Friday, December 6, 2013

Yeah, I'm Still Alive

Yikes, it's been a month since I posted here. And, as usual, all sorts of things are rattling around in my head. Here's some short items:

1. Recently, I was afforded an opportunity to contribute to the sports blog DC Sports Kings. I cover the Washington Wizards (NBA) and Washington Nationals (MLB). I'm thankful for the opportunity, and I'm happy to contribute to the collaborative effort.

2. Had minor outpatient surgery recently, for a small hernia. Things went very well. Been recovering since. The stitches itch, but not constantly. I'm still a few weeks away from being completely healed, but I'm cool with that.

3. Saw the story surrounding the passing of Nelson Mandela. One thing that strikes me is his innate dignity. In a world that grows more crass with every passing day, he was an example of a man who rose above the nonsense. Despite how the government in his homeland treated him for decades, he never lost sight of the higher calling on his life. He's one of the handful of folks in history who changed a society for the better. May he rest in peace.

4. In this country, with all the stress and turmoil, it appears we've forgotten a key idea - people need to work. Whether it's the Affordable Care Act, funding for schools, public works, unemployment benefits, public assistance, etc., capitalism needs more people working. How else can these programs succeed if there's a shortage of folk working? Somebody's gotta contribute to the common good to make those other things happen. How can they contribute to the common good if they don't have  worthwhile jobs?

One thing that troubles me is the demise of what I call "grown folk jobs" - jobs that require a level of maturity and skill, while paying a wage on which a family can live. Don't miss my point on this - it saddens me to see adult folk having to work what appears to be part-time jobs in the fast food industry. In my opinion, those jobs aren't substantial enough for an adult to provide for a family. It's a losing proposition from the start.

I have some ideas on what needs to be done. Most have been expressed elsewhere, but not followed through to the point where real change is accomplished. The POTUS can't do it, but he needs to use his "bully pulpit" more forcefully to convince/cajole/coerce the so-called captains of industry to create real jobs for real people.

5. Read somewhere that while "Black Friday" shoppers hit stores in droves, overall retail revenue was down for that day. I, for one, applaud that. I hope the scene of people camping out or crowding a store for a perceived bargain fades away to the dustbin of history. I never liked it, I think it's cruelly manipulative, and I want it to go away. I'm glad that pre-sales, online shopping and better consumer planning may combine to undermine the spectacle of "Black Friday". Good riddance, I say.

6. Winter is fast approaching. Like an old song lyric, "Cold by day, cold by night/I wonder where the summer's gone?" I look forward to spring. The older I get, the less I enjoy the winter.

7. Thursday night, I watched part of the Grizzlies-Clippers game. The parts I saw were competitive. The parts I didn't see included my team getting whomped, ultimately losing at home by 20. What went wrong? I will probably dig through some stats and look closer at my Grizz later today.

Anyway, have a great Christmas season, look after one another, and I will be back.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My Team - Grizzlies vesus New Orleans

Wednesday night, the Grizzlies face off against a re-tooled New Orleans Pelicans team. They have some young guys like Anthony Davis (averaging 22 PPG/12 RPG). This team isn't a pushover. They lost 104-98 at Phoenix Tuesday night, setting their record at 1-3.

Even with missing F Ryan Anderson's 3-point shooting prowess, this team has some talented parts. Davis is gonna be a handful for either Randolph or Gasol. Davis can out-jump either, and he's gonna be a focal point of New Orleans' offense. He's also a good shot blocker. Fortunately, Memphis has Kosta Koufos who can come in and defend Davis/sacrifice some fouls in defending Davis.

New Orleans also has Al-Farouq Aminu at small forward, 7-footer Jason Smith at center, Eric Gordon at shooting guard, and Jrue Holiday at the point. This starting lineup is competitive. I would guess they will want to run as much as reasonably possible. This should give Memphis fits in the first half, since the Grizz have made slow starts an ongoing habit. Aminu is a willing wingman on the break, although he isn't the most electrifying skywalker on the break. Gordon shoots a lot, but is a decent shooter. Holiday is quick enough to stay with Conley on both ends. This Pelicans team matches up with Memphis pretty well.

Bench play may be the deciding factor. The Bayless that scored 15 fourth quarter points against Boston can give Memphis a huge lift. Will we see that Bayless tonight? Some combination of Koufos, Ed Davis and Jon Leuer will have to produce on both ends against Davis.

New Orleans has former University of Memphis Tiger Tyreke Evans coming off the bench. He's good at handling the ball and getting to the rim as a hybrid guard. His outside shot still needs work. Anderson's injury (chipped toe on right foot) takes away an offensive threat that New Orleans may not be able to replace. G Brian Roberts and SF Anthony Morrow are quality substitutes that will keep Bayless and Pondexter occupied when both teams use second unit personnel.

New Orleans is averaging just under 101 PPG early on. Memphis is averaging 104.5 in its' first four games. That is close to my final score guess - Memphis 103, New Orleans 101. It will be an entertaining game. Davis will be the best player on the floor, and people are gonna start talking him up as Most Improved Player. He'll get 25 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks and a couple of "oh, my" moments.

Monday, November 4, 2013

My Team - Grizzlies versus Boston

Saturday night in Dallas, Memphis fell behind 16 points by the end of the first quarter, and couldn't climb completely out of that hole. Gasol, Randolph and Conley scored well (combined for 68 of the team's 99 points). The rest of the team shot 13/40 FG/A. Obviously, that won't do. Monday night, the Grizz host the new-look Celtics. Boston is 0-3, after a Sunday night loss at Detroit.

The Celtics have guys who have been productive members of a rotation in other places (Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford). With Rajan Rondo still out (recovering from torn ACL), where will they get easy buckets?

Sunday night, rookie Kelly Olynyk came off the bench to lead Boston with 15 points. He also tied Avery Bradley for the team lead with 8 rebounds. Bradley, who scored 13 points in the loss, was the only starter in double figures.

Since Memphis had Sunday night off, and Boston is in this back-to-back, I expect an ugly game. Memphis will score a little more efficiently this time, but maybe not as many as against Dallas.

I expect the final to be something like Memphis 90, Boston 76. The Grizzlies' three leaders will do just that. Randolph, Gasol and Conley will get around 18 apiece. The bench will get more playing time Monday night, since Memphis will be comfortably in control most of the game. Maybe Allen, Prince and guys off the bench will use this game to rediscover their shooting strokes.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Scandal Sheet"

Released in 1952, this is an intense picture that film noir fans will like. Broderick Crawford leads a strong cast. John Derek. Donna Reed. Harry Morgan. Rosemary DeCamp. This team is first-rate. The story is taut and suspenseful. Well-done, all around.

Crawford is "Mark Chapman", the editor, heart and soul of a formerly esteemed New York paper that turned into the gossip rag named in the title. Derek is "Steve", the star reporter who aspires to be just like his boss. Steve is a streetwise punk reporter who doesn't mind being unscrupulous in order to scoop the competition.  Morgan is Steve's sidekick photographer "Biddle", capable but jaded by seeing too many murder scenes. Reed is "Julie", the features writer and product of a finishing school. She's deeply disillusioned by the paper's slide into low-brow tabloid journalism.

The paper is running roughshod over the community, but Chapman doesn't care as long as the paper's net worth continues to grow. The paper is increasingly profitable, the stockholders cash the dividend checks (even as they complain about the tone of the paper), and he's a big man in the city.

He manipulates his readers in big ways and small. The paper even stoops so low as to put on a "lonely hearts" dance (young folk, ask your grandparents or other seniors about this). In his cynical way, Chapman wants to manipulate the gathering into fodder for several sensational front-page stories. Lonely men and women of all shapes and ages have gathered, with the hope of finding love. Off to one side, a middle-aged lady named "Charlotte" (DeCamp) takes in the proceedings. Eventually, she gets up the nerve to approach Chapman, and coerces him into talking. Later that evening, Charlotte ends up dead.

This type of lurid, salacious story is the type Steve loves to chase. With Biddle in tow, Steve runs all over town after clues. He is every bit as tenacious as his boss, and he knows breaking this case before any other paper (or even the police) will put bonuses in his pocket as well as Mark's. "Charlie Barnes" (Henry O'Neill), a former colleague who's down on his luck, has evidence identifying the murderer. Charlie's penchant for drink has killed what was a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting career. Even now, as Charlie tries to tell Steve and Julie what he has, his fondness for booze undermines his veracity. Charlie their doubt & decides to take his information to a rival paper. As he approaches the building of the rival paper, a shadowy figure lures Charlie into an alley. Charlie gets bludgeoned to death, and the headlines get even more feverish.

As Steve gets closer, Mark also realizes his professional dream of actually owning the paper comes within reach.  Mark directly profits from his low-brow approach to handling news, but he has secrets that could ruin it all.

Finally, Steve finds another person who can identify Charlotte's killer. The climax is tense, and the look on Steve's face when the killer is confirmed is priceless.

This is a great movie. The more I see Derek's work as a younger actor, the more I like it. He had a way with the young, sharp-dressed supremely confident guy. He held his own and then some with pros like Crawford and Reed. If you love film noir and get a chance to see this film, do it.

My Team - Game 2 of 82 - Grizzlies versus Detroit

Friday night, Memphis gets to open the home season at FedEx Forum. Ought to be a sell-out, a raucous crowd of Memphians cheering on the home team. Detroit isn't a pushover, though.

Even with Jennings and Stuckey being out with injuries, Detroit looked cohesive against Washington Wednesday night in an 11-point victory. Expect more of the same on Friday in their first road game of the year. Monroe and Josh Smith up front will be handful for Memphis' front line. Monroe went for 24 points and 16 rebounds. Memphis needs to check him off the boards.

In Memphis' opening loss at San Antonio, there were some interesting signs. One, the team took 93 shots (quite a few for this team). Maybe the same will happen on Friday night. Also, Mike Miller went 2/3 in 3 PT FG/A, as a part of his 11 points off the bench. Prince only played 20 minutes in the opener, and may be at a matchup disadvantage in this game. Gasol scored 14 and added 9 rebs in 34 minutes, but Randolph only scored 2 in 25 minutes. The Grizzlies need more from each player up front.

For Friday night, Ed Davis and Jon Leuer may be keys, as young frontliners who have to match Detroit's Drummond-Monroe-Smith combination. Bynum will direct the offense, but Conley should be able to match Bynum's effort. Allen should also win his matchup with Billups.

