World Series Memories- 19 and Counting

My favorite time of year is fall, and there is a major reason why.  It’s time for the World Series!  Baseball’s marque event is a thrill for everyone involved; teams, fans, and of course for those who have the privilege of covering the Fall Classic.  Next week, I will heading out to cover my 19th World Series.  It was, and still is, quite a thrill to be one of the chosen few selected to cover the World Series.  Having photographed some of the greatest moments in World Series history, I thought it might be fun to journey down memory lane and revisit a few of my more memorable Fall Classics.

1987 – The Twins and Cardinals.

My first World Series, one I’ll never forget for that reason alone.  Major events like the World Series bring the best photographers in the world together to one venue, and I recall having the opportunity to meet many of my “photo heroes” for the first time prior to Game 3 in St. Louis.  These were the sports photographers that I respected most and hoped to emulate someday.  Rich Pilling, Tony Tomsic, Jerry Wachter, John Iacono, Ron Modra and Mickey Palmer were just a few that were in attendance at Busch Stadium that October.  Sports photography legends, all of them.

Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek makes a nice play on a low throw to first base as Vince Coleman arrives a split second too late during the 1987 World Series.

Unfortunately, my visual highlights that year were few.   1987 was back in the days of manual focus, gotta push 400 daylight chrome film two stops till the grain explodes, I only have a 400mm f3.5 days.   On top of that, I was a nervous rookie.

1987 World Series MVP Frank Viola delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

I remember the disappointment of missing my first opportunity at making a memorable World Series image, Ozzie Smith’s famous somersault as he took the field (I blew focus).  However, I recall that Jerry Wachter didn’t miss it.  That’s why Jerry was working with for Major League Baseball’s Office of the Commissioner and I was still developing my skills under the guidance of Rich Pilling, then Director of Photography at The Sporting News. In 1987, there were no digital previews to get instant gratification or disappointment like you can today.  In fact, I didn’t find out I blew the shot until a day later when the film came back from the lab .  I thought it was in the bag.  Which makes me recall a saying back then that I considered the kiss of death.  …”I nailed it”.   If you uttered or even thought that phrase, you probably missed the shot by a country mile.  It was easy to tell who did “nail it”.  The photographers who remained silent.  I was quietly confident that night…  Until the chromes were processed!

There would be better World Series to come, photo wise.

But nothing beats the thrill of your first, missed shots and all.

1989 – The Athletics and Giants.

Originally, this World Series was billed as the “Battle of the Bay” but became better known as the “Earthquake World Series”.  I flew into San Francisco the morning of Game 3 after shooting football all weekend for Sport Magazine, and the first thing I did was hop in my rental car and drive over to the Oakland side of the bay to pick up my credential at a hotel near the airport.  Not wasting time, I immediately headed back over to San Francisco via the Bay Bridge to meet up with Rich Pilling and Rob Brown to head over to Candlestick Park.  A beautiful fall day for Game 3.  Not a cloud in the sky, perfect temperatures, the day couldn’t be better.  That was, until 5:04 pm.

Fans, media and players react moments after a 7.1 magnitude earth quake interrupted Game 3 of the 1989 World Series at Candlestick Park.

I first heard a loud roar (like a train), followed seconds later by a feeling I can only describe as the sensation you might experience if you were standing in a row boat, only to have a large boat speed by and create a hellacious wake as you suddenly rock back and forth while trying to maintain your balance.  I was mystified as to what was going on.  Someone yelled “earthquake” and my immediate thought was “not now, the pitchers have headed to the bullpen, it’s the WORLD SERIES!”  I looked up and watched the entire upper deck of Candlestick Park “ripple” slowly like a wave while the light towers thrashed about like something out of the Exorcist.  As suddenly as it started, it stopped  and the fans let out a huge cheer as if to signify  “Hey, how did you like the pregame show, San Francisco style?” Those of us at the ballpark had no idea of the severity of what had just occurred.  Candlestick was still standing, that’s all that mattered to us.  However the rest of the world, tuned in watching the World Series on television would quickly know more than we did as we sat stunned,  stranded at The Stick.  Few people in 1989 had cell phones, so we waited for instructions.  No laptops, no internet access or smart phones, nothing.  For awhile we even thought the game might be only be delayed, not postponed.  Eventually, photographers who worked for the newspapers or wire services began getting word of just how serious this quake was, and put on their “news photographers” hats and headed out to cover the disaster.  An announcement came over the P.A. system that the game was postponed, and that we should all evacuate Candlestick.  Instructions on what to do should there be an aftershock were given.

San Francisco Giants pitcher Rick Reuschel leaves the field hand in hand with his family after Game 3 of the 1989 World Series was postponed due to an earthquake.

The players gathered their families and friends together and quietly left Candlestick Park while still in uniform.  For me, my assignment was eventually cut because Sport Magazine was going to press before the Series ended.  Being on the field at Candlestick Park at 5:04 pm on that October afternoon was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever gone through.  Looking back, I am forever grateful that the 7.1 magnitude quake didn’t last any longer than it did, and that it happened during daylight hours.  I felt I used up one of my “9-lives” that day.

1991 – The Twins and Braves.

One of the great World Series of all-time, in my opinon.  Great plays seemed to unfold every night, with great individual moments highlighting all seven games.  Things got underway with a bang during Game 1 as the Twins Dan Gladden upended catcher Greg Olson at home plate, only to be called out on the play.

Dan Gladden of the Minnesota Twins upends catcher Greg Olson of the Atlanta Braves during Game 1 of the 1991 World Series at The Metrodome on October 19, 1991 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Gladden was out on the play.

Then the action moved to Atlanta, where Lonnie Smith returned the favor when he slammed into catcher Brian Harper.

