Thursday, December 6, 2012

Strick's 2012 PAC-10 Fall Sports Highlights

Spring-Ford district football champs.
     High school fall sports is the season that I enjoy photographing the best. With near perfect days and moderate temperatures most of the time, what's not to like shooting these outdoor events. There are cold rainy days at the end of the season, but mostly games are played in ideal conditions.
     Spring-Ford's District 1 champion football team was the last to play this year defeated by Coatesville in the state playoffs to end the Rams best season in a long time. I've read it many times that unless you finish off by winning the state title the last game will no doubt end in a disappointing loss. But along the way were many positive moments from various sports and photographs that I have snapped that highlight another great year.
Boyertown PAC-10 soccer champs.
I can't say that I favor one sport over another as each  offers challenges to get the best shots. Soccer and field hockey are great action sports with little time stoppage and players are constantly moving around the field. Spring-Ford battled Upper Perk for the PAC-10 field hockey title and afforded me a pile of post game celebration pictures to choose for The Mercury's sports page. Tennis is fairly easy to cover and players get emotional at times on a good volley.
Methacton's Brandon Vance
     The PAC-10 golf championship was held at Gilbertsville Golf Course. The winner was decided on a one hole playoff with Methacton's Brandon Vance cracking a long straight drive down the fairway.  All participants from each school followed the two players battling for the title. It made for a some gallery pressure but these seasoned players seemed unaffected.
     There was no fist pumping or high fives after Vance sank the winning birdie putt. He calmly walked over and shook hands with runner-up Carlo Barrasse walking off the green together in a classy finish.
Spring-Ford PAC-10 field hockey champs
     Football is another opportunity to grab some good pictures. I won't get real effective photos from teams who are running constantly up the middle for two or three yards with the defense gang tackling in piles. I like teams that mix in a variety of plays where a quarterback will launch a pass or a running back will bounce outside scrambling down the sidelines for a long touchdown. Pottsgrove  had a PAC-10 title winning season getting closed out in district play.
Pottsgrove are PIAA state cross country champs.
     There was one team this fall that swept all the titles. The Pottsgrove Falcon boys cross country team won the PIAA State AA Boys cross country champions. I watched them earlier in the season and they bunched their runners together in a pack ganging up on teams with a strong group also winning districts and a PAC-10 title. After a strong season in 2011,  early on this year they showed their potential and teamwork. The veteran bunch made the best of their year going out as title winners.
     The weather has turned cold and its back inside for another season of hoops, swimming and wrestling. But not before playing tribute to the good sports that take to the green fields in autumn.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Travel - Washington, D.C. : My favorite city

The W.W. II Memorial and Washington Monument in background.
     I consider Washington, D.C. my favorite city in the United States. As a small boy our family lived near the nations capital in Silver Springs, Maryland while my dad was stationed at the Walter Reed Army hospital.
     Though we moved back to Pottstown after several years, Washington left a lasting impression on me and I remember not wanting to move back to Pennsylvania.
     Almost every weekend we would pile in the family station wagon and drive into the city for a day at the Smithsonian. Or run around underneath the cherry blossoms and also to climb the stairs of the Washington Monument which in my youth we were still allowed to do. These days, visitors are ushered into a line to wait for an elevator. Currently the monument is closed after an earthquake caused damage to the stone work and engineers are still trying to figure out how to repair cracks in the structure.
The Vietnam War Memorial.
     Deb and I try to travel to D.C. annually and recently took a trip that included a weekend in Baltimore. There are numerous hotels from which to choose. We have stayed near the BWI Airport at the Hampton Inn. It's ideally located to see both cities. The hotel is close to the Baltimore - Washington Parkway and we can drive twenty minutes to the Greenbelt Metro subway station, park the car and ride the Metro instead of trying to find limited parking in the busy city. On weekends parking is free and the cost of a Metro day pass after 9:30 a.m. is fourteen dollars for unlimited use.
     It's best to get a game plan together for a daily visit as it is impossible to see everything in one day.  My sister and her husband were along and hadn't been in the city for years. Though I like to stop in at least one Smithsonian building, we decided to enjoy the warm December day and stayed outside touring the Lincoln Memorial, walked along the mall and reflecting pool and visited the World War II, Korean and Vietnam War memorials. Comfortable shoes are a must in a city that I prefer to walk.  Without rushing around it took until early afternoon to see the highlights that day.
The Lincoln Memorial.
 The final part was spent taking a Segway tour on a fascinating two wheeled battery powered people mover. My wife Deb has always wanted to travel on a Segway and she was the one who excitedly reserved our ride. We picked the Capital Segway tour located in the 1300 block of I Street NW. The employees were friendly and excellent teachers giving us tips so that we felt confident aboard our unique mode of transportation. You learn skills on how to climb on and off and to keep yourself balanced. You lean forward to move ahead and stand up straight to slow down and stop. Our seasoned tour guide effectively herded a group of  novice riders along bike lanes and paths making it feel like a walk in the park. Riders are comfortable enough after a short introduction to navigate around.
Strick's Pics and family on Segway's in front of the White House.
     Once we took to the streets we rode to a our first stop in front of the White House. The 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue is now a pedestrian only area with the roadway blocked off to trucks and automobiles. Police kept a watchful eye as visitors snapped pictures. We had the opportunity to buzz around the street on our machines. People would turn and stare, still intrigued even though the Segway has been around for a number of years.
     We listened on an earpiece as the guide gave an audible description of architecture and facts as we rolled by historic buildings. We completed our two hour tour safely. A half block away from the Segway business was the McPherson Square Metro station making for an easy turnaround to Greenbelt to complete the day.
     There is so much to do and see in the District of Columbia and I enjoy reminiscing about my days there as a boy.  On my list of things I have yet to see is the Smithsonian's Native American museum. Also, as a news photographer, a look at a museum dedicated to the history of the newspaper business named the Newseum.  It's nice to have an excuse to return to a place that I also call home.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

