Thursday, January 30, 2003

Of baseball transitions


Photos pay tribute to dad's works

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This is a story about happy endings and bright beginnings. About the last pitch at one ballpark and the first pitch at another.

It follows the Schildman family through two generations, three stadiums and 33 years via thousands of photographs.

That span of people, places and pictures deals with a daughter's love of her father and a desire to pay tribute to his memory. This story about Linda Schildman, her dad, Bill, and the photos they took 32 years apart - the last pitch at Crosley Field and the final fastball at Cinergy Field - touches on a trait shared by many Cincinnatians. Natives see it as part of the city's proud sense of tradition.

Outsiders and the uninitiated perceive this trait as a sign of being resistant to change. They are mistaken.

As the Schildmans' story shows, this trait gives Cincinnatians the capacity to cling to the past while looking to the future.

The story begins on the night of June 24, 1970 - the Reds' last game at Crosley Field. Bill, a builder by trade and photographer in his heart, sat in the stands. He was enjoying two of his passions, spending time with his wife, Betty, and photographing ballplayers.

Bill got the last pitch on film.

Normally, when he was pleased with what he shot, he'd say to Betty: "I think I got something tonight."

Not that night.

"He just put the negative in his files," Betty recalled as she sat with Linda in the basement office of her Springfield Township home.

After Bill retired, he pulled out the negative, made some prints and started selling them at craft shows in malls.

His photograph of the last pitch became famous. It has sold in the thousands to customers around the world. The photo has been displayed at the Hall of Fame and appeared in the Oscar-winning film Rain Man. Pretty good for a guy who never saw his work exhibited in a gallery or art museum.

The sepia-toned photo captures the lights, the scoreboard, the players and the ballpark as they fade into the past, one era passing to the next.

Six nights later, Bill shot the first pitch at Riverfront Stadium, long before it became Cinergy Field and then a pile of rubble.

Bill died in 1999. So, it fell to Linda, a photographer when she isn't managing the Western Hills Plaza Old Navy store, to carry on the family tradition and shoot the last pitch at Cinergy.

Linda went with her brother.

"I had him bring his camera," she said. "I needed a backup."

And moral support.

She was crying during the last pitch, not for the old stadium. For her dad.

"I swear I could feel his presence," she said.

"I had to do this. It's my way of paying tribute to him."

Her tribute shows her dad's touch. Both last pitch photos vibrate with implied action. The runner at first prepares to break for second. Here's the windup. And the pitch.

Framed copies of the father's and daughter's photos rest on tables in Betty's basement. She does the framing and answers the phone when someone calls (513) 931-8436 in search of a shot capturing a first or last pitch.

Great American Ball Park opens March 31. Linda will be there. Camera in hand.

"Have to," she said, "for my dad."

She can't wait for the first pitch.

Bet she'll get something good.

Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.




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