A heavy heart (and a happy giveaway!)

::brushes away cobwebs::

Hi folks! Long time, no see!  Though in fact there’s been plenty to see… I just haven’t been that good about writing about it. Got a couple of things on my mind today, though–not least a terrific giveaway from the folks at Tickets-For-Charity!  But first…

… well, but first, I’m feeling a little heavy-hearted about the start of this season. And I think I have good reason to.

No, I’m not talking about the Red Sox record, which I firmly believe is an aberration that we will all be sick of hearing about come October when the Sox are playing in the postseason and every writer begins the story with “Not a single Red Sox fan still believed in the team in those dark days in early April…”

I’m talking about the saddest aspect of the business of baseball: the players released at the end of Spring Training. This year, for whatever reason, the cuts felt more personal, because many of them were guys I enjoyed watching and shooting in the minors (and some in the majors). This won’t be an exhaustive list, but guys like Aaron Bates


March 22, 2011

T.J. Large


March 23, 2011

Ryan Khoury


March 23, 2011

and Adam Mills


March 22, 2011

Thanks to commenter soxfc for pointing out that though he might have a hard time fighting back onto the roster, longtime favorite of sittingstill’s camera Mark Wagner is still with the organuization, somewhere!


March 21, 2011

The PawSox open at home tonight, and I’ll be there, shooting, but it won’t just be Ben Mondor whose presence will be missed.

Of course, the Red Sox home opener is tomorrow, and after the game there’ll be a Welcome Home Party at the House of Blues. Tickets for this event are sold out… but thanks to the folks at Tickets-For-Charity I have a pair of passes to give away! Tickets-for-Charity is an initiative where buyers can get great seats to sporting events, concerts, etc. and benefit charities at the same time. The face value of your purchase goes to the team/concert venue/etc…. and everything over that goes not into a scalper’s pocket but to charity! With the Red Sox, it goes to the Red Sox Foundation, but often with other tickets you actually get to specify the charity you want to benefit! It’s not an auction site, so you do get to see up front how much money would come out of your pocket. So let’s see… leave me a note in the comments, here or on Facebook, about your favorite former or current PawSox player, and I’ll draw an entry from those who participate. Quick turnaround on this… comment BEFORE 3:00PM TODAY, APRIL 7, TO BE ELIGIBLE. (I’ve got to get to Pawtucket tonight!)

As always, find all my shots at SmugMug… and don’t miss the new (and still being updated) Player Name page!

Let’s begin again, begin the begin

Whoops.  Been a while since I checked in here, hasn’t it?  I had the best of intentions for regular updates, but some family health issues derailed me from posting… but not from shooting!

The website itself is close to up to date as far as shots I’ve edited, though individual dates aren’t completed (i.e. when I personally am granted nine-day weeks, while the rest of you keep getting seven, I will catch up). There’s a What’s New page to collect the photos where I’m not ready for full pages yet!

In the meantime, let me try to get back in the groove with a two-month summary of sorts!

Made the trip to Citi Field in New York to see the Mets host the Sox. Unfortunately Citi’s camera policies as stated (if perhaps not as practiced, as it turns out) were very restrictive, so I had to make do with Son of Babycam, my little Lumix.


Pedroia apparently trash-talked his way around the bases, to the amusement of Jose Reyes.

April 7 brought our long-awaited Opening Day!


Johnny Pesky made an elegant Opening Day entrance…


… Dustin Pedroia, maybe a little less so.


But some old lions made an entrance of their own!

Had my first emergency ticket purchase for April 17, when Hunter Jones got the call to the big leagues. Got some nice shots that night, even if Hunter never left the bullpen.


(he did get to stand in the outfield!)


And here I go with the opposition again: Brian Roberts…


… and Luke Scott.


Dustin Pedroia levitates. (Watch Dustin on base–he bounces on his lead. Side-side-side-UP!)


Brad Penny ponders.