     As a staff photographer at The Mercury, I keep an eye on the weather every day.  I try to plan ahead so that I'm prepared for an approaching storm. I charge up my laptop, cell phone and camera batteries. Get out my rain gear and place everything within easy reach. Candles and flash lights are set out for power outages. Now all I can do is wait for Hurricane Sandy.
View of the Schuylkill River before the hurricane. It never overflowed its banks.
     I fire up the computer or check the weather on my cell phone looking at news updates and satellite images to see what NOAA is predicting for the storm. As the hurricane churned through Cuba and the Caribbean causing destruction and loss of life, I started to follow the advancing cyclone more closely. I watch The Weather Channel on television but not much of the local news stations. I have many weather apps and news sources that I follow.
     Most residents took this storm seriously as it tracked pretty much as predicted. On the days leading up to the storm hitting our area, I moved things around in my downstairs rec room in case we got the 8 to 12 inches of rain they were calling for. It's not like I get water when it rains but with that much expected over the next day or two I would rather try to prepare then to work through a mess later.
The Wagner's move furniture in North Coventry Township.
     On Sunday morning, I met up with reporter Brandie Kessler at the office and we cruised the neighborhoods along the Schuylkill River looking for residents who were taking belonging to higher ground. We saw Howard Wagner Sr. and son Howie Jr. moving furniture and appliances out of his home on Riverside Dr. in North Coventry Township. Howard Sr. talked about how nice it is living there when he wasn't worrying about the river. But he said it gets old moving things as you get older. Luckily for him the river didn't rise above flood stage.
     I shot photos of sangbags piled in front of doorways at the Montgomery County Community College which sits near the banks of the Manatawny Creek. Also snapped pictures of municpal trucks filled with barricades and stop signs ready to be moved to locations where power outages would occur. Checking late in the day, I saw that the hurricane was going to make a direct hit on New Jersey and it was so big that New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania would feel Sandy's worst.
Traffic light works after damage in Pottstown.
     A steady rain fell but nothing like expected in the tri-county. By 10 p.m. the gale force winds howled into our local coverage area. None of the nor'easters or hurricanes we have experienced have brought that strong of winds where we live. Our lights flickered but remained on through the night. But at midnight the rain gutter on our house pulled loose and banged over the roof and bent around the chimney. I went outside and gusts made it difficult to get the twisted metal off the roof. I grabbed the gutter and pulled and the wind caught hold and slammed it onto the ground. I tucked it into an area of the deck where it couldn't blow around and cause anymore damage.
     This was the only problem we had on our property and it was very minor compared to what happened at the shore. I was watching updates on twitter and monitored fire and emergency stations to see where damage and incidents were happening most of the night. Locally, trees were falling in every town and township knocking out power to thousands of homes.
      When I saw images from the shore and in New York City, I knew we had dodged the worst. The wind whipped storm damaged homes and entire towns on the New Jersey barrier islands were flooded. NYC was brought to a standstill as power failed and darkened the city. Water flooded the subways, tunnels and low lying areas and an inferno burned over a hundred homes in Queens. My little gutter pales as a minor little irritation and I'm thankful that the roof didn't blow off during the height of the storm.
     By morning I was out at first light and reporter Kessler was with me. The first location we stopped was on Park Court in Pottstown where a huge oak tree fell onto the Sutton family home damaging the roof. This turned out to be the front page lead photo. It was the telling shot of what happened throughout our coverage area. And locally it's what our readers want to see.
Snapped poles and wires in Linfield.
     We stopped at many locations tweeting photos and video for followers and to readers on our website whenever we could get a cell phone signal. Utility poles were splintered under the weight of fallen trees. Electric lines were a tangled mess and we talked to chilly residents without power most understanding the magnitude of the repair job ahead for linemen.
     My daughter Kelli, son-in-law Andy, their two children and two dogs were without power for several days and ended up at our house until the electric lines were repaired. During the 2011 'Snowtober' event around Halloween last year their power was out seven days.
     So it was up to me to spoil the grand kids during their stay with snacks, drinks and playtime. Three year old Lydia was sitting on my lap in her Cinderella costume and we were watching Dora the Explorer. Her mother informed her it was time for bed. We pleaded our case to let us finish watching the episode and her mom agreed saying 'Poppy we aren't going to start this are we?' I just smiled back giving little girl a hug.
     Andy's parents live year-round on Long Beach Island and the family also has rental properties.  They are still waiting to get onto to the island to assess all the damage but was informed by Andy's brother Dustin that their homes withstood the hurricane. Dustin works for the municipality and rode the storm out in Beach Haven and watched helplessly as the storm surge from the ocean pushed water across the island to the bay. He stayed behind so he could help with emergency cleanup the following day.
Downed tree smashed the roof at the Sutton home in Pottstown.
     After a nerve wracking night the flood water subsided and left behind tons of sand everywhere in its wake. He went to work along with others and began plowing deep heavy sand from roadways to cut paths so that the utility crews, township officials and emergency personnel could access the damage and begin repairs. In a video he posted, I saw huge piles of sand heaped up over six feet along the roads as far as you could see. 
     Many local homes have been reconnected to the power grid and lights again shine at night across our area. But, it may be a long time until things return to normal for families hit hardest and begin rebuilding their lives in the northeast.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Travel - A trip to the past aboard the WK & S Railroad

