Tuesday, December 11, 2018

This and That.....

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box....

Back on November 18, I wrote a post entitled "Quite  A Football Weekend for Pittsburgh" wherein I waxed rhapsodic about the recent fortunes of the city's football teams.  We were coming off of a six week stretch where the Steelers had gone 6-0 and Pitt had gone 5-1.

Since that post, the Steelers have gone 0-3, and have not looked at all good in doing so, and Pitt has gone 0-2 and looked even worse.

Guess it's all my fault.


The Steelers now have a one-half game lead over Baltimore in the AFC North. The Steelers have a schedule of Patriots, @Saints, Bengals. The Ravens schedule is Buccaneers, @Chargers, Browns.

Hope I'm wrong, of course, but, frankly, I'm not liking the Steelers chances of making it to the post season.

Then there are the Pirates.  Here's what our favorite baseball team has been up to this Hot Stove Season:
  • Traded a marginal outfielder and a marginal infielder to Cleveland for a utility infielder and two pitching prospects.
  • Signed oft-injured free agent outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall.  Once a top prospect of the Indians, Chisenhall has spent much of his career, it seems, on the DL.  It is hoped that he will adequately fill in for Gregory Polanco until he is able to play sometime in June.  Chisenhall will then become the fourth outfielder.
  • Re-signed Jung Ho Kang to a more team friendly contract (always important to the Bucs).  
  • In news just in, they traded pitcher Ivan Nova to the White Sox for a 19 year old pitcher and $500 K in "international slot money" which no doubt excites GMNH.
And while the Pirates were doing all of this, the Cardinals engineered a trade with Arizona for Paul Goldschmidt.

Who should feel more optimistic at this point, Pirates fans or Cardinals fans?

Actually, of the moves listed above, the one that may - MAY! - have the most impact on the 2019 squad will be the re-signing of Kang.  If - IF! - he can regain the home run stroke he exhibited in 2015-16, he will give the team some middle of the line-up power that they sorely lacked in 2018.  I will remind you, though, that Kang had had exactly six (6) at bats and two (2) hits over the last two (2) major league seasons.  So he is far from a sure thing as the Bucs get ready to open Spring Training in couple of months.


If we have learned one thing of value over these last few football weekends it is this existential fact:

Bad Steelers losses = better and funnier episodes of Pittsburgh Dad.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

To Absent Friends - Sam Nover

Sam Nover
1941 -  2018

Former TV Sports newsie at Pittsburgh's Channel 11 Sam Nover died this past week at the age of 77.  I am late to the post here in acknowledging Nover's passing, and nothing that I can write would top what sports writer John Mehno wrote about him in his column today.  I highly recommend it to you:

I certainly remember when Nover arrived on the Pittsburgh scene back in 1970 with the charge to shake up a moribund Channel 11 newscast with edgy and hard hitting reporting and commentary, which in his oft times abrasive manner he most certainly did, as Mehno describes in his column today.  I also remember Nover hosting a sports talk show on KQV in the evenings when that station decided to take on the Myron Cope and Stan Savran shows on WTAE back in the day that I like to consider the "golden age" of sports talk radio in Pittsburgh.  Interesting to note in Mehno's column that Cope and Nover detested each other.

And he did get that final sit-down thirty minute interview with Roberto Clemente.  That's quite an epitaph.

When I saw that Nover was only 77 when he died, I was surprised to realize that he was only ten years older than me, which means he was all of 29 years old when he arrived in Pittsburgh.  

RIP Sam Nover.

Monday, December 3, 2018

To Absent Friends - Ken Berry

Ken Berry
1933 - 2018

Actor Ken Berry died this past Saturday at the age of 85.  His acting career spanned almost forty years, and included featured roles in three long running TV sitcoms: "Mama's Family" (1983-90; 130 episodes), "Mayberry RFD" (1968-71; 78 episodes), and "F Troop" (1965-67; 65 episodes).  Of the three, "F Troop" had the shortest first run, but may have been the one that lived and will continue to live the longest in syndication and reruns.  For me, Berry will always be remembered as the naive, stumbling, bumbling Captain Wilton Parmenter, commander of the hapless F Troop, stationed at Fort Courage somewhere along the western frontier "where Indian fights were colorful sights, and nobody takes a lickin'..."  In reading his obituary, it pleased me to see that Berry himself said that his two seasons on "F Troop" were the favorite experience of his career.

