Growing up in the shadow of the historic shrine that is Fenway Park, Mark Waitkus could never have imagined a summer like 2007. Already well-entrenched in New England as the in-house artist for his beloved Red Sox, the word of Mark’s unique style and unqualified success began to span across all of Red Sox Nation and baseball enthusiasts everywhere. A “buzz” was brewing in baseball circles from San Francisco to New York and Mark began to showcase his artwork in a number of key venues. As a descendant of Eddie Waitkus, whose story was told in the role of Roy Hobbs played by Robert Redford in the movie The Natural, Mark Waitkus has his own brand of natural ability and is taking the opportunity to share it with diamond fans nationwide.
Major League Baseball took notice of Mark’s work with the Red Sox and commissioned him to design the commemorative All-Star Game home plate which was used during the official opening ceremonies in this year’s Mid-Summer Classic at AT&T Park in San Francisco. While in San Francisco, Mark had the opportunity to showcase some of his work at the All-Star FanFest including portraits of the two 2007 Cooperstown Hall of Fame inductees Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. Mark had the opportunity to present his work in-person to both inductees and promised he would be on-hand for their induction a few weeks later. Mark and his 12 year old son Griffin made their inaugural pilgrimage to the village of Cooperstown, New York for the July 29th ceremonies.
In addition to being invited to sit in the VIP section for the official ceremonies, Mark was summoned to the majestic Otesaga Hotel. Anyone who has been to Cooperstown knows that it is home to all the returning Hall of Fame players who participate in the induction weekend ceremonies. For the more than 70,000 fans who arrived in Cooperstown that weekend, it was a stately site almost all would view through its’ wrought iron gates some 200 yards from the grand entrance. Mark and Griffin, got a rare glimpse into the fortress-like hotel as a guest of Hall of Fame pitcher, Gaylord Perry. Gaylord and his wife met Mark in San Francisco at the All-Star Game and immediately hit it off. Mrs. Perry is a huge fan of watercolor art and has gained an appreciation for Mark’s style and, of course, the way he captured Gaylord’s delivery in a portrait he presented to them. So sitting in rocking chairs overlooking the banks of the beautiful Lake Otsego, with Hall of Famers all around him, Mark and son shared special baseball moments with Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Harmon Killebrew and many others.
While things were heating up for Mark this summer with his debut on a national stage, the Red Sox were also enjoying some national success on the field. Mark continued to support their art needs and his activity was highlighted by work he did for their star pitcher, Josh Beckett. Josh was launching a fundraising event to support Boston’s Children’s Hospital and Mark was commissioned to capture the star pitcher working from the mound at Fenway on the occasion of his 17th season victory. Mark personally presented his piece to Josh and his Dad and they were both thrilled by the results. As exciting as that encounter was, including a special invite by the elder Beckett to the family ranch in Texas, the highlight of the evening came when Mark’s art commanded among one of the highest bids at the The Beckett Bowl’s silent auction and helped contribute to a very successful evening.
At the close of the season, Mark combined his affinity to the Red Sox and his ascent to a national platform, as he was once again commissioned by Major League Baseball to capture images of the 2007 post-season playoffs. It was almost serendipitous that the team that gave him his entrée into professional baseball would be playing for the championship in a season where Mark was beginning to showcase his work to a broader, national audience. It all seemed so natural as he stood in Coor’s Field, as a nation looked on, that he was there to witness the Red Sox capture the World Series Championship.
As his distant relative’s story became the basis of one of the most popular baseball movies in cinematic history, Mark Waitkus could never have imagined a script like the one that was written for him, in real life, in the summer of 2007. It was, as Mark simply states, “The best summer of my life”.