     There are photographs taken of me as a kid that draw out belly laughs from family and friends. Whether it's the outfit I'm wearing, a bad haircut or wacky expression, there is no living down these images captured for posterity. I think my parents took these photos as a way to get even with me for all the aggravation I caused as an ornery little kid.

Strick's Pics, left with sister Lisa and brother Gary in '67

     But, I have one photo that I'm very fond of and consider it my favorite taken in my youth. The picture shows my sister Lisa, brother Gary and myself standing in front of steam locomotive 250 in October of 1967. We looked like refugees ready to board the train for a trip off to Siberia. Style wasn't a concern of my parents. Back then I wore pants with the knees covered in patches. If they didn't have holes and were clean, they were dress clothes.
     My sister loved her little mint green jacket and wore it everywhere. Gary never took off his knit cap. He even pulled it down over his head at night to straighten his curly hair. There's nothing fancy about my outfit, but I liked the goofy black sweater with the red diamonds.
     For year's I thought the steam train we rode was at the Strasburg Railroad in Lancaster County. But, with the help of the internet, I was surprised to find out that the home of the train we rode over 40 years ago was the Wanamaker, Kempton & Southern Railroad in Kempton, Pa.
     Seeing where the train was located, I reached out by email to the staff and sent the old photo which they verified was indeed a locomotive that ran on their line. From that point I made plans with my siblings and our spouses to recreate the photograph as we look today after decades of time having ticked by.
     As I've stated in other articles, Deb and I like to take train rides and have been on various steam and diesel passenger trains around the U.S. Whether it's a short ride or one of several hours it's a pleasure to travel back in time aboard the historic railroads. We rarely drive into Philadelphia. When planning a day trip, we will take the Septa R-6 line from Norristown and sit back on the way to the city. We walk around town, do some sightseeing, enjoy lunch, maybe some shopping and then it's back aboard for our return.
     We made a full day of our trip to Kempton on a recent Sunday. Driving on Rt. 73 we stopped at the Creekside Diner in Pleasantville for breakfast of our favorite Johnny Appleseed baked oatmeal. It's a tasty treat in the cozy western-themed rustic diner. Afterwards we traveled up over the mountains on Route 737 arriving at the railroad yard.
     My sister had made a reprint of the photo and we showed it to several of the workers who were running the train. The WK&S, #250 was no longer at the Kempton site and had been sold and moved by rail to New Hampshire in the early 1970s. The locomotive is currently at the Edaville Railroad in Carver, Massachusetts and is no longer in operation.
     We decided to shoot our picture in front of the old steam locomotive #2 that sits on site near the maintenence building and was the first operational engine when the WK&S opened in 1963. The #2 isn't in service but made for a beautiful backdrop for our current snapshot. To give the photograph an authentic look Lisa presented our brother with a gold beanie and he was a good sport wearing it on for the picture. 
As we look today in October 2012.
     On the crisp autumn afternoon and under a clear blue sky my wife Deb took several snaps to record our little piece of history. We could hear the whistle off in the distance so we made our way back to the platform for a ride on the rails. The train was comprised of locomotive #734, three coach cars with comfortable upholstered chairs, an open air car and a caboose that passengers could ride in.
     All of the cars were filled with families and young children taking their first rides just as we had. It was the 'Pumpkin Patch' train weekend and at the halfway point children and parents hopped off and raced around picking out their favorite pumpkins that were part of their day of adventure. The kids brought their prize back with them for the return trip.
     While we were stopped, I talked with engineer Jim Krause who is also the general manager of operations. Jim filled me in on the history of the #250 as he looked at our old photo. He knew the exact spot where it was taken. These little train lines have a unique history and it was nice to learn about the all-volunteer staff who give up many hours of their time to keep the WK&S running.     
     As we chugged along the countryside, the trees were in peak colors of red, yellow and orange just as they were in the fall of '67. Corn fields were a dry golden brown waiting for farmers to harvest. Leaves floated in the slow moving current of the cool Ontelaunee Creek. The hour long ride was a relaxing trip to enjoy.
     With our mission complete we looked around at some of the buildings and equipment. Before heading home, we matched up wooden siding and windows from a different photo as we figured out the angle from where it was taken. 
     I don't remember much from the time we spent as children on our ride in 1967, but I won't forget the fun we had this trip reminiscing with my family while the train rolled along.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Travel - Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

