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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2006-05-29

From Bug Zappers to World Series Rings
By Ron Vesely, Chicago White Sox

Photo by Tony Inzerillo

Photo by Tony Inzerillo

Ron Vesely and Ozzie Guillen were both rookies in 1985.
Pinch me.... did this really happen to me?

It seems not all that long ago that I found myself taking "action" photos of my favorite Chicago White Sox players at old Comiskey Park during the mid to late 70's. From the seats and aisles, that is. I had yet to graduate to the "photo box", but that didn't matter, I was honing my skills for bigger things to come. Friends encouraged me. I was hooked. Growing up, my favorite ballplayer was Nellie Fox. Gum stuffed in my mouth, I did my best to imitate the Hall of Fame second baseman. Later, it was guys like Joel Horlen, Bill Melton, and Chet Lemon. I loved the Sox, and with my newfound love of photography, the thought to try and combine the two into something special crept into my head.

After winning the White Sox fan "photo contest" in 1980 (prizes included an Elgin watch, a bug zapper and a gas grill) for my photo of Lamar Johnson holding an infant I became convinced that sports photography was something I wanted to get into, and if all of the stars were to align properly, I wanted to work for the Chicago White Sox. My photography "idols" I looked up to at the time? Rich Pilling, Chuck Solomon (those two did ALL of the baseball photography at the time) and John McDonough, who was the staff photographer at Sport Magazine. What's cool is I eventually became good friends with all three of these great photographers! But in 1980, I was just a "wannabe".

Well, in 1985 I officially launched my business as a sports photographer, although I had covered my first professional game on September 18, 1983. My client? Baseball Card News. Everyone needs to start somewhere!

In March of '85, fate being as it was, I struck up a conversation at baggage claim at O'Hare airport with a gentleman who turned out to be the White Sox Director of Public Relations, Paul Jensen. He overheard me talking on the flight about my trip to spring training (from which I was returning) and mentioned that he would like to take a look at some of my work. He felt my enthusiasm for White Sox baseball might blend well with my desire to be a sports photographer, and he gave me his card.

Photo by Tony Inzerillo

Photo by Tony Inzerillo

Ron Vesely at the last game at Comiskey Park in 1990.
I began submitting material that season (one where the eventual 1985 American League Rookie of the Year Ozzie Guillen would make an impact with the White Sox as well). We were both rookies in 1985.

My responsibilities with the club would vary over the years, but my love of the White Sox never wavered.

In 1999 I presented the White Sox with a business plan that would put me in a position to supply the White Sox with all of their photography and digital archiving needs. This was a big leap for me, since I primarily was an "action/portrait" photographer my entire career. Now it was time to add "grip and grins", signage, and other sponsorship and marketing driven photography to my repertoire.

I put together a cost analysis for the White Sox on how "going digital" would save them money. By my calculations, within 2.5 years our digital investment would pay off. Mind you, this was back when my 2 mega pixel Canon D2000 cost nearly $12,000! Thankfully, the White Sox organization is tech savvy and saw the benefits this investment would bring and we became one of the first clubs in baseball to begin the movement toward going "totally digital", both in capture and archiving.

Being a team photographer means just that. One generally works for the entire team, whether it is shooting game action, the fireworks after a late Friday game, the ad signage in the concourse or the charity bat kid with players during batting practice.

Long hours, many of which involve shooting "behind the scenes".

I'm sure I'm not alone within the fraternity of team photographers that feel when it comes to their team getting to the World Series, Super Bowl, NBA finals or Stanley Cup Finals, earning a ring would be the ultimate. The pinnacle of sports photography. The highest reward.

All of the long hours would be worth it. Now, you just have to get there. OK team, do your thing!!

Scott Reifert, then the director of public relations of the White Sox, was the man with the vision to take my proposal to the Chairman of the Board and make my proposal a reality. It was then that I mentioned to Scott that should "we" ever make it "to the promised land", please don't forget me when it comes time for the ring!

Jump ahead to the spring of 2002. Stephen Green (the Cubs team photographer) and I co-hosted a baseball photography exhibit that the City of Chicago displayed at the old Water Tower in downtown Chicago to help kick off the 2002 baseball season. During the show's run, National Public Radio interviewed us, and one of the questions they asked was "What has been your greatest moment covering your team?" Steve's was pretty easy, it was covering Sammy Sosa as he and Mark McGwire chased Roger Maris's homerun record in 1998. Me? Well, I told WNPR that my moment hadn't happened yet. I told them that it would happen when I shoot the first pitch of the World Series for the White Sox. I made it known that at the time, I had covered probably 12 World Series and had the privilege of covering many great moments. Joe Carter's walk off World Series winning home run off of Mitch Williams, Kirby Puckett's Game 6 home run during the 1991 Series. But to cover the WHITE SOX in the World Series- WOW, that would be something! That would be my highlight.

