Over the past few years, certain seasons have come to mean so much. Not because of blooming flowers or falling leaves. This is South Florida and the weather doesn't change much here. But two springs ago, the opportunity to photograph Girls 8U Softball (thus, softball season) came into my life.
I'm not ashamed to admit that my initial goal for shooting the sport was to capture amazing action shots that would build my portfolio. For example, in one of my prize images, a player has just caught a line drive at the pitcher's mound to make a critical out. The very shallow depth-of-field sharply reveals her player status to the viewer: worn-in and dusty black jersey, protective facemask, neon yellow ball firm in glove. Her fluid body position moves dynamically across the green of the blurred outfield.
But as it turns out, there's more to the story. The captured moment displays unmistakeable proof of something I know she's been working on for four seasons; it's a pinnacle moment in time that is built upon relentless effort: days and nights of practice. Hitting drills, running drills, throwing drills and catching drills...getting drilled—by the ball—in the arm, thigh or hand. Intense heat and rain. The perseverance to convince her parents that they should integrate the practice field into their daily commute.
Because I have been witness to this history of her (and all the beautiful softball players I've photographed), the true purpose of this image gets elevated from the selfish want of a photographer to a visual affirmation of the unyielding determination these young girls exert in order to be an integral part of their team.
Through the lens I learned for the first time that blood, sweat and tears is not just a catchy metaphor.
Take a look at the dugout on game day. Sweet childish beauty reflects from their batting helmets and eye black. Their moms did their hair for this. Because I was there, I know that behind that gate, before those smiles, there had been countless missteps and character-building moments, including: bruises, ice packs and band-aids; the choice to share each other's beloved bats; warm-ups (air squats!) and dancing to stay loose; older siblings stepping up as dugout managers; top-of-the-lungs cheering; disappointment and loss; perhaps some jealousy for the girls who had to share playing time; and tears over everything and all of the above.
Through the lens I saw all of this.
Many times I've stood with my lens locked on the intense body language of a batter 40 yards away, predatory in her stance, preparing to swing and planning to destroy the ball. My finger hovering over the shutter in anticipation of that single moment when that fire ball finally makes impact and explodes.
Tick, tick, BOOM.
Sometimes, when she strikes, that fiery anticipation can extinguish before impact as the judgemental voice of a sideliner hacks through the batter's concentration, distracting and diminishing her confidence. Magnified by the lens I can see her determination deflate. The slumping of the shoulders, the eyes rolling back as doubt rains in. I get jolted by the raw negative ions as they push across the field through my glass. It's a defining moment for a girl. But each time she rises up from a fall, she proves that even negative energy creates an opportunity for emergence into greatness.
Best of all, through the lens, I saw so much of what the girls see in themselves. And the resulting testimony exudes a boundless hope for their future. Our girls are fierce competitors who want to play, and play to win, fearless in the face of a challenge. Just eight years old and they are going up to bat for their own personal right to contribute to the team, to be the best teammate, to lead their squad to victory, to showcase their honed talent, to show up and take action against the enemy, come rain or come shine.
Needless to say, photographing these girls and this sport has turned out to be more than a portfolio photo project. It has been a peek into the authentic grandeur of our future leaders. I'm very excited for what I see.