Growing up my heroes were found on the front of baseball cards. I can still remember the day that I was introduced to baseball cards, and how my friend gave me a 1987 Topps card #520 Jack Clark. I can still picture it all clearly that morning on the bus to school. The wood framed border. The picture of Jack in the middle of what appears to be a rundown in a Spring Training game. I was fascinated by it all, and when he told me that I could have it, little did either of us know that 34 years later, I’d still be engrossed by the pictures on the front of baseball cards. I’ve made life long friends, and some of my happiest memories come from my baseball cards as baseball cards are a bridge.
Thirty-four years is a long time, as a matter of fact its longer than Jade Hewitt of Jade Hewitt Media and the Quality Time vlog, has been alive yet baseball cards, well actually softball cards from the Athletes Unlimited Professional Softball league is actually how we met. Last season the Topps company, which is celebrating its 70th season of producing baseball cards in 2021, made an On Demand set for Athletes Unlimited Softball, and Jade Hewitt was the photographer. I bought a number of those sets, and one day I noticed that Jade was a recurring buyer of some of the cards I was selling, so I reached out to her and here we are.
Jade played softball about 17 years including four years at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS where she lettered all four years. She was passionate about softball, but her love of videography and photography started in high school when she picked up her dad’s VHS camera.
“I just thought it was fun to tell stories, and show my friends, and show our experiences. I was that geek that took a camera everywhere I went. I would go to a friend’s house, I’d have a camera, or I’d go to a friend’s party, I’d have a camera. I was always just really drawn to capturing life and telling stories”.
Jade would turn her interest into a small business in 2006, and she started to work professionally in 2008. As she entered college, Jade’s softball coach allowed her to merge her love for both the game and photography into an opportunity that would become her career by allowing her to use the team as the subject matter of her photoshoots and videos.
“Looking back on that stuff now, it was a great learning experience, and just really laid the foundation of working in softball where I was comfortable and using my skills with a camera in a spot where I felt strongly about the game, and it took off from there. So, I wouldn’t say sports was the goal from the get, but it obviously made the most sense for me”.
While working toward her MFA in Film Production from the University of New Orleans, Jade became an intern with the Dallas Charge of the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) League which she credits for developing the building blocks and set the foundation for where she is now.
“In the world of softball, our athletes are so giving and so generous and so open minded. That first summer as an intern, I if I pitched 20 ideas, the athletes were down for all 20, and I think having them always say yes and so willing to try new things, was so influential. It enabled me to fail a lot and to succeed a lot. Just their overall positivity and encouragement that whole summer catapulted me to keep going. Not to mention just the amount of fun that we had. It was myself, the players, our trainer, and our assistant General Manager traveling for three months, and I got to get close with the players and just be right on the ground with them”.
That season would mark many first for Jade such as her the first time her photos were printed, but her favorite memory was when Cat Osterman shared Jade’s photos on social media, “I just about cried of excitement” she recalls, “there were just so many firsts and that’s so special to me; I will never forget that first year”.
The experience would build relationships of trust with the players and introduce her to many across the league as the following year she became the Media Director for the Scrap Yard Dawgs (now Scrap Yard Fast Pitch).
Jade feels that having a background in softball has helped make her a better photographer for the sport because she is able to understand the hard work that the players are putting into their craft. While an average fan might say, Amanda Chidester is a great hitter, but by being able to see the work she puts in allows Jade to experience it from a different level of appreciation, and having played at the collegiate level, knows the sacrifices that these players have had to have made to continue their playing the game they love.
“To be frank, they’re my heroes. I admire them, I look up to them so much, because I know what it takes to be that good…just on a technical level of understanding each athlete and understanding their strengths. For pitchers knowing what pitches they throw, where hitters tend to hit them, where I can capture them best. Knowing certain players and where they move best on the field. There’s a lot of little things I think that they really benefit my photography”.
This understanding helped lead Jade to her most prestigious position in photography when she was selected to be the official photographer for USA Softball on their Stand Beside Her Tour presented by Major League Baseball. After softball was taken out of the Olympics after 2008, it was finally making its return as an Olympic sport in 2020. It was an exciting time for fast pitch softball fans around the world, and Jade was there to watch it firsthand, until Covid shut it down.
