Sports & Outdoors

Pittsburgh’s Urban Forests

Pittsburgh is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world ­— a beautiful skyline, stunning geography, a city set at the confluence of two rivers that form a third. And this is reinforced by its being such a green city — a city of large parks and of wonderful green spaces …

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1972: Triumph and Tragedy for Pittsburgh Sports Fans

The new decade had started off well for Pittsburgh sports fans.  In January 1970,  the Steelers used the top pick in the NFL draft to select Terry Bradshaw, a strong-armed quarterback from Louisiana Tech.  Drawing comparisons to the comic strip character Ozark Ike, he looked to have the talent to lead the Same-Old-Steelers, after decades …

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Nettle: The Weed that Stings

What is a weed? A plant in the wrong place is a common definition, or as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “a plant whose virtues we haven’t yet discovered.” But nettles — weeds to most of us — have virtues long discovered. Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary of eating very good nettle porridge. In Aesop’s …

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Darken Our Skies to Help the Birds

Who doesn’t love the sparkle of the Downtown skyline when cheering on the Pirates at PNC Park? I’ve sat marveling at the view across the water as the Bucs warm up and the stadium lights begin to come on. The glass, metal and stone are iconic of the Steel City. Then I imagine birds migrating …

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A Little Slice of Heaven

My chainsaw is little. Like, really little. A baby chainsaw. The love child of gas-powered monsters that guys twice my size use to slice through the trunk of a 200-year pine as if it were a stick of butter. Those blades are as long as my leg. This blade, the one on my chainsaw, is …

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They Still Come

It’s a harbinger of spring. As sure as robins begin to appear in backyards in Pittsburgh, Pirate baseball’s faithful travel to Bradenton, Florida. But Pirate City in Bradenton is locked down to fans, and the parking lots around LECOM Park are empty. Some still come. They peek through fences for a glimpse of minor league …

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Fuller Brook Dreams

I had seen the stream many times before, in my dreams. As someone averse to synthetic sleep aids, I’ve always relied instead on my mind to take me to one of my happy places: a rugged and undeveloped coastline with soaring seagulls and salty air; my grandmother’s kitchen table; a sweet stream flowing through the …

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The Homestead Gray’s Vic Harris: Baseball’s Winningest Manager

When ranking baseball managers, historians often use the number of times a manager led teams to a victory in the World Series as a yardstick for measuring their greatness.  By that measurement, Major League baseball’s greatest managers are the New York Yankees Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel.  Each led Yankee teams to seven World Series …

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Baseball in Clemente’s Puerto Rico – a Dream Fulfilled

 I had dreamed for years – decades – of seeing a baseball game in the Caribbean. In April of 2017, I spent three unforgettable days in Havana, Cuba, and have been kicking myself ever since for not splurging on a taxi ride to an Industriales game. In January of 2020, just before COVID-19 made virtually …

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A Refuge for Wildlife-Watching

About an hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh, Interstate 79 is the 120-acre Cussewago Bottom Conservation Area in Crawford County. The preserve provides an opportunity to explore forests, wetlands and wildlife near a tributary of French Creek. Cussewago originates from the Seneca Indian word meaning “big belly.” Cussewago Creek flows south from Erie County for 35 …

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Keep Warm and Watch for Flickers

Forty below zero isn’t cold if you dress for it. I learned that in the Wyoming backcountry when I spent three weeks winter camping one February. We ate high-calorie diets, slicing butter into hot cocoa for the extra fat, and built thick snow shelters to pass the frigid nights. When it dropped below zero, we …

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Date With Destiny

The Washington & Jefferson football team had its work cut out for it on Jan. 2, 1922. The Presidents had gone unbeaten that year, taking on powerhouses such as Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Syracuse. They were invited to play the University of Detroit in a postseason matchup, and after winning that game, touted as a …

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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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