Time for an autograph: Stan Williams

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This week I received a very nice autograph from Mr. Stan Williams.  My connection to him is through a memory I have of getting his signature on a blank sheet of paper in Spring Training one year when he was the Mariners pitching coach.  He was an All Star in 1960 and 2x World Series Champion.  What I love about this return is his immaculate and steady penmanship.  It’s part of a different time and mindset before texting and email.  Im honored that Mr. Williams took the time to answer some questions I had.  There was one line that makes this even more amazing.  He responded to one question saying he does have more stories to share, but not today – he just got out of the hospital – a heart operation.  I was stunned to read that.

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One wouldn’t be able to tell from his handwriting that he’d literally had heart surgery that same day.  This shows incredible character and compassion that he took the time to write me on this day.  This, to me, truly embodies the spirit of grit.  I can’t imsgine how he must have felt while writing out his answers and signing two gorgeous signatures with inscriptions.  Personalized to me as well, which I will treasure.  These signatures will help remind me of this mindset, this grit to take the time and this care about a task like this even when one is not feeling 100%.  Or when things aren’t going your way.  This is what I struggle with, keeping the mindset when I get home from a workday and my youngest son has an accident that I have to clean up.  I’m horrible at controlling my reaction and mindfulness in these situations.

Building triggers – CTC – Control the Controllables

I need to build triggers, reminders, code words to help.  I’m going to put one of these on my desk on a new “grit board” – a board that will be full of triggers to hold to this mindset.  The board is not my idea, it’s from the author of Beyond Grit, Cindra Kamphoff.  Full disclosure I was lucky enough to hear her give a talk on the high performance mindset just this week..  She had a lot of great things to say – I recommend looking her up.  She gave us some of those code phrases yesterday to help.  One is CTC – control the controllable – and recommends to say this to yourself when the negative thoughts arrive.  Another one she had was APE up.  A for attitude and p for preparation and e for effort. For some reason I really like this one as well.  It’s easy to remember.  I think Mr. Stan Williams really embodies all these aspects, as demonstrated by the care in his writing and the fact that he took the time to write on a day that he had heart surgery.

He had other great answers to my questions – here, I ask (in horrible handwriting, I know) – What about playing baseball brought you the most joy?

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What was your favorite moment in your career?

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Returns like this one really are priceless.  I hope through this post that I can help pass on to others some of this meaning and value.

Thank you Mr. Stan Williams for taking some time to write.  I know you don’t own a PC, so I will print this out and send it to you so you can know how much your response meant and how it’s helped.

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Feeling like a kid again: Some autographs and Romero’s debut in the middle of the work week

A few weeks back I decided to take a day off and go to a Twins game on a weekday.  It was a 12:10 start and I figured it would end late afternoon with enough time to get home before dark.  It’s about a 90 minute or so drive for me to the stadium.  It really was the perfect setup.  I’m lucky enough to have a job where I can take a day off about once a month if I want.  This is something that really helps my mentality and staying away from negative spirals and depression.  Knowing I have some time set aside for myself, self-care, really helps.  It gives me a chance to slow down and pause and focus on something fun.  It’s akin I think to Google’s policy of having employee’s use 20% of their work hours for any project they want.  It gives one permission to relax, to dream, and work on moving that dream forward.  Or to get your mindset right.  For me it’s more about the mindset and recharging.   For me a day at the park does wonders.  It was like this for me as a kid and still is for me now.  Something about baseball must trigger the calm mindset, letting me truly relax and pause and embrace the now.

Since I was a kid I’ve added photography to this.  I’ve also realized that to me photography is a form of meditation.  It helps me see the world as it is right now.  To find moments of joy, emotion, and beauty in an ordinary day or a regular baseball game.  With my sports photography I want to focus on the joy in baseball, the beauty of it, the emotion and grit in it.

Originally this game didn’t really stand out on the schedule.  It was just a chance to see the Blue Jays, a team I don’t see often, and try to get some autographs.  I debated about trying for the Jays but have heard they don’t sign well as a team.  So instead I switched gears and found a second row seat in section 104 on the Twins side.  I’d never sat that close for an MLB game.  It was everything I’d hoped.   The players were close enough that I could hear them snapping out instructions to each other, though I couldn’t quite make out what they said.  The crowd noise was just enough to take that clarity away.  So was the perfect breeze.

I was actually able to get up to the game right as the gates opened.  I only had a few minutes to wait.  Since it was a day game the crowd was smaller and I didn’t have to deal with that many people this early.  A good spot in the first row awaited me and I settled in. The atmosphere felt relaxed and easy instantly reminding me of when I was a kid in Seattle, going to Mariners games in the Kingdome.  We of course were indoors but it was the chill attitude of the fans around me that took me back.  It somehow felt different from a night game on a weekend.  This felt like a different crowd.  These were fans here to enjoy a baseball game.  There was a student promo, I think, related to tickets, so there were a lot of students there as well, simply enjoying the fact that they weren’t at school on a weekday.  That was it.  We were all there to just enjoy the day.  The gorgeous, near cliché picture perfect weather.

