Thursday, August 21, 2008

Put me in, coach


If I learned one thing from the coverage I did last week for the Trentonian of the Little League Softball World Series, it is that I am not a cynical sports writer quite yet.

I’ve been guilty of thinking that the TV production values brought to the World Series of both baseball and softball isn’t very healthy for the kids involved, but from what I saw out at Alpenrose Dairy (which sits right at the border between Portland and Beaverton) I’m fortunately a bit wrong about that. I was a bit peeved after the championship game because I needed to talk with the coach of the Robbinsville, N.J., team I had been covering, and I couldn’t get to him; however, it wasn’t because he was avoiding the press, but because the teams – including coaches and players – were all busy doing post-championship awards ceremonies.

valentin_first base

I actually got a hold of Robbinsville coach Jim Freeman on the field right after the ceremony ended, as the LLSBWS staff was trying to rodeo all the fans, families, players and coaches on the field to engage in the world’s largest chicken dance. No, I’m not kidding. No, I did not stay, because I was on deadline. Whether that’s fortunate or unfortunate is not for me to say.


The above photo was from the semi-final game that the East representatives from Robbinsville, N.J. won; the photo below, after losing the championship game almost exactly a day later. Definitely a range of emotions.


Note that I said I interviewed the coach, not the players. I talked with some of the players after the game the night before – when they won to reach the championship – but out of respect I didn’t even think about talking to any of the girls after the game. It’s not because they’re girls – I would have done the same if I were out in Williamsport, Pennsylvania this week for the Little League baseball World Series – but because they’re 12 freaking years old. They’re not even college students, let alone high school students. After a pool play game, I saw a girl get pulled off the mound because she was starting to get tired as pitcher, get substituted out to shortstop, and missed a following play because she was crying about it. Sometimes you have to have a little sympathy about your subject matter.


I wasn’t just writing, I was also flexing my photographic muscles and shooting a sport I hadn’t shot before. It was fun; working around the limitations of my camera was an interesting challenge. Compared with the professional (or nearly professional) camera bodies some reporters and professionals were walking around with, I felt as if I was walking into a war zone with a squirt gun. Nothing like getting outgunned by gear that is easily $4000 more than my more entry-level setup.


As a photographer, I’m starting to understand the limitations to my gear and how it effects me and my work. There’s the obvious – I don’t have long enough telephoto lenses – but the other really big hurdle was my camera’s meager 2.5 frames per-second burst limit. Pro bodies push 6 FPS at least. That means you get that action shot instead of being just ahead or just behind the real moment that you need frozen in time.


At the least, though, covering softball reminded me that, yes, sports can still be fun and played “for the love of the game” – and that these top levels of youth sports have not sold out to crass commercialism. That a family and team of volunteers can still run the World Series is a wonderful thing in this era of sports-as-business.


All photos ©2008 Doug Bonham, with the full set available on Flickr available here.

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