Baseball is arguably one of the toughest sports to cover. The 2010 season is my 26th or 27th year of shooting baseball. As a Reuters freelance photographer for the past nine years, I shoot 45 to 55 regular season games a year. Baseball is a slow moving repetitive game. It’s hard to maintain concentration.
A batter goes to the plate. Pitcher throws. Batter watches the ball into the dirt. Pitcher walks behind the mound, scratches various parts of his anatomy, adjusts his cap and then rubs the baseball while walking back onto the mound.
Meanwhile, the batter has adjusted his batting gloves and helmet. He’s banged the bat against his spikes, scratched various parts of his anatomy and is now ready for the next pitch. Pitcher throws, batter swings and misses, strike one.
Repeat the entire above process, by both pitcher and batter, before the next pitch is thrown. The batter swings and gets part of the bat on the ball which is fouled off for strike two. Most of the time, a fouled ball goes behind the batter and catcher and into the backstop or stands where fans scramble to grab the coveted baseball.
But once in a while, something special happens:
Original Frame — Minnesota Twins batter Justin Morneau fouls a ball off his cheek during the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto September 9, 2009. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese (CANADA)
The ball glances off the bat, climbs until it hits the batter’s cheek and pushes the skin upwards as it bounces off his face.
The batter is Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins, facing pitcher Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays, during the first inning of their game.
I was shooting Morneau’s at-bat from the third-base dugout with a 400mm lens on a Canon Mk11N set at 1000/sec f2.8 on 800 ISO.
I reacted to the swing of the bat and fired several frames. I didn’t see the ball hit Morneau’s face but through the viewfinder, I did see the ball up in that area. I only knew I had the picture when I looked at the back of the camera. I enlarged the second image to his face and there was the ball still attached to his cheek. Thankfully, it was sharp. I deleted the first frame while chimping but hung onto the third frame that showed the ball near his helmet:
Original Frame —Minnesota Twins batter Justin Morneau fouls a ball off his cheek during the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto September 9, 2009. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese (CANADA)
This picture could’ve easily been missed because this early in the game, and with the Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay pitching, most of the cameras should have been trained on the mound. Halladay is a right-handed pitcher and I started the game on the third base side specifically to get him and his opponent pitching from that angle.
I was shooting Morneau at bat because he is a Canadian left-handed batter and therefore, he gets in the Canadian papers when he plays in Toronto. I guess I was looking the wrong way at the right time.
It’s hard to say how many fans or even players noticed that Morneau had fouled a pitch off his face. He didn’t fall over or ask the umpire for time. If memory serves correctly, I think he just went through his batting routine and stepped in for the next pitch.
Our filing area for baseball is located behind the first base dugout beneath the stands. We can only cross the field between innings, so I had to wait before filing the picture:
Minnesota Twins batter Justin Morneau fouls a ball off his cheek during the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto September 9, 2009. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese (CANADA)
Since the photo happened so early in the game, I kept shooting for another inning before going to file to the Reuters desk in Singapore. The extra inning gave me a chance to get both starting pitchers and some action to file with the Morneau photo.
The toughest part was cropping the photo. I looked at it several ways before deciding to crop it from the numbers up and leaving his arm in the frame. I looked at it tight but on my laptop screen, it appeared to start falling apart. The Reuters desk uses much larger monitors and they felt that the quality on an even tighter crop held up, so they re-cropped it and both photos went out on the wire.
The next day, the National Post, Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail all used the photo with a different crop in their sports pages. Looking online, a variety of web sites used the photo as well, also with a variety of crops:
From the Toronto Star: Minnesota Twins batter Justin Morneau fouls a ball off his cheek during the first inning of their MLB American League baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto September 9, 2009.REUTERS/ Mike Cassese (CANADA)
As I mentioned at the start, I’ve covered a lot of baseball. Along with the other photographers who cover the sport, we’ve all learned to time the pitcher’s release so the ball is just leaving his fingers, the ball is right on the bat, or the ball is just dropping into the outstretched glove of a diving fielder. It’s all about timing the play.
I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of luck went into this photo. My timing was for ball-on-bat, not ball-on-cheek. My one regret is not buying a lottery ticket after the game. But what are the odds of lightning striking the same person twice?