We were also lucky enough to be there for the debut of Fernando Romero, a top prospect for the Twins.  I will admit that although I’d gotten his autograph at TwinsFest in January, I still didn’t know much about him.  He was in the back of my mind though at this point as I just chilled and watched the players warmup.  They were right in front of me.  A lot of them were relievers – Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rodgers, Zack Duke, Phil Hughes, and others.  Max Kepler and Robbie Grossman joined them later.  It was just fun watching them toss a ball and stretch out.  This was the game I remembered from being a kid.  Players out warming up.  They were relaxed as well, it seemed.  More in the moment, perhaps.  There’s definitely a different attitude around a day game that I was feeling.

Of course I’d brought my autograph notebook (can be found at Target for $5) and hoped to get a signature or two.  I wasn’t that optimistic – I hadn’t had much luck at Target Field.  Today would prove otherwise.  In the end I got five and just had so much fun with it.  I was a kid again.  Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rodgers, Matt Maghil, Fernando Rodney, and Max Kepler.  I still had my old skills and philosophy.  Always be polite, never push, and let the kids get their autographs first.  Help them if you can.  I always like to have an extra pen or a card on hand in case someone needs it in a pinch.  At the previous game I went to this year I was able to give a kid one of my blank MN Twins auto cards, and he got Jim Brower.   There were a lot of kids and students near me today so I was extra careful not to be aggressive.  It paid off – players can see this, and I’ve seen them stop signing or not come over because of poor attitudes.  This is really important and I can’t stress it enough.

The one player I really had hoped to get at the start of the game was Fernando Rodney.  I had a phot of him I’d taken from the All Star Game in 2014, in a Seattle Mariners uniform.  Luckily he did come out near us and warm up.  I got my photo out and watched, hoping.  I got a few other players during this time and ended up near a group of younger kids.   This is where Rodney came over.  I wasn’t in the front row, not near it, really, and hung back.  I was just starting to think I’d miss out when a random girl turned around and asked if she could hand my photo to Rodney to sign.  She seemed about middle school age (these years were not good for me as a kid!).  I’ll admit it felt weird saying yes, but she was being super nice and I didn’t do anything to prompt it.  So it wasn’t like I was paying her (I know this happens and can’t stand it) to get an autograph for me.  So I handed her the photo and he signed it nicely.  I am fairly sure he knew it wasn’t hers, but still signed it.   I just want him to know I didn’t pay her to do that – that isn’t how I go about getting autographs.  It’s not my way.  But thank you Mr. Rodney for signing the photo! It’s going to be framed for my wall – it’s a favorite photograph I took, and from when you were a Mariner as well.

Getting my own photographs signed is something I really enjoy doing.  It’s a big part of why I like taking photographs at a game. I challenge myself to get top quality photos for this.  And today I was going to push myself – I was going to use the manual settings on my Canon Rebel T4I. I’d spent the previous weekend playing around with them and taking photographs of my kids and backyard.  It seemed I’d found some good settings to try at the game, including taking shots in RAW format.

They did work well for most of the game.  I found that they worked best for portrait type shots and less so for action.  During the warm ups I focused on Robbie Grossman and Max Kepler and came away with some of my favorite photographs.  I’ve always loved the reflection effect in players’ sunglasses and I actually managed to get this with Kepler.  In this photo he actually seems to be looking right at me.  Maybe he was – I was pretty obviously taking his photograph.   I also never realized he had the 030 tattoo.  Now I’m curious as to what it means. 124FACB4-7123-4438-AE9D-A0CE31E5C35E

 

I got some other fun pictures of the guys warming up.  Including Fernando Romero in the outfield.  I can only imagine the thoughts going through his mind as he stretched and began tossing the ball.

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I love the next photograph of Romero holding up the ball and staring at it, as if he’s talking to it or just praying that it’ll obey his commands for the day.  I wish the photograph was a bit clearer but the focus was slightly off.

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There was one other moment in particular that caught my eye during warmups.  When Gregorio Petit came out – he was just called up, this was his first game as a Twin, I think – he and Logan Morrison shared a close conversation.  It seemed like the type of moment that good friends share, or even brothers.  I really want to know the history behind it.  It also was clear to me as I watched him throughout the game that Petit was thankful to be in the Majors.  He seemed to thoroughly enjoy every moment of the game.

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Clearly there is a friendship between Petit and Morrison.  Soon after taking a few more warmup shots, I focused on Romero at the mound.  I really wanted a “Topps Now” type first pitch photograph.  But I soon realized this might be difficult.  From my angle Logan Morrison set up to essentially block the pitchers mound! I managed to get some decent shots of Romero in his debut, but not one that really jumped out at me.  I’ll have to try again at another start of his to get that one shot.  The one I like the most in the slideshow below is of him raising his gloved hand to the sky.

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Despite the odd angle toward the pitchers mound, I did find I had a great view of players running to first base.  I was really able to capture some great shots throughout the game in this moment.  The one I like the most is of Mr. Solarte just after he crossed first base, the look of frustration and intense emotion clear on his face.  Somehow I even got a sun flare off the helmet.  This is a moment that really shows the grit of the game how it can humble anyone.  We have all had these moments.  When no matter what you do, it just doesn’t break right.