Photo by

Ron Vesely's 2005 World Series credential, left, and his first credential to cover the Sox for Baseball Card News in 1983.
The 2005 season opened and once again I was the homeboy optimist. I was cautious, but I liked what I saw in spring training and what second year manager Ozzie Guillen had brought to the club. His love of the game was infectious. Everyone loves Ozzie, and the players responded.

We started hot and had a great April (which was uncommon for the White Sox during recent years). May continued the winning trend, and I began thinking about making sure that I attempt to document everything and anything that was or could become important. I told anyone who listened that after every big game or great moment, we were just writing another chapter in what I was hoping would be an epic novel. Little did I know...

You know, baseball is a LONG season. Anyone who works in baseball knows what I'm talking about. Long hours, long home stands. Six months of baseball. You need to pace yourself, but with the team playing well through the All Star break, I was already thinking ahead to late summer. Could we keep it up? Will we make it to the playoffs? I was getting nervous and excited. Yet when asked, the superstitious side of me responded with "talk to me in September".

Our 15 game lead shrunk to 1.5 in early September. Nervous? Maybe! Confident? You bet. You've gotta believe (apologies to the late great Tug McGraw).

The call came after 10pm on September 27th. Scott Reifert, now our Vice President of Communications, called to say "book a flight to Detroit for early tomorrow morning." I was caught off guard. I thought the magic number was three. Never mind that, Scott said, based on the tie breaking calculations used in baseball, if we win tomorrow in Detroit, we win the division. Thank goodness for Southwest Airlines. I was on the early morning flight to Detroit, and was in boarding group A! And for the first time on the road, I was wearing my red White Sox golf shirt. This was to become an important piece of apparel as October came into view.

What, me worry? Freddy Garcia, Cliff Politte and Bobby Jenks took care of shutting down the Motown Kitties and WE DID IT! Back to the postseason! 2000 seemed soooo long ago! That trip to the playoffs ended abruptly in Seattle. Three and out. All I remember from that trip was getting tired of hearing "Who Let the Dogs Out." Not the best of memories!

Photo by John Cordes

Photo by John Cordes

Vesely gets soaked with champagne in Anaheim after the Sox clinched the American League pennant in October of 2005.
A few weeks earlier I invested in some AquaTech rain covers for my short glass and flash. Think champagne protection all the way! Detroit was a good first test of everything. No problems at all. Now, only three more champagne showers. Bring it on!

As the regular season came to a close in Cleveland that weekend, there were more team photographer duties for me to attend to, like figuring out where to put everyone as the playoffs come to town! You've got to figure out different scenarios for each possible match up. Boston, New York, Los Angeles. Add this to just trying to keep up with editing, and you can see that rest is for later. We've got postseason baseball coming to town. Chicago... It's been awhile.

One of the cool things I was able to experience as the playoffs began could be summed up in one word... "charter". Flying charter with our front office staff was the ultimate. Drive your car up to the terminal, give the keys to the staff, unload your bags (NO LIMIT!), and wait to board. When you land back home, the keys are in your car and the car is running. I'll admit it, flying this way during October spoiled me big time.

We flew to an air force base north of Boston for round one of the ALDS on the morning of Game 3, after defeating the Red Sox at US Cellular in Games 1 and 2 to start the LDS. Avoiding Logan was awesome! But my choice of apparel for this day confused our staff. I was wearing the red White Sox golf shirt that I wore to Detroit for our division clincher. A RED shirt?? The Red Sox wear red! What was I thinking?? Well, it was a red WHITE SOX shirt, which allowed me to "infiltrate" behind "enemy lines" in Boston. No one would think I was with the White Sox unless they looked close. Besides, I wore it in Detroit when we won, so I felt some good mojo was attached to it. Time would tell. Oh, yeah, time would tell...

Once downtown, while the rest of the front office staff gathered for drinks and picked up their game tickets, yours truly caught a cab to Fenway. Why sit at the hotel when you can sit at the ballpark?