      It's that time of year again as cooler breezes fill the air, leaves begin to change color and I get the bug to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The first Saturday in October is the start of the annual Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.
     The week-long festival is one of the most photographed events in the world. It's no wonder with all the crazy shapes and sizes of balloons, camera buffs are snapping pictures non stop.
     I had waited years to attend and capture some shots of the famous air display. Finally, we were on site at 5 a.m. to beat the traffic jams on the highway leading into Balloon Fiesta Park. The air was cold and we were bundled up in layers as several 'dawn patrol' balloons took off in the early morning darkness. These balloons were fun to watch as they glowed in the sky when the burners were fired to keep them aloft. These early risers gave the other balloonists an idea of wind speed and direction when the mass ascension lifts off later in the morning.
     Deb and I walked around the grass covered field and watched the sun begin to rise. Pilots and crew members unfurled their colorful balloons. Our first day was the special shapes mass ascension. The imagination of the owners had no bounds on their creations. We saw close to ninety of these balloons from old favorites like Smokey the Bear to Star Wars creation Darth Vader.
     One of my favorites is the giant Saguaro cactus which is quite a character. The Creamland balloon is a massive full sized cow named Airabelle.  It took a lot of propane to heat the balloon envelope to get her airborne. The conditions were perfect that day, not a cloud in the sky and light winds pushing the balloons along.
     My wife Deb liked the bees Joey and Lilly. They have since added a little bee named Joelly and the three ascend together with the crowds cheering them on.
     Onlookers have unrestricted access during inflation with pilots answering questions while busily getting ready to launch. Thousands of people attend daily on the early morning and I enjoyed being in the crowds as part of the festivities. I'm shooting photos and suddenly my snapshot camera stopped working.  This wasn't good and realized after taking photos all week from Sedona, Arizona to The Grand Canyon and places in between that I filled up the digital card on the camera.
     What do I do now. I wasn't prepared for this and the special shape balloons were starting to fill up around me. That day would be the only time I'd get to see them. And then I saw a student carrying camera accessories, batteries and camera cards as a school fundraiser. I ran over to him and spent $20.00 on the biggest card he had and was back in business before the balloons took off from the field. I would have paid $100 not to miss shooting the colorful display.
      The sun was peaking from behind the Sandia Mountains and the sky turned a vivid blue. What a backdrop to contrast the array of colors floating in front of me. I put the camera down to watch them puff over my head and enjoy the moment.
      Friends we had met traveling asked if we wanted to go with them on an air balloon flight that same morning. We politely declined the invitation as I've been aboard balloons in the past. Deb and I made the choice to stay and watch from the ground.
     I had flown out of Memorial Park during several 4th of July celebrations. Lifting off with the crowds watching and me waving back is exciting. The feeling of floating quietly across the sky watching the ground below is very peaceful.  Of course, I was shooting photos for the newspaper those days.
    Once the special shapes left the field there was a break in the action, so Deb and I walked along vendors row and purchased a breakfast burrito that looked the size of a small log. When traveling, we like to snack on the local food and weren't disappointed with our choice. The green and red chile wasn't too hot, at least I didn't think so, and combined nicely with the egg, meat, cheese, beans and and other ingredients. What a tasty way to have breakfast before more balloons arrived.
     Hundreds of balloons at the mercy of the wind flew toward the field and the crews participated in a key grab competition. Deb was counting balloons as they went by and gave up at 250. Close to 500 balloons were in the air that day. The balloonists slowly descend toward large poles that are held up at different positions across the show grounds. The area is roped off to the public looking on for safety reasons. As the balloons slowly approach a co-pilot in the basket tries to reach down and grab a key that is fixed atop the pole.  It is harder than it looks. We watched as one person grabbed one only to lose his grip and the key fell to the ground. Prizes are given to those lucky enough to get a key.
    And just like that the last of the balloons floated off into the distance. It was a dizzying morning and I snapped many pictures on that day. It was probably one of the most enjoyable days of shooting photos that I've ever had.
My favorite photograph from the balloon fiesta.
      Deb and I would travel back to Albuquerque every year if we had the chance. But when opening day comes this weekend I will feel like I'm there even though I'm in Pennsylvania. With a live video feed from two of the local television stations I will see the mass ascensions from my computer and participate in the chat room with other folks from around the world who also check in. I may not be on site but it's still nice to be part of this year's 41st annual event.
     And for me, I can watch dressed in pajamas in the warmth of my computer room. Maybe I'll make a breakfast burrito to take it a notch higher. But not too hot on the chile.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Travel - The Wright Brothers National Memorial

