DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Ichiro, who rang up Hall of Fame numbers in 11-plus seasons as a Mariner, bows to cheering fans at Safeco Field before his first at bat as a New York Yankee Monday night.
The news of Ichiro's trade to New York caught everyone by surprise, and left us scrambling for how best to cover that night's game with the Yankees.
I in particular was caught flat footed. Subbing for two editors that night, I hadn't planned to shoot at all. I didn't bring any cameras into the office, and I didn't bring a laptop either. But editor Fred Nelson thought it best that I join our two other photographers at the stadium: Mark Harrison and Greg Gilbert. This was too important a night to be conservative. So I borrowed cameras, a lens, and memory cards from video producer Genevieve Alvarez, and took my iPad to the ballpark to see what I could come up with.
I had two thoughts: one was that Ichiro first stepping into right field as a Yankee might generate a response from the fans - and consequently him - that might make for a picture. It did as Ichiro doffed his cap to the right field stands. That made a perfectly fine photograph which I shot from the front row of the right field stands.
The second thought was his first at-bat, and how he would react to the larger Safeco Field audience. For that I settled into the inside first base camera well, just left of the Mariner dugout. I was alone. Every other photographer in the stadium was on the third base sideline. Only I was on first.
Truth be told, had I been doing the game by myself I probably would have done the exact same thing. It made sense. Ichiro - as a Yankee - would be coming out of the third base dugout. He would settle into the circle right in front of the inside third base camera well. And as a left-handed batter he would be facing those same cameras, whereas from first base I would only see his back.
At the same time I thought there was as good a chance that a good picture would come from first just as easily as from third, for some of the same thinking, and so I was happy to stake my claim there. Ichiro would exit the third base dugout and have to walk toward me. Any small gesture - a tip of the hat, I hoped - would occur facing me, and facing his former teammates. But also, after 11-years in the first base dugout it struck me too that players probably identify more with the fans on first base and behind home plate than they would those on third. It seemed like a good bet. And since Times staffer Mark Harrison was inside third it made complete sense for me to pick the opposite side line.
When Ichiro first stepped into the batter's box he did not in fact respond to the Safeco Field crowd. But the ovation was so overwhelming that he stepped back out and bowed deeply to the crowd, creating a very memorable moment. Pretty much what I hoped might happen.
But one other thing happened that was completely unexpected, and made this particular view of Ichiro unique among the images made that night.
When Ichiro stepped out of the batters box to bow to the crowd, home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi stepped away from the plate to give Ichiro the spotlight he so richly deserved. But stepping exactly away from Ichiro meant stepping directly into the line of view of all the photographers in the inside third base well, blocking almost everyone's view there. Only the photographers on the far outside third base line had any view at all, and none that were very good of his bow to the crowd which was, as surmised, done for the fans in the near seats. From outside third the view of him doffing his cap was good, and allowed photographers to keep the crowd in the background.
But only from inside first base was there that view of the bow - a very humble gesture, and an unforgettable moment that perfectly captured Ichiro's time in Seattle.
There's an expression among photographers: "Better lucky than good sometimes." How true.