Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Happy Birthday to you...Happy Birthday to you...Happy Birthday dear FENWAY... It has been a long time since I moved here, and it has taken me that long to be able to sing those words.
I moved to Boston from Washington, D.C. The last baseball team I rooted for was the defunct Washington Senators. Sneaking out of town and abandoning dedicated fans had left the capital teamless for over four decades, and me shell shocked. My father was a lifelong Baltimore Orioles fan, but that only left a hole in my expectations. I harbored a grudge.
Boston was a dichotomy of artistic and cultural progress built over a simmering powder keg of social and racial repression. Its sports teams for generations reflected the real personality of the city and the "complexion" of the sports franchises: resistant to change. Patriots, Celtics, Bruins and Red Sox fielded teams that looked nothing like the rest of the leagues.
Sports are supposed to transcend politics, but anyone who does not listen to sports talk radio knows better. Cities are mortal enemies because their teams are in the same division. Brothers and sisters gripe because they grow up cheering for opposing players. If the Red Sox were in the playoffs when school started in the fall, fewer rocks were thrown at buses transporting children to schools in order to desegregate the public school system.
Slowly times changed and so did the recruiting. All the teams got new management and owners who recognized that winning made them more money. In the last eight years, every one of the big teams has won championships. Boston can lay claim to "best sports city in the USA". The public energy surrounding their ascendancy has been fascinating to watch. I am a fan.
Late one evening while on assignment, my college classmate phoned me. My assistant was driving and my client was riding shotgun. We had just left him in southern Florida and were driving north to catch another plane. He told me to watch the lunar eclipse. Since we were both science geeks who had attended school with people just like those starring in "The Big Bang Theory", the celestial phenomenon was a big deal to us. Staring out the car window, it was beautiful. At the same time I told my assistant to turn on the car radio. The Sox were playing. Fully expecting to hear the worst, the play-by-play guy eventually announced that Boston had won the World Series.
When I first started photographing at FENWAY PARK, it took just a phone call to get a press pass. The "Curse of the Bambino" had kept World Series rings off Red Sox ballplayer's fingers. During many seasons the stadium was sparsely populated. Some years, only the diehards could be found scarfing down Fenway Franks and Cracker Jacks and overpriced beers late in the season. The PR department would let anyone who had an excuse and a camera take pictures.
Success has changed all that. The curse has been broken. Now it is a pain in the butt to gain access to any part of the team. Management wants to control every iota. In some respects, I cannot blame them, but there is a longstanding, tacit synergy between sports and photography. One does not thrive without the other. Fans extend far, far beyond the parks, pitches, fields and arenas where the games are played. Our cameras keep them close.
The venerable FENWAY PARK and the GREEN MONSTER celebrate 100 years this year. The stands are sold out now. I have gained permission to climb down into the photographer's pit along the third base line with my 600mm lens and contribute to the legend many times. Individually, I have had the pleasure of photographing Wade Boggs, Mo Vaughn, Roger Clemens and Nomar Garciaparra in the ballpark or in my studio. For a time they were like gods. It is ironic that they all left town under dubious controversies. Some signed baseballs for me. One even gave me advice about my hitting. But, all were total *ssholes; showing up late, abruptly curtailing shoots and just having "attitude" when they had agreed to the sessions...and the money. I take it in stride. After all I cannot hit a hundred mile an hour fastball.