Professional photographer, Vincent Pugliese, shares his love of sports, one picture and one memory at a time.
Editors Note: Vincent Pugliese has spent the past 20 years traveling the country taking sports photographs for a living. Each picture tells a story. Each picture stores a memory. Each a window into sport, and how we connect to it. In ‘Beyond the Lens,’ Good Men Project Sports selects one photograph and tells the story behind the shot.
With MLB now kicked off, we look back at a special opening day . . . .
GREAT AMERICAN BALLPARK, Cincinnati, OH
My love for baseball reached it’s zenith when I was fourteen-years-old. Right before girls, cars and life took over. The apex was when a kind old mobster got me into the sold out opening day game when my beloved New York Mets celebrated their 1986 world championship.
Ten years later, I went from being a fan to a photographer on the field, a dream job I never knew existed as a child. But in the countless number of games I have photographed over the past twenty years, I had never been assigned to cover an opening day game before.
That is until this past Monday afternoon in Cincinnati. Walking through the dark corridor towards the field, that special opening day feeling returned. It wasn’t to the level that I felt back on that afternoon in New York, but it placed a distant second.
I’ve never gone on an assignment and not learned something new. It irritates me when I hear the phrase ‘Same thing, different day.’ The day I say those words is the day that I quit. There is always something to learn, and it’s often something I don’t expect.
As the pre-game festivities took place, I bounced around between the dugouts to photograph each of the players being introduced. It was refreshing to see the childlike smiles from many of the players before the game started. Gregory Polanco, the Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder, grabbed a handful of dirt to save as he was introduced for the first opening day start of his career. It’s possible that his grandkids will see that dirt someday.
I tucked myself into the photo well next to the Reds dugout as the players got ready to take the field to begin a new season. At the top step stood Todd Frazier, the third baseman for Cincinnati. Moments earlier, he embraced teammate Brandon Phillips with a hug. The 6’3, 215 slugger was hard to miss. What was harder to miss was his smile. As Frazier waited impatiently to run out to third, I eavesdropped on his conversation with teammate Marlon Byrd fromt he top step.
“This is just so cool,” he said like he was a fourteen-year-old at his first opening day game, as he looked around the sold out ballpark. “This is special. It’s perfect.”
I smiled for him. There were no camera crews following along. This wasn’t for show or to look like an everyday guy. He had no idea anyone heard him except his own teammate. He was simply grateful for where he was.
And then he did something that I haven’t seen previously. He looked down the steps towards the photo well and saw myself and two other photographers alongside the steps. With a giant smile, he walked down towards us, stretched out his right arm and gave each of us a fist bump.
“Have a great game,” he implored, and turned towards the field to start the season.
His thoughtfulness was rewarded almost immediately, as a few minutes later he robbed Pirates star Andrew McCutchen with a diving stab, and getting up to throw the speedster out at first.
After a rain delay, the Pirates tied the game at two before Frazier stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the eighth with two men on base. Hitless on the day so far, he had a chance to be the hero. His own words, spoken earlier that day, turned prophetic.
Frazier drove a belt high fastball into the upper deck for a three run homer, living out every little kids dream of becoming the opening day hero with a home run. The same way Daryl Strawberry did for me in 1987, as his three-run homer on opening day won the game against the Pirates, Frazier was the hero to a stadium filled with adoring young kids.
One of those young kids was his son, one-year-old Blake. As Frazier was interviewed after the game, he answered questions and then excused himself.
“Gotta go see my boy,” he declared.
After the excitement and adulation wore off, how did Frazier describe the day?
“It was perfect,” he answered. The same word he used before the game had even started. Before he was the hero. Frazier’s perfect day is proof that nice guys do indeed finish first.
Photo Credit: Author
This post originally appeared on the Into The Uncommon Blog.