If it becomes a run-and-gun game, Detroit could squeak out a victory. I'm rooting for Memphis, but I wouldn't be surprised if Detroit pulled out a 105-99 or so victory. If the Grizz are 0-2 after Friday night, will the organization start to feel some pressure?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My Team - Game 1 of 82 - Grizzlies at San Antonio

Ok, it's finally here. On Wednesday night, the Grizz start an encore to the most successful season in franchise history. So, of course they meet the team that ended their previous season. San Antonio is the solid, smart team we've known over the years.

One key addition for the Spurs is Marco Belinelli. The shooting guard from Spain adds firepower to the second unit. Otherwise, this is a familiar bunch. Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, Leonard, Splitter, Bonner and Green are all still on the team. So, this team is one of the rare ones that should get off to a good start regarding execution on each end of the court.

For Memphis, Prince wasn't completely healthy during the pre-season. So, we should see lots of Pondexter in this game. But, if he's chasing Leonard or Bonner at small forward, Pondexter will be at a height disadvantage. Intensity and hustle will allow him to make up for some of the shortfall.

Miller at backup shooting guard may end up facing Belinelli at times as well. He's big enough to do it, but will he have the requisite quickness? Or, does coach Joerger play Miller some at small forward and play Pondexter at off-guard?

Otherwise, matchups should look like the usual. I suspect Gasol gets Duncan. Randolph checks Splitter. Conley gets Parker. These matchups include some of the best players at their respective positions in the whole Association. For an NBA fan, watching off-the-ball action will be as much fun as watching baskets.

Funny thing about this matchup (to me, at least). It's a classic one-way rivalry. To Memphis, San Antonio has stood in the way of the Grizzlies getting to that proverbial "next level". The Spurs have what Memphis continually strives to accomplish. On the other hand, I don't think San Antonio sees Memphis as a large rival, not when Dallas and Houston are in the same division, and another division mate (New Orleans) isn't that far away geographically. What does the Memphis team have that San Antonio wants to take away?

Wednesday night, I expect Memphis to get off to an emotional high at the beginning, jumping out to a double-digit lead in the second quarter. And, then I expect San Antonio to methodically whittle away at the lead, finally tying the score midway through the 4th quarter. Parker will either hit shots late or make sweet passes to teammates for layups to provide the final margin.

 I guess San Antonio 96, Memphis 91. It will be a hard-fought game between two good teams. Hoop heads will enjoy it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

My Team - The Grizzlies and the Upcoming Season

Next week, the NBA season starts. I look forward to it. After last year's success and subsequent change, the Grizzlies are a) a pretty good team, and b) a team with questions. How will new head coach Dave Joerger lead this team in a tough Western Conference?

On paper, it appears Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio are all better than Memphis. When you have guys like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin or Tony Parker, your team is off to a good start. As always, each team needs good health as a key part of reaching their respective potential.

With that, I'd be ecstatic if Memphis achieved a strong four-seed come playoff time. I don't know the number of wins needed for that position, but a high-level follow-up to last season's playoff success would leave us Grizz fans pretty happy.

Let's look at the main rotation. As a fan, what would I want to see from the guys? What would help this team maximize its season? (As usual, these are my opinions.)

Zach Randolph - this is his 12th year in the league. The years & the battles in the low post are taking a toll. Perhaps him losing 5-10 pounds may help his quickness and getting his shot off. In the playoffs last year, especially against the Thunder, he did have some difficulty with quicker defenders. Eating well, getting the body maintenance to keep him going and getting plenty of rest will help him maintain a high level of play.

Marc Gasol - the reigning Defensive Player of the Year will have a target on him this season. Every night, guys will come at him to make a name for themselves. Two seasons ago, Gasol came in a bit lighter and was able to change ends quite well. Last season, he was a little bulkier (which helped him hold his position down low). Unfortunately, he too appeared to wear down in the playoffs.This year, he may be another guy who could stand to be slightly lighter.  The team needs him on the floor as much as possible.

Mike Conley, Jr. - After the Rudy Gay trade, Conley had room to be more assertive offensively. With him and Gasol, the first team had markedly improved ball movement. For this year, I'd like to see Conley consistently get 16 points and 7-9 assists each game. In addition, when he's on the floor with second team guys/other substitutes, I'd like to see him get those guys easier baskets. Keep the ball moving. Have teammates get rewarded for their moving without the ball. Conley's fast becoming one of the better point guards in the Association. Just keep growing.

Tony Allen - This man not only changed the culture in the locker room, he was a positive force actually changing how the city saw itself. Not many players can do that. He needs good health, to keep up his defensive intensity. On offense, if he can get 12 points or so a night, it makes the team so much stronger. Opponents sag off him to double Randolph (and to a lesser extent, Gasol). Allen either needs to be a consistent threat from the perimeter, or pick up easy buckets on run-outs. He'll be 32 in January - asking him to re-tool his jump shot this late in his career is probably unfair. But the team needs him to be some level of threat offensively.

Tayshaun Prince - when he showed up last year, he gave the team a dose of professionalism on the floor. None of his stats were eye-popping, but he was a nice fit on both ends. In the playoffs, he lost a bit of confidence in his shot. He needs to get that back, maybe by putting the ball on the floor more to get midrange shot opportunities.

Jerryd Bayless - I know I gave this guy grief last season, mostly for shot selection. When he's on, he can excite FexEd Forum like few others. When he's off, the team's offense gets so stagnant. I'd like him to see the difference between "being hot"/"keeping up his confidence on an off-night"/"knowing to pass more because it's not his night offensively". Once he gets a better feel for that, things should proceed smoother when he's on the floor.

Mike Miller - the former Memphis player is back, after a stint in Miami. He's got his rings. He's made a good living in the Association. He's got to bring a championship mindset and hit open threes. Some nights, he may play a lot. Depending on the match-up, on other nights he may not play as much. Keeping a calm demeanor, regardless of his workload, can be a great help to the rest of the team. His example off the floor is as important as his example on it.

Quincy Pondexter - a classic tweener, who has to play aggressive to be productive off the bench. He's a bit small to cover the better small forwards. He's not quite quick enough to cover the better shooting guards. But, he's game enough to be productive in either role in small doses. And, he is one of the few consistent 3-point shooting threats on the roster (along with Miller, Conley and at times Bayless). He has to bring energy every game. He has to be another grit-and-grind guy like Allen.

Kosta Koufos - I like his post game. He can go down low like a classic center, and occasionally go to the elbow and hit a shot. For him, meshing with Randolph and/or Gasol will be key. If he backs up Gasol, he will need to be a productive pass/shoot threat from 15 feet or so. Will be efficient as a passer and spot-up shooter?

Ed Davis - the lefty from North Carolina is a great athlete for his size. He had a few solid games off the bench after coming over from Toronto. For him, consistent physicality will be a help. Yeah, he's got good fundamentals. Can he play a grown-man, NBA-caliber, grinding post game - especially face up - on an opponent?

Jon Leuer - a darling of the advanced stats set, Leuer was another guy with some nice moments off the bench last year. He may be battling Davis for minutes off the bench. When he plays, those moments must be consistently productive. Rebound, on both ends. Hit an open shot. Make the simple pass to keep the ball moving. He demonstrated last year he can do that. Now, he has to repeat that production.

Jamaal Franklin, Nick Calathes, Willie Reed, et al - Franklin, the draft pick out of San Diego State, was seen by some as Tony Allen-Lite. That may do injustice to his own career. Between him. Calathes, Reed, Andre Barrett, Melvin Ely and Tony Gaffney, at best some of these guys will be around to learn the pro game. Some of these guys probably won't be with the team at the start of the regular season. They're all competent enough, but for some it may just come down to a numbers game.

Memphis had a great run last year. This, of course, is a brand new season. Can the Grizzlies live up to expectations? Here's a cliché I'll use to end - this team could be a better team than last year, but not go as deep in the playoffs. If other teams in the West keep their main guys healthy all year, the Grizzlies would struggle getting by a healthy Thunder team, a healthy Clippers team and a healthy Spurs team in succession - similar to last season.

Still, it promises to be an exciting time in FedEx Forum this year. We need home fans to come out in droves, and show the NBA Memphis is passionate about its' team.

My First Post To A Different Blog - Am I Excited?

I am honored, and more than a little giddy about this. Earlier this week, the guys at DC Sports Kings allowed me to contribute an article. As a guy who likes a) to write; b) to talk; and c) to spout opinion, I'm deeply appreciative of the opportunity. It's my first post for another blog, and I am truly excited about the chance to contribute.

I thank God for the chance to write & share my thoughts with an audience interested in the sports landscape in the District of Columbia. I thank the guys at DC Sports Kings for giving me a chance to contribute.

Feel free to check out my work. Feel free to disagree with what I write. Feel free to enlighten me on the topics we cover. Feel free to check out my fellow contributors at the blog. Feel free to follow them on Twitter (@DCSportsKings).

I'll still post stuff here, 'cause I've got a lot on my mind.

This new opportunity should be fun, though...

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Drive a Crooked Road"

I found this interesting for a few reasons. This 1954 release had some interesting casting. It was also nourish, but most scenes were set during the day. And it had one of those open-ended final scenes that leaves you wanting more.

This movie starred Mickey Rooney. Yeah, Mickey Rooney. This, though, isn't one of his "Andy Hardy"-style roles. Nor is it one of the "hey, let's put on a musical" roles either. Here, he's "Eddie Shannon", a gear-head to the bottom of his soul. Eddie is undersized, not very impressive at first glance. He is a skillful race driver, and an even better mechanic. His love of cars is his only love. He's a zero with the ladies, a fact about which his co-workers remind him continually.

Eddie spends his nights in a boarding house in Los Angeles, dreaming of success as a racer. He's broke, so this dream is just that. By day, he's the go-to mechanic at a local auto repair shop. (Look for Jerry Paris as one of the other mechanics). The guys wile away the hours between jobs by checking out the ladies as they walk by the shop. Eddie normally doesn't join in the ogling, since he's a loser at love. But one sunny Friday, a pretty lady comes by, looking for help...

