Friday, May 31, 2013

My Team - Nationals at Atlanta

Projected starters -

Friday: Strasburg versus Teheran
Saturday: Gonzalez versus Hudson
Sunday: Zimmermann versus Maholm

(Starting pitchers subject to change)

The Nationals lost three of four in that home-and-away four-game series. Now that a taste of inter-league play is done, it's time to get back to the team that has what Washington wants.

The Braves are similar to the Orioles in that Atlanta has power in its' lineup. Between Justin Upton, Gattis, McCann, Freeman, Heyward and Uggla, that's a lot of guys who can drive the ball out of Turner Field. Even B.J. Upton has had success hitting homers at the big-league level. There will be a lot of high-stress innings on the Washington starters, and the bullpen will be roughed up if collectively they can't change speeds and locations effectively.

On the mound, Teheran has had a slightly-better-than-average year up to this point. His BAA of .285 tells me the Nationals have a chance to put some hits together in an inning. Terehan may be one of those guys you have to get to early to have a chance to win. Hudson and Maholm have each had success against Washington. In 28 starts against the Nationals, Hudson has a WHIP of  1.11 and a BAA of .238. He's given up 2 earned runs in 14 innings versus Washington. Maholm hasn't had the same career success against the Nationals, but he's only given up 2 earned runs in his two starts this year against the Nationals (15.2 IP). I hate to admit it, but if Teheran gets on a roll Friday night, the Braves could very well sweep this weekend series. The Nationals are already 5.5 games behind Atlanta in the NL East. If Washington leaves Georgia 8.5 games behind, there should be some nervous folk in the Washington clubhouse.

For Washington, Zimmerman is starting to heat up in the 3rd spot in the batting order. Between him, LaRoche and Desmond, they are trying to keep the offense afloat. The absence of Harper and Werth are glaring holes still. Suzuki is getting clutch hits every so often, and still handling pitchers with skill and grace. This Washington team is still good, but they are struggling offensively.

These Atlanta starters are the kinds of guys who mix speeds & keep hitters off balance. I think Washington's best chance to win a game in this series is Friday night. I also guess Hudson and Maholm will pitch well at home for Atlanta on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. It looks to me like the Nationals losing the last two of this three-game series.

Monday, May 27, 2013

My Team - Game 4, Grizzlies versus Spurs

It's almost over. The best season in Memphis Grizzlies' history is almost over. I've enjoyed following my team, and they've earned a new level of respect from observers around the league.

But, even with all that, it's almost over. They need to fight like heck to keep from getting swept.As much as Memphis hangs its' hat on defensive prowess, San Antonio is demonstrating its' own defensive ability. Memphis is only scoring 88.3 PPG in this series. Memphis has yet to hit 40% of its' shots in a game (35.7% shooting in the three games).

San Antonio is gonna be a formidable opponent for the defending champion Heat in the NBA Finals. Just because they're not glamorous doesn't mean we should overlook them.

Anyway, here comes Game 4 on Monday night. Memphis will desperately try to prevent a sweep. Are they ready? Are the fans ready? I hope so.

My desire is for the fans to blow the roof off FedEx Forum (like I've been asking before every game). The players might as well go for it all, don't hold anything back.

My concern is a) the team comes out flat, or b) someone like Bayless decides to take over (while shooting 4-17). If the Grizz come out flat, get blown out early, and the fans leave early, those empty seats on the telecast won't look good for Memphis as a league entity.

Yep, Memphis is gonna lose this series. I just hope they don't lose this game. This season, San Antonio is clearly the better team, and they proved it on the floor.

My guess is for this game is Memphis 99, San Antonio 95. It's just purely a fanboy guess. I'm not looking at trends, or which team is better on paper. I just want my team to get one more win in front of the home fans, as a season-ending gift to the city of Memphis. I want this to be a celebration of the best season in Memphis Grizzlies' history.

I guess also that San Antonio isn't going to cooperate.

"Today, Who Are You Thinking Of?"

(Apologies for the grammar in the title.)

It's Memorial Day, a day set aside for us to reflect. During my time in the military, this was one of the days when things on base would get quiet. One could take the time, use the silence and consider the sacrifices made by service members in days gone by. For me, one guy who periodically comes to mind is a fighter pilot I never actually met.

Back during DESERT STORM, I was a young staff guy working mission plans for my KC-135 unit "somewhere in Southwest Asia". In late February, as my tour was winding down, I got a unique request. On the tanker we were using for our return home, we were to transport personal effects of a captain who had perished a few days before. He was also a flyer, in one of our sister units. I have no idea if our paths had crossed in the chow hall, the weather shop or base ops. Had we refueled his jet during a previous sortie? Maybe.

Right after his tragic death, the base chaplain set up a memorial service for the airman. I got a copy of the printed brochure that was a part of the memorial. I studied the guy's face, but didn't recognize him. I also noted he and my first wife were born on the same date, the same year. The brochure mentioned his wife and kids at home, folks who loved him & would miss him terribly.

A few days after the memorial, we were packing up to re-deploy. One of my fellow returnees and I went to the flyer's "hooch" (a trailer-styled billet we lived in at our location) to gather his effects. As we entered his room, the cliche came to life. Everything in his room seemed to be exactly how he left it. I couldn't help but wonder if the thought crossed his mind that last day: "is this the last time I go off to fly? Is this the day my number's up?" Most flyers wonder about that once in a while. One could do his/her best, but things could still get out of control. One could still die while flying. Aviators learn to put those thoughts in a "small box" while actually doing the job.

We gathered his "alert bag" of military gear, some personal effects, and a group of board games, playing cards, etc. I started to get a glimpse of what this man did in his spare time, the types of things any of us enjoyed to pass the time when we weren't at work. After his death, I started to "know" just a little bit about him. He deployed like we all did, with the mindset of "I'm off to do a job, defeat the enemy, and come home to my family". None of us ever expect to die while deployed. Sure, we know it's possible, but we compartmentalize it away. "I'll deal with it when it happens, and it probably won't happen."

We finished our task, and left the hooch. We got to our jet, put the flyer's stuff in a bin (on the top of the load, for easier access), and flew "the great circle route" northwest to the continental United States. We had enough jet fuel to get to the United Kingdom, re-fueled, then continued on to the deceased member's home base.

Once we got to his home base, we stopped long enough to drop off his gear with a local chaplain. There was no fanfare, no gathering of loved ones. Just a solemn acknowledgment of an individual who had made that "ultimate sacrifice". His sacrifice was what each of us vowed when we entered military service. What I talked about, this man actually did.

His story was complete, his career and his very life were over. But, his effort wouldn't be forgotten. His squadron mates would never forget. Neither would I.

I don't need a day set aside to pay my respects to this man. My hope is that others who normally scurry about taking care of responsibilities would take a moment to pause. In that pause, maybe they will think of men and women like this flyer, who put his life in danger to defend our homeland.

He has my eternal respect.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

My Team - Nationals versus/at Baltimore

Proposed starters -

Monday (D.C.): Gonzalez versus Hammel
Tuesday (D.C.): Zimmermann (?) versus Gausman
Wednesday (Balt.): Haren versus Tillman
Thursday (Balt.): TBD versus Garcia

(Starters subject to change)

This is one of those interesting interleague series where the cities are in close proximity. This four-game set  can be split between the two cities in short duration. This version of the Beltway Series has the first two at Nationals Park and the last two at Camden Yards. The Orioles just finished taking the first two of a three-game set at Toronto. The Nationals took two of three in a home series against Philadelphia.

The Nats are starting to deal with even more injuries. Espinosa finally gave in to the effects of a broken bone in his hand, but he's not on the disabled list. Detwiler has a strained right oblique, and is on the 15-day D.L. Matheus broke his right hand punching a wall last week. Harper dinged a knee Sunday. Werth is still out with his bum right hamstring. Ramos has a bum left hamstring. Yeesh.

The guys who are healthy have to fill in the gaps. Lombardozzi is playing well afield, and getting clutch hits. Bernadina and Moore are playing solid defense, but Moore is just now starting to get some hard-hit balls to find open field. Suzuki is playing first-rate defense and getting clutch hits towards the bottom of the batting order.

The Orioles have one of the most potent offenses around. They lead the majors with 68 home runs so far. Between Davis, Jones, Hardy, Markakis, Wieters and Machado, they can score runs. Their starters are middle-of-the-pack, but the bullpen is competitive. If the Nats are to win any games in this series, they must take advantage of Baltimore's starters. The Orioles catch the ball well as well, so Washington can't count on fluke errors to keep innings alive.

For the Nats, after Gonzalez on Monday the rotation is in flux. Tuesday would be too soon for Zimmermann to start, but the adjustments haven't been announced. Somewhere in there, Haren will start. Maybe a call-up from Syracuse will fill in on Tuesday or Thursday. Maybe Duke gets another start. We will see.

My guess is Gonzalez pitches a gem at home on Monday, keeping Baltimore's bats at bay. But, Tuesday through Thursday will be an Oriole slugfests. Their offense is too strong and the Nationals' starting staff isn't stable enough to shut Baltimore down for four straight games. I guess Baltimore wins the last three of this four-game split series.

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Battleground"

It's Memorial Day weekend, so TCM is showing war movies through Monday. I've seen parts of this 1949 release, but gave it full attention this time. It is one of the neatest World War II movies I've seen. Also, it was that rare one that showed a wider range of experience and emotion than most. Instead of the linear "good guy Americans form up, head out and defeat the enemy", we get something truer.

The men of a company from the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division go through realistic success, defeat, heartbreak and frustration. This movie places us in December 1944, during the "Battle of the Bulge", and the troops are caught up in the Siege of Bastogne. Weather and the German Army are a formidable one-two punch against which the Americans struggle. Snow, cold, artillery dropping in through a low cloud deck and bullets coming from just beyond the edge of the fog all conspire to make it tough for the Americans.

