Three days in Port St. Lucie, Florida? Definitely can't call it a destination assignment - but when I heard about the story we'd be working on I was so excited I forgot to pack my toothbrush.
This assignment was the rare intersection of three of my favorite subjects: Food, culture, and baseball. Latino (and particularly Dominican) Mets players find themselves stuck in the culturally dry city of Port St. Lucie, where authentic Latin American food isn't exactly abundant. Unless you're at Bravo Supermarkets.
Luis Merejo, owner of the Bravo market, is a former Minor League pitcher and decided to open a market in Port St. Lucie after his baseball career ended. He saw a growing population of Latino customers in the area, and knew they would need a place to buy their groceries. Every spring, those customers include several MLB players, such as the Mets infielder José Reyes.
Myself and Mets reporter James Wagner coordinated with Reyes after his practice, and rushed over to Bravo to catch him eating lunch. James said Reyes usually wears somewhat flashy clothes, but I was still giddy when I saw his outfit. The Gucci headband was the perfect contrast to the rest of the market - over the top, expensive, a statement. Nervous customers approached him, many not even baseball fans, for a photo. Reyes always took a break from his rice and maduros to oblige. A few customers caught my attention to ask me who he was, then excitedly approached him for a selfie.
Luis has a rapport with the players, some of which he's been serving for years. He set up a back room in the market, so the players can eat in peace if they prefer. Jerseys from players and coaches hang on the walls, along with some signed memorabilia. Coming from the baseball world himself, he knows what they've been through. So much so, that he offers current and former players housing and employment opportunities.
Ahmed Rosario, the Mets young new shortstop who I worked with last year, lives with Luis during spring training in a small studio apartment. The backyard is fitted with a batting cage where Luis's son practices with MLB trainers and occasionally Ahmed. James mentioned the batting cage to me and I knew it was a must for the story, so I talked to Heather Casey, the photo editor on the assignment, and we decided it'd be best to stay another day. I arrived at the cages and saw the evening light waning over the quiet neighborhood, and I knew it was worth the extra night at the Holiday Inn Express.
Thanks for looking! I have a few more stories that have recently ran, and I'm excited to share them with ya'll. Check back in a bit and there'll be another fresh blog post, and some new work on my commissions page. Also, if you've even read this far and weren't aware, I'm a full-time independent photojournalist now! I'm available for work around the globe, and always looking to collaborate - let's talk.
Zack Wittman - 248.880.9884 - firstname.lastname@example.org