Photos don’t always come easy in sports

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 26, 2000

Sports Editor

Sometimes it’s hard to watch a game through the lens of a camera. Of course sometimes it makes it all that more interesting when all is said and done.

When I first became a sports writer I think one of the things that most looked forward to doing at the small-town newspaper I began my career at, was taking pictures. That is until they handed me a camera my first day on the job and said go cover the local baseball team at the State Playoffs.

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I got back that night not knowing what I had on that little roll of film. Turned out I had probably the worst pictures of a team’s final game in the history of the profession, but somehow I pushed on.

These days, after around four years of covering ball games and taking photos, it all still amazes me.

Some days you won’t get a thing. You’ll try all day and come out of the dark room with a bunch of blurry out-of-focus frames that you have to make something out of or explain why there’s no art on your page the next day.

Then, sometimes you get back and find that one shot you didn’t realize you had and it makes up for however many bad days you’ve had since your last great shot.

You see, wether people actually believe me or not, no one who carries the title "photographer" knows whether they are actually getting a good shot or not. Sure they have a good idea, but there are always those doubts.

There’s something magical about getting your picture in the paper though. I think that magic doubles when you’re actually doing something like playing a sport. It’s a moment in time when an athlete is thinking about everything but getting their picture taken. Then, low-and-behold, some sneaky sports editor has put it on his page for everyone to see.

That’s the name of the game for journalism folks. Names and faces ­ that’s what sells newspapers. And while I’m a writer at heart and take a lot of stock in the printed word, I do believe there is a little more "Ummmphf" in a picture than simply a name in a story.

When you wake up that morning and you or someone you care about is featured on the front page it makes you proud to know that person. I like to think that those who open the sports page everyday hoping to see their son or daughter get a huge thrill when their wish comes true. I think that’s what it is all about.

It’s easy to see the power of that kind of thing. Every time I, or anyone else goes out for me, they get asked a million times by players and parents alike to have their pictures taken. It’s one of those things you start to expect when you go out with that camera strapped over your shoulder.

If only it was that easy.

My personal idea on who’s picture goes in the paper and who’s doesn’t is pretty simple. I try and take the best action shot out of the bunch, but at the same time you have to be mindful of who you might have run a lot in the past. It’s a fine line you have to tread.

A lot of folks get left out I’m sure, but that simply makes it that more exciting when it does happen. If everyone got their picture in the paper everyday it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

Finally, I feel that those pictures in a local newspaper are huge for memories and records.

Many years from now a Kevin Stephens or Jonathan Neeley (who are pictured on my page today) will be able to look back and show their kids how they were on the CHHS baseball team. They have printed proof and that kind of thing goes a long way.

Personally, besides my column mugshot, I have had my picture appear on a sports page once in my life and because of that I will never forget a certain All-Star game when I was in little league.

You can see it on this page. It’s a fabulous shot taken by some sports writer for a local paper near where I grew up in Aberdeen, Mississippi. They plastered my face four columns on that page and I keep that photo on my desk as a momento.

That photo teaches me a lessen. It’s a picture of me getting tagged out at home after I got greedy and ran around third (much to the dismay of my thirdbase coach) in search of my first-ever inside-the-park home run.

I never made it as you can see, but if you follow the invisible line that my eyes are trained on, you can see just how close I was to crossing the plate.

I figure if nothing else that sports writer made me remember that game and that mistake of being greedy for the rest of my life. I wonder if I could track him down and smack him a good one?