Photos and Story by Gordy Jones
I often speak at schools. I tell students to set goals and to chase their dreams to the end. But sometimes, you find out, your dreams aren’t exactly what you thought they were. For example, if a youngster wants to be a Major League ballplayer, he should definitely stay focused, eat the right foods, stay in shape, frequently train and practice, dedicating most of his free time to baseball. But he should also study hard, and be well rounded — playing various positions and playing other sports. What happens if you play hard for many years, and you just aren’t good enough to make a living playing baseball? You’ve done everything by the book, but you are getting up there in age and going nowhere – not everyone has the natural talent to play professionally. The answer is: You pick yourself up, make adjustments, and re-focus, but this time maybe not as a player. There are hundreds of jobs affiliated with baseball, and they can be every bit as rewarding as being a player.
Everyone is aware of certain jobs such as coaches, umpires, announcers, reporters, photographers, and groundskeepers. But there are many behind-the-scene careers that might not immediately come to mind. Baseball is a business, so there are baseball careers in nearly every category, just as there are with most traditional companies. There are accountants, lawyers, doctors, stadium engineers and electricians, painters, organ players and DJ’s, retail sales and management, corporate sponsor sales, advertising and promotion, security, food and beverage, including chefs, bartenders, wait staff, and banquet managers all working at the ballpark. So in other words, you can chase a dream in another career and utilize it to fulfill your baseball dream.
Or, if you score a great job in a different industry, you can always be one of several hundred part time game-day employees who work selling food, in guest services such as ushers and ticket scanners, security, cleaning, to name just a few. As a game-day employee, you usually have a very flexible schedule. You can typically choose the games you want to work at, with the only restriction being a minimum number of games you must work in a season. You’ll get paid training and free uniforms, and you’ll get into the games free while you make extra money. You sometimes get free give-aways, and you’ll work with other people who all have something in common: the love of baseball. The Twins even have a great post-season party around the holidays for their part-time people, which includes great food, gifts, prizes, and special guests.The other day I said hello to Denard Span, and I asked how he was doing. He smiled and took a deep breath as he looked at his buddy Ben Revere, then looked out at the field, and finally said: “You know, Gordy, I’m living the dream.” Ben nodded at Denard in agreement, then smiled at me and said, “So am I.”
Suddenly I realized: For many years I have been living my dream as well. Sure, as a kid I dreamed of playing ball. But there I was, standing on a major league field schmoozing with the Twins. I get to write about the team, and I have fun as I tell you what they are up to, and what goes on in their heads and in their lives. As much as I love photography and writing, I get double the satisfaction when I am shooting or writing about my passion: baseball.I have made many friends around the game, too. Some of them are legends. I helped Dave Winfield with his charity, and got to travel to Cooperstown with him for his Hall of Fame induction, and I even photographed the event for him. I got to hang around and befriend Kirby Puckett, who was inducted the same year as Dave.
When I was a child, my dad and I watched Harmon Killebrew play ball — both at the Met and on TV. Later in life I became his friend, and also a photographer for his charity. My dad would have been proud. I get to chat with all of the players, managers, coaches, announcers, and front office people on a regular basis, and partake in charity events with them — and in Minnesota there are many. There are charity golf outings, bowling tournaments, celebrity waiters, wiffle ball games, coat drives, school and hospital visits, and whatever the players and their families can dream up to raise funds and awareness for their causes.
One of the coolest assignments I’ve ever had was last week. The idea was conceived at Harmon Killebrew’s memorial golf outing. I was shooting the breeze with Tony Oliva, which is cool in itself. He was telling me how happy he is that they’ve erected a statue in his honor. But then he said how badly he wanted a photo of himself in uniform, and in the same pose, standing next to the statue. He asked me if I would photograph him like that, and of course I told him yes, and that I was honored to do so. So last week we met and I fulfilled his request.
No matter what your goals in life are, you’ve got to chase your dreams. Don’t be afraid to adapt and take a few detours, and catch your dreams in another capacity. Sometimes it works out just as well, if not better. A player’s career is usually short, but I have worked through generations of teams. Swiping a line from the great Lou Gehrig, I feel like the luckiest man on the face of the earth – even with the Twins on the bottom.