First baseman Greg Bird remembered the geese greeting him during the 2016 season, most of which he spent in Tampa rehabilitating from shoulder surgery.
“That’s weird,” he said of their disappearance. “I’d be curious what happened. Whatever you find out, let me know.”
It seemed like a mystery. It turned out, though, that most of the geese — there were from eight to more than a dozen of them, according to people here — died during the baseball off-season, a team spokesman said. They had not been reproducing lately, because of age or predation, and the two that had survived were moved to a wildlife refuge, the spokesman said. (Also sent away were some opossums, which had been trapped.)
The move was made quietly enough that the woman responsible for introducing the geese to Steinbrenner Field — Terry Jenkins, a risk manager for the team who retired two years ago — learned of it from a reporter.
“I’m surprised somebody didn’t let me know,” she said. “If they still have the pond, it’s a disservice not to have them there. But everything about the Steinbrenners celebrated nature. I can’t imagine anyone over there doing anything irresponsible.”
Jenkins said she received permission about 10 years ago from the Yankees to bring a pair of Embden geese that she had nursed to maturity to Steinbrenner Field. As the pair, with their white plumes and orange beaks, turned into a flock, she kept as keen an eye on the geese as she did on the Yankees’ exposure to risk.
She considered herself something of a mother goose.
“I liked that you could look out the fourth-floor ladies’ room and see them,” she said. “And the other women that worked up there did, too.”
Jenkins is an animal lover. Along with her husband, Bruce, she has turned their one-acre property in nearby Lutz, Fla., into a refuge for older cats (they have about 25), a goat, a miniature pony, a pair of Sebastopol geese and a handful of tropical birds.
The pond at the entrance to Steinbrenner Field is rimmed by a fence, but it is not as secure as a sanctuary. The Embden geese laid dozens of eggs each season, but the eggs and goslings were easy prey for turtles that live in the pond. Opossums, raccoons, feral cats and hawks also made meals of the eggs.
Retention ponds and thick grasses on some of the property’s perimeter allow the Steinbrenner Field complex, built on swampland, to maintain remnants of that ecosystem. Two years ago, a raccoon that had climbed to the top of the screen behind home plate set off a pursuit by workers after it was knocked from its perch. It scrambled throughout the stadium before leaping from the top row to the plaza below.
As welcoming a sight as the geese might have been, they were not always easy to manage.
Groundskeepers fed them grain, but the grass that lined the pond required more frequent resodding or reseeding, and their excrement needed to be removed. They could be ornery, too.
“I won’t say they make life wonderful for everyone there,” Jenkins said. “Sometimes they could be difficult and could bite, but they are beautiful to look at.”
When the flock dwindled this winter, the Yankees decided to send the remaining two geese away rather than introduce more. The spokesman did not want to name the refuge because it was private, but he offered a clue: It was in Keystone, an unincorporated area north of Tampa.
A (domestic) goose chase ensued.
A call to a government agency turned up Wildlife Haven Rehab, where Brenda Baughman said she did not have any geese but had heard that another facility — Odessa Wildlife Rescue and Sanctuary, just down the road — took in some from the Yankees.
A visit to the address provided promise. Nobody answered the bell at the walled property, but a peek inside revealed a zebra, a peacock, turtles and roosters. And then there they were: the white geese.
Another call was made. This time a woman answered. An inquiry about geese acquired from the Yankees was quickly swatted away. “We don’t trap and remove them,” she said, also making it clear she did not have time to talk further because the sanctuary gets millions of phone calls.
One question, though, lingered.
With the Yankees having exiled Goose and their geese, could that be an ominous sign for a player named Bird?
“I hope not,” Bird said with a smile, poking a hole in the notion that birds of a feather flock together. Then again, the Yankees announced on Friday morning that they had signed the veteran Adam Lind — a power-hitting, left-handed-hitting first baseman.
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