family, friends, movies, NBA, Sam, Scooter Thomas, sports, Utah Jazz

Voreblog Power Rankings: December 8, 2011

Ranking who’s currently wearing the pants in the Vore household. Previous rankings here and here.

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Entering the list dead last.

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8. TUESDAY’S DATE NIGHT. Previous ranking: N/A

You know you’re in for a bad date night movie when your babysitter tells you, as you’re walking out the door, “Oh, I saw that over Thanksgiving break and it was terrible.” We knew the movie in question, Breaking Dawn, would not be good, but just how not good it was startled even our low, low expectations. Taylor Lautner needed all of five seconds to rip his shirt off, while the CGI sequences involving wolves speaking to one another were almost as bad as the flaming moose CGI sequence from Knowing. (Almost.) Date nights being a rare commodity, Tuesday’s date night was, shall we say, a Flaming Moose. Did you know? Jacob imprinted.

7. OUR CHRISTMAS TREE. Previous ranking: N/A

Charlie Brown, move over.

Our five foot artificial Christmas tree is sparkling and festive … starting at three and a half feet up. The Vore Christmas tree is #7 this year thanks to #4 and #1. O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum, how lovely are thy topmost branches.

6. ERIN (down). Previous ranking: #4

After being dealt a grievous blow by David Stern and the National Basketball Association, Erin last night suffered another setback at the hands of the site Vistaprint, which suckered her into designing a super-sweet Christmas card only to tack on an egregious charge for envelopes before slipping in an even more egregious shipping charge which we had to pay if we wanted to see our cards before next February, so that what started out as an enjoyable endeavor filled with Christmas cheer soon devolved into a price-gouging, knicker-twisting, profanity-laced tirade at 11:30 at night. To top it all off, Gmail’s new look is terrible. Future prospects: Grim. A Google search about how to switch back to the old Gmail format proved fruitless. On the bright side: Vetoed Ben’s favorite cow ornament. On the less bright side: Ben put her Graeters black raspberry chip in the fridge instead of the freezer the other night. This was honestly not payback.

5. BEN (down). Previous ranking: #3

Despite once again failing to appear on People’s Sexiest Men list, Ben has, for the first time in his five year fantasy football career, qualified for the Mustache League playoffs thanks to his savvy midseason pickups of Cam Newton, DeMarco Murray and whoever is playing defense against the Chiefs. Ben is also ecstatic to have an NBA season this year, and has spent the last two weeks doing meticulous research on the new luxury tax and its ramifications on Utah’s bloated payroll. Though things look grim in Salt Lake this season, at least there’ll be basketball. Good news: A Dunkin’ Donuts opened across the street from where Ben works. Bad news: A Dunkin’ Donuts opened across the street from where Ben works. Also: Unlike Tim Tebow, Ben cannot pull another man into the bathroom during a tug-of-war contest.

4. SCOOTER THOMAS (up). Previous ranking: #5

After his precipitous fall from the top spot in the power rankings, Scooter Thomas has since regained his footing by asserting his dominance over the Christmas Tree (#7) — by eating the (fake) needles off all the bottom “branches” and then regurgitating them back into his food dish. (Why?) Despite the incoherence of this behavior, what’s undeniable is that Scooter T. has his mojo back. On the downside: Negligent owners forgot to fill his water dish yesterday, resulting in him licking the bathtub floor after Erin’s shower this morning. Sad.

3. CAMILLE AND MIKE ALLEN. Previous ranking: N/A

For sending us a Christmas card with the following message on the front: “Happy Holidays!” And the following message inside: “…is what terrorists say. Merry Christmas!” We were going to do the same thing but we didn’t have the cojones. Future prospects: Bleak. How will they top this next year? Guess they’ll have to have a kid or something.

2. GRANDPARENTS (same). Previous ranking: #2

The grandparents maintain their perch at #2, thanks to traction with the head honcho (see #1) and a willingness to indulge his sweet tooth with second helpings of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving (Nana and Papa) and fawn over him via Skype while he attempts in vain to pound the keyboard (Mamaw and Papaw). Grandparenting. Can’t beat it.

Papa and le tigre.

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Papa, Nana, le tigre.

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Papaw and Mamaw, Skypers extraordinaire.

