Strasburg sparkles in stellar start

I have been a baseball fan for a number of years; i saw my first game in 1989 (Blue Jays v A’s) and have over 6,000 baseball cards. I am a long-suffering Blue Jays fan and have followed them since the days of Roberto Alomar, David Cone, Joe Carter, Pat Borders, Jimmy Key, Paul Molitor, Kelley Gruber, David Henke, Devon White and John Olerud and his sweet left swing. I am also a part-time Red Sox fan due to relatives proximity to Fenway Park.

The last few years Major League Baseball has gone through a number of problems with steroids and off field scandals and commissioner Bud Selig’s seeming attempts to improve the game, which have been fairly laughable at best.

Every so often though there is a bright spark…and yesterday saw one of the brightest in a long time; Stephen Strasburg.

Strasburg made his MLB debut for the Washington Nationals against the Pittsburgh Pirates and was stellar.

A sellout crowd of 40,315 saw Strasburg allow just four hits, and his 14 strikeouts established a club record. The 14 strikeouts by Strasburg in his debut were one shy of the all-time mark of 15 set by Karl Spooner in 1954 and J.R. Richard in ’71.

Even more amazing was that he struck out no more than nine batters in a game when pitching in the Minor Leagues.

Strasburg threw 94 pitches, 65 for strikes, and didn’t walk a batter. The righty retired his final 10 batters, striking out his last seven. He threw 36 pitches of 95mph and 2 of 101mph!

Ok, so it was against the Pirates, but it was a heck of a good start. Here’s hoping the summer of Strasburg is a bright one!

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I celebrated my birthday in style at Ernestos in Cuba St with Ingrid and 20 good friends.  Among the assortment of presents i got was:

Running Blind by Rob Matthews MBE; a blind athlete who has won 29 international gold medals including eight Paralympic gold medals.

With the Old Breed by E.B Sledge (one of the books The Pacific tv series is based on) and the finest account of the Pacific area of operations in World War 2. 

A teapot and good quality British tea

Some cookies from the Langworthy Trading Company (aka Matt & Anna)

A spork

A Mountain Designs t-shirt

An Airfix kit model (reliving my childhood hobbies)

A 1kg bag of sweets

A subscription to Mountain Biking New Zealand magazine

Two of my photographs put onto canvas

A Ferrari 250 GTO…sadly not the real thing!

Not a bad return i would say -at least i didn’t get a pipe and slippers!

History and high places

Northland is at the heart of the high places in Wellington and I love living there.

The views are wonderful, the early morning fog and clouds linger in the valley below, and there is the sound of birds everywhere. It is very relaxing and full of things to explore!

My street is on the very side of Tinakori Hill (303m/994ft) which is a familiar backdrop for the city and its maze of interweaving tracks is popular with joggers and mountain bikers.

Walking up the track from the end of my street, you emerge from pine plantation and native bush to a stunning and unique view over downtown Wellington, the harbour and eastern bays with a backdrop of the Rimutaka ranges.

The original name of the hills was ‘Ahu-Mairangi’ which means ‘like a whirlwind’.  The name provides a vivid description of the strong winds which can be experienced on the exposed upper ridge of the hills. (trust me on this!)  

The name Tinakori is a misspelling of ‘Tina Kahore’ meaning ‘without dinner’. This name was given during the construction of Tinakori Road, as road makers worked all day without stopping for lunch.

Originally, the hills were covered in dense native broadleaf podocarp forest and in 1840 they formed part of the Town Belt (Tinakori Hill is the northern most section of the Town Belt) Gradually this land was cleared and burnt to be used for various purposes such as hunting, grazing, quarrying and gold-mining. And remains of the tunnels and mines can still be seen today.

As I look out of my lounge window, I can see straight across the Wilton/Otari valley to Mt Kaukau  (445m/1459ft) on the western side of Wellington harbour near Johnsonville and Khandallah.

The summit is the most visible high point in the Wellington landscape and is further accentuated by Wellington’s main television transmitter tower the Kordia TV transmitter mast, which stands a little over 100m tall (its like a spaceship is about to take off!).

 Spectacular views of the city, harbour and the Rimutaka and Tararua Ranges can be experienced from the summit.

On a clear day you can see the snow-capped Mt. Tapuaeoenuku in the South Island, the first significant peak climbed by New Zealand’s most famous mountaineer, Sir Edmund Hillary.

I can also see the broad expanse of Kilmister Tops (360m/1181ft), a peneplain remnant which is high, broad and largely clear of tall vegetation.

This seems more dramatic close-up rather than at a distance, despite the glimpses of green and golden pasture at the top of the hill that contrasts to the dense bush below.

John and Henry Kilmister, sons of the early settler John Kilmister, bought Sky Farm or Kilmister Tops from the Crown in the 1860s and split the land in half.

