This is what Cinderella looks like in September

[SB Nation]


In Boston a few weeks back, I met a librarian who, like me, hails from Indiana. Actually, she hailed from Terre Haute, and like everyone else who’s lived there she had a Larry Bird story. Her dad used to work at Indiana State University, in the bookstore, and one day in the mid ’70s a young, peach-fuzzed Bird ducked through the door and bought his first batch of school books. That’s it — that’s the whole story. “But my dad still tells it all the time,” the librarian said.

Today I’ve got a nearly 5,000-word feature up at SB Nation. It previews the upcoming season for Indiana State’s basketball team. (In short, they’re going to surprise some people and maybe even make some noise in March.) But it also examines the larger dynamic of what it means to root for — or coach for, or play for — a school whose defining moment happened decades ago and who must now build for success in four-year cycles.

One point I make in my feature is that we need to stop thinking of the Gonzagas and Xaviers of the world as “Cinderellas.” After all, those programs  spend more money on basketball than many high-major schools. Certainly, they spend more money than Indiana State. The hoops-first schools do so by dropping or deemphasizing football, and one thing I couldn’t fit into my story is that Indiana State hasn’t done this. In fact, the Sycamores AD has doubled down on the school’s Division II program. The university’s latest ten-year plan sets the goal of constructing a new stadium downtown — a place that will ultimately be the campus symbol and post-card view. “Football’s kind of the crown jewel of the athletic part of that ten-year plan,” one school official told me. But to me, that seems misguided. Indiana offers so much tradition and in-state talent for basketball, and I wonder whether the Sycamores would be better off pouring those resources into creating a top-notch mid-major basketball program.

For now, though, they’ll have to settle for being a top-notch team this year. Read about it in my feature. A lot of their success flows from Jake Odum, a local kid who made his name starring for an obscure AAU team known as the Terre Haute Jammers. That picture up top is of the Jammers a few years back. Odum is on the front row, kneeling right next to the trophy.


The real facts on Indiana’s health insurance rates

[Indianapolis Star]

In today’s Indianapolis Star, I’ve got a short op ed on the claim that health insurance will go up by 72 percent under Obamacare. I’ve got a personal stake in this story since I’m moving back to my homestate later this year. But after doing some digging I found that this 72 percent number is totally misleading — and disappointingly political. It comes from Indiana’s Department of Insurance, an outfit that, in the words of one of my statehouse sources, “has traditionally preferred to do its work out of the public and political spotlight, regardless of which party controlled the reins of government.”

But that’s changing as Governor Pence’s administration makes one final push against Obamacare. Check out the op ed for more.

Also, if you want more context, the New Republic, the Washington Post, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have you covered. My previous reporting on Pence may be of interest, as well.

A review of Edward McClelland’s Nothin’ But Blue Skies


In this week’s issue of NUVO, Indianapolis’s alt weekly, I’ve got a review of Ted McClelland’s new book on the rise and fall of manufacturing in the Midwest. It’s an important book, even though it’s not a perfect one.

If you want more on this topic, check out my review last year of Mark Binelli’s Detroit City is the Place to Be. It’s still the best of the Detroit books. But one of the key things about McClelland’s book is that it expands its scope beyond that one city.

Is Bob Castellini the best owner in baseball?

[New York Times]

In yesterday’s New York Times, I made the case that, yes, the Reds’ boss  is the best in the baseball — and certainly the best in the Reds’ recent history. There’s some fun stuff in there about Marge Schott and Carl Lindner, but the main point is what a difference Castellini has made.

If you’re interested in more on Cincinnati sports, check out my features on the Reds’ efforts to draw more fans and on their enigmatic All-Star, Aroldis Chapman. Or check out my feature on the Bengals’ stadium fiasco — a good reminder that, even during the Schott era, the worst owner in Ohio was Mike Brown.

Frank Bill and the new Midwestern lit

[The American Prospect]


In the latest issue of The American Prospect, I’ve got a long review of Frank Bill’s novel Donnybrook. I also consider a small but growing number of Midwestern fiction writers, including Donald Ray Pollock and Bonnie Jo Campbell, and write a bit about growing up there myself. (That’s my family’s house, in the picture above.)

One of the harder things to do in this review was to articulate what exactly these writers are up to — hard because, for whatever reason, they’re not too keen on articulating it themselves. What I ultimately settled on is that they’re trying to develop a new literary realism — and, more than that, to revive a literary naturalism.

Here’s Pollock in an interview

I can go out here and pick up the local newspaper, and bring it in here, and I can show you things that are just as bad or worse, probably worse, than anything that’s in my book. So what’s the big deal? I mean, I am maybe exploring something that a lot of people don’t want to think about, but people do live like this.

And here’s Bill:

For me to write all that stuff, I didn’t really have a general idea, or theme when I wrote. I just wrote what interested me about society and class as a whole. People who are still here, but you don’t see them or hear about them anymore. You read about them in small town newspapers, people who are jobless, and they disappear all over the place. You don’t read about people living in cars or camping spots in books.

The realism seems obvious enough — they’re making an effort to undercut our cultural assumptions about the Midwest. Where it crosses into naturalism, I think, is when it declines to grant its characters any inner psychology. Check out my review for more on this. And if you want to know more about Bill, read this great cover story in Indianapolis’s alt-weekly. Bill talks a lot about how, when he started writing fiction, he wrote pages and pages about the environments and nothing else. It doesn’t get more naturalistic than that!