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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2004-01-14
A tribute to V.J.
A collection of memories from just a few of the lives he touched.
By Brad Mangin, SportsShooter.com
January 12, 2004 is a day many of us will never forget. On a day when Angels fans were celebrating the addition of superstar free agent Vladimir Guerrero to their ballclub many of us were mourning the loss of their most valuable player: V.J. Lovero. Those of us who spent the final night in hospital with V.J., his family and close friends will never forget the experience and the cause that brought us all together. A day (Sunday, January 11) that started out with Maureen Grise in the Virgin Islands, Scott Clarke photographing on a golf course in Maui, John McDonough in a jail cell in Tucson, Robert Beck at his son's basketball game in Carlsbad, myself heading south on Highway 5 and others going about their daily business ended 24 hours later with all of us together at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, Calif. still laughing at Beck's red shoes, saying goodbye to V.J. and trying to figure out how we would all continue our lives without him.
Photo by Brad Mangin
V.J. before game 2 of the 2002 ALDS between the Twins and A's in Oakland.
I was fortunate to get the chance to work with V.J. at countless baseball games in the Bay Area, southern California and Seattle while on assignment for Sports Illustrated. The only drawback about working with V.J. on assignment at the ballpark and shooting from another position is that you had to go the full nine innings without talking to him and getting the chance to hear him tell stories, dissect a pitcher's mechanics, talk about where he wanted to have dinner that night and try to figure out who would be voted out of the tribe in the next tribal council.
V.J. taught me how to travel on the road. He taught me how to stay in nice hotels, how to get a room with two beds ("...so you can throw all your shit on the second one..."), how to eat at nice restaurants, how to pre-order the crème broulee at Kincaids BEFORE ordering dinner so they wouldn't run out, how to catch a splitter in the dirt, how to really like shooting from inside third at Oakland and how to love shooting the game of baseball.
One of the best memories many of us shared with V.J. were the wonderful times we all shared together during spring training in Arizona. We would all go weeks at a time pinching ourselves that we were getting paid to get up in the morning, go to a wonderful Cactus League ballpark, shoot a ballgame, gather at the Angels complex in Tempe around 4:30 pm (V.J. had the keys) for a game of over the line til the sun went down, regroup for a late dinner at Don and Charlies and end the night with a few cocktails listening to Michael Zagaris tell stories. Then we got to do the same thing AGAIN EVERY DAY FOR WEEKS. It was unbelievable. We were like kids on vacation without our parents.
I could go on and on but there is not much more I can say at this time. Words cannot say how sad we all are. I think it's time for some of V.J.'s other good friends to share some of their memories with us.
(Brad Smith, a picture editor at The New York Times and formerly at Sports Illustrated, had these thoughts about his roomie, Victor James Lovero.)
Like so many people, my connection to V.J. started with photography. And like every single person that knew him, my respect and admiration and love for him ultimately had absolutely nothing to do with photography. His arms stretched wider than anyone I ever knew. His heart was never too full for one more person. He lived in an all inclusive world. And for a conservative in Orange County, CA., that couldn't have been easy
V.J. and I were roommates in Atlanta during the 96' Olympics, when we both worked for Sports Illustrated. We'd arrive back at our hotel, the Discomfort Inn, after working all day, and we would stay up for hours just talking. Those were the best three weeks I ever experienced at SI, and during those three weeks, I felt special, like I was part of a club. Later, I began to learn that there were hundreds and hundreds of members to that club. PWHOWVJFNARC. (the People Who Hang Out With V.J. For No Apparent Reason Club.)
During his last week in the hospital, I was able to spend a few days with him. And being there was a trade. You withstood hours and hours of Fox News in his room and the evil eye of nurses because you just walked in without calling first. But if you could endure all of that, you were blessed with the honor to hold his hand, to wipe his forehead with a cool cloth and to tell him that you love him. And if you listened closely, he'd tell you he loved you back.
Photo by Kristen Zagaris
The over the line group gathers around V.J. during 1994 spring training in Tempe, Arizona.
His name was Victor James Lovero. If you look up victor in the dictionary, you'll find a definition of 'to conquer, win, fight'. I dare you to find anyone more aptly named than that. And the next time someone new comes into your life, open your arms wide. Like V.J. showed us, there's always room for one more.
I love you V.J.
(Sports Illustrated Deputy Picture Editor Maureen Grise says that V.J. wrote the book on how to photograph baseball.)
I want to say first and foremost, thank you to this brotherhood of photographers. It was all of you that became his extended family over the years, he loved each and every one of you so much and there is no doubt in my mind that he would love this tribute and these kind words that you have all written about him. You are all amazing.
A few words about VJ professionally; I was lucky enough to be the baseball picture editor at SI from 1994-2000. I am among the enormous contingent of people who wouldn't have a career if it weren't for him.
