KETCHIKAN, Alaska -- The anticipation was palpable earlier this month when my wife, Terri, and I arrived at Seattle's Safeco Stadium -- hours early -- to see hundreds of people already lined up at the gates for the ball game.
It was only 2:30 p.m. Many of the fans were wearing Ken Griffey Jr. shirts and jerseys in honour of his induction to the Mariners Hall of Fame later in the day.
It was an exciting day for a small-town newspaper photographer about to officially photograph one of his first big league games as well as one of his baseball heroes. I had secured a press credential from the Seattle Mariners allowing me to be on Safeco Field for the Ken Griffey Jr. Hall of Fame ceremony. As a Mariners fan, I have taken many a snapshot over the years from the vast sea of stadium seats, but never have had a field pass for such a special occasion.
After parking across the street from the ballpark on Edgar Martinez Drive, I hustled to the stadium to get my press pass which qualified for free parking. In my frantic state, I couldn't find my wallet which had my ID, nor the $50 I had retrieved to pay the parking attendant. After telling myself to settle down, I found a friendly traffic attendant who pulled my wallet out of his jacket. He had found it on the street where I dropped it. Whew! I finally got my press pass, walked back to the garage and showed it to another parking attendant so we could get free parking and save $35 (an apparent bonus for members of the press). After parking our car, serendipity prevailed and I found my $50 on the car floor.
I re-entered the media gate, armed with camera gear this time, while Terri waited at the main gate for a high school classmate to show up. They didn't get in until 4:30. I knew batting practice started at 3 p.m. and wanted to be inside on the field for photos. The media has its own elevator, and it took me a few rides to get oriented. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik was on one short, crowded ride with a couple of Milwaukee Brewers fans. The Brewers were Jack's previous ball club, and were playing the Mariners in the evening game.
I made my way to the tunnel which leads to the field near the visiting team's dugout. I saw Mariners players circled around the batting cage, waiting their turn to hit. A field attendant told me the do's and don'ts for photographers and where I could walk. Photographers, other than the Mariners' photographer, aren't allowed on the grass. We are restricted to the gravel warning track that runs around the field and we can't go beyond the photographer "wells" on either side of the two team dugouts. Since it was still early, there were only a few other photographers in sight. I was told the onslaught of media photographers would begin around 4:30 p.m., in time to prepare for the Griffey's induction ceremony.
I found it hard to get a good batting cage shot because you had to shoot through the netting around the cage. I figured a good shot would be from centre field with a telephoto lens. I didn't have time to try this option out. I was excited to try it out my new f4, 200-400 mm zoom lens, but ran out of time getting settled and oriented at the field. The Hall of Fame ceremony for Griffey was coming at 5:30 p.m., and time was flying fast. I got a spot in the photographers' well near the Mariners dugout, which featured an open view of their dugout.
Seattle AP photographer Elaine Thompson, also getting set up, gave me some pointers and helped me secure a spot. By evening's end and after a few self-portraits together, Thompson, Japanese photographer Shoji Onozawa, who had the space next to me, and I were on friendly terms. I had an open invite from them to come back and shoot with them again sometime. Also sharing the well were photographers from Getty, USA Today, and Roots Sports TV. There was plenty of room to navigate in the bunker-like space. One of the photographers told me that since Ichiro is no longer with the team, numbers of the photo press have diminished remarkably. Everybody was pretty seasoned and had their routine. I was definitely the rookie in the group.
After marking my spot in the photo well, I figured I better get something to eat because it was going to be a long evening. I took a pass on the rest of batting practice. By the time I finished eating, batting practice was over and the field was getting inundated with media types.
I walked past Ken Griffey Jr.'s parents and family coming out of a room into a long hallway near the entrance to the field and thought of photographing dignitaries walking around long corridors in the West Wing. I decided it wasn't really a good paparazzi moment and figured getting established on the field was more important. After all, I was the new guy and really didn't know what I was doing. There would be better photographs to be had.
A roped-off area in front of the batters box marked where photographers had to stand, or actually kneel, as we were told by a Mariners representative, for Griffey's event. I had two minutes to get the gear I was going to use and grab my spot on the track. I wasn't supposed to move at all during the ceremony, but noticed a few of the photographers jockeying for new positions. After the national anthem, Mariners dignitaries and previous Mariner Hall of Famers Alvin Davis, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson and Dan Wilson were introduced, along with Griffey's family. Then it was time for Griffey's appearance. As he came out of a centre-field door, he appeared dwarfed by a giant banner featuring images of his famous swing.
The crowd let out a tremendous roar of approval. It was a sellout, with 46,000 people in attendance. Griffey stopped and waved, letting everyone know he was back. And back he was. His humble speech brought the crowd to its feet and tears to many eyes, including Junior's and this photographer's.
It was a great night to be a part of Ken Griffey Jr.'s welcome home.
-- The Associated Press