Fans and students of baseball are ever eager to explain what they most enjoy about the game. Some point to tension-packed pitching duels or explosive slugfests; others savor exquisitely choreographed double plays, perfectly executed squeeze bunts or simply the leisurely passage of sun-drenched afternoon games. There’s much to choose from. Yet few, if any, are likely to mention, though they are certainly not unaware of just how visually riveting the game can be. Ironically these moments are best experienced while watching a game on a television screen (which is immediately reinforced by continuous replays), especially when cameras capture close-up action with an intimacy stadium spectators rarely experience.
While almost any play can result in a compelling stop action visual, there’s an abundance of readily recognizable favorites. Observe the picture taken from center field of the scene at home plate just as a ball is delivered. Featured here is a partially erect hitter, awaiting the pitch, a faceless catcher in squatting position, his outstretched mitt a target for the pitcher and an umpire also obscured by face mask, leaning as far forward as he dares in order to pass judgment on the incoming delivery. Frozen for an instant, this sculpture-like arrangement stands perhaps as the sport’s most iconic image.
The ball may then be struck and sent sailing toward the bleachers, prompting the outfielder to race to where he hopes it will descend. But before it carries over the wall, he leaps, glove fully extended, in an effort to prevent a home run. This thrilling instant, when ball and fielder arrive simultaneously, produces one of baseball’s classic snapshots.
Collisions, not central features of the game, nevertheless consistently supply us with memorable game portraits. We can expect one when a base runner heading home prepares to maul the catcher, dislodge the ball and grab for the plate. This results in an eye-catching image of baseball at its most physically confrontational. Quite different are the furious exchanges that erupt between managers and umpires which, though highly stylized, appear headed toward a violent conclusion. The scene opens with the manager storming out of the dugout and rushing toward the offending umpire. Heated discussion quickly escalates into a fierce shouting match. Such scenes offer us a dramatic close-up of the two combatants, heads but inches apart, screaming directly at each other, a picture of verbal fireworks no other sport can match.
Finally, we note how changes in the way baseball is played have yielded striking game action pictures. Outfielders have become more athletic than ever. Watch as they race toward the ball, then, in full stride, leave their feet and in flight parallel to the turf, make the catch and eventually skid to a stop. Such spectacular maneuvers have been captured and shown repeatedly for TV viewers. As so has the recently perfected technique that many shortstops employ on a ball hit deep into the hole. Snaring it, and with their backs to first base, they leap high into the air, twist their bodies and at the same time snap a throw to first base. It doesn’t always arrive on time, but capturing baseball’s most balletic moves have assured its standing as a visual staple of the game.
As each season begins, fans prepare to get behind their favorites and, at the same time, look forward to those treasured visual highlights that engage their imaginations and affirm their affection for the game.