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It was fun watching players up close through the camera on the way to first.  There were various expressions and emotions happening on each play.  These are some of my favorite photographs from the day.

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I was also in a good position to get shots of the base paths and some action at second base.

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These are just some of the photographs I was able to take during the middle of a Wednesday.  The entire day was just relaxing and good for the soul.  It was a good reminder to take the time to pause and rest.  Do what you need to do for your mental health.  Take the time.

I know I enjoyed it.  Whatever it is for you, I hope you do as well.

 

 

Joy and grit in the history of the game: Tony Dungy, Steve Raible, and John E. Hetki

In the past few weeks, I have gotten more great returns from both baseball and football players.  I’ve written to guys with just a few months of professional experience to a Hall of Famer in Tony Dungy.  It’s clear to me that all have a deep joy in the game they play along with an even deeper grit and willingness to push through hard times to reach their goals.

About two weeks ago I got one of my favorite returns.  Mr. Tony Dungy! He was kind enough to inscribe both cards I sent and include a note.  I asked “What part about coaching football brought you the most joy?”  His response: “Seeing our players improve and grow!”

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The signatures are bold and easy to read, along with the HoF inscriptions.  Thank you Mr. Tony Dungy! His address can be found on Sports Card Forum if you want to try sending.  It did take at least 2 months or so, probably more than that.  I love how he took the time.  It shows care and grace and it’s always inspiring to see that.

Steve Raible, original Seahaw and voice of the Seahawks: “The roar of the 12’s” and lifelong friendships

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Another return I am really happy to have is Steve Raible.  He was an original Seahawk and the voice of the Seahawks.  I didn’t listen to nearly as many Seahawks games as I did Mariners games, but I can hear Mr. Raible’s voice in my head from the ones I did listen to.  He is also a news anchor at KIRO NEWS 7 which I listened to a lot as a kid.  If I recall right, they had the Mariners games, and I also listened to their talk shows.  That’s right – as a younger teenager, I’d listen to some talk radio over music.  Or oldies instead of the current stuff.  The one station with current (90’s) music that I listened to was The Mountain.   As a member of the 12s (and also a Vikings fan) out here in Minnesota, it’s great to get a return from Mr. Steve Raible.  I sent to the KIRO NEWS 7 studio.  The address is on SportsCollectors.net if anyone wants to try.  It took maybe just a week.  He also had some great answers to my questions.

“What part about being a news anchor do you enjoy the most?”

 “The opportunity to inform our community everyday of the most important, relevant meaningful news stories.”

“What part about playing football did you enjoy the most?”

“Lining up on Sunday against the best in the business was exciting.  The roar of the 12’s when your team makes a big play was incredible.  But the best thing is the lifelong friendships made with teammates and opponents alike.”

“What part about announcing did you enjoy the most?”

“I enjoy the entire process of broadcasting a game…from preparing during the week…to interviewing players and coaches…to working with my broadcast partners on game day.  The best thing is calling a touchdown in a big game, when it’s all on the line.  My favorite moment – when I got to say…”12’s they’re bringing the trophy home.  Your Seahawks Super Bowl 48 Champions.”

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John E. Hetki: Never say I can’t

John Hetki was a reliever who played for the Reds, St. Louis Browns, and Pirates.

The attitude of “Never saying I can’t” is a trait that I think all of these players share.  It took incredible grit and determination and joy to play at their level.   This is an attitude I try – and struggle at most of the time – to emulate.  I love Mr. Hetki’s return because he wrote a quote down that my wife echoes all the time for me.  I am going to get a special top loader for it and have it on my desk as a constant reminder.  It really is a quote to remember.

“Never say I can’t always say I’ll try.”  Simple and to the point.

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He also answered a couple questions – and reminds us to not ever take anything for granted.  Form him he was happy that he got to play against “top notch” talent and win.  He played from 1945-1954 (eight seasons).  There are so many legends of the game that played during that time.  I can only imagine what it was like.  It was a completely different era than today’s game.  This is one reason why I love getting responses from guys who played then.  I get glimpses of what that was like, and little ideas and hints of what it took to get to that level.  What Mr. Hetki sent – the quote – is something very tangible that I can have on my desk to help remind me when I get in those dark spirals.

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So thank you very much to Mr. Hetki, Mr. Steve Raible, and Mr. Tony Dungy for writing back and sharing thoughts about the joy and grit needed to acheive it.

 

 

Finding another level: Ray Ripplemeyer

Last week I received another success that resonated.  This one is from Ray Ripplemeyer (link is to Wikipedia page), who had about three months in the majors as a pitcher with 1 win and 1 start.  If you read through the Wikipedia page as I did it became clearer that he was a lifelong baseball man, a coach who loved the game.   I didn’t have any cards of him so I sent some blank cards from TheAutographCard.com and asked a few questions written out on index cards.  He sent back in under two weeks, signing both blank cards and adding two extras of his own, a 2011 Topps Heritage “Players Sample” and the Tides pitching coach card.  These are now favorites of mine because he sent them.