Nick Green smolders. (He’d earned it–he’d just tied the game.)

Next came a trip to Pawtucket on April 18.


Clay Buchholz.


Fernando Cabrera. (If you need to pick out Cabrera, look for the tall, alarmingly handsome righty who looks like a movie heartthrob preparing to play a minor league pitcher.)

Back to Fenway on April 20!


Justin Masterson nearly took out Ryan Freel with a pickoff throw.


Chris Carter keeps his eye on the ball.


And I got to be there for Hunter’s debut after all!

I’ll continue the tale tomorrow!

When everything is new again

Back in the day, spring training wasn’t what it is now.  Players didn’t train in the offseason–at best they worked second jobs, at worst, they ate and drank themselves out of shape.  The start of spring training was more like rejoining an gym and restarting an exercise program.  Now, of course, guys transform themselves at API and the like and come in rarin’ to go, only to spend interminable weeks playing two- or three-inning shifts, working up to the real deal.

But if you’re a photographer, and you’ve had no games to shoot since October, and you travel to Florida to gorge yourself on five or six hours a day of baseball for nine days straight… well, I feel like I’m doing the editing equivalent of trying not to pass out after running my first sprints!

We arrived in Florida February 25, missing the BC game at City of Palms but getting to Hammond in time for the official opener of Spring Training (not to mention the first game of the Mayor’s Cup!).  Three trips to the minor league complex and seven games and change later (we made it through an inning and a half on Friday before the run to the airport), So it’ll take me a few weeks to get everything posted, but you’ll see…

The new, like Brad Penny

and John Smoltz

The fierce, like Jon Lester

The beautiful, like Manny Delcarmen

The indescribable, like Dustin Pedroia and Ron Johnson

And the shots that make me nervous, like George Kottaras pretending to take pictures of Dusty Brown.

(I mean, just because I had the huge lens trained on them doesn’t mean they saw me… right?)

Stay tuned!

You can say I cheated; prop me up defeated

We all need to gain the upper hand.
An edge to do even better than we
can.
No one seemed to care when it brought back the fans.
It’s a broken
record, strike up the band for the broken man.

Until I read Game of Shadows, I guess I thought steroids were for the stereotypical sluggers, the home run kings, McGwire and Bonds and the like.  But the book was an eye-opener to me.  Not that the material on Bonds wasn’t astounding, laid out in damning detail, but the most amazing part to me was the description of an unnamed relief pitcher–a journeyman, you get the impression, one of those guys who pitches in wins and losses but who can pretty much count on going out there every few days on an irregular schedule and throwing a small sphere in a way that stresses bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons in ways that humans really weren’t designed for.  And you see how the illegal drug he’s tried is a miracle.  Not because it gave him more miles on his fastball; not because it made his changeup more deceptive or helped his breaking ball find the corner of the plate.

Because the morning after he pitched, he woke up… and he wasn’t in pain.

A crowd so loud and a
son so very proud.
The powers that be counting money, handing me a
crown.
Only now they decide that it’s time to take a stand.
It’s a
broken record, strike up the band for the broken man.

Game of Shadows was disheartening to me because its message was clear:  these drugs are all over the sport, and everyone knows it.  Now, that’s not the same as saying that everyone’s using them: of course that’s not true.  But it does mean, I think, that everyone knows someone who is; everyone’s competing with someone who is.  (And if I were a fan of track and field, or swimming, I’d feel even worse.)  You may suspect the player whose warning-track power suddenly seems to reach ten rows into the bleachers, or the guy racking up double-digit home run totals for the first time in his thirties–but it’s as likely to be the infielder whose body would break down by August without chemical help, the number five starter trying to avoid the DL or surgery.

