-------I like most sports. I generally prefer watching professional
sports over the amateur version, though there is a certain untamed
purity about the latter. Beneath the high salaries, corruption,
and "big business" aspects of pro athletics you may still
find these basic values if you look in the right places. This seems
to be never more apparent than in our nation's pastime, baseball.
Even at the controversy stricken professional level there is something
basic about baseball which draws it closer to the average person.
-------Baseball is one of the few,
if not only, professional sports which allows the average fan access
to the players on the field. The relaxed nature of the game lends
itself to pregame chatter. Much has been written and many stories
have been told about the clubhouse antics of players as they try
to survive the rigors of a long season. But largely unnoticed has
been the gentle and often inspiring interaction these men have with
the young fans who attend games in major league parks around the
-------In my youth I spent a good amount
of time each summer at Arlington Stadium, always arriving early
to take in as much as I could as each of the stars of the American
League made their way into town. I'd watch the players go through
a variety of pregame routines, from batting and fielding practice
or games of "pepper" all the way down to card games or
sing-a-longs. I would seek autographs, scramble wildly for foul
balls or errant throws which made it into the seats, beg players
for souvenir baseballs, and simply enjoy the lifestyle of major
league baseball. I'm thankful for the opportunity to share brief
encounters with some of baseball's greatest players which were perhaps
very small and insignificant to them at the time, but huge in the
eyes of an adolescent American boy.
-------Two of my favorite moments centered
around the camera which seemed to accompany me to most of these
games. I often worked myself into position for this picture or that,
hoping to forever capture the image of my favorite players. On one
such occasion I made my way to field level in an attempt to photograph
the star pitcher, Bert Blyleven. I never got the opportunity, for
when he saw me he came over to the fence and asked me about my camera.
He asked if he could see it, and who was I to tell him no? He held
it to his eye and began taking mock pictures of all his teammates,
asking them to pose. I wished he'd be even a bit more bold and actually
snap the shutter release. What a story those pictures would tell.
-------The other story was in a sense
very similar, yet it carried with it an added dimension. I was seated
about six rows up along the right field foul line snapping numerous
pictures as many of the Texas Rangers loosened up in the area. After
completing his repetition of sprints across the outfield, second
baseman Lenny Randle was resting near the wall below me. After catching
his breath he turned toward the stands and asked what all the clicking
was. He was looking directly at me, so I was aware it had been a
rhetorical question, and my return gaze served as its answer. He
asked me if I wanted to be a "Sports Illustrated" photographer
when I grew up. That had never really entered my mind before, but
I did let him know that I thought it would be quite exciting. He
took several minutes to ask me questions about my camera and my
uses for it, showing a general concern. Feeling very comfortable,
I spoke as though I was somewhat of an authority on the subject,
and he seemed to be interested in learning all I had to teach. He
closed our conversation by encouraging me, saying that whatever
I found to be my dream or chosen occupation, whether photographer
or something else, I should go ahead and make it happen. A few weeks
later I ran across a baseball card with his picture on the front.
Turning it over I found all of his professional baseball statistics,
as well as personal information. After the heading "hobbies"
I was delighted and somewhat surprised to see the word "photography."
He had never mentioned it at all in our conversation. I knew now
why I caught his attention, but it struck me that he graciously
bowed out of the way, leaving the spotlight for me. I wonder how
often similar events go by unnoticed at the ballparks around the
-------A couple of years later, I felt
hurt by an unfortunate situation which resulted in Mr. Randle's
release from the Rangers as he became involved in a heated battle
with the team's manager.
-------It was on the surface a very
ugly picture which gained a great deal of media attention nationwide.
I didn't understand how it could happen and could not help feeling
his actions were in some way justifiable. Now the nation had an
ugly picture of one whom I had seen as a beautiful man, and I too
was left with many questions. Many were answered for me years later
in a quiet, uncelebrated magazine article which profiled his career
as an aging baseball player in Central America. I rediscovered his
beauty in this article and realized he had simply made a costly
error of judgement years earlier. Now the only pain that lingered
was the idea that the numerous positive aspects of his life were
largely hidden in obscure articles and people's memories while this
one error served as his public signet. Why must our society insist
on the "dirt" when there is so much light in the world?
And when will the media have the courage to give equal time to this
light? Each of these questions serves to answer the other, and therein
lies the enigma.
--------It's abundantly encouraging
to think of the positive impact our sports heroes can have on a
young person's life. In the same breath, it is terribly frightening
to consider the lessons many of our superstars model for these young
discovering minds. I am one who believes in expecting our professional
athletes to earn their large salaries through setting a positive
example for our youth in all aspects of life. It is true that their
personal lives are often played out in the public's eye, yet this
is a reality which they accept by choice when signing on the dotted
line. Perhaps we can help by judging their actions alone, seeing
them as mere human beings doing great athletic feats. Removing the
"godlike" pedestal, we may find it easier to publicize
the good news without fearing the bad. I am disturbed when these
actions we observe are destructive, and will often speak out against
them, yet I will always support the athlete who takes the time to
make a positive difference in a young person's life.
© 2004 - The Trill House