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But his answers to my questions are what stands out.  In particular, his answer to “What is your advice for when things get tough?”

He answered:  “You have to reach down to another level and fight your way back in sports and life.”

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I also enjoyed learning about the favorite moments of his career – winning 1 game, getting 28 hits, and getting a home run!

In his answer to “Do you have other stories you want to share?” he also talks about how you “have to outwork other people.  I’m lucky to enjoy a wonderful life now because of it.”

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These two phrases connected with me.  I can have trouble bearing down and reaching that other level he talks about.  So it always helps to hear that is what is needed – and that it can lead to a wonderful life.  I need to remember that when I get cranky and depressed about life itself.  When I get into a negative spiral and thought-pattern I just have to remember that “this too shall pass.”

I am actually reminded of a quote from Lin-Manual Miranda.  I didn’t think I’d be connecting Ray Ripplemeyer to Lin-Manual Miranda in this, but the underlying principle is there.  From a coach and big league pitcher to Lin-Manual Miranda, one of the biggest stars in Broadway theater.

Miranda quotes:

“This feeling will pass.  This workload will pass.  These people will pass.  But look at you, with the gift of memory.  You can time travel to the good stuff just by closing your eyes and breathing.  Then come right back to now, eyes up for the good stuff ahead.  You magic thing.”

“Come back to now.  Eyes up for the good stuff ahead.”   This is the line that is reflected, I think, in the quotes from Mr. Ray Ripplemeyer.  It takes hard work in the present, the now, and you have to reach for that other level when things get tough.  But it is all worth it.  One just needs to remember it as Mr. Lin Manual Miranda so elegantly states.  I will be keeping this quote in mind along with Mr. Ripplemeyer’s.  I hope that by sharing these with you I can help you at least a little.

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Quote by Lin-Manual Miranda, photo by Alex Kent.

Joy and grit in the history of the game: Bobby Richardson, Gil Coan, and Len Okrie

This blog is about the joy and grit that are a part of the game of baseball and all sports.  There is so much joy in the game that I see every time I watch.  It takes a ton of grit and determination to get there, and in all aspects of life.  Lately I have been struggling with my mental attitude and negative thoughts.  It’s a form of depression that I need to find someone professionally to talk too.  I’ve been dragging my feet about it.  Because in my head, and this is the insidious part, talking to a therapist is a form of weakness.  I shouldn’t need to do that.  But I need to get over that and talk to someone.    This hobby and writing letters through the mail is a form of therapy for me in that it provides me with a project and a goal.  I’m finding this past week that if I can focus on the fun of doing the project itself, of having a project, that can help.  But I still need to find someone to talk things through with.

Mr. Len Okrie: Bear down at all times

In the past month, I’ve gotten some great returns from guys who were part of a different era of baseball.   Bobby Richardson, Gil Coan, and Len Okrie.  All three of these returns are ones I will cherish.  They took the time to answer some unique questions.  The answer “Bear down at all times” from Mr. Len Okrie resonated.  It’s something I need to remember and I think we all should.  It’s a work ethic and a philosophy that needs to be embraced more in life.  I know I need to.

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Len Okrie missed three seasons (1943-1945) serving in World War II (See Wikipedia for more information on his career).  Words are not enough to express my gratitude for his service.  But I have to at least say thank you for what you gave all of us.  His baseball career lasted one season.  He was a backup catcher for the Washington Senators in 1950.  A different time, a different era.  His response – “bear down at all times” – I think really reflects an aspect of that era that we need to carry forward into life now.  It can help all of us.  It’s helped me and I will work to adopt it more.

His answers regarding his dad are poignant.  I feel honored that he took the time to answer my questions.  It’s touching to know that his dad is the one who inspired him the most in life.  Thank you for sharing, Mr. Len Okrie, and your time in the majors and your service will never be forgotten.  I will work to bear down at all times when things get tough.

Gil Coan: The joy of opening day

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Mr. Gil Coan’s favorite moment was Opening Day in 1946.  His first game as a New York Yankee.  I get chills thinking about the history in this statement.  In 1946 the Yankees had Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra.  Two absolute legends of the game.  And I’m not even a Yankees fan.  But I love its history, and these two are giants.  I can only imagine what it must have been like to step onto the field with those two.  And right after the war ended. A time where baseball gave America a chance to hope and the joy when it was sorely needed.  It was a game that could be enjoyed for the mere fact it was a game.  With heros, fans could get behind and see play.  And this is the time when Mr. Gil Coan played.

I am not as religious as some might be, but I do try to listen to God on occasion.  My wife is more religious than I am and I have been slow to listen and embrace the thinking in religion.  It is hard for me to get over a lot of the negative aspects of it.  But in the past few years, I am seeing more of the positive.  The community and friends that can come from it are there.  So I will endeavor to be more open.  But I completely respect those for who Christ is important and a big part of their lives.  As I respect all religions and the philosophies in them.

