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04/28/2004

Baseball and Birds

Before leaving for Hong Kong, editor Brian Trumbore left me
with a new book, “Baseball Forever” by Ralph Kiner with Danny
Peary and suggested I get a column out of it. Kiner’s book
brought back a lot of memories. Kiner and I both arrived in
Pittsburgh in 1946. I was there to start my job as a graduate
assistant and pursue my graduate studies in the chemistry
department at the University of Pittsburgh while Kiner was
embarking on his major league baseball career with the Pirates.
We both ended up in Halls of Fame, Kiner in the one at
Cooperstown and I in the Mechanicsburg Area High School
Alumni Association Hall of Fame. Admittedly, Kiner’s Hall is a
bit better known than mine! Today, we’re both in
communications, he as a broadcaster of the New York Mets
baseball games, while I’m communicating with you readers via
my Bortrum columns.

In Pittsburgh we worked and lived only a few blocks from each
other and, over a period of four years there, I spent more than a
hundred afternoons or evenings at Forbes Field watching Kiner
and his colleagues ply their trade. A few of his colleagues were
baseball legends. If you’re a baseball card collector, you know
that a bona fide original Honus Wagner card is the most valuable
card you can own. The real Honus Wagner was a coach for the
Pirates while I was there. I just learned from the book that he
just put on a uniform and was an “honorary” coach. Hank
Greenberg played his last year with the Pirates, serving as
Kiner’s mentor and becoming Kiner’s good friend and best man
at his wedding.

Kiner and I also shared an initial dismay and shock at the state of
the environment in Pittsburgh in 1946. He arrived from sunny
California at 10 AM one morning to find it pitch black, an all too
common situation in the city of steel mills and the burning of soft
coal. In class my notebook pages would be smudged after less
than an hour of note taking and the powder blue suit my mother
bought me for my stay in Pittsburgh was worn only once! But
Kiner and I stayed in Pittsburgh long enough to see that the
environment can be turned around drastically if proper measures
are taken. The burning of soft coal was stopped and we students
no longer would argue, at noon, whether it was the sun or a street
lamp out there shining feebly in the darkness!

Speaking of bringing back memories and changing the
environment, let’s talk about bringing back a bird that was at the
brink of extinction when Ralph and I came to Pittsburgh. The
April issue of National Geographic has an article, “Cranes”, by
Jennifer Ackerman that includes an account of an effort to
reintroduce the whooping crane to the eastern United States. I
believed I’ve touched on this subject in the past and it’s good to
be able to report significant progress in this endeavor. What
follows is based on the Geographic article and on visits to the
Web sites of Operation Migration, the Chassahowitzka National
Wildlife Refuge and Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America and the
big males can be 5 feet tall with wingspans of seven feet. Their
whoops can be heard more than a mile away. Back in the 1860s,
roughly 1,400 whoopers are thought to have been flying through
the skies. Hunting and habitat loss took their toll over the years
and by the early 1940s there was only one migratory flock of 15
birds and a handful of others for a total of 21 birds! The
migratory flock’s migrations took them from Aransas Wildlife
Refuge in Texas to the Wood Buffalo National Park, Northwest
Territory Canada and back. It’s a tribute to the whooper itself
and to the efforts involving hunting restrictions and habitat
preservation that this Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock has managed
a comeback until the population in 2003 was 184 whoopers.
This is the only wild population that is self-sustaining.

While this comeback of the migrating whoopers is encouraging,
the possibility of this flock encountering a killer disease or some
weather-related disaster prompted an effort to establish other
flocks in separate regions of North America. Captive breeding
was used to establish a non-migratory flock located in the
Kissimmee lake region in Florida. The first breeding pair to
produce and raise a whooper in the eastern U. S. accomplished
this task in 2002. As of the spring of last year, there were 94
whoopers in this flock.

But the work that has garnered the most attention by the public is
the effort to establish a migratory flock migrating between the
Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge on the west coast of
Florida and the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.
The Florida site was selected as being sufficiently far from Texas
that no mixing of the two migratory flocks should occur. I’m not
sure of the latest figure but I gather that there are over 30
whoopers in this Florida/Wisconsin flock. Today, there are some
300 wild whoopers and another hundred or in captivity,
according to the Geographic article.

The establishment of this Florida/Wisconsin flock involves a
strategy of trickery that you may have seen on nature TV shows.
Whooping crane chicks are raised without hearing a human voice
or seeing humans, unless the humans are dressed up in whooping
crane costumes. When the chicks learn to fly they are trained to
follow a human “crane” piloting an ultralight aircraft. When
migration time comes the “crane” piloting the ultralight leads
them on the path from Wisconsin to Florida with stops on the
way. With the flight path imprinted on the youngsters’ brains,
the hope was that the birds would then migrate back to
Wisconsin on their own in the spring. The birds that survived the
initial flight to Florida and the winter in Florida did indeed wend
their way back to Wisconsin. The program begun in the early
1990s has been a success, thanks to the dedication of the workers
who have labored long and hard to trick those chicks into
following their faux crane parents.

