I’m back! After a rather busy 4 weeks, I’ve finally found time to catch up on my blog, and with the 2012 Major League Season getting underway in earnest today, I thought a look back on my annual trip to spring training was in order.

Former Director of Photography at MLB Photos, Rich Pilling, reacts to having his photo taken prior to Milwaukee Brewers photo day in Maryvale, Arizona.

This year marked my 27th trip down to cover the rights of spring.  For me, the first order of business most every spring since 1985 has been covering photo days.  This year was no different than the previous 26, well, I take that back, it was slightly different this year since former Director of Photography of MLB Photos, Rich Pilling, decided to come out of retirement (two months off the clock doesn’t qualify as a retirement in my book!) to shoot a few photo days instead of running the show from his office back in New York.  It was fun to have Rich back in the trenches with us!  Needless to say, we managed to have a few laughs…

Long time Chicago Cubs team photographer Stephen Green lines up a shot during their photo day in Mesa Arizona. Steve has been the Cubs team photographer since the early 1980's.

A visit to Mesa found my good friend Stephen Green had things well under control at Cubs camp, and as I moved from camp to camp (I ended up covering 7 different club photo days), the usual assortment of fun projects and interesting studio locals added to the unforgettable memories of covering yet another week’s worth of early morning assignments out in the Arizona desert.

Rob Tringali surveys his photo studio prior to getting underway at Texas Rangers photo day. Space is at a premium at many facilities, so sometimes ya' gotta make the best of what you have available. In Rob's case, it was in the shower stall in the visitor's clubhouse.

One of the great perks of covering spring training is being able to catch up with baseball photographers from all over the country who are able to get together for a few short weeks every spring.  In no particular order, I squeezed in some quality time with baseball photogs Stephen Green, Brad Mangin, Rich Pilling, John Biever, Andy Kuno, Bob Binder, Brad Newton, Scott Paulus, Rob Tringali, Michael Keating, Mark Duncan, and many, many others.  Good times!

New White Sox manager Robin Ventura looks on during a spring training workout on the back fields at Camelback Ranch.

I consider myself extremely fortunate, since my plate was full right off the bat (pun intended).  Sports Illustrated had me on board working with the legendary John Biever and Bay Area photog and good friend Brad Mangin on a Robin Ventura story that was initially pushed back a week by the Lenny Dykstra sentencing, then again the following week by the New Orleans Saint’s scandal.   Needless to say, I ended up with a boat load of Robin Ventura images.  This visual cornucopia of Ventura images was a welcome addition to my archive, since Robin was the cover story for our first program.

Just one of the many frames from my cover photo shoot with Robin Ventura, photographed in the batting cages at Camelback Ranch.
A look at my set during my photo shoot with Robin.

Shooting for Sports Illustrated on the Ventura story while also lining up cover photo shoots of Robin and John Danks for our game programs kept me hopping that first week (don’t forget, in the morning, I was shooting the MLB photo days).  Streamlined workflow never seemed more important than it did that week!  It was hectic, but it sure was fun. Nothing like getting back in the saddle with the pedal to the metal!

Sometimes simple is good. John Danks, one softbox and reflector, photographed on a windy afternoon in the dugout at Camelback Ranch.

Once the games started I discovered there was fun to be had making pictures with my iPhone.  I’m easliy hooked by some of the cool app’s now available that transform ordinary iPhone snaps into interesting little works of art.  I’m a fan of all this technology (HDR and all are just a part of the digital darkroom as far as I’m concerned) As it turned out, the White Sox ended up liking what I was coming up with so much they decided to Tweet a few of my shots as their official “photo of the day”.

The White Sox lineup for the National Anthem prior to the game against the Rockies at Salt River Fields, shot with my iPhone and tweaked using the Dynamic Light app.

Then it was time to concentrate on making action images of some of our new players, prospects, and regulars (when I could come up with clean backgrounds).  The White Sox are one of only a few teams that wear their regular uniform during spring training.  This means my images have a shelf life a bit longer than the 4 weeks most spring training pictures have.

Surprise Stadium is one of THE best ballparks to shoot in during spring training.  Luckily for me, the White Sox had a road game scheduled the first week, so I happily headed up to Bell Road to catch this match-up.  The overhead positions there are outstanding.  Their close proximity to the field reminds me of the upper deck photo baskets at old Tiger Stadium.  Awesome.

Brent Morel goes airborne to try and snare a line shot against the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona.

After minor league photo day concluded (140 or so headshots in 90 minutes), I headed home to work on our archives and start getting everything ready for the season.  The last week or so was also my last chance to upgrade my computers (I dislike taking any chance with operational issues once the season starts.  I can’t afford any downtime), so I made the leap to Lion on my desktop and Mac book Pro.  After spending a full day making the switch to Lion, migrating from MobileMe to iCloud and setting up iTunes Match, I’m ready to take on the world!

April 11th and 12th I will be warming up at Wrigley to ready myself for the White Sox opener April 13th.  Ready or not, here we go again. It’s baseball time!

“Play Ball” never sounds better than on Opening Day!  I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

Game on.

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