Sunday, March 9, 2014

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Middle of the Night"

This 1959 release is a good movie, but it hits me a bit too close to home. I've watched it a couple of times, and enjoyed it. But, it's not a feel-good movie. And, it's very much an artifact of its age.

The acclaimed actor Fredric March is "Jerry", a man in his mid-50s in a story set in the mid-50s. The son of immigrants, he clawed his way to the top of the garment industry in New York City. He owns his own clothing business, and business has been good for awhile. On the outside, he has the polish and bonhomie of a natural salesman.  At his core, he's a roughneck hiding in a well-tailored suit. He's also lonely - his wife died recently, and he tries to fill the void in his life with even more work.

Kim Novak is "Betty", a receptionist at Jerry's company. Betty's recently divorced from an itinerant musician, and she's trying to rebuild her life. She's moved back home to live with her mother (played by Glenda Farrell) and sister "Alice" (played by Jan Morris). Her mom's frustrated and coarse, ever since Betty's dad abandoned the family when the girls were small.

Jerry is more than twice Betty's age. Most of his friends have either already retired, moved to Florida or died off. His only lasting friend "Walter" (Albert Dekker) is cynical and a bit forlorn. He's unhappily married, and he worries about how his grown kids see their father. He should. Walter recklessly indulges in tawdry affairs with cheap women, trying in vain to convince himself that he's still vibrant and desirable. With a friend like this, it's no wonder Jerry is starting to wonder about his own future. Is Jerry destined to seek the same artificial solace in a series of empty liaisons? Jerry wants something deeper.

After a couple of post-work encounters, Jerry decides Betty is the woman he loves. He goes after Betty like he went after his career. At once, he's full of bluster and promises, while barely containing his insecurity at his increasing age and his decreasing vibrancy. He knows she's attractive enough and young enough to be a better fit to someone closer to her own age. He also feels that her presence makes him feel young again, even if it's for a moment. He'd do anything to keep that feeling in his life as the years wind down.

Betty doesn't feel the same way. She's flattered by the attention, since Jerry is everything Betty's husband never was: rich, attentive, determined, well-respected in the city. Jerry's lifestyle would be a quantum leap over the struggle Betty faces day after day. What cost is Betty willing to pay? Can she turn off her true feelings for the sake of material comfort?

After some time dealing with Jerry's relentless pursuit, Betty begrudgingly accepts Jerry's ardor. She tries to reciprocate, but it's difficult. Those in orbit around the couple loudly and frequently express their disapproval. Her mom and sister think Jerry is a disgusting cradle-robber. His daughter "Lillian" (Joan Copeland) thinks Betty's infantile and will soon dump Jerry for a younger lover. Only Lillian's husband "Jack" (Martin Balsam) thinks that Jerry should not be afraid to seek happiness or love.

When Jerry and Betty are together, they do a great job of showing the raw emotions they're trying to manage. This is not a beautiful, uplifting love story. It certainly wouldn't be considered a chick flick. Jerry is desperate to make his dream of love work, charging ahead with barely any regard to Betty's doubts. Betty sees Jerry as basically a sweet man who's a bit lost. She doesn't love him, but is trying to teach herself to do so, because she doesn't want to hurt him. She's losing a part of herself in trying to buoy this older man who's drowning in loneliness and despair.

Why it hits close to home is because I'm in a similar stage in life. In that baby boomer era, most men were taught that career success and that love for a lifetime were both worthy, achievable goals. We were taught that a truly successful man had both when he reached middle-age. We were taught those goals could be nurtured simultaneously. As the career wound down and ended, that lifetime of memories with the one you love would nourish one in the golden years.

In the present day, now many middle-aged men find themselves alone, looking back at successful careers in their respective pasts. But today, the career is going or gone, and that "forever love" is gone as well. Those men (and increasingly, women in that age group) find themselves alone, trying to find something to hold onto as sustenance as they enter the last years of their lives. Even though the movie is 50-plus years old, Jerry's dilemma resonates with so many persons today. If it applies to you, how do YOU deal with it?

