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|| News Item: Posted 2006-04-28

Opening Day LA: The fanfare, the color, the smaller photo wells
By Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News

Photo by Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News

Photo by Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News

Because the new photo wells at Dodger Stadium are so bad, Getty Images staffer Jeff Gross says "I just can't take it anymore."
It's finally here, Dodger Stadium, restored to its original colors, with 56,000-plus fans of all ages joining together to set a regular-season stadium attendance record. The atmosphere makes it all worthwhile. The fanfare makes the grey skies, the rainy weather and the newly designed photo wells tolerable…Well not really…

The Atlanta Braves, the defending champions (14 consecutive years now) from the National League's eastern division are in town for three games, but against a Dodger team that is already conjuring up memories of last season. New manager, Grady Little, led the Dodgers to a 15-13 record in the spring but is already having to deal with the problems of 2005.

Newly acquired free agent Nomar Garciaparra strained a muscle near his rib, speedy outfielder Kenny Lofton had a strained calf muscle and both have to start the season on the disabled list. Outfielder Jayson Werth, Gold Glove shortstop Cesar Izturis and closer Eric Gagne are still on the DL from last season. A new season of hope starts with an uphill battle as the Dodgers try to avoid a repeat of 2005 when they had the league's second-highest total of days lost on the disabled list.

Opening Day, 2006 was not your usual opener in Los Angeles. A post-winter storm brought rain in the seventh inning, and the inconvenience that comes with it. It came too late, however, to cause a rainout. April 12, 1976 will continue to have the distinction as the day of the only season-opener to be rained out at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers scored 10 runs on 17 hits…more than enough, it seemed. The Braves, however, scored 11. The record crowd didn't seem to mind. They were behind their "Boys in Blue" even after Atlanta built an 8-1 lead in the fifth inning. They were on their feet cheering and yelling, trying to coax one more run out of the Dodgers in the ninth inning. That run didn't come, but there is always another day.

As the game between the lines was going on, the photographers in the wells were standing elbow to elbow, straining to freeze time for tomorrow's front pages. Los Angeles Daily News photographer Hans Gutknecht warned others, saying, "The photo wells at Dodger Stadium are so tight, that you now need to pack some Vaseline in with the rest of your gear."

After last year, no one thought they could get any smaller, tighter, or wetter. The photo wells were cut in half to make room for more paying customers so photographers in the back row of the wells have to fight through a maze of front-row photographers, a railing, a center post, and padding that line the well, not to mention the standing water (The smell on a hot day is incredible) that drains from all parts of the stadium into the wells.

Photo by Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News

Photo by Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News

The new photo wells at Dodger Stadium have a flooding problem.
The sixth inning brought forth a cry from Jeff Gross (Getty Images), who said he, "Just can't take it anymore." Others chose comfort over location and moved to the overhead positions. There are still two risers on the first and third base sides of the field-level seats. They're ideal positions - provided the fans seated in front of those spots don't decide to stand and cheer. They're actually not bad, you have food and restrooms, if you had power it would be almost perfect.

Sports Illustrated's John McDonough expressed his displeasure, recalling how at one time Dodger Stadium was once one of the best places to work. But he was referring to the days when the stadium was equipped with two inner wells (between the dugouts and home plate) and two large photo wells on the far end of the dugouts. Those used to comfortably hold 20 photographers. There was even room to shoot the pitchers from directly behind home plate. Now the stadium is one of the worst in baseball.

There are still two inner wells but only two photographers, and usually just one, can fit into them. And that's only if there aren't any TV crews working the game. As for shooting the pitchers, there is no spot behind home plate anymore. Photographers are forced to shoot them from an inner stair well on the third base side while making sure they don't block the view of fans.

The sight lines have also changed for the worse. Billboard-type ads extend out and along the outfield walls, with two giant scoreboards attached to the walls in right and left field. Baseball America's Larry Goren called it "disappointing." Los Angeles Angels team photographer John Cordes said, "I truly hope that the shrinking photo wells are happening from someone just being shortsighted on the Dodgers' part and nothing else. I do not think that the Dodgers are trying to make are jobs harder on purpose, On the selfish side, because of my long association with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, it makes me laugh. I feel the Angels organization from top to photo well is the class act of baseball and nobody is arguing with me this year.

Photo by Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News

Photo by Keith Birmingham / Pasadena Star-News

Dodgers J.D. Drew ,7, Left, and manager Grady Little have a laugh before the game.
"I know we are not perfect at the Angels, but because of team photographer V. J. Lovero and Angels front office personnel Larry Babcock and Tim Mead you have choices at the Angels. I get the feeling that most of the photographers would rather come to Angels than Dodgers and it is showing in everyone's work."

The stadium is a beautiful place to come watch baseball - if you're a fan. The food is among the best, the atmosphere is second to none and the stadium's view (from atop the hill north of downtown Los Angeles) is one of the best. The Dodgers' history and tradition comes with the price of admission.

Dodgers' team photographer Jon Soohoo has worked with the Dodgers, trying to make this a positive situation for all of us but it continues to be a challenge. He makes life a lot easier as he tries to accommodate the many different needs we all have, Jon's work is ongoing in trying to make changes that will benefit all of us along the way.

The Dodgers of old spoiled all of us before the last two owners came in and felt the need to add $100.00-plus seats or a $4.75 Dodger Dog. The Dodgers aren't unique to this situation.

The San Diego Padres' photo wells aren't the best and the Angels have their tough spots too. Basketball and football have become harder to deal with, and even high school sports are becoming more difficult because of an increase in rules. But as I have said before and will undoubtedly say again, we must continue to find away to capture strong and compelling images that will tell the story of the day...

That's what we do

(Keith Birmingham is a staff photographer with the Pasadena Star-News.)

Related Links:
Birmingham's member page

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