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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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April 30, 2008 5:26 PM

UW Crew: Power to the Purple

Posted by Rod Mar


What the....?

"They LEAVE the dock at 6am. You gotta be there well before", intoned Dan Lepse, sports information director for the UW crew program when he called me to inform me that yes, I could accompany the crew out for one of their morning practices.

Lepse's tone also seemed to say, "I remember you in college, and you never woke up before noon, even if you had a class."

I can't argue with that.

But here's what I learned by spending a morning with the UW men's crews and their coach Michael Callahan.

As the old Army slogan used to say, "They do more by 6am than you'll do all day".

College kids. Gotta love 'em. They drag themselves into the crewhouse only 30 minutes (or less) before they're due to hit the water ("the procession of the walking dead", someone describes it to me) and in no time at all, they're laughing, stretching, running, working out on rowing machines and getting ready for another workout.

Walking down to the water's edge you'll pass a sign that shows some of the destinations the crews have traveled to in previous years:

Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 185mm, ISO 400, 1/1250th sec, f3.2)

The weather was perfect and the dawn provided a great backdrop to the varsity eight putting their shell into the waters of Lake Washington:

Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 16mm, ISO 800, 1/100th sec, f22)

I'm on a launch piloted by men's coach Michael Callahan, and we slowly make our way alongside the crews through the placid Montlake Cut. Callahan reminds me that in only a couple of days, the environment along the cut will be so loud that rowers will not be able to hear instructions from the coxswains during the races.

It seems a far cry from the quiet solitude of the waters and the Montlake Bridge silently looming above us, the occasional car crossing its grates.

We make our way into Lake Union, and the light is beautiful and the Space Needle gives the image a sense of place:

Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 125mm, ISO 320, 1/320th sec, f8.0)

As the crews do some warm up pieces, I mess with exposure and shutter speeds:

Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 zoom lens @ 22mm, ISO 50, 1/4th sec, f22)

The oars coming out of the water are a nice detail:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 300mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 500, 1/640th sec., f7.1)

Callahan arranges races between the different boats, and because of the different ages and skills, he staggers the starting point for the boats. They do two heavily competitive race pieces and the guys are giving it their all:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 300mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/800th sec, f4.0)

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 300mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/800th sec, f3.5)

After they return to the crewhouse, I pack up and leave, fully intending on taking a nap.

The crew, however, they're off to class. Their day has just started.

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April 27, 2008 9:05 PM

Mariners: When it Rains, It Pours.

Posted by Rod Mar

"They" say it's early in the season, and that there's time to right the ship.

"They" also say that the Mariners are hovering around .500, so they're okay for now.

"They" not to panic, that good teams prevail over the course of 162 baseball games, and the Mariners are a good team.

Who the hell are "they", anyway? Are they us, the media? (Well, technically not ME, because I'm not a reporter), but you get my drift.

Who are they (we?) to tell us (us?) how they (them?) will fare?

Sorry, couldn't help myself. I'm speaking to a group of sports editors in the morning, and just so no one gets confused, remind everyone out there that I'm not a writer (one of "them").

As if this elegant wordsmithing could ever be misconstrued as real writing.

Back to the game.

Felix Hernandez pitched seven GREAT innings, dominating Oakland some innings, and extracting himself out of jams in others. He recorded 10 strikeouts before getting into trouble in the eighth. In those middle innings, I realized he was pitching special, and so I shot from behind the plate hoping to show his dominance:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens + EF 1.4x extender = 560mm, ISO 640, 1/800 sec.,f4.0)

Even though Seattle's bats failed them for much of the homestand, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt managed a great smile after his solo home run in the fourth inning gave the Mariners a 2-0 lead

And then, as the song goes, "the weather started getting rough..."

How bad was it at Safeco Field? Well, it started to rain, and the technicians took an unusually long time to close the roof. It was so bad that SOME FANS ACTUALLY GOT WET! In Seattle. In April. I know, right?

I didn't care how hard it rained. The photos are always better with the roof open. More light, and it's baseball, for goodness' sake. Anyway, my long-misplaced journalism gene kicked in and I realized it was actually unusual for Seattle fans to be rained on during a game.

Bring out the umbrellas!

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/800 sec.,f2.8)

Seattle's anemic offense couldn't pick up their pitching once again, and some walks and hard-luck relief pitching left Hernandez at the end of the bench watching his walks become runs in the eighth:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 25mm, ISO 1600, 1/640th sec.,f2.8)

Seattle gave up four runs in the eighth and trailed 4-2. What looked to be a great outing by Felix Hernandez and a victory over a division rival at home turned into a tough loss that was reflected in the faces of both...

...the players...

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 195mm, ISO 800, 1/320th sec., f4.5)

...and the fans.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 125mm, ISO 800, 1/320th sec., f3.5)

Here's today's sports cover:

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April 26, 2008 2:44 AM

Mariners: Note to Self -- Get a Helmet

Posted by Rod Mar

Ichiro almost took my head off with a foul ball tonight.

In the first inning, he sliced a ball foul that made like a heat-seeking missile.

Right. At. Me.

I saw it coming (albeit briefly), and just as the ball got bigger in my sight, I bailed, falling to the floor of the third-base photo well.

I was holding onto my 400mm lens and camera by the monopod, and the ball scored a direct hit on the side of rim of the lens, missing the glass of the front element by only an inch.

My lens now has a dent the exact size of a Major League Baseball.