Through the years I looked at thousands of VJ's images and can say without hesitation that he was the best baseball photographer who ever lived. Bat on ball, release of the pitcher's grip, anticipation of steals and groundballs to the infield, (he was able to steal and read signs from managers), and beautiful 5 O'clock shadows hitting centerfield. He shot the faces of young fans and dugout antics as though he knew the people he was photographing. In many ways he was those people, those fans, those players. His love for the game was unparalleled.
He wrote the book on how to photograph this great game of baseball and was gracious enough to keep that book open, for all of us to read.
Photo by Brad Mangin
V.J. and Maureen Grise before Game 3 of the 2002 World Series in San Francisco.
It's hard to write about how much I learned from VJ personally, mostly because the list is endless but here are a couple of things:
1. Treat everyone the same, whether it's the President of the United States or the hot-dog vendor at Wrigley.
2. Family and friends are #1
3. El Pollo Loco over KFC
4. Work can and should be fun
5. Above all else, laugh, live and love.
I want Trish, John and Jay to know that even though they lost VJ, they have gained all of us. In his honor, we will continue to carry on the stories, the memories and the love that we all learned from VJ, our VJ. The greatest man there was.
(Jed Jacobsohn of Getty Images met his idol, V.J. Lovero when he was a teenager stringing for UPI.)
I first met VJ when I was a sixteen year old punk kid working for UPI in the Bay Area. I was at an A's game and saw his MLB/SI pass that allowed him to go any ballpark in the country. Having just started out shooting sports, I religiously scanned the pages of SI looking at the bylines of the photographers. VJ's name was synonymous with baseball and boxing photography, the two sports that I was most interested in shooting. I was star struck. I was talking myself into going up to him an introducing myself, but was too nervous at first. Finally I went up to him and said "You're VJ Lovero? I want to let you know that you are my idol!" Expecting to be blown off by this top SI photographer, I received the exact opposite response. He was very friendly and open to my questions.
He became an inspiration to me and not just for his photography, but for how to handle yourself as a human being. Not only was he a the top of his profession, but he was a true friend and a very giving person. I was lucky enough to be able to shoot with him at baseball and boxing events for the next fourteen years. Often the first thing I would do is ask if VJ was at the event. If so, I knew I was in for a good time. One of the most recent was at spring training last year in Arizona when we both got the assignment to shoot a fight in Las Vegas. We decided to drive together to the fight, the only problem being was that I had a crappy midsize car from Avis. That was not going to do. We ended up getting a huge red Cadillac that was perfect for the four hour drive. It was a great drive, telling stories and just shooting the shit just like we always did. I'll never forget that.
I also had the pleasure of shooting next to VJ in last two games at the World Series this year. In particular, game five in Florida, Scott and VJ were out in a corner next to the Yankee bullpen in an undesignated spot and I asked if I could squeeze in with them. There was a moment before the game when Roger Clemens was warming up and they were playing that cheesy get fired up song "right here right now" on and I was just standing there with VJ and we both had tears in our eyes, knowing that this was probably going to be his last World Series. I will never forget you VJ.
(Andy Hayt had a nice chat with V.J. in the Padres dugout after a ballgame in September.)
Sometimes the best part of covering sports and particularly baseball is the sameness and ritual. You cover a thousand games, and what keep you going are the friendships.
VJ had his little rituals like all ballplayers and photographers. One of the fun things about his visiting Qualcom (San Diego, CA) for a Padres game was to see who could slack the most prior to a game. It was as competitive as it gets who could do the least amount of preparation and still be ready for the first pitch.
The last time we visited was on a no nothing September Sunday game at the Padres old home. After the game we sat in the dugout and he related how apprehensive he was about what was starting up again in his body. The one thing he related that held him together was how he had cheated time, and gotten the biggest gift of all. He related “How many people get to find out how truly loved they are?” Family, friends and acquaintances truly surprised him in their display of kindness towards him and his family. “Such a gift” was all he could say. We shared talk about family and our children. It was another typical day where we talked no baseball, no photography and about all of the things that made us laugh or scratch our heads. No different then any other game, and yet we both knew this was a bittersweet moment.
It’s always strange to be in the position of knowing that life is transitioning. VJ showed me a level of kindness back in the early 90’s that far surpassed my expectations of kindness from a fellow photographer.
You can judge the caliber and quality of a person by how they are embraced by the world. VJ, there’s not much more to say then, the world is a little less bright without you. VJ you helped so many in ways most will never know about, and that goodness is how your memory lives on.
My condolences to all of the Lovero Family. To the many that helped VJ navigate the last few years, Bob, Phil, Scott, Brad, and Deb, you are all to be commended for opening your hearts and time for this great friend.
(Paul Cunningham is a picture editor at Major League Baseball Photos. V.J. taught him how to throw a splitter.)
Since I can remember reading Sports Illustrated, I always knew the name V.J. Lovero. He captured a lot of the baseball images that I remember from my youth.
