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On My Personal Field of Dreams with Tommy Lasorda and the L.A. Dodgers

Chapter 8: On My Personal Field of Dreams with Tommy Lasorda

Growing up, like a lot of other young boys, I dreamed of someday becoming a professional baseball player. Today I was going to take photos of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and was so excited to meet my heroes! To make it sweeter, I was going to be on a baseball field as a certified Press Photographer for the first time! I flew with Bruce and my dad to L.A. Not long after we landed, we arrived at the stadium to pick up our press credentials and meet legendary Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda.

I had met Tommy before, and I met him again a year ago at the wedding of a family friend, Nelson Braff. Nelson described me to Tommy as a young photographer interested in photojournalism, especially shooting sporting events.

Tommy smiled and said that, if I was ever in the L.A. area, I should give him a call and he would set me up to shoot the Dodgers and would even get me credentials to be on the field. A year later I took him up on that generous offer!

My dad was planning a business trip to L.A. and asked me if I would like to go with Bruce to photograph the L.A. area. I remembered Lasorda’s open invitation to take pictures of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That weekend the Dodgers were playing the New York Mets. Almost ten years before, I had stood on the field in New York with Tommy, my dad, and my brother when the Dodgers were in town. Little did I know that ten years later I would be on the field at Dodger Stadium as a photojournalist with Tommy Lasorda, shooting his beloved L.A. Dodgers! Wow!

On Friday, the 12th of August, Bruce, my dad, and I traveled down the 405 Freeway to Dodger Stadium. The smog and traffic were getting heavy by the time we finally got to San Vicente Boulevard. Sunset Boulevard was the alternative to the freeway, so we got off at the San Vicente exit. In just a mile we would run right into Sunset Boulevard. I was ecstatic to see the famous Sunset Strip, where many of my favorite bands got their start at clubs like the Roxy, Key Club, the Whiskey a Go-Go, and The Comedy Store, all of which we passed as we sped along.

When we finally arrived at the stadium, my dad called Tommy Lasorda on his cell phone. He told Dad that his assistant, Colin Gunderson, would meet us at the Press Gate with our press credentials. Colin was a really nice young guy around twenty-five years old. As he gave us our credentials, he told us that he had worked for Mr. Lasorda for the last six years and that there was no better boss. I always knew that Tommy was a great mentor, manager, and leader who had led the Dodgers to two world championships and eight division titles. Now I knew what a great guy he was to people who worked for him.

Colin led us to the Dodgers’ private dining room, where Tommy was eating dinner with some of his friends from New York, who had also come to L.A. to see the game. I greeted Tommy with a firm handshake and introduced him to Bruce. Bruce took a picture of Tommy and me. We planned to meet again after the game. Then Colin brought us down to the press area. From there we would be allowed to get onto the field.

On the field, a few of the Mets players were at batting practice. The Dodgers had had their batting and fielding practice much earlier. Before I knew it, Bruce and I were on the field. Colin introduced us to Jon Soohoo, the official photographer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as the official photographer for the California Speedway, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and the Sports Arena for fifteen years. I asked Jon a few questions about how far I was allowed to go to take pictures, how long I was allowed to be on the field, and if I was allowed to get any autographs while I was there.

With my square press credentials around my neck, I was allowed anywhere on the field. I felt like a real pro. Seeing my favorite ballplayers up close, including Mike Piazza and Jose Reyes, was a real treat. Mike Piazza is actually taller than he looks on TV
and a nice guy, contrary to published reports. One of my all-time-favorite Yankee players, Willie Randolph, who by then was manager of the New York Mets, was also very nice and posed for pictures with bench coach Sandy Alomar. Miguel Cairo also posed for a great action shot with him grabbing his helmet and gloves from the dugout.

Most people are not aware of how nice some of the players are to their adoring fans who ask for their autographs. I personally witnessed Dodger superstar shortstop Cesar Izturis sign balls and pictures for the young fans who hovered around the Dodger dugout. It was refreshing to see these baseball millionaires make their young fans’ day. It was apparent that Mr. Izturis didn’t forget where he came from. Geographically, that’s Venezuela, but what I mean is he did not forget his humble roots, and that his fans, as much as his talent, were and are a big part of his continuing popularity. It is so surprising that so many famous people forget that—which sometimes contributes to their downfall.

The game was about to start, and I now had to take my seat, which was located in the Legend Box area, courtesy of Tommy Lasorda. The Legend seats are also known as the “TV seats” because they are located right behind home plate, which is where the cameras are usually positioned. I took a few last photos of the players as they saluted the flag during the National Anthem, and then Bruce and I were off to our seats.

Since the seats were located behind the impressive black net, I thought that it would ruin the shot. Bruce instructed me to use my long lens. Doing that, he explained, throws the net out of focus and gives you a perfect shot of whatever you are shooting in the distance. I am always learning from Bruce!