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1. SAM (same). Previous ranking: #1

Aside from a small bout of diaper rash, Sam continues to own the power rankings with his Christmas Tree dominance and irrepressible ability to bend everyone’s will to his liking. (“Sam wants more pie? Well sure, let’s give it to him!”) With a burgeoning vocabulary and firm handle on the sign for “more,” Sam runs shop at the Vore household, crashing trucks down the stairs to his heart’s content and getting Classical Baby on demand whenever he so chooses. He also knows just the right moment to grab and pull at Scooter Thomas’s tail whenever his feline nemesis gets a little too chippy. Future prospects: Bright. Despite the need for absolutely nothing for Christmas, he’s still everyone’s favorite to shop for. Ain’t that the life.

marital tension, NBA, sports

BREAKING NEWS: NBA Season is On!

NEW YORK (AP) — NBA owners and players reached a tentative agreement early Saturday to end the 149-day lockout despite intense, eleventh hour attempts by Erin Vore to provoke tensions on both sides and prolong the standoff until the end of time.

“I am bitterly disappointed that both sides reached an agreement,” Vore told reporters. “I thought maybe I’d never have to be subjected to a Utah Jazz post again. Well, that dream is dead.”

The NBA hopes to begin the delayed season on Christmas Day. “Great, way to ruin my favorite holiday,” Vore said.

“We want to play basketball,” NBA commissioner David Stern said. “No, we don’t,” Vore added.

After a secret meeting earlier this week, the sides met for more than 15 hours Friday, working to try to save the season. Vore, present at the talks, sat next to Derek Fisher and held up signs that said, “CAN’T WAIT FOR NUCLEAR WINTER!” throughout the tense negotiations.

According to sources present during the talks, Vore berated Stern for being a “pansy” and a “turdburger.”

The usually unflappable Stern appeared particularly shaken when, after calling for reconciliation and labeling past disagreements as “unfortunate,” Vore shouted, “Your mom is unfortunate!” Later Vore added, “Before we’re done here, y’all be wearing gold-plated diapers.”

“What does that even mean?” Stern whispered to NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, who shrugged as he deleted the 724th e-mail from Scott Guldin to his BlackBerry requesting that the price of the League Pass be lowered.

This handshake deal almost didn’t happen when Vore began pulling down her pants in an apparent attempt to poop on the actual handshake. She was restrained by security and escorted outside where she crumpled on the sidewalk and sobbed for an hour.

sports

State College After The Scandal

The question now for the folks in my (Ben’s) hometown of State College, Pennsylvania, is where do we go next. I have continued to follow the developments involving Jerry Sandusky and the sex abuse scandal with morbid, guilt-ridden curiosity: I am sickened but I can’t look away. I read updates for an hour or so every night and then feel heavy with the weight of them. I listen to the excerpts from Sandusky’s disastrous Monday night interview with Bob Costas (who did an excellent job demonstrating how a professional interviewer conducts himself). I wonder what it will be like the next time we visit “home,” and how a community that has always identified itself with the university and, specifically, the football program — We Are Penn State — will find a new identity in the wake of all this.

No easy answers anywhere. But there have been some helpful things for me to read. If you have also been compelled by this sad saga, you may find some insight and perspective in these links:

  • John Amaechi, a 1995 Penn State grad (and my high school graduation speaker to boot), reflects on what it will take for Penn State to heal and move forward. “I will never forget or regret going to Penn State,” he says, adding, “I have great affinity for a place that helped me become who I am.” Amaechi also talks about his volunteer work for The Second Mile, lamenting that his and other athletes’ involvement were part of the draw for at-risk kids to get involved with the program.
  • Joe Posnanski, a columnist for Sports Illustrated, writes about “The End of Paterno” (h/t Scott Guldin and Emily Huie) and offers a note of perspective about the rush to judgment from many commentators on the scandal — “a piling on that goes even beyond excessive, a dancing on the grave that makes me ill,” as he puts it. Posnanski’s situation is a bit more complicated than most — he was already in the process of writing a book about Paterno when this all unfolded — but he writes about it with typical lucidity and insight while acknowledging that the real scandal was not Paterno losing his job or having his legacy tarnished. It took many sports writers a while to find this same context and footing. (ESPN’s ombudsman’s take here.)
  • Ben McGrath of The New Yorker sits in on Penn State’s “JoePa class” — Comm 497g: Joe Paterno, Communications, and the Media — and observes that “it seems clear that the national media and the campus have been engaged in two essentially separate conversations, almost from the start.”
  • Finally, Michael Weinreb, who grew up in State College and went to Penn State, writes for Grantland about going home last weekend. “In State College,” he says, “we liked to think we looked after each other, and then we found out that some of the most prominent members of our community had failed to look after helpless children, and because of our lifelong emotional attachments we now feel like we are being branded as complicit in these crimes.” That pretty well sums it up for me.
sports