“Working for USA softball and being able to wear the red, white and blue was the ultimate for me. When we were on tour and people that you met, or people that you knew, would casually ask, “Where do you want to end up working in life?” I was like, “literally right now”. Working with USA Softball was a dream, and the fact that they were able to have that position for me with Digital Media for the tour just meant so much to me that they really valued media, and brought me on, I was so grateful to USA for that. I mean, if you’re a softball fan, it doesn’t really get better than that. Then obviously, it was put on hiatus, understandable given the state of the COVID pandemic and everyone’s safety, of course, but looking back I think, oh man, we were living the dream. But I can honestly say for those for those few months that we were on tour, I soaked up every single inch that you could soak up. When people say, “Don’t take things for granted” and “Live in the now”, I really tried to do that with the tour. It’s sad that it’s over but it was one of the greatest honors to show up to work and to be able to represent the United States of America. It was such a very, very special time”.
After the Stand Beside Her tour was cancelled, Jade returned home and to Scrap Yard Fast Pitch as an independent contractor for the 2020 season.
2020 will not only be remembered for Covid-19, but for the continued fight for justice against the excessive use of force and brutality by police departments across the country, most notably against those in the black communities. Several protests broke out across the country as the incidents arose but none more prominent than the deaths of Breonna Taylor on March 13, 2020, and George Floyd on May 25, 2020. These incidents continued to separate our country along political and racial divides. No industries were immune and that held true for professional softball. While more and more players along professional sports “took a knee” during the National Anthem to show support for the victims of police brutality and Black Lives Matter, including the Seattle Storm and New York Liberty on July 25th on the WNBA’s Opening Night, the owner of Scrap Yard Fast Pitch sent out a now deleted tweet that included a photo of the players standing for the anthem said,
“Hey @RealDonaldTrump Pro Fastpitch being played live @usssaspacecoast @USSAPride Everyone respecting the FLAG!”
The fallout was drastic as all 18 members of Scrap Yard, including some on the USA Women’s National Team, walked out and refused to play for Scrap Yard. Star player Haylie McCleney tweeted,
“We might be standing in this photo but we SURE AS HELL AREN’T STANDING FOR THIS. I’m embarrassed. I’m heartbroken. I’m DISGUSTED. @ScrapYardFP I will never be associated with your organization again. BLACK LIVES MATTER. The tone deafness on this is UNBELIEVABLE!!!!”
Jade remembers the feelings when it all happened and said,
“It was extraordinarily sad and heartbreaking. It was just a very, very sad moment for everybody. For staff and players included, putting together a pr Softball season is so much work, as any operation…especially in the middle of COVID. Then to finally have this thing that everyone was looking forward to so much, and then literally in an instant, it’s all gone. It was just, it was very sad”.
Jade describes the raw emotion in the locker after the team found out about the tweet, and how their resolve to make something positive is what drove these players to something better.
“It was so hard for everybody, including the players to watch them go through this moment. I’ll never forget being in the locker room, and Kiki Stokes being in there, obviously, as one of the leaders of our franchise….it was very, very sad. And a lot of tears were shed. But ultimately, what came out of it was something that was very positive and continues to be very positive”.
Through all the turmoil, something beautiful developed through the unity, love and respect that these players had for one another, and for those across the country who suffered, and with that This Is Us Softball was born, and Jade Hewitt was there for it.
“This Is Us Softball kind of formed that night. I hold these players in the highest regard, and then to be in the room and watch them build something that was completely and 100% their own was amazing. In the room immediately following everything for those couple of days were the players and myself. I was just there as a set of hands to do whatever they needed. But I watched this group of women build something and start something and work so hard to make this happen. The whole experience, quite frankly, was just life changing. Players are usually concerned about their practice, play, and training and this and that. Now, they have got to worry about how we are going to get rental cars? How are we going to get hotels? They went from putting their playing aside to being the ones who are running the team, and that’s extraordinary when you think about these huge players dealing with buying a website and getting thank you cards printed and figuring out all the logistics. So, I felt so lucky and honored to be in that room to help them build it in whatever way they wanted to. It was a lot of late nights; we did not sleep a lot during those few weeks. There was a lot of hard work, but also a lot of personal growth as well. The players were so open to share and talk about their feelings and talk about the world and talk about what was happening. It was a very open loving understanding space that we were in and it was very life changing when it happened”.