The ending is typical of movies from that era, but it's not satisfying. Those who watch may suspect that all those family and friends on both sides may be right - that Jerry's insecurities and Betty's fears were stronger than any possible love they could muster for one another.

This movie was well-crafted and well-cast. The playwright Paddy Chayefsky wrote a powerful screenplay. Watching it won't have you humming love songs when it ends. But, the story will make you think. It may make you re-examine some of the choices you make in your middle-aged years. I liked it, and I wonder who else likes it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

In Dreams - I Met "Rachel", and She's Cool

Like some single folk, I have an idea in my head about the type of person I'd like to meet for romance. Not necessarily a hard-and-fast prioritized list, per se. It's more like certain qualities I'd like in a woman, qualities that catch my interest. Men and women alike have their individual ideas. They may be something like this (exaggerations for comedic effect):

For the ladies:
He's gotta look good. He's gotta have six-pack abs. He's gotta be confident. He's gotta have a respectful distance from his baby mommas. He's gotta be active in his kids' lives, but not slave to their every want. He's gotta have money and a nice car. He's gotta be a "gangsta with a heart of gold". He's gotta be tough enough to "knock a sucka out", but tender enough to cry in a manly way the first time he changes his baby's diaper. He's gotta be able to dance, but not dance better than the lady. He's gotta have a great sense of personal style. He's gotta be respectful of ladies, including his woman and his own momma. He's gotta be able to fix stuff, and look cool doing it.

For the guys:
She's gotta have a bangin' body (BOOM!). She's gotta have money. She's gotta like what I like.

(Yep, men and women are different. In other news, water is wet.)

So, wading through all that, I too have my ideas of the qualities I seek in a lady (hint: it's a bit more than the stereotype I listed). So, imagine my surprise when I saw those qualities in a dream.

I was at a fairly large college campus, there to buy a school t-shirt or other souvenir. Suddenly, I met her. Let's call her "Rachel" for sake of argument ("Why Rachel?" It's a pretty name.). We hit it off immediately. She was naturally funny, in an dry-humor way. She was sharp as a tack, and keenly observant of her surroundings. She was wearing navy blue slacks and a white shell top with blue trim. There were ruffles front/center of the top (which may or may not be in style today). She was maybe 5-foot-4 and athletically built, like a long-distance runner.

She worked at the college in some upper-level administrator capacity, which freed her up to get away from her desk and walk around a bit during the day. So, we found ourselves walking and talking. She was wearing work-quality pumps (maybe a two-inch heel), so she could walk for a while without hurting her feet. As we walked, we could see evidence that the semester was in full-swing. Students, faculty and visitors were everywhere. She was acquainted with most folk we encountered, and had a unique encouraging word for each of them.

As we talked, we realized we had a friend in common. This friend taught at the college, but he was also working on his doctorate at the same institution. He was taking an advanced literature class as part of his program, but not doing well. "Rachel" had an inkling he was about to fail the literature course. A large part of the failure would stem from a personality conflict - our mutual friend had a barely-controllable temper, and was maybe hours away from blowing his top on some relatively minor disagreement with his instructor.

"Rachel" had an idea to help our friend keep his cool and keep his place in the doctoral program. The idea involved us shredding a few reams of computer paper. We walked to her office, where we could get the paper in question.  Outside her office door, "Rachel" had this huge steampunk-style shredder. If Queen Victoria had a shredder back in the day, it might have looked like this, pipes and levers and gears all over. Even at rest, this beast was leaking oil, fuel and other substances. Anyway, "Rachel" fired up the machine, it belched diesel smoke, and we started shredding.

As we worked, we talked about our respective pasts. In my spirit, I could sense she was really sweet and genuine. She had a heart for people, and a real concern about the way the world was turning. She wasn't scarred by past hurts, but fired up about what her future could become. We talked about friends who had died at young ages, our respective parents, and future aspirations. It was a mellow time.

