Arcadia Publishing contacted me about a month ago to ask if I'd like to read an advance copy of Andy Strasberg's latest Fantography book and talk to the author. I jumped at the chance, especially since this most recent book was focused solely on San Diego Baseball.
Andy Strasberg worked for the Padres for 22 years from 1975 to 1996. When he started with the team there were only 19 employees in the front office, today there are more than one hundred. He told me his first job with the team was overseeing the Padrettes (pictured in the book with Willie McCovey) which was an early version of the Pad Squad, the team's cheerleaders and ambassadors. Eventually he climbed the ranks to Vice President of Marketing.
Shortly after his departure from the team he started thinking about all the fan photos throughout the years that people must have in their homes. In 1997 he appealed to the public to submit these photos so that he could combine them with photos from his own collection and publish them.
He created the term Fan*tog*ra*phy which he defines as "the art of capturing images of a subject by amateur photographers who are enthusiasts of the subject". None of the pictures show game-play, because chances are those moments were already captured by professional photographers and seen by the public. He wanted never before seen photos from the fan's perspective and that's exactly what he got.
I received the book in the mail about 2 weeks ago and read it straight through for about 4 hours, poring over each of the 300+ pictures. It was a really enjoyable experience learning about the teams prior to my birth and reliving the experience of being a fan in my youth.
I just got off the phone with Andy, I asked him how today's digital photography would affect fan photos and his project. He says it's undetermined but that his publisher who works with digital media says in a lot of ways, ours will be the lost generation. Digital photographs are often thought of as disposable, they're never printed and often lost or deleted. He concedes that with a camera phone in every hand more pictures are being taken at each game than 20 years ago.
Strasberg interweaves his own story into the individual stories of each fan picture. He writes about the time that he invited himself to Jerry Coleman's house for Thanksgiving dinner and how he asked managers if he could suit up and field balls during batting practice. I told him I admired his boldness, that I think I'd be too timid to ask for such things. He laughed and said that he was Ray Kroc's favorite employee and was once told by him that he admired his persistence and his impatience. Strasberg was quick to note though that he realizes that there is a fine line between being persistent and being a pest, and admits that he crossed that line on occasion.
My favorite subject matter in the book is the fan made mascots and unofficial fan bands. The Padres first official mascot was Bluepper in the early 90s. Bluepper was Strasberg's idea. He realized quickly the mascot was a failure when fans started calling him "Down in front" rather than by his real name. The fans hated him, he didn't survive the season. In the mid-90s the Friar took the mascot mantle and still holds it today.
The Friar mascot however isn't new. A fan named Carol Fitzgerald created her own Friar costume in the early 70s complete with a somewhat frightening papier-mâché head and wore it to each game. The team cheerleaders at the time weren't Padres employees either, they were just young, outgoing, exuberant Padres fans who tirelessly rooted for the team. A former Marine pilot, Jim Eakle, brought his own tuba to games and eventually formed a band with a Flute Lady and a Drum Man and by doing so enjoyed free access to San Diego Stadium. I love the do-it-yourself spirit of the fans. It's stories like these that would probably be lost if not for Strasberg's efforts.
Andy Strasberg will be at Randy Jones All-American Sports Grill signing the book on Tuesday 5/27 between 6-8 pm with Randy Jones himself. The event is a fundraiser for our local SABR chapter. I'm looking forward to it and meeting Andy in person.