I first met him in 1997 at the World Series. Michael Zagaris introduced us at SI's hotel on the Beach in Ft. Lauderdale. I was self conscious and excited about meeting V.J. Lovero for the first time, but of course, V.J. had a talent for making you feel comfortable around him. I brought my glove so we could have catch. He called me a hard throwing righty, which made me feel ten feet tall, even though I knew I didn't throw all that hard. V.J. himself threw pretty hard and his ball moved a lot. I remember nursing a sore hand after our catch.
After throwing for a while we just stood around on the beach and talked about pitching. I mentioned that my hand was too small to throw an effective splitter, but V.J. showed me how to throw it in spite of my handicap.
What I remember is the pure joy that V.J. got from simply throwing a baseball. V.J. loved baseball in many ways but I think most of all he loved throwing a baseball.
That is how I want to remember V.J., At the World Series, on the Beach in the Florida Sun, just throwing a baseball.
(Al Bello, a staff photographer with Getty Images enjoyed a day with V.J. watching his kids play ball.)
I have two memories I would like to share.
Photo by V.J. Lovero
V.J.'s first Sports Illustrated cover.
First day I met VJ - Sept 1993. My first week at Allsport. I'm at an Angel game and I am unknowingly not in a correct photo position. A bowlegged man with an easy smile walked up to me. Says he is VJ Lovero. Angel photographer and that I am in the wrong spot. He sensed I had no clue what I was doing so he guided me that day to where I was supposed to be and what I could and could not do. All the while flashing his easy smile. I thought to myself "What a nice guy" I would lean on him for advice on and off for the next 11 years. He always helped.
After his first operation. He had recovered and I was in town for a tennis tournament. He invited me to the park to see his sons play little league. I was nervous because I hadn't seen him since before he got sick. As I approached him he looked physically different from all the medicine, but then he smiled. "Same VJ" I thought. That day I got to see him away from work. As a father, husband and friend. He talked openly about his situation. I did not detect sadness. It was all positive. I sensed an immense inner strength had not seen or noticed before. He was coaching his boys team, so between innings he would come up to me and proudly tell me about his boys accomplishments on and off the field. I sat with his wife and he would come over to her and exchange a comfortable smile, a gentle hand squeeze, a few easy jokes. I left him that sunny day feeling positive as he drove away with his family. I think of this day the most when I think of VJ.
(John Cordes of The Lovero Group worked with V.J. for over 20 years.)
We lost our friend VJ Lovero Monday and it is overwhelming. When you know someone most of your life they are no longer friends but family. I met VJ, you guessed it, at Anaheim Stadium around 1981 and of course once you meet him you have a new friend instantly.
The years have flown by since we meet and we have watched Angels personnel come and go and Anaheim Stadium has become like a home, filled with memories of great games, great people and great times. There was this one time about 1990 when VJ and I were at an Angels night game in the outside first photo pit. It was a boring game in the late innings around 9pm. We just sat around talking about all the strange stuff people talk about and we decided to sing Frank Sinatra songs, TV theme songs and what ever else we could sing. I noticed that one of the TV shotgun mics had shifted its position during our concert and didn't think much of it. Later after the game we started packing up and one of the TV crew came down to get there stuff and I asked "you guys in the truck couldn't here us singing could you?" he said "Yes, every Goddamned word." VJ and I laughed ourselves to tears while trying to apologize.
Move ahead 14 years and I am sitting in VJ's hospital room watching football. God we had fun, Green Bay had just won a great game and the hospital staff couldn't believe the fun two people were having in a critical care unit. VJ turned his head to me and said he couldn't think of anyone he would have rather had watching that game with him. Later as my Broncos were losing to the Colts (VJ pulling for the Colts) a doctor came in and started talking about lung damage and more weeks in that bed. It was one of the best days of my life and it was also one of the worst.
I could go on forever about Veej and all the great people associated with him.
Thanks VJ, I couldn't think of a man I could have loved more.
(Freelance photographer Tom Dipace once borrowed V.J.'s glove to shag BP at the All Star Game.)
To My Friend VJ,
You lived life with a passion. You loved baseball the same way. You always had your baseball glove - just in case a game broke out. You really knew how to soak up life!
I remember at the 1995 World Series in Atlanta. You, Z & myself went to some big beautiful park. We just hit bombs off of each other all day long - til mama Maureen came to get us- "Time to go to the World Series." We begged, "Just a little longer?" We were like ten year olds
As I have reflected on my memories I have had with you. One really sticks out. It was the 1999 All Star Game in Boston. Rosato & Pilling set up lights to do the crazy team photos between the AL & NL batting practice. Someone needed to protect the lighting equipment in the field. I quickly volunteered- just one problem - no mitt!! Alas, VJ is here. You ran your glove out to me. I'll never forget what you told me as you handed me your glove- "Tommy - think about what you are doing! You are shagging BP off the likes of Griffey, Pudge, Arod, etc.; this is a once in a lifetime chance! So soak it up buddy!" I'll always remember your way of living in the moment for eternity.
