Tuesday, February 19, 2013

To the wonderment of all

The great Willie Mays was already gone to the Mets
by the time I saw this illustration.
Behold, a serendipitous dip from my fountain of youth:

I give you — the works of Dave Beronio.

This is the stuff I promised to show way back when I wrote about my first baseball game 41 years ago.

The Giants split a doubleheader with the Cubs, and Dad, after a quiet sigh of "fer cryin' out loud," I bet, had split open his wallet for the dollar for the program.

Or yearbook, as the Giants were calling it. The Giants had won the National League West pennant the season before, and the yearbook basked in the glow, with a special logo befitting the design zeitgeist, and an out-of-focus photo of the great Willie Mays sliding into second base against what looks like the St. Louis Cardinals.

Half the fuzzy photo comprises the blue-green artificial turf that covered the field at Candlestick Park, and the year 1972 is printed in black over the green field.
The cover photo may have been prophetic, because Willie Mays was soon out of the picture, traded to the Mets in May, a month before my first ballgame. By June, the Giants had all but guaranteed they wouldn't defend their pennant.

Willie Mays was still the franchise at press time, though, and as I thumbed through the program, past the color photo essays and beer ads, I came upon Dave Beronio's drawing of Mays.

Candlestick Park and the rest of the world suddenly melted away. I sat bewitched. Somehow, with careful and yet carefree application of pencil — the same kind I pushed around a paper in maddening struggle — emerged Willie Mays, all life and light and likeness, exactly the man I had seen on TV and in photos.

Only moreso, somehow.

How did Dave Beronio mold the face just so, the shade here and light there, to make it dazzle? It was the best kind of magic. In the moment, and ever since, I have desperately wanted to draw like this.

"Sudden" Sam McDowell
The yearbook showcased Beronio's treatment of the Giants stars, including the starter acquired from the Cleveland Indians the year before, "Sudden" Sam McDowell:

Beronio was wise not to compose the lefty in a Giants hat, but to let the rockabilly hair and sideburns unfurl.

Beronio used black pencil on coquille board, a heavy paper with a pebbled surface. The pencil catches on the pebble shapes and creates a kind of dot pattern that made print reproduction easier.

Coquille board is somewhat old-school, popular in the mid 20th century among editorial cartoonists and newspaper illustrators.

Old-school would describe Dave Beronio, coming out of that fine time, before my time, when illustration daily graced the sports pages.

A closeup of the coquille board texture.
Noting Beronio's 75th birthday in 1996 from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. George Miller said the athletic reporter and editor would spar with the boxing greats of the time, interview them for stories — then have them sit for portraits.

As an editor for his hometown Vallejo Times Herald and the Vacaville Reporter, Beronio did so frequently, which is how the Giants called on him to draw for the 1972 program.

Beronio was a gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress during World War II, flying 35 missions and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.

He was distinguished for a special commemoration on the walls of Candlestick Park, the lone writer among pro athletes. And he introduced his friend Bob St. Clair when the San Francisco 49er was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

Juan Marichal
And he drew me these wonderful pictures for me for a dollar.

Thumbing through the program again, I am still enthralled by Beronio's drawings. Occasionally I'll find gestural cross hatching, just a hint of looseness. For the most part Beronio showed great patience and economy of style.

He drew just enough, until the work was just right. His subjects shone as a result.

Should you stumble upon this blog and know about Dave Beronio and his work, I'd love to learn more, the man and his process. His body of work seems so far to have eluded the magnet of the Internet.

Until then, I'm grateful for the magic.

"Keystone Kids" Chris Speier at shorstop (my favorite) and Tito Fuentes at second base. Speier, in his
second season in the pros, was that day's Brandon Crawford. Speier's only sin is that he's now
the bench coach for the Cincinnati Reds.

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