BORN IN Boston, growing up in Northampton, Mass., nine-year-old Nate Gordon—tall for his age and not especially shy—surprised no one when he announced his life plan from the stage at his elementary school assembly with four words: "Leftfield, Boston Red Sox." He remembers that he did not like being on that stage, and he worried afterward that he might not be able to make good on that goal. We have all been there; and, indeed, life happened, and young Nate wound up playing more basketball than baseball.
His second-most-significant childhood baseball memory is from a year later, attending Game 1 of the 1986 World Series at Shea Stadium and being harassed by teenage Mets fans, who pelted Nate and a friend with peanuts and briefly stole his Red Sox cap before the innings started to pass with a sense of anticipation and horseplay was replaced by concentration on the scoreless play on the field. When Nate's favorite player, the surly and beloved leftfielder Jim Rice, scored the game's only run, it was as if Nate's connection to the Sox could never be broken, even if he never made it to leftfield at Fenway himself—which at age 10 was looking more and more like a long shot. But then the Red Sox fell apart, and although Nate remained a fan, he became somewhat less rabid and a bit more philosophical; we have all been there too.
At the same time, Nate was turning into a better student than power forward. He went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where he studied history, was the sports editor of The Argus and worked part time logging basketball games for WTIC in Hartford. His first job out of college was as a "tech grunt" in the photo department at SI, scanning transparencies (remember those?) and filing the thousands of slides and negatives that poured in every week. That was in the fall of 1999. By 2001 he was the photo editor on the baseball beat, a job he has since built out across numerous platforms and describes as "part curator, part negotiator, part archeologist." I would add "part artist," and in that capacity Nate spent last July 4 on assignment inside the Green Monster at Fenway shooting a game with staff photographer Damian Strohmeyer for a future project. The images made that day are both surprising and intimate. They were, in fact, taken within a time warp—both for baseball and for Nate, who as he worked was meditating on the history of the game and how he fit into it.
Nate will tell you that what is most important to him about baseball now is that connection to history and what it reveals about us. "I try to be mindful that the images of today's game can evoke an unspoken nostalgia," he says. "I got the idea for this week's cover looking at a famous Charles Conlon picture of Babe Ruth—very tight, and focused on his eyes, it's an impactful and surprising image, which I think our Albert Pujols photo is too."
MEL LEVINE (MCDONELL)
BRAD MANGIN (GORDON)
A look at Conlon's portrait of the Babe gave Gordon (right) Ruthian inspiration.
CHARLES CONLON/TSN/ICON SMI (RUTH)
[See caption above]