Small Town Baseball - And It's Closer Than You Think...
By virtue of my website, I don’t need to tell you that I love photographing baseball and it doesn’t much matter to me at what level. I’m not going to lie however, and tell you that shooting Major League Baseball is just as exciting to me as shooting at the high school level. But, as I look through the my viewfinder, it almost doesn’t matter, in some respects, if it’s Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees or Matthew Graben of the Rochester Ridgemen – a sweet swing is a sweet swing and freezing one in a photo is gratifying to me no matter who the player at the plate is.
I’ve been spending a lot of time this month photographing a new team in town. They’re called the Rochester Ridgemen and they play in the New York Collegiate Baseball League. The NYCBL is a wood bat league for college age players, although I understand that teams can carry some high school kids as well. This league is funded in part by Major League Baseball and it serves, for these young ball players, as an opportunity to make the necessary adjustments in going from aluminum bats to wood bats in anticipation of a possible pro career. The NYCBL has had pros like Tim Hudson, Hunter Pence, Brad Lidge and others pass through on their way to the Majors. Former Rochester Red Wing and current Minnesota Twin, Darin Mastroianni, played for the Saratoga Phillies (now the Oneonta Outlaws) of the NYCBL in 2006.
First baseman, Nick Oddo, of Whittier, California, warms up his infield at Basket Road Field
The Ridgemen play at Basket Road Field in Webster and the games are free. Attending a Ridgemen game is a nice small town baseball experience. You’re close to the action and able to hear what’s going on out on the field, allowing you to become really engaged in their games. They have a few mid-inning activities but it’s not overdone. These games have a charming old-time ball game feel.
My initial plan was to photograph just a few games, more out of a curiosity. I seem to have gotten drawn in though, by the atmosphere of the park and the excellent quality of play. The welcoming, friendly attitudes of the team’s GM, Chris Rainwater, of Clermont, FL and head coach, Taylor Hargrove, of Denver, CO makes going to photograph the Ridgemen a joy. The roster is loaded with fine, respectful young men who seem to be loving their summer, playing baseball here in Rochester. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk with some of the dedicated parents who travel from all over the country to come support their kids. Becoming a fan of the Ridgemen, as I now have, is easy to do!
I could go on and on about the Ridgemen and the gentlemen who play for and manage them, but this blog is also about baseball photography so I should also tell you a little about my photographic experiences with them as well.
First off, the natural lighting at Basket Road Field is different than the natural light from my usual baseball photography home, Frontier Field. Right off the bat, you might detect a warmer type of light in some of the pictures. This is a result of the sun setting directly behind the third base side of the diamond. This can be photographically challenging at times but it can also be a very beautiful quality of light too. Photographing right handed batters, from the first base side, usually around 8pm, is really tough as the lens is almost pointing directly into the low setting sun.
Patrick Kinney of Indianapolis delivers a pitch in the low setting sunlight of Basket Road Field in Webster
One of the other photographic differences between Frontier Field and Basket Road Field is the on field shooting – I’m almost too close to the action at Basket. I literally stand within a few feet of the coaches boxes while on the field and my 400mm lens is almost too much. I find myself often leaving the field so I can get farther away when trying to capture second base double play action, for example. My perspective is also different at Basket Field so my images are slightly different from what I typically capture at Frontier Field and I’ve really been enjoying the change of scenery.
Visit the Rochester Ridgemen website at http://rochesterridgemen.com/