Is it Spring Yet?

Well, it’s time to catch up on what’s happening in my baseball world before I head back to the ballpark in an hour.  Since my last post, I’ve been to Target Field in Minneapolis, Busch Stadium in St. Louis and of course U.S. Cellular Field and Wrigley Field in Chicago as my baseball assignment work has been fast and furious.

The weather up to this point in the season has been absolutely terrible here in Mid-America.  Cold, cold, and more cold with a generous helping of rain, mist and dark clouds piled on top and you get an idea what I’ve been up against during the early portion of the 2011 schedule.  With that, I’ve had more than my fair share of dugout heaters and their dreaded companion, heat waves to contend with too.  Who said life is fair!

What positive spin can be made out of all the lousy weather I've had to deal with during the first two months of the baseball season? I was able to make my sponsorship "tarp" image early and cross it off my to-do list!

My travels took me up to Target Field late in April to cover the Indians and Twins for my first look at the red-hot (and still red-hot) Cleveland Indians. I caught them on probably their two worst day stretch in a month, as the Twins came back from the dead and took both weekend games from the Tribe.  What was fun for me, besides catching up with my Twin Cities friends, was seeing Justin Morneau back in action after being sidelined for nearly a half-season due to complications from a concussion.

MINNEAPOLIS - APRIL 24:  Justin Morneau #33 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Cleveland Indians on April 24, 2011 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The Twins defeated the Indians 4-3.  (Photo by Ron Vesely)  Subject:  Justin Morneau (Ron Vesely)

It was good to see the Twins Justin Morneau back in action when I visited Target Field back in April.

Even though my loyalty is with the White Sox, I thought it was great for the game to see a talent such as Morneau back on the playing field. His power numbers aren’t back to where they were pre-concussion, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they are.

Another treat was being able to get back on the “Thome watch” as big Jim approaches career home run number 600.  Unfortunately Jim was kept in the yard all weekend so I was deprived from recording history, but hopefully this coming weekend against the Jays will prove different.

MINNEAPOLIS - APRIL 24: Jim Thome #25 of the Minnesota Twins looks on against the Cleveland Indians on April 24, 2011 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Then there are the Indians. Grady Sizemore was back in action after also being out of commission for an extended period which was good news for Tribe fans. And just who is this Carlos Santana, anyway? The only one I knew before my trip plays a mean lead guitar, but evidently there is another Carlos Santana to reckon with, especially if you play in the American League Central.

MINNEAPOLIS - APRIL 24:  Carlos Santana #41 of the Cleveland Indians fields against the Minnesota Twins  on April 24, 2011 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The Twins defeated the Indians 4-3.  (Photo by Ron Vesely)  Subject:  Carlos Santana (Ron Vesely)

The Indians phenom, Carlos Santana, split the weekend by playing first base on Sunday after catching Saturday's matinee.

MINNEAPOLIS - APRIL 23:  Carlos Santana #41 of the Cleveland Indians catches against the Minnesota Twins on April 23, 2011 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The Twins defeated the Indians 10-3.  (Photo by Ron Vesely)  Subject:  Carlos Santana (Ron Vesely)

The Tribes Carlos Santana prepares for a play at the plate versus the Twins April 23, 2011 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I found it interesting that the Indians are already alternating Santana between catching and first base in an obvious effort to reduce the wear and tear a catcher typically endures in order to keep him healthy and in the lineup. One just had to look across the field at the Joe Mauer situation to see how tough it is to be a full-time major league catcher. The Twins are still waiting for their former league MVP to return to the lineup as he recovers from leg issues, although his latest stint on the DL appears to be non-playing related.  With his recent history of leg problems however, how much longer do you think Mauer will be behind the plate on a full-time basis? It would be sad to see Mauer moved out from behind the plate if health issues force the issue.

Back in Chicago, the White Sox played host to the Orioles and Twins before heading out on an extended west coast trip. The weather mirrored the play on the field as my White Sox struggled at home against both teams, even succumbing to being no-hit by Francisco Liriano of the Twins.  Taking nothing away from the exceptional play of the Indians through the first month and a half of the season, it seemed to me that the AL Central standings were upside down as May began.  How could the Twins and the White Sox be on the bottom?  I wish I had the answer.

I think Omar's reaction speaks for itself. Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos

On to St. Louis for a mid-week matinee between the Marlins and Cardinals at Busch.  It was my first visit back to Busch Stadium since the 2006 World Series, believe it or not. I love shooting there. Any ballpark that has both inside and outside photo positions ranks high on my list, and what is cool (and different) about the inside positions at Busch is that although they are inside the dugout, they aren’t as close to home plate as they tend to be in many ballparks.  So, unlike most of the other ballparks with inside positions, decent batting pictures can be made from Busch’s inside wells.