We see the U.S. G.I.s win short skirmishes and lose other small battles. We see some soldiers come into their own as brave fighters, while others face their own weaknesses of character. We see weariness, heightened tension, and dark humor. In other words, it depicts well the experience of the military member in the midst of armed conflict.

The cast is full of recognizable names and faces. We get Van Johnson (one of my favorite actors from that era), James Whitmore, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalban, Richard Jaeckel, George Murphy, James Arness and Leon Ames (among others). Such professionalism throughout the cast, helping make the script crisp and enjoyable.

One face I didn't recognize was one of the few females in the cast, the French actress Denise Darcel. She is an indigenous resident of a nearby town, trying to survive the war while she interacts with some of the G.I.s. She has the sweetest smile & cutest dimples, simply adorable.

I don't want to spoil the ending, but I will say it's one of the coolest, neatest endings I've seen in a World War II movie. If you haven't seen it before, check it out and see if you too think it was pretty cool.

This is one of my favorite movies now, just because of the realism. These aren't idealized heroes, just guys trying to do a job and survive long enough to go home. They don't want the ribbons nor parades. They just want to keep the faith with the soldiers next to them. This movie expressed that sentiment so very well. Check it out, if you haven't already.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Team - Game 3, Grizzlies versus San Antonio

(I type this 2 hours or so before tip off. Been goofin' off today, the sun is out.)

First off, my guess: Memphis 93, San Antonio 92.

Memphis hasn't scored over 89 in its's last three playoff games. That needs to end Saturday night.

For it to end, Tony Allen needs to score around 13 or so. Tayshaun Prince needs to score around 14. Jerryd Bayless needs to pass more than he shoots, and his passes need to be precise & effective. Either Quincy Pondexter or Darrel Arthur needs to hit 3s or mid-range high-post jumpers.

I wonder, though: will San Antonio allow this to happen? Can Memphis "impose its' will" and ensure these things happen?

Put it this way: if the Grizz don't, this series is all but over after Saturday night.

For San Antonio, Tony Parker is the engine that runs the Spurs' offense. But, like my SUV's engine before its tuneup last week, that offense can sputter on occasion. Parker's energy and penetration skills get easy buckets for others. Conley needs to keep harassing Parker, make it more strenuous to get easy shots for Spurs players.

Conversely, in the post the Spurs are doing something to Randolph that takes away all his favorite jab steps and deep post-ups. Z-Bo needs to come out roaring tonight, get off to a good start, and let it roll.

Speaking of roaring, the Memphis fans need to be a presence. They've seen some hard-fought games between these two teams in FedEx Forum the last couple of years. This Game 3 may be another. The fans' impact could mean a point or two, which could be the difference in the final score. At least, to me it could be the difference.

After the Game: San Antonio 104, Memphis 93 in overtime. The Spurs won the extra period 18-7. They are an efficient team. That is to be celebrated.

Memphis led by 18 in the first quarter (29-11). Then, they lost focus. They had 38 field goals, 18/10 assist/turnover and 10 steals. Conley had 20, but had a 4/5 assist/turnover and went 8/21 FG/A. Gasol had 16 and 14 rebs. Pondexter came off the bench to add 14. Just a sad, perplexing loss. Now that they are down 3 games to none, it's pretty much over.

For San Antonio, it was 41 field goals, 20/17 assist/turnover and 6 steals. The Spurs had 8 turnovers in the first quarter, 9 for the next three quarters and overtime. Parker had 26, but a 5/7 assist/turnover. Duncan added 24 and 10 rebs. Ginobili looked youthful, with 19, 7 rebs and 5 assists. The Spurs don't panic when things go bad. They just keep working, and their approach was perfect to dig out of the early deficit hole.

Game 4 is Monday night. Memphis still needs to win. Nobody wants to be swept. San Antonio is gonna win the series, I can now admit. Memphis needs something to salvage out of this experience. Literally, I can't wait for Monday's game. I want to see how my team responds.

Friday, May 24, 2013

In Dreams - "Ballin' at USAFA"

I was in one of the dorms at the Air Force Academy. I wasn't a cadet, however. I was an old guy in town for a basketball tournament being held on campus. I'd arrived in town late the night before the tournament's start. The hallways were dark as I searched for my dorm room.

My uniform was laid out on my bed, a reversible jersey and game-quality shorts. The colors were familiar - the same as my old high school (black and orange). In fact, our high school team mascot (Bulldogs) was displayed on both sides of the jersey. As I settled in, I turned on the television for background noise. There may have been a basketball game on TV as well. 

Soon, I heard a knock on the door. Two guys with whom I'd went to high school were there, asking me if I wanted to go get pizza. We headed out and got some chow.

The next day, the games began. I didn't start, but I was the team's sixth man. I got in the game after a few minutes elapsed, playing forward. I didn't score (even in real life, I wasn't a great shooter), but I played pretty good help defense. I felt supremely confident that I had a counter for any offensive set they had. 

We won the game, there was the typical bragging and animosity you get after adult league games, then we went back to the dorms to clean up. The cycle of events in my room started all over again - my uniform laid out on my bed, the TV on, the two guys knocking on the door. This time, I actually felt hungry.

My Team - Nationals versus Philadelphia

Proposed starters -

Friday: Zimmermann versus Kendrick
Saturday: Haren versus Pettibone
Sunday: Strasburg versus Cloyd

(Starting pitchers subject to change)

The Nationals broke a 4-game losing streak while salvaging the last game of a three-game set in San Francisco. A 4-6 West Coast trip had its positive moments, but it was still a losing trip. After a Thursday off-day, the team has a quick 5-game set of home games against Philadelphia and Baltimore.

The pre-season fears many observers expressed seem to be coming true to Philly. Big-named veterans are on the disabled list. Utley went on the DL Thursday (strained right oblique). He joins Ruiz (hamstring), Adams (back) and Halladay (pitching shoulder) on the sidelines.

Good news for the Nationals is, according to the rotation neither Lee nor Hamels will pitch in this series (unless one gets moved up).

For the Phils' lineup, Brown may be finally putting it together. Howard is still a power threat, though his body is starting to break down. Revere has played good defense, but isn't quite the on-base machine the team hoped it acquired.

Defensively, Philadelphia is middle-of-the-pack. Young was a good pickup for them to play third base, and Rollins is still holding things together at shortstop.

Pettibone and Cloyd (the starters for the weekend) have given Philly a lift. These are the type of guys that give a major league team a hard time, young opponents that are still unfamiliar to the league. Hard to build a "book" on a guy who doesn't have a lot of time at the major league level. The Nats' hitters sometimes get caught guessing. That can be disastrous this weekend.

For Washington, it's not "early" any more. The offensive struggles continue. The "goon squad" isn't having the  springtime success they had last season. It's easy to hope that a home stand would help lift the doldrums, but the Phillies have enough good pitching left to keep these games close. I don't see either offense going on a rampage.

I would like to see Washington win all three games. On paper, the Nats' starters are better or more experienced than their Philadelphia counterparts. Washington is one game ahead of Philadelphia in the NL East. Losing this series would leave the two teams tied in the standings. Yikes.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "The Divorcee"

Do you like old-time melodramas? This 1930 release is for you.

Norma Shearer stars, and "star" she was. Some writers and experts have highlighted how she wasn't a typical blonde beauty, or perhaps her figure wasn't the idealized stereotype for that time period.  However, she had a way of captivating an audience.

Here, she is "Jerry", young & vivacious. She is part of a circle of friends that are living the high life (nice bit of escapism from the Depression).  Her boyfriend "Ted" (Chester Morris) is an up-and-coming businessman, typical of the men in that era. He expected to be as free as he liked while his girlfriend was to be loyal and chaste. Ted sowed some wild oats before getting married, and that sowing came back to cast a shadow over his marriage.

Meanwhile, Jerry's friend "Paul" (Conrad Nagel) harbored a secret crush. He was crestfallen when Jerry accepted Ted's marriage proposal. Paul's heartache led to disastrous decisions that hurt others. He's a recurring presence in this picture, as a reminder of what could have been for Jerry. He's calm and loyal where Ted is high-strung and self-centered. Did Jerry choose the wrong man?

Jerry and Ted marry, and almost immediately Jerry has doubts about Ted's fidelity. After those doubts are confirmed, Jerry is at first forgiving but eventually angry (a precursor to today's variations of open relationships). Jerry wants Ted to feel the same pain she does. This double standard is tricky to work now; it must have been unfathomable back in the '30s.

Their marriage starts to fracture, as expected. Jerry keeps her vow to hurt Ted, by dating man after man in succession. Suitors offer all sorts of opportunities, but Jerry still holds a torch for her Ted. She physically tries to be sexually voracious, but it doesn't suit the person she is inside. Meanwhile, Ted slides deeper into bitterness, jealousy and alcohol.

Other roles are capably handled by the supporting cast. Robert Montgomery is the foppish "Don", always up for a good time, regardless of its' impact to others' lives. Judith Wood is the tragic "Dorothy", who is a living reminder of consequences after reckless behavior.

Capable actors abound in this picture, but Shearer owns this film from start to finish. She is sweet and supportive in some scenes, slinky and alluring in others. Some scenes, she is strong and determined. In others, she is vulnerable and wounded. She covers a lot of ground in this film, winning the Best Actress Academy Award for this role. So what if "boy wonder" producer Irving Thalberg was her husband (and uncredited producer for this film)?

