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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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March 13, 2008 11:16 PM

More from Peoria

Posted by Rod Mar

It's always such a dramatic change from football season to basketball season to baseball season.

Football games are always such extraordinary events, filled with speed, power, violence and a crowd thirsty for the kill. That segues into basketball season, which brings me back indoors. The crowd are raucous but in an entirely different way. The game is still fast and powerful, but less violent and more graceful.

Winter gives way to spring and baseball season reappears. The pace is so much slower than the other sports. It's really more like golf than basketball or football. I find as a photographer that I really have to slow my mind down to the pace of the game in order to really "get into it" the way I feel I need to be successful.

Arriving at spring training can feel like taking a car going 65 mph on the highway and suddenly exiting to a side road and driving at 25 mph instead.

The Mariners share a spring training stadium in Peoria, Arizona with the San Diego Padres. Each team has a separate practice facility with multiple fields on either side of the stadium.

Buildings are designed in the style of the southwest, so there's no mistaking when you pull up to the team's headquarters.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 320, 1/250th sec.,f16)

I arrive early and head to the small media workroom to find our writers and talk about upcoming stories. The workroom is bland, but the writers don't spend most of their time there. They are usually at the fields, or, once games begin, working from the press box in the stadium.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 1000, 1/160th sec.,f4.5)

Games usually start at 1pm, but the teams have workouts every morning that begin with stretching and long tossing before 9:00am. This is followed by fielding drills and batting practice, before the players get a brief lunch break before heading to the stadium for that day's game.

Each morning finds me cruising the major league practice fields, where I'm usually shooting file photos of players for upcoming stories, or, our season preview sections. There's always and handful of promising young players in the minor league camp, so I head over there as well to do some shooting.

Today, groups of minor leaguers were rotating into a sliding drill. It's obviously photogenic, and it was very accessible. I thought about shooting long with a telephoto lens to focus in on their faces as they slid (lots of smiles), but then decided to get closer with a wide-angle lens.

My thought-process was this — I will shoot thousands upon thousands of baseball photos with a 400mm lens this year, many of them sliding pictures. I will shoot NONE with a wide angle lens. As it has been a fantasy of mine to put a remote camera with a wide-angle lens next to second base for steals and double-plays, I'm pretty sure Bud Selig wouldn't go for it.

(And yes, I need to work on my fantasies...)

So, took a wide-angle lens, and after clearing it with the coach who was leading the drill, I was able to put my camera on the ground and take some worm's-eye views of players sliding. The backgrounds are pretty sucky, but it's truly a different look at a player sliding, wouldn't you agree?

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 35mm, ISO 200, 1/1600th sec., f9.0)

After taking some risks with the camera on the ground, I went to make a "safe" picture and shot it from above:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 29mm, ISO 200, 1/1600th sec., f2.8)

(Yes, those exposures are vastly different, and especially in the first frame, underexposed. I was using a 16-35mm lens on my Mark IIN as a "grab shot" camera and was shooting shutter priority and neglected to adjust my exposure compensation. If you understood that, great. If not, you're probably better off.)

Even though those players are in the minors, it's almost more important that I make sure to shoot those players, because they will be spread all over the country playing for Seattle's minor league affiliates. We don't travel to shoot minor leaguers because it's not cost-effective. The big-league players I'll see during the games and can shoot them in action.

If you ever need evidence that the pace of spring training can be, well, glacial, just check out the pitchers during batting practice. Since the Mariners are in the American League and pitchers don't hit, when position players are hitting, pitchers are shagging. Well, they're supposed to be shagging anyway. These two appear to be...nodding off? (It's probably good that the uniforms don't have numbers on the fronts — otherwise I have a feeling these two would be doing some early morning running...

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/4000 sec, f2.8)

By 1pm, I'm standing in one of the two photo wells, trying to shoot game action for the next day's paper as well as running down my list of players to shoot for file and the preview sections. The photo wells are luxurious, featuring leather reclining chairs, flat-screen televisions, chilled soft drinks, and jumbo prawns on ice:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 200, 1/800th sec., f8.0)

Once the game ends, I head back to download cards and transmit photos back to the office. I try to squeeze in a workout before having dinner.

After dinner, it's usually back to the hotel to either edit, transmit, blog, or work on a multimedia project.

I was remarking to an editor today that life was simpler when I just shot pictures. The other tasks take more of my time, but they're good challenges and I need to constantly push to improve my skills.

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