WEST END PHOENIX AT THE BALLPARK, PART 1
A PHOTO ESSAY BY JALANI MORGAN (PHOTO EDITOR)
If August is filled with baseball’s dog days, June is the cat asleep on the front porch dreaming in the sun. After the spring months, the sport finds its rhythm and pace: a smooth hitchless lope carrying outfielders to fly balls and designated hitters down the first base line with none of the hurried intensity they might have shown in April-- gotta show skipper I can bring it, at least a little-- although few DH’s actually play themselves into their role. Instead, these professional hitters are largely employed by default-- too slow and old to play elsewhere, but too good not to play at all-- and this was the case with the Jays’ soft-faced and reluctantly bearded Kendrys Morales, who, come June, found his game the warmer it was outside (and sometimes inside). His swing had an easy June malaise to it: long and wide, not so much biting at the ball as thwaping at it like a badminton racket to a crabapple. Hits were found, balls sailed beyond the yard and Kendrys sat down on the bench, which is also a big part of being a DH. Fans watched, drank, cheered a little— the Jays are already lost in a campaign best forgotten; besieged by injury and a (now traded) closer accused of domestic violence— and enjoyed the hum of the season’s middle. The cat yawned, but moved not a whisper.
In June, Jalani Morgan, the West End Phoenix’s photo editor, earned a press card to shoot a handful of games. When he first stepped on the fake baize of the former Skydome, “I was just trying not to cry,” he said, being so dyed-in-the-wool as a baseball fan that, in one of our first editorial meetings, he produced a shot of himself as a young boy holding up a glove on the green diamond of his youth. I was reminded of the rush that reporting from field level produces: towering ballplayers at every turn, feet stuck to a dugout stuck with spit and seeds, and the sound of the ball flung at impossible speeds among infielders warming up: shwap!
Once, while covering the Jays in the early 2000s, I lost myself in the basement of the Dome only to come into the dugout at the same time as the Jays’ for their warm up, stopping to wait until utility player Dave Berg tapped the dugout steps with his bat and repeated, “This is the show, this is the show.” On the playing surface, you turn this way: Aaron Judge. That way: Mike Trout. John Olerud shows you his glove, and says, “See, right there, a little tear,” and Reggie Jackson bats you about like a playtoy, upbraiding you for calling him sir. Earl Weaver. George Brett. Shaker Moseby. Or, in Jalani’s case, the great player and good person on a horrible team— the Orioles’ Adam Jones— whose personality is perfected captured here.
Jalani obtained his credentials with the promise of showing the game with a new view-- a view, I believe, that only a great shooter and avowed fan like Jalani could get-- and here is the result. The photos may pop with an alacrity that belies the Juneness of the affair, but I like to think that it's the softness of mid-summer that allowed him inside: the game relaxing to let itself be seen. These photos are the first in a series that will continue the rest of the major league season. Enjoy.