Last time I was at Fenway, it was during the 2004 World Series. Great memories for me that Series and the hospitality was awesome as well. David Mellor, the head grounds keeper who I had known since he was the Brew Crew's grounds keeper in the early 90's, allowed me to base myself out of his office in the bowels of Fenway. For anyone who has worked Fenway, this was HUGE since storage space is at a premium! Thanks, David!

With rain in the forecast for Game 3, and even worse weather predicted as the weekend wore on, we had to win tonight.

Game 3 will be forever remembered as the "El Duque" game. The crafty Cuban masterfully pitched out of a bases loaded, nobody out situation without giving up a run to preserve the slim lead we had. Juan Uribe then laid down a beautiful suicide squeeze bunt to score AJ Pierzynski with an insurance run in the ninth and the LDS was history as we swept the Red Sox. On to round two! That's right, round two!

Photo by Ron Vesely / Chicago White Sox

Photo by Ron Vesely / Chicago White Sox

Vesely photographed the first pitch of the 2005 World Series from behind the plate and Sports Illustrated used this image as an opener to their Series story.
That night, we had a big party (it was scheduled whether we won or not) at the hotel, and Roland Hemond, our former GM from the Dick Allen days of the early 70's and now an advisor to current GM Kenny Williams, gave a fantastic speech for all to enjoy. What Roland stressed to those in attendance was that moments such as what we enjoyed that day should be cherished, held close and nurtured, because you never know what lies ahead. I will never forget his words, and thankfully, I did hold this moment close. What I didn't know then was there were so many more great moments to come!

Anaheim or New York, that was now the question. With friends in both cities, either was fine, but, I'll say it here, not having to prepare for the New York media was something I was hoping for. Purely logistical. I got my wish.

Things didn't start off as planned. We lost a playoff game!! The Angels, who everyone thought would be out of gas because of all of the cross-country flying they did during their series against the Yankees, played well and suddenly, Game 2 became one of those "must games". You don't want be down 0-2 heading to Anaheim.

Thanks to AJ Pierzynski's heads up play in the ninth inning of Game 2, followed by Joe "Money" Crede's walk off double, the series was tied 1-1 as we headed to Anaheim.

Angels team photographer John Cordes was awesome as he offered up some good old-fashioned "southern" hospitality by offering to pick me up at the team hotel for the first two games and give me a ride to the ballpark and back. Thanks John!

The ALCS could be summed up like this... awesome White Sox starting pitching, with Paul Konerko and Joe Crede tossed in for offense. Actually, Crede was outstanding defensively as well. Game three, Garland and Konerko, Game four, Garcia and Konerko. The next night was Game 5, and yes, if we won, we were going to the World Series!!!

Mind you, I'm from Chicago, and using the words "World Series" and "Chicago" in the same sentence is something those from the Windy City aren't too familiar with. Add "White Sox" to that sentence and, well, it's mind blowing!

Photo by Albert Dickson / Sporting News

Photo by Albert Dickson / Sporting News

Ron Vesely hoists the World Series trophy in the air in Houston after the Sox swept the Astros in October of 2005.
Game 5's weather was anything but typical for southern California. Cool with rain on and off throughout the evening. Hey, what happened to the low 90's from two days ago?? But with Jose Contreras throwing the 4th straight complete game victory for the White Sox, and with me wearing my now famous (in my mind) red shirt, WE DID IT!!! I was going to live my dream and shoot a World Series featuring the Chicago White Sox! The red shirt.... hmmm Boston wears red, Anaheim wears red, and both the Cardinals and the Astros wear red. I was convinced... this was the year!

I couldn't sleep the night before Game 1 of the World Series. Game time was like 8pm, but I arrived at US Cellular Field at 9am. Game day. Game face on. This was the World Series, dude! Be ready, because there won't be any second chances. My team hasn't been there in 88 years! I felt the responsibility of making sure that I didn't miss a thing as our "visual historian. The first pitch of the World Series. My big moment was hours away.

My glasses fogged up after shooting the pregame on-field ceremonies prior to Game 1 as I prepared for the first pitch. There will only be one first pitch and everything needs to be perfect. I was emotionally caught up in the moment. This is what I had hoped for my entire career, and the time was now. As I triggered the shutter looking through the finder I heard the crowd react as history was made. Jose Contreras delivered a first pitch strike and the World Series was underway.

Sports Illustrated chose to use this image of the first pitch to open their coverage of the 2005 World Series. I will be forever linked to this World Series by this image, and it gave me an added rush. SI double trucks tend to do this anyway, but this image was personal.

