A Father, a Son and a Dream

Tom Duffy’s son Matt is a third baseman for the San Francisco Giants. Throughout the years, Tom has documented his son’s rise through baseball, from his Little League days to this past season when he became a Rookie of the Year candidate. Here’s a look through Tom’s lens.

I was allowed to bring my camera into the delivery room when Matt was born in 1991. When the doctor pulled him out and loudly announced that we had a boy, Cathy, my wife, managed a weak smile and said, “You know what that means, Dad … Little League.” All I could do was grin back and nod in agreement, as I snapped the very first of what would be many more photos of our son. 

As a kid, I did a lot of pencil drawing and always had a bit of an artistic streak. Sometime after high school, I discovered photography, and found that it worked well for me as a creative outlet. So it was natural that when Matt started playing organized baseball at age 5, I began to follow him with my camera. As he got older and moved up through the levels, my standard reply when he’d roll his eyes and groan at the sight of Dad and his equipment was always, “Hey, one day you’ll be happy we documented all of this.”

Over the years, I’ve taken thousands of images of both our children’s sports (Matt’s sister Erin was a gymnast) in a lot of venues. However, no venue I’ve ever been able to shoot at compares to one that I only thought would be possible in my dreams.

Just a few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity by esteemed MLB photographer Brad Mangin to photograph our son from the photo wells at AT&T Park, and the feeling was indescribable. Matt had always been the undersized kid who was taken seriously only by those precious few folks along the way who were willing to ignore his thin frame long enough to take a second look. To see a big league stadium with 40,000 fans there supporting him was both surreal and incredible. You see, while he was growing up through the game of baseball, Matt and I never once discussed making it to the big leagues. We continually kept our eyes on a much smaller prize: getting to the next level.

For the two of us, it was all about the climb, one step at a time. I’m proud to share a few of the images from our journey.

This is Matt at age 2, sporting a diaper under those pants. A few moments after this shot was taken, he ripped a hard liner off the tee that knocked a glass of Chardonnay out of his stunned grandmother’s hand.

At age 4, a shot of Matt and neighbor buddy Steven, just after their very first baseball game in a local recreation league. Minutes before we left for this game, he declared that he would need a batting glove. Not having one laying around, I made due by faking him out with one of my waterski gloves.

Before Game 1 of the 2002 World Series. Matt’s grandfather raised his family as Angels fans, and we went to a lot of games that season. Seeing them finally play in their first Series was huge for us.

In the parking lot before Game 1 of the World Series in 2002. We decided to make it special by getting there early, barbecuing some hot dogs and working together on a Tim Salmon sign. Though he loved the whole 2002 team, Matt’s favorite players were Salmon and David Eckstein.

This was taken at a 2003 travel tournament, at the replica Yankee Stadium of a Big League Dreams baseball complex. Matt was a control pitcher, but as he got older would occasionally show some surprise velocity whenever his strike zone got repeatedly squeezed.

Enjoying the spoils of war — in this case, cupcakes.Here, some Bullets teammates chow down after a 2003 tournament championship in Orange County, Ca.

This was taken at the end of a family trip to New York in July of 2003, where 12 year old Matt played in a week-long tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park with his travel team, the Long Beach Bullets.

In 2004, we hooked Matt up with Barry Moore, a private fitness trainer in Long Beach. Matt was an undersized kid, so to make it in baseball we figured he’d have to work extremely hard.

Matt in 2004. We’d never be able to count the number of hours we’ve spent together on tee work in the front yard. To this day, our neighbors in that green house would tell you that they had front row seats for every last one of them.

Matt and good buddy Garrett are 14 here, in their second year playing for the Heartwell Pony League Orioles. Annihilating postgame sweets was obviously a big part of the game.

At Lakewood High School during the sophomore year in 2007. Part of most high school ballplayers’ duties is to work as a team in maintaining their own fields. There’s no denying that one of the beauties of baseball is the life lessons it teaches.

Leaving the chapel at Duke University in June of 2009. During an off day from playing with the RBI team at the ‘09 Tournament of Stars in Cary, North Carolina, we took a drive to visit the Duke and UNC campuses.

As a freshman Dirtbag for CSULB in 2010 here, Matt stops a grounder while playing 2nd base in a game at Blair Field.

In July 2011, outside his host family’s home on Cape Cod. Matt played one summer season in the Cape League.

Matt started his Cape season as a temporary player for the Orleans Firebirds, but earned a full summer contract a few weeks after he arrived. He played in the Cape League All-Star Game at Fenway Park and ended the season as the Firebirds team MVP, finishing within 3 points of a batting title.

Matt signing his first pro contract with Giants scout Brad Cameron just after the 2012 draft. Brad was wearing his 2010 Championship ring, which was impossible to miss. We all got a kick trying it on, and I’m sure it got at least one of us dreaming a bit.

Matt had a quick stop with theGiants’ High A team in 2013, the San Jose Giants,aka the “Baby Giants.” I was hovering with my camera above the dugout before a home game, and as he entered it I said, “Hey.” He looked up and Dad snapped this shot.

Prior to the 2014 season, Matt worked with speed specialist Rob Nelson, of Third Gear Training. Rob initially started training him back in 2011, with amazing results. Looks like the experts were wrong once again — speedcanbe taught after all.

With the family on the bus for the victory parade after last season’s World Series. Matt and his sister Erin are extremely close, so it was heartwarming for Cathy and I to watch them share this amazing moment together. We couldn’t stop laughing at the craziness of it all.

This was an at bat from earlier this season in San Francisco. It’s overwhelming to watch a kid step to the plate in a big league game, swing a bat, and bring over 40,000 people to their feet in a thunderous roar of applause. Even more so when the kid is your son, and you realize that in that moment, he’s finally breaking through what initially appeared to be a suffocating crust of anonymity/negativity, and before your very eyes, claiming his place at the top.Boom. His family couldn’t be prouder.

Now that the 2015 season is in the books, you can be sure that most, if not all, ballplayers in the country will be back to the hard work soon. Grinding away to claim their own places at the top.