Yep, there are tons of soap opera elements in this one. Maybe it's not for everyone. If it was a new release today, of course it would be called a "chick flick". Regardless, Shearer is gorgeous. I couldn't take my eyes off the screen when she was on.

I wouldn't buy a copy of this movie, but if/when it's on I'd watch it and enjoy it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Little Caesar"

I love this movie.

Released in 1931, it's got swagger for days. During the Depression era, at a time where come criminals and gangsters were more revered than bankers and captains of industry, this flick reflected the times quite well. Edward G. Robinson broke through with this role, and it set him up for years of tough-guy parts.

Robinson is "Caesar Enrico Bandello", known as "Rico" on the street. He's an up-and-coming gangster, all ambition and bravado. You can sense the confidence fairly bursting out of his character. He can't wait to be the big man, and the gangsters he works for are just Rico's mentors for the short term.

Whenever Robinson is on-screen, he dominates the picture. His confidence and sharp tongue keep other characters on edge. His fellow gangsters swiftly realize Rico isn't like the others. Rico is a threat to the mob as well as to the law-abiding citizenry. He feels that nothing or no one can keep him from the top of the heap. He's willing to do whatever it takes to be the kingpin in the end.

Rico's best friend "Joe" (a baby-faced Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) is loyal to Rico, but not so enamored of the gangster lifestyle. Joe is a brilliant dancer/entertainer who's on the verge of his breakthrough in entertainment. While Joe pays his dues on the stage, he crosses paths with "Olga" (Glenda Farrell). Mutual sparks light up, and Olga wants to see Joe freed from his organized crime past. Joe finds himself torn between the two worlds. He doesn't want to be seen as soft, but he doesn't want to die over a way of life to which he's not completely committed.

"Sam Vettori" (Stanley Fields) is the local mobster training Rico. Rico sees himself in time stepping over Sam, on the way to more power and influence. Sam can barely keep Rico focused on the task at hand, and suspects what Rico covets. Sam works hard to keep Rico in his place, but Rico bristles at such.

"Big Boy" (Sidney Blackmer) is the guy Rico wants to be. Big Boy is the big boss who lives in a sumptuous home & has all the objects a rich, powerful man would have. Rico sees his role model up close, and intensifies his efforts to climb to the top of organized crime.

Rico's main foil is the grim, strait-laced "Sergeant Flaherty" (Thomas E. Jackson). Flaherty takes law-and-order seriously, and sees Rico as his opposite. Flaherty knows their paths will cross again and again.

The relationships, professional and personal, intersect continually. Rico eventually is on his way to the top of the mob, but his plans & his life get derailed. After a time laying low, Rico gets his dander up again, through Flaherty's manipulation. The story is destined to have only one conclusion.

"Mother of Mercy - is this the end of Rico?" Figuratively, no. The spirit of Rico lived on in all sorts of gangster films and films noir for decades to come. The cocky bantam with the Napoleonic complex, bullying and cajoling men much larger. Gangsters holding cities in their hands through sheer force of will. Mobsters who take what they want with no apologies. Naw, it wasn't the end of Rico.

I really enjoyed this one, and will watch it again when it's on.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Team - Game 2, Grizzlies at San Antonio

First off, prayers of support to those who are grieving and recovering from Monday's tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.

I know games mean little next to loss of life. But, for some, a distraction may be a small part of getting through the next few moments.

After Game 1's beat-down  Memphis will come out Tuesday night determined to show the basketball world they are no fluke. They will be more focused. Trouble is, San Antonio will be focused also.

I love how the Spurs execute. They do as good a job as anyone in taking advantage of what the opponent offers. You pack the lane with defenders, the Spurs beat you with outside shooting and pull-up shots on the secondary break. You extend the defense to cover jump shooters, they move without the ball to get layups. It seems so basic, but they make it work very well. Their offense has some motion principles and enough crisp passing that defenders can't take their eyes off the ball. It appears they get as many or more wide open shots than anybody else.

For Memphis defensively, their execution and discipline must improve. As professionals, their adjustments should be evident. On offense, the Grizzlies should be back in the inside-out mode that has worked for them all season.

Tough part is, Memphis will play much better and still lose. Game 1 had the Spurs perimeter guys scoring. Game 2 will see Duncan get shots inside and score a lot over Gasol and anyone else sent to defend. Good teams do that, use their flexibility to get production from several sources.

My guess for Tuesday night is similar to the Game 1 guess I posted. San Antonio 97, Memphis 92. Everyone watching will see that Memphis is worthy enough to be here. San Antonio is just a better team right now. The Grizzlies going down 2 games to none makes the Game 3 match-up in Memphis all the more crucial.

After the Game: San Antonio 93, Memphis 89 in overtime. The Memphis adjustments worked, to a degree. Now, if they could only hit a shot...

For the Grizz, it was 33 field goals, 19/10 assist/turnover and 9 steals. Bayless and Conley had 18 each (Bayless went 7/18 FG/A - whoa). Bayless took as many shots as Randolph. Z-Bo played slightly better, 15 and 18 rebs. Gasol  added 12 and 14 rebs. Troubling is Prince & Allen combining for 3-16 from the floor. Ten points between those two ain't gonna cut it.

For the Spurs, it was 36 field goals, 29/13 assist/turnover and 5 steals. All five starters scored in double figures. Duncan led the team witih 17 and added 9 rebs. Parker shot 6/20 FG/A, but did score 15 and added 18 rebs.

San Antonio's assist/turnover for the two games is 57/24, versus Memphis' 39/22. The teams have each been consistent in the two games in this area, but to me 57 assists is telling. Granted, NBA assist rulings can be liberal from one game to the next, but it evokes passing the ball to the open man for a good look. San Antonio is taking advantage of Memphis' defensive rotations, making the Grizzlies pay for nearly every mistake. Basically, the Spurs are playing team ball (think '70s era Knicks - open man takes the shot). I love that style of play.

Another thing that makes me wonder is Prince's extended slump. In his last 7 games (the Oklahoma City series and the two against the Spurs), Prince is shooting 16/54 FG/A - 29.6%. He's a career 45.8% shooter, and he's one of the smarter players on the team. This slump is puzzling. The team needs him on the floor, but his reluctance to shoot bogs down the offense. Teams are leaving him open, and his decision-making with the ball has slowed considerably. He's gotta break out. Maybe Game 3 at home will help.

I truly believe Memphis wins Game 3 at home on Saturday. Go, Grizz.

Monday, May 20, 2013

In Dreams - "Where Would You Go When You Steal A Truck?"

Answer: to my dad's house.

I was in my home town, cruising the streets with my son. I was in my SUV, the weather was nice, the windows were open and we had some tunes going. It was a relaxing time, but we were starting to get bored.  So we figured we would go to my dad's house.

He lives on the southern edge of my home town. He's been there for over 40 years, and has seen numerous changes in his time there. At first, the neighborhood was pretty peaceful, but over time the previous residents moved away & a different caliber of resident moved in. The new folk weren't as intent on keeping up their respective properties. Soon, more crime moved in.

In my dream, however, it was peaceful. No danger. As we got within a few blocks of his house, I spotted a pickup truck parked on the side of the road. The truck had the graphics and paint job typical of the city utility company. The driver may have been reading meters or other official work. He may have lived in the neighborhood & stopped at home for a convenience break. Whatever the reason, he left his keys in the ignition. The window was open. I parked my car, my son and I got out of mine and into the truck, and off we rode.

We got to my dad's house and pulled up in his driveway. He was happy to see us, but mildly surprised that we weren't in my SUV.

We went inside and immediately noticed he'd remodeled his kitchen. Gone was the dark paneling on the walls, replaced by a brilliant white coat of paint on the walls. He'd gotten one of those fancy new stoves where the whole surface was capable of heating up to cook food. He'd also gotten a fancy stainless steel refrigerator  with a side freezer that had a plexiglass door. Odd thing was, he kept the four-place table and chair set we had when I was a 5-year-old. It looked so out of place with the new decor, but I instinctively understood why he had it there. It was a nod to the past, one that I appreciated.

My Team - Nationals at San Francisco

Projected starters -

Monday: Duke versus Vogelsong
Tuesday: Strasburg versus Cain
Wednesday: Gonzalez versus Bumgarner

Washington won the first two of a four-game set at San Diego, but let a sloppy game get away in game 3 Saturday night. The fourth game was a nightmare, where Haren got smoked. Now, for the last three of this 10-game West Coast swing, the Nationals go to San Francisco. The defending champions are in second place, a game behind Arizona, in the NL West.

Led by Buster Posey, they are a team that seems to be competitive each day. Posey is one of the best players in the game, and thrives in the spotlight. Guys like Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence provide power, and aren't afraid to hit late in counts or late in games. They do make a few errors, though. A fielding percentage of .979 is just ahead of the Nats' .977. Infielders 2B Marco Scutaro (7 errors), SS Brandon Crawford (6) and 3B Sandoval (5) lead the way in that dubious distinction.

On the mound, Vogelsong and Cain are off to slow starts. Vogelsong has a opponents' batting average against of .333 so far. Cain's BAA is .234, but he's given up 13 home runs this season. So, if Washington is gonna break through, it seems like the first two games are where they have a better chance.

With Detwiler's injury, Zach Duke gets a start on Monday night. He's had ups and downs in his long man role, but he's on the roster for this type of spot start. His .344 BAA this season doesn't bode well.

For Washington's offense, Harper is starting to cool off a bit. Running into that wall in Dodger Stadium didn't help matters. Zimmerman, LaRoche and Desmond are warming up with the weather, but Span's OBP has settled around .335. They need him up around .385 or better, since he's the catalyst for the rest of the order.