Lonnie Smith of the Atlanta Braves bowls over Brian Harper of the Minnesota Twins during Game 4 of the 1991 World Series at Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on October 23, 1991. Smith was out on the play.

Then one of the most famous home runs in World Series history was launched by the late, great Twins Hall-of-Famer Kirby Puckett to send the Series to a deciding 7th game.  An incredible Series, full of great moments (read photo opportunities).

Minnesota Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett rounds the bases after hitting a game winning, walk off home run in the eleven inning off of Charlie Leibrant to win Game 6 of the 1991 World Series against the Atlanta Braves at The Metrodome on October 26, 1991 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I remember flying home from Minnesota wondering if I would ever again experience a World Series as great as this one was.  I didn’t have to wait long.

1993 –  The Phillies and Blue Jays

For two consecutive years the Toronto Blue Jays were American League champions and appeared in the Fall Classic.  In 1992, they defeated the Atlanta Braves to become the first non-USA team to become World Champions.  The 1993 Fall Classic found the Blue Jays taking on the Philadelphia Phillies.  For as much as I disliked shooting under the roof at the Metrodome, I enjoyed shooting at Skydome.  Especially during late October, as the 93′ Series endured rain while in Philadelphia, and would have had to contend with snowflakes in Toronto.  But Skydome was the perfect cure for bad weather.  Perfect conditions, thank you very much.

Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays connects for a World Series winning walk off home run off of Mitch Williams during Game Six of the 1993 World Series at the Skydome on October 23,1993 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Blue Jays won the game 8-6, winning the Series 4-2.

More importantly, Skydome was the host for one of the most memorable moments in World Series history, as the Blue Jays Joe Carter ended the 1993 World Series with a walk-off home run off of Phillies reliever Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams.

Pitcher Mitch Williams of the Philadelphia Phillies walks off the field as Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays jumps for joy in the background after Carter hit a World Series winning walk off home run in Game Six of the 1993 World Series at the Skydome on October 23,1993 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Blue Jays won the game 8-6, winning the Series 4-2.

To date, there have only been 14 World Series walk-off home runs, of which only 2, Carter’s and Bill Mazeroski’s in 1961, were World Series winning walk-off’s.  Covering this moment is one of the highlights of my career.  Since 1993 was back in the film days (remember, only 36 exposures on a roll), I didn’t have the luxury of relaxing while using an 8 gig memory card and large buffer.  Knowing that every potential batter represented the Series winning run, I changed rolls after 10 frames.

Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays runs the bases after hitting a World Series winning walk off home run off of Mitch Williams during Game Six of the 1993 World Series at the Skydome on October 23,1993 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Blue Jays won the game 8-6, winning the Series 4-2.

Sure it was costly, but I felt I couldn’t take any chances.  Luckily I had plenty of film so I wasn’t at risk of running out.  There was no deleting frames on checked swings like we do today.  Yet you had to shoot every swing.  In retrospect, my “10 frames and out” policy was a smart move.  If something happened and you hit frame 36, by the time you rewound and changed out the roll of film the play was long over.  I think getting my start back in the film days made me a better photographer. Shooting film made you think.

2001 – The Diamondbacks and Yankees

Photo © 2001 Ron Vesely/MLB Photos

When the 9/11 tragedy pushed the baseball schedule back one week, Derek Jeter’s walk-off home run to defeat the Diamondbacks during Game 5 of the 2001 World Series, hit during the wee hours of November 1, earned him the nickname “Mr. November”, as this was the first major league baseball game ever played during that month.

2005 – The White Sox and Astros

Wow, where do I start when it comes to recalling my favorite memories from this World Series?

Here’s just a few that come to mind.  How about Paul Konerko’s grand slam in Game 2 followed by Scott Podsednik’s walk-off Game 2 winning home run?  Or  Geoff Blum’s 14th inning home run in Houston to win Game 3, the longest in World Series history?  I’ll never forget the moment Jermaine Dye connected for his 8th inning, eventual World Series winning RBI single driving in Willie Harris from third base.

Jermaine Dye of the Chicago White Sox hits a game winning (and World Series winning) single to score Willie Harris in the eighth inning during Game 4 of the 2005 World Series against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on October 26, 2005 in Houston, Texas. The White Sox defeated the Astros 1-0.

When Harris touched home plate it immediately sunk in that in three outs, the White Sox would be World Series Champions.

Willie Harris of the Chicago White Sox scores the game winning (and World Series winning) run on Jermaine Dye's single in the eighth inning during Game 4 of the 2005 World Series against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on October 26, 2005 in Houston, Texas.

I remember clicking into robo-mode in order to concentrate on the impending task soon to unfold.  No time for nervousness.  Time to perform.

I can’t leave out the final thrill while covering this World Series, which was participating in the celebration and ticker-tape parade through downtown Chicago.  Incredible.

Over 1.5 million fans turned out for the Chicago White Sox World Series victory parade on October 28, 2005.

The 2005 World Series will forever be the most significant event I have ever been a part of, professionally and personally.

It’s hard to believe 5 years have passed since I was doused in champagne in the White Sox clubhouse at Minute Maid Park.

2009 – The Yankees and Phillies

This World Series was memorable for me from a personal and professional standpoint.  I experienced one of those Series where everything was clicking, pun intended.  Nick Swisher provided some of the highlights early on, whether it was climbing the wall at Yankee Stadium to being tipped upside down in Philadelphia in a home plate collision with Carlos Ruiz, reminding everyone of the 1991 Dan Gladden-Greg Olsen play at the plate.

Photo © 2009 Ron Vesely/MLB Photos.

It ended with some of the best jubilation photos I have made, probably ever, as the Yankees celebrated winning their 27th World Championship in front of their fans at Yankee Stadium.

Photo © 2009 Ron Vesely/MLB Photos.

What will this year bring?  Stay tuned.

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