EL SEGUNDO AND LOS ANGELES, CA — On January 3, despite having suffered a very frustrating 7-6 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators at Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Kings had to quickly recover from the sting of that defeat so they could meet and have some fun with fans at Tip A King 2015, held across the street at the LA Live Event Deck.
The Kings announced that the event has raised a record $300,000 (and they are still counting receipts) for the Kings Care Foundation.
Each year at Tip A King, players, coaches and broadcasters sign autographs and take photos with fans. But every year, something happens that stands out more than others, and this year’s event was no exception, thanks to defenseman Alec Martinez, a ten-year-old fan, and a photo of the two that has spread pretty widely on social media.
In the spirit of full disclosure, yours truly has been friends with this little girl’s mother for about thirty years, so I am probably rather biased. Nevertheless, the photo above is, arguably, one of the very best photos from the event, which is probably a big reason why it has been shared so widely and liked so many times on social media.
For this year’s Tip A King, Martinez was stationed at the “Photo Strip” booth, where he took a series of three photos with each fan, and he certainly made the most of the time he spent interacting with them, as evidenced by the long line of fans, often the longest, at his booth.
Martinez endeared himself to fans through genuine, friendly interaction, and by just having fun with them.
“That was the idea behind the whole photo book, or whatever it was,” he said. “I figured you’ve got three photos, so for the first one, you do a nice one, and then, there’s the opportunity for the fans to do something a little different, of their liking, for the next two. It turned out to be pretty fun.”
“I took a lot of pictures,” he added. “I stuck my tongue out a couple of times. It’s nice for the kids, too. You get to have a little fun out there.”
As noted earlier, one of the kids was Kaitlyn Kikuchi, a ten-year-old fan from Torrance, California, who likes hockey because of, “all the action and fighting,” and whose favorite player is left wing Marian Gaborik.
“He scores a lot,” she said.
When Kaitlyn and her mother walked up to Martinez’ booth to stand in line, Kaitlyn had no idea about what to do for her three photos.
“The closer we got [to the front of the line], I was asking her, ‘what are you going to do,’” said Alice Kikuchi, Kaitlyn’s mother. “She kept saying, ‘I don’t know.’”
“I asked her again, ‘what are you going to do,’ because everyone has an idea,” added Alice, a 49-year-old native of Los Angeles who has been a Kings fan since 1992 or 1993 when a friend took her to her first game and immediately got her hooked. “She said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do, Mommy,’ so she was really confused about what to do, and here she comes out with the best photo.”
“Alec was really nice. He was genuinely talking to her, ‘what do you want to do? What do you want to do?’”
Kaitlyn thought Martinez was “cool.”
“He was cool,” she said. “He asked me what kind of photos we wanted to do. He said to do a funny face.”
That surprised Mom.
“I was pretty shocked Kaitlyn did that, even though I think her and Alec came up with that,” said Alice. “She really didn’t know what she was going to do. We were looking at what other people ahead of us were doing, and she didn’t want to do what they did, so I told her that we’ll figure it out when we get there.”
“Alec took a good two or three minutes just talking to her,” added Alice. “He took the time to discuss with her what she wanted to do. He was really attentive, really paying attention to her, and giving her suggestions. I was honestly worried because she’s outgoing, but at the same time, she can be shy, especially around other people.”
“It melted my heart the way he acted with Kaitlyn. The players were all great with Kaitlyn. Robyn Regehr was so sweet with Kaitlyn, but Alec topped it all. It was so endearing to see him with her. He was so sweet. I was so blown away.”
When he saw the photo a couple of days later, Martinez smiled, but after taking hundreds of photos with fans, he did not remember it. Nevertheless, he pointed out that being spontaneous was the key to making the experience fun.
“We might’ve winged that one, because that might’ve been the last picture,” said Martinez. “That’s kind of the fun part of it, the spontaneity. You don’t really have a set plan going into the third [photo], so it just becomes what it becomes.”
“Usually, the third one was the best, because it was a mad scramble,” added Martinez. “No one knew what to do. You get the best candid photo.”
That photo was posted on social media by the Kings during the event, and it got immediate reaction from fans.
“I didn’t have time to look at Instagram or Facebook while we were in line to get autographs on my jersey,” Alice added. “But then I finally looked and thought, ‘oh my God! Kaitlyn! Look!’ We had no clue.”
“When Kaitlyn and Alec actually [took the photo], I thought, ‘wow, that was cool, that was a great photo.’ I was so excited. Little did I know that it was going to end up on Instagram, Facebook, and everything else.”
The photo continued to “explode” on social media in the hours after the event. At press time, the photo had 11,859 likes on the Kings’ Instagram feed, another 115 on Alice’s Instagram feed, 280 favorites and 48 retweets on the Kings’ Twitter feed, and 80 likes on Alice’s Facebook timeline.
“Even on my own Facebook timeline, people were saying, ‘oh my God…this makes [Martinez] more human,’ or ‘he’s more like us, more down to Earth,” said Alice. “I love him even more because of this picture.’ It brought him to a whole different level.”
Endearing himself to the fans was part of the plan for Martinez.
“[Tip A King is] cool,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to say ‘thank you,’ and give back. It’s also an opportunity to show another side of your personality, other than just what you are at the rink, on the ice.”
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