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In my 22 years as a Press Democrat photographer, I've often snuck away on weekends to shoot more than 300 assignments for Sports Illustrated. I covered the west coast portion of the golf tour for seven years, but most of my assignments were portraits of athletes.

I've duct-taped Terrell Owens' mouth shut, visited the Navajo and Hopi reservation on a private jet with Steve Young, rode down Highway 1 on the back of Ricky Watters' Harley and rented 5,000 range balls for a Tiger Woods portrait. I wasn't surprised when Tiger imploded a few years ago. He refused to shake my hand when we met; the only word he said to me was "no."

The strangest shoot over the years was when a judge gave me legal ownership of Barry Bonds' record-breaking home run ball for one day. Alex Popov claimed he caught the ball and was bitten by Patrick Hayashi when he stole it from him in the pile of people going for the home run ball. The 10-page court order stated I could touch it only with cotton gloves and with lawyers from both sides present.

Seven months ago, my heart shuddered and stopped in the end zone at a playoff game between the 49ers and Green Bay Packers. After bypass surgery, I fully intended to say no to any more Sports Illustrated assignments. My editor from New York called last week and said, "You're going to like this one ... Buster Posey."

They had me at Buster.

When I first started at the magazine, my job was to hang out with an athlete for a day and photograph him in regular life. I photographed Jason Kidd during his rookie year. Between photo shoots we played pool, hit golf balls and played football in his front yard before watching a movie in his private theater that night.

With the proliferation of magazines, sports TV networks and team promotions, a photographer — even from Sports Illustrated — is lucky to have an athlete for 10 minutes.

Last year, A's pitcher Grant Balfour gave me six minutes before he was whisked away for an interview with CSN Bay Area.

The magazine wants two or three different portraits for each athlete, so each shot needed to be prepared ahead of time so Buster could step in and out of each in five minutes. I scouted locations at the park a couple of days before the shoot and sent the test images back to my editor in New York.

The story focuses on Buster as an old-school, quiet warrior just doing his job among the Pandas and Beards. Immediately I envisioned Buster in a locker room putting on his vest, staring calmly into the camera with Sergio Romo, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence placing gum bubbles on his head and goofing around near him.

When I told the Giants PR person my great idea, he said, "What's your next idea?"

Buster didn't have the opportunity to say no or yes.

The fallback was the stoic, old-school warrior in his armor. Buster just had to sit and look tough.

My assistant and I arrived four hours before the shoot to set up. The cover photo was shot in the press conference room underneath AT&T Park, using a black seamless backdrop and a total of nine lights.

The main photo for the inside pages was Buster sitting on the steps of the Giants' dugout. It's a simple two-light set up. It looks natural, but the sun is actually behind him, so without the lights he would be practically a silhouette.

Buster was pretty much like you would imagine — polite, gracious and relaxed.

We shot in the dugout first. While walking back to the studio shoot, I apologized for shooting 10 minutes instead of five, but he told me I was doing great and it was really cool that he was going to be in Sports Illustrated.

The studio shoot was much more complicated. I would have panicked in my first 10 years at the magazine when we shot slide film. Back then we shipped the raw film by FedEx or on a plane to New York on weekends for processing and editing. You never knew if you had technical issues or nailed it until the editor called the next day. It was nerve-wracking. Now we simply look at the back of the camera.

Even though photographers shoot in the dugout at AT&T Park, we do not interact with the players. In bold letters at the bottom of our press passes it reads "No Autographs."

I've never asked for one but when I told Buster my nephew was a huge fan and even named his dog "Posey," he grabbed a ball and signed it for him.

After 22 years, Buster will be my last assignment for the magazine, and one of my favorite shoots, too.

See a gallery of photographs by John Burgess from the pages of Sports Illustrated at pressdemocrat.com.