This ‘N That


Casey Kotchman’s banner at The Epicenter.

With nothing else in particular going on …

I’m trying to finish processing the last of the 2007 photos. I’m working on the final Quakes game right now, September 1 against Modesto. Hopefully they’ll be done tonight.

If you’re not a serious photographer, you probably wouldn’t know how hard it is to get decent photos during a night game in a minor league ballpark. Ever since I started doing this gig in 1998, I’ve struggled with technology and resources to figure out a way to shoot acceptable photos in dismal conditions. A basic rule of thumb in photography: light is everything. Whether you’re using film or a digital camera, the principle is the same — the camera is capturing light. The more light, the higher quality the image.

If baseball wasn’t action photography, it would be much easier, because you can just tell your camera to leave its aperture open for a long time. But baseball is all about action. It’s kinda like combat photography — you don’t know what to expect, but you can make an educated guess. And you have no control over the conditions.

Shooting in major league parks like Angel Stadium is easy, because the lighting is excellent. But the lower you go in the minor leagues, the more modest the ballparks and therefore the more inferior lighting.

During the September 1 game, I was experimenting, seeing what I could get away with. Back in the film days (pre-July 2002), it was very frustrating because I never knew what to expect until the film was developed. Experimentation equalled money. But with digital, I can experiment all I want. Worst case scenario, I just delete the JPEG files.

I tried opening the aperture longer, but when you do that you get more of a "smear" effect as the player moves. Even if he’s relatively stationary, any movement can lessen the resolution of the image. Digital images also start to suffer from pixelation, which can look like rain or streaks or just bizarre color grainy effects.

One day, I’m sure, camera technology will evolve to the point where images in low light conditions won’t be a concern. But that day ain’t today.


Greg Dini in the bullpen before the Quakes’ September 1 game.

As the year passed, I found myself experimenting more with cropping photos in Adobe PhotoShop to come up with some interesting images. I’ve always had a thing for photographing catchers. They’re kinda like the knights of old with helmets, chest protectors, shin guards, etc. To me they’re the most visually interesting. The photo to the left of Greg Dini is an example. He was warming up Blake Holler before the game. In many minor league ballparks, the bullpens are down the foul lines so it’s easy to go down there with a camera and shoot some photos.

With two exceptions … I remember in May 2002 I went down the line at Ray Winder Field in Arkansas to shoot photos of Bobby Jenks warming up. Pitching coach Mike Couchee asked me to stop because Bobby said it made him nervous. Mind you, anyone could go stand next to the chain link fence and watch him warm up. But as we know, Bobby is in his own world. Anyway, I honored the request and stopped … The other exception was July 15, 2003, when Randy Johnson made a rehab appearance with Lancaster at Rancho Cucamonga. I went down the line as always and shot photos of him warming up. Johnson didn’t object, but the Lancaster players who were in awe of The Unit were a bit unhappy that I’d crossed an invisible line they weren’t willing to cross. Any other night, they wouldn’t have cared less. But they seemed to think Randy deserved some space.

One rule I learned early on was to respect the game, and after a while you get the knack for what crosses the line. When Jered Weaver was pitching at Rancho Cucamonga, a free-lancer came through there who had no experience with sports photography. He went out on the infield while Weaver was warming up before an inning, crouched in front of him, and started shooting pictures! Jered didn’t seem to notice, but I couldn’t believe this guy. In the minors, photographers can pretty much shoot in foul territory so long as they use common sense. But on the field?! Holy Cow, to quote Harry Carey.


A photo of Tim Mattison pitching on September 1. Note the blur effect (which looks kinda cool) in his leg because the shutter speed was slowed down to capture more light.

If you look at photos shot before World War II, it’s not unusual to actually see photographers crouching in foul territory near home plate to get pictures of a batter’s swing. That was because cameras were primitive compared to today. (You will see this simulated in The Natural.) NO WAY I’d get that close!

I’ve also posted some photos of the banners hung at Rancho Cucamonga’s Epicenter of players with the Angels who once played with the Quakes. Among the players with banners are Casey Kotchman, Dallas McPherson, Mike Napoli, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick. Most of the photos were supplied by FutureAngels.com. If you look up these names in the FutureAngels.com Digital Gallery you’ll see what they look like.

Anyway, after the Rancho game I have the three fall instructional league game photos to process, and I’ll be done with 2007. I’ll post an announcement on the web site home page.

By the way, if you haven’t checked out the main site at www.futureangels.com, I’ve added a new bulletin board application written in PHP, called phpBB. I’m still exploring the features when I have the time, but in the interim I’d like to suggest you check out the new board. I see several people here responding to my blogs who haven’t registered for the bulletin board. Here, you can only post in reply to my blogs, but over there you can start your own topics.

