Inside Baseball: Tabitha Soren Explores the “Fantasy Life” of the American Dream

Photo: Tabitha Soren, Modesto Nuts bull pen, California, 2014.

The American Dream is an enduring myth that captivates our minds as young children. “You can be anything you want to be,’ it promises, “as long as you work hard enough.” It exalts a select few who have cultivated a tale of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps in order to climb to the top of the hill. It cultivates the hopes and desires of our deepest heart, suggesting that the pinnacle of professional success is within our grasp.

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Built on the Protestant Work Ethic, it neatly ignores the blatant inequalities and systemic oppression that make some citizens “more equal” than others, to paraphrase George Orwell. It is here, amongst a stream of cognitive dissonance and logical fallacy, that the dream turns into something else: it becomes a fantasy life that keeps us company as we slog away as cogs in a machine that never had our backs.

abitha Soren, Larry DiVito and groundskeeping crew for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis, 2013.

And here, in these fantasies, we discover the power of imagination and its distinct ability to transform wishes into possibilities. For those who find themselves compelled to actualize their dreams, fantasy life take on an entirely new purpose and meaning. It becomes the motivation for just about every waking breath, the continuous, interminable dedication, perseverance, courage, and commitment it takes to make it to the top.

Perhaps the best thing about youth is potent brew of wide-eyed idealism and seemingly-limitless energy, creating a force of nature entirely its own. Photographer Tabitha Soren tapped into this in 2002 when she began to document a group of minor league draft picks for the Oakland A’s. She trained her camera on a fresh crop of young men coming into the major league farm system straight from high school or college.

Tabitha Soren, Motel pool, spring training, Scottsdale, Arizona, 2014.

Over a period of 15 years, she followed the players through their daily lives, examining the grueling reality that goes on after the television cameras are off. In the highlight reel of life, it all looks so glorious, but the truth of competitive sports is a curious blend of extreme stress and boredom. Yet there is a beauty and a pathos that underlies it all, a determination to win that pushes a select few to drive themselves as hard as they can possibly go. That is the essence of the American Dream, for better—and for worse.

In honor of the lives of these men, Aperture will release Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream, on April 1, 2017. The book looks back at the past 15 years, reflecting on the victories of life, the mundane moments, and the unexpected turns it makes. Designed in a scrapbook format the book deftly combines action photos with fine art, snapshots with portraits, and ephemera to create a deeply personal experience of the people inside the uniform. Fantasy Life features success stories, like that of Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton, as well as stories of players who left the game to take up careers selling insurance and coal mining. If that sounds rough, it only gets tougher.

Tabitha Soren, Nick Swisher, New York Yankees, 2009. Professional baseball career: Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, 2002–16; current career: free agent.

Mark Kiger recounts his tale, one of injury that sent him spiraling into a five-year nightmare. In the book, he reveals, “Everything that could go wrong did and at the end of the day you find out that most people around you don’t really care. Four people close to me—including my mother and father—died. I went and read the Bible for three months in my car. Nobody took a chance on me but myself. I fought my way back from homelessness, the depths of depression, and self-medicating the pain of my divorce and the pain of not playing baseball anymore to the pinnacle of where I’m at now, and my bright future as a professional baseball coach.”

Through his story, Soren reveals how the love of sport can make you, break, you, and offer the road to salvation. The players and the stories are powerful tales, reminders that it’s really not whether you win or lose—it’s how you play the game.

Tabitha Soren, Night on the Green fireworks, Oakland, California, 2014.

All photos: © Tabitha Soren. From Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Aperture, 2017).

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.