Remembering My Wife’s Birthday

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Today, May 14th, is my wife’s birthday. I remember Denise’s birthday now but there was a time back when we were first dating when I got her exact birthday date confused a few times. I became a better husband and remembered her birthday each year, even though she never liked attention brought to her, even on her birthday. And a gift? Oh, boy, I got in plenty of trouble each time I got a gift for her. I sometimes think I am the only husband who got in trouble for actually remembering his wife’s birthday and remembering to get her a gift!

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Denise fought a courageous battle with breast cancer but lost that battle on October 28, 2014. While those seven weeks from diagnosis to death were short-lived, we had some very good, quality conversations during that time. We had so much in common that it made it very easy to be her husband and companion. Denise loved sports. She played sports in high school. She was a field hockey goalie and in her senior year, her team won the District Championship, with her winning a Flick-Off, and then the team went to States. She played basketball, softball, and ran track, too. When our children, Lydia and James, were born and began to grow up, Denise was right there with them every step of the way, especially in their perspective sports and other extra-curricular activities. She was catcher for James and Lydia, who both pitched, and was right with them through it all. I also remember right after we got DirecTV, I received a call from Denise. She said, “You’re gonna be mad at me.” I asked why and she simply replied: “Because I bought the DirecTV MLB Package!” Now, seriously, how could a sport-loving husband ever be mad at a wife like this?

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Now, I still remember Denise’s birthday. I admit it’s a little sad for me though. I cannot give her a gift anymore or take her out for dinner or talk sports like we used to do all the time. I miss those times dearly. But I know this: Denise enjoyed life to its fullest and would want Lydia, James, and me to keep doing the same now. Last year for Father’s Day, James bought me a ticket to an Orioles game. That night was the first time I attended a baseball game since Denise was gone, nearly a year later. I couldn’t help but be a little emotional, but a smile came across my face during the seventh inning stretch, knowing Denise would’ve sung that song: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

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Denise also supported me immensely as I began getting more serious in my sports photography. We would look through the best photos of each game and she was so encouraging to me! It helped that she knew the sports in-depth. In fact, there were times when I swore she knew the game better than some players and coaches! Her input and encouragement were a huge part of my early success. These photos in this blog post are in precious memory of Denise on her birthday. I miss her very much!

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Life is precious. Hold on closely to those dear to you! Take time to enjoy each other’s company and companionship. And of all things, remember their birthday!

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Pleasant Valley Upsets Stroudsburg in the MVC Playoffs!

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Pleasant Valley struck first. It was the third inning and Matt Pierce reached first on a single. Then he reached second base on a wild pitch. Brendan Kearns came to the plate and laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt, which moved Pierce to third. Then, on another wild pitch, Pierce scored the first run of the game!

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Chris Burke pitched a masterful game for PV. He only gave up four intentional walks, all to Mike Nikorak, the MVC Most Valuable Player. The Bears defense was solid behind Burke and he kept recording outs in a very efficiently pitched game.

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Stroudsburg kept trying to apply pressure, but they kept hitting ground balls or flies to the outfielders. They had a few base runners but could not bring more than one around to score.

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In the bottom of the fourth inning a hard ground ball was hit to PV’s shortstop, Travis Van Houten. He fielded the ball cleanly, threw to Adam Raseley at second base, who then pivoted and threw to Ariel Mejia at first base for a beautiful double play!

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The Bears tacked on two more runs in the top of the seventh inning. The last of these insurance runs came when the #4 batter, James Shank, executed a great bunt in a well-coached two-out squeeze play. There wasn’t even a play at the plate!

Congratulations to the Pleasant Valley Bears Baseball team in their MVC Playoff victory over Stroudsburg 4-1! It was a great game!

PV Baseball Team Goes 11-2

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Pleasant Valley’s baseball team was propelled by James Shank as he went 2-3 at the plate and recorded 2 RBIs. Howie Stevens and Jordan Caffrey contributed well-placed hits in the line-up to score 6 runs in six innings.

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Dylan Pasnak, pitched a masterful 1-hitter to secure a solid defensive game and record the shut-out.

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In the above photo, #3 Adam Raseley is running to first base. PV’s record is now 11-2 for the season!

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Here, shortstop, Dan Hrbek, turns a self-assisted double-play as #13 Zack Werner slides into the second base for East Stroudsburg South.

Baseball Season is Coming…. I Think!

Today we got three inches of snow on the mountain! I am beginning to wonder if that groundhog was just doing some wishful thinking! And still, even while shoveling the white stuff, my thoughts are turning more and more to the upcoming baseball season!

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I captured this moment on the day I realized my son was right–he was meant to be a catcher. I was not in favor of this position change because catchers get beat up. They have to block bad pitches, throw hard to the bases to stop basestealers, and  block the plate from incoming hard and vicious slides! Ouch! And yet, on the positive side, the catcher is literally involved in every pitch of the game. He calls for each pitch, learns to know a batter’s tendencies, and calls the plays as they unfold. He commands the game in a way like no other. James is indeed a catcher. He’s been a student of the game since he was little.

