Photographs by Art Becker © 1998 Story by Rick Lopez ©1998perfect-bound paperback / 54 pp. / 8 1/2 x 8 1/2 S.D. Warren Strobe Gloss 120# cover/100# text
Forty Publishing, PO Box 10393, Erie PA 16514
ISBN 0-9646065-1-8 $19.95
Reviewcd by David Nevard
Hello I Must Be Going
Way back in the days before the great baseball strike of 1994, there was a phenomenon called the baseball fanzine. It sprung up all over the country, as baseball fans suddenly felt the urge to WRITE w about a baseball team, or the whole game itself or anything in the universe that might have a little bit to do with baseball. We were one of the early ones to be bit by the bug, and we soon came in contact with others. A pioneer in the field was Between the Lines out of Syracuse, New York, which is now extinct, but it led us to James Floto's The DiamondAngle out of Hawaii. Everybody was reading TDA (and still is) and it was probably through them that we met Notes from the Shadows oŁ Cooperstown, The Chadwick Report, Bleacher Banter, and two of the strangest fanzines, both written on the shores of Lake Erie. In Toledo, John Roca was turning out Tribe Tract and Testimonial, a brilliant and totally indescribable collection of writings and graphic collages about the Cleveland Indians. In Erie, Pennsylvania, Rick Lopez wrote Baseball and the 10,000 Things.
The first issue opened with this quote: "Let there be joy in baseball again, like in the days when Babe Ruth chased an enemy sportswriter down the streets of Boston and ended up getting drunk with him on the waterfront and came back the next day munching on hotdogs and boomed homeruns to the glory of God." -- Jack Kerouac, Escapade, July, 1959
How could you not like that? I liked the way Rick Lopez wrote. I liked the fact that he had not spent his entire life wrapped up in baseball, that he had taken some time off after childhood and seen what the world had in it, and then come back to the game after 20 years because it held some questions and some answers that had been percolating somewhere inside him all that time. "The 10,000 Things--As in: 'the world and its 10,000 things,' (Lao Tzu) its multitude of riches, its infinity of nourishments for our minds and hearts, you know-- The Whole Shebang," that's where the title came from.
Rick came back to baseball in the glorious 1980's, when Gooden and Clemens were young and pure, and Kirk Gibson was a hero. The game somehow sparked our interest again. "Understand," Lopez wrote, "there have been similar sidelong pursuits in myriad realms, and a list of names and subjects could meander on for pages... but this baseball thing, it was viral, it really grabbed me." Eventually he had to write, and then he had to publish. "So I'm asking anyone who's interested in more than the presumed entertainment value of this, to talk to me. About Baseball, about moral imperatives, about great books and films I need to eat, about who's going to make it to the Series this year, about charmed quarks and chaos theory and genetic mapping and ALL of it, what Samuel Beckett calls 'THE BIG BUZZING BLOOMING CONFUSION OF THE WORLD.'" And so Rick did what a lot of us did, he started publishing a newsletter, or a fanzine, we like to call it, since it's not really informational -- not a letter of
news --but something done out of FANaticism, a samidzat, the Russians would call it, a self-published work. Nowadays, everybody can be a publisher, thanks to the World Wide Web. [In fact you can now find the complete Baseball and the 10,000 Things at http://www.velocitynet/~bb10k/BB10khome.html ] But way back in those days, brother, you had print out your pages and have them xeroxed and then send them out over that earlier world wide web called the Postal System, putting stamps on each copy and sending each one to a specific address. This was 1994. Rick Lopez was writing about an adolescent dope-shooting adventure, in a magazine about baseball. Aye, it took brave men and women to put their lives on paper and mail it to strangers.
Baseball and the 10, 000 Things was born in that preseason when the fanzine culture reached its full flowering, when about a dozen fanzinels (but not Rick) converged on the nation's capital for a weekend conference at the offices of Baseball Weekly (and later, a rib joint). It all seemed so rosy. Our faith in baseball was to be sorely tested that summer when baseball went on strike. BBlOK premiered in February 1994, published 4 issues, and expired after its February 1995 edition, whether by plan or fate or author's indifference. The last issue was almost completely devoid of baseball content -- but so was baseball itself by that time. After months of fruitless negotiations the game had become a mere abstract concept played out in the mind of Ken Burns.
