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|| News Item: Posted 2005-04-02

Photo Vacation
Why spring training is the best time of the year

By Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Barry Zito goes through the motions at A's camp at Papago Park in Phoenix, AZ on February 23, 2005.
What is the best assignment you have ever been on? The Super Bowl? The high school basketball state championship game? The war in Iraq? A portrait shoot with a Hollywood celebrity?

For me the best assignment I have ever had the privilege of covering is spring training. For a baseball junkie like me there is no better way to kick-start the new year than getting the chance to go down to Arizona in late February/early March to shoot some workouts and a few Cactus League games.

Seeing the sunshine, hearing the crack of the bat and the popping of the gloves tells me that longer days and good times are on the horizon- they just get here much quicker for me if I am down in Scottsdale instead of back home in the Bay Area. The combination of getting away from home, shooting some ballgames and hanging out with friends makes spring training my favorite time of the year.

Many years ago the great San Francisco Chronicle staff photographer Fred Larson coined the phrase "Photo Vacation" while talking about his trips to Arizona to cover the Giants and A's for his paper. Fred knows how to have a good time and he was terrific at not letting his time by the pool get in the way of making good pictures for the Chronicle. Fred's wonderful attitude and his title of "Photo Vacation" is something that I have always kept in the back of my mind whenever I had the chance to cover spring training. 2005 will be the year I remember for doing the best job I have ever done at having a true "Photo Vacation" in Arizona.

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Aric Crabb photographs A's camp at Papago Park in Phoenix, AZ for the Oakland Tribune on February 24, 2005. Notice the grass stains on his knees and the hit list of numbers written on his hand- he is working HARD!
I have covered spring training in one way or another almost every year since 1991 for various employers and clients, ranging from The National Sports Daily to Upper Deck to Sports Illustrated. The few years that I was unable to land an assignment were sad ones for me, but the experiences of not getting the chance to go down to Arizona in March those few years have really made me appreciate the times I do.

This year I had the unique opportunity to go to spring training twice- first in late February to work on a story about the new Oakland A's pitching staff. For this quick four day trip I flew down to Phoenix and shot three A's workouts at beautiful Papago Park. The weather was terrific and the sky was filled with wonderful puffy white clouds- the kind we never see in the Bay Area. My short stay was just enough to whet my appetite because I knew when I flew home that I would be coming back the following week, in my car, for an open-ended assignment that could possibly reach three weeks,

Last year I took the advice of a few of my friends, namely Eric Risberg and Michael Zagaris, and drove the 675 miles to spring training. As photographers we have to bring so much gear and other assorted crap with us that it is much easier these days to throw it all in the car and go, as opposed to flying and all the headaches that go with that.

I had a tremendous sense of freedom last year when I took off in my own car, only to have my good mood ruined a little bit when I ran out of gas in the California desert, 50 miles outside of Blythe (childhood home of Terry Whitfield), but that is another story that I have already written ( I wish I had a dollar for every time Bob Binder called me over the last 12 months as he drove by the Patton Museum on his way to or from an assignment in Phoenix, just to let me know that the Chevron gas station that was closed last March, causing me to run out of gas, was open for business.

This year would be different. I did a much better job of monitoring my gas gauge and after a nice pit stop at Joe Gosen's house near Ojai I made my way across the desert with plenty of gas in my tank and a smile on my face, as I knew that I would be having so much fun over the next few weeks. Little did I know that the fun would start immediately upon my arrival at the Marriott Suites in Scottsdale as I my good friend Chris Covatta began harassing me as soon as I tried to check into my room at the front desk.

Covatta is someone I have known for 15 years, going back to our days working together at The National. Since he now lives in Austin I rarely get the chance to see Covatta or work with him, much less stay in the same hotel with him for TWO WEEKS! This was going to be fun.

The older I get the more I appreciate the wonderful friends I have made in this crazy business. Getting the chance to stay in the same hotel with Covatta, Risberg and Rich Pilling meant that the 2005 version of spring training was going to be a very special one.