I expect both teams to string together base hits Monday. Fire up the merry-go-round, since numerous base runners will run laps around the bases. Neither starter will dominate. Tuesday will be yet another pitchers' duel with a rally being three consecutive singles or similar. Wednesday, Bumgarner's mixing of pitches and location will give him the edge.

I think the Nats will win Monday and Tuesday, but lose on Wednesday.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

My Team - Game 1, Grizzlies at San Antonio

Schedule (all games Central Daylight Time)

Game 1 - Sun, 19 May @ San Antonio 2:30 PM Game 2 - Tue, 21 May @ San Antonio 8:00 PM Game 3 - Sat, 25 May @ Memphis 8:00 PM Game 4 – Mon, 27 May @ Memphis 8:00 PM

Game 5 - Wed, May 29 @ San Antonio 8:00 PM (if required) Game 6 - Fri, May 31 @ Memphis 8:00 PM (if required) Game 7 - Sun, June 2 @ San Antonio 8:00 PM (if required)

I am giddy. I'll admit it. My favorite NBA team, in the national spotlight. One series away from playing for the league championship. I would not have guessed this back in November. For the handful of y'all who read here, I didn't think it was a lead-pipe cinch in March. Since we're here, we might as well enjoy the view.

I think the Grizz can win in seven games, even with San Antonio has everyone healthy and playing to their normal levels.

Looking at match-ups, I see it this way:

Gasol-Duncan: This one will be fun for people who like guys who play with their brains as well as brawn. Watch for throwback, '70s-style post play, There won't be a lot of mean-mugging or hanging on the rim. That's alright, though.

Randolph-Splitter: Memphis will attack Splitter often, trying to get him in early foul trouble. Splitter will hit a mid-range shot once in a while & work the offensive boards. He's good enough to give Randolph fits.

Prince-Leonard: Prince must get his shooting confidence back, ASAP. Leonard is the Spurs third-leading scorer & second-leading rebounder in the playoffs. He's playing with great confidence and production. Both are solid defenders. Prince has more point-forward responsibilities in his team's offense.

Allen-Green: Allen has to be a bit smarter with the ball in his hands. He'll have a strength advantage over Green, but if he's out of control on offense it doesn't matter. Green is a good 3-point shooter and a great complement to this team. Green can win this match-up as long as he doesn't try to match Allen's frenetic work rate.

Conley-Parker: Conley has faced great challenges throughout this playoff run, and has held his own. He's earning league-wide respect as he matched up with Chris Paul and Reggie Jackson. Parker is one of the best players in the league, and maybe the only guy who's a hair quicker than Conley. Conley has huge responsibilities on both ends. Can he play Parker to a draw? If Parker dominates Conley, the Spurs win.

Bayless-Ginobili: Bayless is strong enough and quick enough to keep up with Ginobili. Ginobili might be the smartest player in the league. If Bayless is sloppy, Ginobili will take advantage. Ginobili is great working without the ball, so if Bayless turns his head for an instant, the ball's in the basket.

Arthur-Bonner: Bonner is a big who likes to run the floor & shoot threes. Can Arthur extend his perimeter defense and still get back to the rim to help rebound?

Pondexter-Neal: This may not be a pure match-up (dependent on when each guy comes off the bench). Both guys look for their offense when in the game. Neal is a competent point guard who spells Parker from time to time, or plays alongside Parker. Which guy in this match-up is gonna be more consistent shooting the ball?

The Spurs have guys like post players Boris Diaw and DeJuan Blair, and point guard Cory Joseph available. They know their roles, and if they're not productive in their minutes, they won't stay on the floor for long stretches.

The Grizzlies have guard Keyon Dooling, and forwards Ed Davis and Austin Daye who might get playing time in a pinch. I don't look for a lot of scoring from any of those guys unless it's the result of a teammate injury.

Hollins-Popovich: Fans are starting to notice Hollins is a good coach, a patient hand when things get stressful. Popovich is one of the best coaches in league history. Popovich will put his guys in position to neutralize Gasol and Conley. The Grizz will have to execute despite playing a team who knows Memphis well.

My Game 1 guess, San Antonio 96, Memphis 90. Memphis will play well on the road, but Spurs' late-game execution will make the difference. Parker's play in the fourth quarter will lift San Antonio.

After the Game: San Antonio 105, Memphis 83. Yeesh. The Grizz got worked, as in "beat about the head and shoulders". If it's any consolation, Memphis did lose Game 1 of each of the last two series. However, this one opened a lot of eyes, and not in a good way.

For Memphis, it was 32 field goals, 20/12 assist/turnover and 6 steals. Pondexter came off the bench to score 17, Gasol added 15 and 7 rebs. Conley added 14 and 8 assists, but 4 turnovers. Randolph was 1/8 FG/A. Coach Hollins played every active player, so there's that.

For San Antonio, it was 40 field goals, 28/11 assist/turnover, and 5 steals. Parker had 20 with 9 assists. Leonard had 18, while Green added 16.

If you're gonna fall behind 31-14 at the end of the first quarter, on the road to a good team, how else should you expect the game to end? My team got smoked, maybe because they had a bit of collective "wow, we made it this far". Game 2 has to be different. I expect it to be different. These teams are fairly evenly matched (Sunday's result notwithstanding). Best to forget Game 1, wipe the slate clean, and go after Game 2.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

In Dreams - "Gimme Back My Aspirin!"

I was in the Philippines, or maybe Thailand. I know it was southeast Asian, a Polynesian vibe present all around. It was warm and humid, and I was wearing flip-flops (which I hate in real life). I was at some outside bar/restaurant with a group of folk watching a Bollywood version of a western movie. In the movie, there were guys on horseback. There were other guys on horseback. There was dirt. There were pistols and angry language.

I got bored. Noticing I had a headache, I walked down the street to a nearby sundry store. The store was on the corner of a block, and was small and claustrophobic. Despite its' limited size, there were two cash registers active.

A crowd of people were in the store, barely in two lines. Others stood around along the walls, as if they had nowhere else to go. I grabbed a small tin of aspirin, and moved to a place where I thought I was at the back of a line. As customers paid for their products, I moved up fairly rapidly. Soon, I was at the register.

As I navigated the language barrier, I could notice off to my right there was a guy acting suspiciously. He wasn't in line, but standing near the register. Every so often, he would feint as if he was reaching for something on the counter. Soon, as I was paying for my aspirin, he grabbed it from the counter before I could pocket it. He was pretty brazen about it, looking at me as he took my product.

He made no effort to escape. He simply turned on his heels, and walked maybe 15 to 20 feet away from the register. He stood among a group of people who were standing along a wall. He knew I saw him, he didn't deny his petty theft, but he wouldn't give back my aspirin. The surrounding locals smirked and giggled, as if this guy acted this way on a regular basis. The more I reached for his shoulder to control him, the more he slipped my grasp. I never did get back the aspirin.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

My Team - Nationals at San Diego

Probable starters -

Thursday: Strasburg versus Volquez
Friday: Gonzalez versus Stults
Saturday: Zimmermann versus Cashner
Sunday: Haren versus Marquis (?)

(Starters subject to change)

After losing two of three at Los Angeles, the Nationals go 100 or so miles south to take on the Padres. San Diego is one of my favorite cities in the continental United States. I wish I was there.

The Padres are 18-21 on the year, slightly better than most experts expected. They're 4.5 games out of first place, and just swept a two-game series at Baltimore. This isn't a bad team, just unknown in some parts of fandom.

What do they do well? Steal bases (Everth Cabrera with 12). Strike out batters (the staff is second in the National League, with 238). Hit a bit (Yonder Alonso, Chase Headley).

Yeah, folk are talking about the Strasburg homecoming. Ya still gotta execute pitches, and he has to work through his struggles regarding that one inning that derails an otherwise solid start. With Detwiler getting injured in Los Angeles Wednesday night, the first four in the rotation have to find consistent excellence. Nats' pitchers must keep San Diego runners off base/minimize the big inning. Minimize damage, so even when a Padre drives an extra-base hit, it won't start the "merry-go-round" of runners.

For Washington, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman are starting to heat up, joining Desmond, Harper and Span as offensive sparks. The bench is still struggling, so hopefully a Tyler Moore or Roger Bernadina can get a couple of hits to start the get-well process.

I guess the series is a split, with the Nationals winning Thursday and Saturday, while the Padres win Friday and Sunday. Looking forward to seeing the Padres up close.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My Team - Game 5, Grizzlies at Oklahoma City

Memphis' Game 4 overtime win was a victory serious contenders achieve. Some teams, up a game in the series, would have given up after being down 17 in the first half. Memphis teams in previous years would have rolled over and said "we'll get 'em in the next game" or "we beat 'em once at their place - we can do it again". Not so for this year's Grizz.

Wednesday's Game 5 is an elimination game for the Thunder. The team and their fans will come out, uh, thunderous (heh). There will be a sense of desperation on the floor and in the stands.

I want my team to win, finish this thing, get ready for the Western Conference Finals. In my gut, Oklahoma City will put on that one last stand, pull out one last victory for the home folks before their season ends.

I expect Durant to do what he did in Game 4, regarding being Mr. Everything for his team. He'll score, of course. He'll hit the boards, pass the ball, block shots as a weak-side or transition defender. He'll probably get that triple double on Wednesday night. Ibaka, Martin and Jackson will play at a high level as well. Their passion and productivity will make a difference. Whither Sefolosha, however? His numbers, while never great, have been negligible this series. Is it time for him to have a great two-way game? Possibly. Probably.

I think the Grizzlies will come out wanting to close out the series. They'll play hard as always. As much as they will want the win, the Thunder will need it.

I'd like to see Prince and Pondexter to have consistent offensive performances in this game. Even if they don't win, the Grizzlies need more production from their positions. That production will make the difference in a possible Game 6 of this series, and going forward in the playoffs.

