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Father And Son Discuss The Near Miss With That Flying Baseball Bat

The boy who narrowly missed being hit in the face by a wayward baseball bat has explained why he was distracted at the game: He was sending a photo of the game to his mom and sister. And he says his first pro baseball game was "amazing."

Landon Cunningham and his father, Shaun, became celebrities at baseball's spring training, after Shaun lunged in front of Landon to block the bat from hitting his son's head. The scene was captured in photos that show the bat spinning violently as it headed toward the fans.

Shaun Cunningham's arm took the hit for his son, who says that he felt the bat clip him on the shoulder as it helicoptered past him at this weekend's game between the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates in Florida.

"I didn't have a lot of time to think," Cunningham tells the Today show. "I just did anything I could to block it or deflect it."

The pair were at the game as part of Landon's birthday present — he turns 9 this week. He was hoping to glimpse his favorite player, the Braves' Freddie Freeman. But now he's being sent an autographed jersey from Freeman — something the pair were told by the Today show crew Tuesday morning.

That news drew a strong reaction from Landon, who clapped his hands to his head and stared at the camera. He pronounced, "My first baseball game was amazing."

Interviewed from their home for the show, Cunningham says his wife, Ashley, "had a hard time" seeing the images that showed how close her son came to a serious injury.

"She got a little nauseous," he says. "But thank God no one was seriously injured."

The father and son also spoke to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, whose photographer, Christopher Horner, captured the images showing their close call.

"We're both fine," Cunningham told the newspaper. "I'm a little bruised, but I'll survive. I've been through worse."

The Tribune-Review reports that Pirates outfielder Danny Ortiz, whose bat hurtled into the stands, hadn't been sure what happened until he got home and his wife showed him the photos.

Shaun Cunningham tells CBS TV in Pittsburgh that he's heard that Ortiz wants to get in touch — but he says the player shouldn't worry.

"It was an accident; things happen. I wouldn't want it to affect his play," Cunningham said. "He's a good ballplayer and he's got a shot. I want him to not worry about it. This kid's fine. He's tough."

The incident happened just months after Major League Baseball formally recommended that its teams review their ballparks and install more safety netting if it might keep more fans safe from bats and baseballs that leave the field of play.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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