Friday, April 23, 2010

I Like Ike!

That may sound like a campaign slogan for President Eisenhower from a few generations ago, but it's for another up and coming Major League Baseball player that I've been watching for the last few years, even before he turned pro.

My first sighting of Ike Davis came while he was playing college baseball at Arizona State University a few years ago, playing not only his most familiar first base, but pitching and outfield as well.

As a first baseman, where I saw Ike most often, as well as where he's playing at the start of his pro career, he looked a lot like a Mark Grace prototype in the making, with a slick glove and other superb defensive skills on the field. Ike is also a pure hitter, who looks like he could hit for good power and average combined. Ike was drafted by the New York Mets in 2008 after his junior year at Arizona State.

Ike is also a second generation player as his father, Ron Davis, was a relif pitcher, playing most of his career with the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins, with stops in Los Angeles and San Francisco toward the end of his career.

Ike played in the 2009 Arizona Fall League, where I continued to follow him with my cameras and like Jason Heyward, whom I also photographed in the Fall League, he moved rather quickly through the New York Mets minor league system.

It was great to hear the news that Ike's contract was purchased by the NY Mets from his Triple-A Buffalo Bisons on April 19, 2010 and that he was able to arrive at Citi Field in Flushing, NY in time for that evenings game.

Ike got a two base hits in his Major League debut, the second of which resulted in his first Major League RBI and he put some good fielding in at first base to top it all off. That ball and broken bat that were part of his first Major League hit, in his first major League at bat, will look good in his trophy case.

The icing on Ike's cake came on April 23, 2010, vs. the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field when he hit his first Major League home run, a 450 foot shot over the head of the Braves rightfielder and fellow rookie sensation Jason Heyward, adding some slick fielding with his glove as well. Is there a Gold Glove in his future, a la Mark Grace? It was great that the ball Ike hit for his first home run was retrieved for his trophy case as well.

That was an unusual game in many ways, to include two young rookie sensations going up against one another. I'm glad I've gotten to watch both Ike and Jason and record digital images of these sensational young ballplayers. Maybe the two of them will put up a race for the National League Rookie-of-the-year award that is just as interesting as some division title races have been.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

True Blue Blood

Since making the move to Los Angeles in the summer of 1969, there was nothing I liked better than Los Angeles Dodger's baseball, and yes, there was no better place to watch baseball than Dodger Stadium.

During all those great years of watching our national pastime at Chavez Ravine, there couldn't have been a better Major League manager than Tommy Lasorda. Since taking the reins from Walter Alston in 1976, there was no statement that Tommy could've made better than: "I bleed Dodger Blue!"

The "Ambassador of Baseball" guided his "Blue Crew" to eight division tiles, four National League pennants and two World Series titles during his hall of fame managerial tenure and holds the distinction of one of, if not the longest tenure as a manager of one major league team, leading him to a much deserved spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

With all that enthusiazim and excitement that Lasorda brought to the Dodger team and organization as a whole, I know for a fact that he will go down in the history books as one of the best in his postion. He treated his players--well, let's say he loved them like his own sons. The whole Dodger organization has been his second family for more than 60 years.

It was so pleasing for me to see Mr. Lasorda, as I often feel I should call him, up close again at the Dodgers Spring Training facility, Camelback Ranch Stadium, in Glendale Arizona this year. He looks as good as ever, even in his advancing age.

That was a repeat in history of sorts as the Dodger's current manager, Joe Torre, was the manager of the Atlanta Braves back in the 1980's timeframe, when I was living and working in that city, which at the time the Braves were geographically nonsensably one of the Dodgers division rivals in the NL West. Did I hear someone say that Joe Torre is also an actor and comedian in Los Angeles? No, that's Joe "Torry," notice the difference in the spelling of the last name.

It's been quite a while since I last saw the whole Dodger team up close and in person. I don't know what it is about those home white uniforms, but they've always looked whiter than most whites. Snow white, bleached white, whatever you want to call the "Dodger Home Whites," they're like no other and some players have a way of looking so distinctive while wearing them.

Some of Tommy Lasorda's former players have gone on to big league managerial careers themselves. Two of them, in the names of Dusty Baker and Mike Sciocia even went head to head with each other in the 2002 World Series, with Sciocia's Angels winning over Dusty and the Giant's.