Before the start of the first pitch, Bruce and I wanted to take advantage of the free food that was only for Legend ticket holders. The food consisted of a huge buffet that included pasta, carved meats and sushi. I grabbed a plate and took whatever looked good. We took our food to our seats and enjoyed it immensely. The game was to start at 7:40 p.m., which is a very late game. Most games start at 7:05, but I overheard someone say that games start thirty minutes later on Fridays. At 8:05 Jeff Weaver, pitcher for the L.A. Dodgers, threw his first pitch to Jose Reyes of the N.Y. Mets. The speedy Jose Reyes threw down a bunt and made it to first base without a problem.

Throughout the game, Bruce and I walked around, searching for celebrities to photograph. George Lopez, the comedian who had a hit show on ABC, was there. Believe it or not, we had better seats than he did. He was located in section 17 in the upper deck. The guard located at section 17 told Bruce and me that we could not go down and take a close shot of Mr. Lopez. I couldn’t believe it; none of the other sections had a guard checking tickets except for this one, where a celebrity was seated. That said to me that celebrities get special privileges.

A little farther down, we noticed Red Buttons, the legendary old-time comedian who became the spokesperson for Century Village in Florida. Century Village is where my grandparents live in the winter. I asked Mr. Buttons to pose for a photo so I could give it to them. He was delighted to have his picture taken. Bruce told me that some celebrities don’t want to have their picture taken and either cover their faces or make an ugly expression to ruin your shot. But others, like Red Buttons, are gracious and pose for you. In any case, we kept looking. We had heard that Nancy Sinatra and Matt Dillon were at the game, but they were nowhere to be found.

When we got back to our seats, the Dodgers and Mets were tied 3-3 in the fifth inning. It was a chilly night in L.A., and the wind
was howling. Baseballs that would usually be a home run blew into the highest “nosebleed” sections of the stadium.

During the seventh inning stretch, Bruce and I went to the press area on the field level, near the third base line. There were only two photographers in the box: one from the Los Angeles Times and the other from a tabloid, the Star. The view from the press box was awesome. It seems like you are in the dugout because you are on the ground right there, and the players are two feet in front of you. While I was there, I took a few pictures of L.A. Dodger submarine pitcher Jeff Weaver. Before the game, Weaver didn’t want me to take his picture, and every time I put my lens up, he put his face down. But I managed to get a nice picture of him from the press box. Then I put on my long lens and took photos of the batters in action, with the umpire and catcher in the picture—real baseball action shots!!

One thing Bruce taught me about shooting this type of picture is that you have to be careful to watch where the baseball goes when the batter makes contact—and not just for the composition, but for your own safety! I actually did get hit by a baseball, but fortunately it wasn’t a fast ball. One of the lessons I learned from this day was to always be alert and aware of my surroundings. When Willie Randolph came on the field to retrieve the baseball from starting pitcher Victor Zambrano, the crowd got rowdy. Zambrano pitched for a lengthy seven and two-thirds innings.

The score was now 4-3, as major league All-Star Jeff Kent of the Dodgers hit a home run off Zambrano in the seventh inning. During the seventh inning stretch, Bruce and I decided to take an aerial view of the stadium. We went up to the upper deck and took pictures looking down at the field and also captured the view from outside the stadium, with all those tropical palm trees swaying in the cool night air, which made for a great shot.

On the way back, we looked for some more celebrities, without success. When we reached our seats, the game was tied 6-6. The crowd was getting antsy as the clock hit midnight. I started to yawn. I had been up now for almost twenty-four hours since coming in from New York that morning. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to leave because the game was too close. The game actually did go into extra innings. Then to my surprise, during the bottom of the tenth inning— BAM!!!—Dioner Navarro, a former Yankee, hit his first career home run for the L.A. Dodgers. The crowd went crazy. All the players from the Dodgers’ dugout came sprinting out onto the field waiting for Navarro to touch home plate. The whole team came out and started jumping up and down in a little victory dance.

Now that the game was over, Colin came to get us. Tommy wanted to say good-bye. We went up to his private box, and I told Tommy about Bruce’s and my mentoring relationship. Tommy told me that he goes to schools around the world talking to kids about how to set goals in life and make their parents proud. He told me he loves mentoring kids and helping them create a solid foundation for their lives. One lesson that I learned from Tommy was to have a dream, always believe in yourself—and never give up. As he said, “If I can do it, so can anyone!”

This is a chapter from the book: Apprentice! Lessons Learned on the Frontlines of Life by Richard Liebowitz. A nationally recognized copyright attorney Richard Liebowitz fights for the rights of photographers around the world. Learn more about his firm at https://www.LiebowitzLawFirm.com and how their copyright lawyers may be able to help you.