Saturday, April 28, 2012

Visual Scavenger Hunt: Wildflowers

Hipsta-Wildflowers04 God's paintbrush lingers a little longer in Texas during the spring months setting the stage for what I believe heaven must be like. Is there anything better than driving on a back-country road with the windows rolled down as a spring shower clears with sunbeams dancing along the rolling hills of reds, yellows and violets?

I think not.

With the blessing of recent rains at just the right time, the wildflower bloom this year has been the best we've seen in quite awhile. Not since 2007 when I had the opportunity to work on a wildflower package with column writer Rick Smith here at the paper have I seen such a mass growth of one of our state's most unique attributes. Spearheaded by the Texas Department of Transportation, about 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed is sown each year along Texas highways. The wildflower program not only helps our highways look good but also reduces the cost of maintenance and labor by encouraging the growth of native species that need less mowing and care. Whatever they're doing, I suggest they keep it up. Hipsta-Wildflowers03 Hipsta-Wildflowers02 It may seem silly, but the wildflowers that bloom each year that attracts thousands of tourists from across the country to this state, makes me proud to be a Texan. I'm not usually someone who gets overly excited about flowers, but this is the exception. However, the summer months of triple-digit weather, little rainfall and swirling dust-devils are quickly approaching. Get out and see these little wonders in all their glory while you still can. Pack a lunch, pack the car and get lost on some random dirt road in the Texas hill country.Hipsta-Wildflowers01

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

High School Baseball: Ballinger vs. Ozona

Ballinger:Ozona03 So, remember when I said in my previous post that I thought baseball was boring and that it just didn't move fast enough to keep my interest? Guess what my assignment was today. Yep, baseball. I had just finished putting up that softball post right when my editor walked into the newsroom and he said, "Did you get that assignment I sent you?" I literally checked my email 20 seconds prior to him asking me that and I didn't see anything in my tasks folder. "I need you to pick up that baseball game this afternoon in Ballinger." I couldn't help but laugh.

I was assigned to shoot the District 7-2A season finale between the Ballinger Bearcats and the Ozona Lions. Surprisingly, this is my first baseball game of the season so I was a bit worried that I was going to be rusty my first game back. Not only was I going to be shaking off the baseball cobwebs, but facing 90-degree temperatures as well. As the summer months approach, so do the triple-digit temperatures. I think we are slated for a high of 102-degrees on Wednesday. I think it's way to early for that, don't you? So I begrudgingly drove through Ballinger to the baseball field, checked my gear, slathered on the recommended shot-glass amount of sunscreen, donned my wide-brimmed hat and took up a spot near the fence for the start of the game. Ballinger:Ozona02 Ballinger:Ozona04 I always seem to get into that debate over whether or not to shoot the game from inside or outside the fence. Personally, I've always been a little gun shy of shooting inside the fence. I've had way to many close calls with baseballs whizzing past my nose or a softball throw to first gone awry and having to duck behind some player in the dugout wearing a glove to save me. My personal favorite though is the zinging worm-burner to the shins. Believe me, that will ruin a nice afternoon at the ballpark. So I pack a step-ladder as part of the equipment I bring to a baseball or softball game. I'm tall enough that I can usually stand on the top step and shoot over the fence. Today, however, the fence at the Ballinger ballpark was low enough that no ladder was needed.

My go-to shot for baseball and softball is the attempted stolen base. For me that's the only real action of the game. Photographing a well executed double play is nice too, but I don't get to see many of those in the high school ranks. For some people who enjoy the sport perhaps a pitchers dual is more exciting, but since I can't tell the difference from a high and away fastball from an inside slider, everything a pitcher does just looks the same to me. So the stolen base is where I consider all the action to be and due to the fact that the dirt in the infield at today's game was so dry, every slide was accompanied by this beautiful cloud of dust. To be perfectly honest, I think all my best shots from today included at least a small puff of dirt.

