Poised to pitch

It’s an interesting artistic conundrum. How do you capture the motion of an athlete in the fixed medium of sculpture? The statue of famed pitcher Cy Young on the campus of Northeastern University–the former site of the original Huntington Avenue Grounds, and my alma mater–captures Young in a naturally contemplative moment when he reads his catcher’s signals, plans his pitch, and then coils for his delivery. The statue doesn’t capture movement; it preserves the moment before movement.

Cy Young

Many statues of athletes try to freeze-frame movement, suggesting the fluidity of athletic prowess through the graceful curves of cantilevered limbs. The statue of Michael Jordan outside Chicago’s United Center, for instance, captures Jordan in mid-leap, his ball-wielding arm outstretched toward an invisible basket while his earthbound defenders watch, helpless. Looking at this statue (or looking at any Michael Jordan highlight reel), you truly believe the man could fly.

The new statue of Bruins legend Bobby Orr recently unveiled outside the TD Garden similarly commemorates a moment of flight: specifically, that moment when Orr, having scored the game-winning goal for the 1970 Stanley Cup, lunged forward, his arms and hockey stick outstretched, a skater turned Superman. For one split second–a second captured in an iconic photo–all of Boston believed Orr could fly.

Staring down another batter

Baseball pitchers are typically more grounded than basketball or hockey stars; on a normal day, baseball pitchers don’t fly. The lightning-quick power of a fastball or the unpredictably quirky curve of a knuckleball is too fast for the human eye: only in slow-motion replays can we fully appreciate the power of a pitcher’s preparatory coil, split-second spiral, and fluid follow-through. Just like that, the ball crosses the plate, and we rub our eyes, not quite understanding how a human arm can do that.

The statue of famed knuckleballer Phil Neikro outside Atlanta’s Turner Field, for instance, freeze-frames the beginning of a pitch, with Neikro’s arm coiled behind him in the split-second before a throw:

Knuckleball!

A nearby statue of Warren Spahn is the most dynamic statue of all, freezing the gravity-defying arc of a Hall of Fame pitcher’s delivery. The ball’s power and speed, you realize, doesn’t come primarily through muscle; it comes from the momentum of the pitcher’s contortion, a kind of dance turned deadly as a projectile is released at just the right moment, the hurling offspring of arms and angles.

Monumental

The earthbound statues of Jordan and Orr capture the belief-defying fact that some athletes can fly. The motionless forms of Young, Neikro, and Spahn remind us of the undeniable power of a muscular spiral uncoiling.

This is my contribution for today’s Photo Friday theme, Motionless. I shot these (and more) photos of Northeastern University’s Cy Young statue last August; the photos of Neikro and Spahn come from a game between the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves last June.

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