Funny thing was, as she shredded paper, she didn't get dirty at all. No bits of paper dust clung to her clothing. No shredder oil clung to her fingertips. Even when the shredder clogged from the top, and she took a knee to pull at the jam from the bottom of the shredder (which didn't make sense), she stayed clean.

Hanging out with "Rachel" was pleasant, the type of pleasant that seemed like it would never end.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

You Never Know Where Your Next Red Rose Will Come From

(Original title: "Sometimes, You Have to Buy Your Own Roses")

I generally keep to myself on 14 February. Most years, I'm alone/out of love/"between engagements". So yeah, 14 February has become just something to endure. I try not to rain on anybody's parade, though. I stay away from the restaurants and other places couples tend to congregate.

Since today was grocery-shopping day, I included some chocolate fudge brownies and Haagen-Dazs chocolate chocolate chip ice cream (only a half-pint). No, I can't eat like that on the regular, but this is a special occasion (or so they say).

Yes, I find myself a bit disengaged at this time. The media is overrun with commercials showing happy couples, usually much younger than me. I'd guess there are a bunch of us singles underrepresented in the media this week. I'd also guess it's not very marketable to play up singleness when everyone else seems to be paired off.

(Whooops - digression over). As I got to work this afternoon, I got to visit with friends I hadn't seen in a few weeks. One of the ladies brought several dozen cloth red roses to hand out our customers for the 14th (they looked nice & fairly real, but they weren't very expensive).

So, of course, we got fewer customers than we expected tonight. As a result, maybe half of the roses were left over. As we did our post-work cleanup, that co-worker started handing out a rose to each of us. Now, it wasn't anything romantic - over the years, we've become friendly but that's as far as it goes.

However, that's exactly the point. If we're not careful, us singles can get caught up in what we didn't get for the 14th, or from whom we didn't get flowers, a card, etc. We can convince ourselves we are alone in this bustle of the 21st century. We're not. We haven't been forgotten. God knows we're here, and He never forgets.

So, when I thanked her for the rose, I had a feeling I hadn't felt before. She wasn't offering a come-on. And, I knew it from the start. It was a symbol, but not the usual symbol. And, oh-by-the-way, any excuse I might have had for whining on Friday suddenly evaporated. That's why the original title isn't needed.

So, I ask you to do this. It's more than just the cliché "count your blessings". There is meaning in that phrase, but as humans we have drained all the meaningfulness out of it. Stop, and ask yourself "who actually knows I'm here?. Who misses me when I'm not around?" You may pleasantly surprise yourself.

No, it doesn't replace a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant. It doesn't replace an intimate moment with a paramour. It doesn't have to. It's a completely different line of questioning. Maybe all your co-workers won't surround your desk on Friday, asking about your gift. But, you are loved. You are valued. Never lose sight of that.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Robin and Marian" (1976)

I loved this movie. I stumbled across it Saturday, and really enjoyed it. Its' an interesting take on the legend of Robin Hood, and a really cool love story for grown folks. There is even some resonance for today's soldier. It's a romance at its' core, but there is some violence present in the story.

Released in 1976, it stars Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn as the titular characters. This isn't a jaunty, smiling Robin. This isn't a demure Maid Marian, waiting for her rescuer. There's not a lot of swashbuckling, not a lot of grinning or showing off.

This story takes place roughly twenty years in the future of the Robin Hood who's familiar to generations of movie goers. This Robin has been co-opted by King Richard the Lion-Heart (Richard Harris). Robin's a captain in the king's army, off fighting in the Crusades. It's been a long slog of combat. There's no "robbing the rich" nor "giving to the poor". The army is a formidable force, but all this fighting has Robin weary and disillusioned. The king is getting progressively more jaded and abusive after years of fighting. Robin can't help but wonder what was gained by all this fighting. He's getting older, but he doesn't know anything else. He's starting to contemplate his present worth in the world, and his future fate.

