Dodger Blue was out in force Thursday night as the excited crowd lined around the block to get into the community room at South Pas Library. Soft spoken yet self-proclaimed #1 Dodger fan, Vince Saavedra, who was the first in line said, “we got here about two hours ago. We don’t miss a game. We got season tickets as a birthday gift from our parents,” going on to speak about this season, “this team is really unbelievable, probably the best I’ve seen. We travel with the team as well. We were supposed to go to Detroit, but I’d rather invest in going to the World Series.”
Friend Peter Castellanos echoes the sentiment saying, “I think they’re going to do it this year for Vin Scully.” Both are big fans of Jon SooHoo’s work and Saavedra says he takes photos of SooHoo and submits them to him on his birthday. “If you look on his wall (of his office), there’s a photo that I took of him,” said Saavedra proudly.
The library community room was filled to capacity with fans ranging in age from 5 to at least 81. We know that because Mark Langill kept referring to “my 81 year old mother in the second row”. Langill was nothing short of perfection as the moderator of this very special evening. Not only is he the team historian and a diehard, lifelong Dodger fan who knows Dodger facts and figures like other people know family birthdates, but he is a gifted storyteller. He has that rare talent of being able to put the audience right in the room with him, experiencing the moment with him. A great example of that was when he was asked why Dodger archives are held in another state and he responded with a story about going through stacks of Dodger transaction paperwork, “suddenly I see this piece of paper from January of 1957” he said, “and it says ‘Jack Roosevelt Robinson to the New York Giants for pitcher Dick Littlefield and thirty thousand dollars.’ Amongst all this paper, this was the piece of paper that trades Jackie Robinson to the New York Giants. That’s why it needed to be sent off to be able to be preserved and digitized.”
Jon SooHoo is a soft-spoken, humble guy, tall in stature and calm in nature so when he tells a story, people lean in and it can be powerful when he gets excited or emotional. Introducing SooHoo, Langill said, “we all know where we were during those unforgettable Dodger moments and for the past 32 years Jon SooHoo has brought us all the moments, behind the scenes action, all the access to the players and he is the longest tenured sports photographer of the Brooklyn and LA Dodgers.The morning after a game is like Christmas morning because I get to go through all the Jon SooHoo photos.”
SooHoo raised his family in South Pasadena so the evening was very special to him, even getting hearty cheers when asked why he wasn’t traveling with the team that night he replied firmly, “South Pasadena is very important to me!” SooHoo clearly loves his job explaining, “there’s not a better job on the planet than what I do. It’s been a very wild ride being with the Dodgers since 1985. I never take it for granted.” His sister was in the crowd and is credited with starting his career when she fired her wedding photographer during her wedding(!) and pointed to Jon saying, “you’re it!” But his interest began as a youngster going to see USC games at the Coliseum with his parents and saying, “Mom, I want to be down there!” SooHoo shared with the crowd four slideshows; his Dodger career, a tribute to Vin Scully, his other photography and finally this year’s dream team.
SooHoo’s photographs are incredibly dynamic and capture pure emotion. In addition to the heart-stopping Dodger photos, SooHoo’s “other stuff” includes photographing USC, Rose Bowl games, pro football and basketball, Stanley Cup games, a Space Shuttle launch and Vin Scully’s Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House. You could hear a pin drop as he spoke about the Medal of Freedom experience and the awe of being in the White House for that moment, “going anywhere with Vin is tremendous. And then being in that room for that moment with that President was just awesome.” He describes the Space Shuttle launch as the most exciting thing he’s ever shot saying, “that was the most incredible feeling, the rush of everything shaking all around you, just incredible.”
One of the technical questions Langill asked was what SooHoo does about his expensive equipment when champagne is flying everywhere including on his lenses to which SooHoo replied, “I’ve had enough experience now to prepare for those events coming so I actually have an extra camera body, lens and flash covered in plastic. So I’ll be shooting whatever jubilation is going on out on the field and as I head into the clubhouse, I’ll switch over to the ‘wet gear’ before going in.” He added, “it’s a lot of fun but it’s crazy. Champagne burns your eyes and sometimes they aim it at you on purpose!” SooHoo told several funny, interesting and surprisingly emotional stories including the background on a single, solitary shot of Tommy Lasorda sitting all alone on a chair in an office. Turns out it was his last moment in his office before they demolished it for renovations; said SooHoo, “this was where he held court with Frank Sinatra, Don Rickles and all the celebrities that came through there. I get teary thinking about it, it was pretty sad to see it go.”
The most emotional moment of the night came when he showed a video he took of Vin Scully sitting in a recording studio, holding hands with his wife and three daughters as they listened to a surprise retirement gift. The story goes that 30 years ago Scully’s 12 year old daughter received a karaoke machine and she asked him to sing Wind Beneath My Wings. Last year his other daughter, Erin, who works for Warner Bros. records, had them take out the karaoke track and lay a full orchestra underneath his voice. The result was amazing and was played during his big retirement celebration at the stadium. There wasn’t a dry eye then or at the library as we watched it unfold. Thank you for bringing us the moments Jon!