Got the Belli shot! Times photographer and Padres fan Robert Gauthier on getting The Catch
The first rule of journalism: Reporting should be accurate and unbiased.
I live by that rule. My career as a Times photographer depends on it.
But, geez, it’s so hard to ignore something so engrained in my soul.
Covering the 2020 National League Division Series between the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres in Arlington, Texas, shoves me right to the edge of objectivity.
Wednesday night, as the Dodgers were predictably on their way to a Game 2 win over the Padres, Fernando Tatis Jr. came to the plate with two out and a runner on second, down by a run. A big moment for the inning, game and series.
I am absolutely focused on capturing the moment. If he strikes out, how will the pitcher react? Which infielder would dive to stop a ground ball? There’s a lot to be prepared for in such moments. No time for distractions.
Full disclosure — I’m a lifelong Padres fan.
My father, who worked at McDonald’s, had mini season tickets thanks to his connection to Ray Kroc. He would pick me up after Little League and we’d settle into our field-level seats behind first base at San Diego Stadium. As a young boy, I was in the Dave Winfield fan club. I was there opening night in 1974 when Kroc took over the public address system and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I suffer with you. . . . This is the most stupid baseball playing I’ve ever seen.” Then a streaker ran from third to first. How could I not be a fan?
Tatis works the count and finally connects with a Brusdar Graterol pitch. I quickly look to see which outfielder is tracking the ball. It’s Cody Bellinger in center field. My mind is clear: “Stay focused on him.”
Oct. 6, 1984. I was a year into my first job. Photographer-reporter for the Bernardo News, a San Diego county weekly. I’m sitting next to a Sports Illustrated photographer on the field as the Padres face elimination in the League Championship Series to the Cubs. Former Dodgers MVP Steve Garvey cracks a game-winning homer, keeping the Padres alive for their first trip to the World Series.
That moment I learned the difference between WATCHING the game and COVERING the game. I didn’t cheer, but I didn’t shoot my camera either. I watched the ball sail over the right-field fence. By then, it was too late to capture the key moment. Lesson learned.
Bellinger is tracking the ball while running toward the wall. It looks like he thinks he has a chance to catch the ball. In a split second he leaps, catches the ball and raises his finger while coming down. He celebrates big, and I just continue to shoot until he’s back in the dugout.
My best friend from high school, Mike Bagg, and I would often go to games together. Thirty years later, we are sitting behind the Padres dugout at Petco Park. We haven’t seen each other more than a few times a year, but we would always go to a handful of games each year. In March of 2018 we sat two rows from the field. A typical beautiful San Diego afternoon. We raised our beers to our dads, who both loved the Padres. It was the last day we would spend together as he would lose his battle with cancer weeks later. I haven’t been back to Petco since.
Dustin May gets the nod over Tony Gonsolin and Julio Urías as the Dodgers starter in Game 3 of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres.
I wonder what my dad and Mike would’ve said about Bellinger’s catch?
I’m 25 years into my career with The Times and 46 years a fan of the Padres.
The Bellinger catch certainly joins other notorious moments in Padres history. It wasn’t until the morning after that I started my fan’s lament. It will be forgotten tonight as I train my camera on Game 3.
It’s been a thrill to photograph Clayton Kershaw and all the Dodgers in their many postseason runs. It looks like they’re on another one. I’m grateful to be capturing these historical sports moments.
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