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Monthly Archives: May 2015

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Sometimes life guides us along a circuitous route and we end up in a place we never would have imagined. That is exactly what has happened to 28-year-old Carlos Cardoza-Oquendo, head coach of the Decatur High School baseball program. Coach Cardoza had aspirations of becoming a professional baseball player but that dream vanished when he injured his knee. Born in Puerto Rico, Coach fell in love with the sport and witnessed the passion the players had for baseball on the island. He recalls watching the number one 16-and-under team in the Caribbean.

I got to see those guys practice every time we did. Man, I loved seeing them work. I learned so much and fell in love just by watching. Some of the guys would walk more than three miles to get to the field with their gear and then walk back home after practice. I was 14 at the time.

Coach Cardoza started coaching baseball in Atlanta as a favor to a friend and helped out with a travel team.

I started to like it but had no aspiration to coach high school. Then another friend, Pete Bartlewski, now the head coach at Druid Hills and assistant coach at the time, asked me if I would help coach at Druid Hills. I went and was an assistant coach. Then halfway through the next school year, Decatur needed an interem head coach and I stepped in. The most difficult thing was trying to change a whole culture around a baseball program and community. Changing the culture was about gaining the trust of the families and parents. It was important for them to understand our vision at Decatur High and how the program would benefit their son or daughter, especially when we were setting high expectations and trying to go places where Decatur baseball hadn’t been in 50 years. We have taken steps in the right direction and made the Decatur program a contender, a serious program and one that has developed its players and put a competitive product on the field. These steps would have never been possible without the support of Coach Wilson, former Principal McKain, Principal Maloof, the parents and families.

There is no doubt that Coach Cardoza has found his calling and has been honing his talent as a coach over the past several years. He has elevated the Decatur baseball team to a level none would have dreamed possible in just three years. This is a testament to his ability to challenge and inspire his players on a daily basis.

The greatest thing about coaching at Decatur High School has by far been the players, working with them on a daily basis and getting to know them on and off the field. The relationships we have built together are the greatest. My interest is about helping young people achieve their goals. More importantly, helping them get the best out of themselves is the true challenge. That’s hard for kids to understand so we have set up an environment that challenges them to do that. It takes an intelligent approach, a conducive environment, and a commitment. That’s where my interest in the game has evolved.

I asked Coach what he hoped his players would take away from their experience under his guidance and support.

I hope what they take away is that hard work pays off  but that one can’t look for overnight results. The attention should be on the process not the results. There is always work to be done, challenges to be taken and something to look forward to and chase every day.

Coach Cardoza has been hired by the Texas Rangers to coach their July 2nd team in the Tricky League, a league in the Dominican Republic for newly-signed international prospects. In the fall he will go to Arizona to coach in the instructional league.

I have been living a dream for the last two years at Decatur High. The position I have taken with the Texas Rangers is an opportunity. I’m not sure what my dreams are for the future. I know that I will take everything I have learned during my time at Decatur and use it to serve the players I will be working with. To me, it’s about their dreams and their goals. In this case, it’s also about their livelihoods. But it’s also still a game. To have success, you have to enjoy it. So, I will try to give them my best and get the best out of them every day, just like I have tried to do with our players at Decatur.

It has been my honor to photograph the Decatur High School baseball teams this season. In doing so I came to appreciate the love and passion my son has for the game. That level of understanding on my part has strengthened our bond. I was witness to the close relationships that evolved amongst the players and between the players and coaches. In the dugout, players are uninhibited; they show their emotions and feel comfortable being themselves. They are respected for who they are and celebrated for their unique talents. There is a sense of belonging to something bigger than one’s self. This is a culture that has been nurtured by Carlos Cardoza-Oquendo and the other coaches. Perhaps this is the legacy and greatest gift Coach Cardoza leaves behind. We reluctantly bid farewell to an exceptional individual but know that our lives have been enriched as a result of that circuitous path traveled by Coach Cardoza.

 

Decatur baseaball_Callaway-1Coach Cardozo confers with pitcher, Zach, between innings.

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All good things must come to an end and so it did Wednesday evening for the Decatur High School varsity baseball team. Decatur lost the second round of the state playoffs against Callaway High. After losing the first game Decatur began the second with hopes of evening up the series but their hopes were repeatedly dashed as their players were unsuccessful in advancing past third to score. What was evident to me this evening more than in any other game I have experienced was that the dozen players in the dugout who had dressed out played a role as vital as the players on the field. Their job was to keep their teammates on the field pumped up and focused to the bitter end, even when a loss seemed imminent. They celebrated every play that had the potential to move the team forward and offered gestures of encouragement between innings. The team has much to be proud of for they finished the season winning 21 games out of 30 and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time in over 45 years. In my eyes the coaching staff and players are champions. Congratulations coaches and players for a season well played!

Virginia Twinam Smith

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This morning, Virginia Twinam Smith passed away peacefully in her apartment at the age of 91. Virginia was a “picture-maker and story-teller” (Virginia’s words) who was a long-time member and exhibiting photographer with Women In Focus and the Atlanta Photography Group (APG). She also generously sponsored APG’s inaugural Print Purchase Award Program. Since Virginia was not a fan of formalities I thought I would get the formalities out of the way so I can focus on the person she was. I met Virginia in 2011 at a Woman In Focus holiday dinner. The photographers at the dinner exchanged prints and I was fortunate to receive one of Virginia’s botanical composites. That evening I volunteered to drive Virginia home since I discovered she lived close to me in Decatur. She talked non-stop on the drive home and I remember being impressed with her zest for life and her passion for nature. She was also full of stories about her escapades photographing on the streets of Atlanta with her Hasselblad and provided uncensored opinions on just about everything. Virginia and I became fast friends. She was a champion of my work and frequently commented on the photos I posted on my blog. She embraced my daughter Christine, and never failed to forget her birthday. She presented the beautiful botanical composite as shown above to Christine on her birthday two years ago. She was my confidant and dear friend. I was fortunate enough to photograph Virginia on January 28, 2014. That was the day of the big snow storm in Atlanta that immobilized the city. The above portrait of Virginia was taken that morning. I remember that as I was packing up my camera we both glanced out the window and became giddy at the sight of actual snowflakes falling profusely from the sky. Since that time, I have watched Virginia’s body deteriorate as she has battled fall after fall. Despite her physical challenges her mind remained sharp and her sense of humor unflappable. On a recent visit to see Virginia, she was looking out her third-story window watching the strong wind blow the oak tree branches to and fro and she commented on that beauty. Her eyes were twinkling and she was smiling but her body was a wisp of what it had been. When Deborah, Virginia’s daughter, notified me that Virginia was gone I was not surprised but still greatly saddened. Despite my sadness, I know that Virginia would have wanted us to celebrate her long full life, one she lived on her terms until the very end. Cheers Virginia!  My condolences to Deborah and the family.

To read my 2014 interview with Virginia proceed to the following link:  http://atlantaphotographygroup.org/gallery/biographies/vts-interview.shtml

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Last Friday, the Decatur High School varsity baseball team headed to Sandersville, Georgia to compete in the first round of the state playoffs. Decatur won their first game against Washington County High. The second game was tense. In the bottom of the 7th, the score was tied and Decatur was up at bat. Jalen Sprull (lower image on left) hit a walk-off double to win the game. This win was a triumph for Decatur for it has been over 45 years since the team has won the first round at the state playoffs!