The paintings of spring training scenes on our cover and pages 38-45 represent artist Walt Spitzmiller's second cover story in barely six months. He also did the illustrations for the first part of the series on brutality in football (SI, Aug. 14), and his work appeared in the magazine on 16 earlier occasions. "I can still hardly believe it," the 34-year-old Spitzmiller says. "When I was studying art at St. Louis Junior College, one of my favorite teachers and I used to sit around and fantasize about being assigned to do something for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED."
Spitzmiller's fantasy became reality in 1975. "The first story I did for SI was also about baseball, about Fenway Park. My wife Connie and I drove all over Boston and we couldn't find the place. Finally we got a cab driver to lead us to it. When he pulled up beside what appeared to be an industrial building and said, 'This is it,' I still couldn't see it. 'Where?' I asked. I knew Fenway was old and small, but somehow I had in mind the huge monoliths they build nowadays. Once I got inside, I found it exquisite. My only regret is that I failed to shoot a photograph of Tom Yawkey playing pepper with the equipment manager. I didn't realize how few visitors ever saw him down on the field, even though he played pepper almost every day."
Spitzmiller experienced no difficulty locating the Florida training camps for this week's art. "I spent six days on the west coast of Florida and visited six camps, doing research, sketching and taking photographs. It was a real thrill for me to walk into the Cardinal locker room and meet Lou Brock. When I was a boy in St. Louis, he was my hero."
Spitzmiller was an athlete himself in those days, playing high school baseball (his coach was a former minor league player who levied his fines in Hershey bars) and football. After graduation he attended a summer football camp at Northeast Missouri State College, with intentions of enrolling. "Ken Norton, the boxer, played football there," Spitzmiller says. "I lasted only two weeks before deciding that this wasn't what I wanted, so I bought a bus ticket home."
March 5, 1979
What Spitzmiller did want, he realized, was to be an artist. As a youngster he had sat before the TV set on Saturday mornings, art kit at the ready, staring at the test pattern until the start of Jon Gnagy's art instructional program for children. Spitzmiller had no formal training, however, until he enrolled at St. Louis Junior College. He later won a scholarship to St. Louis' Washington University, graduating with honors in fine arts in 1969. He taught art and free-lanced until 1974, when he moved to Connecticut, where he now lives with Connie, their daughter Jill, 12, and son Bart, who is now seven months old.
Spitzmiller has no regrets about having given up football. "Working on an NFL story one time, I was down on the field and heard those thundering feet and the crashes and groans," he says. "I was very glad to be earning a living with a pencil and a sketchbook."