My guess for a score, Oklahoma City 105, Memphis 93. The Thunder fans get one more chance to cheer their heroes.

After the Game: Memphis 88, Oklahoma City 84. It was statistically close as scoreboard-close. I found myself pacing the floor quite a bit in the fourth quarter.

For Memphis, it was 30 field goals, 18/9 assist/turnover and 9 steals. Randolph had 28 with 14 rebs, but missed three free throws late that made it closer than it needed to be. Conley had 13 with 11 assists (but 5/18 FG/A). Gasol added 10, 7 rebs and 3 blocks, despite a poor shooting night. As much as everyone talks about Westbrook's injury, Memphis didn't play a complete game. There was room for them to play even better.

For the Thunder, Durant had 21, but was 5/21 FG/A. Get that man some more help. Ibaka added 17, while Jackson added 16, 9 rebs and 5 assists. Look for that guy to make a big leap next year. He and Westbrook in the same back court can wreak havoc for years to come.

Memphis came out with a business-minded approach, and got a double-digit lead. They started the second half sloppy and unfocused. Yikes. Oklahoma City made several runs, as good teams do. Memphis did enough to hold on, but they showed some weaknesses. Especially late, the interior defense was burned by Oklahoma City's crisp passing. The Grizzlies need to work on that.

Anyway, on to the Western Conference Finals. It will be either San Antonio (my guess) or Golden State. That series starts this weekend, maybe? It promises to be fun. I can't wait.

Monday, May 13, 2013

In Dreams - "World War II, On My Street"

This morning, I dozed off watching "The Man Who Never Was". Not a knock against the movie. I slept poorly last night, so I indulged in a nap. Given the time period and subject matter of the movie, I shouldn't be surprised about this dream.

I was on the street where I own a home. My neighborhood is relatively new. Construction on my house was finished in February of 1997. The dream's time-frame however was World War II. Nazis were coming down the street to take people away, but none of my neighbors felt any sense of urgency or dread. The mood on my street was as if we were going on a communal field trip. My sisters were in town, and they were telling me to hurry and grab my backpack so I wouldn't be left behind.

I went downstairs into my basement, and it looked astonishingly clean. (At present, the house is being rented to a tenant I've never met.). The carpet was pristine, and there was abundant light in every part of the basement. In fact, it looked so nice I had a twinge of envy - I'd not kept it so beautiful when I lived in it. I made a mental note of some decorating ideas for implementing when I returned.

I took a last look around, and started heading up the stairs. Just at that moment, the phone rang...

My Team - Game 4, Grizzlies versus Oklahoma City

Game 3 was ugly, but a win's a win. Memphis has leverage, but needs a Game 4 win even more.Winning Monday night would all but seal a series win & send a message to the rest of the league that Memphis is ready to compete for the league title. As a fan, I'm excited.

Monday night, I expect Durant to come out gunning. This could be the game he gets 40 or more, to keep his team afloat. He's been almost too unselfish, based on the lack of consistent production from his teammates. If he does get 40 or more, and someone else contributes 20, Oklahoma City could steal back home court advantage.

For Memphis, they got out-rebounded in Game 3. They can't let that happen any more if they expect to win. In addition, Randolph had difficulty offensively with Ibaka getting in his face. He needs to start driving to the rim, to get close-range shots & get his defender in greater foul trouble (Randolph had no FTA in Game 3, although Ibaka finished with 4 fouls). If Memphis can get Prince going on offense as well, OKC won't be able to double either Gasol or Randolph.

Memphis' defense has been stellar lately. Keep it up, OK?

My guess for Game 4 - Memphis 95, Oklahoma City 90. Prince gets off to a better start shooting, but it's canceled out by Allen's wild forays that result in wild shots and wild turnovers. Randolph does better on offense (around 17 points, with 11 rebs), but Conley and Gasol again prove to be the leaders offensively. Bayless, Pondexter and Arthur chip in with better shot selection on one end & continued defensive effort on the other. Bad shot selection hindered Memphis' second half offensive flow, so don't let it happen again.

If the Grizz win Game 4, the city is gonna go nuts, but have a care. Don't count too many chickens before they hatch.

After the Game: Memphis 103, Oklahoma City 97, in overtime. One of the biggest wins in Grizzlies' history, given what was at stake. Overcoming a 46-29 second quarter deficit, the team continued to grind away at the Thunder. No quit in this Memphis bunch.

For the Grizzlies, it was 36 field goals, 18/7 assist/turnover and 8 steals. Conley had 24 with 5 assists. Gasol had 23, 11 rebs and 6 blocks. Randolph added another 23 with 12 rebs. Yeah, it's becoming Conley's team.

For the Thunder, it was 34 field goals, 19/15 assist/turnover and 4 steals. Durant had 27, 7 rebs and 7 assists. Martin added 18, while Ibaka was resurgent with 17 with 14 rebs. Jackson had 15 with 8 assists, but 4 turnovers.

Both teams shortened their rotations to roughly 8 guys, so everyone who gets time must contribute right away. It was that way for Memphis, although Prince's reluctance to shoot is troubling. He doesn't have to be a gunner, but he has to score enough to open up the post for Randolph.

I saw the graphic on NBA TV, about Durant shooting 3/17 in the 4th/overtime the last two games. Is he tired? Is it Allen's defense? Some combination of the two?

This game was tough to watch at times, with Memphis' lethargic performance in the first quarter. They got away with it in this game, but they have to get off to better starts from now on if they harbor any hope of going deeper in the playoffs.

Game 5 is in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night. Memphis had to guard against the "we've got it made" mentality. They need to come out on the road ready to play well. OKC will be a desperate bunch. Memphis much match that level of intensity. Don't take a home Game 6 for granted, but finish the Thunder right away.

My Team - Nationals at Dodgers

Projected starters -

Monday: Zimmermann versus Beckett
Tuesday: Haren versus Kershaw
Wednesday: Detwiler versus Magill

The Nationals finished the home stand losing two of three to the Cubs. It looked like Washington's offense was starting to come around, until Edwin Jackson and Scott Feldman pitched like the unflappable pros they can be. Tough part was Strasburg and Gonzalez came out and also pitched like wizened veterans early in their respective starts. Team defense and lack of timely hitting cost the Nats on Saturday and Sunday. Eventually, that will change. Maybe this week on the West Coast...?

Ryan Zimmerman is still fighting throwing issues. Maybe some hot weather will loosen up his shoulder a bit. Offensively, Desmond is heating up a bit, hitting for power while his batting average climbs. Lombardozzi provides a pinch-hitting spark. Tracy and Moore, however, are struggling in their opportunities. This year, the bench hasn't gotten those late hits that aid in comebacks.

The Dodgers are sub-.500 after expectations of higher performance. There are some bright spots, though. Carl Crawford appears to be healthy and productive again. Adrian Gonzalez is hitting for average and driving in runs. Matt Kemp is heating up after a slow start. A.J. Ellis is an underrated catcher, especially at the plate.

However, the team has had a revolving door at third base (Luis Cruz isn't quite the answer yet) and at shortstop (Hanley Ramirez has been hurt, and Dee Gordon isn't quite the answer yet, either). Mark Ellis is solid at second, but he's more of a number 2 hitter than an RBI guy.

On paper, the pitching looked formidable at season's start. Clayton Kershaw is one of the best in the business. Zack Greinke, Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley are high-quality, but hurt. Chris Capuano has had good years in the majors, but hasn't quite smoothed things out this year. Josh Beckett isn't the big-game pitcher he was with Florida and Boston, and looks like he's on the downside of his career.

For my guesswork, Zimmermann comes out on Monday night and shuts down the Los Angeles. Haren baffles Los Angeles on Tuesday with an assortment of just-off-the-plate cutters. Detwiler gives the Nationals 6 strong innings, but the bullpen costs him the win. I think the Nationals win the first two of this three-game set.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Stella Dallas"

This 1937 release will make you cry, on Mother's Day or any other day.

I can't say enough about Barbara Stanwyck. She's been celebrated & acknowledged as one of the most versatile actors of all time. This role is a great example of her skill.

I didn't know there was a silent version, released in 1925, with Ronald Colman and Belle Bennett. The one with Stanwyck is the better-known one, of course.

If you have this movie on in the background, and not really watch the nuance, Stella is a prime candidate for derision. Cheap, vulgar, garish, self-serving - the early parts of the movie don't paint Stella in a sympathetic light. As the story unfolds, and we see a depth and a motherly instinct start to bloom, we find that Stella is a complicated character. Maybe her background made her the way she is. Maybe she will never change on the outside, but her heart does evolve.

Her daughter "Laurel" (Anne Shirley) is the catalyst for Stella's growing motherly love. As Laurel aspires for a different life than her mom's, Stella comes to a difficult realization. The mother can't provide the kind of security and position in the community the daughter craves. Like a lot of movies in that era, the class distinctions are evident. Working class status is something to discard and leave behind, like tattered old clothes. Women of the day were expected to "marry well", find that white-collar gentleman who can take his wife to a better life of material benefits and status.

Laurel finds herself torn. She starts to realize just how much her mom loves her. Laurel is also embarrassed in the fact that her mom will never fit in the world in which Laurel wants to inhabit. As Laurel gains maturity, she understands just how much her mom is willing to sacrifice for Laurel's future well-being. The wedding scene choked me up, once I understood the context. The mother's level of selfless love helped the daughter grow into a capable woman on her own.

John Boles (the 1931 "Frankenstein") is appropriately formal and reserved as "Stephen Dallas", Stella's ex. Stephen too has emotional upheaval and a search for stability in his life. He and Stella don't last as a couple, but he is a part of the world his daughter strives to access. Barbara O'Neil ("Ellen" in "Gone With The Wind") is Stephen's new wife Helen, providing a genteel contrast to the tawdry Stella. "Broad brushes" are everywhere regarding character development, but that's alright.