Credit must also be given to the workers in Florida at the
Chassahowitzka Refuge. They’ve brought in 300 helicopter
loads of shells to help build up an existing oyster shell reef to
form a night nesting roost for the whoopers. An electrified fence
keeps out predators such as bobcats. Just the other night I saw
part of a nature show on TV that was describing the program to
save the Florida panther from extinction. I hope they keep the
two environmental subjects sufficiently apart. Managing the
environment is not an easy task, as we’ve seen so often in past
columns.

Private landowners, over 35 of them, have also volunteered their
properties as stopover sites for the cranes and their migration
team along the migration path. Temporary pens protect the
cranes from predators and the humans in the team don their crane
costumes and employ adult crane puppet heads to maintain the
subterfuge from the time the chicks are hatched until they’ve
become part of the migratory flock. If you’re wondering about
the confinement of the birds in the Chassahowitzka site, the
cranes are free to fly out of the site to forage. However, through
supplemental feeding, they are lured back to the protected pen
area to roost at night.

We certainly wish these dedicated workers and volunteers all the
best in their effort to bring back the whooper. Getting back to
Kiner’s book, there’s one species I’m sure modern day baseball
players would not like to bring back – the old fashioned team
trainer. Unlike today’s skilled trainers who use up to date
medical findings and the best equipment to keep players in good
shape and extend their careers, the trainers of yore were of a
different breed. When Kiner played for the Chicago Cubs after
his Pittsburgh years, one of the trainers was an ex-ballplayer who
chewed tobacco. When giving a player a rubdown he was wont
to spit out some tobacco juice and use it as a lubricant!

The Pirates had a trainer, Doc Jorgensen, who had a bum leg.
One day a Pirate player was injured at second base. Jorgensen
grabbed his first aid kit, hobbled out to fix the guy up and opened
his kit. It was full of ham sandwiches! No wonder the Pirates
were in last place. Yet we loved them and supported them well.
If I recall correctly, the Pirates drew 2 million in attendance one
year. Of course, Kiner, with 51 homers one year was a major
factor in attracting us to the ballpark.

As you might have noticed, I’ve been doing my best to show
how much I have in common with Ralph Kiner. I admit it’s a
stretch. However, I was shocked to find that I actually surpassed
him in one baseball statistic. In his rookie year with the Pirates
in 1946, his batting average was .247. In my rookie (and only)
year playing with the Dickinson College Red Devils, my average
was .250! (OK, I had one clean single in 4 official at-bats in our
two games with Gettysburg College, the only games we played
in that war year.) Being in a generous mood, I’m willing to
ignore the slight difference in the averages and call it a tie.

Allen F. Bortrum



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Dr. Bortrum

04/28/2004

Baseball and Birds

Before leaving for Hong Kong, editor Brian Trumbore left me
with a new book, “Baseball Forever” by Ralph Kiner with Danny
Peary and suggested I get a column out of it. Kiner’s book
brought back a lot of memories. Kiner and I both arrived in
Pittsburgh in 1946. I was there to start my job as a graduate
assistant and pursue my graduate studies in the chemistry
department at the University of Pittsburgh while Kiner was
embarking on his major league baseball career with the Pirates.
We both ended up in Halls of Fame, Kiner in the one at
Cooperstown and I in the Mechanicsburg Area High School
Alumni Association Hall of Fame. Admittedly, Kiner’s Hall is a
bit better known than mine! Today, we’re both in
communications, he as a broadcaster of the New York Mets
baseball games, while I’m communicating with you readers via
my Bortrum columns.

In Pittsburgh we worked and lived only a few blocks from each
other and, over a period of four years there, I spent more than a
hundred afternoons or evenings at Forbes Field watching Kiner
and his colleagues ply their trade. A few of his colleagues were
baseball legends. If you’re a baseball card collector, you know
that a bona fide original Honus Wagner card is the most valuable
card you can own. The real Honus Wagner was a coach for the
Pirates while I was there. I just learned from the book that he
just put on a uniform and was an “honorary” coach. Hank
Greenberg played his last year with the Pirates, serving as
Kiner’s mentor and becoming Kiner’s good friend and best man
at his wedding.

Kiner and I also shared an initial dismay and shock at the state of
the environment in Pittsburgh in 1946. He arrived from sunny
California at 10 AM one morning to find it pitch black, an all too
common situation in the city of steel mills and the burning of soft
coal. In class my notebook pages would be smudged after less
than an hour of note taking and the powder blue suit my mother
bought me for my stay in Pittsburgh was worn only once! But
Kiner and I stayed in Pittsburgh long enough to see that the
environment can be turned around drastically if proper measures
are taken. The burning of soft coal was stopped and we students
no longer would argue, at noon, whether it was the sun or a street
lamp out there shining feebly in the darkness!