In the wake of it all, Jade produced a powerfully moving video that captures the essence of This Is Us which you can watch here, ‘This Is Us’ Softball announcement (yahoo.com).
“Within the four days following all of that, I worked with a couple of the girls to get a script written and that was really cool to see. You have a couple of girls who are really strong writers, you have another couple of girls who are really great with logistics, you have these other couple of girls who are really great at reaching out to contacts, etc. I just saw everybody go into superhero mode. I worked with a couple of the girls who were great writers, like Ally Carda and Aubrey Leach, and we wrote a script. We filmed it and had the girls who weren’t there send in video. We made that really quickly. I pulled an all-nighter that night to build the website to get everything published as fast as possible. it was just an absolute team effort to get everything done”.
Later that summer, and amidst the Covid pandemic and lockdown that we faced as a country, Jade was fortunate enough to be a part of the media team for a new professional sports league known as Athletes Unlimited (AU). It was Jade’s reputation and work ethic that gave her the opportunity to be a part of AU. After being referred to AU by Cat Osterman, Jade met with AU to learn about the opportunity in front of her.
“I think what Athletes Unlimited doing is quite literally changing the world for women. AU hire’s such talented people, and the mission of the company is incredible. Athletes Unlimited has been phenomenal, and they’re relentless in their pursuit to better the world by progressing professional sports for women. That’s one of my biggest goals and the one of the things I strive for is, to just keep bettering softball and keep bettering women’s sports for everybody”.
There were plenty of players for softball fans of the past 20 years to cheer for as once again the sport built generational bridges. Names like Cat Osterman, Amanda Chidester, Sam Fischer, and Megan Wiggins, inspired the younger players like Trish Parks, Kamalani Dung, and Paige Halstead. A talented set of 56 women played for Athletes Unlimited last summer, but what for Jade there was one rookie that she thinks we’ll all be watching as her career progresses.
“As for the rookies that we had, I mean, Jordan Roberts; that 310-foot home run, you can’t you forget about that. That was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed on a softball field for sure. I think that ball is still somewhere up in the air with how hard she hit it. Jordan is just a great person and a fun person to be around, so I would say keep looking out for Jordan Roberts”.
Athletes Unlimited progressive vision is what led to the Topps Company producing softball cards for the first time in their 70-year history. There have been softball cards produced in the past, but none have had the marketing or production that Topps was able to provide. Over 4,200 sets were made for the inaugural season, and another 1,300 for the Championship series, and Jade took every one of those photos.
“We had plenty of staff meetings leading up to season and I remember them talking about Topps cards, but I never connected the two like “Oh, these are going to be on trading cards”. Then when the press release came out, and everyone started texting me, I was like, “Oh, wait, I get it now”. And then I freaked out. I collected baseball cards as a kid, and I was kind of right in the era of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Griffey Jr. So, I loved baseball cards growing up. The Topps opportunity was a huge deal for me. I think I was more excited than everybody else combined! So that was an extraordinary opportunity, and I’m still very, very excited about it”.
Although Jade had little to do with the selection of photos that Topps used in their sets, she does still have some favorite memories from the pictures that were chosen.
“Sam Fischer’s card was really cool, that was the first home run in Athletes Unlimited history; Jasmine Jackson’s was the first Grand Slam and that was special that they chose that photo. Aubree Munro’s card makes me laugh because she’s so well known for being one of the greatest catchers to ever play our game, yet her picture is of her hitting, which is great. The Championship deck was super cool as well. It was special to me to know what these athletes sacrificed and what they put in to be professional softball players, and then finally, to get that recognition on Topps cards. I would open up Twitter and I would see young girls holding their Topps decks, and that just makes me want to cry. Seeing young girls who get to hold these decks and look at their heroes, but also say to themselves, “I want to be on this card one day” is just super amazing”.