All Major League Baseball players play for the ring. God gave you, VJ, that last season. When the Angels won the World Series- what an amazing blessing! The photo of Tim Salmon pouring champagne on you is priceless. What Joy!
No doubt, you're in heaven right now fielding a team. You're probably holding tryouts for a good catcher (sorry Bob) you're looking for someone who can catch your knuckle curve. Roy Campanella comes to mind.
God has taken you home and out of that broken down body. He has given you a new healthy body. It is His promise to us. I know without a doubt you are now able to be the five-tool player you always wanted to be.
As I write this, I'm crying- cause I know even if it was just once a year or so- I'm going to miss seeing you & your zeal for life. Thank you for you LEGACY!
With deepest love,
(Jason Burfield of SportsShooter.com was a Sports Illustrated assistant at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta when he met V.J.)
The first time I met V.J. was at the summer Olympics in Atlanta, 1996. The first thing to came to mind when I met him was what a good guy he seemed to be. No ego. No attitude. Just a good guy. First impressions are hit and miss, but this time my first impression was right on.
V.J. was most certainly the type of person that everyone should have the chance to meet. He didn't care who you were or what you did, if you needed some advice or a little help, he was always willing.
V.J. was unique. There are very few people in the world like him. We have lost a truly great person.
(Matt Ginella, the Director of Photography at Golf Digest and former picture editor at Sports Illustrated thought V.J. had an addicting personality.)
I never really got to know V.J. like so many other people did - but one thing is for sure - he would light up any room he walked into like the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center. His personality was addicting - and made everyone he came in contact with feel like a million dollars. He issued and abundance of smiles and compliments from both non-pretentious hips and in return he earned the admiration and respect of so many - the kind of admiration and respect that we all look for - but most of us never find.
The passing of V.J. Lovero is more proof to the shitty theory that really really bad stuff happens to very good people.
My thoughts and prayers are with his family.
(Chicago freelancer Ron Vesely wrote the following letter to V.J. while he was in the hospital.)
First and foremost... I love you, buddy...
The Lovero family in 1999: Trish, Jay, V.J. and John.
I sure wish I could visit you in person... Gone are my days of traveling around the country shooting baseball every week in a different city.. I suppose, with all that's going on in the world today, and in the airline industry, it's good NOT to be traveling... and now that I'm married, I really like staying home... But the baseball card hey day's are gone, and so is the travel, so here I stay in icy Chicago, wondering if it will ever get warm again. But what I do miss is seeing all of my friends from all around the country on a more regular basis, and visiting with you, whether it's at the big A before a game debating proper exposures (now that we're digital,it's no longer the debate it once was ! :...I always thought your were a bit underexposed though... he, he), shooting the breeze about our latest restoration project (I hear through the grapevine that is Brad that you picked up a cool old Bug... EXCELLENT!... My 49 Harley is done and looks great, but now it's back to leaking oil out off places I can't even see... but it still LOOKS cool), or talking about how much shorter Rich Pilling is in person than in photos :) ...
It was SO GREAT to at least spend a little time with you at the World Series this year... I wish I could have shot next to you to really catch up. Next year, when you're in Chicago for the Series, we'll make
it a reality!
Isn't baseball wonderful?... I'm already thinking of Arizona, warm weather (I remember you telling me that you just couldn't function in weather colder than 60 degrees, and you know what... I'm finally ON YOUR PAGE!! It's becoming a pain in the you know what... hence the reference to warm weather), and of course, running into you again when you hopefully visit Tucson for some sort of feature on how FREAKING' woeful my White Sox are!!!
Yike's, we only retained ONE free agent, and this one you didn't read about in the paper... I re-signed a new three year deal... Thank God!! I didn't want to "test the waters"... if ya know what I mean! I mean, the Marlins team job was NOT AN OPTION! :)
Care to talk about Pete Rose?? If I was Molly or Eck, I'd fly to Cincinnati and kick his $(%.. Too much respect for the game, he says?? So he comes clean on Hall of Fame week? Nuf said... Great player, but the ultimate loser... keep him out, Bud!
VJ, I think about you often... I think about all of us covering Mac's 61st in St. Louis, and that goofy picture of you, Rich and me after it was all over... I've attached it again for you, just in case I never got it to you... photo courtesy of Albert Dickson. I think about your World Series ring... and how happy I am for you!!
But most of all, I think about how lucky I am to be your friend. And how I will always treasure that.
Be strong, my friend. Feel the love from all who care, and let our love help you when the need is there...
I'll always be there for you!
See you in Arizona!!
Your bud, Ves
(Deanne Fitzmaurice of the San Francisco Chronicle liked it when V.J. did his imitations.)
