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#NPRreads: Two Looks At America — And One Look At America's Pastime

After a drug bust earlier this month, police in Hartford, Conn., became ill because of the heroin and fentanyl that was seized.
After a drug bust earlier this month, police in Hartford, Conn., became ill because of the heroin and fentanyl that was seized.

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. Each weekend, we highlight some of the best stories.

From Reporter Kirk Siegler:

Here's the money quote from this smart profile of US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: "I just think rural America is a forgotten place." Vilsack has staked much of his political career on rural America – first as governor of Iowa and later in the Obama Administration.

I was also struck by the fact that the Secretary admitted to at times in the cabinet literally having nothing to do. As someone who grew up in rural America and now covers it frequently for NPR, I have to say I wasn't that surprised. So many issues in "flyover country" often do take a backseat to other pressing national priorities – including until recently, the opioid epidemic that's disproportionately affecting rural areas.

Part of Vilsack's long term plan to tackle the scourge of drugs is linked to improving the economy in rural America. This isn't necessarily a new idea, neither is asking for more federal money to tackle the problem. But as the opioid crisis in particular continues to worsen, it may reach a point where politicians in and outside Washington can't afford to forget rural America.

From Digital Editor Joe Ruiz:

I was fascinated by the detail in Lindsey Adler's piece for Deadspin on Pakistan's national baseball team, especially with the early look at how baseball was introduced to the country in the early 1990s.

It reminds me of my own introduction to baseball (the first game I ever watched was Game 1 of the 1988 World Series), but I really didn't come into my own with baseball until 1991.

As you'll learn in the piece, it seems what Team Pakistan struggles the most with is baserunning: when to take the extra base, when to advance on a batted ball, etc., which is something I think we all struggled with growing up. It takes time, which is something this team just needs more of.

This certainly isn't your normal stereotypical sports story of a young team upsetting the world ... in fact, they were mercy-ruled in both their games, but in this case, it's more about a team just learning the sport who indeed showed enough enthusiasm for the game to win over a handful of fans, including two surprising ones with whom I won't spoil the surprise.

From Reporter Bill Chappell:

These charts about America's spike in drug overdose deaths, fueled by heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers, are gripping enough. The purple blotches on this U.S. map are far worse than bruises: They represent thousands of deaths and describe an epidemic.

The Wall Street Journal tells the story of police officers in Wisconsin to describe the magnitude of this problem — and unfortunately, there's no simple path to solving it. Drug overdoses are a tragedy anywhere, but the new circumstances are dire. Fentanyl looks just like heroin, but it's far more deadly. It's also being pushed into small towns where police departments are scrambling to find money in their budgets for the overdose antidote Narcan. Their officers often need training on even handling fentanyl without becoming ill.

The Journal's piece centers on what happened when police from Superior, Wis., drove to Chicago to try to stop the flow of fentanyl to their town:

"The Superior crew coordinated the operation with Chicago police and DEA agents. When they arrived at a South Side police station to prepare for the buy, Sgt. Madden saw a wall of 20 or so mug shots of local gang members, and recognized several from their dealings in Superior. 'I knew three of them. And we're probably 8½ hours apart,' he says."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.
Joe Ruiz
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.