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West Coast League

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

 

Summer Collegiate

NorthPaws Single-Game Tickets Available for 2022 Season

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Tickets for the Kamloops NorthPaws 2022 regular season are now available. The inaugural season schedule features nine three-game series from the end of May through the beginning of August. Highlighted […]

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Summer Collegiate

Victoria HarbourCats – HarbourCats start 2022 signings with local talent

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Nine from Victoria, including Golden Tide standouts, lined up for WCL season

January 6, 2022

For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, B.C. –– There’s a lot of baseball talent in the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

The Victoria HarbourCats are pleased to announce the first nine signings — yep, a full lineup, from Victoria — for the 2022 West Coast League season, and all have strong Victoria roots.

The players range from NCAA Division-1 players to those who showed their skills and work ethic with the Victoria Golden Tide, the new Canadian College Baseball Conference (CCBC) team that plays out of Wilson’s Group Stadium at RAP.

Tide pitcher Haldon Craig will join the HarbourCats in 2022 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

“Developing local talent from the ground up has been my goal since I came on board with the HarbourCats in 2018,” said Curtis Pelletier, the team GM who was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for four years with the HarbourCats and is also the Head Coach of the Golden Tide. “The kids in the stands all hope to wear the HC one day and we’re making that a reality now. We have put together a phenomenal group of coaches to train the Golden Tide and Players Club athletes with the goal of signing them to the HarbourCats. Get used to seeing local players on the field here in the summer as there is some serious talent coming through our programs.”

Golden Tide’s Daniel Sawchyn, will bring speed to the HarbourCats outfield and base paths in 2022 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

The nine players are:

• RHP Noah Takacs, Sacramento State, 6-3/200
• OF Josh Walker, Sacramento State, 6-1/175
• LHP/1B Eric Luchies, Lower Columbia College, 6-3/200
• RHP Owen Luchies, Lower Columbia College, 6-2/195
• RHP Dawson Hurford, Western Nebraska College, 6-3/195
• RHP Haldon Craig, Victoria Golden Tide, 6-3/215
• LHP Jacob Popadynec, Victoria Golden Tide, 5-11/175
• IF Jordan Bond, Victoria Golden Tide, 6-0/185
• OF Daniel Sawchyn, Victoria Golden Tide, 6-0/170

Takacs, a product of the Victoria Eagles of the BC Premier Baseball League (PBL), had a 4.82 ERA and made four starts for the Hornets in 2021. Sacramento State teammate Walker, a lefty hitter who came through the Victoria Mariners PBL program, has appeared in 13 games over two spring seasons.

The Luchies brothers, Eric and Owen, are both from the Eagles PBL program and are making the big jump, one year apart, to the Lower Columbia program, a junior college in the NWAC. Both bring a power game and tremendous potential. Hurford, from Victoria but a product of the PBL’s Langley Blaze, has made 18 appearances, including 11 starts for the WNC Cougars.

Pitcher Owen Luchies throwing for the Golden Tide in exhibition play last fall (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

Bond, Sawchyn, Craig and Popadynec are all local products (Bond and Popadynec from the Eagles, Craig from the AAA Capitals, and Sawchyn from the Mariners) who got their first college action this last fall with the Golden Tide, and will provide valuable depth — Bond and Sawchyn for their bat and defence, Popadynec and Craig off the mound.

Jordan Bond had a strong fall season with the Golden Tide (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

Takacs is thrilled to have the chance to play summer collegiate baseball in his hometown. “It means the world to me… I wanted to play HarbourCats baseball all my life and finally, through all the pandemic problems, myself and a few others will get that opportunity. Victoria is a small baseball town but at the heart of it has some of the most dedicated individuals you’ll ever meet. Whenever I come home to train I know that I will have the right dudes around me to push me to get better every day. Without the people I met in Victoria I wouldn’t be the player or person I am today.”

The HarbourCats will begin their 2022 West Coast League campaign with their Home Opener on Tuesday May 31, 2022 at 6:35 pm against the Port Angeles Lefties, the first of 34 home games that will be played at Wilson’s Group Stadium at Royal Athletic Park.

Golden Tide pitcher Jacob Popadynec will be a nice left-handed option for the HarbourCats in 2022 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

Season Tickets, 2022 single-game tickets, 10-game flex packs, gift cards and HarbourCats merchandise are now on sale at the HarbourCats office at 101-1814 Vancouver Street, or by calling 778-265-0327. Single-game tickets may also be purchased directly on-line at www.harbourcats.com/tickets.

Fans holding unused tickets or flex-pack vouchers from the cancelled 2020 and 2021 seasons may also now exchange these for tickets for any 2022 regular season game. This can be done at the HarbourCats office.

For more details and to keep up with the latest news on the 2022 season, please visit the HarbourCats website at www.harbourcats.com.

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Summer Collegiate

Seven New NightOwls Have Been Signed

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It’s a good thing the new uniform sets have some bigger sizes, with the seven players the Nanaimo NightOwls are pleased to announce today.

With the three pitchers coming from California Baptist University (CBU), and four position players from the University of Hawaii (UH), the expansion NightOwls will have plenty of size on the field when the team starts play in the West Coast League.

The hallmarks of the players signed — power arms, power bats, and athleticism.

LHP Mason McGarvey, CBU, 6-4/235

RHP Carson Olsen, CBU, 6-5/225

RHP Will St. Marseille, CBU, 6-0/205

1B/3B Grant MacArthur, UH, 6-4/240

OF Tobey Jackson, UH, 5-11/165

IF Xander Sielken, UH, 5-10/175

OF Logan Gibson, UH, 5-10/160

“I’m excited to see these guys at historic Serauxmen Stadium — there’s a lot of talent in the smaller guys, and big-body power in the monsters on the hill,” said Jim Swanson, GM of the NightOwls, who will open at home on June 3 after the team debuts on the road at Portland on May 31.

“We really like the network we have with top schools, and those programs are excited to have their players with our coaches, Head Coach Greg Frady and Pitching Coach Gorm Heimueller. It’s a big piece of the puzzle. Scouts we talked to for references had strong words about their college and pro potential.”

CBU is one of the true emerging programs in NCAA-D1 baseball, becoming a perennial power under highly-respected coach Gary Adcock. The UH Bows are now led by former University of San Diego Head Coach Rich Hill, a 1,000-game winner intent on turning Hawaii into a program that rolls toward the College World Series every year.

The schedule for the 2022 Nanaimo NightOwls (and Bars!) season is posted at nanaimonightowls.com — where fans can also find team merchandise, and get information on tickets and season memberships, which are moving fast.

“It’s exciting to see all the work being done at Serauxmen Stadium, getting ready for all the user groups, we think fans are going to enjoy the enhancements and the atmosphere of the West Coast League, and how it all ties into the community,” said Swanson.

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