In 1990 I published a book titled Black Rock: Portraits on the Playa in the Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada. People familiar with the playa of the Black Rock Desert know it is the site of Burning Man. I photographed Black Rock: Portraits on the Playa before Burning Man arrived full-force.
The book is a compilation of photographs of friends, friends of friends and family members. This is the photograph I took of my dad. He was 84 years old at the time. He got close, really close, to making it to the Majors. The Bigs. The Show. But things happened. Things that got in the way.
I realized one day that I had never done anything for him without expecting something in return. I wanted to make that right.
So I asked him to come out to the Black Rock and bring his old uniform and glove. I painted some base-paths on the playa and waited for the sun to set. As he was putting on his uniform I fired up the generator, powered up the strobes and turned on the lights. The noise of the generator, the stillness of the air and the way the light danced off everything it touched created a special magic.
And then it happened. All of a sudden it was not the summer of 1990 on a dry lakebed in Northern Nevada, it was 1929 and 23-year-old Chick Keister from Fairbury, Nebraska was ready to play the game of his life. As a pitcher, he threw the ball so hard that even his older brother wouldn’t play catch with him, and as a hitter he was often assigned to bat clean-up. It would be another 11 years before he married my mother and another 19 years before I was born.
It was just him and the field. He told me about batting against Satchel Paige, his curveball, his fastball and his pickoff throw to second. I asked my dad to make a motion to knock the dirt off of his cleats. He said he couldn’t do that. I asked why. He smiled and said, “first I have to call Time Out.” I said OK. Then he held up his hand instructing the invisible umpire to call Time Out and went to knock the dirt off his cleats. I snapped this picture. The most important photograph I’ve ever taken.
We continue to talk as I took more pictures. Mostly he told me how he would give up everything had just to play ball again. There was a twinkle in his eye and a fluidity in his movements I had never seen before. I thought how wonderful it was that I had the chance to give him a piece of his dream.