Thursday, November 15, 2018

Searching for Burleigh Grimes

Big Bird, our new Tiffin RV never made it home from California, it ended up 123 miles short, being dropped off at the Cummins dealer/ repair location in Sioux Falls on October 20th, where it sat for three weeks.  It perplexed the engineers and technicians.  They put in a new engine harness, a new ECM, and a new fuel pump actuator.  They ran it around connected to the computer and then noticed some odd things, like the speedometer freaked out twice for a second before coming back, and the DEF indicator went haywire for only a moment.  Not being Cummins issues, so they said, they told me to come and pick it up on Monday.  I talked to Freightliner about looking at it but they couldn't see it for a day so we decided to see if the other items worked.  The engine clicking was, at least,  gone, the fault codes were gone, so as we were down in Sioux Falls anyway to get Yellow Fever and Typhoid vaccines, we picked it up and drove it home.

It was unseasonably cold and windy on the drive home so finally 22 days late, the Bird got to Milbank.  It was 4PM when I parked it so we had to hurriedly winterize it.  Unfortunately, the water pump had frozen up on the way home and it took me a while to get the stabilizers down, which were maybe stuck or cold, I didn't know..  We kept it heated overnight, did what we could, and then in the morning after having a space heater in the compartment by noon the next morning, the pump came back to life and we were able to push pink stuff into the system.  We were lucky, and it went above freezing for the first time in a week.

Two days later, we drove the Bird to Wisconsin for my sister's and dad's birthday, see if the engine light went on again.  We had none of the odd Freightliner issues and we got her set up at my grandmother's in Wisconsin without issues as a ruffed grouse watched me.

It flew before I could get the camera.

I arrived down in Clear Lake, WI forty miles south, for something to do.  The plan was to search for a rather non-descript grave stone.  It took me a while to find it.  In this time of self-glorification and search for fame, here was a grave that offered nothing of that, well almost nothing.

With all of  the self-glory seeking, seeing such a mundane gravestone seems rather out of place in the 33 years since his death .  All it says is Burleigh A. Grimes, 1893-1985, and a simple Polk County Veteran's flag, is almost all there was.  Was Grimes a war hero?
Compare his stone to one a hundred yard away for another famous native son from Clear Lake.

That of one of the last politicians, I respected.  Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, a Progressive who was also a sportsman, an environmentalist, and a realist.  He was also a true representative of his state, not someone just trying to get a ahead and make a buck.  He  worked for the Wilderness Society in the 80s and gave this quote as to his belief as to the number 1 problem facing the environment in America, which seems at odds with the current views of the Democratic Party and the Environmental Groups he championed.

"the bigger the population gets, the more serious the problems become ... We have to address the population issue. The United Nations, with the U.S. supporting it, took the position in Cairo in 1994 that every country was responsible for stabilizing its own population. It can be done. But in this country, it's phony to say "I'm for the environment but not for limiting immigration."

He was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 by Bill Clinton.  It is hard to believe what many of these same people are saying today.  I guess that is why nothing ever gets done on immigration OR the environment.  But this is not a blog about Gaylord Nelson.

Burleigh A. Grimes was hardly a war hero.  In fact, although he enlisted in the Navy in 1918 during the Great War, Grimes led the National League in starts by a pitcher and was out of the Navy just in time for the 1919 season.  It is unsure of what if anything he did besides pitch for the Navy.  Yet he is honored as a Veteran during a war.

Written small above "Grimes" was a small baseball diamond and "Hall of Fame" etched in the granite.   So who was Burleigh Grimes and why does he rate a blog by me?
Burleigh Grimes was perhaps the toughest, nastiest, fiercest competitive  player that ever pitched in the major leagues.  He was just plain old mean.

He even described himself.
Why is it there are so many nice guys interested in baseball? Not me, I was a real bastard when I played.

 Grimes was the last legal spitball pitcher, being exempted for 14 years after the pitch was banned in 1920.  Since he chewed slippery elm to produce more saliva, he had two days of beard growth on his face to spare his sensitive skin.  The process left him with a rather mean look, unshaven, drool with yellowish teeth and a snarl, that seemed to be out of this world.  Grimes just didn't look fierce, he acted the part.  Spending his teen years in a logging camp,Grimes was tough.  He got into a fight with his Pirate's manager in 1918, when he took offence to be passed over for a start.   The pair ended up in a fight almost to the death in the team rail car.  The two could not be pulled apart before Grimes took a bite out of his manager's leg and both were a bloody mess.
Rogers Hornsby was never a favorite of Grimes.  Of the 301 home runs Hornsby hit, Grimes threw 9 of them, the most by any pitcher.  In 1927, they found themselves both on the Giants.  Grimes accused Hornsby of not giving the proper signs and the two ended up in a brawl in the dugout in the middle of the game.   The game got delayed as players need to go separate the pair. Later, Grimes would "accidentally" throw at his own player if he wasn't looking.  He was traded to Pittsburgh after that season.

