My first steps Saturday morning were very measured. My ankles cracked, my left knee ached and “bounded” was the only way to describe my lower back. My internal alarm clock woke me at 6:45 Saturday morning after a Friday that left me near crippled. I felt every one of my 64 years and more as I lumbered downstairs.
The threat of severe weather forced the organizers of the Kansas Relays to move all Saturday track and field events to Friday. The new schedule of events, combining the two days, had me running from before eight o’clock on Friday until 1:30 Saturday morning. As much as I love track and field, my body was cursing me for putting it through such a long day.
Fortunately, a few naps and stretching eased some of the stiffness before Laura and I drove to Lawrence Saturday evening for the second of three baseball games against Texas. Laura suffered along with me after helping at the Relays, an afternoon meeting with rowing recruits and then photographing the 14-inning Friday night game against the Longhorns. Nevertheless, Laura wanted to go along Saturday, though not with cameras. She wanted to make sure I stayed alert. One swing of the bat took care of that.
On Friday night, as the game Laura photographed headed into the ninth inning tied, I called Laura from the track to tell her to move to the third base photo bay in case of a walk-off home run. That did not work out well for KU on Friday. Saturday’s results worked out wonderfully.
With the scored tied in the bottom of the ninth, and two outs in the inning, senior Connor McKay settled into the batter’s box. On the first pitch he blasted a scorching drive to left field that struck the light pole two-thirds of the way up the standard. That touched off an epic celebration.
Only on replays have I seen the home run. I remained completely focused on McKay, his teammates, the bedlam at the plate and the mayhem and sheer joy that followed. My legs seemed no longer weary as I sprinted with gear from the photo bay out to right field where the team gathered for their usual post-game evaluation from skipper Ritch Price. Instead, Price only took long enough to chest bump McKay and let the party continue.
Knowing towels with shaving cream would soon be planted on the face of McKay, I kept up with the athletic left fielder as he darted from player to player in celebration before finally stopping to speak with reporters. I was ready, and thanks to sophomore John Remick, the KU bullpen catcher, I was even better prepared.
Remick rarely plays, but is one of those wonderful people I am blessed to know. He is the perfect teammate, always ready to do anything, quick with a handshake, a word of encouragement, and in this case, an alert to me that a water bucket dousing of McKay would follow.
The entire celebration took less than ten minutes, but those ten minutes encapsulated everything I love about my calling as a photographer. Instead of me trying to explain how good I felt during those moments, I will leave that to my friend Joey Terrill, a nationally renowned photographer from California. I hold Terrill in such great respect that I shared the images with him the next day. I simply told him, “This is why I love my work.”
“You can’t make pictures like that and not love your job,” Terrill replied. “What’s even more amazing are the number of great images made in such a short period of time.”
“Probably one of the most striking things about looking at these pictures is the unrestrained joy on the faces of the players. It really makes you recognize the difference between college athletics and professional athletics. These guys wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
I know I would not have wanted to be anywhere else. This all happened so fast and required my complete attention. However, as I was running into the outfield, there was time to twice say, “Thank you, God.”