The game was an important one for both teams. It was to determine the third and final playoff spot for the district. The loser goes home. Ballinger led 3-1 late in the game off a Ely Self triple that managed to get past the Ozona left fielder. Ozona managed to edge closer, only down 3-2 at the end of the sixth inning. Unfortunately, I didn't get to stay for the entire game. I was running up on deadline and there are no reliable places to send photos back to the office in Ballinger. I was going to have to drive the 30-plus miles back to San Angelo to the office and put the photos in there. As it turned out, Ozona managed to tie the game 3-3 in the top of the seventh and held off the Ballinger offense to go into extra innings. (For those of you who don't know, high school baseball only goes seven innings.) I found out when I got back to the office that Ozona took the lead 4-3 in the ninth inning to win the game and thus earned the the final playoff spot in the district. Way to go Lions. Ballinger:Ozona01 Ballinger:Ozona05

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

High School Softball: Lake View vs. Waco High

LVsoftball01 About a week ago I was assigned to shoot a softball game between Lake View and Waco and I simply forgot to post some of the images I thought came out nice. I haven't shot a lot of softball over the last couple of years. Due to a decrease in staff and the acquisition of a dependable freelance shooter by the name of Kim Parker, softball has not been on my radar as much. To be perfectly honest, I prefer shooting softball over baseball any day of the week. I've never been much of a baseball fan. I hate having to wait five minutes between every pitch combined with the seemingly unlimited time-outs given so a batter can get their feet set just right in the box or a base runner can stand up after a slide. Sure you can do the same thing in softball, but the game just seems to move a lot faster and keeps me more on my toes. LVsoftball02 LVsoftball05 LVsoftball03 Combined with the smaller field, it feels like there is more happening all at once. There always seems to be someone trying to steal a base and then there's that funky bunt thing that makes all the infield rush to the plate to get the ball. It's all way more exciting than baseball. These are just a few of the images I liked from the game, not much, but I felt like I came away with a few that were nice. The Maidens ended up losing the game 3-1. LVsoftball06 LVsoftball04

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Say Uncle... Say It!"

