals Park

The Washington Nationals played their last home game of the 2013 regular season yesterday, and beat the Florida Marlins by a score of 1 to 0 in an exciting end-of-the-year finale.  In picking up the win, Pitcher Jordan Zimmermann threw the first no-hitter in franchise history, and the first no-hitter by a Washington major league pitcher since Bobby Burke of the Washington Senators no-hit the Boston Red Sox on August 8, 1931, at Griffith Stadium.

The Nationals go into the post-season as the League’s top seed after having clinched their second National League East title in three years when they beat the rival Braves, the team that knocked them out of the top spot last season, in Atlanta back on September 16th.  With yesterday’s win they finish the regular season with a record of 96 wins and 66 losses, the best in the National League, and quite a change from their first season at Nationals Park just six years ago, when they finished with a league-worst record of 59 wins and 102 losses.

In recognition and celebration of their successful season, on this bike ride I rode to Nationals Park. The ballpark is located at 1500 South Capitol Street (MAP), within site of the U.S. Capitol Building, in the fast-developing Capitol Riverfront district along the Anacostia River, near The Washington Navy Yard in the Navy Yard neighborhood of southeast D.C.

Nationals Park was designed by Populous and Devrouax & Purnell Architects and Planners.  It was originally estimated to cost $611 million, but eventually cost $693 million to build, with an additional $84.2 million spent on transportation, art, and infrastructure upgrades to support the stadium for a total cost of $783.9 million. The exterior facade of the park features an innovative design of steel, glass and pre-cast concrete to create a facility that uniquely reflects the architecture of the National Capital City. Inspiration for the look of the ballpark was taken from the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, a structure designed by famed architect I.M. Pei.

The ballpark was originally designed to seat 41,888 fans, but for a variety for reasons the park’s capacity has been reduced over the last few years to 41,546 in 2010, then 41,487 in 2012, and finally down to 41,418 and 79 luxury suites on three levels around the infield in 2013.

It should be noted that Nationals Park is bicycle friendly, with a free bike valet for every Nationals game in Parking Garage C, which is located at the corner of 1st and N Streets. Additionally, there are over 250 bike racks in and around the Park. Each year the team also has an “Annual Bike to the Park Day” in conjunction with the Washington Area Bicycle Association and “National Bike to Work Day.”

Ground breaking for the park took place in early 2006, and thanks to an ambitious construction schedule it was completed just two years later. The George Washington University Colonials christened the park, playing the first game there on March 22, 2008. The local collegiate team beat Philadelphia’s Saint Joseph’s University Wildcats in a 9 to 4 victory. One week later the Nationals played their first game in the new ballpark, defeating the Baltimore Orioles, 3–0, in an exhibition game on March 29, 2008. The following day, the Nationals opened the 2008 MLB season in Nationals Park with a rare one-game series against the Atlanta Braves, which served as the first official MLB game at the park. True to tradition, President George W. Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch. In an omen of things to come, the Nationals won the game by a score of 3 to 2 with a walk-off home run from Ryan Zimmerman.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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This is the 100th post on this blog, so I decided to use the occasion to write about the thing that makes traveling around and exploring D.C. possible for me – the bicycle.  It’s also a good topic because it is the anniversary of the introduction of the bicycle to the United States, which were seen for the first time during this week  in 1819 on the streets of New York City.

Alternately called “velocipedes,” “swift walkers,” “hobby horses” or my favorite, “dandy horses” for the “dandies” that most often rode them, they had been imported from London earlier that same year.  Shortly thereafter, in August, the city’s Common Council passed a law to “prevent the use of bikes  in the public places and on the sidewalks of the city of New York.”

Riding a bike on the sidewalk is still against the law in many major cities, including some parts of D.C.  But both bikes and how cities now accommodate and even encourage their usage have changed a lot over the last 195 years.  During this ride I saw many other bikes and riders.  I also saw and used specially-built dedicated bike lanes, paths and trails.  And there was signage specifically for bike riders, and designated parking and storage space for bikes.  The city of D.C. also has a robust bike share program, through which bikes can be rented.  I also rode past Nationals Park, where they even have valet parking for bikes.

My bike rides in D.C. over the past few years would have been a lot different if all these changes had not taken place.  I probably wouldn’t have discovered or gone to many of the places I’ve seen during my rides.  And without visiting those different places this blog would not exist.  So with today’s blog post I celebrate the introduction of the dandy horse in this country, which made this blog possible.

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