The Mitchell Report, then, really didn’t say anything to me that I didn’t already figure was true.  Nor did Kirk Radomski’s Bases Loaded, which I just finished reading.  Radomski went into a little more detail about individual steroids, and about the availability of HGH.  When I mentioned to a friend that I’d read the book, I was surprised by her response:  she asked, “Do you find him credible?”  I guess it hadn’t even occurred to me not to.  Everything was so plausible.

You can say I
cheated; prop me up defeated.
Take a swing at me and the others too, if
you’ve got nothing better to do.

The 2003 testing, of course, was to be confidential; it was intended only to see if the percentage of positive tests was higher than the threshold necessary to take action.  But don’t forget, the testing available couldn’t even at the time identify THG; even now, let alone then, there is no permitted testing with a shot at identifying HGH. 

There’s a street not far away that’s
named after me.
But my present and future is a gated community.

It is unfair to me that Alex Rodriguez was named from that “confidential” report.  I’m not sure how I feel about the cries to release the other names.  But first and foremost, I ask you–what do they mean?  Do you think that was in any way an exhaustive list?  Do you not think that the number of players using HGH now dwarfs that list?

I don’t know if any of the fallout from this revelation will lead to change.  It seems a lot of folks are so invested in looking the other way, in keeping things as they are, that the powers that be may try to pretend that widespread PED use ended with the onset of testing.  But until testing catches up with the drugs, it’s going to be out there.

The only way there will be meaningful change, I believe, is if the players’ union allows blood testing–and the preservation of split samples.  Short of that, I think we’re all looking the other way.

Leave
your past behind if you really want to understand.
It’s a broken
record, strike up the band for the broken man.

(Lyrics from “Broken Man,” from the Baseball Project’s Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails)

Heaven is a truck

It’s been a long winter already in Boston, between the cold, the snow, the ice, and the never-ending saga of re-signing the Captain.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been so ready for the grand ceremony that heralds the oncoming spring:  Truck Day!


The truck!


Mascot Steve T. Ferret tries to reach the door.


We decided he wasn’t going to make it very far this way, either.


Steve on the flatbed truck that accompanies the truck at the start of the journey.


Were they short of equipment? The dial-a-bat truck squeezes down Van Ness.


My idol, Brita Meng Outzen of mlb.com.


Wally directs traffic.  “I’m going to be late… I tried to go around Kenmore but a fat furry green man is in the way.”


“Who you calling fat?”


Murph the dog was a very good dog.


Wally holds Steve for me.


One of the best things about Truck Day is the sheer concentration of photographic firepower when there is, ah, very little to shoot.  Here, desperate for an edge, a SWAT team of photographers storms the park for the overhead shot.


Time to start packing the back of the truck!


The vacuums!!


I’m a little obsessed with the vacuums, as you can see from my 2007 and 2008 Truck Day shoots. 


Okay–now we’re getting silly.


Best I could do with the short lens to document the Fenway hawks circling lazily overhead.


“Uh, Al? … heh heh heh… we forgot some stuff!”


Al has finally managed to secure even the vacuums and the bicycle.  This is his smile of non-amusement.


Johnny Pesky!


I appreciate what it means to have Johnny start up the truck.  At the same time, could we not freeze to death perhaps the most beloved man in Red Sox Nation?


I think Johnny’s ready to drive off for real here!


I can’t tell if my friends are elated or just delirious from the cold.


Here we go!


Hang a left on Kilmarnock…


… and back down Boylston Street!


Fenway ambassadors and lucky fans armed with rubber baseballs = INCOMING!

And so the truck is on its way.  In short order we’ll see our boys in the sun.  And in slightly less short order… I’ll join them!

January stars

January always seems to be the low point of the offseason; the holidays are over, the distractions are gone, and weeks of cold and snow remain before pitchers and catchers report.  But we have our ways of coping!