There's something about V.J. We all loved him. He had that magnetism that everyone gravitated to. Everyone wanted to be where V.J. was. It was probably the best shooting position anyways, but it would almost certainly be the most entertaining position to shoot from. He loved to talk and to tell stories. And he loved games. During a slow baseball game he'd make up a game like this one. Think of a musical group that starts with the letter A, then the photographer next to you has to come up with a band that starts with B and all around the photo well it would go. And all the while he is not missing a shot. V.J. was a great photographer. Capturing things the rest of us don't even see. Another game he loved to play was the match game to decide who would pay for dinner. However he never seemed to let the person who lost really pay for dinner. Sometimes he would launch into his Vinnie-speak. He did an impeccable New York Bronx imitation that would have us practically on the floor laughing. In his car he would have Frank Sinatra playing. He knew every word and accented it with air percussion.
Photo by Brad Mangin
Mickey Palmer, V.J. and John Iacono before Game 1 of the 2002 World Series in Anaheim.
V.J. was a gracious man with a big heart and endless curiosity. Throughout his illness he courageously kept working, never complained, and would continue to keep upbeat and make the rest of us laugh with his wit and charm. He has touched all of our lives and we are better for having known him.
(Don Smith is a freelance photographer who will miss V.J.'s friendship.)
As I sit here trying to recall the first time I met VJ, I realize I was trying to get established in my career as a sports photographer. It must have been back in the mid 80's while VJ was covering a game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. I was already a true fan of his work. I can remember feeling intimidated as I went to introduce myself. All my feelings of nervousness were quickly doused as I discovered what a warm down-to-earth person VJ really was.
He immediately accepted me as a pro - not as a struggling want-to-be. This is the first of many lessons I learned from VJ - we are all equal no matter what our ability level as a photographer is. Ironically, a few years later I actually had the chance to work some SI assignments with him. He always made me feel confident (perhaps more than I really was at the time - though I never let on). He shared his knowledge freely with me - nothing was a secret. This was another valuable lesson I learned from VJ.
But his greatest gift to me, and one that I will never forget was when I decided to take the path as a card photographer. I began with a company back in the late 80's called Score. Eventually it got to the point where I was offered a full-time shooting position with the company. In 1991, and on the verge of getting married, my wife to be (Beri) and I decided we would live in Connecticut where Score was located. When things did not go as planned, I found myself without a company to work for and the football season rapidly approaching. I called VJ on the remote chance that he would have some games available as he was handling the photography for the Upper Deck Company. Thearon Henderson and Brad Mangin were in the Bay Area and I did not want to infringe. Almost apologetically, VJ offered me a full-game schedule with many games on the east coast. As I look back on my career, this offering was what kept me going forward at the time as opposed to perhaps throwing in the towel and going back to my old teaching job.
Even though I've thanked VJ many times for that opportunity - I don't know if he ever really knew just how important it was to me. During that same season I landed a contract with Fleer Trading Cards and have been a contract photographer for them ever since. I also went on to get the co-team photographer's position with the San Jose Sharks. I constantly exchanged ideas with VJ on how to deal with being a team photographer - even more lessons he taught me.
As I look back over his much too early passing, I realize his lessons were gifts - his friendship and acceptance were gifts. I see a man who was truly blessed. He had so many friends in all walks of life. He was respected by his peers in an almost reverent manner. He also was blessed with his family. I also have two boys and I can recall the many conversations we shared at baseball games about the joy of raising our boys. He truly loved his family and beamed with pride every time we talked about them. Again he was teaching me - as much as we all love photography, family is what is most important.
VJ, you will be truly missed. Thank you for all the lessons - they have been applied every day in my life. But most of all, thank you for your friendship - I will miss that the most.
(Max Morse, a student at Brooks Institute, assisted V.J. many times and enjoyed eating chocolate cake with him at Candlestick Park.)
At the risk of sounding cliché, I must warn you that there are no words to express how I feel about VJ Lovero. The type of person he was and the way I felt about him transcend language into the realm of emotion that cannot be captured with a pen or a keyboard.
Photo by V.J. Lovero
This cover is classic V.J.- ball off broken bat. Nobody did it better.
One of the best days of my life was spent with VJ. It was a 49ers game and we were both sitting in the overhead box at Candlestick. Sitting and talking with him was one of the nicest things I have ever experienced. I'll always remember VJ eating the cake and popcorn that the folks in the luxury box kept handing us. I'll always remember VJ's genuine concern about who I was and what I wanted to be. I'll always remember that smile.
Only a handful of people touch so many lives as VJ did. I think that the reason that he had so many friends was because he genuinely cared about people. He always went that extra step to help me out or make me feel welcome. While it feels as though my sadness may never go away, I thank God that I got to spend even one day with him. While he no longer graces us day-to-day, the lessons he taught me about caring and giving and courage will never leave my mind and heart. Thank you VJ, wherever you are. Hopefully one day I will get to see you in the big photo well in the sky.
I love you, VJ. Rest in peace.
(Alan Greth is the Director of Photography at the Contra Costa Times. Many years ago while he was stringing for AP in Los Angeles he enjoyed post-game pool parties at V.J.'s house.)
V.J. Lovero is not a sports photographer to me. He is a wonderful human being bent on treating you as he would like to be treated.