Probably would have taken my head if I hadn't moved, rendering me a life-sized bobblehead on Ichiro bobblehead night at the ballpark.

Luckily, I happened to be looking at the hitter, since it was Ichiro. Had the Mariners been in the field, I might have been focusing on the pitcher and never seen it coming.

That could have been bad. Or, it could have knocked some sense into me.

Time to get a batting helmet.

P.S. Tom, thanks for calling me on your cell phone from the 300 level to make sure I was that's friendship.

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April 23, 2008 3:15 PM

Mariners: Stealing Signs.

Posted by Rod Mar

Baseball is a game of signs.

The catcher gives signs to the pitcher. One finger for a fastball, two for a curve.

The third-base coach signals the batter and any baserunners. A touch of the belt could mean a bunt. Tip of the cap followed by an arm down the sleeve signal a hit-and-run.

Don't forget the umpires signaling balls, strikes and outs.

When I'm shooting a baseball game, I rely on signs, too.

If my photo editor touches her hat, it means, "get one in focus for once". Two claps followed by a tap on the elbow means, "you're missing deadline". A tap of the nose followed by one to the ear means, "you're being relieved by another photographer warming up in the bullpen".

Seriously, a major league stadium is full of information that helps me do my job.

Unlike the spoiled sportswriters in the press box (who, by the way, have been complaining of the cold because the windows are opened up there during games), photographers have to relatively fend for ourselves. No television monitors, no one to tell us the pitch count and distance when a home run is hit.

I'm kidding about them being spoiled. Obviously they need more of that information than we do to write their stories. And, they'd have to put down their hotdogs and coffee.


Aside from the traditional scoreboard in left field that tallies runs per inning, the score, hits and errors, another valuable source of information is the batting order that is listed on the centerfield big-screen. Armed with a roster in my pocket that notes left-handed and right-handed batters and pitchers, the batting order tells who is coming up to bat.

Say Ichiro is hitting for the cycle in the late innings, and left-hander Arthur Rhodes is on in relief pitching for Seattle. When Seattle's in the field, and Rhodes is on the mound, I'd like to be on the first-base side of the field shooting. This way, I can see Rhodes' full throwing motion and release. If I'm shooting from the third-base side and a lefty is on the mound, it's hard to see his face and the ball at the same time.

However, if left-handed hitting Ichiro is at the plate and I want to get a photo of him hitting the ball, I'll need to be on the third-base side of the field. From the first base side, I only see his back.

The upshot to all of this, is that by knowing who is pitching and what batters are due up, I have a better chance of being in the right spots to make photos. It's obviously an inexact science. If I'm in the first base box shooting right-handed hitters like Beltre and the Mariners rally until Ichiro comes up, I won't have the opportunity to switch sides of the field (only allowed between half-innings).

You can see that there is a mark next to the current batter (or, if they are in the field, the batter leading off the next at-bat).

When hitters are at the plate, there's an infographic on the scoreboard that tells me the player's stats for the year. What I want to know when I look at this board is usually the stolen base numbers. Obviously, this lets me know if the player is a threat to steal (and yes, there other other ways of knowing, like the player's position in the batting order -- speed guys can be found at the top and bottom of the order). If I know a player is a basestealing threat, I also then know that there could be pickoff attempts, like when Seattle's Felix Hernandez went to second base twice in the first inning to keep Baltimore's Brian Roberts close to the bag. Knowing that Roberts is speedy, I was able to be ready when Hernandez spun and threw to shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt in the first inning.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/800 sec.,f2.8)

Now, I can tell just by looking at him that Jose Vidro is usually no threat to steal, and the graphic on the scoreboard tells me he has one stolen base this year. Obviously these are just clues not givens, because both Kenji Johjima and Richie Sexson have tried to steal this season, and neither are speedsters.

There's also a board that tells the speed of each pitch. It's good information because I'm curious about such things, but really doesn't help me shoot the game. Pitches are blurs whether or not they're thrown at 96mph or 78 mph.

Regarding pitching, the pitch count scoreboard does give me a lot of information. I noticed that Baltimore starter Jeremy Guthrie, a righty, had thrown over 100 pitches when Seattle's Jose Vidro, a lefty, came to the plate.

The Orioles left Guthrie in, and Vidro pounded out a two-run single in the eighth that was the difference.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/800 sec.,f2.8)

We were past our first deadline for the night, and I was hurrying to edit, caption and transmit the photo of Vidro. Here, another scoreboard, this one telling me the results of the past three batters, told me what had happened previously. I could have used my wireless internet to look up the play-by-play, but snapping a shot of the board was quicker.

Another noteworthy aspect to last night's game was the reappearance of closer J.J. Putz, who'd been on the disabled list. With the Mariners protecting a two-run lead in the ninth, Putz would have a pressure opportunity for a save. I moved from my spot outside of first base to one nearer home plate. Putz always yells and pumps his fists after collecting the final out of a victory and I wanted to be ready. Usually, a photo of Putz pumping fists is cliche, but since he'd been out for two weeks, it would be part of the story.

He gave up a double, then collected the next two outs as the small crowd roared (it was a small roar, okay?).

And then, as the third out was made, I focused, got my trigger finger ready and Putz...did...nothing.

Look, I don't know if all this stuff helps me make better photos. Maybe they just keep my head in the game. At least I was prepared.

All the signs pointed to it.

