Spring Training in Progress

Image of hands holding out baseballs for Cleveland Indians players to sign, before a spring training game in 2017Opening day for Major League Baseball is just a few weeks away, and I’m already off my game. I returned from spring training more than one week ago, and am only now blogging about it.

Scottsdale in late February is even more relaxing and clement than when I normally visit in March. The midday temperature hovered at around 65 degrees. I didn’t wear my ball cap or get sunburned once.

I skipped the Cactus League last spring – investing in an apartment redo instead – and was startled by a few changes this year. For starters, Goodyear Ballpark (home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds) has introduced security screening.

In the past, senior citizen volunteers checked tickets without a scanner – they actually read the tickets. There were no wands up and down your inseam, metal detecting machines or bag searches.

Goodyear is an older stadium, and going to a game felt like stepping back in time. Now lines to enter are long, and screening is contracted to millennials wearing uniforms.

I understand the need for tighter security but … Boo, progress.

boo the princess bride

The League has also introduced camera lens size limits – a pretty big deal for me. It means 2017 was likely my last for taking photos with my beloved 28-300 lens, affectionately named Big Barbara.

Barbara is now contraband, and was nearly confiscated. I had to sneak her in, dodging security and the dreaded big camera sweep. It was stressful.


On the upside, I finally got a chance to enjoy (not really) a Cincinnati classic: a Skyline Chili Dog. I wanted to like it. I really did. Every spring training, fans at Goodyear rave about these dogs.

My colleague Erika, who hails from the Queen City, blames the shredded orange substance sprinkled on top. The concession stand called it “cheese” — and it looked legit to me — but Erika cried “imposter”.

IMG_5949 copy

The Great 2017 Skyline Dog Experiment was a #fail, even if I did eat the whole dog.

Since I’m not cut out for a life of crime and deception, my spring training photos going forward (assuming I don’t boycott in protest) will be taken with a lens that is six inches or shorter. Manage your expectations accordingly. Until then, behold my swan song!

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Spring Training: In the Ballpark

SF Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford
SF Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford

Another Spring… another Spring Training in Scottsdale, Arizona. As usual I went bipartisan, splitting things right down the middle: three San Francisco Giants games, and two Cleveland Indians games.

I ate too much animal protein and soft serve ice cream, and indulged in plenty of people watching. (The latter wasn’t always pretty. I don’t claim to be Stacy London, but come on baseball fans – even I can see it’s time to up your fashion game.)

I took in a few new ballparks this year, and discovered that — like snowflakes — no two are the same. Camelback Ranch (home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox), is fairly new and fancy, with the biggest, best bratwurst I’ve seen at a stadium. The meatball sub was tempting, but dangerous in the midday Arizona heat.

Despite its relative swankiness, Camelback Ranch has no cup holders – which I found astounding. How does something like that happen, in a place where temperatures top 90 degrees in the shade by April?

Foot glovesSpeaking of cup holders… at the Seattle Mariners’ beautiful stadium in Peoria, my seat mate shamelessly STOLE mine. I don’t mean she mistook my cup holder for hers. Nope, she used her cup holder for her water, and mine for her coffee. I let this slide because she was wearing foot gloves – in my opinion a far more heinous crime. If she could wear those in public, who knew what else she was capable of?!?!

At Maryville, parking is atrocious. I had a ticket to a Brewers’ game on day one, but after circling the park for at least 30 minutes in search of a garage or lot with space available, I finally called the game on account of extreme vexation and headed to the mall for some retail therapy. (Baseball’s loss was Anthropologie’s gain.)

At Scottsdale stadium (the San Francisco Giants vs. the Cincinnati Reds) I sat in front of two hard partying women in their 50s, who delighted in photo bombing their neighbors’ selfies. They also found the common baseball expression “can o’ corn” exceptionally entertaining, and dedicated an entire inning to listing other canned vegetables that could have been featured in the metaphor. They finally ran out of steam with “hearts of palm”.

“Can o’ corn” vs. “Can o’ hearts of palm.” Discuss amongst yourselves.

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3 Observations From 2014 Spring Training

Child's hand holding a baseball with the Cleveland Indians logo, waiting for a player to sign itI returned from Scottsdale and Cactus League baseball less than 48 hours ago, and am clinging desperately to the last shreds of my spring training vacation buzz. I didn’t have much time to blog and post photos while I was away, so now I’m playing catch(!) up. (Playing catch? See what I did there?) I also have some reflections on my five days in the Arizona desert.

America’s pastime isn’t always pretty: I often hear Bay Area dwellers caveat something going on around us with, “but of course, we live in a bubble.” It’s a good economy bubble, thanks to the Silicon Valley, as well as a great weather bubble – and as a result, San Francisco attracts a lot of young, educated, physically active people. Live here long enough, and you can lose sight of how the rest of America actually looks and behaves. Spring training in Scottsdale delivers an eyeful of reality.

I am not a perfect physical specimen, and I struggle to maintain a healthy weight, yet when I’m at Spring Training I often find myself both reassured (“Hey, maybe I’m not in such bad shape!”), and alarmed by the amount of morbid obesity around me. Listen, like most fans I indulge in ballpark food with relish (and mustard) – but it’s shocking to see so many overweight, middle-aged people sucking down multiple beers, foot-long chili cheese dogs and double cone soft serve ice cream… then hiring a golf cart to ride – rather than walk — .8 miles to their hotel. A few of these folks may have an injury or disability that impacts their mobility, but not THAT many.

