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Photographing Baseball is A Lot Like Fishing

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With very little baseball to go out and photograph over the course of the last year (thanks to COVID-19), it has been a good time for me to reflect on the games I have covered over the last 15 years – everything from house league T-Ball, Mosquito (9-10 year olds) right on up through elite high school leagues, to our summer collegiate team – the Victoria HarbourCats – to the 2017 World Junior Championships and finally to the MLB level, covering the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field, as well as in Spring Training in Arizona.

I have been fortunate to stay busy photographing the game I love, at all levels, including the Seattle Mariners and Ichiro Suzuki, at the MLB level.

I am apparently a rare breed here in Victoria, in that I REALLY, REALLY enjoy shooting baseball.  Some of our local press photographers don’t like baseball assignments mainly because they have a limited time to shoot a game and always want the “big play” images to happen in the first inning – double plays at second, plays at the plate – plays that do NOT always happen early in a game, if at all, or at least by their deadline.

Plays at the plate can be relatively infrequent at most baseball games, but when they happen you need to be ready for them.

I tell them that shooting baseball is a lot like fishing….you sit quietly and patiently for long periods of time, waiting for that big nibble, or the fish to take your line, and when it does, you have to be ready to reel it in (i.e. snap away and capture the big play) before it is gone. Sometimes those nibbles come early and rapidly, sometimes they don’t come at all.

When plays at bases happen in baseball, be ready for them so you can land a nice “catch”

Fortunately, I like fishing, and with most of the work I do with the HarbourCats or with other on-line media agencies, we rarely have to worry about hard print deadlines and can stay for the full length of most games, allowing for more time to catch that big fish, and capture a key image or series of images from a particular game.

Sometimes the best image of the game happens on the very last play, like this example of a celebration after a walk-off base hit won the game.

And just like an expert fisherman who knows where and when to get the big fish, anticipating and understanding when that big play is going to happen in a baseball game is key.

While sometimes it can be obvious, I find that because I have played and coached the game, and am a connoisseur of baseball’s finer points, there are times when I can anticipate what is going to happen and set myself up for a better angle and photo.

For example, knowing a bunt situation and turning to photograph the player bunting, or knowing a certain batter’s tendencies and focusing on a fielder that he has a high percentage of hitting the ball to.

Knowing when a player might be called upon to bunt can often lead to nice photos of the play if executed.

This latter example worked out well for me in the image of the diving third baseman shown below. Three previous batters, including the guy at the plate this time, had all earlier scorched line drives down the line. So this time around, I focused on the third baseman and sure enough, the same batter hit another down the line and I captured the resulting image.

With a little knowledge of a batter’s tendencies and a pre-focus on an infielder, you can capture shots like this.

Or stealing signs from coaches or infielders and being in position (with my lens) to capture a pick-off attempt or a player stealing a base.

Plays at second are also big on a baseball photographer’s hit list, especially when a shortstop or second baseman attempts to turn a double play in the face of a sliding runner. Ideally you want to capture this from the first base side, with the defensive player leaping over the sliding runner and at the same time releasing the ball toward first. Of course, given how infrequently double plays happen (well at least at the level of games I have been covering) and when they do, the fact that sometimes you are on the third base side, capturing such an iconic image can be difficult.

Quite often you can be on the third base side when a double play attempt at second base happens but with a little luck and the right timing, you can get acceptable results.

Fortunately for me, one time when covering the Blue Jays at Seattle a few years back, the “perfect storm” occurred in the very last game I shot of the three-game series, and I got TWO such images in the same game, the second of which (below), is probably the best such photo of this type of play that I have ever captured!

One of my best double play images ever, came in the very last game of a three game series in Seattle, showing how rare the “perfect” double-play photo can be and illustrating the patience one has to have when shooting baseball.

In lieu of the big plays, one often has to resort to other ways to capture images that make the game interesting for the readers and viewers of the images. One way I like to do this is by using close-up shots of, for example, pitchers as they deliver the ball to the plate. With the right lighting and background, these can be very powerful images, especially if that pitcher ends up throwing a good game.

With the right lighting and background, close-up shots of pitchers like this can be quite dramatic.

Another good sight line I like is from behind the plate. Either a close up that really captures the exertion on a pitcher’s face, or in the case of the first photo below, the stress on his arm, or in the case of the second photo below, shooting a bit wider to give the viewer more context for the game and situation.

Shooting pitchers from behind the plate in a close-up mode can really emphasize their effort and exertion (top) while shooting a bit wider (below) can add more context to the situation.

