I captured this image in San Francisco in the summer of 2001 – it was later acquired by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and added to their permanent collection. The outing to what was then PacBell Park was an experiment. Baseball was in the infancy of its steroid crisis and I wanted to see if I could create images that captured the old-fashioned romance of the game.
Before multi-million dollar salaries and drug and steroid scandals had become the mainstay of the sport and before the rise of the NFL, baseball was America’s sport. The teams and players captured our imagination and our hearts. That’s the spirit I wanted to capture on film.
Helen and I traipsed off to the ballpark with several canisters of film in hand. Looking back at the contact sheets, I shot three rolls of film that day. That’s 108 pictures over the course of a three hour game. Film processing and printing pictures costs money – and I was on a budget. I could experiment, sure – but not with hundreds or even thousands of pictures. Today, of course, everything is different. Given the same situation today, I’d probably click off 108 frames inside of 20 minutes and have 1,000+ images before the game was finished. Shoot more, edit later. But that wasn’t how it was back then.
I let the San Francisco Giants know in advance what I wanted to do and they granted me a media pass for the day. Helen and I used the passes to mostly roam the stands and look at the game from different vantage points – and in every instance, I was looking for the story.
A lot of playing the game of baseball involves standing around and doing nothing. Some folks believe this makes the game slow and boring… other folks believe it adds to the romance of the game. After all, there’s an art to athletes in their prime staying engaged and involved with the game during long stretches of nothingness.
Sports photographers typically capture the action. The catch. The slide into home plate. They capture decisive moments of excitement on which a game turns. I am not a sports photographer. I wasn’t looking to capture a great image of a decisive moment of sports action. Instead, I was looking to capture an admittedly old-fashioned spirit of the game. And, as a result, instead of pointing my camera at the action, I decided to look through my lens and find the boredom.
I have images I captured that day of ballplayers in the field inspecting their gloves in moments of silent reflection. I have wide shots from above of home plate, with batters in various stages of swinging at the baseball, catcher and umpire clearly in view – those images more a photographic version of a Norman Rockwell painting than a Sports Illustrated cover shot.
But it is this image which stands out to me. This image captures precisely what I came to the ballpark that day to showcase – baseball players in what, for me at least, is a true reflection of the game. Each of the players looks to be in a different state of either boredom or engagement with what’s going on on the field.
I’ve often said that for me a great image is one in which the content and the style compete equally for our attention – the result being that we don’t know if we like the image better because of the story it’s telling or its aesthetic. As much as I love the story told by the players in this image, I also love the aesthetic. Tilting the camera at a slight angle gave everything life – it forces my eye naturally through the frame and created a series of parallel lines that are the final magic of the image for me.
When the Smithsonian asked to acquire a dozen of my prints, this seemed a natural part of the collection. The images of mine that they selected ranged from the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, the Space Shuttle – among others – and this wonderful image of the boys of summer. I’d say this image and the boys of summer are in great (and perfect) company.