Pasco baseball fan's tattoos tell story of America's pastime

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldApril 23, 2012 

— Mike McWain of Pasco is devoted to baseball. To pay homage to the game and its iconic players of yesteryear, McWain had a field of dreams tattooed across his back, shoulders and arms.

"Shoeless" Joe Jackson is there, along with Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Walter Johnson and Ty Cobb.

The 39-year-old nuclear operator and union steward at Hanford admits his obsession with baseball is more about its history than the game itself.

"The first sport I ever remember watching on television was baseball," McWain said. "I was about 8 years old, and I watched the whole game, which was unusual for me. I think Pete Rose was playing."

As he grew up, his obsession escalated. He played the game and collected baseball cards through school and still has a few thousand cards stashed in boxes somewhere, he said.

But it wasn't until 1997 that McWain got his first baseball-themed tattoo. It was etched across his left shoulder and depicts the hand of God reaching through clouds holding a bat-swinging Babe Ruth in his palm.

McWain had a theme in mind to complete the scene, but 11 years passed before he caught the itch to finish the project.

"There were a lot of reasons I waited so long to finish this," he said. "At the time I got the first tattoo done, my son was born. I had a family to support and that had to come first, plus I wasn't making a lot of money back then to justify the expense."

He also wanted the portraits to look like the real players, so the tattoo artist needed to be accomplished enough to meet McWain's expectations.

Two years ago, he met Tri-City tattoo artist Jesse Walsh at the Three Rivers Tattoo Convention. Walsh, who owns Asylum Tattoo in Pasco, found the project challenging as well as stimulating.

"It was very time consuming but so much fun to do," Walsh said. "Yankee Stadium alone took from six to nine hours to finish because of the detail."

And today, after 180 hours in the chair, once a week for a year -- at a total cost of about $10,000 -- McWain's field of dreams is a reality.

The work is done in black and gray with heavy shading giving the images dimension and McWain's light skin providing the natural paler tones. The boldest color used is red for the baseball stitches.

"I have images of my son, Christian, on both shoulders because I wanted him to be surrounded by the history of baseball and learn to love the game as much as I do," McWain said.

Christian, 12, said he does love baseball. "My dad even coaches my baseball team," he said. Christian also would love to have a field of tattoo of his own, he added. His dad, however, says not until he gets much older.

McWain is happy to give curiosity seekers a tour of his field of dreams whenever he takes his shirt off.

Ty Cobb sits in the middle of his back. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson is in the upper right. Joe DiMaggio is in the lower right. Honus Wagner is in the upper left, and Babe Ruth is lower left.

Cy Young's portrait is on his left biceps, and Walter Johnson's in on the right biceps. Ted Williams is on the left triceps, and Lou Gehrig is on the right triceps. There are two images of Gehrig and Ruth giving their farewell speeches at Yankee Stadium, and a famous scene of Cobb flying into home plate with spikes high.

An image of his 11-year-old daughter also is portrayed, along with an old 1930s catcher's mask and shin pads. At the top of his spine are two baseball bats crossed in the same fashion as the fallen soldier depiction. But instead of a World War II helmet, rifle and combat boots, McWain has a batter's helmet and cleats next to the bats.

All across his lower spine is an image of Yankee Stadium. Framing it all together is the only vibrant color in the scene -- big red stitches that run from his elbows to his armpits and down the sides of his torso.

"Believe it or not, I hate the Yankees," McWain quipped. "But the original Yankee Stadium is so much a part of the history of baseball, I had to include it."

Though his wife, Marcy, loves the art work, there are times she finds it a bit disturbing, McWain said.

"Sometimes when we're in bed I roll over on my side with my back to her with Ty Cobb's portrait staring right at her, and I think it kind of creeps her out," McWain said. "That's how realistic Jesse made those portraits."

As for Walsh, he was quite pleased with his portrait work, but they weren't his favorite part of the field of dreams.

"I really liked how the stitches turned out best," he said. "The red just pops."

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