LEADING OFF in Sports Illustrated
Posted on August 12, 2011
This picture of Giants base runner Aubrey Huff being tagged out at home plate by Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz was published as a “Leading Off” two-page spread in this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated. (Photo by Brad Mangin)
I shoot a bunch of baseball games each year, close to 100. Out of all of those games I get a very small amount of pictures that I really, really like. Last Sunday, August 7, 2011 was one of those games. I actually got a picture I liked. I was on assignment for Sports Illustrated shooting the Phillies and Giants in San Francisco. We were not working on a story, but trying to get good action involving both of these playoff-caliber teams. I sent my editor Nate Gordon a text a few hours before the game asking is he was looking for anything specific. “A Leading Off,” he said at 11:19am. At 11:29am Nate followed up with this text: “Your team sucks.” Gee, thanks Nate!
It was a beautiful overcast day, and I was set up in the outside third base well. In the 4th inning Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum was at the plate with the bases loaded. I was focused on Timmy with my 400mm lens as he dropped a suicide squeeze bunt in front of home plate. Showing amazing cat-like quickness Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz jumped in front of the plate, grabbed the ball siting in the grass, and raced back to home plate making a head-long dive to try and tag out Giants base runner Aubrey Huff. The action moved so fast. As I tried to follow the play with my long lens I realized I was pretty screwed. I had a hard time keeping everyone in the frame, and as the play hit its peak moment I hit the buffer in my Canon Mark IV and ran out of bullets. When the dust settled I realized that the picture sucked from my angle anyway. It was all backs with no faces. This was a terrific play that would undoubtedly make a great picture- just not from my angle.
When I got to the park around 10:30am I set up my remote camera on the backstop, just to the first base side of home plate. I always put a 70-200mm zoom on this Canon Mark III body, and focus it around the home plate area hoping for a play at the plate. This is an angle that is usually blocked by the ump, bat boys, and on-deck hitters. It is super low-percentage. However, when the camera is not blocked and the action is good there is always a chance of getting a cool and unique frame.
After this play ended I looked toward me remote camera- that I had fired with a PocketWizard, and saw that no one appeared to be blocking the angle. I wondered to myself if the camera had fired, or had it been stopped dead in it’s tracks by the evil buffer. I would wait till after the game to find out.
At 2:56pm Nate texted me. “How did play at plate look?” Let me tell you- those editors at the magazine are on top of everything! At 3:10pm I responded with this: “Bad from here but remote might be cool.” Man was I hoping! The game finally ended, and as I made my way to the remote camera, dodging little kids running around the bases, I was pretty nervous. What I found on the back of the camera as I chimped was one frame. It was loose and would really need some cropping, but the moment was there. I had to wait till I got home and looked at the RAW file on my 30 inch monitor to be sure. Yes. It looked like it was sharp enough to work. I quickly sent a low-res jpeg to many of the editors and they seemed to like it. By the time the magazine closed on Monday I was very excited to hear that the picture would be published as a Leading Off, just like I had hoped.
My baseball editor Nate likes to assign grades to my pictures. He is tough. I usually get a B or a B+. This morning I emailed him asking what grade he would give to this picture. “I’ll give that one an A,” he said. That might be the first “A” he has ever given me! This is a report card I would gladly hang on my refrigerator.