I can remember one hot weekend game at Anaheim Stadium when V.J. asked most of us photographers covering the game to come back to his house for a BBQ and swimming party. Several of us jumped at the invitation. On that particular day, I could not think of a better way to spend a summer afternoon following an Angels game. We all swam, played water volleyball and had a great BBQ dinner. Trish would tell my wife Kathy years later that she was home with a one week old baby and could not figure out what V.J. was thinking inviting everyone over!
That's the kind of thing V.J. would do. Wonderful and spontaneous. And of course, he enjoyed having us around. We enjoyed being around. That pool party was 13 years ago. I remember it like yesterday for some reason. That reason is the warm person that is V.J. Lovero. His family was blessed to have such a warm steady person.
We are all blessed to have been a part of his life.
(Freelance photographer Jeff Carlick loved to play catch with V.J.)
My eyes are tearing having read the words of fellow photographers, which sparked so many memories of V.J. I am so grateful that I was able to visit V.J. on Saturday. It was so incredibly hard, but I will cherish every moment I ever had with V.J. His passion for life, his family, his friends and, of course, baseball and photography will always be an inspiration.
My favorite times with V.J. were the quiet ones. It would be some regular season night game (there were seemingly thousands) and V.J would shoot a few innings, then go into the Angels clubhouse and hang out (no doubt picking a pitcher's brain about the craft). Then about the 7th, he'd come back to the photo wells and we'd shoot and talk. My favorite times.
There were so many, though. Hanging out in the press room long after games, where Homer the bartender would tee up whatever you'd want and we'd talk about anything and everything and listen to stories from John Moynahan. Or after day games when we'd play catch in the parking lot. Mel Baily, hands down, had the coolest glove.
Or the couple times I'd get together with V.J. and we'd go to the local park. I'd strap on his old little league catching gear and he'd throw about 80 percent cause I'm not that good of a catcher. He had a pretty good curve, though. And he was learning the splitter.
I think one of the things that separated V.J. with other shooters was how he studied the game. He was always talking with the pitchers, then taking it to the field where he played in adult leagues. I think that knowledge carried over to the camera. Of course, that was just an added edge. The rest was
My old friend, even though I didn't see you very much after I moved to the Bay Area, you were always there, always. I will miss you so much. We all will. Rest in peace V.J. You left your family, Trish, John and Jay, with all your love and all your heart. You did good.
I love you.
(Eric Risberg, a staff photographer for the Associated Press in San Francisco, spent the last Giants game at Candlestick Park shooting next to V.J.)
While I shot side by side numerous times with VJ at baseball games, I will always remember shooting next to him from an overhead photo box at Candlestick Park in 1999 on the day of the San Francisco Giants final home game in that stadium. VJ was telling story after story, and the two of us were recalling so many great moments in the history of the park and the team. It was a sunny, historic day, but just being next to VJ and sharing experiences with him made it a day I will never forget. The conversations with VJ always were remarkable; one minute you could be talking about spring training, and another minute you could be talking with him about cigars and food. He was such a caring person, always willing to help others.
My other favorite memory of VJ is listening to his talk at last year's SportsShooter luau. He gave such a moving talk about his photography and shooting baseball. At the end of the talk, he shook my hand and told me he hoped to see me in Scottsdale. I told him I did, too.
VJ will be remembered for the wonderful guy he was and for his compelling baseball photos, which captured the heart and soul of the sport. This is the same sort of strength that VJ showed while courageously facing his illness these past few years. His dignity, his spirit and his generosity will never be forgotten, and he will be missed very much.
(Rich Pilling, the director of Major League Baseball Photos, never met a man with a stronger desire to live than V.J.)
I remember meeting V.J. in the early 80's during a road trip that I made to California. V.J. was a young, upcoming photographer, eager to learn. He was always asking photography related questions as well as talking "shop" about baseball. What I remember from those early days is
Photo by V.J. Lovero
that he was an unassuming young man who was extremely eager to learn his craft. Nearly thirty years later, I can honestly say that V.J. was the same exact man that he was when we first met. But instead of asking questions and seeking knowledge, he was always eager to share his knowledge with
anyone who asked.
Veej always had a smile on his face, and a positive outlook on life, even when he was battling for his life. I have never met a man with a stronger desire to live. This man battled cancer for almost four years, and almost won the battle. He never quit. I never heard a negative word about his disease from him. When we talked about his cancer, he was always forthright and honest about it. He knew that the odds were stacked against him, but he refused to give in.
Initially the doctors gave him 6 months to 1 years to live. Veej and I were talking during a spring training game in Arizona almost 2 years after his horrible diagnosis, when he said to me, "Well Rich, I've passed my drop dead date". Man, did this choke me up. But that was V.J., telling it like it
is. Not running nor hiding from this monster that was trying to kill him.
Although I have never personally met his wife Trish or his two sons, I feel that I know them very well from all the stories that V.J had told me about them. His family was his sole purpose for living. I am very sorry their loss.