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April 15, 2008 4:21 PM

Does The Season End With a Sonic Boom or a Whimper?

Posted by Rod Mar

How might Seattle's basketball franchise end?

With a Sonic boom? Or with a whimper?

However it ends, it won't be the performance of point guards or power forwards, it will be the work of litigators. That we know for sure.

I was at KeyArena on Sunday evening when the Sonics played their last home game of the season, a game against the Dallas Mavericks, who are battling for a playoff spot.

Seattle, on the other hand, has been playing for pride for months and struggling to reach the 20-win mark...still.

As most of you know, Seattle is struggling to keep the Sonics in Seattle.

I'm not a sports columnist, but I made my feelings known last week.

Because there is the possibility that this could be the last Sonic home game EVER, we decided to add shooters. Staff photographers Steve Ringman and Greg Gilbert joined me. Steve is a great photojournalist who has a knack for finding timely and storytelling features at big events. Greg shot the first-ever Sonics game back in 1967, so it was fitting that he be there for the possible finale.

Game action was going to be an afterthought at this game. The big story was the end of the season, and possibly the franchise's life in Seattle. With Seattle cruising along with a record of 18-62, post-season implications were nil for the home team.

One challenge that I discussed with my editors before the game was trying not to go overboard with "sign" photos -- fans holding up signs. Visually, they get old very fast, but on the other hand, signs are the voice of the fans in times like these, so we knew we'd have to have some of them in the mix.

First job was to get a photo on our homepage before the game started. The great thing about having terrific co-workers is that teamwork is not a problem. Greg headed outside to shoot fans coming in, Steve headed to the upper reaches of the arena to find fans and I headed down to the court.

Jillian Jackson had a big ol' homemade sign and she and her dad were down near the court during warmups. Her dad, a lifelong Sonics fan, wrote about witnessing the final game. I'm always careful and really skeptical about kids holding signs at news events (as in, finding little three-year olds holding signs at strike rallies..."Really, little Joshua? You're not even in preschool yet but you understand labor law?!"). But I asked Jillian about her sign, and she told me she'd spent two hours with her parents making it. She had perhaps the best quote of the night when the Sonics won, asking her dad, "Do we get to keep the Sonics now that they won?"

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 1600, 1/320 sec.,f2.8)

Kevin Durant, Seattle's rookie superstar, was introduced before the game:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, 24-70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 1600, 1/320 sec.,f2.8)

Thought I might as well as document everything, in case this would be the last game in Seattle. To that end I tried to make a different photo of the opening tip, but it fairly sucked:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 24mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

Durant got loose for a breakaway dunk. Wish he was approaching the basket from the opposite side so he'd be facing me instead of in profile. Damn.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 1600, 1/320 sec.,f2.8)

"Sign photos" were everywhere to be seen. I was once a high school English teacher (not that you'd know by my writing), but note to Sonics fans -- learn to spell.

At least this first sign has no spelling errors.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 200mm, ISO 1600, 1/125 sec.,f2.8)

Dude, before you call someone a "theif", learn to spell it. Or, at least call him a "criminel". Oh, and spell the guy's name right, too. I'm kidding!

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 300mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/250 sec.,f2.8)

Boy, it was sure easier to spell the name Locke than Gregoire correctly. Or Evans, or Ray.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 200mm, ISO 1600, 1/200 sec.,f2.8)

Former Sonics were in attendance including "Downtown" Freddie Brown, nicknamed so for his propensity to shoot long-range jumpers from "Downtown". He's leading a group in trying to build a new sports arena in Seattle.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 300mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1000, 1/320 sec.,f2.8)

The biggest ovation was saved for former Sonic Gary Payton, who came into town for the final game. It was interesting on so many levels that Payton was in attendance. His jersey would surely be retired and hung in the KeyArena rafters should the team stay, but more than that, Payton served as a lightning rod of sorts when the team changed direction and eventually became the failing franchise they are now.

Payton was a brash, cocky, trash-talking point guard whose toughness Sonics fans came to appreciate. But when Howard Schultz bought the team, it was obvious that Payton was not the type of player Schultz thought was the right image for his franchise. I'll never forget the media day when Payton chose not to show up over some perceived slight by the franchise (the Glove was not a perfect citizen by any stretch), and Schultz reacted by denouncing him to the media, suggesting that if Payton worked at Starbucks, that sort of absence wouldn't fly.

I think that was the day when most of us who cover the team realized that Schultz might not be fit to be an NBA owner. Heck, the media wasn't even mad at Gary for skipping media day, and Schultz was threatening to punish him like a lazy barista. Good in principle, but bad in the business of the NBA where the players are the show.

Anyway, Payton got a well-deserved standing ovation.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 24-70mm/f2.8 lens @ 42mm, ISO 1000, 1/400 sec.,f2.8)

Even though Dallas had an early lead, the Sonics battled back late in the fourth quarter. I was in the upper reaches trying to make a better overall photo of the arena. "Try and get some fans or something in there," said my editor. Kevin Durant hit a huge three and I got some fans in my frame.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 18mm, ISO 1600, 1/320 sec.,f2.8)

Time was running out in the game and it was close so I hustled down to the court for the end and made a jubliation photo. It's not great. It's barely even good because you can't see faces, but it was "good enough" to make the paper.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 19mm, ISO 2000, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

Seattle won in the final seconds and in that fourth quarter it seemed like old times. The place was rocking, the fans were chanting. Except for chanting "SUPER....SONICS!" like they did in the heyday of the '90's, they were chanting "SAVE OUR SONICS!" and "BENNETT SUCKS! BENNETT SUCKS!".

