PENSACOLA, Fla. -- In 2018, Nino Mendez attended a Pensacola Blue Wahoos game that happened include a fireworks show. This seemingly innocuous occasion turned out to be the start of a new professional journey, and he is now in his fifth season as team photographer for the Double-A Miami Marlins
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- In 2018, Nino Mendez attended a Pensacola Blue Wahoos game that happened include a fireworks show. This seemingly innocuous occasion turned out to be the start of a new professional journey, and he is now in his fifth season as team photographer for the Double-A Miami Marlins affiliate.
"That night I was like, 'I could probably take some pretty good fireworks photos,'" said Mendez, speaking prior to the Blue Wahoos' game on June 17. "So I waited until [the next show], and I shot the fireworks from across the street. What can you do? I just posted it on Instagram, tagged the Blue Wahoos and just didn't think anything would come out of it."
Except it did. Daniel Venn, then the Blue Wahoos media and public relations manager, saw Mendez's fireworks photo and let him know the team was looking for a photographer for the 2019 season. Baseball wasn't a sport Mendez was familiar with, at least from a photography standpoint, but he nonetheless jumped at the chance.
"Soccer was the sport I played the most. I played my entire life. I still play it," he said. "But when I shot it, I never quite merged with it. But when baseball came into the picture, everything merged together and I just absolutely fell in love with it."
Born in Guatemala City, Mendez was initially drawn to photography because he preferred taking family photos to being in them. This led to a gift of a Minolta camera, which down the line was replaced by a higher quality (and far more expensive) Leica. He spent a good portion of his early childhood living in both Guatemala and the United States, because his parents "couldn't make up their mind ... they love Guatemala. The weather's beautiful." The United States was the ultimate choice; Mendez attended high school in New Orleans and then matriculated from Pensacola Christian College (where he now works as a Spanish instructor).
Photography was a constant throughout Mendez's peripatetic childhood, which led to taking pictures of weddings and other events as a "little side business." His gig with the Blue Wahoos required a crash course in the intricacies of baseball.
"A lot of the terminologies I knew in Spanish, but didn't know what it was in English," he said. "So I had to learn my way through a lot of that stuff, and then just studying what the pros did. Observing their quality of work, the light, the angles, the emotion of the game. And hopefully, that's beginning to grow in the way that I take the photos now here for the team."
With its festive tropical aesthetic, frequent Blue Angel flyovers, Pensacola Bay backdrop and open concourse, Blue Wahoos Stadium offers plenty of photo-taking opportunities. Mendez said once the game starts, he likes to "walk around and just connect with people, talk to people, find out their story," as this leads to unguarded, natural photos.
This approach applies to the players as well.
"I find it really interesting to hear their stories and to be able to incorporate that into my photos with them," he said. "Once you have that knowledge, it's better, it's easier to go for a shot that captures the essence of the player and who they are. ... And just seeing them develop, seeing a player like Eury (Perez). I helped with translating his first interview. ... It's amazing to see that and to be a part of a little bit of the story in his life. That's something I value a lot, and it's really cool to be a part of it and document it along the way."
Mendez's favorite photo of his Blue Wahoos tenure was taken just last month. On June 9, Dalvy Rosario made his Pensacola debut after getting called up from High-A Beloit. His first hit for the team was a walk-off home run, and Mendez captured the swing, the trot around the bases, and most importantly, the Gatorade bath celebration at home plate. "There was a lot of excitement, a lot of motion" in that photo, he said.
Mendez never aspired to be a professional baseball photographer, but now he dreams of taking it to the next level and perhaps one day working for a Major League team.
"I think that if, the right team opens up, I'm definitely going to take the opportunity and go for it," he said. "But right now, the way that I feel about being here is that I'm already there [in the Major Leagues]. Just hustling, looking for the shot. That shot, it might be the best one they've ever gotten up to this point in their life. And now they have it. ... It's really cool to be a part of that."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.