Following are some observations from around spring training over the past month:

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Darren Carroll photographs himself at the Chevron Station near the Patton Museum off I-10 on March 24, 2005. This gas station was not open in 2004, causing Brad Mangin to run out of gas on his way to spring training.
* It is always fun to see a photographer experience his or her first spring training. This year I had the opportunity to witness Aric Crabb getting the chance to shoot his fist one for the Oakland Tribune while I was covering A's camp in late February. Crabb is a real hockey nut and has never been much of a baseball fan, but after a spending a week shooting the A's and Giants working out under blue skies and getting the chance to have dinner at Don & Charlie's and the Italian Grotto he is now a baseball convert. Crabb made some real nice pictures for his paper during his stay and can't wait to start shooting the regular season. He is also already planning a scam so he can get back down to Arizona in 2006.

* Location, location, location. The older I get the smarter I get, especially if I listen to the advice given to me by my much older peers- notably Rich Pilling. Pilling knows how to travel and he hooked me up at the Marriott Suites in Old Town Scottsdale last year. It was so great that I went back this year and was joined by Covatta and Risberg. Getting the chance to stay in a nice place, especially if you are going to be there for a long period of time, is so important. Getting the chance to stay in a nice place that is within walking distance of some of the finest restaurants in Scottsdale, namely Bandera, The Pink Pony, Grimaldi's and the Italian Grotto is pure genius. Staying within walking distance was never more important then the night Darren Carroll and I took full advantage of not having to drive home while dining at the Italian Grotto. It seems we enjoyed a few beers and cocktails with dinner before Garry the owner bought us a nice bottle of wine. Not wanting to be rude we had to finish the bottle before leaving. We left the restaurant around 11:30pm to begin our short three-block walk back to the hotel. As soon as we walked out the door of the restaurant a cab started following us up Scottsdale Road and then honked at us. I guess the cabbie thought we looked like we might need a ride. Little did he know that we knew EXACTLY what we were doing and arrived safely back to the hotel on foot a few minutes later. Thanks Rich!

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Italian Grotto owner Garry Horowitz enjoys a beer in his front row seats at the D'Backs vs. Angels game at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, AZ on March 23, 2005.
* You gotta love The Grotto! Speaking of restaurants, the new hot spot for many photographers, sports writers and scouts in Old Town Scottsdale has become the Italian Grotto. Owned and operated by crazed Yankee fan Garry Horowitz this place is fantastic. With a terrific atmosphere and great food the Grotto has become the fun place to dine with large or small groups during spring training. San Francisco Giants team photographer Martha Jane Stanton and her husband San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Bruce Jenkins have been coming here for years. San Francisco 49ers and Oakland A's team photographer Michael Zagaris has been enjoying the fun at the Grotto over the last few years and has become good friends with Garry. Other photographers who will be going back to the Grotto for years to come after enjoying some fun dinners here in 2005 include Bob Binder, Scott Clarke, Jose Luis Villegas, Eric Risberg, Rich Pilling, Alan Greth, Karl Mondon, Bill Nichols, Albert Dickson, Aric Crabb, Chris Covatta and Darren Carroll, who absolutely LOVES this place.

* The drive to Tucson isn't THAT bad. From my hotel in Scottsdale the trip down to Tucson Electric Park, home of the Diamondbacks and White Sox, took about an hour and forty-five minutes. Since I enjoy driving the five trips I made south on I-10 to shoot a few ballgames were pretty enjoyable. Getting the chance to see White Sox team photographer Ron Vesely and Upper Deck contract shooter and legendary Sports Illustrated photographer Ron Modra in Tucson was always an added bonus. It sure helps when the guys I am shooting are out of the game by the 6th inning, allowing me to leave early! On one of those days, after shooting the Giants and Diamondbacks on March 10 I finally made a
Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Upper Deck contract photographer Chris Covatta has his game face on while covering his first Cactus League game on March 3, 2005 in Peoria, AZ.
stop that I have wanted to make for almost ten years. I veered 10 miles west off I-10 and visited the Francsico Grande Resort in Casa Grande, former spring training home of the San Francisco Giants from 1961 to 1982. Ever since I was a kid I have always wanted to see first hand the baseball bat and ball shaped swimming pools that I envisioned Ron Bryant and Ed Halicki lounging around after a tough day of workouts in the 1970's. There were no signs of the Bear or Ho-Ho when I got there, but you could still see the observation tower that skippers Charlie Fox, Wes Westrum, Joe Altobelli and others used to stand on to observe the action between the four practice fields back in the day. I can't wait to see which Upper Deck photographer gets assigned to Tucson in 2006. Will it be Bob Binder or Thearon Henderson? Tune in next year.