Hipsta-Hopper03 Meet Hopper Jack Luna, my first nephew. He was born in the wee hours on Sunday, April 15. He weighed in at 7 pounds, 12 ounces and 20 1/4 inches. Though he should shrink up over the next couple of days because his head will have to reshape itself and flatten out. He came out a little pin-headed.
Cassidy, my sister, had been having contractions off and on for about two weeks and combined with her high blood-pressure, her doctor decided that it was best to induce labor a week before her expected due date. But heavy contractions continued early last week, everything looked to be going smoother than expected and Cass's blood-pressure was the picture of perfection so the doctor reversed her order to induce labor and let things play out naturally. Brooke and I arrived late Friday night and stayed with my dad and step-mom as there was no more room at Casa Luna (Cassidy and her husband Sly's last name is Luna). I had forgotten that the third bedroom had been made into a nursery. About 10:00am the next day Brooke and I drove the 15 minutes to Cass's house to hang with the family, knowing that the baby might not even come this weekend. Brooke was going to be busy the next three weekends and would not be able to travel to DFW if Hopper decided to come later.
When we arrived at the house, Cass and Sly had gone to the doctor in Dallas to get everything checked out. All was well and they sent her home. Cass and Sly walked in the house, we exchanged hellos, patted her belly a few times and went back to being a family waiting in labor limbo. Brooke had a few extra things to say to Hopper, though, and in her best 11th-grade teacher voice, she said something along the lines of, "Now listen here, this is my only free weekend for a month and I drove all this way to see you, so don't dally." I'm not sure if those were her exact words, but whatever she said, it worked. Ten minutes later Cass's water broke and the marathon of labor commenced. Hipsta-Hopper02 My step-dad, Gary, had gone down the street to pick something up at the store for lunch and came back to a frantic scene. Cass and Sly were pulling out of the drive way, Mom was trying to get everything in order to take to the hospital, Brooke was wrangling the dogs up to put in their room and I'm standing around flapping my arms yelling, "What am I supposed to do?" Lunch was in the middle of being prepared when everything went down so in an effort to not waste anything, it was finished promptly. That had to be the fasted cooked pork tenderloin in human history. We piled into the car: Gary behind the wheel, Mom as the navigator, I'm trying to nurse a serious caffeine headache and Brooke is trying to keep her breakfast down while turning all shades of green due to Gary's aggressive driving. The bane of my step-dad's existence are traffic lights. It never fails, every traffic light turns red just before he gets there if he is the one driving. I had to laugh at one point during the car ride into Dallas as we were stopped at a red light (obviously) in a construction zone where they were building those big highway flyover/mix-master things and Gary blurts out, "It really is amazing how they build these things." I'm not sure if he really was amazed or if he was trying to make casual conversation to 1) contain his excitement about the pending birth of his first grandchild, or 2) keep from cussing up a storm for having hit the fourth red light in a row, ruining his experience of what was supposed to be a joyous occasion. I think it was probably a little of both. Hipsta-Hopper01 We arrived at the hospital and found Cass hooked up to all the necessary monitors so nurses could keep an eye on both her and the baby. When I walked into the room she was in the middle of a contraction. Cass had decided that she wanted to try and have a natural child birth. No drugs, just pain and a lot of support. It was determined that Hopper, while pointed in the right direction, was facing the wrong direction. In other words, he was facing up instead of facing down, commonly known as back birth. I'm not sure if I got that right, but I'm just going to go with it. Anyway, it meant that Cass was in a lot of pain. Sly massaged her back, Brooke ran her fingers through her hair and Mom coached her through her breathing during contractions. The room had to be dark, cold and silent. Much like I imagine Siberia to be in the dead of winter. This went on for six hours, but eventually Cass relented and opted for the epidural. Within 15 seconds of getting the drugs the lights came up, the music was turned on and we were cracking jokes finished with appropriate laughter. This went on for another seven hours. Now it was time to push.
Cassidy said that everyone was welcome to stay in the room for the birth, which we did, however, I was the only one that stood behind the curtain. I just couldn't bring myself to watch. For about an hour I sat behind the curtain listening to one of the nurses count to ten as Cassidy pushed. Eventually, it was time for the doctor to come in and guide Hopper into the world. I heard him cry for the first time as everyone in the room announced his arrival with, "He's here!" and "There he is!" It was 2:58am. After Cassidy and Sly got some quick bonding time with Hopper, the nurses brought him over to the scale where I got my first look at him. He was perfect. Accept for the whole pointy head thing, but I guess that's normal. Gary, Brooke and I said our goodbyes to head back to the house for a few hours sleep. Mom decided to wait around for a little bit with my aunt who drove in from Lubbock. Brooke and I made it back to Dad's house at about 4:00am and crashed into bed. What a great day. Hipsta-Hopper04

