By Rodger M. Wood
The Latin teacher whom I was subbing for nearly the past two school years did me and my baseball photography a hugh favor when she returned to her classroom April 7th with a clean bill of health.
Unlike the past two seasons when I couldn’t get started shooting my photos, except on weekends until mid-June, I immediately drove off on a Zebulon, NC junket to see the young Salem Avalanche and Carolina Mud Cats play a weekend series of day baseball.
Blessed with the likes of Boston Red Sox 21-year 5-tool outfielder Manny Margot, hard hitting 1B Sam Travis, 2013 1st Round pick LHP Trey Ball, RHP Teddy Stankiewicz, and 2B Wendell Rijo, Salem is loaded with top prospects, who are making baseball fun again in the Shenadoah Valley.
(Manny Margot Swinging a Bat at Carolina)
Carolina, a Fast A- Atlanta Braves affiliation, had 2012 #1 Round draft pick, RHP Lucas Sims, BA #8 Braves prospect Johan Camargo, and BA #14 Braves RHP prospect Maurico Cabrera on their roster. I also singled out Carolina quick outfielder Sean Godfrey for some attention from my camera. And even better yet, Derrick Lewis is their pitching coach, and Carlos Mendez., their hitting coach, both of whom were subjects themselves of my camera during their playing days at AAA Richmond in 2002 and Fast A Wilmington. In 1990.
(Johan Camargo, BA Braves #8 Prospect)
I followed up Zebulon with trips to Frederick MD for a Carolina League doubleheader between Cleveland Fast A Lynchburg Hill Cats and Orioles’ Frederick Keys, and to AA-Bowie, MD where I saw the the San Francisco Giants Flying Squirrels play the Baltimore Orioles AA- affiliate Bowie Bay Sox.
Frederick is blessed with the talent galore, namely BA #2 Orioles prospect, Hunter Harvey, BA #4 prospect catcher Chance Sisco, RHP Jon Keller, Brooks Robinson 3B look alike, 22-year Drew Dosch, RHP David Hess, SS Adrian Marin, CF Josh Hart, and 1B Trey Mancini. I always shoot many of my best shots in the comfort of Keys Stadium, and kept my camera busily focused on these future Camden Yards stars all afternoon.
(Drew Dosch Goes After a Bunt)
Lynchburg is blessed considerably with a pair of fast, hard-hitting, impressive young outfielders, Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier.
At Bowie, while I didn’t see Orioles’ BA #1 Dylan Bundy, I did see his older brother, Bobby Bundy pitch a shutdown 9th inning. Bobby has been out a couple seasons while he recuperated from injuries.
(Bobby Bundy Mows Down The Side in the 9th)
I also saw San Fran BA #12 Chris Stratton pitch 7 innings for Richmond. SF BA#3 Kyle Crick didn’t pitch.
The following day, April 22nd I traveled to Hagerstown, MD for the first tiime this season to see the young, Low-A SALLY League,Washington Nationals Hagerstown Suns play their Orioles’ counterpart Delmarva Shore Birds.
Hagerstown has some young pitchers to look at but Delmarva has a something else 3b Jomar Reyes, to whom I paid lots of attention .
(Jomar Reyes Guards the Corner)
The Sunday following, April 26th I saw Lynchburg again, this time at Potomac, VA where I started shooting photos back in 1985 when young outfielder Barry Bonds starred there, I once saw him make two errors in one game out there in rightfield, where the lights were dim. At the same time I saw him hit lots of rocket shots out of the ball park too.
Wilmer Difo was the hottest Washington Nationals prospect playing there at that time, and as a shortstop may give them insurance for free agent Ian Desmond moving on next season.
Wlmer Difo has since moved on to AA-Harrisburg, where I saw him play Sunday May 10th against the Pittsburgh Pirates AA-Altoona Curve.
(Wilmer Difo Steals 3B)
At Harrisburg that day, it was nostalgic time for me there as I saw two of my old favorites there, Altoona manager Tom Prince and hitting coach, Miquel Perez. Tommy taught me a new vocabulary in the 1980s when he played for Prince William (Potomac), Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh.
I first saw Miquel catch in the Pioneer League for the Cincinnati Reds – rookie league affiliate Billings Mustangs –at Ogden Utah in 2003 on an August day so scorching hot that you couldn’t sit comfortably or rest your camera equipment on a cast iron picnic table.
I was particularly happy to be able to see a 3-game Red Sox Low A – Greenville Drive/Hagerstown Suns series in early May to culminate the first month of the season, I’ve been a photographer since 1993 for not only Baseball America but also a super Red Sox fan must magazine, which is sold outside of Fenway Park, “Boston Baseball.” Unlike the past two seasons when I could only travel to the ball parks on the weekends until mid-June, this season I could travel up to Hagerstown MD Friday, May 1st, Sunday, May 3rd, and Monday, May 4th for two beautiful day and one early evening ball games.
The Greenville Drive has the likes of 3B Rafael Devers on their team, who clobbered two homeruns in one game, balls which are still probably in flight over Hagerstown now as they were blasts and a half.
(Rafael Devers Hits the 1st of Two HR at Hagerstown)
I was in my glory getting great posed and action shots of Rafael, as well as the other Red Sox prospects 3B/SS Michael Chavis, SS Javier Guerra, RHP Michael Kopech, SS Maurico Dubon, 1B/OF Nick Longhi, and a young outfielder, Carlos Mesa, whose numbers and demeanor also impressed me a great deal..
Wednesday, May 6th, I topped everything off by getting the opportunity from Baseball America to shoot the major league Miami Marlins/Washington Nationals game at Nats Park, in Washington, DC I thought for a moment when I saw the ball hit high towards right field again, that I was going to shoot a record setting four homeruns by Bryce Harper that day but unfortunately the ball dried midway and he was stopped at three.
(Bryce Harper Hits 3rd HR of the game)
It was great seeing my old friends from the minors, my old body guard, Nats bullpen coach, Matt Lecroy, who protected me once when the going got tough one time in Ft. Myers, FL, Nats bullpen coach, bench coach Randy Knorr, young outfielder, Michael Taylor, pitcher Jordan Zimmerman, 2B Danny Espinosa, 1B Ryan Zimmerman, RF Jayson Werth and other players I got to know in the minors.
Yes! The Latin teacher truly did me a favor – I have seen eighteen ball games already as of May 14th , sixteen day and only two early evening ball games, fifteen different teams, including two major league teams, at least half of the games ones, which I wouldn’t have been able to see if I was teaching Monday – Friday. While I miss the high school students, who kept me younger with their high energy levels, I enjoy getting to the ballgames earlier, to mingle, and feed off of the dreams of the young minor league ball players.
My photography is already at mid season form, I have improved my hitting and action shots by following a more self disciplined “see the shot first, then shoot” approach, and believe my pictures are more worthy of a major magazine cover or two because of their improved quality.
The sun has been shining bright for me – I am getting my second wind when most aging folks are putting down their cudgels, and all of a sudden, my dear wife is saying my photography is again the driving force in my life.