Not So Happy Valley

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I (Ben) didn’t go to Penn State University, but growing up in State College, Pennsylvania, is basically the same thing. Over half of my graduating high school class went to Penn State. Our high school mascot couldn’t escape Penn State’s shadow either: We were the State High Little Lions. There’s really little else in State College — which is so close to the exact middle of the state that I tell people it’s between the Y and the L on any map of Pennsylvania — besides the university, which is why the scandal that has now brought down legendary coach Joe Paterno and college president Graham Spanier feels like an implication of all of us who have called State College home.

I grew up rooting for Penn State and going to home football games with my best friend Pat. I believed — as all of us Nittany Lions fans believed — that our football program was different. Its motto was “Success With Honor.” We prided ourselves on being the team with the standard blue and white uniforms — no names on the back, no stickers on the helmets, no flash or flair. Just honest, hard-nosed football players.

I was nine years old when Penn State won its second national championship, a 14-10 victory over Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl. (We got a VCR that Christmas, and this was the first thing we ever taped on it. Somewhere my parents still have the tape.) That win was largely due to defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s masterful game plan, which goaded Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde into throwing five interceptions.

The sporting world at large viewed the game in stark, good vs. evil terms. Those were the swaggering Miami teams of Jimmie Johnson and Michael Irvin. The only Nittany Lion from that team who went on to make any kind of a splash in the NFL was linebacker Shane Conlan, and it wasn’t much of a splash. Miami was all about individual success; Penn State was about team. For Nittany Lion fans, it wasn’t just that we won that game (and so many others over the years); it’s that we won the right way.

The details of the scandal that has ended Paterno’s career, and given lie to the myth that Penn State football was beyond reproach, are sordid and well familiar to anyone who has been following the news recently. Sandusky has been arrested for allegations of sexual abuse of at least eight young boys spanning a fifteen year period. Sandusky ran a charity called The Second Mile for at-risk youth. (“It was within The Second Mile program that Sandusky found his victims,” states the grand jury transcript.) He and his wife adopted six children. They took in other foster children.

When a 2002 incident involving Sandusky assaulting a boy in a campus shower was brought to Paterno’s attention, he relayed it to the school’s athletic director, Tim Curley, the following day. Legally, he fulfilled his duties sufficiently enough to have avoided indictment by a grand jury. Morally, he fell far short. He wasn’t the only one, but the school’s board of trustees did the right thing by removing him and Spanier (whose initial statement that Curley had his “unconditional support” rung tone deaf and certainly contributed to his undoing). Usually the firing of the college president would be the bigger news story, but in State College, nobody deferred to JoePa. Until now.

I talked to my parents tonight, and they said it’s strange to have the media glare shine so brightly on the place known as “Happy Valley.” Some commentators have called this “the worst scandal in college sports history.” Whatever it is, it feels unexpectedly personal. Everyone in State College knows everyone else. It’s a small town. To live in State College is to be a Penn State football fan. But being a Penn State football fan right now carries with it a feeling of queasiness and disgust.

It’s rare that a scandal of this size can be summarized in one sentence, but I’ve heard and read several commentators boil it down rather succinctly: Who was looking out for that young boy?

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Michael Weinreb, another State High grad, writes about the scandal here for Grantland.

books, sports

The Art Of Fielding, Chad Harbach

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When I (Ben) was eleven, I was picked to be on a Little League “Tournament” team. This honor went to the second tier of most promising players in the State College Little League “A” system. (The first tier, usually twelve-year-olds, were picked to be on the “All Star” team.) The tournament team continued playing after the regular season ended, usually well into July, traveling to such far off towns as Altoona, Hollidaysburg and Pleasant Gap.

