jimmy carter - photographs
Carter and Mondale with members of the White House traveling press corps softball team, dubbed the News Twisters, at the Plains High School baseball field. Carter’s own team was made up mainly of off-duty US Secret Service agents. One observer likened the Secret Service versus press play to the “New York Yankees against a middle school softball team . . . if the middle schoolers had been drinking all night.” Left to right are Justin Friedland of ABC News, Charles Mohr of the New York Times, Carter, James Walker of ABC News, Mondale, Rick Kaplan of CBS News, Billy Carter, Curtis Wilkie of the Boston Globe, and Phil Smith of Newhouse News Service.
Carter and Mondale with members of the White House traveling press corps softball team, dubbed the News Twisters, at the Plains High School baseball field. Carter’s own team was made up mainly of off-duty US Secret Service agents. One observer likened the Secret Service versus press play to the “New York Yankees against a middle school softball team . . . if the middle schoolers had been drinking all night.” Left to right are Justin Friedland of ABC News, Charles Mohr of the New York Times, Carter, James Walker of ABC News, Mondale, Rick Kaplan of CBS News, Billy Carter, Curtis Wilkie of the Boston Globe, and Phil Smith of Newhouse News Service.

As a photojournalist shooting a baseball game, I’d never once considered that I could be at great peril…but I’d never photographed a game from this position…from on the mound and behind the pitcher.

I stood over the pitcher’s shoulder during his windup watching the batter – his forearms tensed and his gaze narrowly focused on the orb as it left the pitcher’s fingers.

Carter at bat during a softball game at Plains High School. The umpire is consumer advocate and future five-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader. The catcher is James Wooten of the New York Times.
Carter at bat during a softball game at Plains High School. The umpire is consumer advocate and future five-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader. The catcher is James Wooten of the New York Times.

The ball floated nearer, the wood came around, gained speed and then contacted – not with the metal pwiiinnng of today’s bats, but of the craaack of a 1976 Louisville Slugger against a leather wrapped Wilson that was sewn in the US of A.

In what I suspect was a half second later, the ball had been launched toward the outfield in a line drive that sailed about a foot from my left ear.

I never saw the ball – there was a Nikon blocking my eye – but I felt the air quickly part and maybe a hundred people in the crowd cheer.

By serendipity, I’d avoided bodily damage.

The pitcher I was standing behind was Billy Carter – captain and pitcher of the 1976 Press All-Stars (the team name changed weekly) and the batter was his brother, a politician of note, vying to be a politician of greater note.

Not being a man of the coordinated persuasion, my role at these late afternoon –early evening sporting events was usually confined to documenting the candidate for my magazine.

This however, was not the case one late summer day when I decided to join the roster and open myself to great ridicule.

With cameras safely in my bag, protecting them from the fine red clay dust of the Plains High School ball field, I took my first inning position in the outfield.

I must pause now and explain the makeup of the teams.

First, there was our team. Members of the Fourth Estate all, excepting our pitcher. Some with moderate athletic abilities, most without. Including our pitcher.

The opposing team was led by the leader of the free world – to be.

His team was comprised of several campaign staffers, a local ringer and – oh yes – off-duty members of the United States Secret Service.

These are the men who – when not protecting the President or being conscripted to play ball – are off running forty miles for the fun of it or bench pressing the equivalent of small automobiles.

O.K. – you get the idea – so back to the game…

For five innings, our pitcher – wearing a “Redneck Power” t-shirt tried valiantly to stop the shelling from his sibling’s wrecking crew – but we were down 9 – 1.

Adding to my humiliation was the fact that I’d committed an unforced error in the fourth. Something having to do with gnats and a fire ant mound, as I recall.

I’d been up three times by the sixth – missing a fourth because no one could (or more likely wanted to) remember the order.

Each of my three at-bats brought the same result.

President Carter watches a softball game from the sidelines of the Plains High School baseball field.
President Carter watches a softball game from the sidelines of the Plains High School baseball field.

The wind up.

The pitch.

The whiff.

By the bottom of the sixth, I was standing on home plate again and realized that there’s a point beyond which you lose the capacity to stack further embarrassment on top previously stacked humiliation.

Again, the wind up.

Again, the pitch.

Again, the whiff.

Times two.

And then something changed.

The pitcher grinned at me.

I don’t know if he was trying to make me mad or if he was thinking about some Biblical passage about showing charity to the afflicted…but he was grinning. You know – that famous grin.

Again, the wind up.

Again, the pitch.

This time the ball floated. It seemed to rise and just hang in space.

He’d thrown me a creampuff. A big, insulting,”you can’t even hit this“, creampuff.

I’m certain there’s nowhere in the New Testament that says “ Whenst thy rival knoweth of your suffering, he should pusheth your face into the dirt”.

This pitch was such a creampuff that if I wasn’t going to hit that ball, I’m sure that – after 40 years – it’d still be hanging there.

I came around with the bat and hit it square on.

From the moment I contacted the ball, I knew that I’d no longer be looked upon by my teammates as a failure… a loser… a wimp.

That lasted about half a second…until I realized that my one and only success on the ballfield had just hit the next President of the United States.

Fortunately, I’d just grazed his left arm, but it was enough to leave a bruise, and secretly – after giving me that grin and a creampuff – I was glad that the next Commander- in- Chief had something to remember me by.

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Images: all of the photos were taken by © Ken Hawkins.
Ken Hawkins

Ken Hawkins

Ken Hawkins is a photojournalist who has covered politics, disasters, and conflict zones—including in Vietnam, Nicaragua, and El Salvador—since 1970, working globally for publications and agencies such as TIME, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Forbes, Paris Match, Stern, Newsweek, Wired, and the British Broadcasting Corporation. For over two decades, his work was represented by the photo agency SYGMA Paris/New York. Ken has served on the boards of several nonprofit agencies relating to the arts, social action, and photojournalism. He was a founder of the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar in 1973 and worked with the organization for thirty years. Ken also served as the Atlanta/Southeast chapter president of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), sitting on its national board and executive committee, and serving as ASMP’s national secretary.Hawkins is the author of Jimmy Carter – Photographs 1970 – 2010, a book of photographs published on the 40th anniversary of the grassroots campaign, that took a virtually unknown Southern peanut farmer turned politician to the highest office in the United States.Hawkins lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon, with his wife, Dana, and Zeke, their black Lab. He has two sons, Will and Ben.