Reliving my streetball days…digitally

The boys of summer

In the digital photographic age, which is evolving and changing at a pace that reminds me of how “desktop publishing” rocketed into the creative mainstream in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it’s said that a photographer needs to know how to shoot video to be viable in the marketplace.

While many still-image shooters are clamoring to learn the ropes, I feel somewhat comforted that I’ve got a leg up, due to my years of traditional advertising agency experience. As my competitive compatriots struggle to learn to tell a story over time, rather than in one shot, I already know how to meld my graphic design, copywriting, and broadcast chops into a video stream.

All I need, is a compelling story to capture. And for me, compelling means something I can relate to. And boy, have I found it.

My sons, and their neighborhood friends are pumped. A local Quickball tournament has been announced.

“Quickball?” Yup… It’s a modified, snappy-fast form of “pickup” baseball that former pro great Cal Ripken has popularized across the country. It emphasizes the fun, immediacy, and whacky spontaneity that impromptu neighborhood games embody. Without the broken windows.

All three of my sons are Little Leaguers, and one still plays Babe Ruth baseball. But they never seem to have more sheer, raw, testosterone-fueled fun then when they have a pickup game of Wiffleball or Junkball in the street. Just like my brother and pals did back when I was their age:

To the uninitiated, stories of spanking, even the controlled – and yes, loving  variety my Dad doled out, must sound like prisoner of war torture. It wasn’t so in my mind. Real violence happened between brothers. Or on the baseball field.My brother and I were brutal to each other. Brutal as in caveman. Brutal as in medieval. But like seemingly all other brothers growing up, if someone in the neighborhood threatened either of us, the other would come riding to the other’s rescue like Mad Max. It was comically illogical. But beating the crap out of each other was a private, intimate sort of thing that no one else was allowed to participate in.

Bobby Jennings tried. He got a few good punches in on Tony one day after my brother was, admittedly shooting off his mouth. And Kevin Hale was posturing and doing the Sugar Ray dance until I came out of the garage carrying my Black Beauty. (That was my pet name for my favorite aluminum baseball bat that I had painted flat black and had re-wrapped the handle in black electrical tape.)

Bobby and I were perpetually vying for the neighborhood Home Run King title.

We always ran neck and neck. But if push came to shove, no one wanted my bat upside their head. And the pushes and shoves were going from them towards my little brother. So out I came. And off they ran, away from “home plate” at the intersection of Alma and Churchman.

After Mr. Whiteneck threatened to call the police on us for playing at the field across from his front porch, which just happened to be owned by the Hazelwood Sanitarium, we abandoned real baseball for a modified version using tennis balls on Alma Street. He hated when passed balls went beyond the catcher and into his yard. Foul balls tended to go bouncing onto his front porch.

“The Field,” as we dubbed it, was sacred space. In summer, we played baseball there until it was dangerously dark, and in fall, we played football until someone got hurt. Football was merely a convenient way to take up time until baseball season came back ’round. Baseball was the way we worshipped. God invented baseball, and God rooted for the Cincinnati Reds. Unfortunately, our beloved field shared little in common with the hallowed environs of Riverfront Stadium. It was hilly, and uneven, and was divided into two large sections by a low land backed with towering oaks. That low land was perpetually swampy, and served as the warning track for the trees. Therefore, “the swamp” was homerun territory. I proudly deposited more than my share of leather into that muck, and occasionally, took off a few oak leaves.

Our feudal, combative intimacy was breeched twice. And both events transpired at The Field.

The local Quickball tournament was scheduled for this weekend, the 10th through 12th. The boys were disappointed to hear that it was pushed to October 2nd. As my eldest put it, “I nearly spewed my breakfast cranberry juice when Mom told me that.”

But when I heard, I realized there was an opportunity.

I’m going to capture their “road to the tourney,” all with high-def video shot with my Nikon DSLR and a mixture of zoom and prime lenses. I’ve got the digital microphone and boom stand, and the hot lights ready to go.

They’ll balk at the “interviews” and will no doubt ham it up when I’m shooting them squaring at the plate for practice – which just happens to be right smack in the middle of the two garage doors at the head of the driveway.

I don’t mind the “bang” of the ball against the aluminum door. It contrasts beautifully with the “whack” of a sweet-spot hit, landing gently through the front yard trees of the neighbors across the street.

They don’t mind, either.

Be watching for that video, probably appearing here in late October, after the big boys of summer have declared their World Series heroes.

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