Assignment: A local kid (Seth Apel, who suffered from an accident that severed his arm in November, had it reattached, learned to throw with his other arm and returned to play baseball – the sport he loves) is throwing out the first pitch in front of an international audience at the Little League World Series. Secure credentials, travel approximately 180 miles the day of the event and get access to get a photograph of him throwing out the first pitch.
I get paid to make photographs and document the world around me for my newspapers, The Derrick and The News-Herald. I have to be there in the right place at the right time everytime I am handed a photo assignment. I take this pretty seriously and folks often tell me they like what I do.
To me storytelling with images is what I was put on this planet to do.
I try to “work” a story and put myself in the position to capture the essential elements to help tell a part of the story that sometimes words cannot or can only scratch the surface.
So with this assignment, to me, it was about more than just a throw – It is the experience of being honored and put into the spotlight of something that just about everyone on the planet knows about. So reporter Saxon Daugherty and I did what we needed to do to be there, gain access and be positioned to witness this historical moment in this young man’s life. (We could go on about how we didn’t know about a parking pass, which resulted in a lot of unnecessary walking, and bothering security at metal detector check points, etc. … but I’ll save that for another day!)
We were there as Seth tossed a brand new Little League World Series ball up and caught it, perhaps a little bored as he killed time waiting to be called onto the field. Snap!
We managed to ask our way out onto the field with him, though we were told earlier that we couldn’t go there and we photographed him behind the scenes during the day and waiting. We listened in as Stephen Keener, the CEO of Little League baseball himself spoke with the family and had a moment with Seth where he touched him on the chest and said it’s all in there. That WILL to play is all in the heart. Snap!
We were on the field when the mascot surprised Angie, Seth’s mom, with a kiss on the hand. A nice moment that adds to the overall story of this whole family experience with Seth. Saxon was there watching for his story and I was there to document it. Snap!
And when Seth looked up to see a blimp fly overhead (not something we see often in Northwest Pa.) Snap!
We were there, too, earlier when the family was walking around so we could ask about the experience and gain a little more perspective. We learned that quite a number of family members came to watch and enjoy the experience. Snap!
While we were there we took in a little bit of the experience and gave the Apels a break from being followed around. We walked around because we got there early to attend a press conference with the MLB commish. So we had a few hours to “kill.” I seldom can walk around without my eyes looking for photographs. Cotton Candy man! Snap!
I made a few photos for fun but with no real story in mind. A Canada flag cape. Snap!
A player walking across the manicured outfield. Snap!
If it caught my eye at all I made a photo. Most of these didn’t really excite me much, but a couple were OK.
I also made a few pictures of Saxon for fun and Facebook fodder. Snap!
But we were there to do a job for the next day’s paper. Saxon to write a story that encompassed Seth’s story that we have been covering since last November and this new experience in Seth’s journey in life. And, most importantly, I was there to get a picture of that first pitch.
There were a ton of photographers there all looking for that picture they were assigned to find. We all had the confidence and the know-how and when the moments happened before us we were ready. Snap!
When Seth walked out onto the field I focused my attention on everything around him looking for other things to include in the background to help tell the story of him at this time in this place. The background from where I was allowed to be wasn’t what I would’ve hoped, I wanted to be on the field with him and a wide angle lens with the stadium in the background.. I thought about that great Babe Ruth photo and that’s what I really really wanted. But I wasn’t allowed to do that. So I tried to make do. “Little League” on the back fence. Snap!
Seth stood on the mound. Snap! It was about to happen and I was ready. Got my focus ready. Another Snap! Here it comes. Snap! He winds up and I push the button.
I push the button.
Nothing. No Snap!
Are you (expletive) kidding me? Is screamed very loudly inside my head.
The ball sails out of Seth’s hand and the catcher corrals the ball and the moment is gone.
They call this the money shot, the one shot you need. The one shot that if you don’t get you failed the assignment. The one shot that … well I just didn’t have.
My belief in photographic moments and the ethics that come with that belief are such that I would never ever ask them to do it again, nor could I. This was an ESPN televised event and the local little podunk newspaper photographer who missed it was (expletive) out of luck.
