Dad saves son’s face from flying Pirates bat
BRADENTON, Fla. – When he saw the bat fly out of the hands of Pirates outfielder Danny Ortiz, Shaun Cunningham knew he had only an instant to react. So, Cunningham did what any father would do. He stuck out his arm to shield his son and braced for the impact.
Images of Cunningham’s quick reflexes were caught by Tribune-Review photographer Chris Horner this past weekend. Within hours, the photos went viral on social media and made world-wide celebrities of the father and son from Ocala, Fla.
“I was just protecting my son,” Cunningham, 37, said by phone on Monday. “There wasn’t a lot of time to think about it. I just reacted.”
In the fifth inning of the Pirates’ spring training game Saturday against the Atlanta Braves in Orlando, Ortiz lost his grip on the bat on a swinging strike. The big, black hunk of lumber whizzed into the seats on the first-base side.
Cunningham and his eight-year-old son Landon were seated a few rows behind the Braves’ dugout. The outing was a birthday present for Landon, who had never before attended a pro baseball game.
Landon had snapped a photo with his cell phone, then texted it to his mother. As the boy looked down at the phone, Ortiz was fooled by a breaking pitch and lost his grip on the bat.
Cunningham, a former high school baseball player who once trained at Clint Hurdle’s youth baseball camp in Vero Beach, Fla. and now works as a firefighter, realized what was happening and thrust out his left arm to protect his son’s face.
“Thank God he has those reflexes,” said Cunningham's wife, Ashley. “That bat was flying dead-center toward Landon's head.” The barrel smacked flush on Cunningham's wrist. As the bat twirled away, the handle caught Landon on the shoulder. “We're both fine,” Cunningham said with a chuckle. “I'm a little bruised, but I'll survive. I've been through worse.”
Ortiz stood at the plate for a moment, unsure what to do. When play resumed, he struck out.
“I didn’t know what happened, if it (hurt) the boy or anything,” Ortiz said. “I went home and my wife said to me, ‘You almost killed that kid!’ “
Poor guy. He takes his kid to the ballgame but the boy isn’t even interested and he’s looking at his phone so Dad has to take a bat to the arm. Then wife yells at him for putting sonny at risk.