When Tabitha Soren accompanied her husband, Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, to the Oakland A’s spring training camp, it was a stroke of luck that the she brought her camera along. There, the former MTV reporter met the team’s 2002 minor league draft picks—21 young men whose lives she would follow for the next 14 years.
“When I met them, they were so full of hope and purpose that I felt like I wanted to capture that emotion on film,” Soren recalls.
While screaming fans and big money saturate the narrative of Major League Baseball’s superstars, the 180 photographs in Soren’s exhibit—titled “Fantasy Life”—capture the hidden faces and stories behind our national pastime. The resulting exhibition is less a celebration of baseball than it is an examination of human ambition; it is less about the dream, and more about the waking life of those who pursue a career in The Show.
“I definitely wanted to give an example of the fantasy we are most familiar with, which is the fantasy of success, of making it,” Soren says. “But I was just as interested in the way these players had to believe in the fantasy coming true to try to beat the odds.”
Of the 21 players she photographed, only five made it to the majors. The fates of the others remain scattered across various fields of Little League coaching, selling insurance and coal mining. Some have even struggled with poverty and homelessness.
“Baseball is a powerful metaphor for the American dream,” Soren says. And the idea echoes throughout her images, taken on and off the field, amid triumph and loss. One photo, Major League Tobacco Bubblegum, shows a dugout floor covered in pink gobs of discarded gum, wrappers and stains of chewing tobacco. The essentials of a player’s daily life are depicted here as a scrapheap of ephemeral objects—like so many farm league dreamers, chewed up and spit out before their time.
“Fantasy Life” is a reminder that, like the white picket fence, baseball is one of those great American myths that dance along the lines of success and failure. In contrast to the deadline-driven and documentarian nature of periodical sports photography, Soren’s images aim to capture more than the thrill of victory and agony of defeat. She also looks for scenes that speak to hope and doubt, affirmation and rejection.
The collection is on display on the ground floor of San Francisco’s City Hall from July 20 to Dec. 15. Soren will also be at Kepler’s Books on Wednesday for a live interview.
Jul 19, 12pm, Free
Kepler’s Books, Menlo Park