And for once, basektball fans weren't referring to referee Bennett Salvatore, they were referring to Clay Bennett.

It was once the game ended that things got surreal again. No acknowledgment of the end of the season, no video recaps. I didn't expect and acknowledgment that this might be the last game ever -- even Clay Bennett and his boys aren't that stupid. But seasons usually end with something -- a group wave by the players, a brief speech thanking the fans by a star player or coach. But this time, nothing.

And as Lear said, "nothing becomes of nothing."

Once the players left the floor and the excitement of the victory was gone, there was a still emptiness about the arena. Most fans simply left. Some stayed and took photos to commemorate the occasion, just in case, to be able to prove "they were there" the day it all ended:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 18mm, ISO 2000, 1/320 sec.,f2.8)

Others just stood, stunned, or so it seemed:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 90mm, ISO 2000, 1/160 sec.,f2.8)

Finally, I found an image that seemed to put it all together when I spotted a sign left by a fan. By getting low with a wide-angle lens, I was able to put the sign in the foreground and empty seats and lingering fans in the background:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 2000, 1/320 sec.,f2.8)

After heading back to the photo workroom to transmit once again (for the fourth time in the evening), I decided to go foraging again. I caught Kevin Durant and his brother Charlie exiting the arena and made two frames.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 3200, 1/160 sec.,f3.2)

I had always thought that the deep ramp that the players use to walk in and out of the arena was kind of lonely and foreboding at the same time. This frame has more mood, and it's because of the ramp.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 3200, 1/160 sec.,f3.2)

So that was it. In my estimation the season ended with both a boom and a whimper. Boom when they defeated two playoff-contending teams in the heat of April in games that brought life back to KeyArena.
Whimper when the fans left the arena, not knowing the future of their team.

It's been a busy week. The Dalai Lama was in town, the Sonics played the home finale for the season, and work was full of drama. I'm going to take a week off from work. When I come back I can discuss my recent forays into multimedia, or finally (!) get around to some questions and answers, so if there's something you want to know, hit me up.

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April 12, 2008 10:36 PM

Another Day, Another Dalai

Posted by Rod Mar

Same Dalai, actually.

The Dalai Lama, head of state and spiritual leader of Tibet.

Day Two was at Qwest Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks.

Unlike Friday's event, where we were further from the stage than we were told we would be, on Saturday I was at right about 150 feet, which was mentioned in the press briefings. Alan Berner and I were shooting together again, and he was at a riser a bit further away, but more centered than I was (Alan is at the far right of the riser as you look at it)

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 90mm, ISO 100, 1/500th sec.,f5.0)

Still, there were problems (yes, photographers like to bitch...a lot.). The main problem, believe it or not, was the weather. It was a summer-like 70 degrees, and the stage was under a canopy. However, because of a children's choir seated behind, the stage was open in the back, not closed with a backdrop.

With the bright sun falling everywhere but on the stage, it was hard to shoot clean images. The background behind the Dalai Lama was two stops brighter than where he was standing, so in order to get correct exposure on him, you had to overexpose (or "blow out") the backgrounds, making them harsh and bright. (Note to organzers -- this wasn't very photogenic. And if it was hard for us to see, I can only imagine how difficult it was for people sitting in the stands).

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 400, 1/320th sec.,f2.8)

The event started with a "Meditation Movement Performance", which was kind of a circular, whirling modern dance. I chose to pan, to get a sense of the motion and the colors:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 170mm, ISO 100, 1/8th sec.,f32)

This was followed by the "Procession of Cultures", in which different cultural groups entered from different corners of the field. The harsh light helped me backlight a photo of the Tibetan flag being carried in:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 200mm, ISO 100, 1/2000th sec.,f2.8)

When the Dalai Lama took the stage, I managed to make a nice simple photo of him bowing and greeting the audience. You can see what I mean about the blown-out backgrounds:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens + EF 1.4x extender, ISO 320, 1/200th sec.,f7.1)

Washington governor Christine Gregoire joined His Holiness on the stage:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens + EF 1.4x extender, ISO 320, 1/200th sec.,f5.6)

A friend of mine mentioned how photogenic he is, and it's true. Peace and compassion do seem to radiate from his face:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 300mm/f2.8 lens + EF 1.4x extender, ISO 400, 1/320th sec.,f4.0)

Searching for different angles, I sought to use the hearts in the Seeds of Compassion logo to match how and where Gregoire and the Dalai Lama were sitting. In order to do this effectively and get the proper angle, I had to come down off my riser and lay on the ground.

If you read this blog regularly, you'll note it's not the first time I've laid flat on the turf.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/640th sec.,f3.5)

I don't know these gentlemen and security wouldn't let me get their names, but I'm guessing jet lag, not boredom, drove these men to sleep during the event:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/320th sec.,f3.5)

After the Dalai Lama finished his speech and answered some questions, there was a reading about compassion that asked all audience members to rise and put their hands in the air. Some parts of the stadium were full and it made a decent frame:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens + EF 1.4x extender, ISO 400, 1/1250th sec.,f4.0)

Some parts of the stadium were empty and that also made a decent frame:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens + EF 1.4x extender, ISO 400, 1/250th sec./f4.0)

The last order of the day was for audience members to tie "compassion bracelets" around their neighbors. I chose to shoot this as a detail frame, thinking it would complement all the other looser photos that I was sure would be part of our coverage.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens + EF 1.4x extender at 230mm, ISO 400, 1/320th sec.,f4.0)

Not many things amaze me in this job any more. Sure, I get to witness lots of great history, and some outstanding performaces. But being in the presence of the Dalai Lama was pretty special, and something I'm excited to tell my kids about.