Capturing shots of batters is always another dilemma for baseball photographers. Many like to capture the batter at the time of impact, when the ball hits the bat. These are called BOB (bat on ball) shots and many photographers seem overly elated to get them, but for me, I don’t like them because in most instances you don’t see the face of the batter.

My preference is to capture the batter as he comes out of his swing and his eyes begin to follow the ball as he follows through on his swing and begins to move toward first base. Most times, such shots are best from the third base side, photographing right handed batters who pull the ball, but lefties from this side will also work well. Cropping closely in post (like the Jose Bautista shot below) is another way to add variety to the shot.

Outfielders are another challenge for baseball photographers and often get ignored, unless you are using a fairly long telephoto lens and are specifically shooting them. Fortunately, there are times when turning to shoot an outfielder works out OK, especially if you are using a newer camera with sufficient megapixels on the sensor to allow close cropping of the image in post-processing. The images below are such examples and can be nice catches (pun intended) if you get them!

Finally, sometimes the biggest fish can be caught off the field of play. Look for shots of fans or other promotions happening during the game that can make compelling, interesting or just plain weird photos. Depending on the game and the level of action, these may be the best images of the evening, so try not to ignore them!

And when in doubt, if there is ever a coach – umpire argument, be sure to capture it!  They can be priceless!

More of Christian J. Stewart’s baseball photography can be found at: https://christianjstewart.zenfolio.com/baseball

 

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1 Comment

  1. Mike Berezowski

    March 9, 2021 at 5:04 pm

    Great article and photos — thanks for the tips!

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Summer Collegiate

Victoria HarbourCats | HarbourCats Super Fan gives the gift of baseball to local charities

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Three charities to enjoy a season’s worth of HarbourCats baseball in 2022 thanks to Helen Edwards

For Immediate Release

July 21, 2021

Victoria, BC – To say Helen Edwards is a big HarbourCats fan is an understatement.

In fact, Edwards, a season ticket holder since 2014, loves HarbourCats baseball so much, that she has purchased six season tickets for the 2022 season and then donated them to local charities, so that they can give the gift of baseball to their clients.

The local charities that will be the benefactors of two Premium Reserved season tickets each include The Cridge Centre for the Family, the 1Up Victoria Single Parent Resource Centre Society and Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Victoria.

Edwards, who is always recognizable at HarbourCats games in her Diamond Club seats, wearing her classic red HarbourCats hat and jersey (see photo above with the HarbourCats Parker Bramlett in 2019), was looking for a way to spread the word about HarbourCats baseball, given the cancellation of the past two seasons and felt this would be a perfect opportunity.

“Not only did I want to help the HarbourCats out a little,” notes Edwards, “but thought, why not provide some fun for families and individuals that might not ordinarily be able to attend a game. The charities chosen all align perfectly with that goal and I really hope the people that get to use the tickets have as much fun as I do at every game.”

The charities receiving the tickets are excited to say the least. “What a great opportunity!” said Joanne Linka, Manager of Communication and Fund Development at The Cridge Centre for the Family. “There is a fair bit of excitement about this from our team and it will be a great opportunity for our families to do something fun.”

Sarah Downey of the 1Up Victoria Single Parent Resource Centre Society echoes this. “We are very excited and would be happy to accept the tickets. This will bring a lot of joy to many families!” Ashley Adams of Big Brothers, Big Sisters Victoria says, ” I think that this is such an amazing opportunity for our clients and absolutely be something they would enjoy! Thank you so much for thinking about our organization!”

“Next season is going to be a fun, celebratory return to baseball at Wilson’s Group Stadium,” notes HarbourCats Assistant GM of Ticketing and Media Christian Stewart, “and we will be so pleased to welcome these organizations and their clients to the park and have them become part of the HarbourCats family and community. A big thanks to Helen for doing that and for her continued support of HarbourCats baseball.”

SUPPORT YOUR HARBOURCATS! WE NEED YOUR HELP MORE THAN EVER!

Two summers in a row without baseball has been simply devastating for us, but we are confident that there will be a celebratory return to the diamond and the ballpark in 2022. To help us get there, we need your support. If you have been doing well throughout this pandemic, please consider supporting us in any of the following ways:

2022 Season tickets — “We’re Brand New in 2022!” Or as the saying goes, “What’s old is new again!” New players, some new coaches, some new seating changes, new promotions! Come and jump on the HarbourCats bandwagon and see the “new” team in town! Purchasing season tickets is the best way to help, one that guarantees you seats to all our games (usually 35 per year or so) plus other season ticket holder perks. Contact chris@harbourcats.com for details.