Thank you, Mr. Gil Coan, for taking the time to answer my questions.  I still get chills just thinking about Opening Day in 1946.  There is always so much hope and joy in the moment of Opening Day.  I am sure all of that was magnified for the 1946 season.

Bobby Richardson: Winning the pennant 9 times

The last return from the golden era of baseball is Bobby Richardson.  His greatest joy was “Playing on a Yankee team that won the Pennant 9 of my first 10 years.”

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Again there is so much history wrapped in that statement.   He played for the New York Yankees for 10 years, 1955-1966.  He was on the losing team in 1960 and still won the World Series MVP.  I love having this inscription.  It just shows how much his impact on that series was respected.  I’m not sure that would ever happen in today’s game.  In 1962 he was second in MVP voting behind none other than his teammate Mickey Mantle.  That shows how good he was that year.  He was the second most valuable player behind another mythical player of the game.  Mantle.  I am honored to have Mr. Richardson’s signature and his answer to this question.  It helps capture an entire decade of history when so many myths and legends were born.  It’s an era that I wish I could go back in time and see and experience baseball how it was played then.  I love the sport as it is now, but there was something back then – perhaps it was more ingrained in the American spirit and drive.

The nature of the game: Teaching grit and joy 

It isn’t so much now, I think.  I would love to see it become what it was back then.  A true part of the fabric of America, of the grit and joy that drove this country to greatness.  It can get there again.  I know it can.  We have to remember the potential baseball has to showcase the grit, joy, and hope needed to succeed in life.  Baseball can help teach us the grit needed in life in a way no other sport can.  It has to do with the pace of it, the long grind, the camaraderie it can create.  And the philosophy to bear down when things get tough.  This is what baseball can teach us.  And it can bring us the joy and hope of Opening Day in 1946 and in 2018.  Let’s embrace this.  The nature of the game as it is.  A joyful, hopeful game that rewards grit and the ability to bear down.  We can not let this be lost.

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Learning this grit and the ability to embrace joy can only help me as I deal with my own depression and negative bias.  This is a major reason why I love the game and the history of the game.  The pace of it, the chance to relax and embrace it, give me the time to think, to breath, to reflect.  I love the game because it helps remind me that grit is needed to reach the joy we all seek.  I am reminded that I need to enjoy the journey – the season – all 162 games – to really be happy in the end.

 

 

 

 

 

A cold start to the season brings a field to life

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Only in Minnesota can you get a sunburn and freeze during a baseball game.  Saturday was my first game of the year.  Usually, I don’t attend games this early but had to go to this one.  It featured my two favorite teams, the Mariners, and Twins.  So either way, I’d be happy with the outcome.  This time I went as a Mariners fan and wore my Felix Hernandez jersey.  I also went as a collector and a grapher, hoping to get a couple signatures.  The cold weather made the odds long on getting anything but I brought my cards anyway.  The other aspect of this game is I went alone, without family.   The easy answer is that I’m the only one crazy enough to go when it’s just 30 degrees out.  Which is true. But it also gives me a great sense of peace being at a game, getting to soak it all in, without any distraction.  I also got a seat closer to the field to give myself a good location for photography.   This would also be my first game with the new netting up.  From a fans perspective, it is fine and doesn’t interfere with the view of the game much.  As a photographer, it presented challenges with focus and making sure the settings are correct.  I lost a few action shots that would have been easy and stellar because the camera focused on the net and not the player.  A challenge to learn from for next time.  As a collector, I didn’t mind it because there was still a section with access to the field.  It kind of actually limited the access to one area which was nice in a way.  I didn’t worry as much about where players might go to sign.  I’d love to go with normal weather and crowd to see how it really goes.

Obstacles

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When I first got to my seat I was a bit worried as it seemed like every big guy in the park was next to me.  I definitely had a “you’ve got to be kidding me” moment.  This and the net gave me a lot of variables to be aware of.  But a good photographer works around and with them.  Incorporates them as much as possible.  Or goes with the flow and takes moments as they arrive.

A living field

One of those moments lasted throughout the first few innings. A simply amazing and gorgeous occurrence that I’d never seen.  The field was breathing.  Mist rose off the surface of the dirt just like it would off a river.  This was due to the water they spray on it before every game.  It was stunning that something so routine caused the field to become almost alive.  So for the first innings, this is what I tried to capture.  A definite challenge with the net and fans in the way.  If only I’d had a clear view of the field! I would have been lying down with the camera nestled in the grass by the on-deck circle to get the true effect of this.  Imagine tendrils of dog wrapping around players feet as they ran or dove for a ball. I could envision these photos so easily but had to make due with where I was.  Kyle Seager was my best subject, perhaps, and I did manage a couple good shots of him among the living Infield dirt.  But my mind still sparks with the possibilities!  This is one reason to go to another cold-weather game and sit even closer to the field.   This is another shot of Sano at third base with the living field.  These photos came close but are not quite there in terms of what I wanted to capture.

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The fog dissipates

After the fog drifted away I focused more on the player again.  I tried shooting through the net at the batters and that worked for about the first 4-5 innings.  I got a decent one of Eduardo Escobar’s swing.  I may send this to him through the mail with a couple other photographs for a few signatures.  I think he’s a decent signer mail-wise.  He’s great in person and always willing.  This will also be a good photo to learn how to edit out a foreground layer in photoshop.  Which I’ve never attempted.

