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|| News Item: Posted 1999-03-07

Cactus League Notebook: covering spring training in Arizona
By Eric Risberg, AP

Covering baseball spring training in Arizona while based in Scottsdale. The four teams I follow are the Giants, A's, Cubs, and Angels. Normally every year I'm here I work with our Phoenix staffer Jeff Robbins, but this year he is on disability following back surgery. In his absence I have coordinated our baseball coverage amongst the four teams. With Jeff out, just a few stringers to work with, lots of other sports and two executions going on of international interest, I have been really busy.

Photo by Eric Risberg/AP

Photo by Eric Risberg/AP
I have been hitting two teams a day every other day and have been working nearly non stop since I got here. Some wonder how I can be gone so long. Simple--The weather has been about 80 degrees nearly everyday, while it has been cold and rainy back home in the bay area. You are like your own boss and set your own hours.

There have been some great stories this year following last year's surging interest in baseball, and the camaraderie amongst fellow photographers who often dine together, swap tales and enjoy a cigar and glass of port in the evenings is memorable.

Plays of spring:
Most memorable events I've seen this spring include Sammy Sosa's first day of workouts. The man is so genuine and enthusiastic. He tries to acknowledge everyone, is polite, and very humble. The warmth and affection he received on his return was overwhelming. Sosa constantly makes great pictures by either rolling in laughter while stretching, reaching over fences to sign autographs, or splashing water all over his head, along with knocking the ball out of the park.

Photo by Eric Risberg/AP

Photo by Eric Risberg/AP

Another great moment was the San Francisco Giants flying Orlando Cepeda to spring training to be met by the team on the practice field the day after he finally was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And especially visual were some of the Oakland A's in the early morning light posing by a saguaro on team photo day.

One of the funniest moments had to be Mew Mizumi of Baseball Magazine in Japan trying to coax a smile out of Tony Phillips and Tim Raines of the A's on picture day by jokingly telling them that in the off-season she was a geisha. Neither player knew what a geisha is, so they claimed, but when Mew indicated that it is like a hostess the players busted out in laughter and then asked if the two could come and visit her together. No firm date for a visit has been announced.

Stats of the spring:
So far have covered about 30 workouts and shot headshots of about 250 players, coaches, and managers. I cover my first game today. Everything has been shot digitally with the exception of the headshots.

Arizona has always gotten more populated every year for many years now, but the difference from this year to last year has been very noticeable. The streets are really crowded and it is taking much longer to drive even short distances. The building boom and construction is everywhere. More strip malls, chain restaurants and hotels that feature suites are going up everywhere. Businesses are jammed and the wait at many of the restaurants in the Scottsdale area is 1-2 hours.

Price of gas here at some places is 85 cents where in the San Francisco Bay Area it has been about $1.30 at many places.

The number of photographers covering spring training has definitely decreased due to mergers and closure of a number of card companies, the belt tightening of magazines and newspapers, and also by companies buying their pictures from an agency instead of hiring a photographer directly. It is sad to see a number of friends and colleagues who have covered spring training for many years not here this spring.

Quotes of the spring:
"I love this game, I am so happy to be here"--Sammy Sosa

As witnessed by two Bay area photographers watching the top player of an NL West team on his first day of workouts--one small boy asks for an autograph and the player barks no, can't you see I'm working, I don't do that when I'm working, go up and tell your father to raise you better. Another small boy then comes up and asks the player if he would hit 70 home runs this year. The player remarks no, what do I need to do that for when I get paid the same. Name that player!

What's hot:
- Sammy Sosa and Mo Vaughn
- The young talent of the Oakland A's.
- The New Fog City Diner, Bistecca and Kona Grill in Scottsdale.
- Bauza and Ashton cigars made by Fuente.
- Graham's Port

What's not:
- Congestion and growth of Phoenix.
- Long waits and crowds at many restaurants.

(Eric Risberg is a staff photographer in the Associated Press bureau in San Francisco. He regularly covers Spring Training as well as the regular Major League Baseball season.)

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