Sports Photographer. Grassroots Baseball Founder. Heavy Hitter.
Jean Fruth’s trajectory as one of baseball’s preeminent photographers has taken her on a round-the-horn tour of the sport’s most indelible landmarks. Growing up in New York City, Jean’s earliest memories are of her Grandfather listening to his beloved New York Mets on a tiny transistor radio. In school, Jean fell in love with the alchemy of photography. When she moved west as a young adult she immersed herself in the business, becoming a portrait photographer in the wine country of California. When life got busy and she found herself spending hours at the field of her son’s Little League games, she started shooting the action, eventually submitting images to the local paper. That’s when the local editor spotted her keen eye for sports photography and invited her to submit more. Jean tried her hand at different sports but found that nothing compared to the art and poetry of baseball—to outsider’s: a slow-moving sport, to the aficionado: an orchestra of strategy, timing, and sheer athleticism.
Jean would eventually meet legendary San Francisco sports photographer Michael Zagaris “Z,” as he’s known in the sports world. Z took Jean under his wing and invited her to shoot alongside him at the Oakland Coliseum—the only major ballpark without a railing in front of its dugout. Jean began producing front page-worthy shots, then the real magic happened when Jean stepped away from the pack and began shooting from novel perspectives, including the cheapest seat in the house, the upper deck of the outfield. These images captured the attention of the MLB and the NFL, and would guide the next decade of Jean’s career, which she spent covering the San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, and San Francisco 49ers. In between seasons, when most sports photographers take a break from the longest season in sports, Jean found herself chasing it, covering the Caribbean League in Winter months, then traveling with La Vida Baseball, a digital media company, that tells the story of Latino baseball across the United States and Latin America. In 2014, Fruth was invited to give a presentation of her grassroots baseball images at the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, where she grew even more convinced of the unique ability of baseball to reflect the culture of where it’s played. Eventually, she approached the Baseball Hall of Fame and proposed that they hire her as their traveling photographer, to add a contemporary voice to the museum's marketing and connect it with the sport’s rich history, to attract a younger audience through social media. The original concept for the position grew organically and Jean’s work became a cornerstone of the organization’s marketing efforts and its permanent archive, which she helped assemble.
Through her journey, Jean has recognized the transformative power of baseball to help young people develop strength, skills, friendships, and to learn and practice the concept of teamwork. As a result, together with her partner, former Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, she formed a non-profit organization called Grassroots Baseball, to promote and celebrate the amateur game around the globe, with a focus on encouraging interest and participation at the youngest levels. She is documenting their journey in a series of books, starting with Grassroots Baseball: Where Legends Begin (Simon & Schuster, 2019) with an introduction by Cal Ripken, Jr., and an afterword by Johnny Bench.
About Jeff Idelson
Jeff Idelson spent 33 years in baseball before retiring as President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in August of 2019. In his role as president, Jeff oversaw the daily operation of the non-profit educational institution that employed 90 full-time staff members and welcomed some 300,000 visitors annually. A sport management veteran, before coming to Cooperstown, Jeff served as director of media relations and publicity for the New York Yankees from 1989-1993, and before that he served as assistant vice president and senior press officer for World Cup USA 1994, the organizing committee that staged the 1994 World Cup in America. Today Jeff’s focus is on growing Grassroots Baseball, the non-profit organization he co-founded with acclaimed sports photographer Jean Fruth in 2019.
Grassroots baseball is where it all begins. It’s the excitement of getting your first glove, the pride you feel from pulling on your team’s jersey and cap, meeting your teammates and experiencing the sense of being a part of something bigger than yourself. For this thrilling look at both grassroots and major league baseball around the world, Jean Fruth teams up with Jeff Idelson to share behind-the-scenes stories and exhilarating images of action on and off the field, from the youngest players, to the Hall of Famers. (presented by Jean & Jeff, or Jean solo)
Sports Photography 101: From Grassroots to the Pros
What goes into making an iconic picture? Whether you are shooting the World Series or a Little League game, the goal remains the same: to make startling, unforgettable images, full of energy and light. Sony Artisan and leading MLB photographer—one of only a handful of women to break through—Jean will share her insights on what constitutes a great picture and how to shoot one. (presented by Jean)
Photos: courtesy Jean Fruth