* Photographers who work spring training for the trading card companies bust their asses every day. All four card companies (Topps, Fleer, Playoff and Upper Deck) had shooters covering the Cactus League and all of the photographers working the games for them, ranging from Don Smith and Rob Leiter to Chris Covatta and Bob Binder, put in long hours each and every day down in the desert. These guys had long lists of players they needed to photograph every day, then had to edit every night after they got back from the ballpark. Back in the mid 1990's I was fortunate to have the chance to shoot a few spring trainings for Upper Deck. This was back in the good old days of shooting chrome and shipping the raw film to the lab via FEDEX. The lab then shipped our chromes to Upper Deck and we never had to edit. We were on the field at the Angels complex in Tempe playing "Over the Line" with V.J. Lovero by 4:30pm every day. This year Covatta wasn't getting back to his hotel from Surprise 'til after 5pm every day and had to edit many mornings at 6am just to get caught up after shooting over 1,000 images a day! Shooting digital is great, but it takes a long time to edit, just ask Covatta! He should pay more attention to Binder and his SECRET method of fast editing.

* The drive home was terrific! For the first time I drove home in one day and took a leisurely twelve hours to do so. Thanks to some great advice from Risberg (he is a really smart guy- if he ever gives you some veteran advice TAKE IT- he knows what he is talking about from restaurants to wine to cigars to driving routes) I bypassed Los Angeles and the ugly LA traffic by heading north from San Bernardino and cutting across the High Desert area through Palmdale and Lancaster before catching up with I-5 in the middle of the Grapevine in Gorman. The cool detour was a fun experience, allowing me to see many Joshua trees and small towns for the first time. While approaching I-5 I was chatting on my cell phone with Zagaris and learned that he had taken this same route many years ago, causing much anguish for his son Ari as the Z-Man and his wife Kristin stripped naked to sunbathe in the desert. Classic Z-Man.

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Brad Mangin, hiding behind the third base dugout so he doesn't get drilled by a foul ball, shoots the Cubs vs. A's game at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on March 19, 2005.
This was indeed a "Photo Vacation" for me. Don't get me wrong, I worked hard while I was down in Arizona, but the escape from everyday living and real life was a welcome change for me. Shooting a baseball game everyday for three weeks and hanging out with so many terrific friends was a very cleansing experience for me.

Everything else back home was blocked out of my mind as I was immersed in trying to find out if Angels Cuban prospect Kendry Morales would ever make it out of the Dominican Republic and into camp in Tempe (he didn't), trying to find out when El Duque would be pitching next (I got him in Tucson on March 18 against the Cubs), and trying to figure out where we would be eating dinner that night, the next night and the night after that. Luckily I had Covatta to steer me straight most nights. Thanks Chris!

When I got home last Friday night after the long 12-hour drive I felt like I was getting home after a long vacation. I did not feel like I had just worked for three weeks straight. That's right- I was now home from my "Photo Vacation." As an added bonus I was able to create an invoice the next day for all of the work I had done. They pay me to go to the ballpark. I think that's pretty cool. I am very lucky.

(Brad Mangin is a freelance photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a San Francisco Giants season ticket holder and regularly covers Major League Baseball for Sports Illustrated and Major League Baseball Photos.)

Related Links:
Mangin's member page

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