Alan Hale, Sr., Marjorie Main and Tim Holt add to the story as key characters. Lines are drawn, and each character is firmly on one side or the other of this class separation.

This movie was constructed with a high degree of professionalism and thought. The camera angles draw you into the lives of the characters. You find yourself in this world.

Stanwyck nails this role. She seemingly goes from cheap tart to loving mother to wise adult to self-sacrificing woman in a way that looks logical and natural.

Make no mistake: this is a melodrama. Ultimately, there are some strong soap opera elements to the script. But, if you allow yourself to see the world through Stella's eyes, you'll get it. You'll see just how heartbreaking and uplifting sacrifice can be. I love this movie. Am I a big softie? Yeah, I guess I am.

Happy Mother's Day

I'm sitting here, watching "Stella Dallas". The lengths a mother would go on behalf of her child chokes me up.

For you moms out there, know that you are loved and cherised. For those whose mothers have gone on to their reward, I pray you have fond memories of a mother's love.

A mother's love makes all the difference in a life. It's such a valuable gift, more than all the jewels ever seen.

In Dreams - "Telekinesis"

I'm deployed again. Another base, another desert. This time, I'm in a logistics squadron. My job is to load 40-foot trailers. We were a unit that received airlift supplies and ordnance, then forwarded such resource to troops downrange.

There was a time not long ago, when military installations had active railroad lines on base/post. These tracks were a vital part of shipping material in and out of the installation. There were side lines where flat cars would stage, while trailers were prepped for loading onto the flat cars. I was loading one of the trailers.

The trailer was sturdy, but the walls were transparent (which I didn't find odd). Initially, I did a poor job of loading the trailer, only loading the stacks a couple of feet high. I left too much space above the boxes. It was inefficient and borderline dangerous. Boxes could topple over during transit, or even fall on someone else when the next troop downrange opens the trailer.

I got to the end of the trailer and finally realized I needed to re-do the load. Instead of physically moving the boxes, I was able to visualize the new box configuration. With a wave of my hand, boxes stacked neatly, from the floor of the trailer to the ceiling, as if organized by invisible hands. Wall after wall of boxes went up in a stable, neat fashion. I didn't feel a sense of wonder over this new-found power. Just a sense of expectation & the desire to finish the job in order to move on to the next task.

Soon, I was nearly finished. Suddenly, I could hear a klaxon, alerting the base to increase its readiness posture. I hurriedly hopped down from my work platform & headed to my billet, where I had my weapon and protective gear. It was combat time, and our location was at risk of attack. The rest of the loading would have to wait.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

My Team - Game 3, Grizzlies versus Oklahoma City

Saturday afternoon, the "always-pivotal" Game 3 tips off in Memphis. It's the Grizzlies' first home game since  3 March, when they closed out the Clippers. It's still a bit surprising Memphis scored 118 in that game.

Randolph, Gasol and Conley aren't anyone's "Big Three", but then need to play big from here out. Best case scenario for the team is each of them scores at or near 20 apiece. If the team gets 12 or so from Prince and Allen, the team is formidable.

Off the bench, Bayless needs to be productive with his ball-handling decisions. Go ahead and shoot, but take smart shots & make 'em. Pondexter needs to keep putting the ball on the floor, keep getting to the rim, and make the subsequent foul shots. Some combination of Arthur and Ed Davis needs to add inside scoring and some rebounding.

The Grizzlies need to continue the "no second-chance points" formula that's been successful lately. Limit the non-Kevin Durant Thunder players to one shot per possession. Memphis has shown they have the want-to to command the boards. That must continue for the Grizz to maintain momentum.

My guess: Memphis 106, Oklahoma City 103. Memphis will start slow, due in part to the 3-day layoff since Game 2. Durant will score early and often to keep his team in it, then start to include others in the offensive flow. Martin is key for OKC - can the Grizzlies continue to hinder his scoring off the bench?

Memphis' fans again need to come out and be a force. This is the playoff season where they can tell the rest of the league they are as passionate and committed as any fan base in the Association.

After the Game: Memphis 87, Oklahoma City 81. It was hard-fought, and the Thunder played with a grim determination.  Memphis made a few more plays down the stretch.

For the Grizz, it was 30 field goals, 16/11 assist/turnover and 5 steals. Gasol had 20 points, 9 rebs and 4 assists. Conley and Allen added 14 each. Bayless added 11 off the bench. Randolph and Prince struggled, scoring 8 (Randolph) and 2 (Prince) respectively. OKC's tough defense gave Randolph fits.

For the Thunder, it was 32 field goals, 10/12 assist/turnover and 7 steals. Durant had 25, 11 rebs and 5 assists. He'd have had more assists, but teammates missed make-able shots. Jackson had 16 and 10 rebs. He's really blossoming on the big stage. Ibaka and Martin had 13 each, but they combined for 12/34 FG/A.

Memphis won the 1st & 3rd quarters, despite 5 first quarter turnovers. They came out intense but sloppy. Oklahoma City was much more active on the boards this time (14 offensive rebounds). Over the course of the game, some rushed shots and poor passing blunted the momentum Memphis tried to build. It wasn't a pretty win. But, it's better to be up two games to one, than to be down by the same.

Game 4 is Monday night. As pivotal as Game 3 is, Game 4 is even more so. If the Grizz can come out strong, keep up the pressure, they can win the fourth game and take a commanding lead in this series.

Friday, May 10, 2013

My Team - Nationals versus Cubs

Starting pitchers -

Friday: Detwiler versus Samardzija
Saturday: Strasburg versus E. Jackson
Sunday: Gonzalez versus Feldman

(starters subject to change)

In that two-game sweep of Detroit, Washington got solid starting pitching, timely hitting and consistent defense. Jayson Werth is still out with hamstring/gastro virus issues, but the rest of the lineup appears to be gelling.

This weekend, the Nationals host the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs don't have a great record, but there are some competent players on their roster. Former National Alfonso Soriano still has some home run pop, but also is an inconsistent fielder. David DeJesus is a pretty good center fielder who knows his job is to get on base from the top of the order. Starlin Castro has as many physical gifts as any shortstop in baseball. Anthony Rizzo is starting to show the consistent power expected of him in his days as a Red Sox & Padres' farmhand.

On the mound, Jeff Samardzija is the Cubs' ace. This guy, a former Notre Dame wide receiver, has great stuff. He'd be an All-Star regular on a team with a better record. The well-traveled Edwin Jackson (now on his 8th major league team) is a workhorse, but seems to have that one inning where he's hit hard. Scott Feldman (former Ranger) is a similar guy, who's had some moments of success but can be roughed up from time to time. A healthy Nationals' lineup should be able to score on Saturday and Sunday. Friday, runs may be difficult to come by.

I expect Friday's game to be low-scoring. Situational baseball (advancing runners, taking the extra base) will make the difference. Saturday and Sunday will be slugfests. I suspect the Cubs will win a close game on Friday, while the Nationals will "keep the line moving" Saturday and Sunday, getting big wins both days. The Washington offense will come alive Saturday and Sunday, raising the level of optimism around the clubhouse.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Homeless - What Do You Think?

Saw this in the local paper today.

I know there are tons of stereotypes about folk who live out on the streets. Have any of you actually ever met a homeless person? How does the encounter compare to your preconceived notions?

I've been blessed to help some in a ministry that reaches out to the homeless. There are much more complicated issues than I thought before actually volunteering in this area.

I don't have answers. My understanding has broadened, however. What I ask of you is this: next time you encounter a homeless person, would you look that person in the eye? Actually talk to that person as a person, and not a symbol? Listen to his or her answers?

I guarantee you will learn as much about yourself as what you learn about that homeless person. I know I did.

In Dreams - "The Yakuza? On My Plane?"

I was back in my flight crew days, navigating a C-135 crew on a training sortie. As far as I could tell, we were in the continental United States, with a flight plan that took us over the northern plains (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska). We weren't scheduled for an air refueling, so it was all general navigation and celestial navigation. It was the type of trainer that was normally right up my alley.

This time though, for some reason I was not prepared at all. Normally, I would take care of all my chart prep (drawing the route on a jet navigation chart, highlighting radar targets, etc.) the day before. I didn't this time. Also, there are various forms used for pre-computing celestial nav data and  tracking results that I didn't bring along. Maybe my heart wasn't in the effort this time.

We get airborne, and all is well initially. I'm tracking our progress, so we're not lost (which is any navigator's pet peeve, being "spatially disoriented"). But when it comes time to set up the sextant to view the sun, I remain in my seat, just barely concerned about doing my job. Minutes pass. Finally, my aircraft commander comes back to my station, just to check in, and notices I'm not doing any sextant shots.

Just as I start to fumble around for an excuse, a group of men show up right behind me. It's members of the Yakuza, the fabled Japanese mobsters. They are all in sharp double-breasted suits. None are carrying weapons.

The mobsters start to mess with everything on the aircraft. The open up the parachutes. They open up the insulation which covers the wiring. They open up the over-wing hatches (but nobody falls out of the jet). One guy sees me, assumes I have stuff in my nav bag, opens up the bag, and starts taking out forms, data guides, my plotter & dividers, and other stuff. Most aviators are pretty picky about what they put in their bags & other people mucking around in the bags. Everything in the bag has a purpose, and stuff is arranged for easy/quick access. When that guy started taking stuff out of my bag, I got P.O.d. I'm ready to start a fight.

