Only in Minnesota can you get a sunburn and freeze during a baseball game. Saturday was my first game of the year. Usually, I don’t attend games this early but had to go to this one. It featured my two favorite teams, the Mariners, and Twins. So either way, I’d be happy with the outcome. This time I went as a Mariners fan and wore my Felix Hernandez jersey. I also went as a collector and a grapher, hoping to get a couple signatures. The cold weather made the odds long on getting anything but I brought my cards anyway. The other aspect of this game is I went alone, without family. The easy answer is that I’m the only one crazy enough to go when it’s just 30 degrees out. Which is true. But it also gives me a great sense of peace being at a game, getting to soak it all in, without any distraction. I also got a seat closer to the field to give myself a good location for photography. This would also be my first game with the new netting up. From a fans perspective, it is fine and doesn’t interfere with the view of the game much. As a photographer, it presented challenges with focus and making sure the settings are correct. I lost a few action shots that would have been easy and stellar because the camera focused on the net and not the player. A challenge to learn from for next time. As a collector, I didn’t mind it because there was still a section with access to the field. It kind of actually limited the access to one area which was nice in a way. I didn’t worry as much about where players might go to sign. I’d love to go with normal weather and crowd to see how it really goes.
When I first got to my seat I was a bit worried as it seemed like every big guy in the park was next to me. I definitely had a “you’ve got to be kidding me” moment. This and the net gave me a lot of variables to be aware of. But a good photographer works around and with them. Incorporates them as much as possible. Or goes with the flow and takes moments as they arrive.
A living field
One of those moments lasted throughout the first few innings. A simply amazing and gorgeous occurrence that I’d never seen. The field was breathing. Mist rose off the surface of the dirt just like it would off a river. This was due to the water they spray on it before every game. It was stunning that something so routine caused the field to become almost alive. So for the first innings, this is what I tried to capture. A definite challenge with the net and fans in the way. If only I’d had a clear view of the field! I would have been lying down with the camera nestled in the grass by the on-deck circle to get the true effect of this. Imagine tendrils of dog wrapping around players feet as they ran or dove for a ball. I could envision these photos so easily but had to make due with where I was. Kyle Seager was my best subject, perhaps, and I did manage a couple good shots of him among the living Infield dirt. But my mind still sparks with the possibilities! This is one reason to go to another cold-weather game and sit even closer to the field. This is another shot of Sano at third base with the living field. These photos came close but are not quite there in terms of what I wanted to capture.
The fog dissipates
After the fog drifted away I focused more on the player again. I tried shooting through the net at the batters and that worked for about the first 4-5 innings. I got a decent one of Eduardo Escobar’s swing. I may send this to him through the mail with a couple other photographs for a few signatures. I think he’s a decent signer mail-wise. He’s great in person and always willing. This will also be a good photo to learn how to edit out a foreground layer in photoshop. Which I’ve never attempted.
I also had to contend with the group in front of me. Nothing against them, but they definitely added to the challenge of getting good shots and timing. Luckily they somehow managed to be gone whenever Ichiro came up to bat so I managed some clear shots. I got one that shows exactly who Ichiro is or was. He tried bunting for a base hit. At 44 years old. He almost beat it out. Watching him I remembered just how fast he was when he first got to the majors. I saw him back in Spring Training before he was officially a Seattle Mariner. From that point on he was a favorite of mine – so fast, fluid, and such an athlete. Fun to watch. I know back then he’d be safe at first. Not now. He’s lost a little something. But not much. And he’s 44. Truly incredible.
After Ichiro’s-bat bat, I started focusing more on the pitcher, Jose Berrios. He looked like his usual self the first few innings. Mowing hitters down efficiently. There’s something in his windup this year that’s lightning quick. I can’t pinpoint it yet. This image and motion remind me of the attitude of the great pitchers. Those old school ones with grit to make it. I saw this in his first start and even more so as I took some shots of him in these first innings. There’s just something in his windup. It’ss tight, taut, ready to unwind with a quick snap of power.
Then the outing changed. It may have been the cold. An easy excuse but I think there was something to it. Ichiro did get on in his second at-bat, after a spray hit, and Berrios I think paid a bit too much attention to him. He is Ichiro after all. It’s understandable. It’s here, I think, that Berrios had to pitch out of the stretch and perhaps that and the cold is where the unraveling started. Ichiro and the cold can do that to anyone. I didn’t get the best shot of Ichiro on the paths in this at-bat but got a fun one of Ichiro and Mauer together.
Based on how I remember things and saw them, it was a combination of Ichiro and then Dee Gordon and the cold that got to Berrios. Ichiro may have lost a small step but he knows the basepaths and how to distract. Dee Gordon followed. The other Mariners players can only improve their baserunning abilities with Ichiro to show them how.
Ichiro looked more like his old self on the basepaths as he rounded second and got to third. These are some of my favorites from the day. They brought back good memories of watching Ichiro in his first years with the Mariners. No one was as fast or as good at bat control during his prime years.
