The Way I See It: One character remembers another

Special to Rice News

One of baseball’s greatest characters, Yogi Berra, died Sept. 22 at age 90. Although he is most associated with the New York Yankees, he spent four seasons — from 1986 to 1989 — as a bench coach for the Houston Astros. University photographer Tommy LaVergne, who has shot countless photos of Rice athletes and sports events over the past 28 years, recounts an early experience trying to get his feet wet as a sports photographer.

In 1987, I managed to talk my way into an Astros game. I had no press credentials, no real equipment and absolutely no clue.

Bench coach Yogi Berra, right, and hitting coach Denis Menke in the Astros dugout on opening day in 1987. Photo by Tommy LaVergne.

It was opening day when, with hair down to my shoulders, I walked into the press entrance.

The Texas economy was down, to say the least. The oil bust was in full swing, and most newspapers were drastically cutting back. I needed some sort of experience and had no way of getting any, so I took a shot.

I didn’t know what to expect or even what to say. There was a table just inside the door with a box full of credentials along with a sign-in sheet that had names on it, but obviously, mine wasn’t among them. When the guy in charge of checking in the media asked me who I was and who I was shooting photos for, I said, “The Baytown Sun!”

I thought at the very least that they might call the Sun newspaper, and I hoped my old friend Leon Brown (the editor then) might vouch for me.

Instead, the media guy picked up the phone and said there was “some dude out here claiming to be from the Baytown Sun to shoot opening day at the Astrodome.”

I tried to tell the guy that there must be a mix-up and that I would just leave, but at that moment a woman popped out of a door and started asking me questions that I couldn’t answer.

She took me into her massive office, the walls of which were filled with dozens of photos dating back to the Colt .45s. I thought I was going to jail!

Yogi Berra

She looked me in the eye and asked, “You’re not really from the Baytown Sun, are you?” I said no, but that I was from Baytown.

She laughed and told me that with one phone call she could have me escorted off the property and never allowed to return. I told her that wasn’t necessary; I was happy to leave on my own.

She reached into her desk drawer, pulled out a press pass and told me that if she heard one word about me being in anyone’s way or being out of line in any way, I would be blackballed from the Astrodome for life.

My game shots were terrible because I didn’t have a lens that would shoot much beyond first base, and I was too frightened to move around for fear of screwing up another photographer’s shot. So I just hung out at the dugout and basically watched Mike Scott pitch and Glen Davis play first base.

I was totally consumed by being around big-league players and listening to the one and only Yogi Berra!

Two months later, I started working for Rice University.

–Tommy LaVergne has served as university photographer since 1987 and is an avid fan of Rice athletics.



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