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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

 

Summer Collegiate

Victoria HarbourCats – HarbourCats end road trip with sweep of Lefties

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July 24, 2024

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PORT ANGELES, WA – Michael Crossland stayed hot increasing his hit streak to five games with a three-hit night, leading the Victoria HarbourCats to a 6-3 win against the Port Angeles Lefties.

Shea Lake started his fourth game of the season and was impressive, pitching into the fifth inning for the first time. The Hawaii Pacific right-hander went 4-1/3 innings giving up two unearned runs on one hit, while striking out three.

BOX SCORE

Lake received run support early through RBI singles from Tyrus Hall and Ny’Zaiah Thompson in the second inning to give the Cats a 2-0 lead. With that base knock, Hall increased his hit streak to six games

Crossland’s second double of the evening drove home a run in the fourth inning to make it 3-0. Gunner Antillon followed that up with a single to score Crossland giving Victoria a commanding 4-0 lead. The second baseman had two hits to increase his season average to .308 and add to his on-base streak of 20 games.

WCL STANDINGS

Nick Frers gave up one unearned run while pitching 1-2/3 innings, striking out one.

Crossland’s third hit of the game was a sixth-inning RBI single which made it 5-3 HarbourCats. Victoria added an insurance run in the ninth with Michelle Artzberger getting in on the action, hitting a two-out double to give his team a 6-3 lead. The first baseman now has a .408 batting average in 18 games.

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Garrett Villa recorded the save pitching the final three innings striking out a season-high five batters while giving up three hits and zero runs.

The sweep of the Lefties means the Cats are back to .500 on the season with a 21-21 record. In the second-half standings, they sit two and a half games back of the Wenatchee AppleSox for the North Division lead.

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The HarbourCats now return home on Friday, July 26 at 6:35 pm to begin a three-game series against the Kamloops North Paws. That game kicks off “Kids Free Weekend” where all kids 12 and under get in free thanks to Peninsula Co-op. Simply come to the gate on any of the three game days, or get your tickets for these games in advance at the HarbourCats office. The Kids Free option is NOT available online.

REMINDER: If you have HarbourCats ticket vouchers of any kind, 10-game flex packs, or season ticket equivalent vouchers, just a reminder that all vouchers must be used for any of our remaining nine home games. Should we make playoffs, vouchers are not eligible for any games no matter where they are played. You can exchange your vouchers in advance for game tickets at the HarbourCats office at 101-1814 Vancouver Street.

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Summer Collegiate

NightOwls Lose a Tough One in Edmonton

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EDMONTON, Alta. — One more strike was all that was needed.

The Nanaimo NightOwls, fresh off an impressive sweep of a road series in Kamloops, were one pitch away from a fourth straight win on Monday night in Edmonton, but a clutch two-out single in the bottom of the ninth scored two runs to give the host Riverhawks a 5-4 win in West Coast League action.

The NightOwls are now 19-21 on the season and 7-6 in the second half, within grasp of top spot in the North Division lead for snaring home field advantage in the playoffs.

 

Boxscore

 

The NightOwls scored two runs in the first and sixth innings and the pitching was strong, from starter Moosa Nonomiya to relievers Tahj Orona, Kai Hanasaki, Grant Jakobson and Ryan Inouye, who was within that one pitch of another save.

Second baseman Hsu He-Chieh had two hits, a run and an RBI, and Wylie Waters had a first-inning double to lead the NightOwls on offence. Waters drove in his 34th run of the season.

 

Standings

 

The NightOwls were outhit 13-8 in warm, hazy conditions. In a rarity in today’s game, there were just four strikeouts total, three of them at the expense of Nanaimo batters.

 

NightOwls TV WCL Pixellot

 

The NightOwls are in Edmonton for a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday battle with the Riverhawks, one of the teams Nanaimo will want to get ahead of in the very tight North Division standings.

Right-hander Joshua Torres will start the Tuesday game for Nanaimo, with Jacob Fleury slated for Wednesday night.

The next home action for the NightOwls, after a Thursday off day, is hosting the Bellingham Bells at historic Serauxmen Stadium for a Friday-Saturday-Sunday series. Every game counts with how tight the standings are for playoff positions with three spots from the North still to be determined.

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Summer Collegiate

Victoria HarbourCats – HarbourCats one step away from sweep in Port Angeles

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Michael Crossland had a pair of hits, a walk and scored two runs to lead the HarbourCats offence on Tuesday night (File photo: Christian J. Stewart)

July 23, 2024

Port Angeles, WA – Two down, one more to go — for a road series sweep and a .500 record on the six-game road trip.

The Victoria HarbourCats avoided a ninth inning scare from the host Lefties before closing out a 5-2 win Tuesday night in WCL action in Port Angeles. The night before, the HarbourCats posted a decisive 7-1 victory.

The HarbourCats scored two runs in the fifth inning, one in the sixth and two more in the seventh. The Lefties got single runs in the fifth and seventh and had two runners on base in the ninth inning but Brett Harvey got a series of pop ups to escape.

Victoria outhit Port Angeles 10-5.

FULL BOX SCORE

Michelle Artzberger reached base four times, on three hits and a hit by pitch, and drove in a run — he’s batting .409 on the season.

Michael Crossland was 2-4 with a double and two runs and Sky Collins had two hits.

STANDINGS

All-Star right-hander Carson Cormier started the game and was dominant, going 4.1 innings with two hits, one walk and two strikeouts, and one unearned run. Jacob Thompson and Harvey completed the pitching duties, combining to limit Port Angeles to five hits total, two of them in the ninth inning.

The HarbourCats are five games into a six-game road trip to Ridgefield and Port Angeles, and return home on Friday July 26, at 6:35 pm to begin a three-game home stand against the Kamloops North Paws.

That game kicks off “Kids Free Weekend” where all kids 12 and under get in free thanks to Peninsula Co-op. Simply come to the gate on any of the three game days, or get your tickets for these games in advance at the HarbourCats office. The Kids Free option is NOT available on-line.

REMINDER: If you have HarbourCats ticket vouchers of any kind, 10-game flex packs, or season ticket equivalent vouchers, just a reminder that all vouchers must be used for any of our remaining nine home games. Should we make playoffs, vouchers are not eligible for any games no matter where they are played. You can exchange your vouchers in advance for game tickets at the HarbourCats office at 101-1814 Vancouver Street.

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