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Fallen Son Returns Home

Padron07 It's one of those assignments that you knew deep down was going to be important to a lot of people. And that fact was clearly evident as I made my way down U.S. Highway 87 in San Angelo Wednesday evening amid a gathering crowd of mourners, well-wishers and supporters of Senior Police Officer Jaime Padron, whose body was being transported under police escort from Austin.
Officer Padron, a native of San Angelo, was responding to a call at a Walmart in north Austin in the early hours of Friday, April 6, about a man, Brandon Montgomery Daniel, causing a disturbance. When Officer Padron arrived Daniel decided to run, but was quickly chased down and both men fell to the ground. During the scuffle, Daniel produced a semi-automatic pistol and began to fire. Two bullets stuck Officer Padron, one hit his protective vest, the other his neck. Senior Officer Jaime Padron, a Desert Storm veteran, father of two and long-time peace officer, died at the scene. He was the first officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty in Austin in over 30 years. Padron06 Padron02 I turned off the highway and on to Avenue Z, a kind of staging area for those in the community who wanted to show their support as the motorcade made it's way through town. I was immediately stuck at the number of people who decided to take time out of their day to come out and and show their support. I parked next to a group of women putting together flag poles and attaching American flags to them. I approached them to start taking photos and almost everyone was cordial and knew why I was there. They let me work around them for awhile, I got some names, quotes as to why they were there and quickly moved on. We were standing next to a pedestrian bridge that crossed over the highway and there were people moving across along with a few children playing. I took my time climbing the zigzag walkway up to the top taking a few photos as I went.
I ran into individuals that knew Officer Padron, some that knew him through mutual friends and people that didn't know him at all. Take Susan Reddy, for instance, who I found standing alone on the far side of the bridge. She was holding the traditional chain of beads and cross reciting the rosary quietly to herself. I waited until she was finished before I approached her. "Oh, I didn't know Officer Padron," she said, "but I did feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to come out and pray today." Padron04 Padron05 I wondered up and down the street for another hour or so as the light of the day slowly faded away. It had been cloudy for most of the day and now we were getting sporadic thunderstorms popping up in the area. The temperature began to drop as the wind picked up and I started to feel a few droplets of rain. A memorial for Officer Padron was being held in Austin and then a police escort was going to bring his body back to San Angelo to his family for a funeral mass and burial at Lawnhaven Memorial Gardens later in the week. The first initial time of arrival for the procession in San Angelo was around 5:00 pm, however, as news traveled of the transport's route, each town's police department along that route wanted to show their respect to their fallen brother. Departments in Llano, Mason, Brady, Eden and Wall (just to name a few) guided the procession along the way. It also meant that the procession was going to be in San Angelo much later and the light was fading fast.
It was now getting close to 8:30 in the evening and I was having to find a spot on the road I would be able to shot from and have enough light to make photos. There was a group of about 10 Marines from Goodfellow Air Force Base on hand that started lining up near a street lamp. I guessed I would be able to get enough light from the street lamp and the headlights from the passing cars to get an exposure. We had been hearing reports from the officers at the scene on the progress of the procession and the news would travel down the line of spectators quickly. The crowd was now swelling to several hundred and the atmosphere seemed more like an outdoor community picnic than a solemn occasion. But then the radios on the vests of San Angelo police officers from across the street began to squawk announcing the arrival of the procession at the city's limits. Almost immediately a hush fell across the crowd and within 10 seconds you could have heard a pin drop.
As the first section of police vehicles approached the gathering crowd, those holding flags raised them a little higher, hands fell over hearts and salutes were offered by law enforcement and military personnel. No sirens or horns blared, only the flashing red and blue lights atop police vehicles announced the arrival of Officer Padron. And just as quickly as the procession entered the city, it was gone and the crowd began to disperse. There was no light conversation or laughter from spectators as they walked back to their cars, just the sound of the breeze blowing through nearby mesquite trees and the pitter-patter of an errant raindrop.Padron01 Padron03

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

High School Playoff Soccer: Lake View vs. Brownwood Boys

LVsoccer01 The Lake View High School boys soccer team was our best hope of a deep run in the playoffs this year so sports writer Quinton Martinez and I made the 90-mile trip north to Abilene to cover the Chiefs' sectional playoff game against Brownwood. This was going to be the fifth time this season, the ninth time in the past two seasons, that the Chiefs were going to face-off against the Lions. The Chiefs hold a 3-1 record against Brownwood this season heading into the day's match, but all the games were tightly contested and from what Quinton told me it could be anyone's day.
Lake View's star player Javier Parry secured the Chiefs' win a few days prior in the first round of the playoffs against Amarillo Palo Duro with a goal in the 79th minute. However, Parry was nursing a leg injury and would be playing around mid-field instead of near the net. I think the Chiefs were fine with that situation because sophomore Jordan Reyes could easily fill his shoes. LVsoccer02 The Chiefs came out hard in the opening minutes of the game when Reyes scored the first goal in the ninth minute to put the Chiefs up 1-0. Because we live in West Texas, the wind can be, and usually is, a major player in the match. Late in the first half Reyes caught up to a long pass from teammate Matthew Hernandez from beyond mid-field, dribbled through the Brownwood defense and found the back of the net to put the Chiefs up 2-0. The game was shaping up nicely.
But, if you'll remember back to the Central girls' game against Paschal earlier in the week, the pace and tide of the game can quickly change. In the second half, Brownwood was able to capitalize with the wind at their backs putting the ball in the back of the net in the 47th minute. The Chiefs never really challenged Brownwood for the rest of the game and Brownwood was able to advantage of the wind, often gusting up to 15 mph. It had to be tough for Lake Lake to make that transition from playing half a game with the wind, tiered and worn, to having to play in a headwind. In the 62nd minute Brownwood tied the game at 2-2 and in the 74th minute Brownwood's Matt McCrane popped the ball up into the wind over the head of Lake View's goal keeper who left the box to chase down the ball, finding the net to put the Lions up 3-2. A few minutes later, Brownwood was awarded a penalty kick and the game ended with Brownwood winning 4-2. I found myself in another situation of having to photograph depressed high schoolers. It never gets any easier, but it's just part of the job. LVsoccer03