"Barbara" (Dianne Foster) is having issues with her convertible, and asks for Eddie by name. This catches him off guard, but he takes on the task and repairs her vehicle. She is grateful, and flirts with Eddie just a bit. Eddie is perplexed, and astonished the next day when Barbara's car still isn't running right. Eddie is slightly excited to see Barbara again. Barbara is pretty, but not so pretty that she's unattainable. (This was nice casting - a bombshell like Jayne Mansfield would have been too over-the-top & unrealistic when paired with Rooney.)

It's now Saturday, and Dianne is ready to hit the beach. Her car won't run, though. She summons Eddie to her apartment, and he heads over right away. He gets to her place, gets her car started, and starts to head back to the shop before closing time. Dianne flirts some more. Eddie thinks that maybe, just maybe there is a lady on earth who is actually interested in him.

Dianne is interested alright, but her interest is a bit more nefarious. Seems her boyfriend "Steve" (Kevin McCarthy) is a stereotypical SoCal playboy. He's living a lavish lifestyle, but has no visible means of support. Steve has desperate need of a driver, and has seen Eddie drive at a local track. Dianne is showing interest in Eddie just to lure Eddie into Steve's plan.

Seems Steve's job is robbing banks, using to-the-second timing and planning to elude authorities and abscond with the loot. He needs a get-away driver, and Eddie just might fill the bill. Here's where the noir elements kick in. The three men spend hours in a darkened room, watching film of the target bank and proposed escape route. This time, the bank is in Palm Springs, and the escape route includes twisty mountain roads. Only an excellent, fearless driver can negotiate the turns and maintain the escape timing.

Steve has a partner in this deal, "Harold" (Jack Kelly), a big, swarthy guy with an air of palpable malevolence. Harold is a barely-contained loose cannon type. He's ready to go to work, and doesn't trust Eddie.

Eddie initially refuses, on moral grounds. Dianne stays just close enough to Eddie, and keeps her intentions just vague enough that Eddie is soon persuaded to join the robbers. And, what-do-you-know? The plan works. They actually rob the bank and get away. (The getaway scene, were Steve is hectoring Eddie for being a minute later than planned cracked me up. It reminded me of me when I was a young navigator.)

Now, the noir mood really kicks in. Steve, being a slick operator, has plans for Eddie. These plans aren't good ones, though. Meanwhile, Eddie is consumed with remorse, and seeks Dianne for comfort and perspective. However, Dianne is ready to leave for South America. She went to Steve with her own guilt and remorse - she talked a good, innocent man into committing a heinous crime. She hates herself for her part in seducing Eddie. She never loved him, but lured him to a place where he can never forgive himself.

Eddie goes to Steve's place, sees Dianne there, and finally gains enlightenment. He's hurt at the betrayal, and now adrift emotionally. Steve directs Harold to take Eddie "for a ride", a one-way ride. Harold is a little drunk, but this job should be easy. Eddie is too hurt and angry to be scared. He uses his driving skill to subdue Harold, and works his way back to Steve's house. The final confrontation goes down, and it involves gunshots, tears and a moonlit night on the beach. The ending is fitting, but not a conclusion at all.

McCarthy had a long, successful career in television and movies, mostly as authoritative figures. This was a nice change for him. Kelly went on to play the dashing "Bart Maverick" in the 50s/60s-era television series. Blake Edwards directed this film, and it works.

I knew nothing about this film before watching it, and was pleasantly surprised. Fans of film noir will like it. Rooney fans will see a different side of his talent. All in all, a good movie.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

My Team - Chargers at Oakland

For this game, from, OT Dunlap is out (concussion). OG Rinehart is doubtful (foot).

OLB Freeney (quad) and WR Floyd (neck sprain) are on the Reserve/injured list. Those two are done for the year, most likely.

Sunday night, the Chargers have an 8:35p date with the Raiders. Congratulations to the Oakland baseball counterpart making the playoffs. This event drives the football game to much later in the evening (given time needed to convert Coliseum from baseball to football configuration). Good luck for anyone east of the Mississippi River watching the football game in its entirety before beginning a new work week a few hours later. At least the Chargers are still on the west coast. The adjustment of being on the road shouldn't be too difficult.

After four games, the Chargers average 396 yards per game, with 291 via pass. The Raiders give up 349 per game, including 237 passing yards yielded.

Conversely, the Raiders gain 338 yards per game, including 200 passing yards on average. The Chargers give up on average 432.8 yards, including 312 per game via the air.

Average San Diego score so far is 27-25.5. Average Oakland score so far is 17.75-22.75.

For me, the San Diego pass rush is key (as usual). Can they get to Pryor/McGloin/Flynn enough to disrupt things? With Freeney's injury, it begs the question. Yeah, Oakland runs the ball pretty well, but that means they are really one-dimensional..

On offense, can Rivers keep getting the ball out quickly? So far, the new offense has been clicking fairly well. Rivers' reads are efficient, and he's not forced too often to scramble for his life. However, they could use a bit more consistency running the ball, especially in the 4th quarter. In the two losses, the team had the lead in the second half but didn't sustain that late-game drive that puts the game out of reach.

I would love to see Ryan Mathews go for 85 yards in 20 or so carries, especially with 30ish yards in the fourth quarter to put the game away. A win would make the Chargers a mildly surprising 3-2. Sure, Denver is dominant and Kansas City is playing very well. The Chargers can keep making noise, and maybe squeeze into a playoff spot.

My guess: San Diego 24, Oakland 20. I will attempt to watch it all. It will finish past my bedtime, though...

Saturday, October 5, 2013

My Team - A Look Back At The Nationals' Season

Some team stats, courtesy of

OPS: .709, 16th of 30 teams
Runs scored: 656, 15th of 30 teams
WHIP: 1.23, 4th of 30 teams
Bases on Balls: 405, fewest of 30 teams
Fielding Percentage: .982, 24th of 30 teams
Defensive Efficiency Ratio: .691, 19th of 30 teams
Total Errors: 107, tied for 7th most of 30 teams

Welcome to the cherry-picking portion of my work. I watched quite a few (but not every) Nationals' game this year, and saw some good things and some not-so-good things. First, the good:

a) Young pitching from the farm showed lots of potential. Roark, Jordan, Krol, Davis and Abad all showed promise & a willingness to challenge hitters. If a healthy Detwiler or Ohlendorf can hold down the #4 slot in the starting rotation, there is gonna be enough depth to minimize flat spots in the rotation. Next year, Washington's starters are good enough to keep the team in nearly every game.

b) The bench was tweaked. Lombardozzi has a knack for contributing as a pinch-hitter. Hairston has power off the bench, but will he get enough ABs to stay sharp? There is room for OFs Brown and Kobernus to possibly make the club from the start. After Moore's demotion and recall, he showed the power he possesses. Next year's bench should be younger. Hopefully, it will be as productive as 2012's bench.

c) Guys like Rendon and Ramos showed they belong. Rendon gained more confidence at the plate as he got more ABs. He has potentially 15-homer power, but maybe that means he isn't destined to play 3B. He was nimble enough to play 2B, but had occasional lapses of concentration. Next year is crucial to show he can be a consistent major league ballplayer.

Ramos handled the pitching staff well after Suzuki was traded to Oakland. He also showed plus power as he got everyday ABs. Now, he has to stay healthy and catch approximately 140 games next year.

Overall, the team is in pretty good shape. Fielding was shaky the first two months of the season, and the fielding percentage was doomed from that point forward. The offense was shaky as well, with that not warming up until August.

What do the Nationals need for 2014? Not much, actually. A steady start to the season would make a huge difference. If the regulars play up to their capabilities, 92 or so wins is definitely reachable. That total will have them squarely in the hunt for at least a wild card slot. Good health for Zimmerman and Harper (for two examples) will go a long way towards the team getting off to a good start.

One concern I see is the back end of the bullpen. Soriano had a decent year overall, but his mid-season shakiness hurt the team. Storen has the stuff & experience to close for a pennant contender, but he too has to keep challenging hitters & not succumb to the wildness.

2013 was a disappointing season, but the team won 86 games while playing numerous rookies. I think this team is set for 2014, and potentially can be fun to watch. I can't wait.

Friday, September 27, 2013

My Team - Nationals at Arizona, At Season's End

Potential starting pitchers -

Friday: Strasburg vs Corbin
Saturday: Haren vs McCarthy
Sunday: Roark vs Miley

(starting pitchers subject to change)

My favorite soap opera is coming to a close. My favorite reality show is gonna shutter soon. After the last-minute rush and the disappointing struggle against the Marlins, the Nats are formally eliminated from playoff contention. These last three games in Arizona are for professional pride, a chance to get the team ready for 2014, and maybe a chance to get some insight on who might be the Washington manager next year.

The Diamondbacks have a fairly young team, and that bodes well for their future. Goldschmidt is the slugging 1B who's an MVP candidate. The outfielder Parra is a very good defender, who has occasional power. Outfielders like Pollock and Eaton can provide a spark, and are still highly-regarded prospects. The SS Gregorius has a ton of potential & had a decent year this season. He has great range and a plus arm. I like watching him play shortstop. They had a chance to compete this year, just before the Dodgers started playing up to their abilities.

On the mound, Corbin had five strong months, with an ERA under 3. Lately, he's been getting roughed up a bit. I suspect he'll bounce back on Friday night. McCarthy, Arizona's Saturday starter, has had an up & down year (mostly down). That will probably continue as well.  Miley, who starts on Sunday, has been quietly effective. Arizona doesn't have a lot of hard throwers, but they work quickly & throw strikes.

Left-handed hitters like Harper and LaRoche have struggled against left-handers this season. Runs for the Nats may be hard to come by Friday & Sunday.

For my favorite team, I wonder if the starters will go deep into these games? Is there a need for it to happen? Strasburg has shown he can go a full season. Haren has had a strong second half, and may be pitching for an opportunity with a new team for next year. Roark has shown a strong competitive streak, and is in the running to take the 5th starter slot for which Haren was signed. I would be surprised if Washington starters go more than 6 innings. There are guys in the bullpen (Cedeno, Abad, Davis) who could use some work this weekend.

I suspect Arizona will win Friday and Sunday, with Corbin & Miley both going around 7 strong innings with minimal pitch counts. I also suspect Haren will get roughed up on Saturday, but Washington will score enough to make up for that occurrence.

With that last win, Washington could finish with 85 wins. Not bad, but disappointing compared to the March projections. I look forward to 2014, which for the team should be the type of season expected in 2013. "Wait 'til next year!"