I got up to punch the guy in the face, but as I got out of my seat suddenly there were 30 or so mobsters around me. My purposed changed, from "starting a fight" to "surviving until we land". All the while, my aircraft commander was in my ear asking "do you have enough time to do your pre-comps? When's your next set of celestial shots?"

I could see my radar scope, and tell we were starting to get off course. The dilemma really set in at that point. Could I turn my back on these gangsters long enough to navigate? Or, if I went back to work would one slit my throat?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Sirocco"

Trying to recapture some of that old "Casablanca" allure, Humphrey Bogart stars in this 1951 release.  There are some familiar elements for fans of that older classic. The movie's story set in the Middle East. The backdrop of war providing the necessary danger. A dryly-cynical American expatriate. A working relationship with a military official. A beautiful love interest who belongs to another man. But, in this picture, something is missing.

I don't know if it's "Casablanca's" heart that's missing in this movie, or the sly bits of humor that lighten the mood. Maybe it's a conflict between the French army and Syrian insurgents, instead of World War II. Whatever it is, it's not in this picture. I watched this movie, and it's well-crafted, but I struggled to care about the characters.

Bogart is rock-solid and professional as always. He had the requisite world-weary demeanor within his well-tailored suits. I've always loved how he didn't need a lot of ham-handed histrionics to get his roles across. The subtlety he uses in this role is effective.

The cast included luminaries like Lee J. Cobb, Everett Sloane ("Citizen Kane" and "The Lady from Shanghai") and Zero Mostel ("A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"). The leading lady was the Swedish beauty Marta Toren, who was destined for bigger things on the silver screen. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 30 in 1957.

These are all pros, working at a high level. The movie is good to look at, but I never connected with any of the characters. Maybe I just didn't get it.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "The Bride of Frankenstein"

You all can guess the gist of this movie by the title alone. This 1935 release starred Boris Karloff (billed simply as "Karloff" - mysterious, right?).

The opening is precious and kind of goofy. Three aristocrats, "Lord Byron" (Gavin Gordon), "Percy Bysshe Shelley" (Douglas Walton) and "Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley" (Elsa Lanchester) are sitting around during a violent storm. We get a lot of florid language and posturing, but it sets a tone. 

The plot is clear, but there were some things within it that caught my attention. The monster is lonely, starved for human affiliation and contact. He doesn't go out of his way to cause a ruckus, but merely reacts to the fear and misunderstanding he encounters from the local populace. No, the monster isn't some kindly woodland inhabitant - he's still dangerous. But, he's not some mindless villain. Karloff gives the monster a sense of humanity that, in my mind, gets overlooked.

Over the course of the movie, we see the monster enjoy good music and a cigar. We see the monster take a nip of an adult beverage. We see the monster's body language and facial expression change when he first sees his potential mate. We finally see the monster make a huge sacrifice when he realizes his fate is sealed. Maybe we can see ourselves in the monster.

A lot of people are familiar with the visage of the bride, with bug eyes and frizzy hair. She doesn't get a lot of air time. I don't know if her lack of scenes lifts the movie or or merely misdirection based on the movie's title. 

The title premise is a hook, but the real story is about a march to the inevitable. As much as we too try to resist our life's path, sometimes circumstances pull us back to what we are. In the meantime, how do we manage our time on earth? There are profound life questions one can pull from this film. 

My Team - Game 2, Grizzlies at Oklahoma City

Game 1 between the two teams was the dogfight most everyone expected. Memphis matches up with the Thunder, even when Westbrook is in the lineup.

Kelvin Martin caused a lot of problems. Memphis should know about this guy. He'll take a mid-range floater once in a while, but mostly he uses his quick release on long 2s and 3s. Follow him at all times when he's on the floor.

If I'm Memphis, I accept that Durant is gonna get his 28 or so. The Grizzlies have to see Durant like they saw Paul in the Clippers' series. One man may score, but don't let that one guy also facilitate easy baskets for his teammates. If in each game Durant gets his 28, Martin only gets around 16 or so, and the others don't get much, Memphis can win this series. If Durant gets 34, Martin gets in the mid-20s, and Ibaka/Sefolosha/Jackson get consistent double figures from easy baskets, Memphis will lose over and over.

As it is, I think Memphis wins Game 2, 99-97. Conley is the key in this game, getting as many assists as field goal attempts. He's gotta help Prince and Allen get easy buckets.

Getting a split on the road sets up Memphis for success the rest of the series.

After the Game: Memphis 99, Oklahoma City 93. The fourth-quarter roles were reversed from Game 1. This time, the Grizzlies outscored OKC 30-19 to finish strong & not let it come down to a last-minute play determining the victor.

For Memphis, it was 36 field goals, 22/10 assist/turnover and 13 steals. Conley just missed a triple double (26 points, 10 rebs, 9 assists). He took 22 shots, but hit half of 'em. Gasol scored 25, with 5 rebs and 5 assists. Randolph got a hard-fought 15, and added 8 rebounds. Allen added 12, but his 4/13 FG/A is a bit troubling.

For the Thunder, it was 30 field goals, 17/19 assist/turnover and 3 steals. Durant got his, and also nearly got a triple double (36 points, 11 rebs and 9 assists). Fisher got 19 off the bench, mostly in the first half. Ibaka added 11 and Jackson contributed 10. Memphis did a nice job accounting for Martin, who only scored 6.

It's evident that missing Westbrook has brought the Thunder back to the pack. As a Grizzlies' fan I say "too bad". It happened to Memphis a few years ago. It happens to teams every year. You still have to play with the guys who are available. Those guys have to execute. You play together as a team, you have a chance to win against any opponent.

The next two games are in Memphis, 11 May (Saturday) and 13 May. Conceivably, Memphis could go up 3 games to 1 if the Grizzlies defend home court. That is easier said than done, however. Looking forward to seeing the Memphis fans respond to this opportunity.

My Team - Nationals versus Tigers

Starting pitchers -

Tuesday: Jordan Zimmerman versus Sanchez
Wednesday: Haren versus Fister

With all their struggles, the Nationals are only 2.5 games behind Atlanta for the lead in the National League East. One would suspect as the weather warms, Washington will start to execute better at the plate, in the field and on the mound.

A quick two-game home interleague series against Detroit is a great test for Washington. Sanchez struck out 26 batters in his last 14 innings.  Nobody talks about Fister, but he's a) 4-0, 2.48 ERA & 1.13 WHIP; and b) in his two no-decisions he's given up 2 earned runs in 13 innings.

Oh, by the way, the Tigers can hit as well. Between Cabrera, Fielder, Hunter (who still has life in his game) and Peralta, they will score. When Victor Martinez warms up, yikes. This team looks to be the best in the American League (I know Boston has a great record). Maybe Detroit is the best in baseball so far.

For the Nationals, Span's OBP is starting to decline. They need him back at .400 or so, drawing more walks and scoring more runs. Ryan Zimmerman is back at third base, so the lineup is starting to get healthy again.

My guess is Zimmermann matches Sanchez out-for-out (maybe not strikeouts, but outs), in a great pitchers' duel. The next night, hide the women & children because Detroit is gonna go off against Haren (who has pitched well his last two starts). A split of these two games isn't a bad result.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

My Team - Game 1, Grizzlies at Oklahoma City

The Thunder should win. I would love to see, and expect to see, a seven-game contest like two years ago. It's gonna be fun, and more fans should get to see just how well Memphis is playing this post-season.

Every NBA fan knows about the Thunder. They just took out a game Houston team in six games on Friday night. Everybody knows about Durant, one of the world's best players. Everyone knows about Westbrook's injury & how he probably won't play against Memphis. Everyone knows about Perkins' toughness, Ibaka's blossoming offensive game and Sefolosha's versatility. Everyone knows Martin comes off the bench shooting, and Collison comes off the bench crashing the boards and playing tough post defense.

Allen has matched up with Durant in the past and held his own. Durant has gotten stronger over the years, though. Reggie Jackson, the backup point guard, is good enough to get the ball to his team's scorers. He'll also hit the boards. He should be a handful for Conley.

Sefolosha and Prince will play to a standstill. Perkins, Ibaka, Collison and maybe former Grizzlies' first-round draftee Hasheem Thabeet are a good enough rotation to neutralize Randolph and Gasol at times. Will Bayless repeat his Clippers'-series-Game 6 shooting exhibition, or will he come off the bench to do a "4-for-15" night?

My Game 1 guess is Oklahoma City 101, Memphis 96. It will be an entertaining game. Durant will make late buckets every time Memphis gets it within one or two points.

(A Long Time) After the Game: Oklahoma City 93, Memphis 91. Memphis coulda/shoulda won this game.

For the Grizzlies, it was 35 field goals, 13/11 assist/turnover and 5 steals. Gasol (20 points, 10 rebs) and Randolph (18 and 10) did what they could. Conley had 13 points, but needed 15 FGA to get there. Pondexter (13 points) and Bayless (10 points) did their part, but Pondexter's late FT misses were glaring.

For the Thunder, it was 33 field goals, 13/10 assist/turnover and 2 steals. Durant scored 35, and added 15 rebounds & 6 assists. Somebody check that guy! Martin scored 25 off the bench, and Jackson added 12. Nobody else for the Thunder scored in double figures. Sefolosha, Ibaka and Perkins combined for 4/21 FG/A.

Yep, it was close. Yep, Durant made the plays a superstar makes to get his team a playoff win. Memphis getting outscored 29-18 in the fourth shows they got out of their game plan a bit. Move the ball, get to the line, hit your free throws, get out of there with a win. Maybe we will see that in Game 2...

Friday, May 3, 2013

"Backing Vocalist Hall of Honor" - Michael McDonald

This is yet another irregular series of posts I've been mulling about in my brain for months. Admittedly, the title is a bit of a misnomer. If you are a backing vocalist, do you expect accolades?