In amongst those three long running shows were the usual array of appearances on shows like Love Boat and Fantasy Island and various television variety shows.  His last listed acting credit was on some long forgotten show called "Maggie Winters" in 1999.  Apparently, he had a peaceful and happy retirement doing "whatever and wherever (his) day took him", as he put it, "usually to doctors' offices."

RIP Ken Berry.

The "F Troop" Gang
"Jane, not in front of the men."

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Clemson 42 - Pitt 10

There was to be no repeat of Pitt's stunning 2016 upset of undefeated Clemson in last night's ACC Championship Game.  When Clemson running back Travis Etienne was sprung for a 75 yard touchdown run on the first play of the game, followed by Pitt going three and out on their first series, which included a couple of penalties and a sack, the outcome was pretty much known.  Pitt is not in the same class as Clemson and this was anything but a fair fight, as indicated by the eventual final score of 42-10.

So, let's not dwell on the game itself, and instead ponder just where Pitt is right now, football-wise.

A few years ago, amid some coaching turmoil (Wannstedt?Haywood? Graham?  Who can remember?), someone asked me just what, as a fan, would you want from Pitt.   After thinking about it, I came up with the following thoughts.....
  1. No, I don't want Pitt to become a football factory like Alabama, Ohio State, or any of a couple of dozen others you can name.  I like it that Pitt seems to think that the University's purpose is to, you know, educate people. (Full disclosure:  I am just a fan of Pitt's sports teams.  I did not graduate from or attend Pitt.  Nor do I give Pitt any money, other than the money for my season football tickets.)
  2. As a fan, I would like to go into any given football season with a reasonable expectation that the team will be competitive in its conference and have a reasonable chance to win more games than it loses.
  3. Play in a bowl game every year, and play in a higher level bowl game every third or fourth year.
  4. I would like to see Pitt compete regularly for its conference championship, and maybe even win it once every four or five years or so.
  5. Maybe, possibly see the team catch lightning in bottle every other generation or so, be ranked in the Top Ten and maybe, possibly complete for a spot in the CFP.
And what has happened in the four years of the Pat Narduzzi Era?   Pitt has gone 8-5, 8-5, 5-7, and 7-6.  They will play in some mid-level Bowl again this year and will finish either 8-6 or 7-7.   Certainly not spectacular, but the team has been competitive within the ACC, and has won more than its lost.  When I have gone to Pitt football games over the last four seasons, more often than not, I have been entertained. 

More significantly, I think, the 2018 Pitt team was different than the earlier three Narduzzi teams in that the team got better as the season went along, and, yes, I say that even though I am well aware of that horrendous egg that they laid in Miami to close out the regular season.   I mean, after that loss to North Carolina (and just why can't HCPN beat the Tar Heels?), who among us ever saw Pitt winning the ACC Coastal Division?

Also, despite the one-sidedness of the game, Pitt was playing in the ACC Conference Championship Game last night.  That is not an insignificant achievement.  (See Point #4 above!!)  So, all things considered, I think that reasonable people should be happy with the course that Pitt is on, football-wise.  As for me, all things being equal, I look forward to renewing my football tickets for 2019.  Although, I would like to see perhaps nine or ten wins in Year Five under HCPN.