Thursday, April 5, 2012

High School Playoff Soccer: Central vs. Paschal Girls

CHSvsPaschal01 On Tuesday, sports editor Paul Harris and I headed about 100 miles east to Brownwood to cover the Central High School Lady Cats in their Class 5A bi-district playoff game against Fort Worth Paschal. This game was going to be a toss up as to who the victor was going to be. Paul had told me that Central and Paschal were pretty evenly matched, but thought that if Central could manage the time on the clock, they should win the game. This was a game the Lady Cats needed to win, not just because it could mean the end of their season, but because they have lost in the first round of the playoffs the last three years. This was going to be the year that they finally broke that barrier. Personally I was just glad to get out of town and to be spending what was shaping up to be a beautiful day outside. It was cool, partly cloudy and there was a nice breeze. The only thing left was to see the Lady Cats victorious.
Lauren Bateman of Central is one of their best players and leads the team in goals this year. It's safe to say that if she gets the ball alone in front of the net, she'll put it in. Bateman got a nice pass from about 25 yards out and scored in the eighth minute of the first half putting Central up 1-0. Teammate Khalisha Bond used some fancy footwork to get around the Paschal defense and found the back of the net with a little more than 2 minutes left in the half to put the Lady Cats up 2-0. Central was rolling and it appeared that they would finally be able to rid themselves of their first-round playoff curse. CHSvsPaschal03 CHSvsPaschal04 The Lady Cats were riding high with their 2-point lead heading into the second half, but things started to go south fairly quickly. As with any sport, the officials can play a major role in the outcome of the game and today was no different. There was a questionable call made by the head official that awarded Paschal a penalty kick which allowed Paschal's Madeline Hamm, who has committed to Texas Christian University, to cut the Central lead down to one. Not long after that Paschal found the net again tying everything up at 2-2 and four minutes later Paschal was awarded another penalty kick after a Central player was called for a sliding tackle in the box. And just like that, Paschal was up 3-2 in the first 20 minutes of the second half. Central came close to tying the game when Bateman was given a free kick just outside the box, but the ball bounced off the frame of the goal and Central didn't have a good look at the net for the rest of the game. Central's first-round playoff curse was alive and well.
It's a delicate situation when you have to interview or photograph an athlete who just lost an important game, but it's harder when it was a season-ending loss. Typically I try to be as respectful as possible and not intrude on the situation. I will usually keep my distance and let things play out. It was a sad sight to see the girls so upset, especially for the six seniors who just played their last game in a Central uniform. Of the six, Bateman and Amanda De La Cruz are the only ones I know of that will continue their careers at the collegiate level. They will suit up for Angelo State in the fall. Perhaps next year Central will be able to rid themselves of this dreadful curse and I hope I am there to see it. CHSvsPaschal05 CHSvsPaschal02

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Another Hour At The Golf Course