Thursday, September 26, 2013

CTD Update - One Day Closer

Flyin' me back to Memphis
Gotta find my Daisy Jane
Well, the summer's gone
And I hope she's feelin' the same

(Thanks to and the band America.)

A handful of y'all may remember me writing this. Me running my mouth about making changes. Preparing for a bright future. Well, today was a tangible piece of that effort. I got one step closer to moving back home, and it feels superb.

Thursday's always been my favorite day of the week. The weather was near-perfect: sunny, a light breeze and 70 degrees or so. I got to the storage facility, and there were only a few people around. I had plenty of room to move about and take care of business, without getting in someone else's way.

There were some things easily identified as candidates for donation. A shovel and other garden tools. Several crutches. A chess set, containing sculpted glass pieces.  A container filled with packing nuggets. A treadmill I never used. Various Christmas decorations. All sent on for someone else to enjoy.

Sure, there was the briefest hint of a memory. Many of those items were in my house before I got divorced. In another circumstance, they may have provided some utility in a happy home. When my ex left, she left those things behind. I have to assume she didn't want them. I don't need them. So why keep them?

Loading up my car was a rush. Just to "clear the decks" by getting rid of that stuff really lifted my spirits. It's as if a bit of burden was removed from my back & shoulders. I needed a bit of tangible evidence that the time for moving is coming soon. Suddenly, the stagnant life I experienced in 2012 seems like a distant memory. The future really looks bright.

Once again, it reminds of the last day of school, or the last day at a job. The fresh air of freedom blew through my life, clearing out the musty and unwanted. I couldn't help but smile. (For those who know me & claim I don't smile much, you shoulda seen it.)

The guys at the Goodwill donation center in my neighborhood couldn't have been nicer. And, I got a Tootsie Pop for my trouble ("who loves ya, baby?).

The clean-out was so much fun, I plan to go back tomorrow. Friday's run may prove to be more of a garbage removal than a salvage op, but that's alright. As I clean out the garbage from the storage facility, I clean out some of the garbage from my head and spirit.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My Team - Nationals at St Louis

Proposed starting pitchers -

Monday: Roark vs Wainwright
Tuesday: Gonzalez vs Wacha
Wednesday: Zimmermann vs S. Miller

(starting pitchers subject to change)

Well, we've just about come to the end of the road. The Braves clinched the NL East on Sunday. The Nationals are 5 games behind the Reds for the second wild card spot with 6 games left. Cincinnati's magic number is 2. The Nats have the slimmest of chances, but realistically the team is playing for pride & next year.

I grew up in "Cardinal Country", and spent many a year listening to guys like Jack Buck, Jay Randolph and Mike Shannon. I've always admired the way the Redbirds went about their business. This year, they are again heading to the playoffs. Maybe they don't have any obvious first-ballot Hall-of-Famers, but this is a good team, from top to bottom. I enjoy watching them play, because they always seem to be steady. Generally, they make all the standard plays in the field. Most of their hitters put the ball in play productively.

For the St. Louis pitchers, Wainwright is an ace-caliber starter (still). I look for him to go 7 innings or so, maybe giving up only 4 hits, 1 walk and no more than 2 earned runs. Wacha and Miller, the young guns, are confident guys who throw hard. If they execute their pitches, they might also shut Washington down or even out.

Positionally, St. Louis has a bunch of guys like Adams (1B), Carpenter (2B), Freese (3B) and Holliday, Jay and Beltran (OFs), all good to very good. You don't hear as much about them, but they deserve more attention. Molina at C is among the best in the game at his position. The batting order has no obvious holes, and defensively they are consistent.

I wonder if Washington will come out and play to win each inning the rest of the week, or will the team start sending out prospects? The Nats have clinched a winning record. They've clinched second place in their division. If they sweep St. Louis & later Arizona, they could reach 90 wins (which would be surprising, given Washington's slow start). Is that a goal this team wants to reach?

Also, I wonder how the manager Johnson approaches this last week. Does he let guys like Knorr and Jewett get some run informally managing the team? If that happens, does it appear that Johnson is giving a certain coach an unwritten endorsement for managing the team in '14?

I guess Wainwright outduels Roark on Monday, Gonzalez gets worked over by the Cardinals' lineup on Tuesday, and Zimmermann outduels Miller on Wednesday. Yeah, it looks like St. Louis very well may take two of three this week. I'm still rooting for my team, though.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

In Dreams - "I'm Gonna Sing With Chrissy Hynde?"

I'm in Memphis, in this big convention center-type building. There's some kinda conference set up, and rows of chairs are all over the place. I'm walking around in that fake-big-shot way I sometimes do (pretending to know what's going on, speaking to every person who'll make eye contact, etc.). I find myself in the lobby. Nothing going on here, I think to myself. I still feel a familiar nervousness, since the program will start at any moment.

I go back into the main ballroom, and there are suddenly folk everywhere. Dozens of small conversations are going on, and there is a general buzz of noise all around me. I feel a sense of responsibility to the group, that whatever we gathered to do must get done in an expeditious fashion. I shift into "control freak" mode, bossing people around with a soft but firm voice. The people I direct look at me with quizzical expressions, but they go about the business as I direct. As I direct the order of events, someone walks up to me with a note. I receive the note, unfold it, then start to read.

The note was from Chrissy Hynde, leader of the Pretenders. I had no idea the Pretenders were even in Memphis, but I read the note as it was completely sincere/not a prank.

The note read that she wants me to duet with her on two songs. One is titled "Determination", the other "I Don't Know The Answers". I hadn't heard either before, and was at once flattered and bewildered. She hadn't ever heard me sing a single note. How or why would she think I would be a worthy singing partner? I let the flattery overwhelm my bewilderment, and rushed to a restroom to warm up my singing voice. The conference would be alright without my direct involvement.

I rummage through my memory. I was a Pretenders' fan in the '80s, but I hadn't memorized every song they've ever done. I started to let my imagination run wild. Supposed she wanted me to go on the road with the band? Supposed this was the start of my new career of backing vocalist? What would I wear onstage? Normally, it seems backing vocalists wear darker colors and simple outfits - I had black clothes at home, I thought. Will I be able to go home to pack, or will I have to leave right away?

I never did meet Hynde directly.

My Team - Nationals versus Miami

Proposed starting pitchers -

Thursday: Gonzalez vs Alvarez
Friday: Zimmernann vs Turner
Saturday: Strasburg vs Koehler
Sunday: Haren vs. Dyson

(starting pitchers subject to change)

After Monday's massacre at the Washington Navy Yard, I wasn't all that excited about writing about sports. I offer my deepest condolences to the surviving family members and colleagues. Once again, it didn't have to happen. When will we learn to respect ALL life?

(rant over)

The Nats' doubleheader sweep of Atlanta gave hope. Thursday night's loss damaged the Nats' hope for a wild card spot. Washington is 5.5 GB the Reds. Washington closes the home schedule this weekend with four against Miami. After that, Washington gets three at St. Louis and three at Arizona. Ten games left. Obviously, Washington has to win 'em all, and hope for a Cincinnati collapse.

The Reds finish their last road trip of the season with three this weekend at Pittsburgh. After that, Cincinnati goes home for three against the Mets and three against the Pirates. On paper, it looks like all is lost. Stranger things have happened in other years, but the Reds are a good team. I wouldn't wait for a collapse. The Reds just finished a three-game-sweep at Houston.

For the Marlins, Alvarez has been competitive most of the year, but his last start against Washington was 1.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER. Turner has had a decent year as well, but his last start against the Nats was 4 IP, 9 H, 5 ER. Koehler's last start against Washington was 5 IP, 7H, 4 BB, 6 ER. Dyson got lit up in his first start last week, but in mop-up duty against Washington 7 Sept, he went 3 IP, 2 H,1 ER. Washington should be able to score often against Miami's staff.

For Miami's offense, the usual applies. Don't give Stanton get good pitches to drive. The rest of the lineup can be "pitched to". Work quickly, Nats' pitchers, and throw strikes.

For Washington, Span's 29-game hitting streak and Werth's second-half surge have buoyed the offense. Zimmerman has ramped up his production at 3B and at the plate. Ramos is dangerous offensively, and not showing signs of wearing down catching nearly every game. The lineup has to keep scoring.

One thing on defense - either Rendon is tiring after a long season, or losing a bit of focus. Sometimes, he will let the game get away from him. Maybe he takes his eye off the ball, or gets a little sloppy. He's having a pretty good rookie year, but he has to bear down this last ten games.

I expect Washington to sweep this 4-game set. The Reds' magic number is 5. So, by the numbers, the Nats potentially could still be in contention come Monday. That is, as long as Washington doesn't lose any more the rest of the regular season. Not too large a demand, is it?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Team - Nationals versus Philadelphia

Proposed starting pitchers -

Friday: Strasburg vs Kendrick
Saturday: Gonzalez vs Hamels
Sunday: Zimmermann vs Cloyd

(Starting pitchers subject to change)

Washington had a pretty good time at Citi Field, bashing homers in each game of the four-game series. Thirteen in all, a pretty decent total. Twenty-five runs scored against Mets' pitching in the sweep. Next, the Nationals start a long home stand by facing Philadelphia for three, followed by Atlanta (three games) and Miami (four games). Yeah, the Nats haven't been mathematically eliminated from the second wild card spot, but there's not enough games left.

It is good to see the offense come alive. The regulars are more aggressive early in counts, and that mindset has the whole lineup taking the attack to opposing pitchers. Furthermore, the pitchers (especially the bullpen) seem to be working faster and throwing more strikes. From mid-August until now, this is the Nationals' team many (including me) expected to see all season.

Philly is coming off splitting a two-game set with San Diego. Before that, they got swept by Atlanta and took two of three at home from Washington.  Last time against Washington, Kendrick gave up 4 earned runs in 4.1 innings. Hamels only gave up 2 hits and 1 earned run his last start against the Nats. Cloyd, in his last start against Washington, gave up 6 earned runs in 5 innings. Given that, I'll guess Washington will win Friday and Sunday, while losing on Saturday night.

Now, will Washington keep mashing the long ball this weekend? Maybe. Will Zimmerman at third keep making clutch plays in the field? Will Ramos stay healthy, keep calling good games for the pitchers, keep hitting for power?