Speaking of bringing back memories and changing the
environment, let’s talk about bringing back a bird that was at the
brink of extinction when Ralph and I came to Pittsburgh. The
April issue of National Geographic has an article, “Cranes”, by
Jennifer Ackerman that includes an account of an effort to
reintroduce the whooping crane to the eastern United States. I
believed I’ve touched on this subject in the past and it’s good to
be able to report significant progress in this endeavor. What
follows is based on the Geographic article and on visits to the
Web sites of Operation Migration, the Chassahowitzka National
Wildlife Refuge and Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America and the
big males can be 5 feet tall with wingspans of seven feet. Their
whoops can be heard more than a mile away. Back in the 1860s,
roughly 1,400 whoopers are thought to have been flying through
the skies. Hunting and habitat loss took their toll over the years
and by the early 1940s there was only one migratory flock of 15
birds and a handful of others for a total of 21 birds! The
migratory flock’s migrations took them from Aransas Wildlife
Refuge in Texas to the Wood Buffalo National Park, Northwest
Territory Canada and back. It’s a tribute to the whooper itself
and to the efforts involving hunting restrictions and habitat
preservation that this Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock has managed
a comeback until the population in 2003 was 184 whoopers.
This is the only wild population that is self-sustaining.

While this comeback of the migrating whoopers is encouraging,
the possibility of this flock encountering a killer disease or some
weather-related disaster prompted an effort to establish other
flocks in separate regions of North America. Captive breeding
was used to establish a non-migratory flock located in the
Kissimmee lake region in Florida. The first breeding pair to
produce and raise a whooper in the eastern U. S. accomplished
this task in 2002. As of the spring of last year, there were 94
whoopers in this flock.

But the work that has garnered the most attention by the public is
the effort to establish a migratory flock migrating between the
Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge on the west coast of
Florida and the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.
The Florida site was selected as being sufficiently far from Texas
that no mixing of the two migratory flocks should occur. I’m not
sure of the latest figure but I gather that there are over 30
whoopers in this Florida/Wisconsin flock. Today, there are some
300 wild whoopers and another hundred or in captivity,
according to the Geographic article.

The establishment of this Florida/Wisconsin flock involves a
strategy of trickery that you may have seen on nature TV shows.
Whooping crane chicks are raised without hearing a human voice
or seeing humans, unless the humans are dressed up in whooping
crane costumes. When the chicks learn to fly they are trained to
follow a human “crane” piloting an ultralight aircraft. When
migration time comes the “crane” piloting the ultralight leads
them on the path from Wisconsin to Florida with stops on the
way. With the flight path imprinted on the youngsters’ brains,
the hope was that the birds would then migrate back to
Wisconsin on their own in the spring. The birds that survived the
initial flight to Florida and the winter in Florida did indeed wend
their way back to Wisconsin. The program begun in the early
1990s has been a success, thanks to the dedication of the workers
who have labored long and hard to trick those chicks into
following their faux crane parents.

Credit must also be given to the workers in Florida at the
Chassahowitzka Refuge. They’ve brought in 300 helicopter
loads of shells to help build up an existing oyster shell reef to
form a night nesting roost for the whoopers. An electrified fence
keeps out predators such as bobcats. Just the other night I saw
part of a nature show on TV that was describing the program to
save the Florida panther from extinction. I hope they keep the
two environmental subjects sufficiently apart. Managing the
environment is not an easy task, as we’ve seen so often in past
columns.

Private landowners, over 35 of them, have also volunteered their
properties as stopover sites for the cranes and their migration
team along the migration path. Temporary pens protect the
cranes from predators and the humans in the team don their crane
costumes and employ adult crane puppet heads to maintain the
subterfuge from the time the chicks are hatched until they’ve
become part of the migratory flock. If you’re wondering about
the confinement of the birds in the Chassahowitzka site, the
cranes are free to fly out of the site to forage. However, through
supplemental feeding, they are lured back to the protected pen
area to roost at night.

We certainly wish these dedicated workers and volunteers all the
best in their effort to bring back the whooper. Getting back to
Kiner’s book, there’s one species I’m sure modern day baseball
players would not like to bring back – the old fashioned team
trainer. Unlike today’s skilled trainers who use up to date
medical findings and the best equipment to keep players in good
shape and extend their careers, the trainers of yore were of a
different breed. When Kiner played for the Chicago Cubs after
his Pittsburgh years, one of the trainers was an ex-ballplayer who
chewed tobacco. When giving a player a rubdown he was wont
to spit out some tobacco juice and use it as a lubricant!

The Pirates had a trainer, Doc Jorgensen, who had a bum leg.
One day a Pirate player was injured at second base. Jorgensen
grabbed his first aid kit, hobbled out to fix the guy up and opened
his kit. It was full of ham sandwiches! No wonder the Pirates
were in last place. Yet we loved them and supported them well.
If I recall correctly, the Pirates drew 2 million in attendance one
year. Of course, Kiner, with 51 homers one year was a major
factor in attracting us to the ballpark.

As you might have noticed, I’ve been doing my best to show
how much I have in common with Ralph Kiner. I admit it’s a
stretch. However, I was shocked to find that I actually surpassed
him in one baseball statistic. In his rookie year with the Pirates
in 1946, his batting average was .247. In my rookie (and only)
year playing with the Dickinson College Red Devils, my average
was .250! (OK, I had one clean single in 4 official at-bats in our
two games with Gettysburg College, the only games we played
in that war year.) Being in a generous mood, I’m willing to
ignore the slight difference in the averages and call it a tie.

Allen F. Bortrum