Replica of Wright's planes.
      While on vacation at the beach in Nags Head, North Carolina, my wife Deb and I decided to take a side trip to visit the Wright Brother National Memorial in Kill Devils Hills. This was our first visit to the Outer Banks which included a houseful of family.
      With a total of eighteen people under one roof in a giant beach side home, it was time to get out and do a little sightseeing. The national memorial was a short ten minute drive from our rental house to Kitty Hawk along Route 158. Entrance fee to the property is $4.00 per adult and for me, well worth the money.
     I am always willing to visit a new national site around the United States and looked forward to seeing the location of the world's first engine driven air flight. A century has past since Orville Wright made the first powered flight on December 17, 1903.
Famous photo of first powered flight.
     My wife is interesting to follow around in museums that we visit. Deb will read every sign, story and piece of history hanging among the photos, artifacts and replica planes displayed. She says that while in school she never retained the U. S. history and now wants to absorb everything when we travel to these sites.
     I like to read some of the dates and important facts. And being a photographer, I'm drawn to the photographs of the first plane in flight. The photos are clean, clear and without motion blur. Conditions weren't ideal using those large format cameras. I wonder if I would have been able to capture the photo of the air bound Orville Wright. You only get one shot. There wasn't a do over if you missed the picture as there is only one first air flight.  
Markers locate flights.
     Once outside we walk to the stone markers locating the spots where the Wright Brothers completed the first four flights. Then we stood atop Kill Devil Hill at the memorial where they launched down the ninety foot hill until airborne under the power of their plane.
     Looking down from the top, I thought of Orville Wright winning the coin flip to become the first pilot to take to the air. What an intimidating view knowing the consequences of a flight gone bad.  Twelve long seconds is all that it lasted. Engine powered air flight officially began that December day.
Strick's pix with wife Deb, my sister Lisa & her husband Scott
     On the final flight Wilbur Wright took control of the plane. He traveled 852 feet in 59 seconds. The Western Union Telegraph Co. message to the Wright family in Dayton, Ohio stated "Success four flights thursday morning all against twenty one mile wind started from level with engine power alone average speed through air thirty one miles longest 57 seconds inform  Press  home #####Christmas.    Orevelle Wright     525P"
     Today, we take their accomplishments for granted as we jet across the country in only hours. Their first flights on that day one hundred years ago led to other great Americans looking to the sky like Chuck Yeager, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. The Wright Brothers were true pioneering heroes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

News Comes Calling

     My wife Deb and I arrived home late Saturday afternoon after a week's vacation in the Outer Banks in North Carolina along with our family. It didn't take long for duty as a Mercury photographer to begin again. The incident was a vehicle crash a block away from our West Pottsgrove Township home.
     We had finished unpacking our bags, straightened up all the beach gear and settled in to watch the night college football game when I heard a loud crash and immediately the FIOS went out. The power remained on but the television feed was gone.
      Grabbing my camera, I looked over at Deb and said someone smashed into a utility pole and headed out the door. Walking down the street I could see neighbors looking out windows and others heading over to a yard where a compact car was sitting. The front end was crumpled where it had struck the pole and the injured driver was still inside.  Light smoke rose from the engine compartment and wires were laying across the vehicle.
      The utility pole that the driver hit was in pieces with part still attached to low hanging wires. The transformer fell from the pole and was in the street.  It was a dangerous situation and those trying to help moved cautiously around the scene not to contact any of the electrified lines.
      I walked carefully around the scene also, as it was very dark without street lights to illuminate the area. I snapped photos and recorded video of the wrecked vehicle, then sent the files along with calling in details to get the story on the web.
     The injured driver was trapped inside the car for close to an hour until all power was shut down to electrical lines. Once the power was off rescue crews safely moved the driver to a waiting ambulance and transported him to the hospital.
     When I got back home the power was off so we decided to call it a night. That wasn't how I thought our first evening home from the beach would go. But on this day news came calling close to home.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Travel - Yankees vs Orioles at Camden Yards