Here in Boston, the Boston Baseball Writers‘ dinner has been a beacon of hope, a promise that baseball and spring will come along in time.  Hot Stove Cool Music brings both a roundtable discussion of baseball and a concert or two.  The Jimmy Fund has now put on four events as “New Stars for Young Stars” to raise funds to combat cancer.  In conjunction with the Red Sox Rookie Development program, the Team Store holds a signing event that brings in money for the Red Sox Foundation while showing the rookies what lies ahead for them in terms of us crazy fans.  Throw in team dinners for the Spinners and Sea Dogs, and January’s not such a bleak month at all!

Here are a few of my shots from the BBWAA dinner on Thursday, January 8:

Dustin Pedroia laughs.

Jim Rice chuckles.

Sean Casey with a real smile…

… and a posed one, as Jeff Bailey signs.  (Thumbs up for Bailey’s silver vest and tie!)

A highlight of the evening was the confirmation that Rocco Baldelli had signed with the Red Sox for 2009.


Rocco got his standing O’s, but for certain, the hope that Jim Ed Rice will be voted into the Hall of Fame on Monday got the crowd up and yelling, too!

On Friday, January 9, we reluctantly passed on the Sea Dogs dinner to go to Foxboro to see Bronson Arroyo and his band play.  Sadly, I have no photos of Bronson, Elan Trotman or the fine band, because Showcase Live security decided I had a professional camera which could not be allowed into the hall.  I wish.  Trust me, I wish.  But I’m old enough to know that security folks are folks you don’t argue with.  Also sadly, this necessitated missing the Team Store signing.  The things I’ll do for my friends and a lanky blond righty…

… But fortunately the rookies were out again as Saturday, January 10 brought this year’s edition of New Stars for Young Stars:

Josh Reddick and Daniel Bard.

Lars Anderson.  “Hey, can you get that flash any brighter?”  (I’m admittedly not very good with the flash, but Jillian’s is a tough place to shoot: all bright windows and dark corners!)

Justin Mas–hey, wait a minute…

And that’s not Michael Bowden!

Now correctly labeled, Michael Bowden feigns innocence while Justin Masterson acts like he has no idea what just happened. ^_^

I’m not sure Tito’s either a new star or a young star, but we love him regardless!

NO TRADING.  Do you hear me, Theo?  Keep these guys.  NO TRADING.

George Kottaras with a dubious look.

Richie Lentz.

Jason Place, another victim of my over-aggressive flash.

Chris Carter.

Meanwhile, back behind the official New Stars roster, the rest of the Rookie Development Program participants got to bowl a few games!

Adam Mills.

Mark Wagner.  (I got to chat with Mark for a while–very friendly, personable guy.  One of the best things about meeting the pups in the minors is that you find folks you really, really want to see succeed, and this was a terrific group.)

Kris Johnson.  Memo for next year:  more bowling shots!

Argenis Diaz graciously indulges me in my quest to get one of them eating ice cream!

It’s snowing in Boston right now, but after the last few days, I can almost feel that Florida sun!

A-Rod, Zito, Posada, Tejada, Johan, Manny, Maddux, Mussina

… C.C., A.J., Teixeira, … who’s got three syllables?  Not Cashie…

I
had a late afternoon-into-evening meeting Tuesday, after a holiday
lunch at Game On, right at Fenway, under tens of TVs all telling me
that the Red Sox and Nationals were favorites for Teixeira.  I returned
to my office that night to find that not only did he sign with the
Yankees, but I’d missed the first wave of reaction.  It seemed easier
at that point just to stay on shore!

But as a Red Sox fan, one
can scarcely stay silent.  My take is very simple: eight years at that
kind of money, with a no-trade (which the Sox don’t do anyway), would
not have been worth it. 

The situation may have been more akin
to the Yankees’ first signing of A-Rod, but the timing made me think of
Johnny Damon.  In both situations it seems clear that as a fan one can
get too wrapped up in a certain player.  Championships seem to come
down to the players one might not have named in the top five at the
start of the year, whether it’s Mark Bellhorn or Curtis Leskanic or
Hideki Okajima (or even a salary dump named Mike Lowell).  The
individuals with huge contracts?  Well, you can start with A-Rod… but
don’t forget that Jeter doesn’t seem to have added any rings since he
signed his megadeal, either.

