The preperations began at 5:30 p.m. with SooHoo organizing his camera gear for that night’s 7:05 p.m. game. It almost looked like he was preparing for battle, silently checking batteries, memory cards, lenses, camera bodies and various accessories. SooHoo has had the past few days off after returning from the Taiwan series, and has decided to “ease into it” by bringing two cameras with him for the game, including 300mm and 600mm lenses (he usually brings up to three cameras with him, depending on the night). “This is my locker room, my clubhouse, right here,” SooHoo explains. It’s a camera geek’s dream.
40 minutes prior to game time, SooHoo quickly throws on a team sweatshirt and we prepare to depart the Dodgers’ administrative building. SooHoo immediately puts me to work: I’m responsible for carrying the large pole camera and 600 mm lens. It’s surprisingly heavy. As we leave the building, we pass Clayton Kershaw talking on his cell phone outside the main entrance. “Just keep walking,” SooHoo whispers to me, as he simultaneously turns and snaps a couple of quick shots of the Dodgers pitcher.
SooHoo doesn’t make it far before he stops to chat three separate times with general manager Ned Colletti, clubhouse manager Mitch Poole and San Diego Padres’ third base coach (and former manager and third base coach for the Dodgers) Glenn Hoffman. One thing becomes abundantly clear: everyone, and I mean everyone, knows and respects Jon SooHoo.
As we make our way through the tunnel and on to the field, we see the sun setting behind home plate. Jon instinctively knows that this is the perfect light for capturing the players as they walk through the tunnel and on to the field. He crouches and waits, capturing each individual as they silently think about the upcoming game.
Its then on to shoot pre-game warm-ups, reunions between players and coaches, as well as impromptu autograph sessions with fans in the stands. Pre-game festivities, including the national anthem and first pitch, are next. Fans are yelling at SooHoo, trying to get his attention to say hello. He answers all with a friendly wave, a smile and maybe a quick chat. I’m beginning to think he’s as well known as some of the players on the field.
Once the game begins, we entrench ourselves in the photo well along the third base line. It’s just the two of us, along with one other photographer. It’s a dusty and barren spot, but what the photo well lacks in amenities (like places to sit for trusty assistants/bloggers), it makes up for in natural ambiance (photojournalist tip #1: always bring your own folding chair with you). The buzz from the crowd is not as loud down here and you can hear on-field conversations as clear as day, giving the feeling that you’re part of the action on the field. “It’s better than the press box,” said SooHoo. “You see things, you hear things.” I couldn’t agree more.
Once the game starts, SooHoo is quickly shooting nearly every play as it happens, instinctively reacting as the ball is hit, constantly swiveling and focusing his shot on the eventual end of each play. Between innings, players are chatting, laughing and motivating each other in the dugout. SooHoo shoots a little bit of all or it, switching cameras very quickly depending on the shot he’s going for (photojournalist tip #2: bring multiple camera bases…attempting to switch lenses during the game is for rookies!).
As Matt Kemp comes up to bat in the first inning, SooHoo reminds me to always stay aware for foul balls. “Once [Kemp] got me twice in the same inning. The first time he missed me, the second time he nailed me.” When I stated that it must be hard to tell when a foul ball is coming at you when you’re looking through a camera, SooHoo dryly noted, “You know you’re in trouble when [the batter] makes eye contact with you” (photojournalist tip #3: work on quickening my reflexes during the offseason).
In the top of the third inning, SooHoo notes that he’s observed the umpires complaining about a bright light on the Camelback Ranch concourse between home plate and first base. He’s already contacted the Dodgers’ maintenance team to have them check on the problem.
SooHoo shares that at Dodger Stadium the photo wells are usually packed on game days with photographers, camera gear and laptop computers, leaving little room to escape fast-moving foul balls. “It’s a whole ‘nother world down here. People get picked off like targets,” he explained. After a few close calls, SooHoo worked with the Dodgers maintenance crew to put up protective nets across the front of the photo wells. “I think I saved a couple lives,” he says with a smile.
In the middle of the fourth inning, Manny Ramirez jogs past our photo well on his way to the dugout. He catches SooHoo’s attention by pointing at him, giving him a quick nod of the head and saying, “Hey.” Even Manny likes SooHoo.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, we’re on the move. We leave the photo well and make our way up through the stands to the concourse level and around to the first base side. At least six times fans reach out to SooHoo with greetings, questions or just to say hi. This brings the total number of unsolicited greetings to more than a dozen, according to my unofficial count. When I note that he seems to know everyone, SooHoo states, “After 25 years, you pretty much have to. Here you’re with the people…it’s gratifying.”
In the top of the seventh inning, it’s time to eat (I was beginning to think that SooHoo never stopped moving). As the unofficial assistant and gopher for the night, SooHoo sends me to Island Noodles to pick up dinner of chicken and noodles. It’s the only place he eats at Camelback Ranch these days. We park ourselves along an exterior fence, out of the way of the crowds and enjoy our quick dinner break. SooHoo’s right – the noodles are delicious and a welcome change for my palate after numerous Dodger Dogs and various sausages over the past few days (photojournalist tip #4: don’t drink any fluids, as bathroom breaks don’t happen).
After we return to the game and the final innings wind down, SooHoo patiently answers a steady stream of questions from fans while occasionally posing for photos while never keeping his eye off the game. With his 600mm lens, he can (and does) capture an outfielder catching a fly ball against the left field wall (over 450 feet away) in just a split second. This puts my beloved 300mm image-stabalizing zoom lens to shame. I have lens envy.
After the game concludes and the crowd heads home, Jon SooHoo’s day is not over. It’s back to the office to select and edit the images for that night’s photo gallery, documenting yet another day of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball.
Postscript: I’ve volunteered my services as a camera assistant and gopher to Jon SooHoo for all future Dodgers games.
Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers 2010, Chris Volk/dodgerfan.net (we think it’s pretty obvious who shot what!)