     Back in June I purchased tickets for a major league baseball game in Baltimore to see the Yankees play the Orioles at Camden Yards. I never would have guessed that both would be locked up in a pennant race tied atop the American League East division. Apparently neither did fans as I easily bought tickets for first level seats.
The Babe
     I've been to Camden Yards before and it's a not a bad drive from Pa. to Maryland. We have found back roads and are only on Route 95 for a short time to limit the intense driving. The last time I attended a game was to see Cal Ripken play and to shoot some photos of him during his long consecutive streak starting games for the O's. At that game I was cheering for the home team enjoying the cozy park.
Camden Yards
     This time I was there for the Yankees, but you wouldn't know it from my clothing. I will never wear an opposing teams colors into a visiting stadium.  I consider Baltimore fans very friendly but with the rivalry heating up, there is no need to look for trouble. Many others don't seem to care. We were surrounded by Yankee fans all dressed in blue and white with team caps on their heads. I was in friendly company. But in between many pockets of Yankee loyalists were Oriole fans blanketing the stadium in bright orange.
     It's been a long time since they have been in a pennant race this late in the year and with their strong pitching and powerful hitting the team has kept pace with the division leading Yankees.
O's Boog Powell and Strick's Pics
     We booked a hotel only two blocks from the stadium so it was an easy walk for the start of the game from our room. I always bring a camera along wherever I go and entering through the front gate I snap a picture of the huge statue of Babe Ruth. Knowing that he's honored for his birth in Baltimore and signed by the O's before being traded, I still find it odd to see his likeness since he's one of the Yankee greats of all time.
      From there we made our way through the crowd to an area where several of the top former Oriole players are remembered with bronzed statues.  Cal Ripken's statue was unveiled the night before and fans stood next to his shining full length likeness and had their pictures snapped.
Derek Jeter
     I walked up to Boog Powell who was greeting fans near his barbeque pit. The former O's first baseman gave me a strong handshake and smile as we took a picture together. Even at his age I'd bet he could still jack a homer out of the yard.
     Walking around the stadium, we stopped near home plate and I walked down to the third row from the field to shoot a couple of photos of Derek Jeter swinging the bat warming up in the on deck circle. I also snapped some of the crowded dugout just before game time, then made our way to the seats along the third baseline.
    The pitching duel between the Yank's Phil Hughes and the O's Wei-Yin Chen lasted only three innings as New York smashed three homers to build a seven run lead by the end of the fifth inning. We were walking around the outfield standing room only area and watched as Alex Rodriguez crushed his 300th homer as a Yankee.
     I'd much rather see a lot of action on the base paths then to watch a bunch of strikeouts and I got my wish. There was a lot of hitting going on in this game by both teams.
Yankee's win.
     In the bottom of the ninth with one out, I walked to a spot behind the Yankee dugout to take a couple photos as I anticipated the Yankees celebrating a win. Along the way N.Y. closer Rafael Soriano gave up a solo shot to Manny Machado. But it was too late for the O's losing 8-5. The Yankees were in sole possession of first place for another day as the teammates congratulated each other .
    Win or lose it was a great day to be a part of America's favorite game. But it felt good walking back to the hotel with a winning smile.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

BMX - Racers on the fast track to fun

     Racers nervously wait at the starting line. Get set. The gate drops and riders pedal furiously, hit the first hill and grab some air time making their way around the track. I'm covering the BMX national race held at Memorial Park in Pottstown. Photographs are a dime a dozen as the young kids whip around corners and jockey for the lead.
     These are enjoyable assignments, with me smiling as I watch the youngsters put their bikes through the paces. Kids take it seriously when they race, but most are still having fun interacting with their buddies. Many turn this into a family tradition. Mom, dad and the kids hop into an RV or pickup truck pulling a trailer and cruise to tracks around the United States.
      I think it would have been fun to have the opportunity to run a track like that as a kid, but the best we could do was ride on a bumpy field with a small hill to jump. Our bikes weren't sturdy enough to take the punishment either. But the one thing we had back when I was a little shaver was the chance to ride my bike on roads, sidewalks and open ground across the area.
     The land wasn't as built up and traffic was much less intense. My friends and I would make plans to ride to a destination with at least one long hill to coast down at break neck speed. And I'm serious about the break neck! Some days I would head back home with road rash on knees and elbows after a spill.
     The objective of our riding would lead us to Mauger's Mill Rd. which was one of the longest and highest hills we could pedal.  Once there, we would line up and look down from the N. Hanover St. intersection to make sure there wasn't a car in site. Then it was Ready, Set, Go! We would speed all the way with our eyes watering to see who would get to the bottom first. I don't think kids today can do this type of riding as cars seem to be everywhere on roads these days.
     There are some guys my age in their 50s riding the BMX bikes, but I have limited my riding to a steady pace aboard a mountain bike on area trails these days.
      Photographing these young girls, boys, teens and adults zipping by is a good way to spend an afternoon. Kids like to get airborne, some having a natural knack and are fearless on the way to the finish line.
      Others end up with cuts, bruises and band aids from a fall on the course. Most get up, brush themselves off and pedal to the end of the track and head back in line for another race.
      So even if kids may not have the freedom to travel the wide open spaces that hardly exist anymore, they can make up for it on the BMX fast track to fun.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Travel - Wine camp on Long Island, N.Y.