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Legendary Ichiro

I also had to contend with the group in front of me.  Nothing against them, but they definitely added to the challenge of getting good shots and timing.  Luckily they somehow managed to be gone whenever Ichiro came up to bat so I managed some clear shots.  I got one that shows exactly who Ichiro is or was.  He tried bunting for a base hit.  At 44 years old.  He almost beat it out.  Watching him I remembered just how fast he was when he first got to the majors.  I saw him back in Spring Training before he was officially a Seattle Mariner.   From that point on he was a favorite of mine – so fast, fluid, and such an athlete.  Fun to watch.  I know back then he’d be safe at first.  Not now.  He’s lost a little something.  But not much.  And he’s 44.  Truly incredible.

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After Ichiro’s-bat bat, I started focusing more on the pitcher, Jose Berrios.  He looked like his usual self the first few innings.  Mowing hitters down efficiently.  There’s something in his windup this year that’s lightning quick.  I can’t pinpoint it yet.  This image and motion remind me of the attitude of the great pitchers.  Those old school ones with grit to make it.  I saw this in his first start and even more so as I took some shots of him in these first innings.  There’s just something in his windup.  It’ss tight, taut, ready to unwind with a quick snap of power.

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Then the outing changed.  It may have been the cold.  An easy excuse but I think there was something to it.  Ichiro did get on in his second at-bat, after a spray hit, and Berrios I think paid a bit too much attention to him.  He is Ichiro after all.  It’s understandable.  It’s here, I think, that Berrios had to pitch out of the stretch and perhaps that and the cold is where the unraveling started.  Ichiro and the cold can do that to anyone.  I didn’t get the best shot of Ichiro on the paths in this at-bat but got a fun one of Ichiro and Mauer together.

Based on how I remember things and saw them, it was a combination of Ichiro and then Dee Gordon and the cold that got to Berrios.  Ichiro may have lost a small step but he knows the basepaths and how to distract.  Dee Gordon followed.  The other Mariners players can only improve their baserunning abilities with Ichiro to show them how.

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Ichiro looked more like his old self on the basepaths as he rounded second and got to third.  These are some of my favorites from the day.  They brought back good memories of watching Ichiro in his first years with the Mariners.  No one was as fast or as good at bat control during his prime years.

Focused moments through Creative Auto setting

Then Ichiro came around to score.  I love watching a moment like this through the camera, as I can spot details like facial expressions, the shape of the shadow, dirt flying from the heal. I lost the sweet spot a bit here though in terms of the netting even though I had the same setting.  This just shows the difficulty of shooting through the net.  But it’s something I’ll have to figure out how to handle.  For most of my shots, I used the Creative Auto setting, set to a sharp background and a blurred foreground.  The key was in the direction of the light and how it struck the net, I think.  On the basepaths rounding second, the lighting was good.  Heading home it shifted enough so the netting just caught too much of the light and shadow, and the camera couldn’t handle it with the setting I was using.

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After Ichiro scored there was a mound visit.   It didn’t help too much.  Dee Gordon got on and did the exact same thing as Ichiro did.  I remember Gordon because I kept trying to get a shot of him taking off to steal.  Berrios threw over to him at least three times, I think.  This added time out in the cold.  Berrios was effective when he could be quick and efficient.

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He was forced to slow down and pay attention to the runners.  His motion slowed a bit perhaps.  He couldn’t just deal.  He had to be out in the cold longer.  Feel it more.  And it got to him enough.  This will be a learning experience for him and he’ll be fine.  He’ll come out mowing down batters in his next start.  He’s going to be fun to watch this year and will be the Twins ace.

Losing focus

Soon after this shadows and contrast increased and it got a lot harder for the camera to focus on the batter.  So instead I focused more on the basepaths and the outfield.  I found oddly enough that the camera did a better job focusing on the action a bit further away.  This angle was a lot better in terms of getting crisp shots.   This shot of Dee Gordon at second is probably my cleanest shot through the netting.  You can hardly tell that its there.  I may print this off and send it to him through the mail.  It’s available on my Flickr site for download if you are interested in it.  Just please let me know when you use it or if you manage to get a copy signed! I love it because it shows just how cold it was that day.  You can barely see his face.  Baseball is not meant to be played in this weather.  Having now seen a few games with these cold temperatures, I can confirm that.  This shot also shows the danger that Dee Gordon is on the basepaths.  Along with Ichiro that makes a great combination.   This is an area where I think the Mariners can excel this year and cause problems.

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A blurred out failure

From this point on I really stuck with the Creative Auto setting.  However, this is one point where it failed me completely.   I tracked a fly ball to center field and was zeroed in on Dee Gordon.  I pushed the shutter and thought I’d got the shot.  A quick look confirmed that I’d missed it.  The camera focused perfectly on the net and there is Dee Gordon in full Superman mode – completely blurred out.  I sorely wish this one had turned out! I’ve never gotten one that had this potential before.  I will have to keep challenging.  This is part of the challenge.  Part of why I love photography.  Moments like these are lost, but other moments are found and end up being the most meaningful.

