A Flying Baseball Bat, a Dad’s Instinct and a Photograph


Shaun Cunningham saved his son Landon from a flying bat during a spring training game in Florida on Saturday.

Christopher Horner/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

A father stops a flying baseball bat that was inches away from hitting his son’s face. A photographer captures the moment. You can guess what happens next.

“It’s been crazy,” said Shaun Cunningham, 37, the father from Ocala, Fla., who has been declared a hero in several headlines. “The last 24 hours have been out of control.”

The near-hit happened on Saturday while Mr. Cunningham and his 8-year-old son Landon were cheering on the Atlanta Braves in a spring training game in Orlando against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Christopher Horner, a photographer for The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, took the photo that has ricocheted around the Internet. He was positioned on the third baseline, across from where Mr. Cunningham and his son were sitting, when he saw the bat come out of the hands of Danny Ortiz, a Pirates outfielder.

Though Mr. Horner knew instantly that he had captured the moment, it wasn’t until he saw the photo on his computer later that he realized how precarious that moment was.

“The only thing between the bat and the boy was his father’s arm,” said Mr. Horner, who has been a photographer for The Tribune-Review for 21 years and has covered spring training for a bulk of them.

He posted the photo on Twitter that night, but it didn’t gain traction until the following morning.

“Before I knew it, my phone was getting hot,” he said. The notifications have been a steady drumbeat since then, keeping him awake Sunday night while he followed the photo’s journey in conversations abroad.

It was on Sunday night that the Cunninghams saw the photo for the first time, too.

“It made me sick to my stomach,” said Landon’s mother, Ashley Cunningham.

During the game, her husband told her that “there was a little bit of an incident” with a bat nearly hitting their son but that everybody was O.K.

Mr. Cunningham had some bruising on his arm, but that was the worst of the injuries.

Much of the conversation on social media has focused on why the child was looking down at a phone when the bat came flying. Mr. Cunningham said Landon borrowed the phone from him to take a photo of Mr. Ortiz and was texting it to his mother.

“So while he was looking at the picture I made sure I was paying attention to everything,” he added.

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Indeed he was. The photographer said the series of shots leading up to the one most widely shared show the father’s instantaneous reaction, amid a wave of raised arms and panicked faces on other fans in the stands around him.

“It was his instinct,” Mr. Horner said. “He was on the ball.”

But is it really up to fans to be alert to safety hazards?

In June last year, a woman struck by a broken bat in Fenway Park suffered what was described as life-threatening injuries. That was among the cases that prompted Major League Baseball to recommend in December that all clubs erect protective netting that extends from the existing screen behind home plate to the closest edge of the dugout.

The netting at Champion Stadium did not extend to where the Cunninghams were sitting, a few rows up from the Braves’ dugout on the first-base side, but Mr. Horner described it as typical for a ballpark. A spokesman for the stadium could not be reached.

“I made this photo of a guy being a hero,” Mr. Horner said. “But a split second difference and I would have had an image no one would have wanted to see.”

Despite the close call, Landon, who also plays baseball, said he had fun at the game. It was his first professional game — a treat for his birthday, which is next week.

Landon wasn’t sure what to tell other fans about his experience, but his mother was.

“Make sure you pay attention!” she said.

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