DistGolf01 Golf is a sport that I really need to improve my skills at photographing. To be perfectly honest, I would much rather be playing the game than shooting it for an assignment. I get a one tracked mind and simply look for the best action photo I can and that usually involves a player hitting out of the bunker. I love the way the sand flies up in the air. It creates action in an otherwise action-less sport. Everyone is so straight-laced and proper. If you're not photographing someone hitting out of the sand, then it's a photo of someone reacting to a missed/made putt.
Mondays are usually days that I spend setting up assignments for the rest of the week. I was able to schedule most of my week before lunch. Afterwards, my day was free and clear, but I decided drive around the city and think of new categories for the iPhone visual scavenger hunt. I received a phone call from my editor asking what I was doing and returned the question with something like, "Oh, just seeing what I can see," or something like that. He replied by saying that if I were so inclined, I might drop by Bentwood Country Club and hang out at the District 7-2A tournament. I had nothing else to do, so I did. I knew we already had a centerpiece for the Sports section with the a story of the NCAA Championship game between Kansas and Kentucky (I won the office bracket pool by the way) so anything I shot would basically go online. If anything, this would be more practice for the state tournament in Austin the first week of May. I got there pretty late in the day so the teams were heading into the clubhouse to finish up their rounds. I basically bounced back and forth from the 18th hole were the boys were finishing their rounds, and the 9th hole where the girls were finishing up theirs.DistGolf04 DistGolf02 I get so distracted with the bunker shot I probably miss a lot of other moments. I'll need to work on my shooting angles more and try and find a position I haven't shot from before. Or maybe I should try and incorporate the natural environment better. Whatever it is, I need more practice. I doubt that I will shoot anymore golf prior to the state meets. All of the schools that we cover have finished or are just finishing up their district tournaments and moving on to regional tournaments. Typically we don't cover regional golf tournaments unless they are actually held in San Angelo. The state tournament is the only real out of town tournament we cover.
I just learned today that state week will have a new format than previous years. Normally I would drive down on a Sunday afternoon, check into the hotel and head to the grocery store to stock up on lunch food for the week. State meets for tennis and golf are held on Monday through Wednesday, Thursday is an off day and then state track starts on Friday and finishes on Saturday. Usually I will shoot just tennis on Monday because we always have so many teams and singles playing. Tuesday morning is spent out at one of the golf courses with one or two teams then it's straight back to tennis for the championships. If there is time, I head to the second golf course to shoot the end of the match and maybe the medal ceremony. Not this year. Tennis will still be held on Monday and Tuesday, but the golf tournaments for the schools we cover will not be held until Thursday and Friday! That means I won't have to drive in Austin traffic to get from courts to course. And the state track meet will be held the following weekend at the University of Texas.That should ease things up a bit and I should be able to photograph more athletes. Golf always gets the shaft during state week so the new setup should allow me more time to cover the sport at state. DistGolf05 DistGolf03

Monday, April 2, 2012

85th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays

TXrelays01 I was fortunate this weekend to have been given the opportunity to travel Austin for the 85th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays held on the campus of the University of Texas. At first I wasn't sure that I would get to go, mainly because it was a spur of the moment kind of deal, but I got the go-ahead on Tuesday and quickly made my hotel reservations and media credential requests.
The big difference between this track and field meet is that it spans all classes from the smallest high school, through the Division I universities and all the way up to Olympic hopefuls. It's touted as one of the premier meets in the country. Thousands of athletes from across the country come to compete for their schools in front of tens of thousands of spectators. This event has been explained as one heck of a spectacle so I was thinking that I was going to have some trouble shooting all the events I was supposed to be getting. As it turned out, Angelo State University and Central High School were going to be bringing less athletes than had originally been planned, freeing up some time between events. TXrelays02 TXrelays05 For as big as the meet was supposed to be, I thought there would be more action going on. Of course I also thought I would be shooting more athletes than I was, too, but I just expected a little more as one of the top three meets in the country. I couldn't get the thought out of my head that I know I work a lot harder at the state high school meet here in Austin in mid May than I am right now. But that also has to do with the number of students I'm photographing at the state meet. Where I was only shooting 10 or 12 athletes now, I shoot close to 30 or 40 at the state meet.
But I guess I can't complain to much. I did get to spend a little time in Austin how ever brief it was. And it was pretty cool to see both straightaways of the track being used at the same time for the 100 and 110-meter hurdles and the 100-meter dash. They ran the boys on one side and the girls on the other. And it was cool to see some of the Division I schools run as well, like Auburn, LSU, Air Force and Stanford. My only regret this trip is that I didn't get to experience any great food while I was there. You really do need about week to get the lay of the land and to find those great places to eat and relax. Guess I'll just have to wait for state week just around the corner.TXrelays03 TXrelays04