Here the two are standing next to each other in a MLB picture before the fight, Grimes is far left
Grimes officially only hit 101 batters,  77th on the all-time list but apparently the batters of the day were better at getting out of the way, because the pitcher was legendary for throwing at batters.  It was said that Grimes' idea of an intentional walk was throwing 4 times at the batters head.   Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch caused the ire of Grimes after spiking him on first base when the pitcher covered the bag after a bunt.  For ten years, Frisch needed to stay limber at the batters box because Grimes would throw at his head, sometimes even on four straight pitches.  Once Grimes hit Frisch while Frisch was just standing in the on deck space.  If there was a record for being hit in the on deck circle or hitting his own players, Grimes would hold the record.  The only reason this stopped was that in 1931, the two players ended up on the same team.
Oddly in 1964, it was Frankie Frisch that helped Grimes  get elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Grimes pitched for the "Gas House" gang and won the Cardinals the World Series in 1931.  Frisch by his chairmanship of the Veteran's committee got a lot of the old Cardinals elected to the Hall if they deserved it or not.  Grimes obviously deserved it.  Ole' Stubblebeard retired from pitching in 1934 with 270 victories and then stayed with baseball and manged minor leagues and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1937-38.
He became a great scout for the game and was responsible for the great Yankees farm system and then when hired by the Orioles in 1961, managed to find the talent to turn that team into a winner in 1966, and 1969-71, before he retired from baseball in 1972 at the age of 79.

     In 1974, He summed up his career:
"Baseball treated me very well"

So the news is mixed as to whether Grimes was actually such a bad guy in real life or it was all his marketing stick.  On one hand, his neighbor described him as a kindly old man.  On the other hand, he was married five times and was actually buried next to wife number 3.  There is nothing written about him causing fights in his days as a manager and scout, but then again, he was an older man during those days.  So who knows?   He did write that he treated every batter as a person standing between him and more money, so if he threw at his legs or his head, he would cost him a cut in pay.  So in the end, it is all just history, and the legend of Burleigh Grimes was that of the toughest person to stare down on the mound, a man that would just as soon throw the ball into your ear as anything. 
Now he is just a name on a grave in an obscure Northern Wisconsin town, and a man with a plaque in Cooperstown. 

I can only feel for the poor outfielders trying to pick up and throw baseballs the were all covered in drool, it reminds me of throwing a baseball to my old St Bernard "Hans."  Hans would have made a great spitballer...yuck!

Well, bad news to report, the clicking noise appeared about 50 miles out of Wisconsin, if history repeats, the engine light will come on again either on the way home or by the second leg of the trip to Florida.....sigh....not much else to replace.  

