Tabitha Soren: From MTV to MLB

The ’90s tele­vi­sion icon has gone from on-cam­era to be­hind the cam­era.

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY GEOFF EDGERS geoff.edgers@wash­post.com

Back be­fore a pres­i­dent could phone-drop on Kim­mel or tweet his way di­rectly into the head­lines, there was re­ally only one per­son who could help you reach the youth­ful masses. Her name was Tabitha Soren and she worked for MTV News. And dur­ing the 1990s, Soren’s gets in­cluded both Clin­tons, Yasser Arafat and Anita Hill. Then some­thing strange hap­pened. Soren de­cided she didn’t want to be on TV any­more. She wanted to take pic­tures.

In a way, it made per­fect sense. Soren grew up a mil­i­tary kid, re­ly­ing on her 35-mil­lime­ter cam­era to re­mem­ber the peo­ple and places that made up a child­hood. And Soren grad­u­ated from New York Uni­ver­sity with a de­gree in jour­nal­ism and pol­i­tics, not nec­es­sar­ily a pre­req­ui­site for an in­tern­ship on “Head­bangers Ball.”

Her pro­fes­sional photography ca­reer started when she would ac­com­pany her hus­band, Michael Lewis, on as­sign­ments and shoot pic­tures for his sto­ries. In 2003, that meant pho­tograph­ing the mem­bers of the Oak­land Ath­let­ics draft class fea­tured in his book “Money­ball.” Then she kept shoot­ing. “I just thought, here are th­ese peo­ple start­ing some­thing,” she says now. “Wouldn’t it be nice to see what it’s like at the end?”

Some made it, in­clud­ing fu­ture stars Nick Swisher and Mark Tea­hen. But most never got close. “Fan­tasy Life: Base­ball and the Amer­i­can Dream,” her first book, ar­rives in time for Open­ing Day and doc­u­ments many of those play­ers. This sam­pling of Soren’s photos also in­cludes two A’s draftees who aren’t in the book — Steve Stan­ley and Lloyd Turner. Each ballplayer supplied Soren with an es­say, ex­cerpted here.

Ben Fritz

Mi­nor league pitch­ing record: 34-41

Even be­fore I was drafted in the first round by the A’s, there were many op­por­tu­ni­ties to play the “what if” game. It all started in col­lege. I played hurt, by choice, on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. What if I hadn’t done that? My sopho­more year I would catch eight in­nings and pitch the ninth on a few oc­ca­sions. My ju­nior year I would pitch Fri­day, play first Satur­day, catch Sun­day and the mid­week game. What if I hadn’t done that? Many of my out­ings I threw 120-plus pitches. Look­ing back it sounds crazy, but maybe that’s be­cause that’s what ev­ery­one tells me. Pro­fes­sion­ally there are many “what ifs” as well. I made sev­eral me­chan­i­cal tweaks through­out my ca­reer, the bulk of them after my el­bow blew out. I lost roughly 4 mph. Was it be­cause of the surgery/re­hab or the me­chan­i­cal changes? I pitched through some arm is­sues that I didn’t want to say any­thing about. I per­son­ally think ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son and try not to play the “what if ” game. I wouldn’t change a thing I did. I loved ev­ery minute of it. I ab­so­lutely wish I got the op­por­tu­nity to pitch in the big leagues, but “what if” this was sup­posed to be my path?

Mark Tea­hen

Ma­jor leagues: 9 sea­sons. High­est an­nual salary: $4.75 mil­lion

Pro­fes­sional base­ball is a con­stant ad­just­ment: to the weather con­di­tions, the op­pos­ing pitcher or to your liv­ing sit­u­a­tion. Jump­ing from mi­nor league base­ball in small towns on a tiny salary to play­ing on a na­tional stage for big bucks was a shock to my sys­tem. Com­pet­ing against the best play­ers in the world was a large enough dif­fer­ence, but the in­stant no­to­ri­ety and pub­lic spot­light was a huge change from the mi­nor leagues. Ev­ery great play is on ESPN, but it’s also im­pos­si­ble to hide when you are strug­gling or make an er­ror that costs the team.

After be­ing drafted, I com­pletely re­worked my col­lege swing to be able to hit high­er­cal­iber pitch­ers. Less than a year later, I was traded to the Kansas City Roy­als — which was the first of nine times I would be traded. I was on the Di­a­mond­backs for two months, the Reds for one day and the Rangers for 10 days! I quickly re­al­ized to­mor­row wasn’t guar­an­teed, so I bat­tled and tried to get com­fort­able quickly so that I could per­form on the field. The game was the same — but I had new team­mates, new per­son­al­i­ties and a new or­ga­ni­za­tion to im­press. The ef­fort to find my niche be­came as chal­leng­ing as be­ing a pro­duc­tive player.

Jeremy Brown

Ma­jor league games: 5

Walk­ing away from base­ball was one of the tough­est de­ci­sions that I have ever had to make. I had come to a point where my per­sonal life was more im­por­tant than con­tin­u­ing base­ball. I was go­ing through a di­vorce and my kids lived in Florida. I wanted to be closer to them and not trav­el­ing all the time while they were so young. I love the game and had the time of my life when I was play­ing. If cir­cum­stances had been dif­fer­ent, some­one would have had to rip the jersey off of my back to stop me from play­ing.