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I did manage to get more good photographs from this point on, but the netting became more of a presence.  But I do love the shots of Rosario and Ichiro in the slideshow below.

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A new perspective

In the bottom of the seventh, I decided to try for a new angle.  I also wanted to check out the press booth in right field and see if anyone was there prepping for postgame.  There wasn’t – I guess it was too cold! I settled in next to the press booth.  It offered a view of the entire field and I could zoom in on home plate.  I’ll admit I was getting a bit tired of dealing with the net.  It was also just fun watching the game from a different vantage point.

Soon after I moved the Twins began a rally.  They ended up getting the bases loaded with Logan Morrison at the plate.  He fouled off at least three pitches.  He had so much power behind those swings.  Just missing his timing.   I really think he’ll be just fine this year.  But one can see this slump is starting to wear on him.  You can see it, I think, in his expression right after this swing.  He thought he had it.  So did the fans in the background!  Everyone is ready for him to break out, including Morrison.  I think based on how close he was on these swings he’ll be breaking out soon.

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Loneliest job in sports: Relief pitcher

After these swings, I also had to focus on the pitcher.   There is one shot that I think shows how lonely their job can be.  He’s facing a guy trying to break out of a slump who has just tagged several pitches.  He’s bearing down on everything he has to get him out.  At this moment below I wonder what is going through his head.  How he calms down for this moment.  I also really thought Morrison would break through in this at bat.  Just based on how many close calls he had.  That usually results in at least a hit.  It didn’t.  Which shows this is just a run of bad luck.  It has to change for him.  All of that has to be going through Juan Naisco’s head, in some form or another.  He has to throw the right pitch to get a good hitter out at the moment that will decide the game.  In this instance, Naisco bore down and won.

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Nicasio is all alone in this photo.  He’s looking down, gathering himself.  NO one is looking at him.  He’s in a full stadium and is all alone at this moment.  This is something I’ve never thought about before.  Just how lonely this could be.  It makes me admire relievers even more.   This is another reason why I love photography.  It sparks new thoughts about a game I’ve loved my entire life and know so well.

Out of reach for the Twins

After Morrison’s at-bat the game got quickly out of reach for the Twins.  In the next inning, they jumped and the Twins didn’t really have another realistic shot at this one.

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I had a blast at my first game of the year, despite the cold.  I do look forward to when mother nature decides to get back to normal.  This was a good warmup to what is going to be a fun season of baseball for the Twins!

 

 

Time for a few autographs: Chris Hoiles and Brent Rooker

Today was a fun mail day.  Two great successes from Chris Hoiles and Brent Rooker.  I sent cards to Chris Hoiles because I remember him as a catcher with the Orioles in the early 1990s.  He stayed with the Orioles his entire career from 1989 to 1998.  These were my prime collecting years.  I jumped into the hobby full steam about 1989/1990.  Mostly I bought Fleer and Donruss, and the occasional Upper Deck pack.  I say occasionally because of the cost.  I loved them from the moment I saw them – the photography drew me in.  It was either the action shots or the close-in portraits that really showed a player’s character.  This Chris Hoiles card is the epitome of a perfect action shot.  The dirt is the kicker.  I don’t recall exactly, but I may even have seen Chris Hoiles in person once or twice against the Mariners.  I did see him play a few games on television since I watched as many Mariners games as possible in the 1990s.  But what I remember about Chris Hoiles is he was gritty and tough, not afraid to get dirty as evidenced by the 1992 Upper Deck card.

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Of the three signed cards, 1992 is my favorite.  I chose it specifically because of the photograph.  All the dirt everywhere provided what I thought would be a great background for an autograph, either in black or white marker.   This is something I try and pay attention to when sending out a card – the background and the photograph.   This 1992 Upper Deck has a little extra, the right aesthetic, that really makes an autograph pop and make it something more. It helps that Mr. Hoiles has a decent autograph.  The fun thing about this return is that I addressed the envelope to my oldest son and me, and he chose the 1992 card.  I’ll be putting it in his binder.  My youngest gets the 92 Ultra and I’m keeping the 1993 Upper Deck one for my set.  It was just really fun seeing his excitement as he chose the card.   Thank you Mr. Hoiles for signing all three.

That 1992 Upper Deck one turned out great and really shows the hidden value in some of the “junk wax” era products.   I love hunting through a stack of these cards for guys who sign through the mail and choosing the right photo.  If you are just starting through the mail autographs pay attention the photography and overall design.  I like cards that have an understated border, one that showcases the photograph.  Then take a look at the photo itself.  Make sure it isn’t dark, and finding one with a prominent single lighter shaded color helps.  Like the dirt in this 1992 UD shot.

A couple from Brent Rooker and an extra! 