The army comes upon a castle, where rumors abound of a gold statue and substantial riches inside its walls. In reality, the castle is shabby and run-down. The able-bodied men have abandoned the castle, leaving women, children and one old man to fend for themselves. The king orders Robin to lead forces to overtake the castle and loot the riches. Robin knows there are no riches, nor is there any military adversary. He challenges the king's orders, refusing to take part in the needless slaughter of innocent non-combatants.

The king is incensed, and has his other soldiers ransack the castle and massacre its' inhabitants (save the old man). Of course, there are no riches, no gold statue. The king, angered at Robin's insubordination, orders Robin and Little John (Nicol Williamson) arrested for eventual execution. However, in the midst of the ransacking the castle, the king is mortally wounded. A few days later, as he succumbs to his wounds, the king has a change of heart. With his last breath, he pardons Robin and Little John.

The pair of friends are free, and the war for them is over. Robin decides to go back to England, back to the familiar environs of Sherwood Forest. As he and Little John make their way through the forest, they encounter Friar Tuck (the British comedian Ronnie Barker) and Will Scarlet (Denholm Elliott). As the four men catch up on twenty years of events, the latter two mention to Robin that Marian is an abbess (head nun of an abbey) nearby. Robin's eyes light up, and makes his way to his one true love.

Marian is still beautiful, but it's a mature beauty earned through work and strength. When Robin left all those years ago, she initially was left without her paramour or direction for her own life. Through difficult events, she ended up at the abbey. Over time, she became a part of the order of nuns, then eventually the leader. When their eyes first meet, the battle-worn Robin lights up like a schoolboy. Marian pretends to keep her emotions in check, but her eyes tell a different story.

As the two erstwhile lovers spar verbally, Marian prepares to be arrested. The Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw), accompanied by the arrogant nobleman Sir Ranulf (Kenneth Haigh) have come to arrest Marian. The new king has ordered expulsion of all senior leaders in the Roman Catholic Church, and Marian is among that number. Marian is ready to die for her faith, but Robin has other ideas. He disobeys the Sheriff and repels Sir Ranulf (earning the latter's enmity). Robin abducts Marian and heads off into the forest.

As the group finds respite in the woods, Robin and Marian re-connect. He admits he's tired of the constant warring, and has missed her all these years. She too admits that even as she found purpose for her life, she missed him. He was the only true love she's ever known. Their relationship re-kindles in short order. The way they interact is romantic and exhilarating. It appears they will have their "happily ever after".

Even as the lovers enjoy the pastoral surroundings, danger is afoot. The Sheriff and Sir Ranulf have become bitter rivals, each wanting the glory of taking down the legendary Hood. The Sheriff sees Robin as his counterpart, and the one man whose defeat will solidify the Sheriff's eternal legacy. The nobleman is an arrogant upstart, taken lightly be everyone he encounters. If he could defeat Robin Hood, his image will be bolstered for life.

Eventually, the new King John (Ian Holm) commissions Sir Ranulf and 200 soldiers to capture/kill Robin and his growing cadre of friends and allies. The Sheriff encounters the army on the road to Sherwood Forest, and quickly usurps command of the forces. The next day, the opposing forces meet on the battlefield, but Robin proposes an alternative that will minimize wanton bloodshed. Instead of all-out warfare, Robin volunteers to take on the Sheriff in a duel, one-versus-one. Robin wins, his band of folk go free. The Sheriff wins, Robin's band of folk go peaceably under the Sheriff's direction.

(As they prepare to duel, there is a small moment of prayer that I thought was neat. The two men, adversaries for decades, still had a deep, abiding respect for one another.)

The battle is well-choreographed, but not glamorous. The two men are skillful combatants, but neither is a young man anymore. There is blood, sweat and dirt. They're like two stags, crashing and slashing into each other. Neither can take an early advantage, and the battle takes a toll on both...