So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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April 11, 2008 8:27 PM

Hello, Dalai!

Posted by Rod Mar

Sorry, couldn't resist.

My assignments for Friday and Saturday are to cover the Dalai Lama's visit to Seattle. The visit is titled "Seeds of Compassion".

I was headed for my first event, a conversation between the Dalai Lama, NBC personality Ann Curry and musician Dave Matthews when I saw some acquaintances on the street.

"Wait a minute," they said, "You're a sports photographer. Why are you covering the Dalai Lama?"

The answer was easy, I told them. "He's appearing at Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Key Arena and Qwest Field. Those are all sporting venues, so this must be a sports".

Plus, the Lama is a quite a golfer according to Carl Spackler, who apparently once caddied for his holiness, saying, and I quote (as many as you can, I'm sure):

"The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald... striking. So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one - big hitter, the Lama - long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga... gunga, gunga-galunga."

Ah, gotta love Caddyshack.

Before you tee off on me for being sacrilegious, understand that this Dalai Lama (real name Tenzin Gyatso), actually the 14th Dalai Lama, seems to have a pretty good sense of humor. During his speeches and conversations he readily displayed an ability to laugh at just about anything (just ask Ann Curry about using the word "nipple" in the presence of his holiness).

So, I don't think he'd be too angry at me for quoting a movie that causes grown men from ages 25-55 to utter his name every single time they step onto a golf course.

The event at KeyArena was interesting. Photographers were told that the "throw" (distance from the stage to our shooting position would be 80 feet.

I'm a sports guy. KeyArena is my office much of the year. I know a basketball court is 94 feet long, and the free-throw line is 15 feet from the end of the court.

Do the math -- 80 feet is just about the distance from one end of the court to the opposite free throw line.

I use a 300mm lens very comfortably from that distance, and a 400mm if I want to get real tight.

Of course, logistics aren't always correct, and my buddy Ted Warren from the AP texted me that the throws were much longer than were promised. He'd been there for the Dalai Lama's first appearance of two at the arena, and my co-worker Alan Berner was there, too. My job was to replace Alan on the riser and to shoot the second session and the concert following.

Ted warned me to bring both extenders (1.4x and 2x) for the 400mm lens, and also a tripod, because the light was low and the distance was great.

If I haven't said it before here, Ted is a pro's pro. Always prepared, always looking to tell the story, always find the smart pictures.

As the Dalai Lama entered the stage, a woman stood right behind him with a still camera shooting photos. We didn't know who she was, only that she was absolutely KILLING our backgrounds, as His Holiness bowed and greeted the audience. Only after the introductions and the speakers were seated did we realize the woman was NBC's Ann Curry, who was a surprise member of the panel.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens + EF 1.4x teleconverter, ISO 500, 1/160 sec./f4)

The discussion started out slow, and I was told to try and make "out-of-the-box" photos, since we were photographing him at three different events that day. Plus, Alan had been shooting all afternoon from the exact spot in which I was standing. Out-of-the-box became this weird and desperate image of a television monitor on a table strewn with leftover water bottles and old coffee cups.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 130mm, ISO 2000, 1/30th sec./f5.0)

Dave Matthews, who lives in Seattle, was funny and entertaining while chatting with the Dalai Lama, and twice gave us good pictures. The first came when they were discussing the power of the sensitivity of women, and Matthews flexed when describing the physical anger he sometimes experiences before his wife calms him down.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 2000, 1/250th sec, f3.5)

At the end of the discussion, Matthews reached over and he and the Dalai Lama shook hands, but then His Holiness grabbed Matthews and gave him a "fist bump", which has come to be a symbol of male bonding. It was a fun moment.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 2000, 1/320th sec, f2.8)

I kept shooting the Dalai Lama (is it appropriate to call him "the Lama"? Sounds awkward, like he's an animal. I think I'll refrain...) as he left the stage and managed to make a nice silhouette of him as he exited (Note, this photo looks like poop on the web for some reason related to compression. I think it's the amount of red, or something, but I can't make it look sharp on the web, even though it's perfect on the monitor.. Apparently, no one else at the office can figure this out, either, as it looks terrible in our web galleries, too. Trust me, it's a decent photo).

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 2000, 1/320th sec, f2.8)

Following the discussion was supposed to be a set by Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds. But organizers sprung a "surprise artist" on the crowd, and "Death Cab For Cutie" took the stage for a brief acoustic set.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mmf2.8 lens @ 17mm, ISO 800, 1/80th sec, f4.5)

Still shooters, as is par for the course (back to golf, did you follow that?), were allowed to shoot the first two songs from the "pit" right in front of the stage. After that we were herded back to our risers to wait until Matthews performed. No photos were to be taken for the rest of the Death Cab set and so some waited, while some of us edited and transmitted photos back to our desks.

