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|| News Item: Posted 2002-03-01

Confessions of a Spring Training Newbie
By Ben Margot, The Associated Press

Photo by Ben Margot/AP

Photo by Ben Margot/AP
Eighty-degree sunshine. Great places to eat, drink, be merry and relax.

Cigars, many and frequently. Noon tee times. Poolside lounging. These are the preconceptions I had of spring training in Scottsdale, Arizona! Well, it didn't quite start out that way. I'm out of Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix to a running start in my Hertz Mustang.

I may as well head up to Peoria and get my credentials, try to bang out a few early shots the first day here, which always looks good. No sooner than 5 miles down the road, I get a call from the Phoenix COB (Chief of Bureau) informing me that the Padres, Mike Darr has flipped a van, killing himself and seriously injuring another in an auto accident off the 101 loop near the Padres camp in Peoria the night before.

Did I know about it? No, Steve, I've been in an airport since 5 am waiting to board a Southwest cattle-jet, I didn't know that! My job is now to get "reax" short for reaction photos in this business.

Reaction by ballplayers for their teammate, whose life was tragically cut short at a very young age. Adding to my problems, I had never seen a Padre, knew no one on the team, nor what anyof the players looked like.

Mind if this new kid barges in to document your loss? What happened to the nice, easy days of spring training I was told to expect & relish? Welcome to Arizona! It would be many days before I had a cigar by the pool.

In addition to the Padres, my assignment is also to cover the Seattle Mariners. Three photos per day, on alternating days, I was told. Three photos? Piece of cake! Did we say 3 photos per day, per team?

We meant 3 photos of ICHIRO per day. EVERY day! He is the reigning American League MVP, you know! And Japan wants and loves coverage!

AND Sasaki.

AND Hasegawa.

Oh, and we need a photo of Bret Boone's new hairdo. We understand it is different than last year! Edgar. Cirillo. Piniella. Ben Davis, recently traded.

Did you know Davis and Darr were best friends? No, I didn't! (Any reax?) You know, Buhner is a coach now! We'll need him, too!

Photo by
I was really beginning to wonder how my partner and dining critic at the AP in San Francisco, Eric Risberg, found the time for all the golf, cigars and dinners out he tells us about!

I had virtually no free time, and was shot by 3 in the afternoon for the night from the heat, dehydration, and running around like crazy trying to round all these people up.

(Was it because he always covered just the A's and the Giants?)

At least, not being familiar with the Japanese players on the Mariners isn't so bad. All you have to do is watch the 10-20 Japanese photographers, reporters, and TV sound people that virtually follow the man like the Pied Piper wherever he goes on the 3 training fields.

I think this is why he moves so predictably on the field. He knows his every move is being recorded, and the world is just waiting to see what he does next. What a work environment!

I personally witnessed 5 shooters peering into the pitch dark batting cage through about 10 layers of nylon mesh attempting to get Ichiro at bat. Crazy! (Of course, I had to try it, too, before I deemed it crazy).

Not everything is so complicated here. This was just my beginner's luck the first few days! In between the hour long stretching, (that blade of grass grew one inch since yesterday!) the team meetings and pep talks, the mile runs, throwing and catching balls, bunting drills, second base drills, fly ball at-the-fence drills; there is PHOTO DAY.

Sounds like fun, huh? We set up lights and shoot a mug shot of every player that is on each team! No need to worry who is who, each player holds a piece of paper with their name neatly and largely typed on it.

Let's see, hold this just under your chin, and let's get a shot of that!

Photo by Ben Margot/AP

Photo by Ben Margot/AP
Just like downtown! They will hold bats, they will hold balls. Some will smile, some will not. "Have any smiles left today?" I can hear the Major League Baseball shooter ask. "How about one for the stripper downtown?" Apparently not.

It's funny, some guys will NOT smile, no matter what you say. As for me, I didn't care if they smiled or not. That may be why the Mariner's Paul Abbott smiled for me. "You're the only one I'm going to smile for."

Thanks Paul, what'd I do?

They walk up in these girly, club-issued white rubber slippers, something no man would be caught dead in. Gee, those sure look comfortable! "Hey, you're not getting my feet, right?" Anyone see those Krispy Kreme donuts?

Meanwhile, the whirs, whistles, and pops of the flashes and motor drives continue to go off. You mean, every time your lights go off, mine do, too?

Hard wire them?

Hey, I just want to use one light the got a spare reflector? It was really nice to see all the photographers come to the aid of each other, especially those of us that have never done this sort of thing before.

Ahem. You need to move this light 3 inches that way, and raise that reflector. OK. For all you guys that helped me, and you know who you are I really appreciate it.

Photo by Morry Gash/AP

Photo by Morry Gash/AP
"You know Brad Mangin?"

"Who doesn't," I replied.

"Well, any friend of Brad's is a friend of mine. Don't mention it." I guess I should thank you too, Brad.

Soon, the games will begin, and hopefully things will settle down. I'm going to start that Tequila Grill margarita right now

(Ben Margot is an Associated Press staff photographer based in San Francisco.)

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