Posts Tagged ‘Washington Nationals’

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Operation Eagle Claw Memorial

I remember the fall of 1979.  I was a senior in high school.  And it was an eventful time.  Some of the events seemed more significant at the time than they would be in the long run, such as when the Pittsburgh Pirates  defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.  It was before the Washington Nationals existed.  So the Orioles were as close to a local team as we had. 

Other events from that time became ingrained in my memory because of how they affected me on a personal level, such as when several fans of The Who were killed at a concert at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio.  A combination of “festival” (unassigned) seating and too few entrances being opened resulted in eleven kids being trampled to death when the crowd surged forward trying to enter the concert.  Those kids were all approximately my age, and I remember thinking that it could have been me.

Still other events were even more significant in nature and would have rippling effects on history.  One of those events would come to be known as the “Iran hostage crisis.”  It started on November 4th, 40 years ago today, when hundreds of Iranian Islamic fundamentalists who supported the Iranian Revolution under the Ayatollah Khomeini, mostly students, took over the United States Embassy in Tehran and took 66 Americans hostage, demanding that the U.S. send the former Shah of Iran back to stand trial.  or days nothing was known of the hostages’ condition until their captors finally released all female and black hostages. Later, one other man was released for medical reasons, leaving 53 Americans captives.

By spring of the following year the situation had reached a standstill.  All diplomatic attempts to secure their release had failed.  So President Jimmy Carter authorized a secret joint-services military operation on April 25, 1980, to rescue the hostages.  The plan, known as Operation Eagle Claw (Operation Tabas in Iran), called for a rendezvous of helicopters and cargo planes at a remote desert site in Iran, known as Desert One, before attempting the actually rescue of the hostages. However, the mission was aborted when two of the aircraft collided.  The ensuing explosion and fire claimed the lives of eight American service personnel.  They included three Marines:  Sergeant John D. Harvey, Corporal George N. Holmes Jr., Staff Sergeant Dewey Johnson; and five Air Force personnel:  Major Richard L. Bakke, Major Harold L. Lewis Jr., Technical Sergeant Joel C. Mayo, Captain Lyn D. McIntosh, and Captain Charles T. McMillan.  Their bodies could not be recovered before the surviving aircraft had to abandon the desert staging area. Shortly thereafter the eight bodies were returned to the United States. 

The failed rescue operation resulted in some rather undesirable consequences. Firstly, the hostages were scattered across Iran, to make another rescue mission impossible. Also, the US government received heavy criticism from governments around the world for making such blunders in a very critical situation. As a matter of fact, experts and President Carter himself believe that the failure of Operation Eagle Claw was a major reason he lost the presidential election to Ronald Reagan.

Only 20 minutes before Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President on January 20, 1981, Iran finally released the hostages.  They were held for 444 days, making it the longest hostage crisis in recorded history.  

On this lunchtime bike ride I visited a monument dedicated to the memory of the gallant servicemen, who died in the valiant effort to rescue the American hostages.  It is located in Arlington National Cemetery, near the Memorial Amphitheater.  The monument consists of a white stone marker that bears a bronze plaque listing the names and ranks of the three Marines and the five airmen killed in Operation Eagle Claw.

NOTE:  Although it was a failed mission and its widespread failure would be a moment of profound humiliation for the United States, the operation has since become known as the “most successful failed mission in history.”  Many tactics and procedures were first used and developed by the military personnel of Operation Eagle Claw, including blacked out landings, landing on unprepared runways, multi-aircraft air field seizure, clandestine insertion of small helicopters and many other procedures, some of which are still classified to this day.

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]

Today’s Capitals’ Victory Parade and Rally

With the Washington Capitals winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history last week, D.C. celebrated its first major sports championship in 26 years with a victory parade today. It all began with truly fanatical fans congregating near the parade’s stage before 4:00am, a full seven hours before it was scheduled to begin. As the morning progressed, Metro stations and downtown streets were clogged with fans clad in red. And by 8:30am thousands had already lined the parade route, although the start of the parade was still more than two hours away.

The parade finally kicked off at 11:00 a.m., starting at the intersection of Constitution Avenue and 17th Street (MAP) near The Washington Monument, and proceeding east along Constitution Avenue to Seventh Street. There it turned right, where it culminated with a rally on the National Mall (MAP).

During the away games throughout the Stanley Cup finals series, thousands of people packed the streets around the Capital One Arena in downtown D.C. for watch parties. And when the Caps actually won the cup, police said they dealt with a mostly peaceful crowd. In fact, not one person had to be arrested. But it was difficult to predict what today’s celebration would be like because there was a big unknown factor when it came to today’s parade and rally. And that was the size of the crowd which would show up.

D.C. is certainly no stranger when it comes to hosting parades and marches. Hundreds of thousands of people attended the March for Our Lives on the National Mall earlier this year. But it’s been awhile since the city hosted a victory parade.

A massive crowd of more than 600,000 fans showed up for the Washington Redskins’ Super Bowl XXII victory parade in 1988. That prompted the D.C. police to limit the size of subsequent celebrations. So in 1992, when the Redskins won Super Bowl XXVI and held a victory rally on the National Mall, a more moderate yet respectable crowd of 75,000 people showed up. And in 1997, when the D.C. United won the Major League Soccer title, there was a nine-block parade along Pennsylvania Avenue. The Washington Post said “several hundred” people showed up for that parade and described the crowd as “small, but enthusiastic.”

