What’s he doing? It doesn’t make sense

Champions For the first time in school history, East High wins a Central Section football championshipHe was standing off to the side, all alone, and it didn’t make sense. The game was in its final moments, the crowd was delirious and his teammates were celebrating. Just a few more seconds, and the improbable journey would be complete, the near-impossible achieved. It was December 10, 2004, and the East Bakersfield High Blades were about to win the first-ever CIF section football championship in school history. I saw his number, and recognized that he had played well and contributed to his team’s victory. So why was he standing there, and what was he looking at? I wanted to know, and as I drew closer, I saw it. Martin Rodriguez’s mom, Teresa, had died earlier in the year. Cancer. She must have been so young. The dog tag, I would later learn, he had made with his mom’s picture on it, and wore it every day and to every game. He would eventually join his teammates in celebration, but for now, for these few moments, his thoughts were with his mom. High school football is big time in Kern County. There were two championship games in Bakersfield that night, and the newspaper had opened up the front of the “A” section as well as the Sports cover and a double truck inside the Sports section. The photo of Martin Rodriguez would run, and would generate reader reaction. Several people called the newsroom to say it moved them to tears. A couple of years later, I was shooting an assignment at the Boys and Girls Club, and I noticed a fading metal press plate of the page with Martin’s picture over a desk in a small office. Martin was working there, and somebody had given him the plate. The problem with those plates is they fade quickly, and this would fade away  pretty soon.  I introduced myself to him, told him that I was the photographer who shot the photo of him that night. We talked about the game. We talked about his mom. Then I went back to the office, made Martin Rodriguez a proper print that wouldn’t fade, and brought it to him.

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