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Rise and Fall of 2002 Oakland A’s Draft Class Chronicled in ‘Fantasy Life’

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Night on the Green fireworks, Oakland, California, 2014; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)
Night on the Green fireworks, Oakland, California, 2014; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)

 

The athletes selected in the 2002 draft by the Oakland Athletics epitomize the harsh reality of professional sports: Few succeed, while most fail.

On a larger scale, that also encapsulates the reality of the American dream. Photographer Tabitha Soren set out to capture this struggle when she first started documenting the young athletes, knowing the odds were slim that the 21 players would be in the MLB in a few years.

Only 17 percent of players that get drafted ever make it to the major league, according to the Washington Post.

Derek Jeter’s last game in Yankee Stadium, New York, 2014; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)
Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium, New York, 2014; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)

 

Fifteen years later, Soren’s instinct were correct—right down to the stats the stats. Five of the players—Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton are notable examples—made it to “The Show” with varying degrees of success. The rest now coach Little League and have jobs like coal mining and insurance sales.

In a Vanity Fair essay written by Dave Eggers, Soren describes it best:

“Baseball is a metaphor for all these other fantasies that are part of American culture: The fantasy that failure leads to success, despite hitting the ball successfully only around a third of the time. The romantic myth of the restless wanderer, even as they cram in 162 major-league games a season. And the central American fantasy that says we have to do something extraordinary to lead a meaningful life.”

Cliff Lee, Texas Rangers pitcher, Fort Worth, 2010. Professional baseball career: Montreal Expos, Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, 2002–16; current career: Philadelphia Phillies pitcher; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)
Cliff Lee, Texas Rangers pitcher, Fort Worth, 2010. Professional baseball career: Montreal Expos, Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, 2002–16; current career: Philadelphia Phillies pitcher; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)
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; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)
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; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)

 

That American dream, filled with triumph and heartbreak, has been distilled into a book that features 149 of Soren’s photographs, accompanied by a five-part story written by Eggers. The words and pictures are accompanied by totems of the athlete’s tales, from childhood baseball cards to x-rays of injuries.

Together, Fantasy Life paints a vivid picture of life’s rollercoaster that athletes endure for a shot at the big leagues. Available in April, the book can be ordered here.

Larry DiVito and groundskeeping crew for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis, 2013; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)
Larry DiVito and groundskeeping crew for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis, 2013; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)
Nick Swisher, Cleveland Indians first baseman, 2013. Professional baseball career: Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, 2002–16; current career: free agent; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)
Nick Swisher, Cleveland Indians first baseman, 2013. Professional baseball career: Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, 2002–16; current career: free agent; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)
Steve Stanley, Oakland A’s outfielder, 2004. Professional baseball career: Oakland A’s, 2002–8; current career: State Farm insurance agent; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)
Steve Stanley, Oakland A’s outfielder, 2004. Professional baseball career: Oakland A’s, 2002–8; current career: State Farm insurance agent; from Fantasy Life: Baseball and the American Dream (Tabitha Soren/Aperture, 2017)

 

—RealClearLife