Opening 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.
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”.
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!
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?
Speaking 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.
Last week I made a quick trip to Seattle, one of my favorite US cities. Since then, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been asked, “How was the weather?” Seattle weather gets a bad rap. It can be soggy, but it seldom rains buckets for days on end. In my experience, the daily “norm” is periods of sunshine interspersed with fast-moving showers. Nonplussed Seattle-ites don’t even bother opening their umbrellas most of the time. They remind me of the Scottish in this way – maybe it’s why I am such a fan of the Emerald City.
That said, it’s very humid most of the time so any day can become a very bad hair day.
On my trip, I visited the Seattle Art Museum (SAM, to you). I hung out at Olympic Sculpture Park and Woodland Park Zoo, and caught a Seattle Mariners/Cleveland Indians game at Safeco Field – my first time in a domed baseball stadium. It drizzled a few times during the game, but the roof stayed open.
Locals who attend Mariners games are so NICE. (Listen up, Oakland A’s fans.) Actually, everyone in Seattle is polite and über-affable, perhaps due to their proximity to Canada. And Safeco Field has some interesting amenities I’m more accustomed to seeing at a county fair. Well played!
Olympic Sculpture Park
Olympic Sculpture Park
Olympic Sculpture Park
Do we really need a sign warning us against touching porcupines?
It was fireworks night at Safeco Field
Funnel cakes at the ballpark. Well played!
The creepiest batting cage I’ve ever seen. The batter’s head is held on by duct tape, I think.
Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer
Mariners reliever Yoervis Medina. His warm up music is “Funky Cold Medina”, of course.
Cleveland Indians first baseman Nick Swisher slides into third.
Most of the time, when I tell a guy I’m a hardcore fan of both the Cleveland Indians (my Major League Baseball team growing up) and the San Francisco Giants (my local team of 15+ years) he’ll respond, “You can’t do that”.
Can so, can so! And so, apparently, can a woman who attended Friday night’s Indians/Giants game at AT&T Park. Her sign pretty much sums it up. Thanks for representing, girlfriend. (P.S. I like your scarf!)
In case you are wondering how I’ll cope if the two teams ever play one another in the World Series, I say… BRING.IT.ON. Seriously, I’ll worry about that happy, earth-shattering, first-world dilemma when I’m faced with it. Maybe this year…
It was a gorgeous day at AT&T Park, where not much happened… until this happened:
San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Hicks hit a three-run walk off home run in the 9th inning to beat the Cleveland Indians, and make it a clean sweep of the three-game series for the Giants. For most of the game, it seemed as if the lack of familiarity with either pitcher would translate into low scoring — until Hicks got the pitch he acted as if he’d been waiting for all day. Final score: 4-1.
I’m sorry for my Tribe, but thankfully this won’t be my last chance to see them play live in 2014. I’ll be catching a game in Seattle in June and, aside from my ongoing fantasy of someday moving to the emerald city, I have no affiliation with the Mariners. The Indians will have my 100% loyalty, and there will be no hand wringing over which team’s cap I’ll wear.
Now, please enjoy the pics, as I excuse myself to curl up on my sofa under a down comforter and spoon with a bottle of Vicks NyQuil.
Yesterday, I watched the Cleveland Indians battle the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. The Tribe started out strong, and led into the fifth inning – that’s when things started to fall apart. Thanks to big hits by Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco and Buster Posey (HR), the Giants came back to win 5-3.
I’m always a little torn when the Giants and Indians play each other. For this series, in the name of fairness, I got one ticket near the visitors dugout (Saturday) and one near the Giants dugout (today). I bought them quite a while ago, not knowing who would be pitching. There I was, in my red and blue Tribe gear, while my favorite Giant Timmy Lincecum was on the mound. I felt like a monster.
Back then I also had no idea the games would coincide with the worst cold I’ve had in years. For the past two days I’ve felt like someone is riding a pogo stick inside my sinuses, my throat is raw and glands in my tongue are so swollen I can barely talk. Luckily I didn’t buy a ticket to Friday night’s game. The Indians played poorly, and if the preponderance of stocking caps, scarves and down jackets I saw on TV were any indication, it was FAR too cold out there for a sickie like me.
So to recap: I stayed home for game one, and the Tribe lost. Yesterday I sat in Tribetown and wore my Indians gear… and they lost again. Today I have a ticket near the Giants dugout, and I suppose I’ll wear Giants gear.
If the Tribe doesn’t get the win, it’s possible that whether I go to a game – and what I wear to it – has no bearing on how well a team performs. In other words, the outcome has nothing to do with me, and my many superstitions?
I’m on lots of meds right now, but that would really be a bitter pill to swallow.
On April 2, I caught the second half of a double-header between the Oakland Athletics and the Cleveland Indians. (The game had been rescheduled from the previous evening, due to rain.) I sat close the Indians’ dugout. The cheeks in my section’s seats were just as likely to belong to a Tribe fan, as an A’s fan. My people showed up well, and in respectable numbers. Even so, after the game I felt lucky to escape Oakland Coliseum with my Indians jersey intact.
What is UP with Oakland fans? Some of them are crazy, and I don’t mean in a zany, entertaining, endearing way. I suppose if I had to watch baseball in a dilapidated stadium with regular sewage back-ups and remnants of the Raiders’ gridiron still visible in August, I’d be bitter too. In fact, I have traditionally favored building the A’s a new stadium south of San Francisco, because they are an excellent team and lifting them up would be good for baseball. Now, I’m not so sure.