The ending is sad, but fitting. Marian's testament of love to Robin is one of the best I've ever heard or seen in any medium. Anyone who is either in love or wants to be in love wants to hear the words Marian uttered to Robin at the end (well, most of them, anyway).

The cast does a great job with this material. Connery played to his strengths in this role - he's the guy every woman would want, and the man other men would want to emulate. His Robin was bulkier, more grounded. You could see the years of battle weighing on his frame. Williamson is the strong "wingman" any man would want on the battlefield. Little John could hold his own in any circumstance, and brought a quiet determination to the story.

Shaw's Sheriff is a man of great loyalty and integrity in service to the Crown. In a different light, he could be seen as the most heroic, most capable character in the story. Haigh's Ranulf had lots of confidence and ambition, but lacked the actual skill to make his ambition reality.

Hepburn was the heart of this film. At once, she could be defiant, outspoken, tender, loving and hopeful. Her love was the characteristic that brought the story together. Her Marian was the symbol of the possibilities for Robin's future.

All in all, I would watch this one again, gladly. This would be a great choice for "movie night" at home. For those in the mood for a romantic movie with some action components, this would be a rewarding choice.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Job Here Is Done

It hit me Friday, while I was shopping for groceries. Normally, I took my son into account when shopping - he would probably need something, and I didn't mind picking it up. This time, I realized I didn't have to get him anything.

Seems he moved out on Saturday. He has his own place, and is taking another step in building his own life. He's the last in line for me, so it's a weird feeling. I know, lots of parents have told me "you never stop being a parent. You never stop caring about your kids." All true, but all my direct descendants are adults. Obviously, my role in their lives must change.

I couldn't help but think back to the time we came here to house-hunt. The military has/had something called "permissive temporary duty" or "permissive TDY". If the member had orders to move permanently to a new unit, the member could go permissive and scout out the immediate area around that new unit before the move.

We came to Colorado from Omaha, the last weekend in April of 1997. A couple of days before we arrived, the local area had gotten several inches of snow. The mountains were covered, and we were so impressed by the natural beauty. My kids were young, and the trip was a cool part of the adventure in being a military family. To see the wonder in my kids' eyes as we checked out the local area was pretty cool.

So many things happened from then to now. Successes, heartbreak, failure, deep affection, recovery, meeting new friends and saying goodbye to loved ones. Through it all, I always had something external on which to focus. There was always someone to take care of, or a job to perform. Now, all those things have either moved on or washed away. Now, the way ahead is wide open. I am truly intrigued to see what God sends my way.

But, I'd be silly to deny the fact that I get a bit choked up about this. The years have gone by so fast. Goals I chased after were achieved, and in some cases once I achieved them they weren't what I expected. Love has come, and just as quickly left for parts unknown. The dreams for the future aren't as easily defined as the ones from my youth.

Other realizations come into play. I don't fit in the coveted secular 18-49 year old demographic - most of this society is marketed away from me and my peers. On some levels, I've reached the peak of my journey. After years of self-centerness in the midst of the rat race, I don't have to run that race anymore.

Regardless, the rest of the journey promises to be a great adventure. I'm blessed to have the freedom others desire. After many years in a cubicle, wishing for freedom, now it's here. It's not scary, but the not knowing the exact way ahead feels like being on top of a mountain. I can feel the breeze, crisp and clean. I can look down from the peak in all directions, pick a heading, and head out. Here we go...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Tugboat Annie"

This 1933 release was surprisingly touching. I stumbled across it one morning. It has heart and depth most movies today don't take the time to develop. Marie Dressler starred in it as the titular character. Her character is the emotional center of the story, and she does a great job with the shifting emotions required.

Wikipedia states the story was based on the life of Thea Foss. Her story was presented in a series in the Saturday Evening Post. Norman Reilly Raine. Raine was one of the screenplay's co-writers.

