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|| News Item: Posted 2002-08-31

Leading Off: Take me out to the ball park
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Osprey shortstop Sergio Santos awaits his turn for pre-game batting practice with the Montana sky as a backdrop. Santos, the Arizona Diamondbacks' #1 draft pick, is making the adjustment from high school player to professional.
I grew up a baseball fan.

From a hot, dusty Little League field at Calwa Park to John Euless Park (home of the Fresno Giants) to that wind tunnel Candlestick Park --- my memories of growing up in Fresno inevitably turn to baseball.

So many of the events in my life the past month have revolved around what else ... baseball.

My buddy Brad Mangin is the eternal optimist and I must admit to often leaning more toward the dark side. But Brad was right when he kept insisting that a strike by Major League Baseball players just wouldn't happen.

Lying in bed late Thursday night I kept hitting the refresh button on my PowerBook's web browser that had cnn/ on the screen. I used the Internet to keep up on the news, I couldn't bear to watch ESPN, fearing the worst: baseball's ninth work stoppage since 1974.

I finally gave up around 2 am, turned off the TV, slipped disk 1 from the "Sopranos" third season into the DVD drive and put on the headphones.

Badda Bing!

Mr. Mangin, ever the prophet! I first found out a baseball strike was averted Friday morning by reading ... what else? ...!

A simple note from Brad on the message board titled "I told you there would be no baseball strike" was my wake-up call. Barry Bonds would still be swinging away (when he isn't intentionally walked), the A's would continue an improbable march to the World Series and George Steinbrenner would throw more money out there to buy another pennant.

That's baseball.

* * *

Montana is a long way from the Major Leagues.

Just ask the players of the Missoula Osprey.

My love of baseball took me to Montana in August to document the adjustment of D'Backs' #1 draft pick Sergio Santos from high school to professional player. Rookie ball in the Pioneer League is a seemingly endless trip to fast food joints, old, rundown motels and the small-town atmosphere that I remember growing up in Fresno.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Sergio Santos walks on roommate Robert Fern's bed to get across the hotel room he lives in with three other Osprey players. On the telephone is teammate Brandon Simoln.
"It ain't the big-time," Sergio's roommate Rob Ferns laughed as the three of us headed off to a Subway sandwich store for lunch one afternoon. Sergio, despite his status as the 28th player picked in the amateur draft, shares a motel room meant for one ... with three teammates.

The tight conditions in his room at the College In makes for some pretty funny moments ... and a good opportunity for my "life as a minor league ballplayer" story. One of the three rollaway beds had to be folded up just for me to enter the room!

The "stadium" the Osprey play their home games this season is actually an American Legion field that Sergio described as "not much better than some of the high school" diamonds he played on as a star at Mater Dei in Orange County. The concession stands are actually old beat-up motor homes and trailers.

"You have to start somewhere," Sergio told me while sitting in the home dugout at Linborg-Cregg Field, "This is as good a place as any. I'm here to play ball, that's all that counts right now."

If I learned one thing during the 8 days I spent with the Osprey, that if a player doesn't have a bat or ball in his hand they have a cellphone! Verizon is makin' a heck of a lot of those kids' $700 a month salary!

Calls to family and fields help ease the players' homesickness and loneliness. "What score did you get on Playstation 2," I overhear Sergio say to his best friend. And you could always tell when he was on the phone to his girlfriend back home in Hacienda Heights ... he would talk under a pillow so his roommates couldn't listen in.

Keeping girlfriends' messages straight is a art form that player seem to develop as fast a the hit & run...

"Hey man," Rob yelled out to one of his roommates as he enters the motel room, "Tamika called you."

"Dude," Sergio adds, "I think it was Chamika."

"On man," the obviously popular player moaned, "Can't you guys remember which is which?"

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Sergio Santos begins to dive for a hard grounder during a game against the Mustangs at Cobb Field in Billings.
Rookie League baseball is so far away from the "big-time" that players sort through piles of uniforms on road trips looking for their own pants and the pre-game meal is likely to be frozen microwave pizza and warm slices of watermelon than the near-grommet spread that Griffey, Piazza and A-Rod might enjoy.

But it's baseball. And under the beautiful blue sky flecked with puffy clouds, it was a great backdrop (literally) to do this story. It was also a great way to forget about the gloom and doom of a possible MLB players' strike.

(For a look at some of the images from my picture story on Sergio Santos, take a peek at my member gallery:

* * *

My third baseball-related event of the summer was my annual trip with my wife and daughter to catch a game at Dodger Stadium.

Growing up a Giants fan, I loathed the Dodgers. But after moving to Southern California 12 years ago to go to work for USA Today, I grew to love working and watching games at Dodger Stadium.

As a kid that's only Major League experience was Candlestick Park, I thought all stadium men's rooms had water on the floors and all hotdogs were boiled.

This annual trek to Chavez Ravine with Deanna and Emma is a time I can leave the 400mm at home and enjoy watching a game from ... right field?

Right Field at Dodger Stadium is the place for families and on this Tuesday night we watched Florida rough up Kazuhisa Ishii and Kevin Brown ... oh joy! ... the Giants gain a game in the Wild Card race!

But I think the most enjoyable part of the evening ... we last about 7 innings ... is watching and listening to my daughter Emma, now 9.

I remember the first thing Brad told me when I informed him we were having a kid: "Make sure you have a left-handed pitcher or a switch-hitting catcher!"

Well, my daughter is neither ... and as much as her father is a sports fan, she is not. A sampling of some of the things that rolled out of her mouth during the game sitting next to her friend Jack Boone:

- "That's strike two. He's outta there!" "Jack, the wave is the best part of baseball."
- "Mom, how come that man (right fielder Shawn Green) keeps grabbing between his legs?
- "Baseball players sure like to spit."
- "When is Shaq gonna get to play?"
- "How come they're called the Marlins? Fishes can't play baseball."

After that last statement, maybe she knows more about baseball than I gave her credit for.

* * *

Late August is a great time for sports fans and sports photographers. Baseball is heading toward the post-season and football is just cranking up.

This month's issue we have a nice mix of baseball and football.

Deanne Fitzmaurice from the San Francisco Chronicle writes about her never-been-done-before behind the scenes look at Giants' slugger Barry Bonds and John Burgess of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat tells us about photographing the ball Bonds hit for his record 73rd home run.

Photo by
On the football side, Getty Image's Jonathan Daniel writes about Cheeseheads and the smell of sheep (ya have ta read it to believe it, trust me) and the St. Pete Times' Toni Sandys reminds us that it's a looooong football season.

Regular contributor Rod Mar checks in with a look at the Seattle Seahawks' new home, Al Tielemans gives us the lowdown on shutter failure in Canon's 1v, Photo Dude makes an appearance ... but NO MONGO!

And as we like to say at Sports Shooter Central ... we have much, much more!

So sit back, adjust the contrast on that monitor, turn up the volume on that Big Nick and the Gila Monster's new double CD (thanks Rob Schumacher!) and enjoy Sports Shooter v.46.

Related Links:
Bert's Gallery
Big Nick and the Gila Monsters

Related Email Addresses: 
Robert Hanashiro:

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