The classic horizontal swing of Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols as photographed from the inside third photo well at Busch Stadium. My Nikon 200-400 f4 was the perfect lens for working at Busch Stadium. Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos

As a matter of fact, I much prefer shooting in these inside locations for batters such as Albert Pujols than from the outside position.  Nicer background, in my opinion, plus better angles for everything else that happens on the field.   My trusty Nikon 200-400 was the perfect focal length for pretty much everything except obviously the outfield.  A tele-converter was required from the outside positions, but I didn’t spend but an inning or two in the outside third position before returning to one of the inside wells.

Ah, the beauty of using a Nikon 200-400 lens is evident here as I was able to quickly zoom out to compose this frame of Lance Berkman being greeted by Albert Pujols and Matt Holiday after Berkman connected for a three-run home run in the eighth inning against the Florida Marlins on May 5 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos

Fun in St. Louis comes with a price, however, that being the 536 miles round trip drive and a 5am start.  The 5am start was no problem since I set my iPod to crank out some of my favorite morning melodies, thanks to Metallica, Judas Priest, AC/DC and a few others.  The only pain was felt at the gas pump.  I hope it’s not five more years till’ my next visit.

Another pretty good team from Ohio finished out my latest round of baseball back in the Windy City as the Reds made there way to the dull Friendly Confines.  Why dull?  As I alluded to early on, this spring has been horrendous, and that said, the trademark ivy that gives Wrigley its warm and comfy feel is no where near being green, warm and comfy.

This is what the Wrigley Field ivy SHOULD look like this time of year. Unfortunately, it still looks like it did in February.

Their dead like appearance give Wrigley a cold, winter-like feel to it, even on sunny days.  Last year at this time the ivy was in and looking great.  This year, at the rate we’re going, I sense it might be July before the ivy greens up.  Just in time for it to turn colors and prepare to go right back into hibernation.

I can only imagine how nice this image of Brandon Phillips would have been if shot on a sunny day with beautiful green ivy on the walls.

My weekend games were right on course, weather wise.  Cool with a chance of rain both days.  Saturday was a noon Fox start that seemed more like a 6pm start by the look of things.  You get an idea of the season we’ve had when you have to dial up the ISO beyond 1000 for a noon first pitch! Thank goodness I use Nikon D3s’s. Back in the film days, I would have used Fuji 800 color neg film and would have had it converted to slides by Dale Labs down in Florida.  Boy, Dale Labs. In the 90’s, sports photographers kept that place humming sometimes 24 hours a day (during Super Bowl week or during the World Series) converting the Fuji color neg into slides.  I wonder how they adapted to the move to digital and loss of all that neg to slide conversion work.

As sure as the weather is unpredictable, the Cubs fought back to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth just as a cold, wind driven rain began to fall.  Thankfully, Kosuke Fukudome came through and delivered a walk-off single to send everyone for cover and keeping everyone happy (except the Reds) by avoiding the drudgery of playing extra innings in the rain.

CHICAGO - MAY  07:  Kosuke Fukudome #1 of the Chicago Cubs is mobbed by teammates after hitting a walk-off game winning single off of Francisco Cordero #48 of the Cincinnati Reds in the bottom of the ninth inning on May 7, 2011 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.  The Cubs defeated the Reds 3-2.  (Photo by Ron Vesely)  Subject:   Kosuke Fukudome;Francisco Cordero (Ron Vesely)

CHICAGO - MAY 07: Kosuke Fukudome #1 of the Chicago Cubs is mobbed by teammates after hitting a walk-off game winning single off of Francisco Cordero #48 of the Cincinnati Reds in the bottom of the ninth inning on May 7, 2011 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Reds 3-2.

Thank you, Kosuke!  Wrigley Field is the worst ballpark to work in as a photographer when it rains.  There is no protection whatsoever for you or your gear.  Again, thank you Kosuke!

Two solid days of editing got me caught up so I can head back out for the Cardinals and Cubs match-up later today, then head back up to Minneapolis for the Blue Jays and Twins this weekend.  And true to form, even though it’s 75 degrees today in the Twin Cities, the weekend forecast is one I’m unfortunately used to…

Cool, chance of rain both days with highs in the low 50’s.

 

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One Response to “Is it Spring Yet?”

  1. benck says:

    Yeah, this spring sure has had horrible weather up here in Minneapolis too. 2 weeks ago at Target Field it was 37 degrees and snowing for the Rays game and then on Tuesday of this week it was 87 degrees with a dew point of 70 degrees! To top it off a nasty storm came through during that 87 degree game and dropped golf ball sized hail on the field. Just look at these storm clouds during the game:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/benckphotos/5708992667/in/photostream

    What’s funny is this entire Twins home stand, including the upcoming Toronto series this coming weekend as you mentioned, is going to have rain. However, the entire forecast next week is completely sunny in the upper 60’s all week, which of course is right after the Twins leave town for a road trip. Go figure.

    Anyway, I’ll be at all of the Twins/Toronto games this weekend sitting front row by first base. Hopefully the weather isn’t completely miserable. Of course I’ll be shooting the game just for fun as usual.

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