Monday, November 5, 2018

Between the rock and the hard place: the quest for mr. 800

BIG BIRD had a lot of parts changed from the end of our trip into November.  It got a new engine harness, and then, that third fuel pump attuator.  Then it got a new ECM.  All the while, I could tell that Tiffin was becoming tired of me as they stopped emailing me and calling.  Cummins was sounding beaten.  It was in the middle of this while I was sitting at my cabin looking out into the snow and hoping better ducks would arrive out in the lake when I got the alert.  Gray heron in Newfoundland.
            I had officially been sitting on 799 for my North American ABA bird list since August, a number that just seems so unsettling because, it is.  In reality, it had been longer since bird #798, a mistle thrush, I had seen in January of 2018 in New Brunswick and bird #799, a black-backed oriole named Bebe had been refound by me in Pennsylvania in February of 2017, well after it had been first seen over a month earlier. 
          Some birders were so sure that this bird was never going to added to the official list that they never went and saw it.  I only went as I had business in Scranton and Reading seemed like a place nearby (sort of), and so it ended up being a bit of a lucky break.  The state committee did a lot of work on that bird and in the end the national powers-to-be, had no choice but add it on the list, which in August, to my surprise, it was. 
            It had been so long since I successfully chased a bird, I had forgotten which one it was.   I had dipped on a rare warbler in Arizona in the spring of 2018.  So there I was, at 799. I wanted to reach 800 while I was still aged 52, it had taken me until May 2015 for me to get to 700, seeing a ruff in a swamp near Minneapolis while we visited the American Swedish Institute for a lecture.  I think getting the “toughest” hundred in 42 months was about as quick as one can, even taking into account I saw 778 species in 2016 alone.  
         Only three people had ever completed their 9th century of North American birds, the “impossible” 100, and so, I doubted that I’d ever get to that.  I had some relatively low hanging fruit, or relatively so, and if I became motivated, and took some pelagics on the east coast, and hung out in Alaska, I could easily get to 810, but after that, every bird is a good to great bird  so any more will be almost impossible.  Some of the ones the big three, like Paul Sykes (all-time number 2) have seen,  are extinct.  He has seen the extinct Bachmann’s warbler.  He has also seen some birds that will never be seen again in America.  Therefore, 800 is my last big birding mark.
            Bucket list item, #101, Get 800th bird in ABA, 300 in South Dakota and 850 in the new ABA was only 2/3 done.  I had seen my 300th South Dakota bird in May.  The new checklist this summer including the oriole and the mistle thrush had ticked me up to 851 on that list. 
            Oddly and in true Olaf fashion, just as I had booked for the difficult logistics of going to Newfoundland (it is an all-day and quite expensive affair and I had already missed the flight to get there on November 3rd), a spotted redshank, a sandpiper I have seen on Iceland but not in North America had appeared near Detroit.  It seemed everyone was there and unfortunately, I was  committed to the Rock, the local name for Newfoundland.  The redshank would have to wait.
            This is my 7th trip to Newfoundland, 8th if you count a stopover for three hours when I was 14.  I have seen seven lifers there:  common snipe, tufted duck, black gillimot, black-headed gull, yellow-legged gull, willow ptarmigan, and a fieldfare.  I had dipped or missed on two gray herons, a kelp gull, and European golden-plovers and before on the yellow-legged gull, before getting one 9 months later. That first trip didn’t feel so bad since the fieldfare showed up five hours away, and was nabbed.   I’d also found some odd birds there, once seeing a chimney swift in early November that almost seemed like another rarer swift, but, alas no.  I had also been in the middle of a strange jaeger fallout which left the poor birds beaten and recovering (or dying) in some truly odd places, like golf courses and roofs.
               So as my RV sat in a pile of parts,  I headed off to the Rock, flying United and Air Canada. I got upgraded to first-class because, I could.  Flying to the easternmost point in North American in fall/winter was always tough.   I expected delays and when it came, and for no explained reason in Toronto, it came as  no surprise.  It was all part of it--the 2:30 AM arrival, the endless delays, a rough flight that would never seem to land if it landed at all, the cold blustery walk to my car which assuming the rental agent was still around to a car that would be in the far corner of the parking lot, which either wouldn’t start or was the wrong car. I could look forward to a locked motel front door, a cold room, no breakfast, and probably a missing bird.  It was the way of things on the Rock.  It was a hard place, but one filled with nice and warm people, that somehow, survived and thrived in this place that was part of Great Britain and not Canada until 1949.  
               The man in front of me at Toronto airport had a tee-shirt that surmised it all “Fukeneh!”  It was something coined by Mike Myers.  That was the way of things.  Oddly, I stood next to my twin in line, a big oafish Scandinavian, like me.  I listened to his grunts and cut-off words to his buddy, typical male speak, which is half gestures and posture anyhow.  He even acted like me but he spoke Norwegian, was not a Swede, but was very understandable and we had the same face.  He was named Kjell and undoubtedly was going to St. John’s due to the oil or shipping infrastructure.
               The trip in fulfilled my expectations, crossing over Nova Scotia we hit a fierce wind, that on the ground in Newfoundland was clocked at 130 kph in some places, on Cape Race where the weather station was broken, a reading of 52 knots was seen in the lee of a building.  The Alamo guy stayed but I was correct, the farthest car from the rental car place was mine.  It blew and rained all the way to my car.  The lady at the hotel had already given up on me but found me a room.
               Morning came three hours later as I headed the hour and a half to Renews, arriving just after dawn at 6:50.  Like my last chase for this bird, the bay it had been seen was devoid of birds save for a lone gull, a handful of crows and a cormorant on a rock.  I looked, then moved and looked some more.  I could feel the futileness of the morning and then at 7:30, something odd happened, the bird appeared out of nowhere on a rock!  It was like I got pay back, because after two hurried pictures at a great distance, the bird spooked and flew to the other side of the bay.  I ran for the car but as I got over there, it had vanished as easily as it had appeared.

               I looked at my photos to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, it was bad but yes, it was a gray heron, as any heron here is a good bird, and nothing else it could be.  Four other birders showed up but not the heron.  It made us wait for over two hours and then again, I saw it fly out of nowhere.  I called the other birders, and everyone raced to my location, again it was gone as I looked up from my phone, but it had just hidden behind a rock. I had it, they had it, the great 800 was accomplished!  It then came closer for better photos.

               The lighthouse keep at Cape Race, Cliff Doran is the friendliest coolest guy.  Cape Race one of those nasty places where the wind blows all the time and the area is shrouded in fog and rain almost constantly.  In fact, they had not seen the sun in two weeks, but today, it was cold, 38 degrees but the sun was out, showing the lighthouse and the cape for the first time ever to me.

          Down there, everyone was abuzz with a great bird, a Vesper sparrow, found just before I got there--a backyard bird for me back home, but here, only the third recorded sighting ever, which compared to the heron, which has had 5 provincial sightings (only 6 in North America though), that makes the sparrow rarer (here), go figure.

I had chocolate silk cake and coffee with Cliff and the other birders as we warmed up and told stories and Cliff asked me about my RV and Hurricane damaged house.  It was just great.  Newfies are the greatest!   It was the highlight of the trip seeing Cliff even better than the bird!  This was my celebration even though back at the Best Western, alone, I drank my lifer beer alone and toasted myself to a long chase and quest of seeing 800 species.  That is how it should be, bird listing is a personal event and a personal milestone.  
             Bucket list #101 is done, now if I can just go home, a book event and yellow fever and typhoid shots await this intrepid traveler.

I called Cummins on the drive back, and nothing has changed.  I want a Fukeneh! with a Canadian flag t-shirt!

Golden dreams and memories

  Today brings me to the north suburbs of Chicago.  Although not for a bird even though a lifer bird had been flying tantalizingly close to ...