Like the NBA, Athletes Unlimited maintained a bubble, or as they called it, “The Shield” to protect themselves against Covid. Jade gave a behind the scenes look at what it was like for her and the content team.
“There’s a bunch of us that are on the Content Team, and by the time we get home to the hotel every day, we’re pretty tired. Because of COVID, everyone’s trying to keep their distance and whatnot, but I will say, my favorite memory from the shield was that there was a basketball court at our hotel. The content team would go down to the court every couple days, and we would shoot hoops for hours, just blowing off steam and taking a break from work. So yeah, we played a lot of basketball and did a lot of trick shots. Even our one of our founders, Jon Patricof, played with us one night, which was pretty awesome”.
AU is an innovative approach to professional sports that puts the players first and telling you about it would be a story on its own, so please go to auprosports.com to learn more about their exciting vision for professional softball, volleyball, and lacrosse.
For Jade, the most special part of Athletes Unlimited is how heavily invested the players are who are; from the Player Executive Committee, to various other committees, players all had a voice in shaping AU.
“I feel like that’s really setting the league up for success to really give the players the chance to voice their thoughts and their opinions about what they like, and what they don’t like. It’s really special and a testament to Jon (Patricof) and Jonathan (Soros) and the staff on how valued these players are”.
Jade’s optimism about the league carriers over into their future professional sports projects with AU Volleyball scheduled to start on February 27, Lacrosse in July, and the second season of softball to begin in late August of 2021.
“I’m so excited and really anxious and nervous for volleyball…. softball is in my bones. I know it like I know the back of my own hand. But with volleyball, I know the basics, and that’s pretty much it. So, on one hand, I’m terrified, but on the other hand, when you shoot softball for so long, you kind of get into your habits and in a rhythm, and sometimes that kind of stifles creativity; with volleyball, I don’t have any of that. [Volleyball] is going to be a total overload of new experiences and creativity and thinking outside of the box that I don’t even know exists. I’m nervous because I want to do a great job. I’m very excited and I feel like it’s probably going to be similar to my first softball season, when I was an intern; just a whole season of new experiences”.
Jade takes pride in her work and it shows; and for those of you who have Instagram, make sure to follow her @jadehewittmedia to see her work. So what does it take for a photo to stand out among the rest for Jade?
“I like to take photos that tell a story, not just a photo for photo’s sake. I want to tell something that is going to convey emotion, something that is pleasing to look at, something that if it breaks the rules of photography, it’s because there’s a reason and there’s a purpose behind it. I love shooting black and white photos because it just strips away everything except the subject and their emotion. So, a good photo to me is something that kind of gives me a rush when I take it. Usually, the mark of a great photo for me, is when I snap it, I immediately go to the dugout to go look at it, because I’m like, “Is that as good as I think it is?” So, I would definitely say that’s probably the best marker, when I’m being super intentional about what I’m trying to capture and it gets me excited”.
Jade is not lying when she says that she wants her photos to tell a story as she explained a recent post of Aubree Munro throwing the ball down to second base and you can feel her own personal excitement in the photo.
“Aubree Munro’s throwdowns belong in the Louvre. I mean, they’re just the most beautiful things that you will ever see in your entire life. I will never forget the first time I saw it up close, I literally had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I was a collegiate catcher myself, and I can tell you right now that she’s on a completely different level than anybody else on this planet. I love photographing her throwdowns! Aubree has such big expressive eyes, so I love to be on the side of her, which is where I typically photograph her. When I photographed that image, it was between innings and you can see Randi Hennigan kind of walking off a little bit because it was a throwdown. But I just saw that the light was real even, so I stopped mid-walk to squat down and take the photo. Right when I snapped it, I was really excited about it. And then the cool thing was that Aubree was really excited. She texted me about it. She was “Dude this picture.” I’ve only been shooting now for about six or seven years of Pro Softball, but when you find a photo that you’ve never taken before, it’s pretty exciting”.