I loved playing baseball. One of the greatest tragedies of my childhood came in the summer of 1985 when all of my friends began playing Little League, whereas I, born in early September, had to wait another year since I wouldn’t turn eight until after the August 31 cut-off. I cried. I sulked. I raged against the injustice of the world. When my third grade classmates regaled me with stories of their heroics — or when they simply told me they’d gone out for soft serve ice cream after the game last night — I gritted my teeth and tried to avoid erupting in a fit of jealous rage.

I played shortstop, and I had a good arm for a skinny kid who couldn’t manage a pull-up. I was one of the better players on my team; naturally, though, I didn’t stand out on the tournament team. I was not the starting shortstop. Instead, I platooned in right field and second base, batting farther down the line-up.

Something else happened when I joined the tournament team: I started to worry. I had always been a carefree player, but now the expectations were higher. My coaches talked more about winning than simply having fun out there. The parents in the stands cheered a little louder when things went well and booed the umps a little louder when they didn’t. What had always been an escape for me — stepping onto the diamond and losing myself in the game — became a source of stress and anxiety.

On our very first away tournament, we were trailing by two runs in the bottom of the sixth. I would bat only if we put several runners on. We got two outs fairly quickly, but the next three batters walked, looped a single into right field and beat out an infield grounder to load the bases. I was up next.

It wasn’t that I wanted to lose — I hated losing — but I did not want to be the one at bat with the game on the line. I couldn’t handle the pressure. I didn’t think about being the hero of the game, even though the opportunity was there. Rather, all I could foresee was being the goat. I had never thought like this before — Games were fun! I loved sports! — but now what ran through my mind when I stepped into the batter’s box was the consequences of failure.

The pitcher threw three pitches. I never lifted the bat off my shoulder. We lost and I rode the bench the rest of the tournaments. I kept playing baseball through my teens, but the moment I learned the most about myself — my most painful baseball moment — was that one. I thought of that strikeout several times as I read Chad Harbach’s debut novel, The Art of Fielding.

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The Art of Fielding is set in motion when a young shortstop prodigy named Henry Skrimshander makes an errant throw that sails wide of first base and directly into the dugout of the Westish Harpooners, a ragtag bunch aspiring to D-3 greatness. The ball hits his teammate Owen Dunne in the face, sending him to the hospital. The Westish College president, Guert Affenlight, happens to fancy Owen, and they are discreetly courting one another. Affenlight’s daughter, Pella, has returned to him from San Francisco, where she leaves behind a failed marriage. While at Westish, Pella enrolls in classes and meets Mike Schwartz, the baseball team captain and mentor figure to Henry.

There you have, in brief, the five characters whose lives dominate The Art of Fielding, a winning, amiable novel that reads like a slightly sunnier Jonathan Franzen or John Irving. It feels old-fashioned in its characterization and plotting; it is also studded with literary nods and allusions, frequently to Herman Melville, whose inspiration to Harbach is clear. (Personal aside: Although fictional Westish is located in Wisconsin just off Lake Michigan, I could not help picturing my landlocked D-3 school, Kenyon College, another reason I found the novel so enjoyable.)

The Art of Fielding is, obviously, a baseball novel — most of the action takes place over the course of one Westish Harpooners’ season — but that should not put you off. (Hachette Book Group told jacket designer Keith Hayes to evoke baseball without saying baseball. He got it exactly right.) Harbach uses Henry’s errant throw, and the crisis of confidence it engenders, as a metaphor for four college age individuals whose lives are unexpectedly derailed, and one 60-something college professor whose affections for a young man turn everything else in his world upside down.

After his throwing error, Henry suddenly tightens up during games and becomes an error machine. (He is stricken with “Steve Sax Syndrome,” an inability to make routine throws to first base. Also known as “Steve Blass Syndrome” for pitchers.) None of the other main characters suffer a breakdown as severe as Henry’s, but all of them lose their way. Schwartzy, as he is affectionately known (he is the heart of the novel), frets over his star pupil while dealing with across-the-board rejections from law schools. Guert and Pella try to repair their fragile father-daughter relationship while concealing from the other the messy circumstances of their love lives. What distinguishes Harbach from, say, Franzen, is the warmth and humor he demonstrates towards his characters. They all go through miserable stretches, but Harbach’s touch is light and his writing both precise and expansive. He makes it a pleasure to read about people going through unpleasurable circumstances.