For the Phils, will Ruf keep hitting balls out of the part? Will Galvis be a pest at the plate and versatile in the field? Will Asche keep growing at third base?

Washington has the faintest glimmer of home. All they can do is keep winning, and hope Cincinnati loses a few down the stretch. Probable? Possible? Who can say? Keep watching...

Another Life Lost

I first heard about this before sunrise Thursday. Fountain Creek is notorious for fast-moving water whenever heavy rains set in. We've been getting steady showers for a couple of days now. The threat of flash flooding wasn't a surprise.

And, I've known that several of our homeless customers camp out along the banks of the creek. For the most part, they know to break camp & seek higher ground as the waters rise. This time, though, somebody didn't.

I knew this guy, the guy whose remains were found early Thursday morning. Like the other customers who've passed away, I find myself saddened. I find myself wondering if this death could have been prevented. He was about my age, and I can't help but wonder what else he would have experienced had he lived past Thursday.

"D" (not his real name, nor real first initial) was a pleasant guy. Yeah, the vast majority of our customers are as pleasant. D was a big guy, soft-spoken and not prone to wild gesticulation. He was one I never saw get angry, never saw him beefing with another customer. In his defense, he was the type of guy who didn't talk a lot about his past. (Most of our customers didn't. And we respected that.) Maybe he didn't want anyone getting too close. Maybe there were parts of his past he didn't want to relive.

I remember one day in particular, when we had a spare military-style backpack among our items donated for distribution. D needed it, we got it to him, and he beamed like a small child on Christmas morning. It was one of those moments where you're glad you're working on the street. You actually see one of your customers being immediately blessed. He had a need for it, and put it to use straightaway.

We had several other small moments like that. D was a guy content to live the life he wanted on the streets. He was offered formal shelter, but preferred the freedom. He didn't seem to lack anything he really needed. I never heard him complain or blame others on his circumstance. He accepted his life, and possessed a grace few others have. And, now he's gone.

He'll be missed, like Tom a year ago. D didn't meet a violent end like Tom, but he was part of the gathering as well. He was a kind face in an all-too-cold city. We will go on. We have to. It's just a little less pleasant.

Rest in peace, D.

Monday, September 9, 2013

My Team - Nationals at New York Mets

Proposed starting pitchers -

Monday: Gonzalez vs Torres
Tuesday: Zimmermann vs Gee
Wednesday: Haren vs Wheeler
Thursday: Roark vs Niese

Looks like the Nationals are finishing strong. Four games above .500 entering play on Monday. Going into Gotham, it's a real possibility that Washington could get swept. Torres is competitive on the mound. Gee and Wheeler have had success against the Nationals. Niese was highly-regarded as a rotation mainstay last year - who's to say he won't come out hitting his spots on Thursday?

The Mets are coming off losing two of three in Cleveland over the weekend. Labor Day weekend, however, New York took two of three in Nationals Park.

Washington needs production from Span and LaRoche in the lineup. Ryan Zimmerman is finding his power stroke, Werth is still raking, Ramos & Desmond are continuing to hit. The offense is starting to improve, but there are still guys opponents can pitch to. Cory Brown and Anthony Rendon can also be a help, making up for the loss of Harper.

The Mets are playing d'Arnaud (C) Den Dekker (OF) and Andrew Brown (OF). Prep for 2014 is ongoing at Citi Field as well. When I'm not watching Monday Night Football or other football highlights, I'll be watching this series.

Monday, if Gonzalez keeps his cool he should be able to go deep in his start, maybe 7 innings with 4 or so hits and one earned run yielded. Washington should win on Monday, but probably not Tuesday. Zimmermann will throw strikes and keep Washington close. For the Mets, Gee will do the same and a bit more. Wednesday, Wheeler will show his best stuff on Wednesday for a win. Niese's poise and experience will help the Mets give Roark his first MLB loss on Thursday.

Should The U.S. Military Get Invloved In Syria?


(The following is my opinion, and mine alone.)

The Syrian government has allegedly subjected dissident citizens (and innocent children) to chemical agents as a means to quell the uprising. Nasty stuff, to be sure. Hundreds have died, according to some sources. The Syrian president has stated his nation will respond forcefully to any nation that inserts itself into Syrian internal politics by supporting the dissidents.

For me, I can't help but wonder. As a veteran, I can remember when my initial reaction would have been "we've trained for this type of operation. Let's go put that training to use." As a "regular citizen", I wonder what we'd gain. Stability in the Middle East? Maybe, but we thought that before.

Last week, I heard the Secretary of State allude to the possibility that if the U.S. didn't take a stand, two things were likely: a) other nations would be emboldened to also use chemical weapons in future conflict, and b) other nations would be emboldened to ratchet up plans to hurt or destroy U.S. resources or interests here or abroad. Those scenarios may well may be possible.

As usual, we need the best intel we can get before these type of decisions are made. Intelligence-gathering being a dirty business, most Americans would rather be kept in the dark when it comes to the nature of that enterprise. O.K., I guess. Even if it's distasteful, I really hope our decision-makers have "ground truth" before committing troops and resources to that part of the world.

I also understand the feeling a lot of Americans have regarding "war-weariness". Conflict in Afghanistan has gone on for a long while, and we didn't get the satisfying ending we wanted. So many troops, mostly the young who had lives in front of them, came home in transfer cases. So many maimed, physically and emotionally. What do we do?

It appears the Senate and House are reluctant to commit troops towards this conflict. The media tells us the POTUS wants to use military force to "level" the conflict, where neither side is using chem warfare. We've been told U.S. involvement would be limited/highly restricted. There'd be no U.S. "boots" on the ground in Syria. That statement is hard to predict, hard to guarantee. Depending on how our involvement evolved, it's not a big step to later send "advisors" in to evaluate the effectiveness of our weapons, tactics, doctrine, etc.

"Oh-by-the-way", with the effects of sequestration and other Defense Department budget cuts/restrictions, can we even afford another drawn-out armed action?

It may seem like a small step in a country far away, but it's a bigger deal than the average American may realize.

What do YOU think?

My Team - Chargers vs Houston

The first week of the NFL season is almost complete. My favorite team is on the second half of the Monday night doubleheader, hosting the Houston Texans. The last couple of years, Houston has been highly regarded, and in some quarters considered a Super Bowl contender. Injuries and ineffectiveness have helped hinder the team's progress. They're still good, though. It will be a stern test for San Diego.

For the Chargers, the thing I want to see all year is improvement in fundamentals. Blocking, tackling, catching, etc. There were several games last year (Denver, New Orleans, Baltimore) where the Chargers played well enough to win at some point, but had a crucial breakdown that directly enabled the opponent to regain momentum and eventually win ("4th and 29" - I'm still shaking my head. Who converts a 4th and 29?).

Monday night, the offensive line must give Rivers time to run the updated offense. Rivers must get the ball out on time. He needs to complete upwards of 75% of his pass attempts, with around 8 yards per completion. The running game needs to garner around 125 yards or so each game (Ryan Mathews, hello).

Defensively, someone must provide consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback. Dwight Freeney, Corey Liuget, Sean Lissemore or someone must be a guy the team can count on to make quarterbacks uncomfortable. With three new DBs on the field to accompany Eric Weddle, pass rushing is a quick way to help the DBs acclimate to the team and scheme.

On special teams, Nick Novak needs to make the makeable FG attempts. Eddie Royal must stay healthy in returning kicks and punts (a tall order for a relatively small WR). Scifres is one of the best punters in the league; hopefully, he stays healthy as well.

For Monday, a 24-20 loss to the Texans wouldn't be the end of the world. I just wanna see a tough, smart Chargers' squad that is competitive for all sixty minutes.

Friday, September 6, 2013

My Team - Nationals at Miami

Proposed starting pitchers -

Friday: Haren vs Fernandez
Saturday: Roark vs Eovaldi
Sunday: Strasburg vs Turner

OK, the Nationals took two of three at Philadelphia (a team that has acknowledged their rebuilding has begun). Now, the road show stops in Miami. The Marlins trot out hard throwers the first two games, and have a formerly highly-regarded young arm starting on Sunday.

Haren is making a case for getting a contract for next season, whether it's with Washington or someone else. Roark has gotten four wins (as the "kill the win" crowd cringes), but he has been tough-minded and effective. He throws strikes and works fairly quickly. Strasburg has thrown well and is closing in on a full season of pitching with no major breakdowns. The three starters should have the chance to all have solid outings this weekend.

For Washington pitchers, avoid pitching to Stanton. Period.

For the Nats' offense, Moore has done well at the plate since his recall. Hopefully, he keeps up that confidence going into '14. Brown has been called up, and is also playing for next season. Rebuilding the bench is a key for Washington's potential next season. The next manager is gonna need guys he can count on. Why not see what's available within the organization, before determining what possible needs are in free agency shopping, proposed trades, etc.

For the Marlins, Polanco is back. Not much pop left, but he's a professional who can still set a good example for the younger teammates.

The Marlins took two of three at the Cubs earlier this week, and may be feeling good about themselves. Also, the Nats swept Miami in D.C. the last week of August. Professional pride means Miami will compete, and may win on Friday. I suspect the Nats will sweep the series, but anything can happen in September baseball.

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Team - Nationals at Philadelphia

Proposed starting pitchers -

Monday: Strasburg vs Hamels
Tuesday: Gonzalez vs Martin
Wednesday: Zimmermann vs Halladay

Sunday night, the Nationals averted getting swept at home by a depleted New York Mets' team. Wow. Starting Labor Day night, the Nats have a three-game set in Philadelphia. The Phils lost the last two of a three-game set in Chicago over the weekend. With interim manager Ryne Sandberg, the team is auditioning new guys while trying to be competitive enough to keep the veterans interested. The Phils just traded Michael Young, so Philly is even deeper in "build for '14" mode.

Hamels has had success against Washington lately, so he's not afraid of facing them. His won-loss record isn't great, he's pitching well this year. Martin is a young guy who's having growing pains at the MLB level. Halladay has a strong rep, but is just now coming back from injury (shoulder, required surgery). Who knows how effective he'll be.

With position players, the Phils signed Roger Bernadina. He's a good defender, and is auditioning for the CF job for next year. Will he hit enough to be a viable candidate? Will he try too hard in this series, to prove a point to his former team?

