If I said “You’ll be shooting CJ Wilson next week”, and you are a photographer, entrenched here in major league ignorant Cape Town, you’ll need to also wiki the man, and see what he’s about, a day before the shoot, filled with some sceptical thoughts. Who he is, what he does, and why am I following him around for two days? Now, if you’re a Major League Baseball fan, you’ll probably have a totally different reaction to mine. In fact, after spending some time on the net reading up on the man, I realised the likes of Tim Tadder, Chase Jarvis and Joe McNally would probably be very very stoked to shoot him.
In short, he’s a wiz-kid starter pitcher (the guy on the little mole-hill, who throws the ball and often chews tobacco) for the Texas Rangers, and apparently was quite a key reason the Rangers made it to the World Series of Baseball. And no, I’m not gonna say anything on the fact that there are 29 teams from the US and 1 from Canada in a World Series.
Now my brief was not so exciting, creativity wise, as I was to basically hang around him like a bad aura, photographing him as he’s interacting with kids and baseball coaches at a tournament held by the Athlone A’s and a pitching workshop he held two days later at Bothasig Baseball Club, with more advanced players.
Now, to the American readers of this blog, the biggest team sports in South Africa are rugby, cricket and soccer. We’re also big on golf, tennis, field hockey, track and field, boxing and martial arts (South Africa has the highest rate of karateka per capita outside of Japan). We play chess, we’re sports fisherman, we water-ski, we surf (big surf culture), we race cars, we run marathons, we play bowls… so, we like sports of all types, but many South Africans would probably assume that baseball is not played in South Africa at all. A friend of mine was even a provincial basket-ball player.
Now, I wasn’t that ignorant, as I stayed opposite a baseball field for six years after coming to Cape Town, but I must confess, I was very surprised at the amount of youngsters that are actually playing the sport. I, for instance, did not know that we have about 5 kids from Cape Town alone that has been drafted into the Minor Leagues in the States. Or that my client from Swish Events (who organised the event), were herself a national softball player, who has experience of playing in the States, working for Major League Baseball and even coaching softball.
Anyways, enough of the generalised waxing. CJ (the fact that I’m using his first name only does not imply we’re best buds or something like that, I’m just trying to save some key-strokes) is actually on holiday in South Africa, and has of his own accord approached MLB to see if he can be of some help to the baseball fraternity here. His good taste is proven by the fact that he is dating a South African girl. Well done, boy. As one who has seen the duplicitous nature of publicity-seeking in “charity” work by celebrities and the like, I must say, after spending two days watching him, listening to him and seeing him interact with people, I am convinced he is one of those rare individuals who really just wants to help. And not much of a holiday it seems. He still trains every single day in the gym and apparently practices his pitches at the Helderberg club in Somerset-West daily. Also, on the Athlone day, he had his first radio interview at 5am in town. He’ll be on E-TV tomorrow as well.
He is a “straight edger”, living a life of clean living, free from alcohol, drugs, smoking and promiscuous sex. This apparently is based on his Taoist beliefs. According to wikipedia anyways. I did just see him drink water. After the Athlone tournament, we joined him at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital where he visited the haemophiliac ward and also a young girl who missed the tournament due to a serious car accident. Him refusing any pictures with her (she had had brain-surgery) while chatting to her and leaving her a special autographed cap, impressed me. I’ve been there before with celebs who couldn’t be photographed with enough young patients, no matter how tasteless it all may be. He did agree to a pic for her benefit outside the ward, holding her cap. Below a pic of him with the staff from the haemophiliac ward.
From signing about 250 autographs in Athlone, giving his full attention to every single coach, parent, fan, child or person who wanted to speak to him, ask him advice or just shake his hand, not for one moment did I notice one bit of impatience, irritability or arrogance. He seemed genuinely interested in the state of the sport here in SA asking everyone detailed questions and elaborating on his own experiences with the sport in the US. In Athlone he stood with every single team that competed in the tournament, and a host of individuals for photos in absolutely blistering heat. My 50spf sun-block just just about saved my hide. My internal thermometer suggested a temperature of about 38 deg C and a sap-you-dry-factor of about 98%. He even indulged a couple of the Athlone locals in some talk about DJ-ing gear (he’s a DJ too, apart from collecting Porches, Harley Davidsons, race-car driving and some photography). Even more impressive is that he didn’t get irritated with me hanging around him like a fly around fresh manure! Even as a photographer I can completely understand how annoying a telephoto lens in your back for 7 hours straight must feel. He even did a speech to about 300 people with very little forewarning at Athlone stadium (and extended it by 10 minutes for my sake so I could set up lights for group shots). Ok, so let’s leave this section at “I was hellavu impressed with the guy”. And just to add: he can throw a ball at 160km/h from a standing position…that translates to way more than 300 feet.
The Sunday (yesterday) he facilitated a special training session of some bright young stars from our own baseball teams around the Cape. Again I was to just document his session and do some group shots afterwards. I was lucky enough to be able to get him, with the help of the director from Major League Baseball (thanx Clive), to give me a couple of minutes after the morning’s session just to do some pics on the pitcher’s mount. Everyone was running for the club-house to get out of the sun, but he patiently allowed me to take some pics, and then a bunch of other guys with cameras too. I just knew I would seriously regret it if I didn’t at least try and get some proper lit shots with him as well. Just for kicks.
And some of my fun pics I got to do:
And, I couldn’t resist, I had to have a pic with him. I got a real Texas Rangers baseball cap, and upon delivering the pics today, even a autographed, Major League Baseball. The video crew felt the same way.
Oh, and one final thing to the Nikonians. He shoots Canon. Fitting for a guy who can throw a ball like a bullet.