March 11, 2010

Writer's own story intriguing, too


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Gordon Chibroski

Staff Writer

He recently completed a dizzying four years of interviews and travel.

One day, Bill Burke would find himself on Ted Turner's private plane, en route to Argentina for some fishing and work.

Then there would be conversations with Jimmy Carter, Tom Brokaw, Bill Gates and Hank Aaron.

After that, another trip on Turner's plane, to a Turner ranch in Montana.

Glamorous? Yes.

But next week, Burke will be seated in one of his favorite haunts -- his front row seat at Hadlock Field.

Burke, 43, of Cape Elizabeth, has worn an array of prestigious hats in his short career, from president of Turner Broadcasting System at the age of 29, to heading up other Turner projects and, later, The Weather Channel.

His recent endeavor was to collaborate with Turner on his autobiography, a bestseller that came out last November, titled ''Call Me Ted.''

For all his achievements, around these parts Burke is known more for baseball. He is the son of Portland Sea Dogs owner Dan Burke.

And the younger Burke has become the local face of the Sea Dogs ownership, representing his father more and more in Sea Dogs affairs.

''Having Bill here is terrific,'' Sea Dogs President and CEO Charlie Eshbach said. ''For many years I've received terrific guidance from Dan. Now Bill has taken on more of that role.''

And when the Sea Dogs open their 2009 season Thursday at Hadlock Field, Bill and his family will be sitting in the owner's front row seats and, later, the owner's box.


Dan Burke, 80, used to come to every Sea Dogs home opener. He and his wife, Bunny, would then return to their home in Rye, N.Y., and come back in June, to their summer residence in Kennebunk Beach.

Dan Burke suffered a broken hip between the 2005 and 2006 seasons. He has not been to a home opener since 2005.

''It's harder for him to travel,'' Bill Burke said. ''They won't be at the opener (Thursday), but they will be up for (the summer) in mid-May.

I know he can't wait. My dad looks forward to baseball the second the previous season is over.''

Baseball, business and education. Dan Burke passed those passions on to his children.

Sons Stephen, Bill and Frank all received MBAs from the Harvard Business School. Daughter Sally McNamara received her Harvard degree in education.

Stephen Burke is Chief Operating Officer of the Comcast Corporation and Frank is owner of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Lookouts minor league baseball team.

When Dan Burke bought an expansion franchise in the Eastern League and located it in Portland, starting in 1994, it brought together two delights of the Burke family.

''We're all baseball fans and Maine fans,'' Bill Burke said.


As an undergraduate at Amherst College, Burke found someone with a similar love for Maine -- and he married her.

Karen Burke grew up in St. Louis but spent summers at camp on Sebago Lake. She and Bill Burke were married in Windham.

But at the time Maine was just a summer place. Bill Burke worked for Ted Turner in Atlanta.

They missed the first Sea Dogs game at Hadlock in April 1994, because Bill was overseeing the launch of Turner Classic Movies that same month.

In 2000, Bill, Karen and their young children, Chris and Erin, moved to Cape Elizabeth. Bill took a job heading up the ambitious Resort Sports Network.

The project did not take off as expected, and Burke moved back to Atlanta in 2001 to head The Weather Channel.

But Maine kept calling.

Burke left The Weather Channel in 2004 and the family returned to Cape Elizabeth for good. Karen Burke was elected to the School Board in 2006.


Bill Burke wanted to write or teach. He wrote a 20-page paper about what it was like working for Ted Turner. It was not published, but it did find its way to Turner. He loved it and asked Burke to help him write his life story.

And, soon, Burke was traveling and interviewing.

''It was a great experience,'' said Burke, who will be talking about his book today at 2 p.m. at the Maine Festival of Book at University of Southern Maine's Abromson Center.

Burke is already working on his next book, on business ethics.

But he has also found himself becoming more involved in the Sea Dogs. It was not planned.

''The ability to go to a bunch of games factored into our decision (to return to Maine),'' Burke said, ''but not to play an active role.

''But I've slowly been doing that.''

Burke has represented the ownership at city council meetings and team functions while also taking part in the decision-making process.

''Dan is still aware of everything,'' Eshbach said. ''Bill is somebody I can run things by on a day-to-day basis.''

And, since his fishing days in Argentina and Montana seem to have waned, Bill Burke is around to help out.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

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