The rest of the lineup still has Utley, Rollins, Ruiz and Brown. Guys like Asche (3B) and Ruf (1B/OF) are getting extended looks. Ruf is a strong, strong man - pitch him carefully.

Defensively, Utley's range is slightly diminished. Same with Rollins. Maybe Washington can take advantage of Philadelphia's infield defense.

For Washington, will Werth ever cool off? Will Desmond get more selective at the plate? Will Moore keep up his torrid streak since his recall from AAA Syracuse?

On Monday, I suspect Hamels outduels Strasburg, like two gunfighters in yet another old Western movie. Gonzalez should pitch well on Tuesday, and get the win, For the rubber game on Wednesday, will we see the Halladay of old, or just an old Halladay? That answer is the key to who wins the third game of this series.

The Nats are chasing the wild card, but losing two of three to the Mets isn't the way to go about it.

How Does a Baby Boomer Know He's Getting Old?

It snuck up on me. I fought it for a few years. Now, I can't deny it, "it" being squarely in middle age. These following things showed up on my "personal radar" within the last month (apologies to Jeff Foxworthy and anyone else who does observational humor):

When you gain more calories drinking a sports beverage than the calories you burned in the workout that "required" your consuming the sports beverage.

When you remember a high school football player being a 5-star recruit, and next thing you know he's in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

When you hear a song that someone calls "retro" and you remember years ago when it was called "a groundbreaking new sound".

When you see bridesmaids at a wedding, you notice the level of matching & coordination in their outfits, instead of seeing them as approachable for dating.

When you leave a wedding reception with the other seniors, right as the dance floor opens, noting "I can't dance to that stuff".

When the 25-year-old suit in your closet has become fashionable again.

When you can't fasten the 25-year-old suit around your now 50-something-year-old body.

When you're so cheap, you wonder if you'll live long enough to lose enough weight to eventually wear the suit, knowing by then the suit will be out of style again.

When you go to an auto parts store and regret not bringing your bifocals, since you can't read the fine print on the products otherwise.

When you see an "incontinence" aisle in a grocery store, and it reminds you to take a bathroom break ASAP.

When you hear the original "Thin Line Between Love and Hate" on the radio, and someone asks "is that the H-Town version?"

When your favorite band is featured on a 70's music channel.

When pizza becomes a rare treat instead of a basic food group.

When just sitting in a chair exhausts you.

When a mid-day nap is a viable option.

When you shave your facial hair and instantly go from "Uncle Remus/Fred Sanford" to a "baby face".

When you follow AARP's Twitter account.

When you realize some Buster Keaton movies are close to 100 years old. And, you still laugh at 100-year-old hi-jinks.

Random Observations Around a Wedding

Remember when "catfish" meant good eating, and not lying to people under the guise of "pranks"? The groom's family hosted the rehearsal dinner, and fried a virtual ton of catfish. Dang, that was good eating. And, I hadn't had hush puppies in ages.

My car's AC was out of coolant on Friday. Didn't want to be in a mess dress sweating. Bought the "A/C Pro (tm)" stuff. Worked pretty good.

My son went to his first bachelor party the night before the wedding. I don't know what happened. I don't want to know.

Roughly 100 people were at the rehearsal dinner the night before. Interesting how everyone just naturally fell into their roles:

- House matriarch - you will pay your respects upon entering the home
- Man in charge of fried foods - an exalted position, a role that must be earned thru time
- Men who gather around man in charge of fried foods - we watch food, frying
- Kitchen non-commissioned officer - everything/everyone in its place, or else
- Wedding gift display lady - check out the bounty!
- Golfers - the great uniting pastime
- Young folk easing into the role of prime generation - their adult tastes guide the day's entertainment
- "Touch-and-Go people" - they stopped in just long enough to reconnoiter the scene

There was a lot less stress than I expected, leading up to the wedding. People were actually pretty mellow. To see everyone handle their tasks with virtually no drama was a relief.

Lots of folk recorded us on their tablets, phones, etc. I shudder to think I am present in more homes/on more devices than I care to count.

Young adults really, really love old-school R&B. During the reception, we got lots of Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Stylistics, etc. Those grooves are eternal.

Knowing that I helped feed scores of people for the evening blew my mind. I had to resist the urge to see individuals as "unit cost per plate".

Toasts vary. Some can be long, others quite short. Nonetheless, a good toast really touches the heart.

Now that this big event is done, the next one appears to be the young couple having a baby. Had two different people approach me asking if I was ready to be called "grandpa". No. I am not ready. But, it doesn't matter if I am or not. If/when it does happen, though, that kid is getting lots of San Diego Chargers gear. Book it.

In the end, my daughter was beaming with joy. She got the ceremony she wanted. Attendees had a great time. The resultant good memories will last a lifetime.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Last, Best Gift I Can Give Her

Later today, my daughter (my first-born) gets married. Months of planning, purchasing and stress have culminated in this moment. Numerous family and friends from across the country have converged on this site to share in the joyous occasion.

I can't help but reminisce. On my dresser, I have a small picture of my daughter. She's about a week old, propped up on a pillow (not too steep an angle, and my first wife and I made sure she was safe). Like a lot of young couples, we were filled with joy at the new life before us. We were also a bit anxious, wondering what type of world would exist as our daughter grew.

Not long after, we found out just how real the world would be. My military career allowed us to travel a bit, so as a family we got to see places and things I never did in my youth. We got the opportunity to welcome another child (a son) into our clan. We also got to experience crushing grief as we buried my wife.

Through all those changes and more, I watched my kids closely. I watched them adapt to new surroundings. I commiserated with them after disappointment. I celebrated with them as they achieved goals and set new ones. I argued with them as they developed their own world views. But through it all, eventually we would reconcile and come to understand the updated status of our relationships.

When my daughter and her fiancé announced their engagement, I was excited for them. I was relieved that she'd agreed to marry her best friend. I also came to understand that no matter what I did for her would pale in comparison to what her husband would provide.

I remember the first time I got married, and how my wife and I had that unspoken expectation that we would be together for a long and happy life. We just knew that come what may, our affection and enthusiasm for each other would carry us through any obstacle. I see similar optimism in my daughter and her fiancé.

Yeah, I supported the wedding preparation effort the best I could. It wasn't just cash. It wasn't just the pizzas when the ladies were making wedding favors by hand a few weeks ago. It wasn't just cleaning up after the rehearsal dinner. The best gift I could give her was my unconditional support during this time.

Later today, it will be time to walk down the aisle. As we proceed the 100 or so feet to the altar, it will be the last time I will hold this place as the man in her life. As I step down, her husband formally and publicly ascends to take on that role. He's a good guy, hard-working and quite pleasant. He's easy to approach, but he's his own man as well.

After today, the gifts he gives her will always matter a bit more than whatever I could give her. I don't acknowledge it out of sadness or envy. This is the way things are supposed to evolve. I embrace the change, and understand my role in her life has changed forever.

The last, best gift I can give my daughter is my continued heartfelt support. And, I know that if my first wife was alive, she too would give this union her complete support freely.

It's gonna be a great day. For the newlyweds, it's the start of a wonderful journey. It's their turn, and I pray God's greatest blessings to them and their union.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Time Limit"

I stumbled across this movie, and found myself engrossed. As often happens, I found I couldn't sleep early this morning. Since I was awake, I dialed up this film. I was pleasantly surprised and entertained.

Richard Widmark starred, but there was a good cast around him. This is a military courtroom drama with not much time in a courtroom. The questions that remain are germane today. One key question is "what is the duration of heroism?"

Released in 1957, it's set in the aftermath of the Korean War. As you may already know, the Korean War movies seem to be grittier. There's no Clark Gable nor Gregory Peck standing tall and inspiring others, like in the World War II movies. What we see in the Korean War movies are real men faced with difficult circumstances. There are no M*A*S*H-style hi-jinks going on here.

There's an Army "Major Cargill" (played with great depth by Richard Basehart), a recently-released prisoner of war. Evidence points to him collaborating with the enemy during his confinement. What's puzzling is Cargill doesn't deny it, doesn't even make a statement in his own defense. He just wants to get the investigative/court martial process over with, even if it means his demise.

Widmark is "Colonel William Edwards", an Army lawyer charged with investigating this case. Edwards isn't so quick to accept this as a cut-and-dried case. He feels there are more details and circumstances that need to come out before whether or not he recommends court martial. With his trusty assistant "Corporal Evans" (Dolores Michaels), Edwards seeks the truth. Even as Edwards' superior "Lieutenant General Connors" (Carl Benton Reid) leans heavily on Edwards to wrap up this case and spare the Army further embarrassment, Edwards can't shake the nagging suspicion that there is a need to go further.

One weird aspect of this film is the working relationship between Edwards and Evans. I realize Judge Advocate Corps working environments are different than combat units. However, the colonel seemed to take a lot of interest in his much-younger subordinate. Maybe it was just indicative of its' era, but I could imagine if the film was 20 minutes longer, we would have seen the colonel romantically pursuing the corporal. Yikes.

Among the cast is Martin Balsam, June Lockhart and Rip Torn, who all do a great job playing key roles in furthering the story. The acclaimed character actor Karl Malden directed (in what sources say is his only time directing a feature film). This story is crisp, and it makes you think. The twist in the ending should make you look in the mirror and seek the answers in your own character.

The reason it hits me hard is this - I wonder if the Edward Snowdens and Bradley Mannings of the world ask similar questions. "Is your choice really saving lives, or costing more lives?" How about, "is your act heroism, or merely a self-serving, misguided attempt to affect profound change?" There's no way to know how many lives would be impacted by what Snowden did or what Manning did. Only with the passage of time will we really know if their choices were appropriate. They felt they were heroes, taking a great risk? I'm not so sure. The relief for them is, the can choose to ignore the possible negative impacts of their acts. Major Cargill could not.

With those real-world events in the back of my mind, I had to look at this movie with a different perspective. Many of us think we have heroic stuff within our character. How long can we hold on in trying circumstances? What happens when you or I hit our limit, where maybe we break and have to live with what happens after we break? To me, this is a very real consideration. And, it's hard to predict or prepare for such a moment.

For me, this movie stirred up some interesting thoughts and some small measure of soul-searching. Maybe it will do the same for you.

