From the first “play ball” to the last “you’re out,” Breanna Daugherty recently found herself falling in love with sports photography.

She took photos of players sliding into second base, chasing down fly balls and whipping around the diamond. Off the field, the 22-year-old photojournalism major from Paoli, Indiana, captured moments of fans cheering on beloved Major League Baseball players as well as scenes from a softball league open to men and women age 75 and older.

“Every day I roamed a baseball stadium and made something out of it, taking photographs, finding those stories or working with other students to get photos for their stories,” said Daugherty, who joined 12 other students from the College of Communication, Information, and Media covering pro baseball’s training camps in Florida — the so-called Grapefruit League — as part of an immersive learning experience called Ball State Spring Training.

“When we were covering the Minnesota Twins, I was a bit nervous at first because I wasn’t sure if I was even allowed to go out on to the practice field to shoot photos,” she said. “I didn’t know who most of the players were, but it was an opportunity to be on the field and shoot photographs of some incredibly talented athletes.

Ball State students interview a professional baseball player during spring training

Josh Shelton, a junior from Alexandria, Virginia (left), interviews Josh Edgin, a pitcher with the New York Mets. (Photo courtesy of Breanna Daugherty)

“It also made me realize there is so much about baseball beyond the game. There are the coaches preparing the players, people selling food and merchandise, and the fans who come from all parts of the country to root for their favorite team year after year. I guess that’s why baseball is so special.”

Daugherty and her fellow students produced stories, infographics and social media posts from the spring training sites of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals (West Palm Beach), New York Mets (Port St. Lucie), and Minnesota Twins (Fort Myers).

“This was an opportunity for our students to work as professional journalists,” said Suzy Smith, one of the telecommunications professors leading the trip. “Every student had an opportunity to file a story from a major or minor league baseball training site. Not too many college students are going to be able to have that on their resume.”

These aspiring professional journalists did find themselves “awestruck” a few times when they encountered pro baseball players and broadcasters.

“It was so cool to go into the dugout where the other photographers and media stand during the game and be right next to so many big name players,” said Nick Williams, a senior majoring in journalism and telecommunications from Eberfield, Indiana. “But they were such nice people. Bob Carpenter, the play-by-play broadcaster for the Washington Nationals, invited us to do his interview right in the broadcast booth as he was getting ready to call his game.”

Back home in Indiana

Students not only worked long days to fill up Ball State Spring Training’s website and several social media channels, but they also provided content to several media outlets in Indiana, including WTHI-TV in Terre Haute.

One call came from Casey Miller, a 2015 Ball State graduate who works as the WTHI sports anchor. Before he graduated, he spent a spring break on the ball field instead of on the beach.

He still remembers the experience as a golden opportunity.

“The class helped prepare me for my career in sports broadcasting. Covering major league teams helped me develop professional skills in covering teams from one of the nation’s premier sports leagues. Working as a group with other students to provide team coverage was also a big gain from the trip. The spring training trip really immersed me in what it’s like covering baseball full time. It also gave me a great piece in my resume and a nice conversation starter in job interviews.”

Ball State student Breanne Daugherty photographs a softball game with players 75 years and older

Breanna Daugherty (kneeling, right) gets in the action during a Kids & Kubs softball game. The league is open to players age 75 and older. (Photo courtesy of Tim Underhill)

Love for the game

While Daugherty was patrolling baseball stadiums looking for the best angles for her photos, she also learned how sports are an integral part of life — no matter the age of the competitor.

Instead of talking with up-and-coming major leaguers or listening to the stories of long ago from seasoned veterans, she spent an afternoon along the Gulf of Mexico side of the state in St. Petersburg with members of Kids & Kubs, a softball league that can trace its beginnings back to the 1930s and is open to players age 75 and older.

While they didn’t have the blazing footspeed or 100-mph fast balls, the seniors left the young photographer in awe as she witnessed their love for the game.

“They have a special passion, and that’s what keeps them playing double headers, three times a week,” Daugherty said. “It was refreshing to see them smile and hear them talk about how they love to still play. It made me hope that I would still have the same passion for what I love when I get older.”