I remember the very first time I went out and bought him a bat, ball, and tee. It was one of those big, over-sized plastic sets that serve as the entry into the game of baseball for most little guys. Well, James hit two or three balls off the tee and then said proudly, “Daddy, pitch to me!” Now mind you, he was only three years old! I tried my best to use reason and convince him that a three-year-old needs to hit off the tee for more than two or three times before he could ever hope to hit a pitched ball thrown at him. I told him that even the great Cal Ripken, Jr., who was our mutual hero, hit off a tee at least a hundred times a day even as a big leaguer!

All of my fatherly wisdom and coaching rationale was not enough. So I succumbed and pitched the big plastic ball his way as this three-year-old stood proudly in the batter’s box. I think I threw over a hundred pitches to him that day and he hit maybe five of them. Each time he connected his bat with that ball, he would run around, touching every base, and declare he hit a homerun! I would try to tag him as he slid into homeplate, but he was always safe. And a love of the game was born for both father and son!

James is now seventeen years old and started eight games as a sophomore on his high school team last year. I still try to take my turns pitching to him, but now instead of hitting five out of a hundred, he connects on each and every one I throw anywhere near the strike zone. Then, I duck, hide behind my glove, and scream for my mommy as the baseball comes straight back at me!

James will be starting behind the plate this year as a Junior and he is looking forward to a good season. He’s been working hard in the off-season and can’t wait for the weather to break so he can get out on the diamond!

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I realized when James was 12 years old that I could no longer be his coach. He was developing a mind of his own, it was the proper time for  him to be coached by someone other than his dad, and he knew more about the game than I did! Admittedly, it was very hard for me to step down from coaching baseball, so I coached middle school football for three years, which I thoroughly enjoyed! But eventually, I had to give that up, too, to be available to get James where he needed to be as he continued developing his baseball quest. I do miss coaching but decided to take up a new spot–behind my camera. Now I’ve been photographing the Pleasant Valley High School Baseball Team for four years and I enjoy the challenge and opportunity to capture the action on the field.

Yep, it’s still February, and there is a lot of snow on the ground, but James and I are thinking BASEBALL! Aren’t you?

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1st Day at Kings Bay, Georgia

Our first day at the Naval Submarine Base on Kings Bay, Georgia was fun. We only had a chance to see a few sights, but we are already having a blast!

We began by devouring a scrumptious seafood dinner at Lang’s Marina Restaurant in Saint Mary’s. James opted for the Captain’s Platter and I had the Seafood combo, consisting of Flounder and Scrimp. It was delicious!

James is very much looking forward to his submarine training, which commences tomorrow at 17:00.

Feeding Elk

What do the Pennsylvania elk feed on in the winter? This year the snowfall was minimal, so grasses are plentiful and easy to get for the elk. Here a cow has a long stem of grass in her mouth. It reminds me of those really long fries we sometimes get at McDonald’s or a long piece of spaghetti!

The cow was looking intently at the camera but she never stopped eating this long stem of grass.

Here in this photograph you can see she is definitely working that stem of grass into her mouth. I didn’t hear any slurping sounds but it was funny to watch!

Most feeding elk photos show an elk with its head down eating grass. This is certainly not the best pose for a photograph. By spending time with our subject we can capture truly amazing photographs of the behavior of these incredible and beautiful creatures. On this particular cold morning, my son, James, and I spent well over an hour photographing this small herd of elk. We were frozen by the end of this shoot–so much so that our hands were tingling and numb when we got back into the truck. Do you know that painful sensation when your extremities finally start warming up again? Ouch! That hurts! But you know,  it is all worthwhile when you capture photographs like these! I cannot wait to do it again!

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Anatomy of a Triple

 

 

 

James Shank, a high school sophomore, hit a bomb into right-center field today at the Navy Baseball Showcase Camp. He was facing an extremely good pitcher, who is showing excellent promise himself. This pitcher is a freshman at West Virginia University now and is hoping to transfer to Navy. From the looks of it, he will be a very nice addition to the team here. James worked a 2-2 count and got a fastball. He ripped it in the gap and the ball bounced to the fence. He easily rounded the bases with a standup triple.

I thought it would be fun to show the photos from his hit today and break it down so you can see the anatomy of a triple. The hardest part is hitting the baseball, of course, especially against a quality pitcher. The matchup between a pitcher and the hitter is always fun to watch. It’s a cat and mouse game. The pitcher trying to paint the corners of the plate and get ahead in the count; the hitter trying to work the count in his favor and earn a hitter’s pitch. 2-2 is about the same as 0-0, or is it? At the beginning of the at-bat, both the pitcher and hitter are even. They both have room to make a mistake and still live in this matchup. When the count goes to 2–2 the next pitch could be the end of the line for the hitter. Yes, they call this an even count, indicating neither the pitcher or the hitter has the edge, but it seems to me that the pressure is more solidly on the hitter because the next pitch could have him walking back to the bench. All the while, the hitter is working the count and trying to figure out what the pitcher might be throwing. Stay back, look for the fastball, and react to the curve. When the pitcher has a sidearm delivery, it ups the ante even more! Release point is different in this scenario and the hitter has to adjust. 2 balls, 2 strikes. What will the pitcher throw next? It’s a fastball and it’s a triple! The hitter was 1 for 2, batting .500 for the day, and the pitcher strikes out the next batter faced.