In conclusion, I am going to dwell on one aspect of last night's game.  Pitt takes the second half kick-off with a touch back.  They come to the line, are completely unprepared to run a play, are in danger of being penalized for delay of the game, and have to take a timeout to avoid the penalty.  They burn a timeout with 15:00 on the clock in the third quarter.  How does something like that happen?  Who is responsible for something like that?  I mean what were they talking about in the locker room at halftime that could have led up to such a foul-up?  Crap like that drives me nuts!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

To Absent Friends - George H. W. Bush

George H. W. Bush
1924 - 2018

President of the United States
1989- 1993

Vice President of the United States
1981 - 1989

Public Servant

I never voted for George H. W. Bush, who died last night at the age of 94, but I admired the man greatly.  To me, he truly defined what it meant to serve the country and the public.   Long after he left the White House I read a book called "The Flyboys: A True Story of Courage" by James Bradley.  The book centered around a group of US Navy airmen who were shot down and/or captured by the Japanese during World War II.   One of those flyers was George Bush.  Find and read that book to get a chilling story of the experiences that helped shape the man.  It certainly changed how I felt about him.

Some of the best stories being written of George Bush  today  concern the things that he did after he left office.  For example, this note that he wrote and left in the Oval Office on the morning of January 20, 1993 - perhaps his last note as President - to his successor, Bill Clinton:

Nothing partisan there, is there? Only a concern for the future of the country.  It speaks volumes about the man.

Then, of course, there was his teaming up with former President Clinton for numerous humanitarian purposes, most notably, hurricane relief efforts in the United States.   Those efforts and the President's lifetime of service were also recognized by another of his successors, who awarded him the Presidential Medal pf Freedom.

And for all of his service, I once remember hearing him say that perhaps he was proudest achievement was seeing one of his sons also serve as President of the United States.

The most eloquent tribute I read today came from our Forty-fourth President, Barack Obama, who said, in part...

George H.W. Bush’s life is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling. And he did tremendous good along the journey. Expanding America’s promise to new immigrants and people with disabilities. Reducing the scourge of nuclear weapons and building a broad international coalition to expel a dictator from Kuwait. And when democratic revolutions bloomed across Eastern Europe, it was his steady, diplomatic hand that made possible an achievement once thought anything but – ending the Cold War without firing a shot.
It's a legacy of service that may never be matched, even though he’d want all of us to try. 
After seventy-three years of marriage, George and Barbara Bush are together again now, two points of light that never dimmed, two points of light that ignited countless others with their example – the example of a man who, even after commanding the world’s mightiest military, once said “I got more of a kick out of being one of the founders of the YMCA in Midland, Texas back in 1952 than almost anything I’ve done.”
What a testament to the qualities that make this country great. Service to others. Commitment to leaving behind something better. Sacrifice in the name of lifting this country closer to its founding ideals. Our thoughts are with the entire Bush family tonight – and all who were inspired by George and Barbara’s example.

RIP George H.W. Bush.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Old Movie Time - "Holiday Inn" (1942)

We kicked off our Christmas Movie watching season the other night by watching this 1942 can of corn from composer Irving Berlin and director Mark Sandrich, "Holiday Inn".  This is a staple of the Christmas season, but, believe it or not, it was the first time that Marilyn and I ever saw it.  

In his movie guide, Leonard Maltin describes this as having a "paper thin plot", and he's not far off.  The song and dance team of Hanover (Fred Astaire), Hardy (Bing Crosby), and Dixon (Virginia Dale) is about to break up because Hardy and Dixon are going to ditch show biz, get married, and move to a farm in Connecticut.  Trouble is, Dixon has now fallen for Hanover, and wants to stay in show biz, so, on Christmas Eve, Bing gets dumped and moves to the farm anyway.  

In the ensuing year farm life proves to tough for Der Bingle, so he hits upon the idea of converting his farm into a combination nightclub and inn that will be open only on holidays, hence the title.  As two contemporary reviews of the movie I read while exploring the Internet rabbit hole put it, this then enables lazybones Bing to loaf around for the 350 or so days a year that the Inn won't  be open.

On the next Christmas Eve, into his life strolls Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), looking to break into show biz.  Bing sings her a little ditty that he had just written, something that you may have heard, "White Christmas", and they get ready to open up Holiday Inn for New Year's Day.