      Going off to camp wasn't an option for my wife Deb or me as kids. A normal summer day would include riding my bike all over town, a day at the pool and playing baseball.
A variety of wines.
     So as adults, Deb scouted a vacation on the internet that looked interesting to her. We were headed to summer camp. This wasn't a roll out the sleeping bags and pop up the tents trip complete with gnats and mosquitoes. Our destination was the North Fork of Long Island, New York for a five day adventure at Wine Camp.
     Our stay was at the Ellis House Bed and Breakfast and we were shuttled around to wineries by limousine for a relaxed learning experience on the fine art of growing grapes and wine making.

Limosines shuttled us across the North Fork.

     On arrival we were greeted by Ellis House owner Connie Ellis and she briefed us on our afternoon activities. Her husband Scott was always busy behind the scenes helping prepare breakfasts, one which included Creme Brulee French Toast and raspberry sauce. Tasty. There were a total of thirteen campers with some in the group staying at the Harvest Inn B & B.
     We met up at the Paumanok Winery where owner Charles Massoud gave an overview of the Long Island wine industry. He talked about his first life as an executive with IBM and now how he, his wife Ursula and family manage their vineyard. It was a very casual setting as we sat among the growing vines. After our chat we headed inside for our first wine tasting and got to know the other campers.
Our morning menu.
     Every camper came from a different background but our common interest was gaining some new insight on wine and having fun while learning. It wasn't a dry teaching and listening experience. We were involved in various aspects of the vineyards. There were novices in the group just beginning to branch out enjoying wines to experts including consultants from Yellow Tail Wines of Australia who were on a winery touring vacation across the United States.
Anthony Nappa at the Winemaker Studio.
     DISCLAIMER: I am not a wine expert nor do I pretend to be. Deb and I enjoy traveling and participating in different experiences on the road. That said, I am a wine consumer. At home in Pennsylvania, we drive around the Berks County and Lehigh Valley Wine Trails sampling various bottles of whites and reds. And we buy from the local wineries including the Manatawny Winery which is in our back yard in Amity township.
     There isn't a need to travel far for a taste of grapes, but we've also traveled to the California wine country. One of the highlights of the trip was a ride on The Napa Valley Wine Train for wine tasting and dinner on board. We also stopped at Nicholson Ranch in Sonoma where we toured the winery and again sampled wines while enjoying a gourmet lunch outdoors surrounded by vine covered hillsides.
A catered lunch under a canopy of wine leaves.
     Back in Long Island wine country we learned that the first vineyard was planted only 39 years ago as the agricultural industry of growing potatoes, cauliflower and other vegetables fell on hard times. Farmers were selling out as second and third generations of families lost interest in the strenuous work for little profit.
     Back then, the ground was moderately priced. Newcomers who were tired of working in the big city or finishing up first careers bought up the acreage and began a new way of life on Long Island's North Fork. Early on in the '70s was a learning experience for the founding owners on what grapes worked during a growing season with land surrounded by water and how vines should be planted. They found that planting rows east to west didn't allow for enough sun exposure on the vines. So now the majority of vines are running north to south. As the sun rises over the vineyards it sweeps over the leaves evenly from morning until dusk. I get an A for remembering that history and wine science. Can you say photosynthesis.
Eric Fry talks on wine blending at Lenz Winery.
     At Sherwood House Vineyards we learned how to taste wines and figuring out the flavors. What we liked, what we didn't and that everyone has different opinions on wines. We had a science class on the chemistry of winemaking with Anthony Nappa. Then we traveled to Lenz Winery which was founded in 1978. We learned the art of blending wine with winemaker Eric Fry trying to figure out what we wanted in a red wine blend.      
    We paired with several campers and four teams competed to see who could make the best wine. The blending was made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Our group liked our finished product and toasted each other clinking glasses thinking we had a winner. Needless to say we lost and my wife Deb's team won using equal parts of the three wines. I have yet to live down her victory as she teasingly reminds me at times when we are sipping a glassful at home.
Strick's Pics blending wine.
     We also learned the fine art of tasting wines that were still aging in barrels and spitting out the juice into a bucket. My accuracy was lacking and much ended up a maroon spot on the concrete floor. I love camp! Fry was an expert and could hit that bucket from across the room like an NBA player swishing a jump shot. But joking aside he is a master winemaker with degrees in microbiology and scientific knowledge helping to keep his vineyard healthy and to craft great wines.
Deb works at the Old Fields Vineyard.
     The next day of travel included talks about sustainable vineyard management at Jamesport Vineyard where we met Ron Goerler Jr. and his father Ron Sr. who started up one of the first vineyards on the island. We sampled more wine seated at a large table, surrounded by barrels in a smartly built cellar tasting room.
     Afterward, we were transported to The Old Field Vineyards where owner Roz Baiz put us to work in the fields. Her husband Chris stopped his tractor long enough to say hello then was back in the field trimming row after row of grapevines. At this point of the growing season, it was time for the campers to help at Old Field and raise the wires attached on the posts to their top position. The vines were growing fast and are trained between these wires. The grapes were the size of a firm pea and the clusters were just starting to grow. Deb and I worked as a team and started slowly making sure not to damage the vines. But we rookies got the system down and completed our work on a long row. Our reward was another wine tasting under the shade of oak trees on the property.
Ron Goerling Jr. and Sr. at Jamesport Winery.
     During one of our catered lunches we met author Jane Taylor Starwood who wrote an interesting book entitled "Long Island Wine Country" on the North Fork wineries. I had her autograph our copy. The people we met on the trip were very friendly. Not like some of the tense folks that are rushing around in New York City. Maybe it's the lifestyle, maybe it's the wine but we felt as if we became a part of their culture that week.
    Our final evening dining event was a food pairing and wine dinner with Marco and Ann Marie Bourgese. Mr. Borgese is an Italian prince whose heritage can be traced back nine centuries. He had an easy going manner and smile and an intelligent wine maker while his wife was a charming and knowledgable co-owner. She talked about their acquiring Long Island's first vineyard in 1998 from the original owners Louisa and Alex Hargrove who planted the first vines in 1973. Castello di Borghese Vineyard & Winery grows a variety of grapes from Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and others.
     We received a case of wine as a complimentary part of our tour including bottles from each winery we visited. And we bought others that we really enjoyed during our tasting events that week.
Young grape cluster on the vine.
    On completing wine camp our camp counselors Connie, Darolyn and Christopher presented us with certificates. Each couple was also bestowed a special honor. Deb and I were told that we are destined to be the next couple to own a vineyard on the North Fork determined by our work at Old Field Vineyard. We thanked them for the honor but I politely declined laughingly knowing how weeding the flower gardens at our home isn't for me.
     We'll travel back to the North Fork as there are more wineries on the island we'd like to visit and to stop and say hello to the friends we made on our trip. And next time we will take the time to sit along the Long Island Sound and watch the sailboats and enjoy the sunshine on a breezy summer afternoon.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Celebrating Independence Day