I’m well aware that I have to speak
carefully about money given my allegiance, but it’s silly to suggest
that the Yankees don’t constitute their own financial tier at the top,
with teams like the Red Sox, Mets and Dodgers in the next tier.  The
Yankees can afford some ridiculous financial commitments.  But I
confess that this makes me hope for a season for them either like last
year’s Tigers or even like the Mariners of 2001.  I do suspect that the
Yankees have bought themselves a playoff berth in 2009.  But if they
make it that far, I’ll have my fingers crossed for a collapse, even
more than I usually do!

And it’s funny… in the way that a
holiday party can make you never want to see rich food again, this
financial excess is making me feel rather distant with regard to Mr.
Boras’s client Jason Varitek.  There’s a part of me that really thinks
if he wants the money, he should go find it.  Don’t let the door hit
you.

In the meantime, I’m glad that my boys Justin Masterson, Mike Bowden and Clay Buchholz are all still in the fold so far.

I’ll
be doing a year-end photo retrospective, starting tomorrow; might have
to give the alarmingly photogenic Jacoby Ellsbury his own post!

(Title from “Gratitude (For Curt Flood)” from Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails by the Baseball Project.  If you don’t have it, and didn’t get it for the holidays, go get it yourself NOW.  It’s that good!)

Congratulations to the Phillies, and a tip of the cap to the Rays

Ah, Cole Hamels. I had no idea, shooting you back in March of 2007, that you’d someday be World Series MVP!

And congratulations to all the Phillies!  I’m particularly happy for Jimmy Rollins, though I can’t back it up with my own photos, as well as Hamels, and Ryan Howard.

looking monstrous next to Tek, also March of 2007…

… and looking stylish next to Gentleman Jim Lonborg at the Boston Baseball Writers’ Dinner, January 2007.

I’m happy for the Phillies, and for Philly in general, and for a couple of friends of mine who are devoted Phillies fans, and I raise a glass to all of you!

But I also toast the Rays.  I’m still growling and grumbling about Boston fans dissing Rays fans, but I’ve already griped about that so I’ll pass on it here.  It was a terrific season for the Rays, and there’s little shame in losing in the World Series.  Congratulations to Joe Maddon and his team; we’ll see you on Opening Day at Fenway in April!

Congratulations to the Rays

So I had it in my head that if the Rays beat the Red Sox tonight, I’d write a post of congratulations; that I’d write through my disappointment, toast the Rays on having succeeded in what I think will actually be their toughest postseason challenge, and post a few photos from the ALCS that show off the Rays better than the Sox.  Then I found that within moments of the end of the game, at least one Rays “fan” was already trolling Sox sites; I guess you’ve finally hit the big time when you get to be an idiot in support of your team?  Ah well.  (Cyn, bless her heart, is good with the delete key, too!)  [Edited the morning after to add:  you know, in retrospect, that was probably just a garden variety troll, and not a Rays fan.  I blame the grey fog of disappointment for that not being immediately obvious!]  So it’s dimmed my benevolent spirit a bit.  But I do realize that there are plenty of deserving fans out there as well, and I offer good wishes to them, and congratulations to Joe Maddon and his team on earning a World Series berth.

I’ll have several posts in the coming days to toast my own boys; it’s a fine achievement to have made it as far as they did, and I love the Red Sox–these Red Sox–without qualification.  Their salutes, and photos, will come.  For now… a few from October 13, Game 3.

From batting practice… is that the Baldelli family nose, or what?

Not sure if that’s David Price, but he certainly demanded a high jump!  Carlos Pena was willing…

… but Dioner Navarro…

“… ah…”

“Hey, look, it’s your armpit.  Woo.”