John sawed the timber from one tree to build his house (which still stood in1920-1930s) with the roof built level to the ground for shelter from the wind. Lawrence Kilmister (grandson of John Kilmister and son of Frederick built the chimney-like structure that still stands today for sheep mustering in the 1930s.

Next along is Johnston’s Hill  (360m/1181ft). Lying above Otari-Wilton’s Bush are the higher eastern slopes and the main ridgeline that links to Johnston’s Hill.

Part of the Skyline Track, it is one of my favourite spots with an all encompassing view for miles and is one of Wellington’s lesser known scenic highlights.

The campaign to acquire Johnston’s Hill as a reserve was led by Mr S.S.B. Fletcher and Mr George Penlington, both long time residents of Karori. Johnston’s Hill was officially opened as a public recreation domain in the middle of World War II, 28 March 1942.

It was named after John Johnston who purchased the land from the first pakeha owner Judge Chapman. Johnston, a Scottish settler with his wife, arrived in Wellington in 1843.  The “lookout” was named after Mr Fletcher. Today we know it as “Fletcher’s Carpark”. Mr Penlington’s name was given to the main track through the bush – an appropriate recognition of the work both men had done

Next in the view as I walk to the end of my road is Makara Peak (412m/1351ft) which occupies a central place at the south-western end of Karori and is a major feature in the landscape.

It has been managed as Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park for the last four years. The mountain bike park now has a sterling national and international reputation. As a public park owned by the Wellington City Council it is used regularly by thousands of mountain bike riders and walkers. From WCC surveys it is estimated that there are around 100,000 visits each year and a recent survey showed that 11% of Wellingtonians had used the Park at least once in the past 12 months.

I have run and biked at Makara Peak on many occasions and the tracks are brilliant although more than a little dicey when wet. I have had some mighty tumbles, but the pain has been worth it. It’s a place every mountain biker should visit, not just for amazing tracks but amazing scenery too.

Next is the historically important Wrights Hill (356m/1167ft) which is the location of the Wrights Hill Fortress.

This was a counter bombardment coastal artillery battery. It was built between 1942 and 1947 and is predominantly underground, with numerous tunnels linking the war shelters, gun emplacements, magazines, plotting rooms and engine room – which are, at some points, over 50 feet underground. The fort was intended to house three 9.2″ Mk. XV guns, but only two guns were installed and the fort never saw action.

After World War II was over, fort commanders fired both of the guns (Gun number one in 1946 and the second in 1947). The fall of the shot was observed in Cook Strait and these test firings (three rounds on each occasion) were deemed a success.

In 1960, somewhat ironically, both of the guns were sold to the Japanese as scrap metal, the very nation Wrights Hill Fortress was constructed to defend Wellington against!

Wrights Hill Fortress is currently in the hands of a preservation society and can be visited, by the public, on Waitangi Day, ANZAC Day, the Queen’s birthday, and Labour Day. Tours may be booked, at other dates and times by prior arrangement. The Fortress is listed as a Category I Historic Place.

Next in line is Hawkins Hill (495m/1624ft) which has the domed radar station (AKA the golf ball!) on it.

The Airways Corporation Radar Station dome was built in 1990 holds both primary and secondary radars, and is part of a network of radar stations.  The next one to the south is on Mt Robinson (near Picton) and to the north at Ballance (near Palmerston North).

Radar and communications equipment is used to control aircraft from the Christchurch Air Traffic Control Centre and the Wellington Control Tower.

Hawkins Hill is also home of a weird building known as ‘the peach castle’. It is a private residence, but I think was once intended as a conference venue. I actually think it would be a great conference retreat venue. I looked the GV up online and it is only $1.05 million for the castle and 4,000 sq metres of land. 

I think the owners must have got sick of people treating it as a tourist spot as it is surrounded by a barbed wire fence, cameras, and some very big and scary guard dogs. It’s just another weird Karori sight.

Last but by no means least is Pol Hill/Brooklyn Hill (299m/980ft) famous for its WW2 remains and wind turbine.

It has intact bunkers that were built for the battery of four 3.7″ anti-aircraft guns that were installed in 1942 for the capital’s defence against invasion by the Japanese in WWII. The Brooklyn battery had accommodation for 109 personnel, while there were other batteries at Somes Island, Mt. Crawford, Mt. Victoria, Tinakori Hill and Johnsonvile.

The Electricity Corporation of New Zealand installed the Brooklyn wind-turbine on Pol Hill above north-western Brooklyn in March 1993 as part of a research project into wind-power generation.

 The Corporation chose the Brooklyn site due to Wellington’s “higher than normal” wind patterns and to gain maximum exposure in the viewscapes of Wellingtonians. The landmark turbine, visible from many parts of the city provides spectacular panoramas of the city, Cook Strait and the upper South Island.

So, not only is there wonderful natural beauty right on my doorstep but also some places of historical significance too. It certainly makes for an interesting and attractive commute to work…!