10-Game Flex Packs / Vouchers — Don’t want to commit, or can’t commit to season tickets? Consider 10-game flex packs – anytime vouchers that can be used in any combination…10 tickets at one game, 1 ticket at 10 games or anything in between. For you, for your friends, for your staff. Season ticket voucher equivalents are also available. Flex Packs can be purchased at the office and are also available on-line at THE CAT SHOP.

Corporate Partnerships – Want to put your company name or brand in front of our 80,000-100,000 fans we anticipate in 2022? Or know someone who does? Consider joining us as a partner. From a simple program ad, to the most complex of game day sponsorship, complete with signage and tickets, we will customize any campaign to suit your needs and budget. And with our new HCATS.TV platform and our ownership group’s expansion of a new team in Nanaimo in 2022, the opportunities are now Island wide! Contact john@harbourcats.com for details.

Fundraising / 50-50 – Have an organization that needs to raise funds now? A $1000 investment buys you 100 anytime 2022 game vouchers for our Premium Reserved seats that you can then turn around and sell NOW for $20 each, earning you your investment back, plus another $1000 in return. We will then hold a 50-50 date for you in 2022 and you can bring your group to the park to sell that game, taking home 50% of the proceeds. Contact chris@harbourcats.com for details.

Merchandise – Consider a HarbourCats merchandise purchase from our store at 1814 Vancouver Street, or from our on-line store, THE CAT SHOP. We have lots of stock that needs to go!

OFFICE HOURS

We are officially open Monday through Friday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, but may be away at meetings, or dealing with other issues. Best to call 778-265-0327 before venturing over to make sure. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

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Duran Becomes 100th WCL Alumni to Reach the Major Leagues

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Saturday night, the West Coast League reached a huge milestone when Jarren Duran batted sixth and started in center field for the first-place Boston Red Sox, becoming the 100th alumnus of a current or past West Coast League team to make his MLB debut.

 

Chronologically, the list of 100 begins with Mike Thurman, who pitched briefly in 1993 for the Aloha Knights, an amateur (and independent) team based in the Portland area. The Knights would later join the summer collegiate Pacific International League, and in 2005 a few PIL teams broke away to form today’s West Coast League.

Among the early WCLers were future MLB stars Chris Davis, Mark Rzepczynski, and Tommy Hanson. Just last year, former Cowlitz Black Bears ace Shane Bieber captured American League Cy Young honors, and he recently earned his second American League All-Star nod. The long list of other notable WCL alumni includes Seattle Mariners stars Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzalez; Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins; and 2021 rotation mainstays James Kaprielian (Oakland) and Nick Pivetta (Boston)

“I look forward to being around for the next 100,” said WCL Commissioner Rob Neyer, “and at the rate we’re going, I don’t think it’ll take long to get there. We’ll set another single-season record later this summer, and with our expansion to 16 teams next year, we’ve never had more opportunities for young top-tier talent.”

In 2016, the speedy Duran batted .278 with the Walla Walla Sweets, ranking among the league leaders in triples and stolen bases. This season with Boston’s Triple-A Worcester farm club, Duran blasted 15 home runs in only 46 games.

A complete list of WCL alumni with MLB experience can be found here.

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40 WCL Alumni Selected in 2021 MLB Draft

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Former Bellingham Bells infielder Matt McLain was drafted 17th overall by the Cincinnati Reds.

Earlier this week, 40 current and former West Coast League players were selected in Major League Baseball’s annual Rule 4 amateur draft.

With the Cincinnati Reds’ selection of Matt McLain with the 17th overall pick, 2021 marks the fifth straight year with a WCL standout drafted in the first round.

McLain, a UCLA infielder, earned the WCL’s Top Prospect Award in 2018 as a member of the Bellingham Bells. Also that summer, the Arizona Diamondbacks selected McLain with the 25th overall pick in the draft, but instead of signing a professional contract he enrolled at UCLA and continued his baseball career there. The Baseball America Preseason All-American and Pac-12 Player of the Year hit .333 with nine home runs and 36 runs batted this spring for the Bruins.

There were 19 WCL alumni selected in the first 10 rounds of the draft, including four among the top 63 overall picks.

“I’m hardly surprised,” said West Coast League Commissioner Rob Neyer, “but I’m certainly pleased, having seen many of these brilliant young talents during my travels around the league in recent years. And I have great confidence that our league’s commitment to player development will only mean more and more top prospects every summer.”