I will miss his "funky gate" when he walked, his friendly smile, our times together both at the ballpark and dinners that we shared together.. but most off all I will miss knowing that I will never be able to see him again. I love you V.J.. Your are now truly an Angel, watching over your family and friends.
(Robert Seale is a staff photographer with the Sporting News. V.J. taught his wife, Karen Warren, how to shoot baseball.)
"Suddenly, you were gone,
From all those lives,
You left your mark upon..."
I can't take the credit for those lines, they came from a song by Rush, but I thought those words so many times today...
I have many fond memories of V.J. I remember him coming to my house in Houston during the Sosa/McGwire home run chase. We ate, drank, and watched downtown fireworks from my front yard. He had fun beating on my drum set, and it wasn't long after that, that he told me he had gone out and bought his kids a guitar and a drum set, too.
I remember him sitting in the photo pit and explaining to us the difference between cut fastballs, sliders, change-ups, etc... using his hands and fingers to illustrate the different grips on the ball. If ever there was anyone who was cut out to be a baseball photographer‚ it was V.J.
I remember doing playoff games with him in Seattle, after he was sick. Scott Clarke was with him, and a large group of us went out on the town, starting at the Metropolitan Grill. As we were all cutting into our 3 inch thick filets, V.J., ever the host, made a cursory trip around the bar, checking to make sure everyone's food was ok, and that we were all having a good time... he came upon one younger Allsport guy who had ordered grilled chicken... a look of concern crossed his face, and he put his hands on the young chap's shoulders and whispered, "You know this is a steak place, right?..."
I remember my wife going on and on about V.J., having covered baseball at the Olympics in 96 - how she had learned so much from sitting beside him. To this day, she says, "V.J. Lovero taught me how to shoot baseball..."
I remember shooting next to V.J. in the outfield at Yankee Stadium during a World Series. The natives were restless and bored, they had already poured beer onto Kathy Willens laptop and ruined it, and they were now pelting me with open mustard packets and peanuts. Being a rookie at the Yankee Stadium thing, I immediately took offense....."Cut it out!‚"..."Who's throwing those!?"... and a few other phrases I would rather not repeat. This just made the natives more restless.
V.J. - ever wiser, had this all figured out. He had been filming the fans and all their rude splendor with his camcorder since he had arrived, placating them for sure, with thoughts of actually getting their mugs on TV. I was angry he was entertained... this was a very valuable lesson: Always take care of the fans in your vicinity. Talk to them, take pictures of them, buy them beers, whatever... when it becomes crunch time, it is much better to have friends sitting around you, than to be tarred and feathered in mustard packets and peanut shells. V.J. of course told this story giddily to everyone with their sense of hearing still intact.
I have had the good fortune over the past few years of sharing meals with V.J. and other friends, shooting the breeze, talking baseball and photography and generally having a great time whenever he was around. Each World Series he made it to was a cause for celebration and reflection. People gathered around him during pre-game like the Dalai Lama - happy to see him alive and well, and hoping to give (and take) some of the love that hovered around him like a halo. That's the thing about V.J.-- Before and after his illness - I never, ever, ever heard anything but positive, well-meaning love from him or about him. He was truly one of those rare people that everybody loves, who never had a negative thing to say about anybody. A good, old, and wise soul, if you will.
I got the call on the way to the airport today, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was trying to stay so positive about it, that I guess I didn't want to realize how grave his condition was. He had pulled out miraculously so many times before - I thought surely he would make it out of this one too. I guess I was in denial. I've lost many elderly relatives in my family over the years...but never one of my peers...this hurt worse than I could imagine.
On the plane coming home, I tried to hold back tears while listening to an Eric Johnson song; it suddenly meant more to me, because, for the first time, I could relate the lyrics to someone real... someone who really mattered to so many... someone like V.J.
"Everywhere are hearts and empty hands,
Photo by Allen Kee
Scott Clarke gets a kiss from V.J. during their road trip while covering the 2002 World Series.
With no one there, to understand;
Future dreams, you're searching for a clue;
That sun don't shine, you never mind.
Don't get too discouraged in this life,
It's just a game, for now we play.
And soon or later things can work out right
This you must know, just wait and see
And after everything is said and done,
This can be another battle we have won.
The serenading dreams, bound tears of hope,
They start to fall, keep standing tall.
So, don't get too discouraged in this life,
It's just a stage, we act upon.
Soon or later things, they work out right;
The sun will shine, the night will dawn.
And after everything is said and done,
This can be another battle we have won.
So don't get too discouraged in this life,
Our thoughts can breathe, sonnets of love.
Soon the winds of change will make it right,
This you must know, just wait and see.
And after everything is said and done
This can be another battle we have won--
(And as the song fades off... comforting, almost like a lullaby - this
is the part that made me cry:)
So soon... everything you need... all right...
Sooooooo soon... everything you need... all right...
(Associated Press photographer Mark J. Terill used to spit sunflower seeds with V.J.)
