Last night I decided to treat myself to seats near the dugout at a Reds game. I'd sat close to the field once before, and was amazed at how being at eye-level with the baseball action changed your experience of the game. Watching the arc and delivery of the pitch, being able to see the mound actually rising up out of the ground, watching the players' expressions between pitches -- it all adds to the narrative I find so attractive in baseball.
Just before the game started, I found my seat, and watched as kids and grownups lingered at the edge of the Reds dugout, where pitcher Mat Latos stood on a bench, a bag of pumpkin seeds in his mouth, signing balls and hats for the fans. I liked the experience of witnessing this moment, so close and personal. I started taking pictures with my film camera. He then walked over to the side where I was standing and began signing for the fans standing next to me. I snapped a few pictures with the Canon, then for safe measure, one or two with my cell phone.
Then Mat Latos pulled the bag of pumpkin seeds from his mouth and looked up at me.
"Hey. Can I ask you a question?"
I was stunned into momentarily silence. A beat. Then: "Uh, sure?"
"Why would you want a picture of me in your cell phone?"
Thinking he might be emphasizing the difference between my cell phone and the Canon, I nodded towards it, saying, "well, really it's just a backup in case this one doesn't turn out."
"No, I've just always wondered. Like, see all these people here -- her..." he points to a girl with a pink iPhone case, who giggles at the recognition then snaps his picture, "they're all taking my picture. I've never liked having my picture taken. Y'all have more pictures of me than my mom. I even bought her a camera."
"I guess we all just want to be able to show a picture to our kids 50 years from now to say we had this interaction with the great Reds pitcher, Mat Latos." That's what I said. Because I didn't have a better answer on the tip of my tongue at the time.
What I didn't say to Mat Latos: You're a celebrity pitcher for a major league baseball team, you're on baseball cards, you're up on our television screens. Kids have your stats memorized and girls coo over your tattoos to their beleagured boyfriends. How can you wonder why anyone would want a picture of you in their cell phone?
What I didn't say to Mat Latos: How is a photograph any different than the autographs you're signing now? It's all proof of an encounter, proof of existence: see, I really DID meet Mat Latos. The suffix -graph, from the Ancient Greek γράφω, means "to scratch, to scrape, to graze." A moment scratched into memory through the recording of it. Picture or it didn't happen. Autograph or you weren't really there.
What I didn't say to Mat Latos: I'm a documentarian. I collect moments in life in photograph form so that I don't lose them. This is not just a picture of Mat Latos, but of that day in my life, a hot day in early September, when the cornstalks had begun to go brown and the cicadas had started to die, when I drove myself down to the ballpark singing along to Whitney Houston and sat near the dugout and watched Mat Latos sign hats and balls for his fans before a game. I might not even remember the game (I hope I don't: a terrible 9-1 loss to the Cubs, of all teams), but I'll have a record of that moment. That day in my life. My little form of immortality; the only way I can feel life's permanence. The only way any of us can feel like we'll live forever.
He stopped signing for a moment, pen in hand, and gestured back and forth between himself and the crowd. "How is a picture any better than this moment we're having here?"
I don't know why he was asking me these questions. It honestly sounded like he'd never asked anyone before. Perhaps because I was a woman, older than the young girls waiting to have things signed, but not too old to be direct to without sounding impolite. Perhaps because I was dressed totally ridiculously that night, a bizarre approximation of a character out of A League of Their Own in a denim romper, vintage cap, and a red and white polka dot scarf wrapped around my waist, and he saw this ridiculousness and it broke the wall. Perhaps just because my cell phone camera was the only one that was making any noise.
But the fact that this question came to me, and I was reminded of The Moment (something I've written about here) and how we now experience things only through documentation (something I've written about here), the fact that I was part of such a profoundly philosophical exchange with a baseball player -- what I didn't say to Mat Latos: you couldn't have asked a bigger or more important question to me than the one you asked just now.
"Anyway, I've always wondered that."
He smiled and continued his rounds, chewing pumpkin seeds and signing hats and balls for fans in the hot Ohio night.
© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.