In the meantime, out on the road, Lila Dixon has dumped Ted Hanover for a Texas millionaire, and this brings a drunken Astaire to Connecticut to see his old partner and where he stumbles upon a new dance partner, the wonderful Linda, with whom Bing has already fallen in love.  Trouble is, Fred was so plowed during his dance number with her, he can't remember her.  

Will Astaire ever find this beautiful mystery girl and go Big Time in the show biz world with her?

Will Astaire steal Crosby's girl, again, and break his heart again?

And whatever becomes of the treacherous Lila?

Drunkenness and romantic  two-timing are played for laughs in this one, and we are forced to endure a cringe-worthy Lincoln's Birthday number where Crosby, Reynolds, and the rest of the cast perform in black face, so throw in some casual 1940's era racism as well, but what the hell, you've got all these lively Irving Berlin numbers and some WW II flag waving (the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred in the middle of the filming of this movie), so the movie endures.  And there are two great reasons for that, in my opinion.

The first is Berlin's all time classic song, the song that won that year's Best Original Song Academy Award, "White Christmas".  In fact, Berlin and the producers of this movie figured that the breakout hit song would be the Valentine's Day song, "Be Careful It's My Heart".  Nice ballad, but it was snowed under, so to speak, by "White Christmas", which remains to this day the biggest selling single recording ever according to the Guinness Book of World Records (although this may be subject to some dispute).  It performed poorly at first compared to "Be Careful..." when the movie was released in the summer of 1942, but with a nation at war, the song "White Christmas" struck a chord that Christmas season, and it has never diminished in popularity.

The other reason to watch this movie, and, again, this is just me talking, is the opportunity to watch Fred Astaire dance.

He has four absolutely outstanding turns in this one.  The first is the drunken New Year's Eve dance with Reynolds, pictured above, the "Be Careful It's My Heart" dance with Reynolds for Valentine's Day, a minuet with Reynolds for Washington's Birthday that Crosby tries to sabotage by jazzing it up at different points, and a solo performance for the Fourth of July amidst a barrage of firecrackers.  I mean they just don't make them like Fred Astaire anymore.

It's corn, it's fluff, it makes no logical sense, but it's escapist fare and it's fun, and on that scale, it gets Two and One-half stars from The Grandstander. (It loses half a star due to that Lincoln's Birthday bit.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Broadway Shows and Me

When I made my post about seeing "Fiddler On The Roof" last week, it prompted a conversation between my friend and fellow Caring Place volunteer Kristy Fonger, who told me that "Fiddler On The Roof" was in her "top three" of all-time favorite musicals.  "What are the other two?", I asked.  "'Wicked' and 'Lion King'," she answered, "what are yours?" 

That prompted a train of thought that leads to this post.  It is inspired by Kristy and it is dedicated to our great friend, Bill Montrose, and more on that later on in this post.

Right off the bat, I tell you that I could not limit it to a mere three shows.  There are eight shows listed below, and I could have added more, but I have to be somewhat reasonable.  Also, I am not going to even try to place them in order, top to bottom, so I will just list them alphabetically.


I include this one for a couple of reasons.  One, it is a great story with all of those wonderful Carole King-Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann-Cynthia Weil songs. Two, we actually saw it on Broadway in New York City.  And three, we saw it in the company of our friends Joann and Bill Montrose.  Again, more on that later.


We have seen this show twice here in Pittsburgh, once with the CLO, once with the Broadway Series, and I will happily see it again should it ever come through town again.  Part play, part rock & roll concert, it tells the story of Holly and how he evolved musically in such a tragically short career.  The encore that the cast performs after the curtain call alone is worth the price of the ticket.


This is the newest play on my list.   Too soon to include on an "all-time list"?  Perhaps, but this one is so innovative, so different, and just so damn good that it simply has to be included.  Also, the circumstances of us traveling to Chicago to see this in 2017 are so special to Marilyn and me.  We will be seeing this in Pittsburgh once again in January and can't wait to do so.  I don't think that I would ever pass up a chance to see this one at any opportunity in the future.


