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Week of 17 January 2003· Vol. VI, No. 17

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A lizard on the base path
Alum’s photos capture the joy of baseball’s spring training in new book

By Brian Fitzgerald

Spring training. Do yourself a favor: put that baseball image out of your mind. The Patriots’ season may be over, but it’s still the middle of winter -- too early to think about palm trees and fungoes. After all, the first Red Sox exhibition game in Fort Myers, Fla., is more than a month away. No sense in getting spring fever when there’s snow on the ground.


However, if you simply can’t wait for the day when you can walk from the GSU to a game at Fenway Park, Spring Training: Baseball’s Early Season (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), by Stan Grossfeld (COM’80) and Dan Shaughnessy, may be just what you need to tide you over until opening day.
Gaze at the shadow of a palm tree on a baseball field, where players are lazily stretching, on the book’s cover, and the drone of a snowblower outside your house might just be interrupted by the crack of a baseball bat. Grossfeld’s picture of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Tucson Electric Park could spark such a welcome auditory hallucination.

“After 10 straight days of snow, I pick up the book and I want to dive into one of the pictures,” says Grossfeld. “I can smell the suntan lotion.”

Grossfeld, a Boston Globe associate editor, writer, and photographer, has won two Pulitzer prizes, in 1984 and 1985, for his work in Ethiopia, at the U.S.-Mexico border, and in Lebanon. He is well-known for his stark black-and-white photography of such gut-wrenching images as homeless children living in the tombs of Cairo and the sewers of Mexico City.


Yet his art has another side -- a relaxed, full-color view of our national pastime. When he and Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy first teamed up on a baseball book, the result was Fenway: a Biography in Words and Pictures (Houghton Mifflin, 1999), a commercial and critical success. Spring Training is also getting some notice, garnering an average customer review of five stars (out of five -- batting a thousand) on Amazon.com. Grossfeld’s photos capture “the relaxed feel of the training camps, with pictures of ballplayers stretching, squatting, sunning themselves, gawking at girls, and occasionally playing ball,” writes Publishers Weekly. “Fans will enjoy this glimpse into the brief yearly interlude when baseball really is a game.”

Grossfeld’s winter baseball paradise trip last year is certainly a world away from Boston in mid-January. In one photo, a woman in a bikini soaks up the sun on a grassy area behind the outfield in Mesa, Ariz., oblivious to a Cubs game.

In St. Petersburg, Fla., fans sitting on blankets watch a Devil Rays game from a berm next to a marina. “Everyone, especially the players, is so relaxed,” says Grossfeld. “The vibes are great. I took my wife and kid to a game in Florida the year before, and I saw potential pictures all over the place. I thought that someone should write a book about this. So Dan Shaughnessy and I did.”


Shaughnessy’s prose and Grossfeld’s camera certainly convey the feeling that everyone at spring training is more than a bit laid-back. One photo captures gum-chewing Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez blowing a bubble while warming up, and in another, a right fielder, in the blistering heat of Scottsdale, Ariz., stands under the shadow of a palm tree -- during a game. “For a player, if you have a bad day on the field during spring training, so what? It doesn’t count,” says Grossfeld. “Wouldn’t that be great if we all had a bad day at work and it didn’t count? Even Barry Bonds was nice. He was behaving like a regular guy.”

Baseball’s annual six-week stint in Arizona and Florida, where “eager young players overachieve, and when some of the grizzled vets go through the motions,” writes Shaughnessy, is more or less a time of optimism and renewal: the “long hello.” Johnny Pesky still likes to work out at spring training. “I get a little sore now and then,” says the 83-year-old former Red Sox shortstop, “because I still think I’m 25 years old, and I’m not. But that’s what spring training does. It makes you believe you’re young all over again.”


Spring training also gave Grossfeld the chance to become a bit of a nature photographer. Cactus on the field in Tucson. A lizard on the field in Vero Beach, Fla., during a Dodgers game. Exotic birds foraging in the outfield in Fort Myers. “I wanted to get a picture of an alligator -- I heard that one got onto a practice field in Winter Haven,” says Grossfeld ruefully. “But I had no such luck. There was one in a drainage ditch when I was in Fort Myers, but it was submerged under mud. I couldn’t get a good shot.”

He admits that as photo assignments go, Spring Training was more like a working vacation. “It was a scam, actually,” he says with a laugh. “At Vero Beach, every day I was done by three o’clock. Then I’d change into a swimsuit in the car and go in the ocean.”

It’s no wonder that New Yorker writer Roger Angell, who occasionally covers baseball, wrote that spring training “is the greatest excuse in the world to take a trip.” But if you can’t make it this year, Shaughnessy’s and Grossfeld’s book ought to suffice.


17 January 2003
Boston University
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