As you know, I love music. Studiocraft in particular fascinates me. What does it take to collaborate efforts of  unique personalities to produce sounds that thrill us so?

Ever since I was a kid, I especially wondered about those back-up singers who enhance and flesh out songs I heard on the radio. Yeah, the Smokey Robinsons got attention for being the lead singers of popular groups and bands. I wondered about the Pete Whites, guys who didn't get the lion's share of the credit but did great work.

I also realize this context isn't meant to slight the solo careers of artists who may have done backing vocals on a different track with a different act. This man mentioned in the title of this post is one whose work has graced many tunes by myriad artists.

McDonald's career, either solo or with the Doobie Brothers, has thrilled legions of music fans. He's as good a pop and R&B singer as I've heard since the '70s. Even with all the personal success he's had, he still took the time to contribute backing vocals on many popular songs. That level of collaboration didn't diminish his career, but showed a different facet of his talent.

Let's look at two examples (both videos, courtesy of YouTube):

Go to the 6:22 mark to hear his story about his backing vocals on this Steely Dan track. He'd worked with the band on other occasions, so both parties understood what they were trying to accomplish on this track. Hearing it on the radio over the years, I didn't note the nuance of his vocals. Hearing his impressions of what was required & how the overdubs were accomplished blew me away. This is cool stuff.

The second example is on a song from my favorite band:

The first time I heard this song, and heard McDonald's backing vocal track, is was a pleasant surprise. His work made a really good song even better.

I expect that both songs are familiar to many music fans. I've always loved them both, and McDonald's vocals were a key reason why both songs resonate with me.

Michael McDonald is one of the best.

My Team - Nationals at Pittsburgh

Starting pitchers -

Friday: Detwiler versus Burnett
Saturday: Strasburg versus Rodriguez
Sunday: Gonzalez versus McDonald

(Starters subject to change)

After taking the last two games of the 4-game set in Atlanta, the Nationals go north to take on a pretty good Pirates team. The last couple of years, Pittsburgh has gotten off to good starts, but somewhere in mid-to-late June things would go bad. Since it's not June, expect the Pirates to keep playing well.

Their roster has good players/recognizable names all over. Big league veterans like Brandon Inge, John McDonald and Gaby Sanchez are backups. Their starting position players are highly regarded. Andrew McCutchen, their best all-around player, is off to a slow start offensively. Other guys like Garrett Jones and Starling Marte are doing their part, though.

Friday, I expect another pitchers' duel between Detwiler and Burnett. Burnett is a veteran who doesn't get rattled, and has no-hitter stuff. Saturday, people want to see if Strasburg's forearm stiffness is a problem. His opponent, Rodriguez, is a crafty left-hander who can keep a free-swinging team off-balance. Sunday, Gonzalez is fighting through his struggles with command. McDonald, a former Dodgers' farmhand, is another guy with great stuff but is prone to wildness (20 walks in 29.2 IP this year). That game could be a slug-fest.

A good, focused Nationals' team could sweep this series. I guess Washington wins Friday and Sunday, with Saturday's game being a 3-2 Pirates' win.

My Team - Game 6, Grizzlies versus Clippers

In Games 3 and 4 of this series (in Memphis), the Clippers scored 82 and 83 points, respectively. Why not more of the same?

Blake Griffin's high ankle sprain on Monday may be healed. But, in an "apples and oranges" comparison, football players who suffer a similar injury need weeks to recover. Griffin can recover in days? Maybe - modern medical technology can accomplish amazing things. But, what if he isn't 100% for Game 6?

Again, I'm fighting the fanboy desire to gush about my team. On paper, when both teams are at full strength, I really thought the Clippers were more dynamic on the front line. I expected Jordan and Griffin to own their respective match-ups. So far, I've been wrong. I'm cool with that.

My guess - Memphis 98, Los Angeles 88. Yeah, I know injuries diminish a team's chances. Playoff teams like Chicago (Rose), Denver (Gallinari) and the Lakers (Bryant) have seen their chances adversely impacted because of injury. However, where was the pity years ago when the Grizzlies were that 8-seed without an injured Rudy Gay? It's callous, but injuries do happen in sports, and the guys who remain active have an opportunity to step up & contribute.

Friday night, I expect a raucous Memphis crowd to push the Grizzlies' defensive effort.  Tony Allen and Mike Conley are the key tonight. Their two-way play will set the tone, getting steals that translate into easy run-outs. If Allen and Tayshaun Prince score, say, 7 or so points each in the first quarter, Memphis is going to be in a great place for the rest of the game.

Downside could be one of those nights where Memphis inexplicably starts a home game jacking up lots of jump shots that don't fall. Say for example, if Bayless gets in the game early and decides he's the star/first option on offense. If he is 2/10 FG/A in the first half, the team will be in trouble.

For the Clippers, Paul will get his points. Crawford will get his as well. Who else is gonna score for Los Angeles?

Yeah, I think the Grizzlies win on Friday night, and take the series 4 games to 2. Yeah, it stinks that Griffin is not at full strength. But as an opponent, do you hold back your own team because an opponent isn't available?

After the Game: Memphis 118, Los Angeles 105. Memphis wins the series, and the right to take on Oklahoma City in the next round. The Thunder are the number one seed in the Western Conference. They finished ahead of Memphis in the regular season, and should be favored in this series. How about seven games for ya?

For the Grizzlies, it was 36 field goals, 27/10 assist/turnover and 7 steals. Memphis also shot 47 free throws for the game. Home cooking appeared to be evident, and that's alright. Seven Memphis players scored in double figures. Conley and Randolph had 23 each, Allen had a surprising 19 (16 in the first half), and Bayless came off the bench to add 18. I know I give Bayless a hard time in print. When he's hot like Saturday night, he lifted the team and the crowd. Just do it ever game, man.

For the Clippers, it was 41 field goals, 19/13 assist/turnover and 3 steals. Barnes came off the bench to score 30, including 6/6 3PT FG/A in the first half. Whenever Memphis tried to get some distance between the two teams, Barnes would sink a three or a slashing drive to the basket.

Paul added 28 and Butler scored 14. No other Clippers' player scored in double figures. Griffin was limited by that ankle injury (9 points in 14 minutes off the bench), and Crawford didn't score in 12 minutes of play. He saw scant time in the second half, a puzzling development to be sure.

Three guys (Paul, Randolph, Barnes) were ejected. There were lots of fouls and chippy play, especially in the fourth quarter. To their credit, though, the Clippers gave their all. They are a tough, determined team. The Grizzlies were a little bit better that night, and in the last four games of this great series.

I really hope both teams keep the majority of their rosters intact going forward. Between last year's seven-game series and this one, it looks like the start of a fun rivalry. I look forward also to the team's first meeting next season. It should be contentious.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Big Leaguer"

I'm a sucker for a baseball movie. This one was released in 1953, and it's geared more for kids and adolescents. It was enjoyable nonetheless. It was "kinda/sorta" based on real people and real events. 

Edward G. Robinson stars as "John 'Hans' Lobert". The real-life Lobert was a major league baseball player and also managed the Philadelphia Phillies in 1942.

This fictitious story revolves around a baseball tryout camp in Florida, geared towards young guys from ages 18 to 22. The New York Giants run this camp, and they are looking for prospects worth grooming for possible service with the big club. Lobert is part drill sergeant, part father confessor, part coach and part cheerleader. He is willing to share his vast knowledge and perspective on the game to any who ask, but he demands the prospects respect the game first and foremost. 

The main conflict revolves around which prospects show enough potential & performance from drills/practice/scrimmages to warrant a) staying longer at camp, and b) eventually getting a contract offer from the Giants ($150 a month, to play baseball!).

Lobert's niece "Christy" (Vera-Ellen) is his clerical assistant and ready-made love interest for one of the ballplayers. She's cute, spunky and knows a bit about the game - a dream girl for any guy who loves or plays baseball. Richard Jaeckel ("The Dirty Dozen") has a role as a bantam pitching prospect with swagger to spare (think a younger, right-handed Whitey Ford). 

Jeff Richards is a hulking third baseman who struggles to reconcile his desire to play the game with his father's desire that he go to college & "make a name for himself" as a white-collar professional. Lalo Rios is "Chuy", a Latin prospect with tons of talent, but just enough "fish-out-of-water" positioning that allows forced comic relief.

I liked this movie. If I'd first seen it when I was a kid, it's the type of movie that would have had me sleeping with my glove and ball every night. No, the story isn't complicated or infused with subtleties that make you dissect every statement. It's straightforward, a valentine to the national pastime & the guys who dream about being  a part of it.

In Dreams - "Flyin' Down the Interstate"

I was driving across Kansas, on Interstate 70. Yeah, I was speeding. You wanna make something of it?

Anyway, it was a clear day, a dry track, and I was booking past other drivers. Not a state patrolman in sight, and there were other cars keeping the pace. It was fun, no doubt.

As I was cruising in the fast lane, I came up on a Honda Accord-like hatchback. Funny thing was, the passenger side door and hatchback were both wide open, almost like speed brakes. This was happening at 80 miles per hour or more. I found it strange.

A little further up the road, I got off the interstate and ended up on a dirt road. Now, I was on foot, carrying a box probably 3 cubic feet (large enough to require effort, but not too heavy). I ended up in a dirt driveway that encircled a house. Further up the driveway, I could see a guy working on an older red Dodge pickup. The engine was running fine, but he was tweaking something else. He got to a stopping point, and got in the truck to park it in the stand-alone garage on his property. As he moved the truck, I had room to finish walking down and around on his driveway path.

I walked off his property, shifted the box from one shoulder to the other, and continued walking through the countryside.