We saw this as part of the Broadway Series back in the late 80's or early 90's.  It is the first show, I believe, that I ever saw that had practically no spoken dialog.  It was all singing, and it packed a true emotional and inspirational wallop.  I have only seen this show once, and every time I hear a song from it played, I long for the chance to see it again, and soon.


On one summer Sunday afternoon in 1962, I think my mother must have approached my Dad and said something along the lines of "get those two kids out of the house - somewhere, anywhere - so I can be rid of them for a few hours."  So it was that my Dad took my sister and I to the Stanley Theater (now the Benedum) to see the movie, "The Music Man".  It was the summer before my 11th birthday, and it was my first exposure to the art form of "musical comedy."  I loved it.  I have seen the movie too many times to count, and have seen it performed on stage at least four or five times....Broadway Series, CLO, even North Allegheny High School.   Simply put,  if you EVER have a chance to see this done on stage, at any level, you have to do so.  You just HAVE to.


Another absolute classic.  The movie version of this is great, but your theater going experience is not complete unless you see this one performed on stage.  I have seen it at least three times, once with the CLO when Noel Harrison, son of the original Henry Higgins, Rex Harrison, was cast to play the irascible Professor Higgins.  Also saw this one done by North Allegheny High School, and most recently at the intimate O'Reilly Theater by the Pittsburgh Public Theater.


What I said above about "My Fair Lady" can also apply to this one.  A modern take on Shakespeare's  "Romeo and Juliet", this is another show that you really just have to see.  So  many classic songs.  The movie is terrific, but seeing it on stage is special.  I believe that I have only seen it once, done by the CLO.  Just yesterday, I heard the number, "Tonight Quintet", played on XM Radio's On Broadway channel, and it gave me chills. I once worked with a young woman at Highmark who told me she played Maria in her high school's production of "West Side Story".  I was constantly asking her to sing something from the show, and she never would.   Probably drove her away from the department.


Another show that Marilyn and I  just saw in the last year as part of the Broadway Series, and we fell in love with it.  Two absolutely terrific numbers - the showstopper "Defying Gravity" that closed the first act, and the wonderful Eleven O'Clock Number, "For Good", which will bring tears to your eyes.  And several other great songs and just a great story.  We can't wait to see it again some day.

So there you go.  I could name others, but you have to stop somewhere.  I regret that I cannot remember what was the first live musical stage show I ever saw.  Probably a CLO production, probably when I was in college, but I just can't remember what it was.  I feel bad about that.

I mentioned that the post is being dedicated to Bill Montrose. Grandstander readers may remember that Bill always served as Guest Blogger when he made his annual Tony Awards Predictions - usually very accurate predictions - for this Blog. As such, I designated him the Official Broadway Correspondent to The Grandstander.  What many of you may not know is that Bill died this past September after a short and courageous battle with cancer.  A contemporary of my two older brothers, I can never remember a time in my life when Bill was not a part of the Sproule family circle of friends, but in the last ten years or so, Marilyn and I became quite close with Bill, and that eight year gap in age between us just disappeared.  We spoke and visited often (Bill lived in the Philadelphia area).  Sports, family memories, lively political discussions, and his love and intimate knowledge of the Broadway Theater made those visits and phone calls just so special.  Also special and significant to us was the fact that the last time we actually saw Bill was when we accompanied Joann and him to New York to see "Beautiful" in September, 2017.  It was just so, so appropriate.

Every play and show we have seen since Bill's death has been accompanied by the thought "How I'd love to talk to Bill and see what he thought of this one."  And how I wish he were here to read this post.  I can just hear him screaming about how I could NOT have included some show that was a special favorite of his.

We miss him so much. 

This may seem like a "downer" to end this post on such a note, but trust me, if you knew Bill Montrose, this whole post would do nothing but put a big smile on your face.