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The other autograph is from Brent Rooker, a Minnesota Twins top prospect.   From Wikipedia, he was the Collegiate Baseball national Player of the Year[1] and SEC Player of the Year in 2017.  I sent a handwritten letter to him near the beginning of Spring Training.  Part of the reason is I’d seen his autograph before and thought it was quite a nice one.  I asked if he could sign one to my son Nolan, and he did.  So thank you very much! He is six years old now and becoming a baseball fan.  So adding Twins autographs to his collection is really fun.  The best thing about this return from Mr. Rooker is the surprise he added, a signed ticket stub from another Twin! I didn’t ask for anything like this in the letter I sent.  He just added it.  I love this.  It’s so refreshing that a current player will take the time to sign a couple of cards – very nicely – and add an extra.  I will admit, however, that I am not sure who it is.  Maybe Annibel Sanchez?  Any help identifying this is appreciated.  Thank you!

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But that doesn’t matter.  I love the mentality that this shows in Mr. Rooker.  He took the time to add this and personalized the card to my son clearly.  I really appreciate this.  It’s something that we need more of in the game today.   Please don’t lose this attitude.  I hope that you can talk to other players about why you do take the time and help to instill this in other athletes around you.  This attitude can only help the sport and bring young kids like my son closer to this game we all love.

So, thank you Mr. Brent Rooker for signing, and for the extra autograph!

First game of the year on Saturday!

I will be going to my first game of the year Saturday! Though I love the Twins, my childhood team is the Mariners and I will be rooting for them on Saturday.  I’ll be wearing a King Felix Spring Training jersey and have a lower box ticket near the Mariners dugout.  I am looking forward to spending a day at the park – even though it will be chilly (long johns will help).  I love my boys but this game is just for me.  Baseball gives me a sense of peace and calm that is good for my soul that I really can’t get in too many other places.  It’s something I need right now.  Just a day at the ballpark.  Something simple.  I’ll be there with my camera and a small notebook of cards.  Hoping against hope that I’ll get lucky and get a signature from Felix Hernandez or maybe even Ichiro.  Or Robinson Cano.  Or anybody, really.  The cold temperatures won’t matter at all.

If you spot me there feel free to say hi and talk baseball.   I’ll be the big guy in a Felix Hernandez jersey.

Go Mariners!

 

Mark Hamburger: Effortless joy in the game

On Opening Day just something simple about the joy of baseball

Effortless joy in baseball – words from Mark Hamburger and photos by Alex Kent. 

 

I find joy in so many places in baseball…

…so many aspects of baseball where I find joy.

I find joy in the preparation before games,

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Putting on a beautiful uniform,

 

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walking out of the tunnel on a packed night,

watching a play you’ve never seen happen and it’s one of your best friends,

the smells,

that one fan who has good baseball chatter,

the feel of my body when it’s feeling effortless,

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a cracked bat, a caught line drive,

a 3-6-1,

an umpire with a good strikeout call,

animals running onto the field of play,

veterans of the game throwing out the first pitch,

a quick smooth national anthem,

a boisterous crowd,

foul balls into fan territory,

the sunset almost every night game

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A note:  Please take a look at my other articles about first getting an autograph from Mark and then getting to meet him and his family at a game, just search for Mark Hamburger.  The articles are the first two results.

Thank you and let’s play ball!

An epic return from Coby Fleener: A game used glove

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This is why I do this hobby. For epic returns like the one I got this week from Mr. Coby Fleener. He not only signed and personalized my two cards, which turned out great, but he included something else as well. A signed game used glove. This is the first piece of game used memorabilia I’ve ever owned in any sport.  It will get displayed proudly in my collection.

This is just one of those acts of generosity that is so important.  I did ask him to send the glove, not really expecting to get one.  But I did! I also asked him to keep the Saints card but he sent it back signed as well. It just shows the goodness and kindness that exists in Sports and the NFL.  For Mr. Fleener to take the time to send this, that says a lot. It’s so easy to get focused on all the negative aspects of the game that I just have to point this out.  There are players like Mr. Fleener who take the time to be good to their fans.  So I just wanted to be sure to say thank you so much for taking the time to send this.

Good luck this next year (and yes, this is coming from a Vikings fan)!

 

The card that traveled 8,000 miles

CA1F7F81-377B-45EE-B1A3-9F44EC9DDC48.jpegStephen Vogt really came through with this one.  So this card traveled about 8,000 miles.  I sent it first to Ryon Healy, it came back to MN, then I sent it out again.  To be honest I thought it was long gone when Mr. Vogt got released and then picked up by the Brewers.  It didn’t.  Somehow he kept track of it through all that.  That’s what I’m most impressed with.  I know I would have lost it, even if I had good intentions.  I really want to know how he kept track of it for over 8,000 miles.

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It arrived still in the top loader and a penny sleeve (which I don’t remember sending but maybe).  The card is in impeccable condition.  It could easily have gotten damaged in transit.  But it didn’t.  Through who knows what weather and how many different trucks and vehicles it survived.  I’m really impressed that Mr. Vogt kept track of it so long. Signed it, and sent it back to me.  It shows a lot of character in my opinion.  This is definitely a favorite card of mine now.

Thank you, Mr. Ryon Healy and Stephen Vogt for signing!