When it came time for Dave Matthews to take the stage, we were gathering to go forward to the front again, and it came to me that shooting from the pit looked like any concert. I realized that if I stayed back on the riser (which we are LOATHE to do for regular concerts), I could make a photo that tied in the backdrop from Seeds of Compassion, therefore giving my images a sense of place and event.

((Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 125mm, ISO 1600, 1/100th sec, f4.0)

The photos probably aren't as dramatic from the riser as from the front of the stage, but they did put Matthews into the place of the event. By lying down on the riser, I was able to put Matthews into a good position with the heart symbol that is part of the logo for Seeds of Compassion.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens + EF 1.4x extender, ISO 2000, 1/125th sec.,f4.0)

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April 10, 2008 11:25 AM

Sonics: What I Get For Opening My Big Mouth.

Posted by Rod Mar

Here's what happens when you go to a brainstorming meeting and let your brainstorms verbalize themselves:
Setting: Conference table in the sports department, surrounded by a dozen or so editors, reporters, designers and photographers from all parts of the newsroom.

Subject: The end of the Sonics basketball season and their seemingly impending move to Oklahoma City. Could this be their final season in Seattle, and how should we present that?

Cut to meeting in progress:

Sports editor: So, any more ideas?

Stupid Sports Photographer (played by me): I think that while fans are mad at Clay Bennett, most of them are still raging at Howard Schultz. That guy talked about the team being a "sacred trust" and then sold them to a bunch of guys who are going to move them out-of-town. At the press conference, Schultz said that he was "confident" that the new ownership would keep the team in Seattle. So, either A) Schultz was lied to, or B) he lied to the fans. If he was lied to, you'd think he'd come out and say that rather than walk around the city as the pariah who sold the team away after 40 years. If he wasn't lied to, he'd likely just slink around and not address it all. And which is he doing now?

Sports editor (as usual, somewhat exasperated by me): What's your point?

Me: Well, if I was a fan, I'd want at least some answer from Schultz as to what happened. I know people who won't go to Starbucks anymore because of this. He needs to be held somewhat accountable.

(At this point, one of our columnists mentions that Schultz and his P.R. bulldog won't return his calls about the subject).

Me (and this is where I got myself in trouble): Someone should take a video camera around and do a Michael Moore type thing and go look for Howard Schultz. Bring along "Big Lo" , the Superfan and go looking for some answers.

(Big laughs all around meeting table, and the subject is dropped)
(Cut to two hours later)

Me (checking email from a sports editor) : "Rod -- great idea about the video -- let me know when you're shooting it."
(Cut to another hour later)

Me (checking email from photo editor) : "Rod -- love the Big Lo idea. Let me know when you're doing it."
Let me say right off that I've NEVER shot or produced a video for our website. In fact, I just bought a video camera, and just acquired a shotgun mike (before then, my familiarity with the word "shotgun" had to do with spot news events and charity golf tournaments).

And I had NO idea how to use a video editing program.

So I was the perfect candidate to cast, plan, shoot and produce a video about a Seattle sports fan doing an homage to Michael Moore.

That's what I get for opening my big mouth.

The finished product is pretty rough, and there's a ton of things I'd liked to have done better. But that's the same as any other still photo project I've done, too.

Be gentle with your comments, but I look forward to your constructive criticism and am excited to work more in multimedia, hopefully in a more journalistic vein than this one.

Let me know what you think.

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April 8, 2008 11:15 AM

Mariners: Pictures of Pitchers

Posted by Rod Mar

One of the many tasks of my job is producing images for our preview sections.

I've already written about photographing the Seahawks' Walter Jones and the Sonics' Kevin Durant prior to their seasons.

As baseball season has rolled around again, one of my assignments while in Arizona for Spring Training last month was to make a photograph of Seattle's newly signed pitchers Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva, along with current Mariner Felix Hernandez.

The theme for our section was "The Great Debate", which was supposed to play off of this year's presidential elections.

Personally, while the idea of themes is cute for special sections, I'm not sure of the connection between baseball and presidential elections. Maybe it's something like, "every time a left-handed fastball pitcher wins the Cy Young while pitching for a team in the blue states, a Democratic candidate wins the presidency, but only if the Dow is above a certain number and the Cincinnati Reds win more games on grass than turf".

I've always loved those weird links that people use to predict the presidency.

But I digress.

I was relieved to find out that my portrait of the three pitchers didn't have to be themed with the rest of the section.

I'm not sure how I was going to take a Canadian (Bedard), and two Venezuelans (Hernandez and Silva) and somehow photograph them in a way that would tie in the American election process, but thinking about it now, mudslinging could have been involved.

As is the routine with these types of portraits, I only had a limited time in which to shoot.

I asked the Mariners for 15 minutes, knowing if they granted it I could be done in 10.

Tim Hevly, the PR director for the Mariners, is a great guy and happy to help, as long as he knows you will be true to your word.

My main challenge was finding a "set" near the workout facility and the stadium in which to shoot.

I spent the better part of a day scouting locations. I almost settled on a long hallway painted white with accent stripes in team colors. I could open the doors at the far end of the hall and let daylight stream in. Overexposed for the ambient light, it would have produced a glow. Add some flash from the front and it might have worked out.

Reporters like Larry Stone, our national baseball writer, are great to work with. Not only is he friendly and knowledgeable, he's also willing to help me as a stand-in model when I need him.

We did a few tests in the hallway, and I decided that the players would be too tall for the composition I was seeking.