Forget the bleachers, it would seem that the nastiest A’s fans prefer to sit near first base, close to the visitor’s dugout — for maximum heckling effect. They don’t just ridicule opposing players; they also deride their fans, should they dare to cheer audibly. It’s as if they enjoy HATING the opposition more than they like cheering for their own team, which seems twisted and sad.
First baseman Nick Swisher joined the Tribe two years ago, and I’ve seen him play in Oakland before. Each time, A’s fans hurl hateful insults at him like I’ve never heard. I mean it, and I’m from CLEVELAND, where LeBron James committed his crimes against humanity. I understand justified vitriol of fans who have been wronged – but LeBron voluntarily took his talents to Miami in 2010. Since then, like most Cavs fans, I have pulled myself together and moved on.
Nick Swisher left Oakland six seasons ago, and not even by choice! He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2008, before again being traded to the New York Yankees. One particularly odious Oakland fan heckled Swisher over and over for his greediness, how much he got paid per strikeout etc., so I assume he thought Swisher had jumped ship to the Yankees for their deep pockets. Unfortunately this ill-informed joker didn’t shut up all night.
Another bad, bad fan sat nearby, solo. (I was also a party of one, but at least I have decent photos to show for it.) This guy drank a lot, and appeared to seethe even when the A’s led on the scoreboard – which was often. His favorite taunt? “You WEEEEEAAAAAK!” Not “you are weak” or “you’re weak”. But “YOU WEAK”. He even called Indians catcher Carlos Santana weak after he got a hit. A double. Whatever.
This sad little man belittled Santana with racist insults I won’t repeat here, because they honestly made me sick to my stomach. (I heard similar taunting, to a much lesser extent, at a spring training game in March.) As if that wasn’t bad enough, strangers around the idiot LAUGHED. I overheard another heckler say, “This guy is so funny, he could keep me going all night!” Oh.My.God.
I refuse to accept the “nervous laughter” defense here. If you are nervous try biting your nails, grinding your teeth or indulging in emotional eating like a normal person. Do not giggle or chuckle. It only encourages a bigot.
Meanwhile, Oakland Coliseum “Guest Services” personnel stood around looking bored. I still am not sure what services they provide.
Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. This last heckler also went after shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera a few times, but inadvertently referred to him as “Melky”. Such was the level of aptitude I was surrounded by. I was tempted to point out that Melky Cabrera is a different player who has never worn an Indians uniform, but the risk of a “they all look alike to me” comeback was just too high.
So it was only fitting that the Indians turned things around in the 9th inning, with the help of A’s pitcher Jim Johnson. Things got very quiet, except for an occasional insult redirected at Johnson, instead of my Tribe. The Indians won, 6-4. As I packed up my camera equipment, I couldn’t help but notice that the heckling mob had already dissipated. Guess they were worried about traffic on a chilly Wednesday night. In Oakland, California. At 9:30 p.m.
Funny, Nick Swisher appeared to find the post-game atmosphere quite comfortable. Very satisfying.
I could say “suck it”, but I won’t. Instead I’ll say, Roll Tribe.. and congratulations to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who signed a six-year, $52.5 million contract with the Indians today — one day after his 27th birthday.
I called it first: He’s a keeper. Happy birthday Jason.
Mike Aviles has a crazy swing ritual in the batter’s box
Carlos Santana, aka “Weak”
Tito returns from pulling Zach MacAllister
Asdrubal Cabrera thinks about it… I love this photo because it looks totally staged. Daric Barton could not strike a more studly pose. He’s almost Tebowing. He’s Bartoning.
Closer John Axford. Big feet, or dainty ankles? You be the judge… could be both.
I 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!
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.
Tonight the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Texas Rangers — thereby earning an American League wild card spot, and the distinct privilege of playing the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday. And so, I am closing the book on regular season baseball.
It has become a tradition for me to attend the San Francisco Giants’ final regular season home game each year. It’s usually a day game, and the weather is always exceptional. That’s how I spent Sunday afternoon: at AT&T Park, switching between photo taking in the fabulous fall light, and monitoring the Indians game against the Twins on the scoreboard. If the Tribe had lost, they would have had to play a tie-breaker of some kind — a crushing outcome I could not accept.
Never fear, the Indians won, and made the postseason for the first time since 2007 — at which point I gave the game in front of me my undivided attention.
The Giants did not disappoint, rallying from a five-run deficit for a walk-off win, courtesy of their $90 million man (for the next five years, at least), Hunter Pence. Barry Zito also took the mound for his long-awaited curtain call. Classy and gracious as always, he tipped his cap to the crowd and later gave a sweet good-bye speech.
It hasn’t always been pretty, but we’ll miss you Barry.
Each year, I feel a little melancholy during my final afternoon at the ballpark. Will my favorite players be back next season? Is there room in me for one last bratwurst? When do pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale? (Answers: probably not, always and 139 days from Sunday.)
So as I took in my last regular-season game, I decided to have a little fun. I snapped photos not just of players, but also of some of the colorful characters I encountered at the ballpark. I had to be sneaky of course. If some camera-shy fan got angry with me, I doubt I could have run very fast after all that bratwurst.
Now I have the Cleveland Indians to cheer for, with the Oakland Athletics as my back-up team should misfortune befall the Tribe. And there is so much blogging to do… once I remember what I blogged about, before baseball season started.