I en­joyed the mi­nor league life­style. I en­joyed what we were get­ting paid to do — even if it was a bit like “Ground­hog Day.” You play. You come home. You work out and then play again. I moved back near my home town of Huey­town, Ala., and worked as a coal miner with my dad on the night shift. But now I’ve com­pleted my col­lege de­gree and I’m about to get my teacher’s cer­tifi­cate. I’m a reg­u­lar guy from Alabama now, but I was a reg­u­lar guy from Alabama when I was play­ing, too. I con­tinue to work with lots of as­pir­ing base­ball play­ers through our Dixie Youth pro­gram. One day soon, I hope to open an in­door base­ball fa­cil­ity for the kids and coach full time. I have a knack for it.

Lloyd Turner

533 mi­nor league games; 622 in in­de­pen­dent league

As a player, I did ex­pe­ri­ence a piece of the Amer­i­can Dream. I also suf­fered through the real­ity. Part of the grind wore on me men­tally. I truly be­lieved in my abil­ity, and yet, there was an­other part of the game that was filled with fear of not mak­ing it. The Men­tal Game of base­ball is hard, es­pe­cially in your young 20s. I al­lowed so many things that I couldn’t con­trol af­fect me in a neg­a­tive way. I started search­ing for who I was as a player. If I wasn’t in the lineup, I be­came very an­gry. If I played and didn’t get more than one hit, I wor­ried that I may not play the next day. But you can’t con­trol the lineup, some­one else’s pro­mo­tion, or how a coach views you. Th­ese wor­ries kept me from sleep­ing at night. And that’s a sure­fire way not to play your best the next game. I should have just stayed ready for the next op­por­tu­nity and kept do­ing my nor­mal rou­tine. There was noth­ing to search for and a lot to en­dure. En­dur­ing some­thing means you con­tinue to be­lieve in your­self and do what it is that you do best and not CHANGE!

Steve Stan­ley

Mi­nor league av­er­age: .292 in 432 games

I came from a place of deep trust for all peo­ple. I never looked at re­la­tion­ships cau­tiously. That changed when I turned pro. Most of the play­ers that I saw have great suc­cess were the ones that un­der­stood that they needed to pro­tect them­selves. Nick Swisher was a good ex­am­ple. I watched him in the cage in Sacra­mento, where a coach was giv­ing him feed­back. He was tak­ing it in stride. He would try it for the ses­sion, and then when it was over he would go right back to do­ing things his way. He was bril­liant at the pol­i­tics of the game.

Mark McLe­more came down to Sacra­mento on a AAA re­hab stint and summed it up beau­ti­fully. My coaches in AAA truly be­lieved that I needed to pull the ball more and stop try­ing to go to the op­po­site field so much. I was in the cage hit­ting and a coach said, “Those cheap hits to left field won’t work in the show.” I stepped out of the cage and McLe­more looked at me and said: “Don’t lis­ten to a word they are say­ing. That place where you are hit­ting the ball has $20 mil­lion in it.” He was re­fer­ring to his ca­reer earn­ings for be­ing a op­po­site-field hit­ter.

GILLES PERESS

Mark Tea­hen in Sur­prise, Ariz., at the Roy­als’ fall league in 2004. The Oak­land Ath­let­ics traded Tea­hen to Kansas City in June that year, and the in­fielder ended up play­ing in the ma­jors for nine sea­sons.

MTV

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Bill Clin­ton, with Tabitha Soren, takes ques­tions from a live au­di­ence in 1992.

TABITHA SOREN

Ben Fritz at a mo­tel pool in Phoenix in 2013. On his in­jury-rid­dled time in base­ball: “I per­son­ally . . . try not to play the ‘what if ’ game. I wouldn’t change a thing I did. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

LOU NOBLE

Tabitha Soren’s photography ca­reer be­gan while ac­com­pa­ny­ing her writer hus­band on story as­sign­ments.

TABITHA SOREN

TABITHA SOREN

A tin­type photo of Steve Stan­ley, who told Soren, “Most of the play­ers that I saw have great suc­cess were the ones that un­der­stood that they needed to pro­tect them­selves” by play­ing the pol­i­tics of the game as well.

TABITHA SOREN

Lloyd Turner at a mo­tel in Clin­ton, Iowa, in 2003, dur­ing a road trip when he played for the Kane County Cougars, then the Ath­let­ics’ Sin­gle-A af­fil­i­ate. “The Men­tal Game of base­ball is hard,” Turner told Soren, “es­pe­cially in your young 20s.”

TABITHA SOREN

Jeremy Brown in 2007, when he was catch­ing for the mi­nor league Sacra­mento River Cats. He played in five ma­jor league games for Oak­land in 2006. After leav­ing base­ball, Brown later be­came a coal miner along­side his dad in Alabama.

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