Focused moments through Creative Auto setting
Then Ichiro came around to score. I love watching a moment like this through the camera, as I can spot details like facial expressions, the shape of the shadow, dirt flying from the heal. I lost the sweet spot a bit here though in terms of the netting even though I had the same setting. This just shows the difficulty of shooting through the net. But it’s something I’ll have to figure out how to handle. For most of my shots, I used the Creative Auto setting, set to a sharp background and a blurred foreground. The key was in the direction of the light and how it struck the net, I think. On the basepaths rounding second, the lighting was good. Heading home it shifted enough so the netting just caught too much of the light and shadow, and the camera couldn’t handle it with the setting I was using.
After Ichiro scored there was a mound visit. It didn’t help too much. Dee Gordon got on and did the exact same thing as Ichiro did. I remember Gordon because I kept trying to get a shot of him taking off to steal. Berrios threw over to him at least three times, I think. This added time out in the cold. Berrios was effective when he could be quick and efficient.
He was forced to slow down and pay attention to the runners. His motion slowed a bit perhaps. He couldn’t just deal. He had to be out in the cold longer. Feel it more. And it got to him enough. This will be a learning experience for him and he’ll be fine. He’ll come out mowing down batters in his next start. He’s going to be fun to watch this year and will be the Twins ace.
Soon after this shadows and contrast increased and it got a lot harder for the camera to focus on the batter. So instead I focused more on the basepaths and the outfield. I found oddly enough that the camera did a better job focusing on the action a bit further away. This angle was a lot better in terms of getting crisp shots. This shot of Dee Gordon at second is probably my cleanest shot through the netting. You can hardly tell that its there. I may print this off and send it to him through the mail. It’s available on my Flickr site for download if you are interested in it. Just please let me know when you use it or if you manage to get a copy signed! I love it because it shows just how cold it was that day. You can barely see his face. Baseball is not meant to be played in this weather. Having now seen a few games with these cold temperatures, I can confirm that. This shot also shows the danger that Dee Gordon is on the basepaths. Along with Ichiro that makes a great combination. This is an area where I think the Mariners can excel this year and cause problems.
A blurred out failure
From this point on I really stuck with the Creative Auto setting. However, this is one point where it failed me completely. I tracked a fly ball to center field and was zeroed in on Dee Gordon. I pushed the shutter and thought I’d got the shot. A quick look confirmed that I’d missed it. The camera focused perfectly on the net and there is Dee Gordon in full Superman mode – completely blurred out. I sorely wish this one had turned out! I’ve never gotten one that had this potential before. I will have to keep challenging. This is part of the challenge. Part of why I love photography. Moments like these are lost, but other moments are found and end up being the most meaningful.
I did manage to get more good photographs from this point on, but the netting became more of a presence. But I do love the shots of Rosario and Ichiro in the slideshow below.
A new perspective
In the bottom of the seventh, I decided to try for a new angle. I also wanted to check out the press booth in right field and see if anyone was there prepping for postgame. There wasn’t – I guess it was too cold! I settled in next to the press booth. It offered a view of the entire field and I could zoom in on home plate. I’ll admit I was getting a bit tired of dealing with the net. It was also just fun watching the game from a different vantage point.
Soon after I moved the Twins began a rally. They ended up getting the bases loaded with Logan Morrison at the plate. He fouled off at least three pitches. He had so much power behind those swings. Just missing his timing. I really think he’ll be just fine this year. But one can see this slump is starting to wear on him. You can see it, I think, in his expression right after this swing. He thought he had it. So did the fans in the background! Everyone is ready for him to break out, including Morrison. I think based on how close he was on these swings he’ll be breaking out soon.
Loneliest job in sports: Relief pitcher
After these swings, I also had to focus on the pitcher. There is one shot that I think shows how lonely their job can be. He’s facing a guy trying to break out of a slump who has just tagged several pitches. He’s bearing down on everything he has to get him out. At this moment below I wonder what is going through his head. How he calms down for this moment. I also really thought Morrison would break through in this at bat. Just based on how many close calls he had. That usually results in at least a hit. It didn’t. Which shows this is just a run of bad luck. It has to change for him. All of that has to be going through Juan Naisco’s head, in some form or another. He has to throw the right pitch to get a good hitter out at the moment that will decide the game. In this instance, Naisco bore down and won.
Nicasio is all alone in this photo. He’s looking down, gathering himself. NO one is looking at him. He’s in a full stadium and is all alone at this moment. This is something I’ve never thought about before. Just how lonely this could be. It makes me admire relievers even more. This is another reason why I love photography. It sparks new thoughts about a game I’ve loved my entire life and know so well.
Out of reach for the Twins
After Morrison’s at-bat the game got quickly out of reach for the Twins. In the next inning, they jumped and the Twins didn’t really have another realistic shot at this one.
I had a blast at my first game of the year, despite the cold. I do look forward to when mother nature decides to get back to normal. This was a good warmup to what is going to be a fun season of baseball for the Twins!