But with different variables and unknown factors, such as it being the city’s first National Hockey League championship, the parade being held on a weekday when many people had to be at work, and whether yesterday’s rain would stop in time for the rally, it was a matter of wait and see when it came to the crowd size and what would happen.

Eventually a crowd estimated at around 100,000 people (100,001 if you include me) showed up to line the parade route and “Rock the Red” in support of the Stanley Cup champions, and watch the procession led from the rear by team captain and future hall of famer Alexander Ovechkin, who was atop a double-decker, open-top bus holding the Stanley Cup aloft for all to see. He was preceded by marching bands, Mayor Muriel Bowser and other officials, a Clydesdales-drawn Budweiser beer wagon, his teammates, and even a Zamboni.

We then proceeded to the rally which, like at the watch parties, was mostly peaceful. But it was not subdued by any means. There were a number of short speeches, including team owner Ted Leonsis, Head Coach Barry Trotz, and each of the players. One of the more memorable comments came from right winger Nicklas Backstrom, who proclaimed, “Finally, we started playing hockey like we can party.” The rally ended with a sing-along of Queen’s song “We are the Champions,” led by Alex Ovechkin. All in all it was a fitting celebration to an historic season for the franchise and for the city.

So now it’s up to the Washington Nationals. If they can keep playing well through the summer, who knows? We may be having another victory parade here in D.C. around the end or October of beginning of November.

        

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

Note:  While the celebration was going on here in D.C., a full page ad, bought by the Capitals, was running in a Las Vegas newspaper to congratulate the Vegas Golden Knights, who they defeated last week for the Stanley Cup, on having such an outstanding season.

The ad reads, “Congratulations to the Vegas Golden Knights on the most successful inaugural season in the history of professional sports. World class ownership, front office, coaching staff and people. A magnificent team of talented, hard-working players and stars. A fantastic venue filled with passionate, loud and proud fans. It was an honor to compete against you in the Stanley Cup Final. You are truly VEGAS STRONG.”

Now that’s #CapsClass.

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Temperatures warm enough to shed winter jackets, the Washington Nationals playing in Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida, and setting the clocks ahead like we did this past weekend are all signs that springtime in our nation’s capital is on the horizon.  Another sure sign of spring’s imminent arrival is when the dark spindly trees lining The Tidal Basin begin sprouting their green buds, hinting of the florets that will soon become the world-famous pale pink or white cherry blossoms that annually attract so many visitors to the city during the first weeks of spring.

I look forward to the coming days when I will be fortunate enough to be able to watch the blooming process unfold.  It is expected that the blooms will peak this year between this Friday (March 18th) and next Wednesday (March 23rd), which because of recent unseasonably warm weather is earlier than initially thought.  So although the National Cherry Blossom Festival doesn’t begin until a week from today (March 20th) and runs through April 18th, this coming weekend will be the ideal time to experience this year’s phenomenon.

So whether you for opt for an outing to the Tidal Basin and National Mall area, the tree-lined streets of East Potomac Park and Hains Point, or the diversity and variety of species of cherry trees at the National Arboretum, don’t put it off for very long.  Because the visual splendor of these delicate cherry blooms is given to us, unfortunately, for only a brief time, leading many to say that they are symbolic and serve to remind us of the beauty and brevity of life itself.

(Note: Click here or on the above photo to enlarge it and see the photo in such detail that you’ll be able to see both antennae of a small bug peaking over the branch above the buds.)

The Yards Park

The Yards Park

The greater D.C. area boasts a large number and variety of public parks.  From small neighborhood parks administered by the D.C. government, to expansive Federal parks administered by the National Park Service, there is no shortage of choices and opportunities to enjoy these natural areas.  Among the many choices is The Yards Park, one of the newer parks in D.C., and where I went on a recent bike ride.

The Yards Park is a waterfront recreation area, boardwalk, and outdoor performance space, which was designed as the center of The Yards development project to bring 5.5 million square feet of retail, residential, office and recreational development to the waterfront area near Nationals Park, the home of the Washington Nationals.  It was built as a public-private partnership between the District government, the General Services Administration, and Forest City Washington development company.  Construction began in 2007, and was completed three years later.  The park is on the Anacostia River, located at 355 Water Street in southeast D.C.’s Capitol Riverfront neighborhood (MAP), which is  just south of Capitol Hill, and to the west of the Washington Navy Yard.

The Yards Park consists of open grassy areas and well-landscaped outdoor rooms, as well as a terraced lawn performance venue, recreation trails, an elevated overlook, an iconic bridge and light sculpture, a riverfront boardwalk, and riverside gardens.  It also boasts a canal-like water feature complete with a wading pool, a waterfall and dancing fountains.

There are a variety of events and activities available at The Yards Park as well.  From sunrise yoga and bootcamp fitness classes, to beer festivals and bicycle rallies, there are activities throughout the year.  But perhaps the most popular events are the Friday Night Summer Concert Series.  With family-friendly lyrics, the concerts are designed for both adults and children to be able to enjoy a variety of bands in grassy open spaces with a river view.  The park is also available for private events including children’s birthday parties, receptions, corporate picnics and fundraising events.

So whether it’s for a special event or just to go and relax, I highly recommend The Yards Park as a destination worth considering.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]