My Team - Nationals vs Marlins

Proposed starting pitchers -

Tuesday: Ohlendorf vs Eovaldi
Wednesday: Strasburg vs Alvarez
Thursday: Gonzalez vs Koehler

The Nationals have been hitting a bit better of late. A five-game win streak (at Cubs, at Royals) was broken on Sunday in Kansas City. Even the loss was tied late, until mental and physical errors gave KC life. After Monday off, Washington hosts the Miami Marlins. Yeah, Miami's record is bad, but the young talent is getting experience. It takes time to develop a core.

Tuesday, Eovaldi will start for the Marlins. He's gaining experience, and can be effective against the Nats. He throws hard enough, so staying with that strength will be key. Wednesday's starter Alvarez has had some ups and downs, but pitched well against Washington on 14 July. Thursday's starter Koehler had only 13.1 major league innings before 2013. He's a guy getting his chance in the big leagues, and he's still trying to prove he belongs in Miami's plans in '14.

Their position players are coming along. Everybody knows about Stanton's power. Yeah, he isn't the most fluid fielder, but he can change a game with one swing, especially in the late innings. Hechevarria is coming along at SS. I like his potential on both sides of the ball. Morrison has had success batting against Nats' pitching. Yelich and Marisnick are very young guys, but have enough potential to give Washington fits in a particular at-bat.

As we approach the end of Johnson's tenure as Washington manager, I wonder how he'll approach this last month of the season. Will guys like Moore, Lombardozzi and Solano get more work? Johnson has alluded to it, but I wonder just how far he will go. This may help as the team prepares for next season. The next manager will want to know on which players he can depend.

Frankly, I expect a Washington sweep, as long as the Nats execute. Make the basic play on defense. Don't expand the strike zone too much when at bat. Pitchers need to consistently get ahead in counts against the Miami hitters. Again, it sounds basic, but it's easier said than done.

I know football is coming, but I enjoy baseball this time of year. For the also-rans, it's a chance to glimpse into the future.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "The War Lover"

This is one of the strangest World War II movies I've ever seen, and it was an interesting take.It was surprisingly entertaining.

Steve McQueen stars at "Buzz", a B-17 pilot flying for the fabled 8th Air Force in the European theater. Buzz has "good hands", he's "a good stick". He's the best pilot in his squadron, by far. However, he's the most obnoxious sonofagun you'd ever want to meet. The guys on his crew would go anywhere with him, since they know he'll get them back to home base in one piece.

(Aside: I've been in squadrons like that, and it's amazing how that type of pilot takes on an almost mythic status among his fellow aviators You can be the biggest dirtbag in town, as long as you can "fly the jet".)

Buzz is so good, he can scrape right up against the line of regulations, standards, etc. He may break the spirit of a regulation, but he's just enough inside the letter of the law where he can get away with his reckless behavior. Even his superiors, when they want to discipline him, tend to give him a latitude others never get. The more Buzz gets away with flaunting the rules, the more emboldened he gets. That's what makes this movie strange for its' time. Normally, the lead role would be more stable, more admirable. Hollywood needed to sell heroes in its' World War II movies. Buzz definitely isn't a hero.

Robert Wagner is "Bo", Buzz's co-pilot. Bo is experienced in his position, almost ready to upgrade to aircraft commander in his own right. He respects Buzz's skill in-flight, but Bo is learning how much of a jerk Buzz is to every person he encounters. Bo sees how he wants to be a different type of leader when his turn comes.

As with most war movies in this era, there has to be a love interest. Shirley Anne Field is "Shirley", a war widow who encounters the two pilots. So of course she has to choose. Her new American aviator provides comfort, but that leaves one man out. She's gorgeous and alluring, but she has a fatalistic streak. She's not necessarily waiting for a fairy-tale ending in the U.S. She's just trying to stay alive during wartime.

For the scenes in the squadron briefing rooms and cockpits, there is the necessary tension and crew coordination. Of course there is a wide spectrum of personalities in the squadron (the city slicker, the country boy, the devout family man, the new immigrant eager to prove his love of America). I always enjoy watching flight crews in these pictures divide required duties to get the mission done.

Of course, there are deaths. If you pay any attention, you can predict early on who will live and who dies. There is the necessary peril in the flying scenes. The ending is somewhat hackneyed, but it was fitting.

No, it's not the greatest war movie ever made. It does, however, provide a fascinating glimpse of how "crew dogs" relate to one another, in the skies and on the ground. I liked it, DVR'd it, and will watch it again.

In Dreams - "I'm Gonna Be a Grandpa", or "The Golden H3"

I was at my daughter's house. It was springtime, and I was out in the backyard playing with her dog. Her husband had come home from work, and was changing clothes in a different part of the house.

I found myself getting thirsty, so I went inside to get a drink of something cool. As I get inside, my daughter comes down the stairs, beaming. "Daddy", she says, "guess what?"

"I dunno. What's up?"

"I'm gonna have a baby. The due date is the 27th of May. You're gonna be a Paw-Paw. Aren't you excited? I am sooooo excited."

I stand there for a few beats. I wasn't trying to rush this moment, but now it's here. I thought back to my own maternal grandfather, one of the greatest men I've ever known. He wasn't famous. He didn't have a glamorous job. What he did was take care of his wife and his daughter (who turned out to be my mom). I found myself wondering if I could mean to that baby what my grandfather meant to me.

Soon, I found myself outside standing next to my son-in-law's car. It was a Hummer H3, gold-plated. It was the shiniest car I'd ever seen. It had some kind of lift kit, to where the windows were a few inches above my eyes (and I'm a pretty tall guy). Bolted to the exterior, driver-side near the back seats, was a fancy studio-control-board style boom box. It wasn't powered up, but I shuddered at the thought of the power and sound that could come out of those massive speakers.

As I was transfixed at the sight of the beast of a vehicle, I could hear muffled sounds. There were people inside the H3, taking about how they wanted to own the car. They didn't have cash, so they were muttering about either bartering for it or perhaps stealing it. I stood there, shaking my head at what I heard.

When Some Innocents Die, Where's The Outrage?

You probably heard about this story.

Christopher Lane died needlessly in Oklahoma, one more person in our society murdered. The reports are distressing. The lack of high-profile response in our African-American community is discouraging, again.

This post is intended to transcend mere race. Anytime an innocent person is killed because of malicious, criminal behavior, it's heartbreaking. We see so often if the victim is a minority, certain well-known citizens gladly step forward to seek justice and loudly proclaim their dissatisfaction with the justice system. However, when those committing the crime are minorities, those self-styled leaders are strangely silent. They seemingly can't be found. Maybe I don't watch enough news, or don't follow the right people on Twitter.

If those leaders are speaking up when minorities are committing crimes, and I missed hearing those censures, that's on me to do better in looking out for those occurrences.

Ultimately, when an innocent person is hurt or killed, we are all diminished. We find ourselves fighting against the growing, irrational fear that grips much of the nation. The distrust of those who don't look like we do is growing, eroding the very fabric of the country. I, for one, am sick of having to deal with an America that won't reach its true potential because so many live in fear, and react in irrational ways because of that fear.

For me, I would love to see the Jacksons and Sharptons speak out when a black male is witnessed committing a crime or confirmed guilty beyond doubt in a murder case. I want to see the Jacksons and Sharptons speak out for all Americans when it comes to defending the law-abiding citizens who just want to live peaceably with all persons. I want to see the Jacksons and Sharptons speak up for right, every single time. They have a pulpit in the public discourse. They can use it for an even broader good, reaching further than ever before.

Yes, Christopher Lane wasn't the only person killed in America last week. Of course, none of us will know the names of every individual murdered in a particular period. Nonetheless, we can attempt to insure their deaths weren't in vain. We can continue standing up to protect the innocents.

This is one African-American man who grieves a bit anytime an innocent person is hurt or murdered, regardless of what they look like.

When "Fight or Flight" Isn't Enough

This post is at least fifteen days in the making.

A couple of weeks ago, I was on the street doing the "soup run". As we were out there, one of our semi-regulars came up for a meal and a drink. That night, we had sports drinks to give out, shrink-wrapped for transit. We had a volunteer unwrapping one pack, but our customer didn't want to wait. The customer tried to rip the plastic, struggled, then finally threw the whole pack down on the street in anger.

A different volunteer saw the whole thing unfold (I only saw the end, out of the corner of my eye). That caused me to wonder: how do I handle anger on the streets?

Over most of my life, I went out of my way to avoid conflict (pretty weird, coming from a military veteran, eh?). Even now, I'm uncomfortable around anger, especially irrational anger. From a logic perspective, I stumble over how to deal with it, mitigate it, deal with the aftermath of such release.

During the soup run, we cant normally leave when someone is a little perturbed. (If true violence breaks out, where safety is compromised, we call 911 and depart the premises immediately.) If we leave the premises immediately, other customers in line don't get a meal. Some of our customers haven't eaten for a day or more. Depriving them of a meal would be unfortunate and wasteful.

However, we can't get into a fight with our customers. If we are ministering to people as we declare, how can we help anyone if we're verbally or physically fighting the very folk we're there to help?

So of course, a couple of nights later, I face my own anger. There was a misunderstanding regarding which guy would get served water or coffee before another. One particularly unsettled customer loudly stated I ignored him due to racial bias. His accusations included a few choice cuss words. Admittedly, I was offended, because a) the accusation wasn't true, and b) I'm loathe to accept verbal abuse (in public or private).

It became a weird argument. The customer was cussing at me, saying I ignored him because "it was a black thing". Meanwhile, I was yelling at him, demanding that he stand still so I could pour a cup of the cool water he desired.

And yes, I felt low once my shift ended. I didn't feel like a hero for carrying on like that. In fact, I felt like a failure for losing my poise.

So, I received an answer to my own question, but that answer only leads to more questions. I saw in real life how quick I could lose my poise and self-control. At my size and demeanor, any time I blow up emotionally, others are quickly horrified. I don't want that.

Now, I have to ask myself "how do I keep others from pushing my buttons?" Another question is "how do I adjust or eliminate my buttons so I'm not so easily offended?"

Seems like the older I get, and the more I learn, the more I realize I do not know. The journey goes on.

Friday, August 23, 2013

My Team - Nationals at Kansas City

Proposed starters -

Friday: Gonzalez vs B. Chen
Saturday: Zimmermann vs W. Davis
Sunday: Haren vs E. Santana

(Starting pitchers subject to change)

After getting blown away in game one of the four-game set at Wrigley Field, the Nationals bounced back to take the next three games. The team is inching towards .500 (one game under as of start of play Friday). The team has a three-game set in Kansas City. This series should be fun.