"Annie (Dressler)" and her husband "Terry (Wallace Beery)" own their own tugboat, plying their trade in a major port. Their son "Alec (Frankie Darro)" is bright and spunky. The parents see big things in his future, and Annie works hard to make sure Alec is prepared to achieve. She quizzes him on the ways of the sea, and also sprinkles in some Bible study. Annie is a doting mother, and resourceful when running the business and her family. While Annie is busy steering the tug and rearing Alec, Terry is nearby but not very effective. He's a happy-go-lucky drunk, but Annie's infinite patience and love hold him together. Their on-screen affection towards one another plays out genuine.

Before long, Alec grows into a ramrod-straight, polished seaman. Robert Young plays the adult Alec with style and a grim formality. He falls hard for "Pat Severn (Maureen O'Sullivan)", daughter of a rival tugboat skipper turned local industry leader (Willard Robertson as "Red). The young couple are overjoyed as Alec gets promoted to captain of a cruise liner, the youngest captain in the fleet. At the gathering to announce Alec's success, his parents are so proud. Annie joyfully embraces her son at the ceremony. Terry shows up late, boisterous and drunk. Oh, by the way, Terry is also missing his trousers...

There are a lot of weird moments like that throughout the movie. As Annie works her best to help her family, Terry comes along either in a drunken stupor or some misguided attempt at redemption to upset her plans. Despite his bumbling, Annie's loyalty to him is steadfast. Even when Alec proposes getting his mom a nice apartment so she can give up the tug and her husband, Annie immediately chastises her son and defends her husband & her choices.

Yeah, there's some romantic drama and late-in-the-movie danger, but anyone who knows about films of that era can anticipate the ending.

This was Dressler's penultimate movie role - she died of cancer the year after this film's release. In her day, she was one of Hollywood's biggest stars. This role is a great example of her talent. I enjoyed this movie big-time, and would watch it again

My Team - the Washington Nationals and the 2014 Season

As January comes to a close (yippee!), one thing I look forward to is the start of baseball spring training. At various locations in Arizona and Florida, hundreds of ball players gather to train and compete for coveted spots at the big league level. To me, it's a much better harbinger of the coming spring than any groundhog.

My favorite team, the Nationals, are coming off a 2013 season that was a disappointment compared to pre-season expectations. Former manager Davey Johnson's "World Series or Bust" declaration was bold, but ultimately unfulfilled. New manager Matt Williams inherits a strong roster. Talent won't be an issue. Let's look at that talent-laden roster:

Outfield - last year's starters (from left field to right) Bryce Harper, Denard Span, Jayson Werth. This is a strength of the team. Harper has vowed to get bigger and stronger, to endure the grind of 162 games. This is the season where the team needs Harper on the field 150+ games. The Nats also need Harper to contribute more than 20 homers and 60 RBI. If he stays healthy, I'd suspect he can go for 30 homers/80+ RBI. If he gets off to a good start at the plate, he boosts the team into early contention. Span played Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, and improved at the plate the second half of the season. The team needs his skill at the top of the batting order. He's gotta get on base early and often in April and May, setting a tone for the whole year. Werth is the steady pro, doing his best work in the second half to get the team back in contention. He's one of the team leaders on the field and in the clubhouse. Expect him to get 25+ homers, a .900 on-base-plus-slugging (OPS)percentage and good defense.

Infield  - last year's starters (from third base to first base) Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Anthony Rendon, Adam LaRoche. When healthy, this is a strong unit. Zimmerman gutted out a tough 2013, playing through rehab of a surgically-repaired throwing shoulder. He had some throwing issues early in the season, but got stronger as the year went on. He's the face of the franchise, and hard to replace if he's out for any length of time. Zimmerman's a great defender (especially when charging slow rollers), and a dangerous hitter. Desmond is an All-Star caliber shortstop. He can do it all, and is usually good for one or two hot streaks where he's ripping line drives all over the ballpark. If the team gets off to a good start, expect him to get plenty of All Star Game consideration. Rendon showed promise after changing positions at the big-league level. He made himself a competent second baseman after playing third base in college and the minor leagues. He had some issues with concentration in the field, but improved as the season progressed. He's got doubles power, and he's quick around the bases. Expect him to grow more polished and consistent in the field this season. LaRoche provides left-handed power and a steady set of hands at first base. He had a subpar 2013 at the plate, and the team needs a bounce-back year from him. This is the final year of his contract, and there is talk of posting Zimmerman at first base when the team faces particularly tough left-handed pitchers. The team's batting order needs the balance LaRoche can provide. Offensively, will we see last year's LaRoche or the 100-RBI man from 2012?