I walked around some more and headed over to the stadium where I found this little "T-ball" diamond that is used for kids to play Wiffle Ball during games. I envisioned that with the proper height, I could shoot the three pitchers on the tiny field. I asked the guy in charge of the field if I could borrow it for a photo shoot (it was still four hours before game time), and he assented.

Here's what the field looked like:

I borrowed a ladder from the clubhouse guys, brought in some lights and did a quick set up.

Larry sensed my panic and was helpful enough to stand in for more tests. Originally, I tried lighting from beneath (also known as "monster lighting" because of the effect), but remembered that I'd shot Felix with a similar setup in a studio atmosphere only a couple of years ago.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 250, 1/250th sec., f13)

I raised the lights and the effect was pleasing, but not very dramatic. Still, the point is to show the players together and the setting and lighting would be fine. I only made a few minor adjustments to improve my balance between the flash and available light and to improve my depth of field.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 400, 1/300th sec., f13)

The last adjustment I made was to bring the ISO back down, which brought down depth-of-field as well, but I knew that f9.0 would be enough to keep them all in focus.

Tim brought the players over in a golf cart, and they were fine to work with. Felix was a little crabby until I reminded him that last time I shot him he started muttering "!vamanos! ! vamanos!" as soon as I'd shot the first frame. He laughed, Carlos Silva told him to be a pro and we started shooting, as I didn't want to waste their time.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 250, 1/250th sec., f9)

I shot a dozen or so frames in two different compositions, and then we were done.

I'd been working fast so the players could get on their way, but as soon as I finished, they immediately grabbed the toy bat and Wiffle balls lying along the fence.

Each pitched, and each took one swing. And each hit a homer out of the little t-ball field on their first try.

Big laughs all around, and then they were back on the golf cart and on their way.

By then, the guy who ran the little field came back and complained that the players had hit three balls over the fence and hadn't fetched them.

A photographer's job is never done. "Fetch, Photog, Fetch!"

All in all, this shoot went well. It was not for the cover of the section, but was for inside. This makes a difference in how I shoot and how much time I request. For example, I'm not sure the team would make Ichiro available for an inside photo (Ichiro is a cover guy!), but they might. I was very clear with the team about who I wanted, what the story was about, and where it would run. Some people argue that it's none of the team's business, but I think if they're giving me time, the least I can do is be up front about what I'm doing.

Felix Hernandez was fine, after we broke the ice. Erik Bedard has a reputation for not liking media very much, but he was fine to work with and thanked me for fast. Carlos Silva was a true pro, gave me what I needed and seemed to know that publicity is part of his job.

Being prepared and working quickly and efficiently is not only professional, it also ensures you'll usually get the athletes you want when you need them.

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April 6, 2008 11:51 PM

Sonics Win! Sonics Win!

Posted by Rod Mar

It felt just like 1995.

Head coach George Karl roamed the sidelines of KeyArena,, his signature hand-painted tie bearing the likeness of the Space Needle. As the crowd roared "GO! SONICS!", Karl did his best to will his team to pull out another must-win game in the playoff hunt.

Except this is 2008, and Karl is coaching the Denver Nuggets, the team in the playoff hunt.

The Seattle crowd made noise like it hadn't all season, and the Sonics managed to pull out a double-overtime win for only their 18th victory against 59 (!) losses.

I was there working on a project and not really shooting game action, but when the game got tight I called the office and we agreed that if the Sonics won we would make the game our sports cover for the next day.

Pregame at any NBA game has become a tired and overdone production, designed to fire up the fans for the game. The league would be wise to give its fans a little more credit — no matter how much green smoke you surround a mascot with, the fans still know their team has a record of 17-59. Trust me on that.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 17mm, ISO 1000, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

I worked on my project for most of the game (details to come soon), and started shooting action with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Denver's Anthony Carter leapt high to save this errant pass from sailing out-of-bounds as official Violet Palmer watches:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

Denver's Marcus Canby leaned in to beat the shot clock over Seattle's Nick Collison:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

Collison was then the recipient of an arm-bar courtesy of Denver badass Kenyon Martin:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 70mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

I was shooting from the corner of the court where the Nuggets were shooting, which was also the end where the Sonics bench was located. I kept getting blocked by players while shooting on the bench side of the basket, so I moved to the opposite side to get an unencumbered view.

Conventional wisdom (there's wisdom in sports photography?) says to be shooting at the end where the team you're covering is shooting. But I wasn't necessarily looking for an action photo of the Sonics. If they managed to win this game, it would be emotional for them for a number of reasons, one being they'd beaten the Sonics in their last two meetings by 42 and 52 points, respectively.

(Hard to use any form of the word "respect" when talking about NBA games being decided by more than 40 points...)

So, I wanted to be on the end of the court where the Sonics bench was. If they scored a big bucket near the end, I was sure the Nuggets would call a timeout (in the NBA, every basket near the end of a close game is followed by a timeout, or so it seems). If they did score, I was hoping they'd turn around towards their bench to celebrate and I'd be in good position.