If you see a slim person at Spring Training, it’s dollars to doughnuts (pun intended) that he/she is under 25 years of age, with a metabolism that is still working overtime. And if she’s a woman, she’s probably wearing false eyelashes, a push-up bra, a skin-tight tank top and very short shorts. One such young woman stood next to me before Sunday’s Giants/Indians game, as I took some of the photos below. Flashing her ample cleavage and a button declaring “It’s My Birthday”, she got lots of autographs from Indians players, despite not knowing their names or the positions they play. I SUSPECT it wasn’t the birthday button that did the trick. Speaking of autographs…

I don’t get the autograph thing: Maybe I’m bitter, because the first (and last) autograph I ever got — from Chris Evert, who I adored as a kid and still think is pretty awesome – I misplaced almost immediately, and was heartbroken. I guess I was so scarred by the loss, it soured me on the whole autograph-getting experience. So I am fascinated by grown men who jostle and elbow their way to the edge of the field each day, hoping to get a signature on a ball or cap brim. Many of them enjoy telling players stories as they sign, like “I was at the game where you hit that homer off Clayton Kershaw”, or whatever. The players politely nod and say things like, “Oh yeah? That’s cool.” Once they have an autograph in hand, these men beam like little boys.

To each his own, right? The autograph frenzy only bothers me when I see a father pushing his kid HARD to get a signature, and it’s clearly the dad’s thing. The kid doesn’t care. In fact, before the aforementioned Giants/Indians game, a dad – who I’m pretty sure is an otherwise good guy and loving father – forced his super-shy son to the front of the crowd. When the kid hung back and an Indians player missed him as he moved down the line signing for fans, the dad got overly enthusiastic and shouted “little boy right there, you missed a little boy to your right, little boy, little boy”. The player stopped cold, glared and asked, “You telling me to sign?” He eventually signed the boy’s ball, and father and son thanked him. It was awkward. I was sorry for the dad, getting schooled in front of the crowd. But I also sympathize with players, who must get fed up with pushy fans treating them like employees who OWE THEM an autograph.

Shop much?: The only thing at spring training that’s more frantic than a line of autograph hounds, is the San Francisco Giants shop in Scottsdale Stadium. Step inside and it’s like you’ve been sucked into the famous Running of the Brides at Filene’s basement. There is pushing, shoving and general rudeness by fans who are seemingly unaware that there are Dugout Stores all over the Bay Area, or that most Giants swag is available online. Not sure how they manage to function in society in the off-season. The weird thing is, while the Cleveland Indians/Cincinnati Reds shop at Goodyear Ballpark is always crowded, it lacks Scottsdale’s mob-like, looter vibe. I wonder what the Cubs team shop in Mesa is like? Cubs fans are rabid too, but Chicagoans have Midwestern manners so…

There it is. A recap of my easing into baseball season, in fewer than 1,000 words. Despite wearing 50 SPF sunscreen I picked up some color (in the form of freckles), and I took good photos, consumed a few warm-weather cocktails, and shook off a load of work stress.

Next step: Opening Day! Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!

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2014 Cactus League Shot of the Day

Cleveland Indians first baseman Nick Swisher takes a walk in Spring Training, March 17, 2014.
Nick Swisher


I love sports photography – you’ve probably surmised that by now – but the truth is, once I get caught up in a game I’m not always ready for the fast and unexpected. Pablo Sandoval’s jumping catch in Monday’s San Francisco Giants game against the Cleveland Indians? Nope, didn’t even have my camera raised. (I applauded wildly, though. Thirty pounds ago, Panda would have missed that ball by 12 inches.)

Yesterday’s spring training game in Goodyear, AZ – the Indians vs. the Cincinnati Reds – presented greater-than-average challenges for my photography, because my view of parts of the field was partially obstructed by an MLB.TV cameraman.  So, I missed the chance to capture some important stuff – including the second-base umpire taking a Brandon Phillips line drive to the groin. (An odious man seated next to me kept yelling, “Ball’s still in play” as the poor ump lay face down in the dirt surrounded by concerned players, until another fan suggested he stick a sock in it.)

Replay umpire John Tumpane was later hit in the backside by a bad throw to second by Indians first baseman Joe Sever. I missed that too. It was a tough day to be an umpire, or a photographer seated in section 118 of Goodyear Ballpark.

The photo above of Nick Swisher was a classic case of right place, right time. I finally got a good view of the batter’s box, and since Swisher had already homered twice in two days I had my camera trained on him. He walked, and (unintentionally) I snapped just as he tossed his bat to the side.  I nearly deleted the photo, then noticed the bat’s shadow on the ground and realized I caught it hanging midair, perfectly parallel to the ground. I get a kick out of capturing a split second facial expression, a foot on the bag, the ball making contact etc.  If I got paid for my baseball pics, this could be a money shot.

The rest of my photos from the game…

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2014 Spring Training: Day One Was a Dust Up

It’s that time of year again: Major League Baseball Spring Training in Arizona. The new season brings a new camera lens for me, which is proving a little unwieldy so far. For starters, when it’s attached to my camera the entire ensemble weights more than six pounds. I got cramps in my arm, and a blister on my zooming thumb. Tomorrow I’ll rub some desert grit on it, and get back in the mix.

It was a beautiful Scottsdale day: hot of course, with breezes that kept us cool while kicking up a lot of dust. Unfortunately, it wasn’t pretty for the San Francisco Giants — or Matt Cain who gave up seven runs to the Oakland Athletics. The Giants lost 8-1.