My meltdown as an eleven-year-old obviously pales next to Henry’s, who is being scouted by Major League teams. Henry’s errant throw came during a routine play in a routine game, while my strikeout was at a critical moment. But there was something uncomfortably familiar about Henry’s collapse — the way he goes from being so certain and assured of his ability to mistrusting it completely (“I keep seeing it over and over in my head,” he laments) — that rang true to me. The Art of Fielding suggests that all of us need to experience failure, perhaps repeatedly, before we figure out who we really are. “That’s what this game does to you,” a major league scout tells Henry after his errorless streak ends. “The name of the game is failure, and if you can’t handle failure you won’t last long. Nobody’s perfect.”

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Last year we wrote about “Baseball and Mental Illness,” which noted the relationship between baseball players and depression, in part because of baseball’s high rate of failure. As Sports Illustrated writer Pablo Torre put it, “Start with the sheer difficulty of trying to connect with a spheroid less than three inches in diameter that’s moving at 95 mph.” I thought of that article several times while reading Harbach’s book. It’s here if you’d like to take a gander.

Harbach’s friend Keith Gessen, who works with Harbach at the literary magazine n+1, wrote a great little piece about The Art of Fielding for Vanity Fair called “A Book Is Born.” It’s not available online, but you can download it for your e-reader.

sports

This Week In Classy Bengals Behavior

Several people have pointed out that if we’re going to take issue with Hines Ward and James Harrison, we should probably take issue with the Cincinnati Bengals and its spate of misbehaving criminals (three arrests in the past week).

Two things:

1) We strive to be an equal opportunity blog, so yes, it would seem as though it was hypocritical of us to go after the Steelers but not the Bengals. However,

2) We could care less about the Cincinnati Bengals. They are an awful professional sports team. But plenty of our friends (and the Who Dey Revolution) have that terrain well-covered, so you don’t need to hear it from us.

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If you have any further issues with our haphazard and vaguely disinterested coverage of the NFL, this is what we have to say in response:

We’ve been waiting to use this picture for weeks.

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[photo credit: swapmeetdave.com]

sports

This Week In Classy Steeler Behavior

Over the weekend Atlanta police pulled over Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, who failed a sobriety test and “could not keep his balance and mixed up and omitted letters in the alphabet.” (Apparently Ward thought he was still performing on “Dancing With the Stars.”¹)

NFL players behaving badly is not a surprise, and Ward’s example doesn’t tarnish the Steelers’ reputation any more so than usual. What does tarnish the Steelers’ reputation? James Harrison.

“If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn’t do it,” Harrison told the magazine [about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell]. “I hate him and will never respect him.”

His other descriptions of the commissioner include an anti-gay slur, “stupid,” “puppet” and “dictator.”

This is from a Men’s Journal article in its August issue. I wish the reporter had probed Harrison a little more. Maybe ask him a question like, “So are there any circumstances under which you would use your own urine to save a man on fire? Seeing as this scenario is probably something you’re faced with frequently, of course.”

Harrison has since apologized for some of his remarks, saying,

“I also need to make clear that the comment about Roger Goodell was not intended to be derogatory against gay people in any way. It was careless use of a slang word and I apologize to all who were offended by the remark. I am not a homophobic bigot, and I would never advocate intolerance of gay people.”

So, for the record, Harrison is not a homophobic bigot. But Roger Goodell is still a stupid puppet dictator who is also the devil. The gay and lesbian community must be thrilled to have Harrison’s endorsement.

In other Pittsburgh sports news, the Pirates are above .500! And we had two All-Stars, one more than the mandatory quota! The Buccos are a game out of first and might actually be buying at the trade deadline rather than throwing a fire sale. I guess it’s time to suspend the eighteen year pity party I’ve been throwing for myself.

Just imagine if they still had Jose Bautista.

(Whoops. I can’t help it. It’s just habit.)

Let’s! Go! Bucs!

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1. We apologize for this joke’s Jay Leno level of lameness.