Sports & Outdoors

What’s that Otherworldly Sound in the Wee Hours?

The medical residents were gathered in the library of the house on Pembroke Place in Shadyside for their monthly journal club when a knock came at the home’s entrance. After a brief exchange, there was a strange request: “Doctors,” said the convening surgeon, “we’re needed next door. There is an unusual intruder.” It seems an …

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A Trashy Ordeal

Last year, I rode my bike on back roads near our farm. I prefer swimming, but our YMCA was closed, so I dusted off my 30-year-old red Cannondale and set out in a beautiful valley between two ridges of the Allegheny Mountains. My favorite ride was a seven-mile loop with steep hills and as I …

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The Glacial Landscape of French Creek’s West Branch

Prehistoric continental glaciers sculpted the broad valleys and rounded hills of the northwest corner of Pennsylvania. And much of this region — Erie, Crawford, Mercer and Lawrence counties — is within the watershed of French Creek, a major tributary of the Allegheny River. French Creek is known for its abundance of freshwater mussels and fish, …

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Roberto Clemente

50 Years Ago, Clemente Proved His Greatness

In the spring of 1955, at the same time that I was trying out for my high school baseball team and dreaming of becoming a big league ballplayer, the Pirates were breaking in a flashy rookie outfielder from Puerto Rico. By all accounts, Roberto Clemente was a natural.  Pittsburgh sportswriters described his arm as a …

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Roberto Clemente in Retrospect

The last time Roberto Clemente stepped up to home plate was on a field on Puerto Rico’s west coast where he was teaching boys to play baseball. Locals had coaxed him into taking a swing, and he obliged, hitting the ball out of the park. It’s not surprising that one of the world’s greatest athletes …

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Pittsburgh’s Huge Flathead Catfish Rule the Rivers

Late one August night last year, Dusty Learn, an Indiana County farmer and factory worker, caught what is, perhaps, the most spectacular catfish Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers have been known to ever yield. Although not the VW Beetle-sized beast of urban legend, Learn’s flathead — nabbed on a piece of cut bluegill — might have beaten …

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A Short Raucous Party

At night, like us, they stop making noise. Tired, I suppose. All day long they scream for a mate among the millions nearby. They don’t have much time, a few weeks at most, to ensure their brood will arise again. Perhaps their screaming is about that particular problem, a coordinated audible insect protest about what …

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The Black-Throated Blue Warbler

The male is dark blue, white and black. The female is olive brown and grey with a white patch mid-wing, when folded. The contrast is called sexual dimorphism — two versions of the same species depending on gender. Look and listen for something spectacular. This is a bird you’ll want to find. My first encounter …

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The Blackberry: The Humblest Jewel

If you were tasked with designing a wild fruit to represent western Pennsylvania, you might come up with the blackberry. Its familiar, arcing canes spread over logged hillsides and reclaimed strip mines, beside railroad tracks and across abandoned farmland reverting to woods. Blackberries are an unplanned bonus from hard-used land. Such a luscious treat, blackberries …

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Visiting Western Pennsylvania’s Wild and Beautiful Ohiopyle State Park

About 80 minutes from Downtown Pittsburgh in Fayette County is the town of Ohiopyle and one of our area’s natural gems of rare habitats, dense forests, breathtaking scenic areas and whitewater for paddlers — Ohiopyle State Park. Over the past year, visitation to parks, nature reserves and forests has increased dramatically, as people have sought …

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Lovable and Inimitable

Original research for this story was conducted by the author for a book he co-authored with David Proctor entitled “Pie Traynor: A Baseball Biography.” Hunched over a lathe on a steamy factory floor, Pie Traynor — World Series champion, future Hall of Famer, and the man widely considered the greatest third baseman who had ever …

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The Lost Hole of Oakmont

Founded in 1903, Oakmont Country Club is hallowed ground in American golf. In 1987, it became the first course to earn federal recognition as a National Historic Landmark. In August, it hosts its sixth U.S. Amateur and, in June 2025, its 10th U.S. Open. Aside from Augusta National, site of the Masters each year, Oakmont has …

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My Vegetable Garden, in Springtime

“The Glory of the Garden it abideth not in words.” —Rudyard Kipling My favorite time in the vegetable garden is in spring, after the soil is tilled and before the seeds are planted. Perennials are poking up—chervil, lovage, sorrel—but otherwise there’s little growth, just a blank canvas. The weather is cool, less humid and with …

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It’s a Bird, Not an Insult

One April morning when I was watching my feeders, I noticed a woodpecker on a branch. At least I thought it was a plain, old woodpecker. Black and white plumage, chisel-like beak. But there was red on the front of its face and chin. Not the back-of-the-head, red splotch of the male downy or hairy …

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Celebrating Spring in Penns Creek Wild Area

People who have spent time around state College know the surrounding mountains hold countless opportunities for enjoying the outdoors. From winter hiking in the rocky ridgelines and snowshoeing around Bear Meadows Natural Area to spring fishing in Penns Creek’s and Fishing Creek’s famous trout waters, Centre County offers beautiful, remote landscapes in any season. One …

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Pittsburgh’s Greatest Sports Rivalry: Satchel and Josh

On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson, who started his professional career with the Kansas City Monarchs, played his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers and began the integration of the Major Leagues. This past December, nearly 75 years later, Major League Baseball decided to elevate Negro League Baseball, founded in 1920, from minor-league to major-league …

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Pittsburgh’s First Great Boxing Rivalries and the One-Punch Wonder

While the Pirates may have given Pittsburgh its first major sports championship when they defeated the Detroit Tigers in the 1909 World Series, its boxers gave Pittsburgh its first claim to the title City of Champions. In the first half of the 20th century, there were nine boxing champions with ties to Pittsburgh and the …

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Exploring the Appalachian Shale Barren

An interesting, out-of-the-way place to explore in western Pennsylvania is the Sideling Hill Creek area. The Sideling Hill Creek valley is located in southeastern Bedford County and southwestern Fulton County, about a two-hour drive from Pittsburgh. Its watershed is framed by the sandstone-capped Town Hill mountain to the east, and Big Mountain to the west. …

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Mysteries of the Porcupine

This is how a porcupine attacks. It turns its back, displays the black line running down the middle of its tail, edged with white quills visible in the dark. Its body shivers. The jaw clenches, incisors vibrate, and the teeth clatter. It emits an odor. Quills become erect. These are mere warnings. If not enough …

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Tap Tap Tap

Set aside that steaming cup of cocoa and watch. Your bird feeders, flecked with last night’s early snow, beckon. That black and white blur is the first downy woodpecker of the day. There is a red streak on the head: the male. He’s a regular. The chickadees and titmice are his winter companions. They flock …

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Pittsburgh’s First Great Hockey Rivalry: The Needle and the Great Wall

In the 1950s, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns were well on the road to what eventually became known and celebrated as the Turnpike Rivalry. But that wasn’t the only rivalry at that time between sports teams from Pittsburgh and Cleveland. While Pittsburgh sports fans were in the early stages of hating the Cleveland Browns, …

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A Peaceful Respite

At the bottom of the steep, rutted trail lay a deep green five-acre pond, lush at its shorelines with cattails, multiflora rose and staghorn sumac, its surface glossy in the early-morning mist. Ridges rose abruptly on three sides, sporting stunted red pine and white spruce near the swampy bottomlands with red oaks, silver maples and …

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