You can’t imagine what was going through my head. I was sent out on an expenses-paid trip to get this picture and I don’t have it in my camera.
I noticed Saxon had his phone out and I asked him, did you shoot a video? He said yes, I said good and explained how my camera jammed and I missed it.
I’m a pretty confident guy, but this was a bit of a blow to my ego. But what was worse, I missed it and the family and the community will not have this picture to cut out of the paper.
I was trying to figure out what I did wrong to have this camera not fire and I just couldn’t figure it out. It just did not fire. It just did not fire. I shook my head (still shaking my head.)
A karma lesson perhaps? A “check your ego, son” lesson from a higher power?
Whatever it was, I was now reliving every photo I had taken that day of Seth like a slideshow in my head to see what might work to save my bacon. Saxon had a video, so now it was – find a picture that would work in the paper and we can tell people to see the pitch online in his video.
I was scrambling mentally at warp speed. Seth being interviewed, Seth looking at the blimp, Seth … what else was he doing, c’mon man, think. What picture will I be able to use to save the day?
There were still picture possibilities since Seth hadn’t left the field so I just focused on getting what I could to tell a deeper story. I missed “the money shot” but I could still hope for a meaningful image.
As Seth left the field I was behind him as he went through the dugout of the Great Lakes team getting ready to take the field. Each player and coach on that team had listened to Seth’s story told over the loud speaker and as Seth was leaving they put up a high-five hand or a fist bump for Seth. I was again feeling I was in the wrong place, but was determined to get something of this very cool moment.
In my mind, in those few seconds, from missing the pitch to walking through the dugout, I knew I had a close up of Seth with a World Series hat on and already decided that was going to have to do, that was my lead picture for Page 1.
I also knew I needed more than 1 (you don’t get sent on a road trip for one picture usually).
This last picture of him being greeted by the Great Lakes team I knew was meaningful and fit perfectly with something the commissioner said earlier in the day after Saxon asked him about Apel’s story. It struck to the heart of this moment. Snap!
“Stories like that really do tell you something about the role baseball plays in our culture. Baseball occupies a special place in our hearts.” – Rob Manfred, commissioner of Major League Baseball told the room of reporters after learning about Seth’s story.
Now I still had to call back to the paper and admit I didn’t have it and offer my alternative plan. I admit I didn’t want to have this conversation with my editor. I was pretty embarrassed about it, even though, the best I can tell is, it was some fluke camera malfunction. It does happen from time to time, but I only really remember it when it happens at critical times. This one certainly takes the cake.
I just had to suck it up and admit I didn’t get the picture. Whatever the reason.
I took this funny picture of Seth and thought his expression about summed up my feelings at the moment. I also thought it represented him making fun of me after I joked with him earlier. Snap!
In retrospect, I realize I did a lot of things right that day, but when something goes wrong, that does overshadow. Today, looking at the images that do tell a good story, I feel better, though I still think I needed that one picture I didn’t get.
I do think the idea of the “money shot” is relative overall. The money shot is a shot that gets to the heart of the story. It can be something that isn’t obvious.
Seth Apel got to stand on the mound on one of the most famous sites in all of baseball, a sport he loves so much he overcame an injury to learn to play one handed and has done so at a pretty high level. He stood where very few young guys his age ever get to stand and throw a baseball in front of thousands of people in the stands and perhaps millions on TV. So, with that I’ll just leave you with this one last picture of Seth at the Little League World Series.
NOTE: Look up Saxon’s story in the Derrick and News-Herald’s 8-23-16 edition. Saxon is an outstanding reporter and it has been fun watching his excitement for writing and covering events. He gets what being a journalist means – it’s not a job – it’s storytelling and providing a community service. He is dedicated and energetic and I’m proud to work with him. His instinct to make that video that can be viewed on our website attests to his desire to give our readers something more than just a brief dry explanation of an historic event. His dedication to finding the right phrases to make his stories informative and enjoyable to read shows why he is such an important part of this community and our newspaper.