     Celebrating Independence Day for me normally involves covering 4th of July festivities for The Mercury. This year I photographed the first of the two day celebration in Pottstown shooting pictures of a group of hot air balloonists lifting off over Memorial Park, a country rock band and the big draw of the evening, THE BABY CONTEST.
     The events at the park make for numerous photo possibilities for the paper and website. The weather this year was ideal, no rain, not too warm. Just a perfect evening for activities. But don't think for a minute I wasn't sweating the baby contest.
      All the babies are winners in my book. The little girls and boys are smartly dressed for the occasion. But the mom's holding their children make me nervous. I'm kidding of course but it's hard to take a picture of each child and put them in the paper. But the looks I get at times seem to be asking me, "What about taking my baby's picture?" This year I had a father ask me laughingly, " How much money to take a picture for the paper?" I think he was serious.

      I work quickly scanning the crowd for a child that would make a good front page photo. A child learning to walk for the first time. Another waving a flag. All the girls are pretty as a picture and the boys are snappy looking. I can't go wrong by whomever I photograph.

     I keep my head down and try not to make eye contact with the moms. They look at me and then at their babies and then back at me. I'm intimidated. I have covered some of the toughest events for the paper for years but that baby contest has me back pedaling. So on this blog I'm including a number of the photos that may not have gotten covered in print but will make it onto the digital world for all to see.
     It's not hard to get a really good photo from the event, but I wish I were invisible. And to be a judge is a thankless job. I was asked to judge a contest years ago at a Berks County event and gladly participated. Little did I know what I was in for. Everyone wants their baby crowned as the winner. I felt like a baseball umpire making a bad call during a game. When it was over I made a hasty retreat to my car.
     But in the end, the parents do enjoy the day and maybe next year I will take pictures of their baby.