Jokingly I asked Jade if there was a favorite among the pictures she has taken or if they were all special in their own as if they were her children to which she replied,
“I feel like that should be my answer, but one of my all-time favorites is from 2018 at the WBSC World Championships in Chiba, Japan. I was there with Team USA, and it was the championship game. Monica Abbott and Aubree Munro were throwing their bullpen to warm up, and it’s a shot of the back of them just standing there in their red uniforms before a game with just a beautiful sky and the bright lights on them. It’s just the kind of perspective shot that you go, “This is the moment that I was in at that at that time”. It felt so big, and it felt so special. That’s how it felt to me when USA won gold and qualified for the Olympics. I feel like that’s the picture that will always mark that that memory for me, and I think it’s one of my favorite photographs of all time”.
While interviewing Jade for this post, I learned that she was much more than just a photographer for professional softball, and like her photos, her business name tells a story. Jade Hewitt Media, is simple, and straight forward, yet powerful and all-encompassing just like the work she produces. One of Jade’s newest projects is a vlog called, Quality Time where she visits players during the off season to give fans a sneak peek into their favorite player’s lives. Episode 1 aired in mid-January with Jade visiting Sam Fischer for a week (https://youtu.be/yzh8hhv2wZQ).
“The idea came up really after my first or second summer was Pro Softball. I would shoot during season and it was the greatest time of my life, and then everybody would go home. I was like, man, I miss the athletes. I want to know what they’re doing right now. I want to know how they live their lives. What do they do in the offseason? And so, every offseason, I would just be at my desk going, “I feel like there’s a lot more going on with the athletes”. For a long time, I’d always wanted to do something like this, and then I was planning on going out to Arizona to visit Sam Fisher for a week. I was like, you know, let me bring a camera along. Let me try vlogging and just authow it goes. I was really nervous about it but when I started editing and I was like maybe we have something and then kept editing and revising. Sam was really encouraging and the people who are in my inner circle who knew what I was doing were super encouraging. Now Athletes Unlimited is now behind it, which is an amazing opportunity, so it looks like it’s going to have a good life of its own”.
Since you’ve read this far, I hope that you take the time to watch Episode One of Quality Time, you’ll find that Sam takes Jade on her first trip to Costco, and tries to influence Jade that Costco is far superior to Sam’s Club. Unfortunately, the video doesn’t tell you Jade’s answer to the most burning question of the vlog, so for the first time, to the masses, in her own words we have an answer as to whether she thinks Costco, or Sam’s Club is the superior store.
“You know what, I thought Costco was amazing. Being during COVID they weren’t handing out samples, which was a bummer, but I think if I had to pledge my allegiance, I think I would agree”.
There you have it; Costco, I think she deserves a free year membership. Episode Two of Quality Time has just been released and it features the legendary Cat Osterman (https://youtu.be/K8FMZImeFM8). Due to the athletes’ tight schedule because of the Olympics coming up, and Jade’s commitment to UA Volleyball, there is no set time frame for more episodes to follow but ideally, she would like to have them out about once a month.
Jade certainly has her hands full, and I was grateful to have taken up so much of her time for this interview. So, what’s next for Jade? She has already accomplished so much, and is having the time of her life, what more does she hope to find out there?
“I find it very hard to believe that I would leave women’s sports for anything. I just love it so much. It’s in my soul. It’s in my bones. There’s nothing else that I so much firmly believe in as I do in these professional athletes and in women’s sports. I love being the photographer for Athletes Unlimited and hopefully, maybe in five years, Quality Time has really taken off, and we’re still doing it and evolving it and involving other people in it. So, you know, I’m on the Athletes Unlimited train, and I’m super excited to see where they go and hope to continue to be a part of it”.
I’m new to baseball writing, and photography. In the two years that I decided to dabble in this profession, I have been honored to learn from amazing photographers here in Sacramento like, Ralph Thompson, Steve Martarano, Kaylee Creevan, and Ricky Cazares. I get lucky with my shots, and I’m grateful for all the tips they have taught me, especially with the limited equipment that I use. The one thing I’ve learned though over the years is that although many of my heroes are still on the front of baseball cards, you never know who or when someone will touch your life, inspire your work, and become a hero to you, whether they’re on a baseball card or taking the picture that is on the card itself. Thank you Jade for inspiring me, thank you for being that hero behind the camera that I never expected to find.