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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 31, 2008 10:18 PM

M's - Chilling Out on Opening Day

Posted by Rod Mar

Ah, the Opening Day of baseball season.

The green grass, the blue skies, the crack of the bat, the pastoral rhythm of America's pastime.

Whatever. (Sorry, Jim.)

Got ready to go to Opening Day for the Seattle Mariners, which was a 3:40pm start at Safeco Field.

Despite rainouts and postponed games around the country, Seattle's stadium has a retractable roof, so I knew we'd at least stay dry.

Staying warm, however, was a different question entirely.

I wore UnderArmour compression tights and shirt against my body for warmth. Added a lightweight fleece pullover, down jacket, jeans, wool socks, winter hiking boots and a hat and I was ready to go.

Whoops. Forgot handwarmers. Packed them, too.

Driving to the stadium I realized the last time I'd worn all this gear was in Green Bay for the Seahawks playoff game against the a driving snowstorm.

Ah, Spring!

Opening Day is both hard and easy to cover, all at the same time.

It's easy because everything is scripted (okay, except for the outcome). There's red, white and blue bunting hanging everywhere, military flyovers, high school bands and choirs, fireworks, balloons, and even barbershop quartets.

And really, who says you can't find a good barbershop quartet these days?

Opening Day is hard because if you've shot it once, it's really challenging to find unique ways to shoot the same event year after year.

Of course, I'm just whining. The shooters in Kentucky find great photos every year on Derby Day, why can't I do the same on Opening Day?

We had two other shooters staffing the game with me. Both are great photographers, both have lots of experience with baseball.

We should have been fine. But we weren't. We were unprepared and we paid the price.

Now, that's pretty ironic (no, pathetic?) if you take into account that three days ago I'd given a presentation to fellow pros in Illinois about the importance of...being prepared...for each and every game we shoot.

We had the basics down. I would shoot from first base, Jim Bates would shoot from third base, and Steve Ringman would look for feature photos.

But past that, we didn't have a plan and I can take the blame. I didn't know our deadlines, our space needs, whether or not we had a photo page or not. Usually our editors do that, but I can't expect them too. They have lots of details to manage themselves.

I'm the lead sports photographer — I should have known to prepare a backup plan.

One challenge for us is that while most of the pregame ceremony takes place at home plate, the Mariner players enter from right field along a red carpet. It's not new, they've done it for years now.

I went out to try to make a photo of the introductions. I realized we didn't have a written plan so I hastily emailed Jim Bates from my Blackberry to let him know to cover everything at home plate before the game.

Meanwhile, I tried to set up a remote to get a shot of the players entering the field. It didn't work, for myriad reasons. The camera kept firing even when I wasn't triggering it, and I only had a couple of seconds to place it and get out of the way, so the focus was off.

Sure, I'll show you my ill-conceived, ill-timed, out-of-focus remote shot (there goes my credibility as as a photo lecturer, and, by the way, because of deadline pressures, none of these photos have been color-corrected):

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 17mm, ISO 1600, 1/400 sec., f2.8)

The good thing is that I was also shooting from behind, and made this frame, which ended up on our A1:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 25mm, ISO 1600, 1/400th sec, f2.8)

Once the game began, there was only one story line. Okay, maybe two.

The first was the bitter cold that permeated the stadium. I knew it would be a story, so I tried to make a couple of frames that would illustrate that.

Got the requisite cold kid wrapped up in a blanket:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark II, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 23mm, ISO 1000, 1/320th sec, f2.8)

But then managed to improve on that in the later innings when I found this woman holding a handwarmer against her nose to stay warm:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/400th sec.,f2.8)

Baseball-wise, there wasn't much to see. Newly acquired pitcher Erik Bedard made his first start as a Mariner and pitched well, even though he didn't earn the win:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec, f2.8)

Made an interesting frame as Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre fielded a ball with a baserunner in his way:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec, f2.8)

Texas infield Hank Blalock tried to make an acrobatic catch in foul territory but couldn't hang on:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec, f2.8)

And when Bedard left the game, I worked hard but only made these two very mediocre pictures:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 32mm, ISO 1600, 1/250th sec, f2.8)

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 32mm, ISO 1600, 1/250th sec, f2.8)

In the world of baseball photography, I'm not much of a fan of "high-five" photos in the dugout, and also double-play pictures.

I hate high-five photos much worse. At least double-play photos can be acrobatic and athletic. I did move a photo of a double-play when Seattle's Raul Ibanez slid wide enough to disrupt the Texas second baseman, allowing the batter to be safe at first. This allowed the go-ahead run to score for the Mariners.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec, f2.8)

We had trouble transmitting from the stadium using our wireless cards, as did most media outlets. Too many people flooding the Verizon system? Maybe. But not mine to worry about. I was only worried about the best way to get photos back to the office. Also, we didn't have a schedule for which of us was to transmit at which point in the game, so that someone would always be shooting the game while another was editing and transmitting.

It got so bad that the paper ended up using a photo from one of our reporters on the home page. This greatly frustrated me because even though the bandwidth issues were making transmitting a much slower endeavor, that was for large images destined for the paper. Had I known no one had transmitted sucessfully yet, I would have instructed a photographer to size a version down to 6 inches x 72 dpi. This would create a very small file that we could have transmitted easily.

I thought it really embarrassing that we had three photographers at a game but we couldn't do our jobs while a sports reporter did ours for us. Bottom line, however, is that it doesn't matter whose name goes under the photo, and kudos to the reporter. We looked bad having a point-and-shoot photo on our homepage for Opening Day, especially because photographer Steve Ringman had a beautiful photo that we couldn't publish right away.

In time, the Powers That Be in the office had someone drive to the ballpark to pick up compact flash cards, and the editors did a good job working under pressure to get the paper out on deadline.

Solving the wireless problem for the rest of the season will take up some of my time when the Mariners hit the road next week.

There wasn't much in action photos for Opening Day, but that's baseball. I did manage a good enough image for A1. We did an okay job, but had we been more organized, we would have been better.

The sad thing is that Opening Day comes once a year. We had a chance to make it special and I don't think we hit the bar this time.

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