Sure enough, with 5.1 seconds left in regulation, Seattle's Kevin Durant nailed a three-pointer to tie the game. And as I had anticipated, Denver called timeout, allowing Durant to turn around and celebrate near midcourt:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 148mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 148mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

The game went to overtime, and Durant scored on another dramatic shot, this one with 6.7 seconds left in overtime. By the way, this is one of the rare instances where it's an easier photo to make manual focusing than autofocusing. When using autofocus, you have to keep the part of the frame you want focused in the center of the frame. When you're trying to compose, as I was here, manual focus lets you control what and where is in focus. All that said, I did autofocus this, which is why the defenders are sharp and Durant is not:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 80mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

Again, Denver called timeout and he turned to celebrate, this time with fellow rookie Jeff Green nearby. Even though this photo doesn't have the impact of the others, it was important because both rookies had career high games, and if that was going to be the gist of the game story, I wanted my editors to have options:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 118mm, ISO 1600, 1/500 sec.,f2.8)

When it appeared that the Sonics would wrap up the win in the second overtime, I moved back to the other side of the basket nearer the Seattle bench. I used a wide-angle lens to shoot players, including Damien Wilkins, here, as they ran onto the court.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 16mm, ISO 2000, 1/640 sec.,f2.8)

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April 5, 2008 8:27 PM

There's No High-Sticking in Football.

Posted by Rod Mar

Man, if only my dad gave me a football on a stick when I was 2 so I could whack my little brother in the face with it.

I was covering the University of Washington football team's practice and caught this action off to the side.

Former UW player Spencer Marona brought his two young sons, Sly, 2, and Sal, 1, to the workout and gave them footballs to play with. Sly go the ball attached to a stick that the team uses for some of its drills. Dad looked away for a second and "WHACK", big brother showed little brother who's boss.

Good times.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 500, 1/1000 sec, f3.5)

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April 4, 2008 11:02 PM

Sonics: Star Spangled Banner

Posted by Rod Mar

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 lens @ 26mm, ISO 1600, 1/200th sec.,f2.8)

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April 2, 2008 1:24 AM

M's - Game 2. A Better Day for Photos.

Posted by Rod Mar

On Opening Day, the Mariners won, but I felt like I'd lost.

Last night, Seattle lost, but I felt I'd "won" as a photographer.

Which means, I had a pretty decent shoot and felt like I'd made the photos that needed to be made.

Of course, I was motivated and seeking redemption for the foibles of our Opening Day coverage.

Seattle's Felix Hernandez took the mound for the start and pitched great, which he is capable of and usually does. But more than pitch, Hernandez also fielded the ball excellently for a pitcher, which is great for photographers because pitchers pitching look like, well, pitchers pitching

You get the point.

There were other pretty unusual plays as well, and I managed to get good frames of those as well.

In the second inning, Seattle's Jose Vidro attempted to steal second base and collided with Texas infielder Ian Kinsler. The ball rolled away and the two of them collided. No faces, but unusual for baseball.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/800 sec.,f2.8)

As I mentioned Felix Hernandez was great both with his arm and his glove, except for on this play, when he threw wide of first on a bunt and second baseman Jose Lopez couldn't catch the ball despite diving.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/800 sec.,f2.8)

In the top of the fourth, Hernandez had knocked down a ball hit by Texas' Milton Bradley before throwing him out and falling down. Hernandez is helped up by shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/800 sec.,f2.8)

The infielders gathered to check to see if Hernandez was okay, and he playfully slapped third baseman Adrian Beltre as Yuniesky Betancourt watched. After the game, Hernandez told reporters that the infielders were teasing him to either "Catch the ball or let it go. Don't do stupid stuff!"

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/800 sec.,f2.8)

In the bottom of the fifth, fans in centerfield tried to put a little mojo on Texas centerfielder Josh Hamilton, who makes a warning track catch on a blast by Seattle's Brad Wilkerson in the bottom of the fifth inning. Hamilton would haunt the Mariners later in the game with his game-winning home run in the ninth.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 1/800 sec.,f2.8)

During the spring, everyone (well, except for Ichiro) was making a big deal of his 0-twentysomething start during exhibition play. Ichiro went hitless on opening day, but went 3-5 in game two, including this base hit to right. There are four photo boxes on the field level, two on each side of home plate and on either side of the dugouts. This photo is shot from the box nearest home plate on the third base side of the field.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 70-200mm/f2.8 lens @ 145mm, ISO 2000, 1/800 sec.,f2.8)

In the sixth, Seattle pitcher Felix Hernandez faced a bases loaded jam and escaped unscathed. After knocking down a ball hit by David Murphy in the sixth inning, he fired for a force out on Texas baserunner Hank Blalock to save a run.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 2000, 1/1000 sec.,f2.8)

Hernandez fell on that play as well, and celebrated from the ground.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 2000, 1/1000 sec.,f2.8)

With the bases still loaded, Hernandez got Texas' Gerald Laird to pop out to end the inning. His celebration was nice, and I didn't notice his visible breath in the cold until later.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 2000, 1/1000 sec.,f2.8)

Unlike on Opening Day where reliever Sean Green earned the win, on this night once the bullpen took over, things went downhill for the Mariners.

Eric O'Flaherty gave up two runs in the eighth. I was busy transmitting, but grabbed a quick shot in case he earned the loss.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 2000, 1/1000 sec.,f2.8)

In the ninth, normally automatic closer J.J. Putz came in to protect a one-run Seattle lead. Unfortunately for him, he gave up a two-run homer to Texas' Josh Hamilton and the Mariners were unable to answer in the bottom of the ninth.

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 400mm/f2.8 lens, ISO 2000, 1/1000 sec.,f2.8)

Because of our deadlines, we published two different sports covers. Kudos to the editors and designers for creating two nice pages under pressure.

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Recent entries

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