Cusic Classic

The annual Cusic intercollegiate baseball tourney is played here in southwest Florida, at a number of local municipal parks, over the course of several weeks. I've been very fond of these games since I was first assigned to cover them back in my newspaper days. This year I spent the morning, a couple Saturdays ago, watching the Coast Guard Academy play the Southern Vermont College Mountaineers.


Baseball is both a pleasure and a challenge to photograph. There are few places in the world happier than a ball park. I love the kick-back half empty stands of a summer minor league outing as much as I enjoy the congested excitement of the camera pit at a major league game. But the challenge to a photographer is in the game's all-or-nothing dynamic. Especially in the professional sphere, where you're lulled by long stretches of very little happening, interrupted by a sudden nerve-shattering spurt of everything happening... and plays are generally over in a few seconds.

The history of baseball is the history of the ascendancy of pitching. You can see this evolution in microcosm when you compare a little league game, splattered with hits, its often outrageously high scores, with its major league counterpart, where low, single-digit tallies are the norm. One of the most daunting challenges in all of sport is to connect with a ball thrown by a major league pitcher. A batter has approximately one second to perceive, judge, decide, and swing.

This has given rise to baseball's reputation for inducing boredom. But not for me. A superb pitch, its singularly observable trajectory, its smacking report in the catcher's mitt, its ridicule of even the greatest batter's talent, is a thing of endless enjoyment to me. To watch a great pitcher throw a no-hitter, to watch that face-off, so exposed and momentous, between throw and response, the rising tension and excitement that accumulates around each one, is a great sports experience. And of course a big hit, a crowd-rousing hit, a home run hit, is still a standard metaphor for transcendent success.

A lot has been written about the zen of baseball, its elegant, infinitely playable geometry, its spaciousness, the observability and sense of moment arising against that spaciousness. "A simple game riddled with nuance and complexity," writes Bruce Hoffman. "A team sport in which each player stands alone. A game of excellence in which failure is the norm... Baseball is infinite. It has no limits of time or space. There is no clock. The foul lines extend indefinitely beyond the field of play. Even the outfield wall is only there for convenience."

But now I can almost feel someone itching to talk about steroids, salaries, and scandal. So this is where I throw a curve and divert your gaze back to the tranquil and relatively innocent fields of the local ball park. To the college boys, amateurs all, who do it for love. The Coast Guard beat the Mountaineers 12 - 2. Not quite little league. But lots of balls in play. And a spring morning's worth of great bobbles, collisions, slides, popups, green grass and sunny skies.


slide show here

(If you click "pause slideshow" you can then click on the image,
or use your arrow keys, to advance at your own pace.)