For Kansas City, Chen is the prototypical crafty left-hander - not overpowering but highly skilled at keeping opposing hitters off-balance. Davis is a big right-handed power pitcher who's not afraid to challenge hitters (but with his home stats of 4.40 ERA, 1.60 WHIP and .297 BAA). Perhaps the Nats can break through against this guy. Santana is another competitive guy who throws hard, keeps his team in games normally, but will have an occasional stinker.

In the bullpen, the Royals have Holland, Crow, Collins, Herrera, etc. These guys throw gas for the most part. They can be a bit wild, so allowing them to miss the strike zone would be advantageous to Washington hitters in the late innings.

For the position guys, we've heard the names for years now - Gordon (LF), Hosmer (1B) and Moustakas (3B) are starting to find some consistency at the big league level.  Recent acquisition Justin Maxwell (former Astro/National/Yankee, et al) gives Kansas City more skill and depth. DH Butler is a dangerous hitter, who has doubles power to all fields. Escobar at SS is a pretty good two-way player who can make the spectacular play afield. Watching him and Desmond on the same diamond will be cool for any fan of the game. Escobar has 12 errors, though (Moustakas leads the team with 13).

Kansas City is 9.5 GB in the AL Central, having lost five straight (including being swept at home by the White Sox). Yeah, the Royals would love to stomp on Washington this weekend, to restore hope in their postseason chase. They're a good team.

The Nats continue to make changes. DeJesus only stayed with the team for four days before being sent to Tampa. Suzuki was traded back to Oakland. P Xavier Cedeno has been called up to the big leagues. Even though it isn't 1 September, there are guys coming up to either help the team win today or get a good look in the majors as prep for 14. We shall see...

I expect a great pitchers duel between two stylish lefties on Friday night. Saturday, hard-throwing righties will match fastballs. Sunday, two guys who are former Los Angeles Angels match up. I think Washington wins a 2-1-style game on Friday, gets to Davis early on Saturday for another win, then loses on Sunday as Santana pitches pretty good for 5.2 innings or so before turning the game over to that fire-balling bullpen.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Dreams - "There's a Fire in Tent City, and Guess Who Started It?"

Ok, I'm deployed to Southwest Asia (again). It's late September or so. The nights are cool, but bearable. There's a "Tent City" for our accommodations, and you can tell the tents have been in place for years.

The USO folk scheduled another "sports celebrity" tours, where famous/notorious sports figures come out to the deployed location to talk with fans, sigh autographs, etc. Among the guests this time was Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. As his style, he shows up gregarious and ready to press the flesh.

After a day of glad-handing and photo ops, he retires to the Distinguished Visitor - DV- tent (some tents are a bit better appointed than others, go figure). This DV tent is big enough for maybe 10 troops to sleep in. For some reason, I am in the tent with Cuban and some of his hangers-on. In the center of the tent, there is a gas grille, big enough to cook lots of meat. The propane tank isn't hooked up yet, but Cuban goes to set things up. He's talking big all the while, befitting a man used to being the center of attention.

As I watch him turn the collar that fastens the tank to the grille's hose, I hear a hiss. A hiss as if the collar isn't completely seated. For some reason, I walk out of the tent at that moment, don't know why.

As I get maybe 15 yards away, I hear a faint "BOOMF". I look over my left shoulder and see flames arc to the sky, maybe 10 or 15 feet high. Immediately, I run back to the tent, yelling "fire!" until I'm out of breath. As I get to the tent, I can feel the rasp in my throat from all the yelling. There's tons of smoke, but I can't find any bodies. Oh-by-the-way, the fire has spread to a couple of other tents...

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Team - Nationals at Chicago Cubs

Proposed starters -

Monday: Zimmermann vs Samardzija
Tuesday: Haren vs. Rusin
Wednesday: Ohlendorf vs. Arrieta/TBD
Thursday: Strasburg vs. T. Wood

After a couple of heartbreaking losses in Atlanta, the Nationals go to the "Friendly Confines" of the fabled Wrigley Field. Like a lot of other years, the Cubs are losing (last place in the NL Central). They have some talent, but they just can't get over the hump (again).

There are guys on the roster I really like. Starlin Castro at SS is talented (I know about his losing focus on the pop-up on Sunday, allowing a run to score). He can hit, field and throw. Darwin Barney at 2B is a smooth fielder, but isn't hitting much this year (.591 OPS). Junior Lake in the outfield has physical tools to rival anyone - he just needs experience. Anthony Rizzo at 1B is a good hitter, and supplies some power.

With Wrigley and the winds that sometimes blow out, stats don't always serve as a predictor of what might happen. If the winds are blowing out, it doesn't matter who's pitching or hitting. You can expect a slugfest if that's the case.

Samardzija is still an ace. The rest of the guys mean well and try hard. Hopefully, the wind are blowing in.

For Washington, Ryan Zimmerman is aching (shin). How soon before the team moves him to 1B? If/when that happens, what to say/do about LaRoche and his new contract? Werth is also aching, despite his hot bat. Bernadina is coming up on the end of his time on this team - does he get more at-bats as a replacement? Johnson's time as manager is also coming to a close - who does the team want to fill that slot? There are still things to deal with during this season.

As a Nats' fan, I want a sweep. Fifteen-and-a-half games behind Atlanta? Yep, we're looking at next year. Trying to find some glimmer of hope in a season of disappointment.

In Dreams - "The Church Building That's Never Been Used"

I was in Oklahoma, driving a church van. It was around 0800 local time, and everyone was well-rested. There was a group of people in the van, including the pastor of a church I used to attend. We'd just started driving eastbound on Interstate 40 when one of the passengers needed to stop for a "relief break".

As we got off the interstate, we came across a fairly large church. It was recent construction, so new one could smell the paint on the exterior walls. It had a pretty steeple at the front, and three wings that radiated away from the main building. We parked in front of the main door, and I got out to see if anyone was willing to let us use the facilities.

I turned the door knob and the door opened with no resistance. It was quiet, too quiet. It was as if no one was present. Actually, it was as if no one had ever been in this particular building. As we walked in, we started looking around for signs of life. We passed admin offices, a book store, a choir rehearsal room, a video room and the pastor's office. Still didn't see anyone.

Soon, we could tell it was starting to get darker outside. Even though it was still morning, we could see gloom on the other side of the windows. As we started to look outside, everyone got an inkling in their individual spirits that we needed to stay put.

Once we decided we weren't going to leave, each of our group started to stake out a particular corner that looked cozy. Soon, we were all in the copier room, which looked comfortable. There were pillows on the shelves, so I took it upon myself to reach up and hand out pillows to everyone.

We prayed as a group, turned out the lights and everyone went to sleep. Soon, though, the kids with us got restless and wanted to go outside. Go outside in the midst of a terrible storm,. So, I got drafted to accompany them. We found ourselves at the bottom of a nearby hill, watching water cascade down towards us. Somehow, we didn't get hurt. In fact, we frolicked like toddlers as we got drenched in the rain.

Friday, August 16, 2013

My Team - Nationals at Atlanta

Proposed starters -

Friday: Jordan vs Wood
Saturday: Strasburg vs. Minor
Sunday: Gonzalez vs. Terehan

Thursday's home loss to the Giants was heartbreaking & continuation of a theme. The Nationals played just well enough to lose, and the closer's struggles continue. For those who feel the closer's role is overrated or overpaid, just watch Soriano work. The combination of a) lack of command and b) lack of a pitch he can count on to get a key out or strikeout means late innings become more stressful than necessary. Maybe the team needs a different closer in '14?

The Braves just swept Washington last week in D.C. Why won't it happen again? The Braves' pitchers gave up 6 runs in 3 games. Who's to say similar performance won't happen this time?

For Atlanta, Uggla is on the 15-day D.L. after Lasik surgery. If his replacement Pastornicky makes any kind of contact at the plate, it may make up for Uggla's all-or-nothing approach. Otherwise, the Braves are hitting better, fielding better and pitching better than Washington. The Braves' magic number for clinching the NL East is 28. I wouldn't be surprised if the Braves sweep Washington again.

For the Nationals, I would at least like to see the following this weekend:

1) Storen get a chance to pitch in the late innings, and regain his confidence at this level.
2) Bench guys like Bernadina get some at bats. This may be the last 6 weeks we see the "Goon Squad" in its present configuration.
3) Jordan get another win, as he approaches his innings pitched limit for this season.

When your team is out of it, you look for positive signs. I still believe the team is a contender in '14, dependent on who manages the team next season.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

My Team - Nationals versus Giants

Proposed starters - 

Tuesday: Gonzalez vs Bumgarner
Wednesday: Zimmermann vs Lincecum
Thursday: Haren vs Vogelsong

Two teams, with high hopes dashed against the rocks of despair. The defending champion Giants appear to be going nowhere (sound familiar?). But, they still have talent. The three starters scheduled have all had recent success. Bumgarner has a 45/150 BB/K ratio to go along with a 0.98 WHIP. Lincecum's last start on 8 August against Milwaukee was impressive (8IP, H, BB, 8K). Vogelsong was an All-Star last year. He did pretty well 9 August versus Baltimore (6IP, 6H, 2ER, 3BB, 4K) after missing 2 1/2 months.

The Giants' offense is struggling as well (sound familiar?), but there are dangerous hitters throughout. C Posey, 3B Sandoval, RF Pence and 1B Belt supply power. SS Crawford occasionally hits one out. On paper, this could be a good offense.

On defense, there's not a lot of strong arms in the outfield. Posey is a solid catch-and-throw guy. Crawford has nice range and a strong arm. Sandoval is surprisingly quick for a guy of his build. As a team, they're competent but not necessarily spectacular.

For this series, I wouldn't be surprised to see Bumgarner and Lincecum go deep into their respective starts. Gonzalez and Zimmermann will have to match them pitch for pitch. Thursday's game is a wild card - either pitcher could throw a shutout or get bombed early.

I think Washington can win the first two, and have a great chance to win all three. One key for the Nats is scoring more than one run early in the games. An early rally fosters confidence throughout the lineup, and that confidence goes out to the field as well. 

Washington may start playing more youngsters the next couple of weeks before the September call-ups arrive. Maybe Bernadina can get more at-bats...?