Photographing any sports during the Covid-19 Pandemic is and will be a unique experience. There were new rules and guidelines to follow and not to mention that they will probably change every day, if not more. For me, photographing Major League Baseball games during Covid-19 was therapeutic and in all honesty, it was such an amazing time given the perpetual doom and gloom of news that was associated with Covid-19.
60 games in 60 days was the mantra. The marathon of a baseball season was now merely a 40 yard dash. Anything could happen and it surely did. There were three tiers in regards to access. Tier 1 were players, coaches and individuals who had daily contact and needed to be within 6 feet of the players. Tier 2, which I was, had to be tested 2-3 times a week and we could be within 6 feet of the players. And everyone else was Tier 3 and they had no contact with players or with anyone in either Tier 1 or 2. Tier 3 people had to be in the higher sections of stadium away from everyone else because they weren’t being tested at all compared to Tier 1 and 2 people.
The only people in the photo wells during the game were a cameraman in each well for TV, the Marlins photographer, Joe Guzy, the Marlins videographer, Vic Martinez, and myself. It was lonely majority of the time in there because it was just me. Last season I shared the photo well with some amazing and talented photographers such as Tom DiPace, Eric Espada, Jasen Vinlove, Michael Reaves, Rhona Wise, Lynne Sladky, Mark Brown and Robby Illanes. This season they were all Tier 3 and the most interaction would be a wave to them in stands. I do remember shooting a Red-Sox Spring Training game in March, right before the Country shut down, with Tom DiPace and we both thought the Coronavirus wasn’t going to get that big to where things got shut down. How wrong we were.
With me and the Marlins photographer being the only photographers on the field, I was able to have more interactions with the coaches and players. If this was a normal season, fans would be clamoring for autographs, yelling for photos during batting practice etc. and the players would have multiple cameras pointed at them at all times, but it was just me. I felt that they players were more relaxed with less people around. Don’t get me wrong, fans make the experience so much better, but in these Covid-19 times, it was a wise choice not to have them in the stands in my opinion.
If this was a normal season, there is no way Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez from the Toronto Blue Jays would be sitting in the photo well with me eating snacks and just hanging out during the game. In between games of a double header, Bryce Harper approached me and said he like my photos and how I used a lot of shadows to make the photos moody. He gave a fist bump and went off to stretch. Do you know how many cameras would be shoved in his face if he was that close to the photo well? It was these and countless other interactions from the players that I will remember the most about shooting baseball during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Since it was just me in the well and basically in the lower level, I had access to places to shoot with no one to block my shot. There a spot right by the dugout steps where there is always a Fox cameraman ready to run onto the field for celebrations, but he wasn’t there this season and I camped out a lot there and got some amazing celebration shots and some great photos of plays at the plate. With me being the only one in the photo well, when it came time for dugout celebrations there wasn’t a scrum to get those. I was able to get every and any shot I wanted without the hassle of trying to get an angle to shoot in without blocking someone else.
I would hang out in the dugout prior to the games talking with one of the ball boys for the visiting team, Jose, and he would give heads up on uniforms, players who just got called up etc. I would chat with Carlos, who was in charge of the replay and other communications equipment, about how safe we felt working because we know the people we interacted with daily were tested so often.
Working with a mask on, honestly, wasn’t that bad. I wore it sometimes 8 or 11 hours a day at the park depending if it was a double header game or not. A few times the masks broke and I was able to get a new one, but the only issue I had was that my viewfinder occasionally fogged up. After the first game or so, I forgot I even had one on. I didn’t experience any difficulty breathing with it on for that duration of time.
I felt safe going to Marlins Park to work. Everything was sanitized and sterilized daily. Prior to the game, workers came in with these foggers and would just spray down the entire dugout. In between innings Jose would wipe down and disinfect the handrails along the dugout. Being Tier 2, we had a separate entrance from other people to minimize contact. I could only go certain places where the Tier 3’s couldn’t go. Weight rooms were now in the corridors of the stadium. Locker rooms were spread out and every seat, table, you name it was perfectly spaced out. Hand sanitizers were every where. I felt the Marlins and MLB did an amazing job in that aspect of keeping us safe.
The only time I freaked out was in the last game of the Mets series and two people from the Mets tested positive. One I didn’t know who tested positive and two, I was by the dugout and the players the entire series. I saw the GM walk out to a coach during warmups and I saw the coach’s head just drop. Then Jacob deGrom walks past me on the phone and says that someone has to get tested again to make sure it’s true. By then I knew something was up and coach walked up to the grounds crew and thanked them and said, “See you next season.” Shortly after all the players emerged from the clubhouse, they sat away from each other, all with these grim looking faces. I can’t even imagine what was racing through their minds.
I know it’s hard to enjoy life as much with the Covid-19 Pandemic still raging on, but for those few hours I was at the stadium I forgot about everything else and just enjoyed myself. I’m always grateful for any opportunity to shoot sports, but this year it took on a whole new meaning. It was my therapy and my sense of calm in a chaotic time in history.
I’m not sure what protocols will still be in place for next season, but I think that this season proved that you can do more with less. I hope we get a strangle hold on this virus and that we’re able to have fans in the stands again. Pumped in crowd noise, while effective, isn’t the same as real fans.
That was my experience photographing MLB baseball during Covid-19. Have any questions, feel free to leave them below. Until then, wear your mask!