Final Thoughts on Brackman Project

Andrew Brackman signing day partyWell, this is going to probably be the final posting on the Andrew Brackman project. (sniff, sniff). Time to retire the project and the postings around it. Before I did, just wanted to share and write down some final thoughts about my experience.

First, I had a lot of fun doing the project. Andrew was great to work with, not to mention easy to work with. He made my job very easy and it is something I would do again. It took, of course, a lot of my time and energy. But it was worth every moment. This was new and uncharted territory for me and I was apprehensive at first. But Andrew, his family, the coaches and all the players made it as easy as possible for me. They all made me feel welcomed and I appreciated that greatly.

When I first started photographing sports as a student at UNC, the higher-profile athletes seemed larger-than-life. I stereotyped them as the kind of people who were different from everyone one else, and would not care to deign you with their company or attention. A short 5 second autograph would be the only interaction you could hope to have with them; and they may not even look at you in the eye when they did that.

But there have been times that athletes have broken down my preconceptions. An athlete at UNC or NC State emails me and tells me they appreciated all the photos that I took of them. Wow, that means so much to me personally when that happens. An athlete recognizes me and learns my name, saying hello to me on and off the field or court. When I was in Washington, DC, I worked for Jerry Stackhouse of the Washington Wizards and found him to be a great person. I did some photography work for Stackhouse and his family, and they welcomed me in their house – fed me too. I was amazed by how normal he was. But where previous athletes have broken down my preconceptions, Andrew Brackman shattered them for me.

My very first one-on-one experience with Andrew was doing his head shot his sophomore year in a moment he probably doesn’t recall any more. At NC State, we do all the head shots for the winter and spring athletes over a course of two days in late August. Andrew missed the two assigned days to get his head shot for baseball. (I guess he doesn’t break down the ‘scattered brain’ stereotype of athletes). So to compensate, we did his head shot the same day we did the wrestling team photo as the lighting equipment necessary would be already be set up. There were a couple wrestlers who also missed their head shot. As I was setting up he walked into the wrestling room where I was alone to have his head shot done. I realized that we did not have the box of baseball gear necessary to do his head shot. The box containing the baseball caps, jerseys and Under Armour shirts were in Bruce Winkworth’s office. So I told Andrew that I would need to get the box first. I left the wrestling practice room and Andrew followed me to Bruce’s office. We spotted the box in Bruce’s office and as I was about to bend down and get it, Andrew said “I’ll get it” and picked it up. A simple act, but it really surprised me. Andrew was also on the basketball team at the time and I guess I was expecting him to want me to do all the hard work. I felt bad about my prejudice about him, but after that day, I changed my opinion of him and respected him a little more. Of course, I thought it would be inconsequential. I expected to never really have any interaction with him and didn’t expect anyone would care about my opinion of him. But he made a fan out of me. If anyone did ask, I would say that I was impressed with him, even in what was a short encounter.

Obviously during the project I got to know Drew fairly well with all the time we spent together. In the process, I found him to be an extremely friendly person with a constant grin on his face. As a bit of a prankster, practical jokes pulled on his team mates were par for the course. So this is an advance warning to the Yankees clubhouse.

I never saw Drew get mad at anyone. When I think back on him I see him constantly smiling, laughing and always upbeat. Half my pictures of him off the mound are him with a smile across his face, almost as wide as he is tall. When he did get mad, it was only at himself. Drew was his worse critic and when he didn’t live up to his high-standards, he would be hard on himself. One vivid memory was when he pitched against Maryland on March 9th. There was an admittedly bad 3rd inning for the Pack, but in the game, which Andrew pitched all nine innings, he struck out nine and walked only one. Maryland scored 5 in the 3rd inning but Andrew remained resolute and strong; never backing down. I think it would have done in most pitchers. Despite his good performance, he was upset with himself that whole night. I joined Drew, his family and a handful of the other baseball players out for dinner that night at a sports bar. We watched the NC State men’s basketball team beat UVA in the ACC championship 2nd round that night. But I remember Drew sitting quietly, absorbed in his thoughts about the game that just ended a few hours ago. It was the only time that I was scared to talk to him.

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, Drew carries himself in an insouciant manner even before pitching. I don’t mean this in the pejorative sense; I mean it complimentary in fact. He just didn’t get noticeably stressed about starting. He didn’t lock himself away and not talk to anyone. He didn’t become a mental case if little things went wrong before pitching. Yet he treated the role of starting pitcher very seriously and came to the game focused and ready for battle. .

As Bruce Winkworth said to me once, “Drew will surprise you”. Sometimes I thought he wouldn’t remember anything I said. But, he surprised me. Once he had a CD of mine that I loaned him to listen to. It was a band called 30 Seconds to Mars that he first introduced me to. I bought the whole CD and left it with him before the UNC game to check out so he could hear songs on the CD he didn’t know about. I never did get the CD back from him, partly because I didn’t make it out to his apartment afterward. Once he left Raleigh, I thought the CD was forever lost, so while in Chicago, I bought another copy at a music store that was going out of business, and selling everything that wasn’t nailed down at discount. A month later, I met Drew his family and a few friends at a restaurant. There Andrew came up to me and pulled the CD out of his pants pocket. I just couldn’t believe he remembered. So Bruce was right, he will surprise you.

Andrew Brackman signing day partyFinally, the guy is just surprisingly humble. Very self-effacing, the only thing that draws attention to him the fact he dwarfs most people at nearly 7 feet in height. He’s not showy at all. His mom invited me to a signing day party they had last week for a Andrew. I couldn’t come because it was in Cincinnati and too far for me to travel. But the guest of honor almost didn’t come either. His mom said he didn’t want a party and was too humble to have one.

It is hard to imagine Andrew being a first round draft pick and a future NY Yankee. Not because he lacks athleticism or skill. No, because this doesn’t happen to your friends, especially those so seemingly normal. Even today, it’s hard for me to really get it through my head that Andrew has signed a multi-million contract with the Yankees. Since when did normal people move into the upper echelons of athletics? I guess it has been happening all the time. But most of us don’t get the opportunity to know an athlete beyond their stat sheet and seeing them on TV. So I’m fortunate to have had the chance to know one before they “made it big”.

With his combination of amazing talent and athleticism, and yet humble nature, he is certainly a sui generis. So I wonder: If a first round MLB pick and future NY Yankee pitcher can be so down to earth and normal, why can’t all the other athletes I’ve met in my life be?

Thanks for everything Andrew.