Dave Kretschmann’s entire 25 year career as a research general engineer has been at the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis. – and he loves what he is doing.
Could you tell us about your work with baseball bat research?
Our work with baseball bats is one of those things that’s very accessible to a large population, as opposed to some of the more obscure or technical science. Not that this isn’t technical, but everybody knows about baseball and what bats are used for. In that way it’s been easier to get information about this project out to a broad public. A few years ago, Major League Baseball asked me to lead a team to look into the issue of bats breaking during games. So, since late in the 2008 season, we’ve seen video of every shattered bat in Major League Baseball. We’ve tested hundreds of bats and recorded the who, when, and how of every shattered bat in 2009 and 2010. As a result of the implementation of our recommendations and the work of TECO, an independent certification and testing agency for wood products, there’s been a 50 percent reduction in the rate of multiple piece failures since the 2008 season. Multiple piece failure is more than just a cracked bat; it’s one that breaks into, well, multiple pieces. Broken bats have always been part of the game and always will be. But thanks to some changes in bat manufacturing regulations, like density and geometry restrictions, and with cooperation from Major League Baseball and the players union, we have made the game a lot safer.
What makes you get up in the morning and go to work?
Well, sunshine, usually. Prior to working at the lab, I had worked in some other places, but one of things that struck me about working here during my first summer was that I had looked around at people that had been doing their jobs for the Forest Service for 20 years. They all seemed to still enjoy coming to work and now that I have been coming to work for 25 years, I feel the same way. There is always something new and different that happens. There are certainly some down sides to everything and sometime things may get at you, but in general, I enjoy coming to work. Basically, I feel my job has a strong public service component, for the best interest of the nation’s consumers. I know it may sound corny, but I really do believe that we make a difference in what we do and that helps get you into work every day.
What is the public perception of your job?
You know, I’m not certain. I don’t know if there is a strong public perception or awareness of the type of work I do. For the Forest Products Laboratory in general, I think we have done things the country later becomes very aware of and we’ve made solid contributions. Our laboratory comes up with ideas and suggestions that really improve the quality of the average person’s life. That, to me, is a very positive perception.
There are a lot of things we do that involves the public because people use wood every day. Paper and construction materials and many other wood-based things are all around us. I know that industry folks, the actual forest products producers, are aware of our institution. But, overall, I don’t think the general public has the same awareness.
For industry people involved in producing wood products – whether it is pulp or paper, construction materials, wood plastic deposits, or things of that nature – they are aware of what we are doing. I think we do a lot of interesting things that the general public is just not aware. I’m sure there are very few people out there, for example, who know that a person sits behind a desk in Madison, working with standards and the public safety of wood construction on a daily basis, which is one of my jobs.
Our recently retired director, Chris Risbrudt, made a very solid and emotional point during his retirement remarks. He stated that he had been asked repeatedly as director of Forest Products Laboratory to give remarks at an annual conference in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, explaining what research programs were underway at the Lab. After the third year, he stated that research moves pretty slow and was pretty much saying the same thing year after year. Do you still want me to keep coming year after year? They stated, yes, we want you to come because it gives us hope. A lot of companies in the industry are down due to the economy and high unemployment, and the things you guys do, give us hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s what you do that can move us back into better times.
What’s the one thing about you few people know?
I have a unique hobby compared to some. I have been involved in our local opera company here for years and years as a chorus member. I have been in multiple productions of opera and have been around some incredible voices. I got involved in the company in 1987 and have been in about 40 productions, covering most of the major opera repertoire. All of the styles are different in what they have to offer, but I think my favorite grand opera I have been in would be, Aida and I really enjoy the Merry Widow and have done it a couple of times. I was also able to be a part of a world premier opera Shining Brow about the life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
One more question: If you could live in any other time, what might that be?
Another time. Oh, that’s a great question. My particular interest would be from about 1750 to the Revolutionary War time. I am very fascinated with that period in just how the people were involved in creating our country.
The Faces of the Forest is a project of the U.S. Forest Service Office of Communication to showcase the people, places and professions within our agency, which is responsible for 193 million acres of forests and grasslands in 44 states and territories. If you know someone you would like to have profiled here, send an email with the person's name, work location and a bit about to Faces of the Forest.