I’ve been trying to find the time to read the Mitchell Report, but other matters have taken priority. Y’know, I’m not sure there’s really anything I can say that hasn’t been said. I’m not particularly shocked or surprised. Ballplayers are bred to be competitive at everything — even with their own bodies. In a lot of these instances, they were either marginal players looking for an edge to keep their jobs, or injured players who thought they could hasten their recoveries by taking HGH. That’s what probably happened with Gary Matthews, Jr. in 2004 — he’d suffered a hip injury and was trying to get healthy for the stretch run.

I’m not convinced this stuff makes much of a difference. The HGH might make you heal better, but from what I’ve read it would take massive doses to give you any more strength. Steroids tend to bulk up your body, and help you tolerate the wear ‘n tear over a 162-game season.

But there’s no magic pill to turn you into a 50-homer hitter or a 20-game winner. At best, it might give you more of what you already have.

I’ve always thought it a bit hypocritical that we get all upset over performance enhancing substances, but no one ever talks about performance degrading substances. How much did Mickey Mantle hurt his team by all the injuries that resulted from drinking and carousing? How many homers could Babe Ruth have hit if he didn’t eat himself into obesity and suffered from siphilis?

Back on the subject of performance-enhancing substances, what about the eight cups of coffee Troy Pervical used to chug-a-lug before a relief appearance so he could get a caffeine high? Caffeine is legal, amphetamines are not, but both are supposedly "performance-enhancing."

Go back to the early 20th Century, and you had players throwing spitballs, sharpening their spikes, openly gambling, and so on.

Cheating has always been a part of the game. Yet somehow, the game has survived. And it will survive this.

Personally, when it comes to stuff like that, I’ve always been a goody two-shoes. I was about the only guy on my dorm hall in the mid-1970s who didn’t smoke pot. It was around. I just didn’t see the point. So I wouldn’t be interested in steroids or HGH, but having been around players for ten years I can see the psychology that leads to its use.

Elsewhere …

Hopefully you’ve listened to the Jack Hiatt interview. Documenting the history of the Angels minor leagues continues to be an interest of mine, although I have limited time. Several related ideas are percolating, but as always it boils down to time and money.

In closing, I’ll note the torment of my colleague John Sickels who’s been flamed for his top prospect reports. I only get flamed for the Angels list. He gets it times thirty. C’mon, people, it’s only an opinion. It’s not life and death.

This article is copyright © 2007 Stephen C. Smith DBA FutureAngels.com. It may not be reprinted elsewhere without the prior expressed written permission of the author. To obtain permission, e-mail Stephen at home@futureangels.com.

4 Comments

Top prospect stuff-

Did you really get a lot of nasty emails and what-not? I mean, I made a comment about it and I disagreed with you on one specific thing, but I was just expressing my own thoughts. Nosibro, while slightly more vociferous, wasn’t really that bad, and we were the only ones who commented here.

It was mostly on other boards who regularly insult me out of jealousy. What’s funny is how some of these sites will smear my reputation or question my parentage, yet they won’t hesitate to copy my work and try to pass it off as their own.

You’ll notice I never talk about other fan sites here. Some of the sites constantly war with each other while proclaiming themselves the #1 site in Angels Nation. Puh-leeze. What is this, junior high where we have to whip it out and measure it?! So the sites that attack me, I just don’t respond.

Jealousy aside, there have been posts and e-mails over the years that got pretty nasty. I remember one stathead who took me to task because I didn’t put Alex Dvorsky on the Top 10 list. Who was Alex? A kid from Cedar Rapids who had a good rookie year with Provo in 2002. Why? Because he was very old for the league.

But clearly I was a dolt because I didn’t see the beauty and wonder of sabermetrics! He had a high OBP in Provo, therefore he was a sure-fire future major league star.

I wonder whatever happened to the guy who sent me that flame letter …

Alex was a really nice guy, and a class act while he was with us. But he wasn’t a big-league prospect.

That’s one point I make over and over in my report, which I think is missing from the stathead stuf like Baseball Prospectus. I look at context. They don’t. Have you seen any other site that pulled out the hitter-friendly ballpark stats for the Salt Lake batters like I did? I haven’t seen one. That’s because I understand the context of what happens in that league. You can’t just look at one number and make a snap decision, any more than you can ignore injuries or tinkering with mechanics or other intangibles.

To his credit, John Sickels has moved further and further away from strident sabermetricism. We talk sporadically, about a lot of things including baseball, but we can have an intelligent conversation because he gets out and actually looks at the players, talks to scouts, schmoozes with coaches, and so forth. He gets it. The more extreme of his brethren don’t.

Maybe people flame you because you come off as being a self-righteous, full of yourself know-it-all. Just going out on a limb there…

If you could only hear some of the things people say about you at the affiliates maybe you’d understand.

Yeah, sabermetrics is numbers. Period. That’s why Billy Bean’s “sxxt don’t work” over the long haul. No context. No thought to mental aspect, minor league park, work ethic, personal issues, and just plain dumb luck. As in Dallas McPherson’s lack of, to give one recent example.

Do they still make Pabst Blue Ribbon and am I dating myself by knowing the name.

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