It's regrettable when you realize, all too late, that you don't know someone as well as you should. I was fortunate enough to visit V.J. two days before he passed. As I entered the hospital, I approached the nurses station and asked to see V.J. Lovero. She asked me what his first name was and it suddenly struck me with a palpable thud that I didn't know. I'm ashamed to say that after fifteen years, it took a nurse, who had never met him, to tell me that it was Victor James. Without knowing it, V.J. taught me another valuable lesson that day. Just one of many that includes how to be a courageous, tenacious, inspirational and caring human being.
One of my strongest memories of V.J. is standing next to him in the photo well at an Angels game and talking baseball and photography. As we stood there chewing sunflower seeds and spitting them on to the field (competing for distance like little-leaguers), I did my best to sound like I knew what I was talking about as I sponged him for information. V.J. had this incredible sixth sense for knowing where the next play was going to happen and I just stood there next to him like a guy with no sense at all. Nonetheless, V.J. gladly answered every question I had, no matter how stupid it probably sounded to him. That's just the kind of guy he was.
It was there that it became clear to me that he probably would rather have been out there playing baseball than shooting it when I heard him say under his breath "He ain't foolin nobody" after a pitcher faked a throw to first base. It was clearly a phrase that you would have heard coming out of a grungy dugout somewhere in the minors. V.J. had a definite baseball player swagger about him.
Therefore, I have no doubt that, if God has a baseball team, V.J. is in the starting line up. I can see him sitting there in a misty dugout, spitting sunflower seeds as he watches Paul try to throw out Peter at first base and saying "He ain't foolin nobody."
So long my friend.
(Freelance photographer Darrell Miho knew how much V.J. loved his family.)
VJ had a great love for baseball and photography but that paled in comparison to his love for his family and friends.
Shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer, I went to visit him at his house in orange. Bob, Mo, John and Brad were also there. I remember him playing catch with his sons...which was followed shortly by a dogpile on the front lawn...and VJ was on the bottom. you could see the love he had for his family by just watching him with his kids and how they interacted.
Afterward, we all sat around the dinner table eating el pollo loco talking about God knows what. This was VJs all time love...hanging out with family and friends.
He will be truly missed.
(Photographer José Luis Villegas of the Sacramento Bee went to college with V.J.)
In 1980, I was starting my third year of college, my first semester at Cal State Fullerton. My first day in a PhotoJ class. A bit nervous, heck my third school in three years. I arrived early, V.J. was already there. The class was empty, I sat next to him, we greeted one another and made small talk.
He was kind, and wore a grin like a kid in a candy store. V.J. was way ahead of the rest of us. He shared with me the conversations he'd had with Rod Carew. Carew, as may of us old timer know was the California Angel first baseman and with interest in photography. And while the rest of us were trying to find our nich, he already knew where he was headed.
In the end, I would transfer after my second semester to my fourth college. Neither V.J. or I got very much out of the J classes. School was a bust, but my friendship with V.J never faded. We never kept in contact, but we always embraced and caught up on everything from work to family whenever we crossed paths at a ballpark. I'm guessing my friendship with him was one of may similar he had with other photographers throughout the country.
Always approachable, always willing to help if he could.
I'll miss him.
(Freelance photographer Bill Livingston surfed with V.J. in Kauai.)
The one story that comes to mind, and there were many we shared, was our trip to Kauai. We were there to photograph the NFL Quarterback Club for The UpperDeck, staying at a beautiful hotel with our wives in Poi Pu’. The hotel sat on a bay and one evening a small swell started to produce some nice little waves. Not having brought our boards, VJ and I borrowed the menus from the café - two 7’ surfboards with the café’s fare painted on the decks.
As we paddled out about sunset there was activity on the beach as the hotel staff got ready for that evenings Luau and concert for the NFL Quarterbacks and their families. Wave after wave we had all to ourselves, a rarity for two So-California boys. We just couldn’t believe how good our lives were; a paid trip to Hawaii with our wives, warm clear water and waves. Nothing could improve our set up.....then on the breeze surf music began drifting by us. When we’d finally had our fill and returned to the beach we found our musical entertainment was from non other than the infamous Dick Dale and the Deltones warming up on the beach for that evenings concert.
After 30 years of surfing that day stands out as one of the best ever. VJ shared this sentiment as we reminisced of it often. Those waves and now VJ are gone but the memories will last forever. Aloha.
(San Francisco Giants team photographer Martha Jenkins will miss V.J.)
When I was first starting out, I called around to team photographers to gather general info. V.J. was one of the first guys I called and he couldn't have been nicer. He didn't know me from Adam and he treated me like an old friend. That was V.J. I'll not only remember him as a great photographer, but a great man whose face would light up when you asked about his family. My best memories are from talking with V.J. in the photo wells at a game about our kids and family. He loved life and made me appreciate what I have in every aspect of my life. I will miss those talks, and I'll keep those memories with me through the late innings.
V.J. Lovero: 1959 - 2004
'Two days I will never forget'
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