On the Job: San Rafael Pacifics

Bud E. Luv sings the national anthem at Opening Day for the San Rafael Pacifics.

Bud E. Luv sings the national anthem at Opening Day for the San Rafael Pacifics.

The San Rafael Pacifics, an independent minor league baseball team, played its first game last night.  I was on hand at Albert Park in downtown San Rafael.

I needed a  picture for Marin Magazine, but since it was for the August issue so I wanted something from the scene and not from the action — and there was plenty of both — a couple of home runs from the home team, a duck mascot (Sir Francis the Drake), seats on the field, kids and families galore and a kitschy character singing the national anthem, Bud E. Luv (above).

The idea to renovate the old ball park (which seats 800) and use it for a summer baseball league was controversial. Neighbors worried about traffic, noise and rowdy fans. My studio is a block from the stadium, so I understood their concerns.

Based on what I saw last night, though, those worries were baseless. Parking was easy, the crowd was chill and despite a few opening day glitches (announcer Will Durst bowing out at the last minute, for example) all was under control.

I recommend a visit. The baseball is fun, the stadium is beyond intimate and the dogs are as good as those at AT&T. Now I want to go back and shoot some baseball.

photocrati gallery

America’s National Pastime

Giants Baseball fans

Now, don’t get me wrong — I love overindulgence and have indulged overly and often throughout my life. I’ve always believed, though, that incessant feeding of the inner beast (corporal or emotional) also requires eventual self-correction. In other words, excess is a big “yes” and it comes with a bill that must be paid with the currency of “no.”

Sadly, many of us — and particularly Americans — just ain’t got no “no’s” when it comes to food and drink. Few places is that more on display than during a game of America’s favorite pastime, where what’s happening between the foul lines often seems secondary to what’s happening in the beer and pizza lines.

Last night, my wife and I saw a great game of baseball — Giants vs. Rockies with the Giants winning 2-0 — in arguably the country’s greatest ballpark. We took the boat from Marin, sat down low, saw the Little Panda homer and had a couple of beers and dogs. All good.

What was evident, though, from the moment we boarded the ferry in Larkspur until we returned hom five hours later was many people view a ballgame as simply an excuse to publicly drink and eat as much as possible.

Guys were buying beers and cocktails two or three at time on the ferry, enough for them to get well lit by the end of the hour-long bay-crossing. At the park, people around us ate non-stop for nearly three hours. I watched them inhale hot dogs and mounds of garlic fries, crunch down plates of cheesy nachos and bags of peanutes, then wash it all down with beer after beer after beer.

The result was not bad behavior — nothing more than the usual Bud and testosterone-fueled boisterousness at any Giants or Niners game — but bad bodies laden with fat, sugar and carbs.

The young couple in front of us (above) were in their 20s, but were already 40 to 50 pounds overweight apiece, poundage that surely increased during the game. Nearby seats will filled with “older” people — 40s and 50s — whose beer-bellied guts ballooned out like those of pregnant women, whose knees, aching from carrying the extra weight, wobbled on the stairs, and whose backs, pulled forward by years of too many pounds, were hunched and rounded. They looked and acted decades older than their age.

And, yet, young and old alike, they ate and ate and drank and drank throughout the game, saying “yes” to thousands of calories. Clearly, they had indulged their ravenous appetites for years outside of the ballpark, but just as clearly the game provided an opportunity — and an excuse wrapped in the bunting of the national pastime — to amp up that indulgence to a feverish pace.

Why should I care? For a couple of reasons.

First, the drinking among men in their 20s and 30s these days seems to outpace even that of my generation, and I always thought we had set a high benchmark for self-excess. Of course, I realize this observation is ridden with irony and smacks of inter-generational typicalness.

More importantly, though, I should care (and so should you) because Americans are eating themselves to death and costing our society billions in the health care needed to treat diseases cause by obesity.

During the whole contentious debate on U.S. health care reform, obesity has been called the elephant in the room — one most Americans don’t want to hear about because it would force an admission that a simple change in behavior would improve their own health (and their children’s) and lower the overall price all of us pay for medical care.

If America’s National Pastime was just saying “no” to overindulgence more often, we could start saying “yes” to health care reform. Yes, it is more complicated than that, but it’s a good place to start.

On the Job: Father’s Day

Father's Day Little Leage GameEach month for Marin Magazine, I make a photo and write a short essay (200 words) that fills a page in the front of the book. Here’s an example about Life on the Edge, and another about being Between Sea and Sky.

For June, the editor wanted something about Father’s Day, a cliche idea, but I liked the challenge of creating something that wasn’t a cliche and thought I might find it at a local Little League game.

I spent a couple of hours at one game and made some fine actions shots, but couldn’t capture the moment I wanted between a coach and a player or a father and a son. I was looking for that instant, communicated visually, when knowledge moves from one generation to the next.

I returned a week later, this time to a night game and spent about an hour shooting before the game as the kids and dads warmed up, playing catch and a bit of pepper. As the light faded, I looked for some final shots. It would soon be too dark to shoot the game. Suddenly, the coach called all the boys near and he knelt before them. I has to change lenses and got off two frames before the huddle broke. The above frame image ran in the magazine.

Below is the essay I wrote to accompany the picture.


… And They Will Come

“Little League baseball is a good thing ‘cause it keeps the parents off the streets and it keeps the kids out of the house.” — Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra, the language-mangling New York Yankee, also once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

What you observe when you watch the boys (and a few girls) take to local Little League diamonds is that this diminutive form of baseball depends as much on the coaching talents of fatherhood as the hitting and fielding skills of the sport.

Take a night game, for example. The fathers arrive fresh from work, some in their suits, others already changed into colorful T-shirts bearing the names of their children’s teams – Thunder, Storm or Raptors, outsized words for such pint-sized players.

Out come the gloves, the bats and the balls. A simple ritual begins. Catch. A child throws. A father catches. Back and forth. Back and forth. Encouragement is given, adjustments made. The moment is timeless, the lessons eternal.

As game time nears, the young players gather around their coach. He makes eye contact, commands attention. A man never seems so large as when he is surrounded by children who look up to him. A good coach, like Eric Dahlke of the Timber Rattlers in the Mill Valley Little League, takes a knee before his team, knowing that little ballplayers need men who are big enough to meet them at their level.