Now that the Dodgers an Angels both represent "Los Angeles" and wear the rival colors (red and blue) it's time to start thinking of the possibility of a "Freeway" World Series. As is the case with the Chicago Cubs winning the Fall Classic, I hope the Freeway Series will take place sometime in my lifetime, and Tommy Lasordas too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The "J-Hey" Kid

This is the 20-year-old Atlanta Braves rookie phenom outfeilder Jason Heyward. I first saw him while photographing the 2009 Arizona Fall League baseball games and was not familiar with him at the time.

It turned out that Jason, who grew up in nearby McDonough, Georgia, was only a few short years into his pro baseball career but had moved quickly through the Braves minor league system, even moving up three levels, from Single-A ball to Triple-A ball during the 2009 baseball season.

Jason was named the 2009 Minor League Player of the Year by both Baseball America and USA Today,topping that off with a good showing during 2010 Spring Training. Jason put the icing on that cake by hitting a 476 foot home run on Opening Day, in his first Major League at bat, which came in front of the home crowd at Turner Field in Atlanta on April 5, 2010.

He launched that ball, pitched to him by Carlos Zambrano of the visiting Chicago Cubs, into the Braves bullpen in right centerfield. The good thing about that is that his teammates got the ball for him to put in his trophy case, instead of him having to try to bribe a fan out of giving him the ball for--well, who knows what.

Jason is now carrying the heavy weight of the pressure of expectation on his back, but he's a big, strong guy, who can handle it well. Perhaps he has what it takes to be a great player and community role model for the Atlanta Braves, just like Dale Murphy was many years before him.

As a former resident of the Atlanta metro area, back in the days when the Atlanta Braves were not quite the team they were in more recent time, my hat is off to Jason Heyward with hopes he has a long and accomplished Major League career. Perhap I'll see him enshrined in the Hall of Fame someday as well.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Kid.

I had plenty of great experiences photographing Major League Baseball's Cactus League Spring Training season, but there was nothing better than the opportunity to watch and photograph Seattle Mariner DH and future hall of famer Ken Griffey Jr.

"Junior," at 40, appears to be on the home strech of his playing career, and he is going to complete it in the same city he started it in, my birth city, Seattle Washington. I was also pleased to have had the opportunity to watch his father, Ken Sr. play while I was growing up, but the younger Griffey has been a player like no other. With the exception of Reggie (Mr. October) Jackson, I've never seen such a smooth left-handed swing in the game from a player in my lifetime.

On March 27, 2010 at the Peoria Sports Complex I watched in amazement through the lens of my camera as Junior launched a grand slam home run in an exhibition game against his and his fathers former team, the Cincinnati Reds, to win the game for his Seattle Mariners.

That may have been the last time I see him up close in person during his playing career, but I look forward to see him eventually being inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, perhaps as a member of the Class of 2016, which will be his first year of eligibility if he hangs it up after this season. Preferably wearing a Seattle Mariners cap.

Monday, April 5, 2010

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Back to school.

I had an interesting time on a short trip to my hometown of Los Angeles last month, as it included a stop at Palisades High School, where I graduated from in 1980. Wow! That was 30 years ago.

The purpose of going there was to pay a visit to my photography teacher and school yearbook advisor, Mr. Robert Doucette.

Rob is now the only remaining faculty member at Palisades High that I had as a teacher who is still working there.

I was totally awestruck when I saw the big differences in his classroom as it is now loaded with today's high tech image producing devices, to include I-Mac (Apple) computers for the production of the school yearbook.

Film production is still part of the cirriculum of the photo students but, well, who knows how much longer. I did not even ask Rob about that as I'm sure he does not have the answer either.

Rob is going to retire after this school year, but he will stay onboard as a part time teacher and advisor to the new photography intructor, Mr. Richard Stiel, whom I had the pleasure of meeting that day as well.

I recall the yearbook production in 1980 as an interesting but very difficult task and it taught me a lot as far as things like meeting deadlines are concerned in the aspect of publication production. Unbelivable as well that Mr. Steve Eddy and the Taylor Publishing Company are still working with my old school.

The thing I do most often is continue to ponder my thoughts on the "now vs. then" aspect of putting together that yearbook. I think the "Surf" production staff, now all female, is working on the 2010 (and beyond) yearbooks with the tech tools that I, like most of us, just couldn't see coming back when I was doing their job. My hat will always be off to Rob and his student yearbook production crew.