The point was to take a fresh glimpse at the often overlooked world of minor league baseball, U.S.A. And what could be fresher, reasoned Deputy Picture Editor Tom Vanderschmidt, than a look through the lens of an English photographer who had seen only one baseball game in his life, and that in the bastion of the big time, Shea Stadium? An Englishman who didn't even care much for cricket.
Vanderschmidt's choice of Stephen Green-Armytage to photograph the minor league essay beginning on page 42 was a perfectly sound one. Despite his lack of sporting proclivities Green-Armytage is a perceptive student of people, not to mention a good man with a camera. In the five years since coming to this country, he has visited all but three states of the union, and for SI he has covered Sugar Bowl Week in New Orleans (including the famous picture of Rita the champagne lady balancing two glasses of bubbly in remarkable thoracic fashion), Spiro Agnew playing golf, Super Hippie David Smith and his Peace Pentathlon and Artist Thomas Hart Benton canoeing down the Buffalo River in the Ozarks.
Nothing about his boyhood in Bath, his college years at Cambridge or his young manhood in London particularly prepared Green-Armytage for a career of such strenuous range, but he has managed to take the change of pace—including his minor league interlude—in stride.
"After seeing the Mets play in New York," he says, "I found it more interesting and enjoyable to watch baseball in minor league parks. People are closer to the action on the field, and it was much more of a personal experience. Everything seemed to be...funnier."
The assignment took him to Honolulu, Visalia and Bakersfield, Calif., Savannah, Ga., Artesia, N. Mex., Geneva and Auburn, N.Y. and Newport and Pawtucket, R.I. Except in Hawaii, he found the teams' travel and living arrangements to be markedly like those he had experienced 15 years ago while he was on trips as an English public school rugby player. That is to say, Spartan.
"But the general mood among the players seemed to be up," says Green-Armytage. "They seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the fans." The players also struck him as unexpectedly large and high-powered. "They really hurtle around the place. I hadn't gained that impression from the distant Shea Stadium stands. Up close you realize the violence involved in what seems a leisurely game."
About the only difficulties he found were technical (the crepuscular minor league field lighting), and the only confusion involved local bystanders who kept asking him what SI was doing in the boondocks covering their team. The greatest pleasure he found was the informality surrounding minor league ball. "Kids were climbing over fences and finding holes all around the Class A parks," he reports.
In a season when major league baseball seemed in danger of losing sight of its prime function—to entertain people—Green-Armytage's photographic essay comes like a fresh breeze from a faraway time.