Hope no one got hurt in the pigpile (Jake Peavy waves, weakly).  ^_~  Congratulations.

How many days until pitchers and catchers report?

ALCS Game 5: I’m a believer!

I went into Game 5 knowing that it would either be a wake or a party, and that whichever it was to be, I had to be there.  An excellent omen: I called the box office that morning to find that one of my favorite field box singles was available!

I made my way in in time for BP, of course.

Josh Beckett and Dustin Pedroia.  “Don’t bite your fingernails!”

Kevin Cash, Gary Tuck, and David Ross trek in from the bullpen.

Devern Hansack, Justin Masterson and Manny Delcarmen, waiting too far out in center to have to do much of anything.

The Sox spared no opportunity to remind us of past comebacks pregame, not only in the montage from 2004 that still leaves me sobbing, but in bringing out history in the flesh for first pitch!

Curt Schilling.

Daisuke Matsuzaka took the mound for the Sox, and the battle began.

Akinori Iwamura and Jason Varitek.

It didn’t start well for the Sox.  Aki singled…

And BJ Upton homered.  Two batters, two runs.

Carlos didn’t fish for that one, but he did strike out.

The switch to Scott Kazmir might have given Sox fans hope, but he would pitch six scoreless innings.

Even Dustin Pedroia, the littlest MVP, could get nothing going.

The wind whipped the flag and the banner.  “Don’t forget,” it challenged us.  “Keep the faith.”

But Carlos Pena wouldn’t strike out his second time up.

And Evan Longoria followed with a home run of his own.

While Jed Lowrie grounded into a fielder’s choice…

… to be stranded on second with nothing to show.

Hideki Okajima came in after Aki walked to pitch the fifth and sixth, allowing no runs.

But Manny Delcarmen walked the two batters he faced in the seventh…

… resulting in the call to Jonathan Papelbon.

After a double steal, Paps allowed both of Manny’s runners to score on a BJ Upton double.  7-0 Rays, top of the seventh.  Backs to the wall.

But Fenway’s an amazing place.  And you could feel the spirit of the park stir.  No cowbells, no thundersticks, no exhortation from the scoreboard to “Make some noise!”  Just the passion and the life’s blood of the faithful, the ones who love and support this team, the ones who believe.

Kazmir gave way to Grant Balfour.  Jed Lowrie got it started with a double.  Tek and Kotsay flied out, but Coco singled, Pedie singled (knocking Lowrie in), and then came Big Papi.

And after a three-run homer, the drive was on.  Papelbon had three up, three down.  Jason Bay would walk on  four straight pitches from Wheeler before J.D. Drew drilled a pitch out of the park.  Lowrie and Casey made outs before Mark Kotsay doubled to center field.

And then came Coco.

Coco Crisp.  Overlooked, perhaps, in the rush to anoint Jacoby Ellsbury prince of center field, but a gamer and a man possessed of a fierce and determined heart.  Coco had a magnificent at-bat, working a full count, fouling off four consecutive pitches, and finally lacing a single to right, scoring Kotsay and tying the game.  Fenway was in a frenzy of Dionysian proportions.

We’d had Papelbon for all he was worth–but we needed a closer.  And we turned to Justin Masterson.

Jason Bartlett singled, and got a lot of attention at first,

but instead of bunting him over, Aki flied out.  Upton walked, but Pena hit into a marvelously scripted double play.

How to explain the ninth?  Pedie, our MVP, grounded out.  Ortiz, our heart, struck out.  Then came Kevin Youkilis, who gutted out a ten-pitch at-bat that ended in an infield single, thrown away by Longoria to put Youk on second.  Jay Bay was intentionally walked… in order to face J.D. Drew.

It seemed as though Drew might not get a pitch in the strike zone…

But he did.

And Fenway erupted.

Who knows what tonight will bring?  I only know this–I’ll be there for my team until the last pitch is thrown.

I’m a believer.

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