“It’s a warm spring day at Coca Cola Park. The scoreboard shows the home team is behind two to one and there are no outs. It’s 2:24pm on a clear and sunny day in the Lehigh Valley. The US flag shows clearly that the wind blows hard to dead center field.
Quintin Berry is up to bat. He’s set and ready, formulating the timing needed for him to make contact with the pitch already enroute to him. His back elbow is held high, his left leg is bent and straining to hold his weight and most of his strength back indicating he expects a breaking ball or offspeed pitch. Berry is ready to strike.
The pitcher, adorned in Sunday’s powder blue jersey and hat with white pants, his socks pulled up to his knees is throwing across his body with a snap. Perhaps Berry’s strategy is right. Perhaps it is a breaking ball. The ball floats mindlessly in the air just beyond the reach of the pitcher, airflow and physics ultimately determining its final route to home plate. The pitcher will soon assume a fielding position in anticipation of his pitch being hit.
At home plate with Berry are a catcher and an umpire. The catcher is leaning heavily on his left leg, leaning away from the left handed Berry in the batter’s box. More signs indicate a breaking ball coming in and the catcher needs to be ready to receive it, to block it if the ball hits the grainy, dry field turf in front of him. You can almost smell the dirt, the leather of the gloves, the salty sweet smell of an often worn helmet, the scent of cinnamon roasted almonds certainly drifting downwind from the stands behind home plate.
The umpire is perched just above the catcher. He is wearing protective equipment, yet has areas of exposed skin vulnerable to injury. Hands on each thigh to support the awkward crouch necessary to make a correct ball or strike call. He is alert and aware of the situation. He has noticed the catcher leaning outside and concentrates on the plate, not falling victim to the catcher’s attempts to frame an outside of the strike zone strike. This umpire expects not a fastball, not a curveball, not a ball, not a strike, not a hit, not a foul ball. He knows that his job is not to expect but to observe and report what he sees.
Behind the pitcher stands another infield umpire who is just as ready as his home plate companion. Hunched over with hands on each knee he has just looked away from the pitcher and into home plate. He has already completed his duty of watching the pitcher, looking for signs of deception, signs of a balk, signs of rule infractions. This umpire wears no protective gear. He knows line drives can come his way and he knows he needs to avoid the ball so as not to impact the play of the game. He is ready.
There is a runner on second base. He is watching and waiting. Leading off a few extra feet as there is no short stop or second baseman holding him close to the bag. This runner isn’t trying to steal third base. He is waiting. Waiting on the results of the pitch. He is leaning toward third base but hasn’t committed. With no outs, he knows all too well that the first out of the inning should not happen at third base. He knows that any ball hit on the ground to the left side of the field will result in him getting a look from the fielder, then a throw to first base in an attempt to get the batter at first base for a force out. Any ball hit on the ground to the right side of the infield, he knows to run hard to third hoping he can beat a throw there, with the knowledge it isn’t a force play and the third baseman will have to tag him to gain an out. The batter could pop the ball up, he could hit a fly ball requiring a tag up play. He knows for balls hit in the air that he goes halfway to third base and watches the play. If the ball is caught he heads back to second to avoid being doubled up. If the ball is dropped he runs to third. This wouldn’t be a problem if there was two outs. He would leave when the bat made contact with the ball, but this isn’t the case here. Only a clear hit. Only a ball hit outside of the infield that touched the ground once in fair territory would cause him to run immediately. He needs to be aware of a ball hit too hard to an outfielder could result in him being thrown out at third base. He needs to be aware that both the pitcher and catcher are showing indications of a breaking ball, that could go into the dirt. He may have seen the catcher’s earlier signs to the pitcher on what to throw. He may have figured out their signals and may or may not have relayed this discreetly through a signal of his own to the batter. He sees the pitch in the air and waits.
Also waiting, out behind the outfield wall on the grassy lawn, are fans eagerly staring at all of this unfolding on the field in a literal instance in time. They have seen many more of these situations and will see plenty more throughout this game. Will it be a strike to cheer? Will it be a ball, but close to the strike zone allowing the opportunity to boo the umpires. Will it be a wild pitch or passed ball allowing the runner to move to third base? Will it be a base hit allowing the runner to score? Will it be a home run, landing nearby, to throw the ball back?”
Could you describe this photo in 1,000 words?
As I hit 1,000 words on this essay, I realized that my words could not do justice to the quality of this photograph, the emotions it stirs in baseball fans, the story it tells, the infinite outcomes that could have resulted.
Anyone want to guess the result of this pitch? Can you use the clues in this photo to determine the outcome of the pitch? The outcome of the at bat? I have. Leave your guesses in the comments!