The 2005 World Series went fast and was perfectly scripted (sorry, Stephen O'Brien!). Bobby Jenks closing out Game 1 for a White Sox winner, Paul Konerko's grand slam in the rain during Game 2, Scott Podsednik's walk off home run in the same game, Geoff Blum ending the longest game in World Series history in Game 3 with his 14th inning homerun, then Jermaine Dye's World Series winning single up the middle to set the stage for the ninth inning of Game 4. One more inning, and we were World Champions.

The ninth was a blur. You can pre-script what you want to do, but you never know where the last out will be made, or who is the MVP. Once the last out was made, I clicked into machine mode. The blinders were on, and I had to be everywhere at once. Wow! It's an experience I'll never have again, yet one that I can replay in my mind like it was yesterday.

The trophy ceremony (which took forever thanks to TV, keeping me from shooting the best of our clubhouse celebration), on field celebration, players with their families, front office staff with the trophy, I tried to be everywhere to do everything. So much to cover, so little time!

Finally, I had a moment with the trophy by myself. And my good friend, Albert Dickson was kind enough to capture it for posterity. Thanks, Albert.

It wasn't until I was on the bus heading back to the team hotel that I finally could pause and take in what just happened. I was physically and emotionally drained. We were World Champions. MY TEAM! The team I was born to love. Wow. I've seen so many others experience this moment, and now it was my turn. I had reached the summit, and the view was spectacular!

Photo by Mark Hammer

Photo by Mark Hammer

Vesely received his World Series ring from club owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
After the team party in Houston after the game, which lasted until the wee hours of the morning (there was so much hugging and smiling going on, it was evident we truly were like family), we all grabbed a few hours sleep then headed out to the airport to take an early morning charter back home to Chicago.

My work wasn't over yet. There was a ticker tape parade the day after we returned to Chicago to cover. I still couldn't really let myself get too caught up in the emotion of what had occurred yet. I had one more big event to cover.

And was it big. 1.75 million people lined the parade route to cheer the World Champions as a motorcade of six open deck buses made their way from US Cellular Field to the Chicago River in the Loop. Words cannot describe the feeling that came over everyone who was fortunate enough to ride on one of the buses that day. But pictures did.

Needless to say, I didn't experience an "off season" this past winter. Between Dave Durochik, who helped me cover the post season and me, I spent the better part of the winter editing, captioning, key wording and archiving over 10,000 images! Essentially, we shot and archived a season's worth of images in a month. And I still wasn't done. I had to attempt to choose "selects" from which we would make enlargements. I ended up with nearly 500 "selects". As spring training neared, I finished putting together a selection of 40 or so "giant" (4 foot by 4 foot and larger) murals to be displayed in our spring training facility in Tucson. Phew! Everything was up and hung before the players arrived!

I was nervous as February rolled around, because I knew that players and staff were in the process of getting sized for their World Series rings. Finally, just before I left for spring training, I got a call.

Well, Scott remembered the conversation we had in 1999! I was fortunate enough to be one of the few to earn a World Series championship ring. We did make it to the Promised Land!!

The day the players received their rings was the same day the front office would receive theirs! I'll be honest- I couldn't sleep the night before. It reminded me of Christmas as a child! Ring Day!

Photo by Ron Vesely / Chicago White Sox

Photo by Ron Vesely / Chicago White Sox

Vesely received his very own World Series ring.
After the game we had a Ring Ceremony of our own in the Patio at US Cellular Field. My brother in-law, Mark Hammer and golfing buddy Chester Frychel were able to attend and capture the big moment on disc as White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and vice president of communications Scott Reifert presented me with my ring. I told Jerry I could now "die a happy man" when he handed me my ring. His reply? "Who's going to take the pictures?" Good question! I pointed to my brother in-law Mark and said for today, I've put that responsibility on him!

I suppose if there is any simple message to convey regarding my story that you've just finished reading it is this: Dreams come true, miracles can happen, and wonderful things do occur when you follow your heart and dreams and, most importantly, when you love what you do for a living...

What a wonderful life!


(Ron Vesely is a Chicago - based freelance photographer. He has been covering sports, primarily baseball and football, since 1985. During this time, he has covered 11 Super Bowls and 14 World Series. You can check out his work at: http://www.vesphoto.com and his SportsShooter.com member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/members.html?id=499.)

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