This week I would like to tell you about the camera that has been my constant companion to ballgames all around Japan for almost 30 years.

The little Konica C35 EF, bought second-hand in 1977, still takes great (close-up) pictures, although it is not exactly in perfect shape.

For one thing, it has no lens cap. I lost it somewhere at a Daiei Hawks game at Heiwadai Stadium in Fukuoka in 1989.

There is no camera case, either. I left it behind on the Nippon Ham Fighters bench after I removed it to change the film one day during batting practice at Tokyo Dome in 1995.

There is a dent in the outer part of the lens, sustained in 1984 while I was riding an “up” escalator in the Tenmaya Department Store across from Hiroshima Civic Stadium after a Carp game.

The thing dropped off my shoulder because a triangle-shaped wire that connects the shoulder strap to an eyelet on the side of the camera came loose, and it bounced down the escalator.

The housing which activates the flash, by popping up when you push a button, broke in 1997 before a game at Nagoya Dome.

Since then, the flash indicator light will stay on constantly, unless I remove the two penlight batteries from their compartment on the bottom of the camera.

A piece of plastic protecting the front of the eye-finder often slides off and, if I take a photo while it is not in place, the picture will come out “foggy.”

A little screw-in deal that holds a small, flat battery in place at the back of the camera got lost at the Seibu Lions spring camp in Kochi in 2003, so I put a piece of Scotch tape there to keep the battery from falling out.

Worst of all, the film advance lever often sticks, especially in cool weather, and it is embarrassing when I want to take more than one photo, to ask a ballplayer to wait while I try to force the lever back into place.

Other than that, there is nothing wrong with the camera.

It is old, though.

One ojisan cameraman for Baseball Magazine Co. saw my Konica and couldn’t believe it. “Geez, how long have you had that?” he asked. “That model was new when I took one on my honeymoon to Hawaii 35 years ago.”

Through the decades, I have probably taken photos of more than 500 ballplayers — foreigners and Japanese — with this camera, and the other day I was trying to think of the first player whose picture I snapped with it.

A friend said it might have been Babe Ruth!

I doubt that, though, because the Bambino died 35 days after I was born in 1948.

But the shutter of my Konica has recorded the images of Hank Aaron, Bobby Bonds and Sadaharu Oh; Shigeo Nagashima, Hideki Matsui, Ichiro (Suzuki), Tommy Lasorda, Bobby Valentine, Yogi Berra and almost every gaikokujin who has played for a Central or Pacific League team since 1978.

It has also taken photos of famed baseball broadcasters Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Jon Miller and Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, Major League commissioners Bud Selig and Bowie Kuhn and former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley.

Mascots, too: the Phillie Phanatic, Giabbit and Sister Giabbit of the Tokyo Giants, Nippon Ham’s Fighty, Rakuten’s Mr. Carrasco and many others.

The camera has crossed boundaries to other sports as well.

It has taken pictures of football’s Joe Montana during his heyday with the San Francisco 49ers, NBA superstars Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley, golf great Arnold Palmer, pro wrestler Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer, sumo champions Takamiyama, Konishiki and Akebono and women volleyballers Motoko Obayashi, Tomoko Yoshihara and Yoko Zetterlund.

In 1989, following an NFL exhibition game at Tokyo Dome between the 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams, I was standing in the runway as players made their way from the locker room to the team bus headed for Narita Airport, when Rams quarterback Jim Everett went by.

One of the L.A. cheerleaders saw me and my camera and asked if I would take a picture of her with Everett. Why, sure.

They posed, I snapped, but she blinked and wanted another shot.

Then — darn it — my film-advance lever stuck. I asked them to please wait while I fiddled with the darn thing, but Everett was in no hurry. Locked in a tight embrace with this beautiful buxom blonde, he said, “Buddy, you just take all the time you need.”

Outside the sports world, Mr. Konica has delved into politics, taking photos of then-New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in 2000, and into show business.

Together, we captured the likeness of baseball movie actor Kevin Costner behind the hitting cage when he took BP at Tokyo Dome with a touring MLB All-Star team in November of 1992, and we took several pics of 1950s rock-and-roller Jimmy Angel.

I took a couple shots of talk-show icon Larry King, too, when he did his CNN program from Japan in 1993 and had then-Nippon Ham slugger Matt Winters as one of his guests.

My camera has been to 29 Japanese ballparks, including several of those countryside stadiums where they play pro games.

It has accompanied me to 17 MLB games as well, in the U.S. and Canada. We’ve been through a lot together, but its days may finally be numbered.

Recently, the tab that closes to lock in the two penlight batteries for the flash activation has become extremely loose. It’s hanging by a thread, similar to a 6-year-old child’s baby tooth that’s ready to come out.

When that tab goes, the camera will have had it. Even Scotch tape would not hold it in place strong enough to keep the batteries in contact.

Sigh. I guess it may be time to go digital, and I hope Santa will come through and leave one under my Yule tree.

I wonder if I should send my Konica C35 EF to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame at Tokyo Dome or maybe even its big brother in Cooperstown, N.Y.

This column will not run next Sunday, Jan. 1, but we’ll see you again on Jan. 8.

Merry Christmas.

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com

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