My last contact with Rick Lopez had to do with a James Brown tape I sent him -- he had complained in issue #4 of sending away for "Live at the Apollo" and receiving another tape in its place, what a drag. I happened to be taping old records at the time, so I mailed a tape of the album.
When the baseball strike ended in April 1995, Rick Lopez was gone from the scene. The strike had a way of doing that. Other things were disappearing, like afternoon playoff games; baseball card shops; kids on baseball diamonds; baseball on a satellite dish; friendly spring training sites where fans could mingle with players; the fans themselves, as opposed to corporate sponsors; "the cheap seats"; cheap stadiums, too; the trading of baseball players as opposed to the trading of big contracts; hitting the cutoff man; playing for pride; and trying to finish first.
And now for something completely different This spring we received a mysterious black envelope from Forty Publishing. We opened it over lunch at Demo's Restaurant. A square book. Beautiful color photographs, mostly night game shots of the team that was for many years the Erie Sailols, but now has one of those gimmicky new names, the Erie Sea Wolves -- as if Erie was on the sea and not a lake, as everybody knows. And as if there were wolves that lived on that fictional sea, instead of in the forest, and they were some kind of pirate wolves, wearing pirate hats and sailing a pirate ship. Jack London wrote a novel called The Sea Wolf (see the movie with Edward G. Robinson as the evil captain Woff Larsen), but Jack London was from Oakland, so there's no connection there... Some marketing guy dreamed it up, apparently.
The photographs are indeed very well done, deep saturated colors dominated by the team's aqua blue and white uniforms. If you look at a baseball magazine you'll see the majority of photos are taken during day games, because it's a lot easier to get a good shot in the sunlight. You can use slower film to get fine detail, and still capture movement with a fast shutter. At night, in the dimmer light, the game tends to be moving too, fast, it's harder to stop the action.
But minor league ball is night ball -- outdoors, hot summer nights in small cities -- and Becker uses the available artificial ballpark light quite well. (For you Photographers, he's using Fuji Reala and Super G Plus film). The ballpark in the photos could be anywhere in the low minors. The crowd is small enough that you can hear individual voices. Some of the fans come every night and you recognize their voices. You can almost smell the popcorn in these photos. And then you find yourseft focusing on the individual players.
There are action shots, but in the best pictures, time stops. The team lined up during the national anthem, the pitcher staring in at home plate, the guy hanging on the fence lost in thought, or clinging to the dugout rail in anticipation, the tired sweaty pitcher in the dugout, the tense infielder waiting for the pitch. What are they thinking? Did you ever wonder?
Sometimes I move out onto the field and realize I'm ten feet tall.
That's where Rick Lopez comes in. He tells us what these 22-year-old kids are thinking, what the coaches are thinking, the crowd, what maybe God himself is thinking if he happens to be watching the game. Rick Lopez reads the photographs --and that is an art, the reading of a photograph. Most of us have seen so many photographs that by now we look without seeing. We register the image, zap, and turn to the next one. This book makes you stop and look a little more carefully maybe see something of what the photographer saw when he snapped the shutter. And maybe things the photographer didn't plan, like the graceful arc of tobacco juice spit in the visitor': dugout. A sample of the text:
MAN !The fences were drooped down low heavy-laden with youth, hundreds of nondescript faces hung on the wire like pale coins turned upwards to catch the sun, the thrumming churn of voices resonant with desire for a talisman to link them to the mighty gamesmen. Now and then some knew their names, made implied kinship part and parcel of the ritual of exchange. But mostly it was hey mister Hey Mister! Hey Mister Man! the sharpies and ballpoints swapped to and fro by anonymous hands. They went clambering after his scrawl.
The book was designed by Ed Roskowski, and he did an excellent job. There are samples of the photos on the Web at http://www.velocity.net/~bb10k/TimeStops.html
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