Below, please see the list of current and former WCL players drafted this week:

Round / Player / School / WCL Club(s) / MLB Org
– 1st round, Matt McLain, UCLA, Bellingham, Cincinnati Reds
– 2nd round, Aaron Zavala, Oregon, Ridgefield, Texas Rangers
– 2nd round, Brendan Beck, Stanford, Corvallis, New York Yankees
– 2nd round, Kyle Manzardo, Washington State, Portland, Tampa Bay Rays
– 4th round, JT Schwartz, UCLA, Wenatchee, New York Mets
– 4th round, Zane Mills, Washington State, Portland, St. Louis Cardinals
– 4th round, Nick Nastrini, UCLA, Bellingham, Los Angeles Dodgers
– 5th round, Collin Burns, Tulane, Bellingham, Baltimore Orioles
– 6th round, Grant Holman, Cal, Bellingham, Oakland A’s
– 7th round, Kevin Kendall, UCLA, Port Angeles, New York Mets
– 7th round, Ryan Och, Southern Mississippi, Bellingham, San Diego Padres
– 8th round, Sean Sullivan, Cal, Walla Walla, Pittsburgh Pirates
– 8th round, Noah Cardenas, UCLA, Portland, Minnesota Twins
– 8th round, Cullen Kafka, Oregon, Yakima Valley, Colorado Rockies
– 9th round, Mat Olsen, Central Arizona College, Cowlitz, San Francisco Giants
– 9th round, Chase Watkins, Oregon State, Corvallis, Chicago Cubs
– 9th round, Gil Luna, Arizona, Bend, Chicago White Sox
– 9th round, Shane McGuire, San Diego, Victoria, Oakland A’s
– 10th round, Ernie Yake, Gonzaga, Bellingham, Minnesota Twins
– 11th round, Rowdey Jordan, Mississippi State, Victoria, New York Mets
– 11th round, Chad Stevens, Portland, Corvallis, Houston Astros
– 11th round, Jack Neely, Ohio State, Victoria, New York Yankees
– 11th round, Sean Mullen, UCLA, Yakima Valley, Tampa Bay Rays
– 12th round, Chazz Martinez, Orange Coast College, Walla Walla, Pittsburgh Pirates
– 12th round, Christopher Troye, UC Santa Barbara, Bend, Boston Red Sox
– 12th round, Tyson Guerrero, Washington, Cowlitz, Kansas City Royals
– 12th round, Andrew Alvarez, Cal Poly, Kelowna, Washington Nationals
– 12th round, Caden Vire, Arizona State, Ridgefield, Milwaukee Brewers
– 13th round, Owen Sharts, Nevada, Victoria, Pittsburgh Pirates
– 14th round, Damiano Palmegiani, Southern Nevada, Port Angeles, Toronto Blue Jays
– 14th round, Frankie Scalzo, Grand Canyon, Port Angeles, Chicago Cubs
– 15th round, Wyatt Young, Pepperdine, Victoria, New York Mets
– 15th round, Mikey Perez, UCLA, Portland, Minnesota Twins
– 16th round, Zach Pettway, UCLA, Bellingham, Cleveland Indians
– 16th round, Alek Jacob, Gonzaga, Wenatchee, San Diego Padres
– 17th round, Ryan Long, Pomona-Pitzer College, Wenatchee, Baltimore Orioles
– 17th round, Dennis Boatman, Sacramento CC, Corvallis, Cincinnati Reds
– 17th round, Luke Boyd, Baylor, Victoria, San Diego Padres
– 18th round, Noah Williamson, Everett CC, Yakima Valley, Miami Marlins
– 20th round, Hunter Breault, Oregon, Bend, Oakland A’s

 

About the West Coast League: The West Coast League is the West’s premier summer collegiate baseball league. Encompassing Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and now Alberta, the WCL showcases pro prospects from major collegiate conferences around the nation. Every summer, the league features unparalleled fan and player experiences, with North America’s best baseball weather and a mix of classic ballparks and dramatic scenery. The 2019 MLB amateur draft began with former Corvallis Knight Adley Rutschman selected with the overall No. 1 pick by the Baltimore Orioles. Also in 2019, 317 WCL alumni were active in affiliated professional baseball, including 45 in the major leagues, while overall attendance in the West Coast League increased to nearly half a million fans.

About the Kamloops NorthPaws: The Kamloops NorthPaws is Kamloops’ newest sports franchise. The NorthPaws join the  Edmonton Riverhawks, Nanaimo NightOwls/Bars and the Springfield Drifters as WCL expansion teams beginning play in the 2022 season. Norbrock Stadium will host all NorthPaws home games, when future MLB prospects play their summer season in the WCL. Season tickets and 10-game flex plans are now on sale for the 2022 season.

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