Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Brandon's Unknown Talent: Baseball Card Photographer

It was 2001, I was the Director of Media Relations/Community Affairs for the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings baseball team in Harlingen, Texas. Rapidly approaching was Team Baseball Card Night on our promotional schedule and we didn't have any cards made yet or had take any pictures yet and the deadline to get the photos in to ensure delivery by game day was only a day away.

We had no money to hire a professional and this was just before everybody and their mom had nice digital camera. So, since I had a camera that was a little bit more than a normal point-and-shoot - a beat up 35 mm Canon AE that was originally my parents when I was a kid that I had equipped with a nice zoom lens - I was enlisted to take the pictures.

Nevermind the fact that I had no experience and didn't really know how to use my camera that well. Until that point, I had just taken pictures for my amusement. I really didn't think that I'd do some work that would have to be published. But again, since the team had no money, it was up to me. I had one day to get it right.

I found the cards while I was home last week and all in all, given the circumstances, they aren't that bad. The color is horrible - I've always had trouble with the color on that camera for some reason. And some of the players I just couldn't get a good picture of - Willie Oropeza and Carlos Duncan in particular.

But some are really good. I love the picture of Joel Barreto because he was one of the only players that I took portraits of that smiled for me. No surprise there, he was always happy. Too bad you can't see his eyes. That's the problem with baseball caps.

And Joe Fretwell was such a good guy, one of the best dudes on our team. The card is a little weird because they cropped the picture so much, but the original photo is incredible and because of the beer ad over his shoulder, it fit him perfectly. Not that he was a drunk, it just worked with his personality in a weird way. It's one of my best pictures I've ever taken. I gave him the original when the season was over.

Clark Viegas was one of our coaches that we also signed to play for us late in the season when we were out of contention and didn't want to go through the hassle of finding a player to come down for only a week or two. This picture is great because it captures him looking like he's a coach showing you proper technique, but it also captures him as a player as well. Plus, he was a good guy too so I was happy to get a good picture of him.

Many of my best pictures were of the nicest guys on the team because they would help me out by posing or smiling or would let me keep taking pictures of them so I had a bunch to choose. The worst pictures are of guys that didn't care and didn't help or I didn't like enough to make sure they had a nice picture they would be happy with on their card.

And then there's the Jamie Clark card. Don't even ask me how I got him in this position, there's a point when you are throwing long that you hit and I somehow captured it. It was the only one that turned out of him, so I had to use it. Turns out it's one of my favorites and he was cut from the team before the cards were even finished, so I doubt he even saw it. I got future Major Leaguer Bobby Madritsch in a similar pose.

It still amazes me that I was asked to do these cards in the first place. It clearly illustrates just how shot the budget was for the WhiteWings that year. We didn't have a very good year on the field or in the stands and it hurt. It got so bad that there were times when payroll almost wasn't met. Occasionally our assistant general manager had to go out a few days before payroll and personally collect checks from people that owed us so that we would have enough money in the bank. Ah, the life of an independent baseball team.

What also amazes me is that this was only seven years ago - just yesterday in my book - and nobody associated with the team had a digital camera yet. That's crazy. The technology has advanced so quickly, has become so cheap and so readily available in such a short time period, it's absurd. Now anybody, and pretty much everybody, could take these pictures.

To see the whole set of professional baseball cards with amateur photography - these are crappy scans, by the way - click here.


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