The Search For Personality In Baseball

A Photographer Spends Two Weeks In Spring Training

Josh S. Rose
Mar 2, 2019 · 12 min read
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Strike Zone. Photo by Josh S. Rose, 2019.
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And The Pitch, Spring Training, 2019. Photo by Josh S. Rose.

A League Of Its Own

When it comes to the personalities of the game, MLB is the opposite of the NBA and the NFL. In basketball and football, you know everything about the players. Thanks to the media, you know who they’re married to, what clothes they wear, their workout routines, car collections, kids, charities, music preferences and all their celebrity friends. In baseball, most of what you know about a player can be found on a baseball card. Depending on where you sit, that’s either baseball’s shortcoming or its intrigue. And depending on how you view the world, baseball is either way behind or gloriously unconcerned with their major league peers.

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Barehanding, Spring Training 2019. Photos by Josh S. Rose.

Similarity Breeds Contempt

The first thing you notice when photographing baseball practice is just how similar everyone’s moves are. Almost identical, in fact. In basketball and football, it is entirely possible (and probable) for one person’s individual effort to be associated with the most dramatic moments of the sport. The drive, the sack, the interception, the catch — all opportunities for individual glory. And all vastly different kinds of physicality involved. Basketball offers the same, with its last second shots, big rebounds, ankle-breaking moves and steals. In all cases, one person breaks out of the normal physical restraints of the sport, and physics, and does something remarkable, by himself. Baseball, on the other hand, rarely relies on one-person’s heroics for a win. Sure, a player might have a great game hitting, but it is almost always coupled with a good performance by the pitcher and other players. Likewise, a pitcher can throw a one-run game and still get a loss if his surrounding players don’t score 2 or more. The most individualistic achievement in baseball is the home run, yet in the worst version of it, he does it solo.

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“Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls — it’s more democratic.” — Crash Davis (Bull Durham)

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Mirrored Images, Spring Training, 2019. Photos by Josh S. Rose.
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Running, Spring Training, 2019. Photo by Josh S. Rose.
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Practice, Spring Training, 2019. Photo by Josh S. Rose.

Well-Rounded is Boring

In baseball, it seems that all players are imbued with a sense of the whole and their entire training involves detailed and pinpoint interactions with others. There is no great pitching without great catching. Double plays usually require a third of the team working in exact coordination with each other and with an inherent collective understanding of the best play to make in any given situation. In fact, from a photographer’s perspective — where my usual job is to isolate my subject — it was near-impossible to take a photo that didn’t involve groups and/or interactions between players. And the moments you do think of as individual — the at-bats, base-slides and running fly ball catches — rarely look different from person to person, or even from era to era, so that even great solo efforts somehow become incorporated into a baseball whole.

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Swingers, Spring Training, 2019.
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Conference, Spring Training, 2019. Photo by Josh S. Rose.

“You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: ‘We gotta play it one day at a time.’” — Crash Davis (Bull Durham)

The Search For Personality

With all this as a backdrop, the real challenge is finding a way to photograph baseball in a way that captures the player more than the game. The camera is drawn toward history. Baseball’s visual encyclopedia exists in everyone’s mind the same. There is an exact frame where a big swing looks best, where the bat rests most naturally on a shoulder and where a pitcher’s throw appears most dramatic. You already know all these shots — they are imprinted in your brain at the DNA level. Your body tells you to snap at the appropriate time and from the correct angle, regardless of the personality of who’s doing it.

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Big Swing, Spring Training, 2019. Photo by Josh S. Rose.

Oddballs

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Cabbage Run Contest, Spring Training, 2019. Photo by Josh S. Rose
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Good Morning, Spring Training, 2019. Photo by Josh S. Rose.
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Bob Henley gets his Valentine’s Day gifts from the pitching squad, Spring Training, 2019. Photos by Josh S. Rose.

“Makin’ love is like hitting a baseball, you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250, unless he had a lot of RBIs or was a great glove man up the middle.” — Annie Savoy (Bull Durham)

Once I keyed in on the insight of humor, I started to see it at work everywhere. One afternoon during a simple pop fly drill I walked out to get a closer look and overheard one of the coaches riffing as a player cycled back for a grab:

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Slide Practice, Spring Training 2019. Photo by Josh S. Rose.

Photo Day

Still, the question remained for me, how would I catch it? It’s the kind of thing you experience more than capture.

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Team Portraits, Spring Training, 2019. Photos by Josh S. Rose.
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Portraits on Nationals feed, 2019.

“I’ve tried them all, I really have. And the only church that truly feeds the soul day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” — Annie Savoy (Bull Durham)

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Getting ready to play, Spring Training, 2019. Photo by Josh S. Rose.

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