Catcher - last year's starter Wilson Ramos. He had one more RBI than Harper last year, and Ramos played 40 fewer games. He's a threat at the plate, and a pretty good catch-and-throw guy. He handles pitchers pretty well. The big thing for him is durability. The team needs him available for 120+ games, since there is no established veteran backup catcher on the roster. If Ramos goes down with injury, that hole will be tough to replace.

Starting pitchers - last year's starters Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. New acquisition Doug Fister. The first three guys everybody knows about. Strasburg signed a one-year deal in the off-season (avoiding arbitration). He showed improved durability in 2013. The upcoming season is the one where he needs to show he can be that number one starter that takes the ball 32 times, goes deep into games, and stops losing streaks that come up. If Strasburg does that, he'll get his big payday. Gonzalez pitched pretty good in '13, but didn't get a lot of offensive support. I expect his won-loss record to improve as the offense improves. Zimmermann was one of the best starters in the majors last year, and is durable and tough. On some other teams, he would be a number-one starter option. Continued good health and resultant production will be what the team needs from him. Detwiler, a lefty, would give the rotation needed balance. His injury issues stunted his progress. Can the team count on him for the whole season? Fister was acquired in a trade with Detroit. The tall righthander has playoff experience and tenacity. He'll fit right in with this rotation.

Relief pitchers - Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, Craig Stammen, Ross Ohlendorf, Ryan Mattheus. New acquisition Jerry Blevins. These guys are proven, but 2013 was a struggle for some of them. Soriano closed last year, but struggled the middle of the year. Clippard was solid in a setup role, but once in a while would fall in love with his slider. Storen struggled early, got sent to AAA to work on his command, and came back more productive. Stammen was a workhorse in middle relief, and challenged hitters all year. Ohlendorf was pressed into a starting role, and usually gave the team 4-to-5 innings of competitive pitching each start. Matthews struggled at the start, got injured, got sent out to AAA, and never found his groove upon returning to the majors. Blevins (acquired from Oakland) is the left-handed option the team sought for the bullpen. The team needs 2012 levels of consistency from this unit to contend. Relinquishing leads in the late innings will demoralize any team.

Bench - outfielders Scott Hairston, Tyler Moore and Nate McLouth. Infielders Danny Espinosa, Jamey Carroll and Mike Fontenot. Catchers Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon. Hairston and Moore provide power off the bench. Moore can also play some first base. Espinosa has power as well, but had severe problems making contact last season. Carroll (former National) and Fontenot have big league experience, and were signed to compete for the second base/backup infielder spot held last year by Steve Lombardozzi. Neither Solano (29 in August) nor Leon (25 in March) have extensive big-league experience, and it's hard to tell if either will hold his own offensively if pressed into extended service. I expect Hairston, McClouth, Espinosa, Carroll and Solano to comprise the main bench component when the season starts (barring any future acquisitions or injuries).

On paper, this team should approach 90 wins or so in 2014. As with most teams in most sports, two keys will be a) good health for the regulars and b) a good start offensively in April. The team fell off the pace early in 2013, in large part due to the anemic offense. Too many runners were left on base in April and May. That has to change for the team to reach its post-season goals this year.

Overall, as a fan I'm excited for this upcoming season. If Washington can play to its full capability this year, it should be an enjoyable baseball summer in the District.