These photos do not show all the drama of a triple, but they do show some of the energy and excitement of a player hitting the ball and rounding the bases, who then cruises into third and shakes the hand of the third-base coach.

And that’s the anatomy of a triple.

More Pennsylvania Elk

Yesterday I shared the story of how my son, James, and I encounter a cow elk and were able to photograph it close up.

Today I am posting three more photos of this cow. Yesterday’s photos included much of the vegetation that the cow was actually eating. These photos today try to focus on the cow and highlight her without much distraction. Wildlife photography is difficult for many reasons: long, fast glass is needed and it’s expensive, animals are difficult to find and often don’t stay still very long, the best times for wildlife photography is at sunrise and sunset when light is low, and it is often hard to separate the subject from its camouflaged background. This last difficulty is my subject today.

How does the wildlife photographer separate the wild subject from its background? What tools in our camera can we use to assist in this endeavor?

Wide open f-stops are probably one of my most favorite tools to help accomplish this goal. Shooting wide open blurs the background and allows the viewer’s eye to focus completely on the subject. Large f-stops like f/2.8 are extremely helpful. Yes, they are expensive, but I find them irreplaceable in my wildlife photography. Another tool is the placement of the subject. We all know that backgrounds can literally ruin a photograph. So working with a clean background is very helpful. Setting the subject against a clear blue sky is golden! Or how about using the contrast of goldenrod or queen anne’s lace in a field to place your subject? Of course we do not literally place our subjects, but paying attention to the background can make a subject stand out loud and proud!

What tools do you use to separate your wildlife subjects from their habitat?

No Photos but Wow, What an Evening in the Field!

My son, James, and I recently purchased a portable blind at Cabelas. The main reason for the purchase is so I can photograph the birds here in my backyard. I inadvertently left the blind up in the mountains on a previous trip, so we decided to put it to use this past Wednesday evening. We practiced setting it up and packing it up while we ate supper around the campfire. It is not a fancy blind but it seats two comfortably. So off we went to give it a try. We assembled the blind and weren’t in it very long when James said, “There’s some elk.” Sure enough, there were four cows over on a distant field and then we spotted a bigger herd of elk just to the right of these first four. There were 40 elk in all! We also had deer come to within 50 yards of our blind. It was a very productive field test and we had a great father/son evening on the mountain!

We did see some elk this week. The highlight was Thursday morning when we saw an 8×8 bull–the biggest bull we’ve seen so far this year. Unlike our previous trip, we did manage to see more bulls, for which we were thankful. Their velvet is coming off and the bulls look uncomfortable with strings of velvet hanging all over their antlers and down in their eyes!

I will post some photos of our trip this coming week, but I think I jinxed myself. My most recent blog entry was about preparation. Well, I guess I jinxed myself because I got to camp with James on Monday around midnight only to realize I forgot my D300! I’ll bet Moose Peterson never did this! Thankfully, I did have my backup body–my old D70 and James let me borrow one of his lenses. I will post some of my photos in upcoming blog posts, but James definitely got much better photos than I did this trip! I guess I was just so excited for this trip that I overlooked grabbing and packing my camera bag into my truck. I even had it on my packing list! I can think of several words to describe what an idiot I am, but none of them are printable!

Now I really can’t wait to get back to the mountains of Elk County!!!

There’s No Place Like the Mountains!

My good friend and hunting buddy, Randy Greenly, teases me that sometimes I sound like a broken record. You see, if I said it once, I’ve said it hundreds of times: “There’s no place like the mountains!”

I believe this to be absolutely true, too. Last week my son, James, and I were able to get away for two days to our special place in the mountains of Elk County. We left immediately after his baseball practice on Thursday evening because we wanted to stop at Cabelas in Hamburg, PA before they closed. We got there 15 minutes before closing. The greeter who met us at the door even asked, “You do know you only have 15 minutes, right?” Yeah, 15 minutes isn’t much time at all for two outdoor enthusiasts to spend in a store like Cabelas! But we got what we wanted and were on our way to the mountains.

James and I both enjoy seeing the majestic elk of Pennsylvania and photographing them. We learn more and more about them all the time, too! The bull elk are currently in velvet, which means that their antlers are encased in a blood-rich covering that provides antler growth. Soon they will rub this away to get ready for the fall rut, which is my absolute most favorite time of the year to be in the outdoors with the elk. Hearing a bugling bull elk and watching two bulls stand each other off in a field are just of the impressive sightings I’ve experienced in the fall. It is awesome and there is nothing like it!

The weather last week was not very good, nor was it conducive to photography early in the morning or late in the day. The cloud cover and rain shortened the shooting time for us photographers, so I did not capture as many quality photos as normal. I do hope some of the following photographs do share my sentiment–that there is no place like the mountains!